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Scripture reading – Deuteronomy 15

Some in our churches suggest the Laws and Commandments of the Old Testament were cold, oppressive, and lacking in grace. They are wrong! In their historical context and with an understanding of their application, you will find that the Law and Commandments of the LORD are fair and judicious. For example, consider the guidelines for the borrower and lender recorded in Deuteronomy 15.

Debtors, Lenders, and the Sabbatical Year (15:1-6)

The Sabbath Year occurred every seven years on the Hebrew calendar, and it was the year the LORD commanded the land to rest. Fields were not worked, seeds were not planted, and any vegetation that volunteered and gave fruit was committed to the poor and grazing animals.

Consider how a man would pay his debt if he could not plant crops during the Sabbath Year. If unable to plant seeds and harvest crops, what became of a man who acquired debt? Because there was no harvest in the seventh year, the law did not permit lenders to press the poor for payment. Instead, in the Sabbath Year, the lender suspended the debt payment for the year (although a non-Hebrew was not released of his obligation to pay his debt in the seventh year, 15:3). Furthermore, God promised that if lenders showed their debtors grace, He would bless the nation (15:4). Indeed, Israel would become a lender, not a borrower, to other countries (15:5-6).

Lending to the Poor (15:7-11)

Concerning the poor, we read, “The poor shall never cease out of the land” (15:11). Regardless of the wealth and prosperity of a nation, the poor are a perpetual presence in the world (15:11). Once again, as a testimony of God’s grace and mercy, the LORD required His people to be charitable, especially to those who were “one of the brethren” (meaning a Hebrew, 15:7). God’s people were commanded to open their hand and heart when they looked upon another in need (15:7). Not only was a lender commanded to not be miserly in charitable giving, he was to “lend him [the poor] sufficient for his need” (15:8).

Because some might seek to take advantage of the immediacy of a Sabbath Year (knowing the repayment of a debt was suspended that year), it was reasonable to suspect lenders might refuse to give to those in need. Such reasoning was a sin in the eyes of the LORD (15:9b). Therefore, lenders were exhorted to give and trust “the Lordthy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto” (15:10).

Slavery, and the Release of Slaves (15:12-18)

Slavery was a cultural reality in the ancient world, and poverty was often the catalyst for enslavement. For example, should a Hebrew (man or woman) be unable to pay their debt, he or she would become a slave to the lender (15:12). Now, the practice of the heathen was to afflict debtors with perpetual enslavement. The LORD, however, provided that His people would not become an endless enslaved people (15:12). Therefore, an indebted Hebrew might serve a master for six years; however, in the seventh year, they were released of their debt and set free (15:12b).

As another evidence of the grace and mercy expressed in God’s Law, a master was to ensure a freedman would not “go away empty” (15:13). Therefore, a master was required to honor the one set free and give “him liberally out of [his] flock, and out of [his] floor, and out of [his] winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed [him] thou shalt give unto him [the freeman]” (15:14). Yet, there were masters who were so kind and gracious, that a slave might elect to continue as an enslaved person for life. Such a one would have a hole pierced through his ear, thus marking him as a servant forever (15:17).

Dedication and Consecration of the Firstborn (15:19-23)

The concluding verses of Deuteronomy 15 served as a reminder that the firstborn of Hebrew households was dedicated to the LORD. The precedence for this requirement was set when the tenth plague struck down the firstborn of Egyptian families (Exodus 13:2, 15). Because the Hebrews had applied the blood of a lamb to the doorposts of their households, the LORD had spared the firstborn of Israel. That deliverance was forever memorialized by the Hebrews dedicating every firstborn male to the LORD (Exodus 13:2, 15).

Thus, the firstborn of cattle and sheep were to be unblemished and offered as a sacrificial meal (15:19-20). Also, firstborn oxen were not to be worked in the fields, nor were firstborn sheep to be sheared, for they were the LORD’s. Should a firstborn be blemished, it was not a worthy sacrifice to the LORD and would therefore be eaten like ordinary meat (15:21-23; 12:15).

Closing thoughts:

In closing, I invite you to consider how the Law and Commandments of the LORD were gracious. We have seen that the LORD protected the poor from harsh lenders and slaves from cruel taskmasters, and He extended seasons and reasons for hope and relief.

Finally, remember that all offerings were a picture (i.e., type) of God’s final and perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s firstborn was the perfect, sinless, unblemished sacrificial Lamb of God (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19).

Is He your Savior?

Questions to consider:

1) How often were the Israelites required to cancel the debts of their brethren? (15:1-2)

2) What were the conditions for Israel to avoid being a debtor to other nations? (15:5-6)

3) What people are a perpetual presence in the world? (15:11)

4) What were the Israelites forbidden to eat? (15:23)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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