“If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. But if he has not sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.”
Here is a perfect example of how the Law of God and the divine economy turn “upside-down” our thinking about the way things are or ought to be. In the American economy, property tends to improve in value, and people who buy property typically expect to turn a profit when they sell it.
In Israel the value of property was fixed by the amount of harvest a portion of land could expect to yield. When one sold his land, perhaps because he could not work it as the land deserved, he was paid the price of harvests remaining until the Year of Jubilee. The person who bought the land would then have incentive to work it, because the only hope of real gain he might have would depend on his ability to produce more from the land than the standard yield (which was itself subject to price controls).
If one who sold the land decided to buy it back, all he had to pay was the difference in years remaining between when he sold it and the Jubilee. Thus, he would not pay more to redeem his land, but less, and the one from whom he redeemed it, if he were diligent during his tenure on the land, would end up with more than he had originally invested. At the very least, he would not receive less.
Thus greed, speculation, and indolence were all checked and controlled by devotion to God and proper stewardship of His land.
Sign up to receive Crosfigell, our thrice-weekly email devotional, featuring T. M. Moore’s insights to Scripture and the Celtic Christian tradition.