Land Ownership Rights in Leviticus 25: Acquisition, Redemption, and Restoration

The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. (Lev 25:23 NIV)

The pages of human history are red with the blood of the poor who became poor and were never again given the opportunity to be restored again because of laws or polities that prevented the redemption or restoration of their land to them. In India, for ages, the zamindars (zamin=land; land holders) held large portions of local lands keeping poor peasants in subjection to them. The British colonialists made use of the zamindari system to collect taxes and revenues. After Independence, several land reforms have been attempted to relieve the poor and the oppressed classes. Still, there are millions who continue to be landless and homeless.

In Leviticus 25, God pronounces His principles of land acquisition and ownership for the Israelites, with provisions of both redemption and restoration. Of course, selfish humans do not appreciate the divine heart very much when it comes to property, but they must also not forget that their life on earth is short-lived; therefore, they must learn to pass their time on earth as pilgrims. God's laws protected the rights of families and gave them an opportunity to be redeemed from nothingness.
  1. Agricultural land must be given rest on every 7th year; i.e. no cultivation work is to be done in the 7th year, the year of Rest (Lev 25:1-7).
  2. The 50th year is the year of Jubilee and rest and everyone is to return to his own property (See #5. Lev 25:8-13)
  3. Buying and Selling of agricultural land is to be on the basis of the number of years since and to the year of Jubilee (50th year). Purchase price must be determined by the number of years since the Jubilee. Selling price must be determined by the number of years left for harvesting crops (Lev. 25:14-17). What is sold is not the land but the number of crops (Lev. 25:16).
  4. The land cannot be sold permanently, because the land belongs to God and we are just aliens and God's tenants. This means that with every land transaction, there must be a provision of redemption (Lev.25:23)
  5. A near relative of the citizen has the right of redemption of a land sold by that citizen. The citizen himself can redeem it by calculating its value on the basis of the number of years since he sold it. However, if he is unable to redeem it, his sold property must be returned to him in the Jubilee (Lev 25:25-28)
  6. House sold within a walled city can only be redeemed within a full year. If it is not redeemed within a year, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and his descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee. But, houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee (Lev. 25:29-31)
  7. The Levites always have the right to redeem their houses in the Levitical towns. But, the pastureland belonging to these towns cannot be sold. (Lev. 25:32-34)
Modern polities and histories differ from the one of Israel in the Pre-Monarchy period. However, God's Word does caution us against selfish attachment to property at the expense of our fellow humans.
  1. Do not exploit the poor. God protects their rights and administers justice on behalf of them.
  2. Do not exploit the land selfishly. God's blessing is not dependent on our continuous labour but on our obedience to His Word (Lev. 25: 18-22)
  3. Do not do ruled by greed but walk according to grace. The law of purchase and selling on the basis of Jubilee teaches us that our eyes must look towards Grace.
  4. Be honest and generous.
  5. Live as strangers and pilgrims, as accountable to God.