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Vayikra/Leviticus 25:32 And the cities of the Levites, the houses of the cities of their inheritance, an eternal redemption shall be for the Levites.
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Vayikra 25:32-34 are the only verses in the whole of the book of Vayikra that mention the Levites (Drazin and Wagner) and take us back into the laws of property redemption in ancient Israel. Normally, a house in a walled city may be redeemed within a year of its being sold, but once the anniversary of its sale has passed, the sale becomes absolute with no right of redemption. This rule does not apply, however, in the case of the Levites, or does it?
Earlier in the Torah,HaShem has commanded that because the Levites serve Him, they should not have the normal inherited property rights, so having to farm and cultivate the land to earn their living and provide their food, but instead should be supported by the other tribes by means of regular tithes. But they do need somewhere to live - a roof over their heads - and somewhere to keep a few cattle for fresh meat and so on, so He instructs Moshe to allocate some of the walled cities throughout the Land to the Levites: "The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities. All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be forty-eight, with their pasturelands" (B'Midbar 35:6-7, ESV). This allocation took place once much of the Land had been possessed: "So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation" (Joshua 20:7-9, ESV) and the following chapter goes on to list the other 42 cities that were given to the Levites, but not designated "cities of refuge".
But there was a problem. All the Israelites were permitted to sell their houses in normal commercial transactions. A house or property not in a walled city could always be redeemed and would in any case revert to its original owner in the year of Jubilee, but houses in walled cities could only be redeemed for a year and if not redeemed in that time, became permanent not reverting at the Jubilee. What was to prevent the Levite cities losing their Levitical character over time and the Levites losing the only property they had been allocated: the roofs over their heads? Hence the variation recorded in our text.Rashi explains the extra benefit granted to the Levites: "If they sold a field from among their fields which are given to them in the two thousand cubits around the cities, or if they sold a house in a walled city, they may redeem it forever and it does not become absolute at the end of a year". The Sages discussed whether this applied to any house bought or inherited by a Levite, or to Levitical houses bought or inherited by non-Levites. "If an Israelite inherited from his mother's father who was a Levite, he cannot redeem it. If a Levite inherited from his mother's father who was an Israelite, he cannot redeem it. [The special rules do not apply] unless he is a Levite and in the cities of the Levites. These are the words of Rabbi, but the Sages say: these things apply only to the cities of the Levites" (m. Arachin 9:8). This is amplified by later rabbinic commentary: "The Sages, say: 'These things apply only to the cities of the Levites'. But we do not say that he must be a Levite." (b. Arachin 33b). Hirsch summarises that, "this right is attached not to the person, but to the city. If it is not redeemed, in any case it reverts in the Jubilee".
This discussion is a specific case of the general question: Who has a right of redemption over what? Property transfer is affected by the payment of a fee. A vendor who wants (or needs) to sell, sells to a purchaser who may be anyone who wishes to buy and can pay. While the process of redemption also involves the payment of a fee, not everyone has the right to redeem. This is normally restricted to (close) family of the original or ancestral owner; the closest people have the first call on the right of redemption, only if they decline does the right pass to the next closest person. This can be seen in Boaz's words to Ruth: "While it is true I am a redeeming kinsman, there is another redeemer closer than I" (Ruth 3:12, JPS), where the 'fee' for redeeming Naomi's field was marrying Ruth and raising up a grandson to inherit Elimelech's property. This in turn points to two key features of the right of redemption: firstly, as its name suggests, it is a right - the current 'owner' or holder of the property may not refuse redemption; secondly, neither the redeemer nor the one from whom the property is being redeemed chooses the price - this is determined according to a fixed schedule or formula, depending on the value of the item and the length of time until the year of Jubilee.
Mankind has been made in the image of G-d. Because He created us, He had ownership over us, but chose to give that ownership to us so that we might in turn choose to have relationship with Him. Because of our sin, we have given that ownership to Satan, the enemy of our souls and the enemy of G-d. The price of our sin is death (Romans 3:23). Nevertheless, we are like the houses of the Levites: G-d, the original owner, has a permanent right of redemption. He can, at any time, pay the redemption fee. Yeshua, who has paid the price of our redemption, dying in our place, now has the right of redemption. He offers to redeem all those who turn to Him, who accept His offer of life. The enemy, who currently holds sway over all those who have not been redeemed, does not want anyone to be redeemed so protests and discourages redemption as much and as fiercely as possible, but cannot refuse; he must acknowledge that the price has been paid and withdraw from G-d's property.
Peter's choice of words when questioned before the Sanhedrin after he and John had been called in for teaching in the Temple courts about Yeshua after the lame man had been healed (Acts 3:1-10) often jars when we hear or read it, as it doesn't seem to read properly: "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12, ESV). We might prefer 'shall' or, in some circles 'may' or 'should', but 'must' sounds slightly awkward. It grates with post-modern man who shies away from anything that smacks of compulsion. The Greek text gives us no choice; it uses the word , an impersonal verb translated "it is necessary", "one must or has to". Peter's words proclaim the right of redemption: no matter what vocabulary the enemy may prefer us to use, G-d's authority in Yeshua means that when we cry out to Him, our redemption is guaranteed. As Rav Sha'ul says, "if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and believe in your heart that G-d raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9, ESV). No ifs or buts, no fiddly small print limiting the offer to one hour every alternate Tuesday afternoon; we must be saved. Isn't that good news!
Speaking at a time when the city of Jerusalem was under attack, the prophet Joel saw this clearly. Not only was the Spirit of G-d promised to all the people, and great signs foretold in the heavens, but G-d said, "Everyone who invokes the name of the L-RD shall escape; for there shall be a remnant on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the L-RD promised. Anyone who invokes the L-RD will be among the survivors" (Joel 3:5, JPS). This spoke clearly to Joel's original audience and was spoken into an overwhelmingly Jewish context. But the Ruach told Rav Sha'ul to broaden the application when he wrote to the community of believers in Rome: "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the L-rd will be saved'" (Romans 10:12-13, ESV). Now no longer limited to the physical descendants of Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov, salvation - relationship with G-d - is available to whoever will call on Him, from each and every nation and people-group. Yeshua is for everyone - man, woman and child, Jew or Gentile. He has the right of redemption for your life and your neighbours' lives, to break off the bonds and shackles of slavery and set you free to have the relationship with G-d for which you were made.
Further Study: Jeremiah 29:12-14; Matthew 7:7-8
Application: Who owns the freehold on your life? Have you been redeemed by the Son, or are you being oppressed by Satan? The Bible tells us to "Seek the L-RD while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:16, GWT). Call out today and put an end to the squatters who have no right to be holding you back from your inheritance in G-d!
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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