The year of release. (1-11) Concerning the release of servants. (12-18) Respecting the firstlings of cattle. (19-23)
Verses 1-11 This year of release typified the grace of the gospel, in which is proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord; and by which we obtain the release of our debts, that is, the pardon of our sins. The law is spiritual, and lays restraints upon the thoughts of the heart. We mistake, if we think thoughts are free from God's knowledge and check. That is a wicked heart indeed, which raises evil thoughts from the good law of God, as theirs did, who, because God had obliged them to the charity of forgiving, denied the charity of giving. Those who would keep from the act of sin, must keep out of their minds the very thought of sin. It is a dreadful thing to have the cry of the poor justly against us. Grudge not a kindness to thy brother; distrust not the providence of God. What thou doest, do freely, ( 2 Corinthians. 9:7 )
Verses 12-18 Here the law concerning Hebrew servants is repeated. There is an addition, requiring the masters to put some small stock into their servants' hands to set up with for themselves, when sent out of their servitude, wherein they had received no wages. We may expect family blessings, the springs of family prosperity, when we make conscience of our duty to our family relations. We are to remember that we are debtors to Divine justice, and have nothing to pay with. That we are slaves, poor, and perishing. But the Lord Jesus Christ, by becoming poor, and by shedding his blood, has made a full and free provision for the payment of our debts, the ransom of our souls, and the supply of all our wants. When the gospel is clearly preached, the acceptable year of the Lord is proclaimed; the year of release of our debts, of the deliverance of our souls, and of obtaining rest in him. And as faith in Christ and love to him prevail, they will triumph over the selfishness of the heart, and over the unkindness of the world, doing away the excuses that rise from unbelief, distrust, and covetousness.
Verses 19-23 Here is a direction what to do with the firstlings. We are not now limited as the Israelites were; we make no difference between a first calf, or lamb, and the rest. Let us then look to the gospel meaning of this law, devoting ourselves and the first of our time and strength to God; and using all our comforts and enjoyments to his praise, and under the direction of his law, as we have them all by his gift.
Deuteronomy 15:1-11 . THE SEVENTH YEAR, A YEAR OF RELEASE FOR THE POOR.
1. At the end of every seven years--during the last of the seven, that is, the sabbatical year ( Exodus 21:2 , 23:11 , Leviticus 25:4 , Jeremiah 34:14 ).
2. Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it--not by an absolute discharge of the debt, but by passing over that year without exacting payment. The relief was temporary and peculiar to that year during which there was a total suspension of agricultural labor.
he shall not exact it . . . of his brother--that is, an Israelite, so called in opposition to a stranger or foreigner.
because it is called the Lord's release--The reason for acquitting a debtor at that particular period proceeded from obedience to the command, and a regard for the honor, of God; an acknowledgment of holding their property of Him, and gratitude for His kindness.
3. Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again--Admission to all the religious privileges of the Israelites was freely granted to heathen proselytes, though this spiritual incorporation did not always imply an equal participation of civil rights and privileges ( Leviticus 25:44 , Jeremiah 34:14 ; compare 1 Chronicles 22:2 , 2 Chronicles 2:17 ).
4. Save when there shall be no poor man among you--Apparently a qualifying clause added to limit the application of the foregoing statement [ Deuteronomy 15:3 ]; so that "the brother" to be released pointed to a poor borrower, whereas it is implied that if he were rich, the restoration of the loan might be demanded even during that year. But the words may properly be rendered (as on the Margin) to the end, in order that there may be no poor among you--that is, that none be reduced to inconvenient straits and poverty by unseasonable exaction of debts at a time when there was no labor and no produce, and that all may enjoy comfort and prosperity, which will be the case through the special blessing of God on the land, provided they are obedient.
7-11. If there be among you a poor man . . . thou shalt not harden thine heart--Lest the foregoing law should prevent the Israelites lending to the poor, Moses here admonishes them against so mean and selfish a spirit and exhorts them to give in a liberal spirit of charity and kindness, which will secure the divine blessing ( Romans 12:8 , 2 Corinthians 9:7 ).
11. For the poor shall never cease out of the land--Although every Israelite on the conquest of Canaan became the owner of property, yet in the providence of God who foresaw the event, it was permitted, partly as a punishment of disobedience and partly for the exercise of benevolent and charitable feelings, that "the poor should never cease out of the land."
Deuteronomy 15:12-19 . HEBREW SERVANTS' FREEDOM.
12. if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee--The last extremity of an insolvent debtor, when his house or land was not sufficient to cancel his debt, was to be sold as a slave with his family ( Leviticus 25:39 , 2 Kings 4:1 , Nehemiah 5:1-13 , Job 24:9 , Matthew 18:25 ). The term of servitude could not last beyond six years. They obtained their freedom either after six years from the time of their sale or before the end of the seventh year. At the year of jubilee, such slaves were emancipated even if their six years of service were not completed
13-15. thou shalt not let him go away empty--A seasonable and wise provision for enabling a poor unfortunate to regain his original status in society, and the motive urged for his kindness and humanity to the Hebrew slave was the remembrance that the whole nation was once a degraded and persecuted band of helots in Egypt. Thus, kindness towards their slaves, unparalleled elsewhere in those days, was inculcated by the Mosaic law; and in all their conduct towards persons in that reduced condition, leniency and gentleness were enforced by an appeal which no Israelite could resist.
16, 17. if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee--If they declined to avail themselves of the privilege of release and chose to remain with their master, then by a peculiar form of ceremony they became a party to the transaction, voluntarily sold themselves to their employer, and continued in his service till death.
18. he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee--that is, he is entitled to double wages because his service was more advantageous to you, being both without wages and for a length of time, whereas hired servants were engaged yearly ( Leviticus 25:53 ), or at most for three years ( Isaiah 16:14 ).
19. All the firstling males of thy herd and of thy flock thou shalt sanctify unto the Lord thy see Exodus 22:30 ).
thou shalt do not work with the firstling of thy bullock--that is, the second firstlings (see Deuteronomy 12:17 Deuteronomy 12:18 , 14:23 ).