There’s another important idea in this chapter, and it’s that of the kinsman-redeemer (see vv. 25-28). If a family was poor and was forced to sell their land, it wasn’t always necessary for them to wait till the Year of Jubilee came around to get it back. That could be a lifetime away. If that year came in your youth, you may be an old man before you got your land back. However, it was possible for the land to be bought back and restored to the original owner by a near relative who was called a kinsman-redeemer. Or, if the original owner prospered, he had the right to buy it back again. Now the amount the original owner had to pay was the difference between what the buyer had paid for it originally and the amount of crops that he had gotten out of it in the meantime. So if he had paid for ten years of crops and only three harvests had gone by, he had to be paid for the seven years of crops.
We don’t know whether Jubilee was ever actually put into practice, but we do know, from the marvelous illustration in the book of Ruth, that the buying back of the land was practiced. The book of Ruth tells the story of a poor family. The wife in the family was named Naomi, and because of poverty she and her husband sold their land. They went with their two sons down to Moab to live there. Now while they were there, the two sons married two Moabite women. The husband of Naomi died. The sons died. Naomi was left with the two daughters-in-law, one of whom was Ruth. Naomi decided it was time to go back to her own land, and Ruth went back with her. The land that had been sold should have gone back to Naomi, so there was this negotiation to see who, as the kinsman-redeemer, would buy it back.
There was a very near relative who was willing to do it at first. His reasoning may have been something like this: “Naomi doesn’t have any sons. Therefore, if I redeem the land for her, eventually it would come to me anyway. So I don’t mind paying for it. I would be glad to get the land.” And then Boaz pointed out to him that if he did that, he also had to marry Ruth because she was the daughter-in-law. He had to raise up an heir to Naomi from Ruth and the land would belong to the heir and not to the man who redeemed it. Well, when he found out that he wasn’t going to have the land ultimately, he didn’t want to redeem the land, and so Boaz did. Now Boaz was very glad to play the role of the kinsman-redeemer, because he was in love with Ruth. In doing so, he established the line through which David came, and eventually the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most Bible scholars see in that a prefiguring of the work of Jesus Christ. He’s our redeemer, but He is also our kinsman-redeemer. He became our relative by the incarnation; He became one of us. Then He redeemed us, and He paid the price of our redemption from sin by His death on the cross.
Leviticus 25:29-34 tells how houses in the city could be sold without the right of redemption. Why does that matter? It shows that there were cases of ownership to which the Jubilee principle did not apply, and this is one of them. What makes this case different is that houses within the walled city had no land attached to them, and therefore they didn’t fall under the provisions which were meant to keep land intact for the benefit of Hebrew people and their families. You see, if out in the countryside there was a field with a house on it, and that was sold, then in a year of Jubilee the house went back with the land. But in the city it didn’t apply, because the principle had to do with the land and not with the buildings.
That’s very balanced legislation. It doesn’t lend itself towards justification of forced redistribution of land, but neither does it lend itself to indifference towards the poor. It established, among other things, the right of private property, because a man who owned a house in the city really owned it. When he wanted to sell it, he could sell it, and the man who bought it really owned it. He could pass it on to his descendants and he didn’t have to worry about it being given up during the Year of Jubilee, or any other time. Verse 30 says, “The house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and his descendants.”
At the same time, there was a safeguard built in. A man who was forced to sell his house under adverse circumstances had the right to redeem it within the period of twelve months from the date of the sale. But after that he no longer had the right to buy it back. That was eminently fair legislation because it protected the man who was forced to sell. Maybe he had a pressing financial need. His family was starving, but he really didn’t want to give up his house. He needed his house. It protected him. If fortune changed, he could get it back. But at the same time, it protected the man who bought it. The man knew that for twelve months he didn’t possess absolute ownership of the property, but at the end of the twelve months he really owned it.
It strikes me that this principle of time might be something that could be worked into certain kinds of US law. I’m not a lawyer, and lawyers would be far more helpful than I am in this. But I did notice in the papers not long ago this case of the little girl Jessica who had been raised by foster parents for two years. And then by the laws of our land, because the biological mother who had given her up changed her mind and wanted to get the baby back, the laws of our country forced the family that had raised and loved the child, to give her up to parents who didn’t even know her, although they wanted her. Most people recognize that this is not just or right. It would be possible to build in a time period in a law is like that. In other words, you could give up a child for adoption but you could have, for example, six months or a year in which you can reconsider. A family that would adopt a child would realize from the beginning that the mother might have a chance to reclaim the child. But at the end of that period, this law of a certain time limit would run out and the family would really have the child. This is one example in the realm of U.S. laws that might be helpful.