Biblical Economics

2. Laws Concerning Property

ouses in walled towns are exceptions. The right of redemption is limited to one year, except in the case of Levites, who have no landed property other than the pasture lands attached to their towns. Levites have an unlimited right of redemption and, if they are unable to redeem a house, it returns in the year of liberty.

Leviticus 27 elaborates the law with regard to property donated to God (i.e. for the use of the Temple). Its value is computed according to the number of years until the jubilee However, if the owner, instead of exercising his right of redemption, should transfer it to another party, when the jubilee comes it will return not to him but to the Temple. If a man dedicates a leased field to the Lord, it returns to the original owner (or his heirs) in the jubilee.

Deuteronomy adds nothing to Leviticus, but stresses the sabbatical year and the cancellation of debts, along with a solemn command not to covet another's fields (5.21). In time, the coveting of other men's lands and the seizing of them by foreclosing of mortgages became a serious abuse which would only be justified by appealing from the laws of the Bible to the laws of Baal. There are further references to the sanctity of boundary markers and subsidiary issues. Deuteronomy, however, allows a number of exceptions in dealing with non-Israelites, and the three cases, referred to above, of land being bought in perpetuity happen all to involve purchase from non-Israelites. In each case, however, it was not a private transaction but involved the approval of the entire tribe from whom the title was obtained.

All other titles were obtained directly from the Lord by the casting of lots on land taken in war under the divine mandate to possess and divide the land of Canaan.

The three exceptions are as follows. Gen. 23: Abraham buys a burial place for a perpetual possession from the Hittites. Presumably this was a valid sale under Hittite law. The ruling body of the Hittite people witnessed the transaction and approved. Gen. 33: Jacob buys a lot on which to build an altar, from the Shechemites. This transaction is referred to again in Josh. 24.32 and John 4.5. It was purchased from the whole tribe, not from any private individual. Finally, in 2 Samuel 24 and in I Chr. 21. we have the account of David buying a threshing floor from the chief (Araunah, or Ornan appears to be a title, not a man's name) of the Jebusites.

A fourth case is that of Omri (I Kg 16) buying the hill of Samaria from a private individual. But, as we shall we, Omri was the revolutionary or usurper who introduced the Baal land laws into Israel, and it is recorded of him that "he did what is displeasing to the Lord."