Deuteronomy 15


‘At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for cancelling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you. If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbour this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:1-11

The Year For Cancelling Debts

Moses begins by speaking to Israel about the year for cancelling debts, Exodus 23:10-13 / Leviticus 25:1-7 / Leviticus 25:8-38. Israel is to work for six years, as they work six days in a week, and the seventh year is to be a year of rest for the land and people.

Israel isn’t permitted to take money from a neighbour that had borrowed during this time, as the one borrowing would have no way of repaying the debt during the year of rest.

We must note, however, that this didn’t release the debtor permanently from their debt, they were given a year to recover from their labours and debt.

There would be no poor among them in the sense that provision to work for food would always be made available for the poor. Laws concerning gleaning and forgiveness of debt made it possible for the poor to always have food if they were willing to work and to borrow from their brethren if they fell under hard times.

The poor weren’t allowed to go hungry, this is because God has always expressed concern over those who are less fortunate throughout the Scriptures, Galatians 2:10.

If Israel obeys these commands, the Lord promises them that they will be greatly blessed in the land of Canaan. If they remained obedient to God, the land would prosper to the point that other nations would come to them for food.

Notice also that the Lord says that, ‘there will always be poor people in the land’, Jesus said these very words concerning the poor, Matthew 26:11.

These poor people would be poor not because of laziness, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, but of some circumstance which happened in their life which left them in that state. There will always be the opportunity to help others and we should never become hardened against the poor.

In the Old Testament, God forbade the mistreatment of the poor, especially by those who were rich and wealthy, Amos 2:7 / Amos 4:1 / Amos 5:11 / Amos 8:4-6. In the New Testament Jesus was always concerned about the poor, Matthew 19:21 / Luke 19:8 / John 12:5, even the apostles cared for the poor, Acts 2:43 / Romans 15:26-26.

Freeing Servants

‘If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you and serve you six years, in the seventh year you must let them go free. And when you release them, do not send them away empty-handed. Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today. But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your female servant. Do not consider it a hardship to set your servant free, because their service to you these six years has been worth twice as much as that of a hired hand. And the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.’ Deuteronomy 15:12-18

There were times when the Hebrews were unable to repay what was borrowed due to extreme poverty. And so cases would enable the creditor to adopt the brother or his children, as slaves to repay the debt. The Sabbatical year would be a year of ‘release’ for those people.

We must note that this wasn’t the kind of slavery other nations were practising or the slavery they experienced in Egypt. The idea here is that a man or a woman could sell themselves to another for labour in order to pay for a debt, Exodus 21:1-6 / Leviticus 25:38-55.

Unlike the slavery of the nations around Israel, this was a willing servant who gave themselves for the service of another to repay their debt.

Notice the kindness that was to be displayed by the creditor to his brother that was enslaved to him. When the seventh year rolled around the slave was to be released and the master was to ‘supply them liberally’ with flocks, grain, and wine. In other words, as God had blessed the rich, the rich were to pass this blessing on to the poor.

Israel were never to think too highly of themselves as their wealth multiplied, Deuteronomy 8:17. At one point they were all slaves in Egypt, hence, why the Lord reminds them they too were once slaves.

Some slaves may develop such love and dependency upon their masters that they don’t want to leave after six years of service. Those who desire to stay were to go through a ritual prescribed by God.

Masters were to take an awl, that is, a pointed tool for making holes, as in wood or leather, and pierce the slave’s ear through and impale him or her, to the door of the house.

Some believe that an earring would be inserted into the hole of the ear and the earring would have an inscription of the master’s name on it. The piercing of the ear appears to signify permanent ownership of the slave who voluntarily wants to remain in their master’s house.

If, however, the slave decided to leave, the master was to obey the law of the Sabbatical year and release the slave with the necessities of life. He wasn’t permitted to hold on to the slave even if he loved and depended upon the man or woman.

The Firstborn Animals

‘Set apart for the LORD your God every firstborn male of your herds and flocks. Do not put the firstborn of your cows to work, and do not shear the firstborn of your sheep. Each year you and your family are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose. If an animal has a defect, is lame or blind, or has any serious flaw, you must not sacrifice it to the LORD your God. You are to eat it in your own towns. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it, as if it were gazelle or deer. But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.’ Deuteronomy 15:19-23

Moses now, repeats the law, which was given at Sinai, concerning the firstborn animals, Exodus 13:1-12. These firstborn animals were to be sanctified for the Lord. They weren’t to be used for work and neither were they to be sheared.

The offering of the firstborn was to be the best of the livestock and so, they were to eat them in the presence of the Lord, that is, they were to be eaten by those who gave them, they were to be eaten with the priests, and so, this fellowship meal kept the people at the table of the spiritual leaders of Israel.

Those without blemishes, that is, the lame, blind, ill etc, were to be sacrificed to the Lord at the altar of burnt offering and eaten. The Lord deserved only the best, and so, if a firstborn had a blemish, it couldn’t be offered to the Lord.

Those who were blemished had no place at the altar of burnt offering and so, the owner of the blemished firstborn was to sanctify it unto the Lord and eat it within their own town.

Go To Deuteronomy 16