Summaries of the content of the law are listed below under the following general headings
- Property and Trade
- Personal Requirements
- Responsibilities Toward Other Citizens
This week we will look at the Property and Trade.
Property and Trade
The land was ultimately owned by God, who granted its distribution on a tribal basis. It is referred to by God as ‘my land’ e.g.: Leviticus 25:23, Is 14:25, Jeremiah 2:7, Jeremiah 16:18, Ezekiel 36:5, Ezekiel 38:16 and Joel 3:2. This placed limits on the authority of rulers who might exercise control over civil matters (religious matters being under the jurisdiction of the priesthood), however there was no royal prerogative over land ownership, which is amply demonstrated in the case of Naboth who had legal rights to deny King Ahab ownership of his vineyard 1 Kings 21:1-19.
The tribal inheritance was described by casting of lots (Joshua 18:8-10), this was further broken down into allotments for families. Subsequent succession was patrilineal, with a double portion going to the firstborn as compared to subsequent male offspring. Inheritance where no male offspring existed, was addressed by case law based on precedent set by the question of Zelophehad’s daughters, described in Numbers 27:1-11; this, in the absence of a male descendent, allowed land to pass through the female, as long as she married within her own tribe.
Based on the statements made by Jacob to Levi and Simeon (Genesis 49:5-7 Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty … I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel), they did
not receive a separate inheritance. Simeon received areas within the tribal lands of Judah (Joshua 19:1) and Levi received defined cities scattered throughout the inheritances of the other tribes (Joshua 21).
Permanent sale and transfer of land ownership was not allowed, all such transactions were on the basis of a 50 year cycle where; on the festival of the Jubilee the land was returned to the original family. An exception of this rule was made for dwellings within a non-Levite city where, if it were not redeemed within one year, it would pass permanently to new owners (Leviticus 25:29-30). The only way to raise capital against rural land was effectively by a secured loan, where the value of the land as collateral, was based on its projected crop value before the next Jubilee (Leviticus 25:25-28).
Movement of boundary markers was prohibited (Deuteronomy 19:14, 27:17).
Work was restricted to a six day week, with the Sabbath legally enforced as a day of rest, with the death sentence for noncompliance (Exodus 31:14-15).
Justice and honesty in trade were defined requirements:- Leviticus 19:35-36 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. Disobedience of these laws were attacked in the prophetic message, for example Amos 8:4-6 Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?
Fellow Israelites might be used as hired labour, whilst slave ownership was restricted to those of other nationalities (Leviticus 25:39-46).
The standard fine for theft was double the value of that taken and where livestock was killed a 5 fold rate of restoration was set for oxen and 4 fold for sheep (Exodus 22:1-9).
The Law contained numerous disparate statutes covering a wide spectrum of an individual’s life, with the ultimate sanctions of excommunication and death for disobedience.
Meat sources were controlled, only species designated as ‘clean’ could be eaten (Leviticus 11). Eating of blood was forbidden (Leviticus 17:12-14).
Animals that died through natural causes were not to be used for meat (Leviticus 17:15). It was forbidden to; boil a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19).
Use of mixed fabrics in clothing was forbidden Deuteronomy 22:11.
A thread of blue was to be added to their outer garments (Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). Cross-dressing was forbidden (Deuteronomy 22:5).
Male circumcision at 8 days was required (Leviticus 12:3)
Beard Growth, Hair Cutting & Body Markings
Requirements are given in Leviticus 19:27-28 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 21:5 They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
Personal Sickness and Uncleanness
Contact with a dead human or animal carcase brought defilement, against which ritual cleansing was required. Similarly defined sicknesses brought uncleanness which required ritual cleansing (Leviticus 15), leprosy being an example for which most detail is given in; diagnosis, isolation and cleansing (Leviticus 13).