Friday, July 17, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapter 25

Chapter 25
Summary:Up on Mount Sinai God speaks to Moses telling him more things to pass on to the people of Israel.

God first states that when the people arrive in the "promised land" that they are to observe a sabbath for the land every seventh* year. For six years the people shall sow the fields, prune their vineyards, and harvest the fruit, but that the seventh year will be a year of rest for the land. No one is to sow the fields or prune their vineyards for their own personal gain in this seventh year. Anything that grows on it's own accord is not to be harvested for personal gain as it is a year of rest for the land. Whatever does manage to grow in the land shall be free to everyone - the people of Israel, as well as their servants, their slaves, and any stranger that travels amongst them. Cattle and wild animals shall be allowed to graze freely among the land during this year of sabbath.

The people shall count sabbaths until they reach their seventh. On the seventh sabbath, forty nine years shall have passed, and on the "Day of Atonement" of that year the "trumpets of jubilee" shall fill the land. For the fiftieth year is a year to proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all of the inhabitants thereof*. Every man (except those enslaved for life) shall be cleared of their debts and returned to their families. The fiftieth year shall be the "Year of Jubilee" to the people of Israel, and no crops are to be sown nor reaped, nor shall any grapes be gathered. Only the excess food that grows wild in the fields shall be eaten. Every man shall return to his original family possessions - if he had sold his family home, it now will belong to him once again. Due to this, if any land is sold during the preceding forty nine years, a fair price must be arrived upon depending on how many years remain until the next "Year of Jubilee". According to the number of years before the "Year of Jubilee", the higher the number of years, the higher the price is set, with the prices diminishing until the next celebration.

The people are not to oppress their neighbors with a higher than fair price, with a fair price being determined upon by the amount of crops that can be grown from the land. God claims that he is to be feared, and that those who wish to live "safely" (probably more aptly put as "those who simply wish to remain alive, and not be brutally killed") need to follow and obey all of God's laws.

God also addresses the possible question the people might have about what they're supposed to eat in the seventh year, the year of sabbath, if they're not allowed to sow any crops. God answers this hypothetical question by promising to "bless the land" with surplus crops in the sixth year that will bring forth enough food for three years. Then as the crops of the eighth year are being sown, the people will still be eating the old food (from the surplus in the sixth year) in the ninth year and continue doing so until the new crops have been stored.

God now tells the people of Israel that they are not allowed to permanently sell the land, as it doesn't belong to them - it belongs to God, and the people of Israel are simply just tenants.

God continues on by stating that there will always be a "buy back clause" on all sales of land among the people of Israel. If a man becomes poor and sells his land to someone else, either he himself (when he's able to afford it) or his family can buy it back at any time at a price proportionate until the next "Year of Jubilee". If the man, or his family, however cannot afford to reclaim the property, he will have to wait until the next "Year of Jubilee" to reclaim the land.

However, if a man sells a house within the city walls, he has only up to a year to buy it back. After a year has lapsed, it will now permanently belong to the new owner and will not have to be returned in the "Year of Jubilee". This does not apply to village houses outside of the city walls, as they will be counted the same as the fields, and can be redeemed at any time, and must be returned at the next "Year of Jubilee".

God however makes an exception for the city houses belonging to the Levites, which even if residing within the city walls may be redeemed at any time and also must be returned at the next "Year of Jubilee". God says that he makes this exception for the Levites as they are not permitted to sell any of their fields - they are to remain permanent possessions of the tribe of Levi and to never belong to anyone else.

God states that if a man's brother becomes poor, he is to help his brother and invite him to live with them. A man's brother is not to be turned away, nor is a man allowed to charge interest on any money lent to his brother. Anything a man sells to his brother must be sold at cost and not profited upon. God punctuates this by once again stating that he's the guy who freed the people from their slavery in Egypt, and that he has given them the "promised land" of Canaan, and has agreed to be their god.

If your brother that now lives with you due to his poverty, or any other Israeli, sells himself into slavery, he must not be treated as a regular slave (this means no beating your brother, as you're allowed to do with your regular slaves) but must instead be treated like a "hired servant" or a guest in your home. He is only to serve until the "Year of Jubilee", both he and his children with him, may then return to his family and unto the land that is his family's possession. God states the people of Israel are his personal servants and therefore must not be treated like ordinary slaves (which may be beaten into submission.)

The "ordinary" slaves which the people of Israeli shall have, shall be of the "heathens" that live in the surrounding areas. Of them you shall buy slaves from. Also the children and family of foreigners living amongst the land of Israel shall be bought and become possessions of the people of Israel. These slaves shall be given as inheritance to the children of the slave's master - to inherit them as a possession, and they shall be slaves forever. However, as for the people of Israel, they are not to be rule over one another with such rigor.

If an Israeli sells himself into slavery to a foreigner that is richer than himself, after he is sold into slavery he can be redeemed at any time by either his uncle, his cousin (his uncle's son), or by anyone that is a close family relative - or he may buy his own freedom if he can later afford to do so. The price of his freedom (like the price of land sold in the "promised land") must be in proportion to the number of years until the next "Year of Jubilee". If there are many years until the next "Year of Jubilee", then the price of his freedom should be close to the price he was bought for, likewise if the "Year of Jubilee" is only a few years away, then again the price of his freedom shall be set accordingly.

An Israeli sold into slavery to a foreigner is to be treated as a "hired servant" and not as rigorously as an "ordinary slave" would. All Israeli slaves that have not been bought out of their slavery will become free in the "Year of Jubilee", both the slave and his children amongst him.

God claims that the people of Israel belong to him and are in fact his servants - who (he once again reminds us) that he "brought forth from out of the land of Egypt".
Notes:1.) Yet more repetition of the significance of the mystical number seven.
2.) Liberty in this sense does not apply to those slaves who are bound in lifetime enslavement. Those slaves are considered property and not really people.
Thoughts:God begins this chapter explaining his seven year sabbaths, before moving onto his further stipulations of property laws, including his laws on slavery which appear to contradict on one of the laws set down in Exodus: Chapter 21.

Continuing on with the bible's obsession with the mystical significance of the number seven, not only are the Israeli people to observe a sabbath from working every seven days, once they reach and settle into the "promised land", they are to observe another form of a sabbath by not doing any farming or harvesting of crops every seventh year. After seven of these seven year sabbaths, they are to mark this passing on the "Day of Atonement" - which in the Hebrew calendar falls on the tenth day of the seventh month (September) - with the sounds of trumpets throughout the land marking the arrival of the fiftieth year, as seven seventh year sabbaths equal forty nine years having passed.

On this grand fiftieth year anniversary of settling in to the "promised land", and for every subsequent fifty year anniversary afterward, the people are to celebrate a "Year of Jubilee". The main premise behind this "Year of Jubilee" celebration surprisingly has nothing to do with sacrificing animals, but is actually a year in which all debts incurred by the people of Israel are to be wiped clean - except for those poor unfortunate folks that have been enslaved for life simply to keep their families together. While nobody can farm their land during the "Year of Jubilee" - just like they can't during their seven year sabbaths - any Israeli that has sold any of their family property gets to reclaim it during the "Year of Jubilee".

Basically God's system of "selling" property is more akin to leasing it instead. If you find yourself in debt or would just like some extra spending cash, you lease out your land to someone else for a price that is relative to the number of years left until the next "Year of Jubilee". If you need cash or need to pay someone back, and it is some forty years or so until the next "Year of Jubilee", you can get a lot more money than you would if it were only a few years until the next "Year of Jubilee". Your asking price is basically determined on the worth of the amount of crops the land can produce per year, multiplied by the number of years until the next "Year of Jubilee". God threatens anyone's "safety" if they try and overcharge anyone for this - and I'm sure we can all imagine what this threat probably entails when we see how he deals with people who speak his name in a way in which he doesn't approve.

God, figuring that people must be scratching their heads trying to figure out how they're going to be able to have enough food to eat if they have to stop farming every seven years (and in both the forty-ninth and fiftieth years during the "Year of Jubilee" celebrations), answers this hypothetical question with his promise to "bless" the land in the year prior to the year-long sabbaths. This "blessing", God guarantees, will provide enough food to last for three years, so that everyone will be covered, even in sabbath years that lead straight into a "Year of Jubilee".

God clarifies his stances on land "ownership", stating that no one can ever sell their land permanently, because it in fact doesn't truly belong to them - it's God's land, and once he's given it to someone, they and their offspring and descendants are stuck with it forever - unless God excommunicates you and gives your land to someone else. (You can lease it anytime you like, but you can never leave...)

That being said, because of that, God states that every piece of land has a "buy back clause", where the original owners can buy the land back at anytime they like or can afford to do so, with the price again being proportionate with the amount of years left until the next "Year of Jubilee". The "buy back clause" can also be redeemed by close relatives of the seller, so hypothetically, if your uncle happens to be a terrible gambler and loses his family's farm, grandpa can come to the rescue and buy the farm back from his bookie.

However, God's rules for houses within the walls of the city are quite different. If you sell your city house, you've only got a year to change your mind and buy it back, otherwise it permanently belongs to the new owner. Houses outside the city in villages however are treated like the land out in the fields, and can be bought back whenever and will return back to it's original owner when the "Year of Jubilee" arrives. God makes an exception for the Levites, who can buy back their city house whenever they choose, since God will not allow them to "sell" (or more aptly, lease) their farmland, as the land given to the Levites is never to be owned by any "commoner".

God now moves on to the subject of personal debt and states that if your brother somehow manages to go broke, you have to take him in to live with you. If you loan him any money, you're not to tack on any interest, and anything you might sell to him you are not allowed to profit from - you must sell it to him at cost only. God rubs in the whole "remember that I'm the guy who got you out that whole slavery business in Egypt, and I was nice enough to simply give you this land - so don't try and profit off of my 'generosity'" bit.

Now if your brother, or any other Israeli for that matter, sells himself into slavery, you're not actually allowed to treat him like a "common slave" - i.e. referring to the beatings you're allowed to deal out in accordance with Exodus: Chapter 21, and according to verse 43 - "thou shalt not rule over him with rigour". Israeli "slaves" are only to serve until either theirper debt is paid (by the slave himself or by family of the slave) or until the "Year of Jubilee". This appears to contradict Exodus 21:2 which states:
"If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing."
However, the law in Exodus 21 might perhaps only apply to slavery before the Israelis settle in the "promised land" of Canaan, where the law here in Leviticus might only apply to the Israelis after they reach and settle in Canaan. Whichever it may be, it is certainly not clear by what we have read.

A common apologist defense of God condoning slavery in the bible is that they claim that slavery was viewed and applied differently back in biblical times, and that therefore "slavery" was more more akin to "indentured servitude" - unless we're referring to the Egyptian enslavement of the Hebrews, in which they will readily admit was just as bad (if not worse?) than the more modern enslavement of Africans in the Americas. However, this is only true when applied to Hebrew slaves either owned by other Hebrews or owned within the land of Canaan by foreigners. God won't condone the Israelites to be treated like ordinary slaves, giving the explanation that the people of Israel are God's personal servants and therefore exempt from being treated like "ordinary" slaves.

However, God's view of non-Israeli slaves is vastly different and not only more in line with the common modern definition of slavery, but God makes it clear that not only does he condone slavery, he's also encouraging it! He tells the people of Israel that they may enslave any of the "heathens" from the surrounding areas of Canaan - or the children of any foreigner living in Canaan - and that these "heathen slaves" are to be considered slaves for life (meaning any children the "heathen slaves" might have will also become born into slavery) and are deemed as permanent property that is to be inherited by the slave master's descendants. The exact verses in the King James bible for Leviticus 25:44-46 are:
25:44 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
25:45 Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
25:46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.
By God specifically stating that Israeli slaves are not to be "ruled over with rigor" unlike the "heathen slaves" - who God specifically says are "property", and shall be "slaves forever" - this firmly refutes the explanation of comparing biblical slavery to indentured servitude.

Famous skeptic and creator of the website and Discovery Channel program "How Things Work", Marshall Brain, wrote a very thorough article concerning God's stances on slavery in the bible which sums up the argument eloquently. Quite simply, it's impossible to conceive of a "benevolent" deity who not only accepts but condones the oppression and cruelty of human slavery. The two stances are in complete opposition to one another.

One only needs to compare the repugnant and oppressive nature of this chapter in combination with the story from Genesis: Chapter 16 of Abraham, Sarah, and God condoning Sarah's beating of her pregnant slave Hagar - who was carrying Abraham's baby, and the following verses from Exodus Chapter 21:
21:20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
21:21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
Human slavery is simply not excusable no matter what the circumstance, and it is only worsened when one group of people are of the mindset to oppress other people due to their differences in culture, race, or for worshiping the wrong "god".

Continuing on, God claims that none of the people of Israel are to ever be treated as "ordinary slaves", even if they sell themselves into slavery to a foreigner, and that close family relatives can buy an Israeli out of slavery at any time (unlike the "heathen slaves" who are themselves and their offspring who are doomed to a life of slavery) or that they will be simply freed at the next "Year of Jubilee". Again, Hebrew slaves are to be treated as "hired servants", as God proclaims that every Israeli is first and foremost a servant to God - but apparently other people are okay to oppress at the right price.

No comments:

Post a Comment