Deuteronomy 15 & Psalm 102

Deuteronomy 15

    “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the LORD's release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you.

    “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

    “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, 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 today. But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same. It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired worker he has served you six years. So the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do.

    “All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the LORD your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. You shall eat it, you and your household, before the LORD your God year by year at the place that the LORD will choose. But if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God. You shall eat it within your towns. The unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as though it were a gazelle or a deer. Only you shall not eat its blood; you shall pour it out on the ground like water.

(Deuteronomy 15 ESV)

Psalm 102

A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD.

    Hear my prayer, O LORD;
    let my cry come to you!
    Do not hide your face from me
        in the day of my distress!
    Incline your ear to me;
        answer me speedily in the day when I call!
    For my days pass away like smoke,
        and my bones burn like a furnace.
    My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
        I forget to eat my bread.
    Because of my loud groaning
        my bones cling to my flesh.
    I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
        like an owl of the waste places;
    I lie awake;
        I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
    All the day my enemies taunt me;
        those who deride me use my name for a curse.
    For I eat ashes like bread
        and mingle tears with my drink,
    because of your indignation and anger;
        for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
    My days are like an evening shadow;
        I wither away like grass.
    But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;
        you are remembered throughout all generations.
    You will arise and have pity on Zion;
        it is the time to favor her;
        the appointed time has come.
    For your servants hold her stones dear
        and have pity on her dust.
    Nations will fear the name of the LORD,
        and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
    For the LORD builds up Zion;
        he appears in his glory;
    he regards the prayer of the destitute
        and does not despise their prayer.
    Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
        so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:
    that he looked down from his holy height;
        from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,
    to hear the groans of the prisoners,
        to set free those who were doomed to die,
    that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD,
        and in Jerusalem his praise,
    when peoples gather together,
        and kingdoms, to worship the LORD.
    He has broken my strength in midcourse;
        he has shortened my days.
    “O my God,” I say, “take me not away
        in the midst of my days—
    you whose years endure
        throughout all generations!”
    Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
        and the heavens are the work of your hands.
    They will perish, but you will remain;
        they will all wear out like a garment.
    You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
        but you are the same, and your years have no end.
    The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
        their offspring shall be established before you.

(Psalm 102 ESV)

Something to Consider

Deuteronomy 15: The Sabbatical Year was a generous gift from God that discouraged excessive borrowing and lending as well as providing protection from people being crushed by the burden of mounting debt. Every seventh year, all debts were to be cancelled, and the slate was wiped clean as creditors were ordered to graciously cancel all the debts of their debtors. We might find ourselves discouraged by an economic policy that requires such a sacrifice by creditors until we remember the marvelous way in which God has canceled our debts through the infinitely greater sacrifice of His Son.

God provides the goal that obedience will obtain by declaring "there will be no poor among you" as a nation of God's people. However, God also mentions the projected reality as a result of probable disobedience by declaring "there will never cease to be poor in the land."

This portion of the Law assumes that some people will more than likely at some point fall into a desperate position of poverty and therefore will be forced to sell themselves into slavery within Israel. Many people are shocked and strictly critical of the Bible for its permission to allow slavery among God's people. However, a careful reading and observation of God's laws concerning slavery in Israel would put all such criticism to rest. In observing God's rules concerning slaves, we see the way in which slavery in Israel was a short-term way to help the poor among Israel pay their debts. The Sabbatical Year limits the terms of slavery, but there is even an expectation that slaves should be treated so well that they may even desire to stay on as slaves permanently after their term has ended. 

God shows careful and considerable care for all men and requires those who have been entrusted with abundance to care for those who have found themselves in great need. We are to sacrifice ourselves and our resources to help cancel the debts of our debtors, and we are to serve faithfully and diligently those who have offered us help in the midst of our great need. Through the gospel, we see the amazing way in which even the oppressive institution of slavery can in a unique way be redeemed by God from being an instrument of evil to being an instrument of good for the benefit of man and for the glory of God.