We have here the laws concerning servitude, designed to preserve the honour of the Jewish nation as a free people, and rescued by a divine power out of the house of bondage, into the glorious liberty of God’s sons, his first-born. Now the law is,
I. That a native Israelite should never be made a bondman for perpetuity. If he was sold for debt, or for a crime, by the house of judgment, he was to serve but six years, and to go out the seventh; this was appointed, Exod. 21:2. But if he sold himself through extreme poverty, having nothing at all left him to preserve his life, and if it was to one of his own nation that he sold himself, in such a case it is here provided, 1. That he should not serve as a bond-servant (Lev. 25:39), nor be sold with the sale of a bondman (Lev. 25:42); that is, “it must not be looked upon that his master that bought him had as absolute a property in him as in a captive taken in war, that might be used, sold, and bequeathed, at pleasure, as much as a man’s cattle; no, he shall serve thee as a hired servant, whom the master has the use of only, but not a despotic power over.” And the reason is, They are my servants, Lev. 25:42. God does not make his servants slaves, and therefore their brethren must not. God had redeemed them out of Egypt, and therefore they must never be exposed to sale as bondmen. The apostle applies this spiritually (1 Cor. 7:23), You are bought with a price, be not the servants of men, that is, “of the lusts of men, no, nor of your own lusts;” for, having become the servants of God, we must not let sin reign in our mortal bodies, Rom. 6:12, 22. 2. That while he did serve he should not be ruled with rigour, as the Israelites were in Egypt, Lev. 25:43. Both his work and his usage must be such as were fitting for a son of Abraham. Masters are still required to give to their servants that which is just and equal, Col. 4:1. They may be used, but must not be abused. Those masters that are always hectoring and domineering over their servants, taunting them and trampling upon them, that are unreasonable in exacting work and giving rebukes, and that rule them with a high hand, forget that their Master is in heaven; and what will they do when he rises up? as holy Job reasons with himself, Job 31:13, 14. 3. That at the year of jubilee he should go out free, he and his children, and should return to his own family, Lev. 25:41. This typified our redemption from the service of sin and Satan by the grace of God in Christ, whose truth makes us free, John 7:32. The Jewish writers say that, for ten days before the jubilee-trumpet sounded, the servants that were to be discharged by it did express their great joy by feasting, and wearing garlands on their heads: it is therefore called the joyful sound, Ps. 89:15. And we are thus to rejoice in the liberty we have by Christ.
II. That they might purchase bondmen of the heathen nations that were round about them, or of those strangers that sojourned among them (except of those seven nations that were to be destroyed); and might claim a dominion over them, and entail them upon their families as an inheritance, for the year of jubilee should give no discharge to them, Lev. 25:44, 46. Thus in our English plantations the negroes only are used as slaves; how much to the credit of Christianity I shall not say. Now, 1. This authority which they had over the bondmen whom they purchased from the neighbouring nations was in pursuance of the blessing of Jacob, Gen. 27:29; Let people serve thee. 2. It prefigured the bringing in of the Gentiles to the service of Christ and his church. Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thy inheritance, Ps. 2:8. And it is promised (Isa. 61:5), Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your vine-dressers; see Rev. 2:26, 27. The upright shall have the dominion in the morning, Ps. 49:14. 3. It intimates that none shall have the benefit of the gospel jubilee but those only that are Israelites indeed, and the children of Abraham by faith: as for those that continue heathenish, they continue bondmen. See this turned upon the unbelieving Jews themselves, Gal. 4:25; where Jerusalem, when she had rejected Christ, is said to be in bondage with her children. Let me only add here that, though they are not forbidden to rule their bondmen with rigour, yet the Jewish doctors say, “It is the property of mercy, and way of wisdom, that a man should be compassionate, and not make his yoke heavy upon any servant that he has.”
III. That if an Israelite sold himself for a servant to a wealthy proselyte that sojourned among them care should be taken that he should have the same advantages as if he had sold himself to an Israelite, and in some respects greater. 1. That he should not serve as a bondman, but as a hired servant, and not to be ruled with rigour (Lev. 25:53), in thy sight, which intimated that the Jewish magistrates should particularly have an eye to him, and, if he were abused, should take cognizance of it, and redress his grievances, though the injured servant did not himself complain. Also he was to go free at the year of jubilee, Lev. 25:54. Though the sons of strangers might serve them for ever, yet the sons of Israel might not serve strangers for ever; yet the servant here, having made himself a slave by his own act and deed, should not go out in the seventh year of release, but in the jubilee only. 2. That he should have this further advantage that he might be redeemed again before the year of jubilee, Lev. 25:48, 49. He that had sold himself to an Israelite might, if ever he was able, redeem himself, but his relations had no right to redeem him. “But if a man sold himself to a stranger,” the Jews say, “his relations were urged to redeem him; if they did not, it was fit that he should be redeemed at the public charge,” which we find done, Neh. 5:8. The price of his ransom was to be computed according to the prospect of the year of jubilee (Lev. 25:50-52), as in the redemption of land, Lev. 25:15, 16. The learned bishop Patrick quotes one of the Jewish rabbin for an evangelical exposition of that appointment (Lev. 25:48), One of his brethren shall redeem him. “This Redeemer,” says the rabbi, “is the Messiah, the Son of David.” They expected this Messiah to be their Redeemer out of their captivity, and to restore them to their own land again; but we welcome him as the Redeemer who shall come to Zion, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob, for he shall save his people from their sins; and under this notion there were those that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.