Leviticus 24-25 If your brother sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave

From Leviticus 24-25

03 Leviticus SacrificeFellow Israelites who fell on hard times were in potentially dire situations. They could starve to death. Not a good way to go. During this time they were vulnerable to exploitation. In today’s passage we learn a little about how Israel was to be different from the nations around them.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

Slavery was part of everyday life in biblical times. While for us today slavery has negative overtones, it was not necessarily thought of that way then. That being said, slaves had less rights than women. Today’s passage shows some of the laws which govern the care of people who sold themselves into slavery.

35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God. (Lev 25.35-38)

‘Cannot maintain himself with you’. The text implies a minimum requirement to live. I suggest this involves food, shelter and clothing. Just living requires ongoing work and prosperity.

‘Brother’, ‘Stranger and sojourner’. The command instructs the Israelites to look after their own brothers as they would strangers and travellers. They were commanded to be hospitable and care for other people, not just from their own family or nation.

‘Brought you out of Egypt’. The LORD bases His command on his own earlier treatment of them. They are to show their thankfulness to the LORD for His deliverance and provision in the way they look out for their brethren and strangers.

How should God’s treatment of you be reflected in your treatment of others?


39 “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers.

42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God. (Lev 25.39-43)

‘Poor’, ‘sells himself’. If their brothers situation is worse than the first. They may be forced into slavery because they are desperate for food, shelter and clothing.

How do you treat the poor in your church? Do you know any?

‘Year of Jubilee’. Every fiftieth year all ancestral property and slaves would be released and returned. The event and this whole chapter is symbolic of the LORD’s saving act in redeeming his people.

‘Not sold as slaves’. Part of the logic behind this is their own freedom from slavery in Egypt. If they have been freed by the LORD, they should not allow slavery for their own people again.

44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. 45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly. (Lev 25.44-46)

‘Among the nations’. A distinction is made between Israelites who sell themselves into slavery and foreigners. They are allowed to make slaves of foreigners and people from other nations. Sadly they did not have to be freed on the Jubilee year.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.

The whole chapter can be read in the light of slavery to sin. Someone who sins becomes indebted to the LORD. They must be punished to repay their debt. Its only when they are redeemed can they be bought out of slavery and be free again. In the light of Israels history, the exile and the time right up to Jesus were considered a period where Israel was paying of her debt accumulated by sin. The forgiveness of which is anticipated in the coming Christ.

Story of Jesus

In the Gospel, Jesus announced his ministry to the poor and enslaved.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4.16-21)

The year of the Jubilee was one year in fifty. The year of the LORD’s favour is now. This is the year we should be proclaiming to those in slavery. The time has come. Proclaim the LORD Jesus and the redemption he has paid for in his blood to rescue slaves to sin and death.

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