Chapter 15

DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 15

The Year for Canceling Debts

        • At the end of every seventh year you are to cancel the debts owed to you. This should be done in the following way:

        • Israelites who have extended a loan to a fellow Israelite must cancel the debt. You must not demand payment because the time that the Lord set for release from debt has arrived. However, this rule does not apply to a foreigner to whom you have extended a loan. A foreigner’s debt is not canceled and you may collect payment.

          • NLT Illustrated writes, “This technical term (cancel the debts) refers to releasing people in financial bondage from their creditors and from any penalty for their default. The time of release was to occur every seventh year across the nation (the Sabbath year, Leviticus 25:1-7). The time frame followed the calendar rather than the length of the loan arrangement. This meant that the year of release could fall as soon as a year after the loan was made.”

          • HCSB notes, “In matters of loans and repayment, Israelites and foreigners were governed by different laws. If an Israelite were in debt to a fellow Israelite, he could work off his debt and at the end of seven years it would be declared paid in full, whether or not the amount of the loan had actually been compensated. A foreigner, however, would receive no such grace and must pay the creditor all that he owed him.”

          • Guzik adds, “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.”

          • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible makes this interesting note, “…debt release regulation was practically ubiquitous in the ancient Near East. Decrees releasing debts were promulgated by kings in many locations: Aleppo, Alalakh, Emar, Babylon, and Assyria. In the Old Babylon period, e.g. (which had Sumerian antecedents), edicts issued by the kings canceled debts, released some hostages or slaves, and helped the oppressed and impoverished persons in Babylon society. Land reverted to its original owners. […] Some scholars argue that Israelites adapted this policy as the Sabbatical Year for the covenantal community of Yahweh. However, there is more contrast between the relevant texts than comparison with Israel’s weekly Sabbath, Sabbatical Year and Year of Jubilee.”

        • There won’t be any poor among you because the Lord will certainly bless you in this land that He is giving you as your inheritance if you are careful to obey all of His commands that I’m giving you today. When you receive the blessings the Lord has promised to you, you will lend to many nations but not borrow. You will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.

          • Guzik writes, “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.”

        • But, if there are any poor Israelites in your town when you are living in the land the Lord your God is giving you, don’t be hard-hearted or stingy toward them. Instead, you must generously loan them whatever they need. Don’t allow yourself to entertain wicked thoughts such as “The seventh year debt cancellation is near, so I won’t give him the loan he needs.” If you do this, he will cry out to the Lord in his need and you will be considered guilty. On the contrary give freely, not begrudgingly, and the Lord will bless you in everything you do. There will always be poor and needy Israelites among you. This is why I’m commanding you to generously share with them.

          • Doesn’t this directly contradict the previous passage which says that there won’t be any poor among them? Guzik answers, “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…So, God did not guarantee prosperity for any one in Israel; but He did guarantee opportunity for prosperity for an obedient Israel.”

Release of Slaves

        • If a fellow Hebrew, either male or female, is sold to you and serves you for six years, you must release them in the seventh year. When you release them don’t send them away empty handed. Generously give to them from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with them what the Lord has blessed you with. I’m giving you this command because you are to remember that you were all slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you.

          • Wait! Is the Bible condoning slavery here? HCSB writes, “The only way a Hebrew was ‘sold’ to another Hebrew was through his or her own volition. This passage has nothing to do with slavery or the ownership of by one person of another. The law permitted one who had become financially destitute to work off his indebtedness by placing himself into an indentured position whereby his labor for the creditor paid off his financial obligation.”

          • Guzik adds, “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…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.”

        • However, if your slave tells you that he doesn’t want to leave you because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then you may take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door. This will signify that he is your slave for life. Your female slaves are to be treated the same way.

          • HCSB writes, “This treatment, painful as it must have been, was entirely voluntary on the part of the person submitting to it. Furthermore, it displays a level of commitment to service to the master that would not be undertaken lightly.”

          • Even with the explanation given above, this sounds barbaric to modern ears. Oftentimes, we find it unfathomable that anyone would voluntarily choose to remain the equivalent of an indentured servant to someone for our entire lives. This is further complicated by claims that Hebrew slaves might make this choice more out of necessity or even under duress rather than genuine desire. This article from rationalchristianity.net provides the following discussion:

          • The law plainly states that Hebrew slaves were to be freed after serving six years (Ex 21:2, Dt 15:12). If a slave wished to remain, it was his free choice. Since Hebrews typically became slaves only due to poverty, some may have felt they were better off working for a rich family and being provided for rather than struggling to make it on their own (cf. Dt 15:16)…Slaves weren’t forced to say they loved their masters if they wanted to stay; the speech given in Exodus 21:5 is only an example. A parallel passage in Deuteronomy 15:16 only has the slave saying he doesn’t want to leave…As for whether slaves could be forced into lifelong slavery, Exodus 21:6 says the ceremony for lifelong slaves was to take place in front of a judge. Slaves had to publicly state their intention to remain as slaves; their master couldn’t lie and say they’d expressed their intentions privately. While an evil master could force his slaves to make the proclamation by threatening them, it was the responsibility of the priests/judges and the community at large to observe masters’ treatment of their slaves (cf. Lev 25:53). This observation was also in their best interests, since one person’s disobedience brought guilt on those who knew what was going on and failed to do anything about it (Lev 19:17), which in turn would result in adverse consequences for the entire community (Dt 11:26-28).”

          • Guzik adds, “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.”

        • You must not consider it a hardship when the time comes to release your slaves. Remember that for six years he has provided service to you worth twice the wages required by a hired worker, and the Lord will bless you in all that you do.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible elaborates, “[Worth double the wages] Because a bondservant worked all day, every day, his output was more than that of a day laborer, who merely put in his shift.”

Consecration of Firstborn Male Animals

        • You must set aside all the firstborn males produced by your herds and flocks for the Lord your God. Don’t put your firstborn oxen to work or sheer your firstborn sheep. Instead, you and your families are to eat these animals in the presence of the Lord your God at the place He chooses to put His name. However, if one of these firstborn has a serious defect- such as lameness or blindness- you must not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. In this case, it should be eaten there in your town. Anyone may eat it, regardless of their status as ceremonially clean or unclean, just as anyone may eat a gazelle or deer. But, you must not consume its blood. The blood must be poured out onto the ground like water.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The firstborn males of livestock represented the firstborn sons of Israel who had been spared from death in the tenth plague (Exodus 12:12, 29; 13:2, 12; 22:29).”