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Vayikra/Leviticus 25:31 And the houses of the open space that have no walls around them
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The word comes from a root that is not used in biblical Hebrew; its Arabic equivalent means "to enclose" or "to call together". The noun is listed by Davidson as meaning "an enclosure, area, court" or "village, hamlet"; the second meaning seems more likely in the context of this verse.Targum Onkelos chooses the word , meaning "open" or "unwalled", the same choice as in B'resheet 25:16 and D'varim 3:5 and that Targum Jonathan gives in Joshua 13:28, seeming to follow the simple meaning of the text. Rashi also supports this: "the houses of the yards: open towns without a wall"; he also quotes Joshua 13:28 "the walled cities and their open towns" and B'resheet 25:16, "in their open towns and in their cities".
Baruch Levine (JPS Torah Commentary: Vayikra) comments on the history of the word. While D'varim 2:23 relates that the land of the Ammonites was once populated by a people who lived in "tents", and Isaiah 42:11 describes the Kedemite tribes living in tents encampments near Petra, in the genealogy of Ishmael given in B'resheet 25:12ff the clans live in "circular encampments". In this text, however, the scene has changed from a nomadic lifestyle to a more fixed or settled pattern. Levine says, "Here, reference is primarily to agricultural villages, where there were houses, not tents, and fields, not pastureland." This then is part of the contrast between houses built within walled cities, or within their curtilage, and houses that are part of agricultural settlements, built among the among the fields without protecting walls.
The surrounding verses are discussing the conveyance and redemption rules for houses and land, particularly in the context of the jubilee year. "If someone sells a dwelling in walled city, he has one year after the date of sale in which to redeem it ... but if he has not redeemed the dwelling in the walled city within the year, then title in perpetuity passes to the buyer through all his generations; it will not revert in the yovel. However, houses in villages not surrounded by walls are to be dealt with like the fields of the countryside - they may be redeemed, and they revert in the yovel" (Vayikra 25:29-31, CJB). A house that is in a city, an enclosed space, only has a short time window for redemption - to be bought back if the seller changes his mind of comes into the means - otherwise the sale becomes permanent, even enduring the year of Jubilee. A house that is out in the countryside, on the other hand, is treated like the fields in which it is located: it is part of someone's livelihood, part of the means of making an income, so may always be redeemed and reverts to its original owner in the year of Jubilee. The right of redemption meant that even after an item had been sold - be that land, a house or even a person - the original owner or his family (tribe, clan, extended family) could insist upon the reversal of the sale and the transfer back to the owner of the item concerned, provided that they could pay the value of the item at that time. The purchaser could, of course, use the item in the meantime, but had no choice but to surrender it if a person with the right of redemption produced the money and demanded that it be so. In the year of Jubilee, all non-permanent conveyances of land and property reverted to their original owners without any money changing hands. Therefore, the maximum time that a field, for example, could be "out" of a family's ancestral holdings was between one Jubilee year and the next, 50 years. The price of an item was therefore governed by the number of years that a purchaser had until the Jubilee, the number of crops or crop-cycles that could be worked from the soil in that time.
The essential difference between open and closed territory is that the open can always be redeemed, whereas the closed is transferred in perpetuity after a short window when it can be redeemed. Although this is an imperfect analogy - as all analogies are - this is an interesting picture of our lives and the way we are affected by sin. Sin closes us down, so that we become unavailable to our original owner for "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). We have only a short window in which to try and redeem the situation - have you noticed that the longer you wait to say 'sorry' for offending someone, the more difficult it becomes? One sin leads to another until we become completely trapped in habits of sin that seem impossible to break. Even those who have had relationship with G-d can be trapped in this way so that after a time they become just like all the people of the world around them. The sin builds a wall around the person so that instead of being a house in the open space, redeemable on demand, they become a dwelling in a walled city, transferred in perpetuity to another owner.
How desperate this would be if it were not for another verse earlier in the chapter: G-d says, "The land is not to be sold in perpetuity, because the land belongs to Me - you are only foreigners and temporary residents in Me" (25:23, CJB). Although we may think that we hold the head lease, G-d remains the freeholder and can always exercise His right of redemption. Yeshua paid the price for our sin so that when we turn to Him, He demands our release from the current lease-holder and tears down the wall that sin has built around us, returning us to relationship with G-d and the open spaces where we can bring forth a crop of righteousness for Him.
Further Study: Psalm 49:7-8; Joel 2:18-20
Application: Where are you? Are you a house in the open space, with no walls around you, open to G-d and able to fellowship with Him, or are you closed in, surrounded by walls of sin, closed off and feeling that you have been sold in perpetuity? Turn to G-d today and ask Him to exercise His rights of freehold in Messiah Yeshua to redeem you and set you free.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
Comment - 17May08 01:28 Michael: Especially relevant when we consider what walls around our hearts do. They prevent our hearing (much like walls dividing a highway from nearby neighborhoods) from God. David says that if we are not hearing God (if God is silent, we must not be listening because He is the same through all eternity), we are just like those who go down into the pit. Ps. 28:1
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