Leviticus is a combination of legal pronouncements couched in the narrative of Israel’s life around Mount Sinai. By setting forth the laws for community maintenance in the Promised Land, Moses reinforced the surety of God’s promise originally given to Abraham (see Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-16). The final chapters of Leviticus provided Israel with principles of how they should be holy with their money, using it for edification and not exploitation.
In Leviticus 25, the text emphasizes that Israel’s corporate occupancy of the land was to be more highly esteemed than the opportunity to maximize individual or familial prosperity. This idea is developed under two headings. The first is “laws concerning covenant socioeconomics and the Promised Land” (Lev 25:1-34). These themes come together in that Israel was to express their stewardship in obeying a Sabbath rest for the land (Lev 25:1-7) and reflect their temporary occupancy in the land by returning land-rights to the original family of ownership at every Jubilee (Lev 25:8-24). All of this was according to the declaration of the Lord: “The land is not to be permanently sold because it is Mine, and you are only foreigners and temporary residents on My land” (Lev 25:23).
The second heading is “covenant socioeconomics and servitude” (Lev 25:25-34). Just as property could be gained and lost temporarily, one’s economic status might change over time, according to the cycles of life. Thus, God commanded that the year of Jubilee have implications for socioeconomics and servitude. Since God had redeemed Israel from Egypt, the Israelites were not to take advantage of a brother who was destitute (Lev 25:35-38). Ultimately those of Israelite ancestry had priority in the land—as evidenced by their mandated release in the year of Jubilee, even if they were owned by a foreigner. This too was according to the declaration of the Lord: “The Israelites are My slaves. They are My slaves I brought out of the land of Egypt” (Lev 25:55).
The socioeconomic stipulations of Leviticus 25 are reinforced by the theme of God’s justice expressed in Leviticus 26. God promised to both reward Israel’s obedience by giving them peace in Canaan (Lev 26:1-13) and recompense their disobedience with exile and difficulty in a foreign land (Lev 26:14-39; see 2 Kgs 17:5-8; 24:10-17). These statements of warning were followed by statements of kindness to those who acted appropriately, and in Lev 26:40-46, God vowed justice toward the penitent by dwelling among them.
Leviticus 25-27 has national socioeconomics in view, that is, commands for Israel to be holy with their money and resources that they might be God’s faithful people in God’s land. Leviticus 27 concludes the instructions for Israel’s financial stewardship in Canaan by stating that if one made a vow in accord with a time of prosperity or need, God took the vow at face value. The text details seven different objects which an Israelite, in a time of prosperity or need, would be tempted to vow and the valuation for each one’s redemption. The proceeds collected would be used to maintain the cultic regime of Israel.
Leviticus 25-27 provided the young nation of Israel with instructions for financial sanctification in Canaan. In the storyline of Scripture, this theme—like so many—is transformed from a paradigm of life in Canaan to a paradigm of life in Christ and the church. Just as Israel was to use their resources for edifying their brothers and sisters, the New Testament records that those of faith in Christ are to use their finances for the same cause. Luke described the general situation of the church in Jerusalem writing that, “There was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as anyone had a need” (Acts 4:34-35). Paul wrote that this atmosphere of financial edification, especially for qualified widows (see Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim 5:2-16), was to characterize life in the church. He urged those with wealth not to trust in their resources, and instead to be generous with what the Lord gave them so that they could lay hold of eternal life, life that is real (1 Tim 6:17-19).