Deuteronomy 15 – Laws Regarding the Poor
A. Laws regarding the poor.
1. (1-6) Release of debts every seventh year.
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the LORD will greatly bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance; only if you carefully obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. For the LORD your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.
a. You shall grant a release of debts: In Israel, money was always loaned with the understanding that every seventh year, debts would be canceled. So there was no long-term debt in this sense – money could never be borrowed, or owed, for more than six years.
b. It is the LORD’s release: This was an important matter to God; the release was said to be the LORD’s release. As Israel obeyed this command, there would never be a permanent under-class in Israel. Some might go through a bad period but would have the opportunity to rebuild their lives financially on a regular basis.
c. When there may be no poor among you: God established an economic system wherein no one had to be chronically poor. If people would obey the LORD, He would bless (both sovereignly and as the natural result of the obedience), and they would not be poor.
i. However, Deuteronomy 15:11 – just a few verses down – states: For the poor will never cease from the land. Is God contradicting Himself? Not at all. He knows that He has established a system where no one must be chronically poor, yet He knew that because of disobedience, some would, and there would always be the poor in Israel.
ii. So, God did not guarantee prosperity for any one in Israel; but He did guarantee opportunity for prosperity for an obedient Israel.
d. You shall lend to many nations: If Israel obeyed and the individual citizens of Israel enjoyed the blessing of God’s prosperity, then they would as a nation be prosperous, and blessed above other nations.
2. (7-11) The command to be generous to the poor.
If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,” and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”
a. You shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother: The law of release in the seventh year was never to be used to discourage giving to those in need. The law might discourage lending to the poor, therefore God wanted Israel to be generous givers to those in need.
b. Of your brethren: This reminds us of Galatians 6:10 – Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Our charitable giving is to begin with those brothers and sisters closest to us, though it certainly can extend outward from there.
3. (12-15) The command to release slaves every seventh year.
If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.
a. In the seventh year you shall let him go free from you: Even as debts were to be canceled every seventh year, so were slaves to be freed. The slaves thought of here are those who have had to sell themselves into slavery because of their debt. This made certain that a “bankruptcy” did not harm an Israelite all their life. The worst that could happen is they would have to serve someone without pay for six years.
b. You shall not let him go away empty-handed: God commanded generosity to the departing slave, giving him something to start his new life with. This would give the slave about to be freed hope and greater incentive to please his master.
4. (16-18) The law of the bond-slave.
And if it happens that he says to you, “I will not go away from you,” because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do.
a. If it happens that he says to you, “I will not go away from you”: If a slave loved his master, and wanted to continue to serve him, he was not required to leave his master at the seventh year.
b. Because he loves you… you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door: The willing slave could stay, and his status was declared by piercing through his ear lobe with an awl at the door of his master’s home. In this, he declared his love and devotion to his master – a willing slave, who was free to choose and yet chose his master.
i. Jesus is the great fulfillment of this willing slave. Jesus said prophetically in Psalm 40:6: My ears You have opened, it speaks of this “opening” of the ear in the bond-slave ceremony. He was the willing bond-slave of God the Father.
ii. Isaiah 50:5-7 shows that Jesus’ character as the willing slave was most perfectly shown in His sufferings at the cross: The Lord GOD has opened My ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; Therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.
iii. The Christian is also to be a willing slave of God. The common New Testament word doulos describes this kind of slave. Hiebert says of doulos, “a slave, a bondservant, one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another… Among the Greeks, with their strong sense of personal freedom, the term carried a degrading connotation.”
c. He shall be your servant forever: Once agreeing to be a bond slave, that one was committed to their master forever. It was a permanent relationship.
i. Pagans had a custom of branding the slave with the name or the sign of the owner; Paul refers to himself as just such a slave in Galatians 6:17: From now on, let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Paul was a slave for life to Jesus.
B. The law of the firstborn.
1. (19) The principle of the firstborn.
All the firstborn males that come from your herd and your flock you shall sanctify to the LORD your God; you shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.
a. Sanctify to the LORD: This means to “set apart to the LORD”; the firstborn was to be set apart to God. The firstborn animal was not to be used as regular domesticated animal – you shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, not shear the firstborn of your flock.
b. All the firstborn males: This was for three reasons. First, because Israel was God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and this honored that fact. Second, because the firstborn was thought to be the best, and the best was always given to God. Finally, it was to be a reminder to all generations of when God redeemed Israel, His firstborn.
2. (20-23) What to do with the giving of the firstborn.
You and your household shall eat it before the LORD your God year by year in the place which the LORD chooses. But if there is a defect in it, if it is lame or blind or has any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God. You may eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean person alike may eat it, as if it were a gazelle or a deer. Only you shall not eat its blood; you shall pour it on the ground like water.
a. You and your household shall eat it before the LORD your God: When the firstborn animal was brought to the tabernacle (or later, the temple) and given to the priests for sacrifice unto the LORD, a portion of the sacrifice went to the family that brought the animal. It was given so that they could eat a joyful ceremonial meal before the LORD.
b. If there is any defect in it: If this was the case, the animal was given to the priests, but not sacrificed unto the LORD – or, it was redeemed for money and the money given unto the LORD.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission