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Monday, May 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 15

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-23

Deuteronomy 15:1 . A release of all debts, as well as of servitude, at the end of the sixth year, to the poor who cannot pay. This is much the same as the English law of cancelling bookdebts at the end of six years. The insolvent poor ought not to be kept forever in despair. The creditor knows the law.

Deuteronomy 15:4 . Save when there shall be no poor among you. This reading seems to contradict the eleventh verse: for the poor shall never cease. The margin must therefore be the true reading; “to the end that there be no poor among you.” The Septuagint reads, “For none shall be poor among you.” If the Israelites had continued in covenant with God, he would have superseded poverty by the abundance of his blessings. Le Clerc’s conjectures, that the debt was only forborne to be asked during the sabbatical year, and that the manumission of servants was but for that year, appear to be rash and unfounded. They contradict many other texts, which are extremely clear on this subject. See Deuteronomy 15:3. By the jubilee, the Lord graciously guarded the Hebrews against pauperism.

Deuteronomy 15:12 . If thy brother be sold, be put apprentice for a trade, or sold for a debt by sanction of the judges.


The character of the Hebrew law is all humanity, dignified with equity. It was most assuredly calculated to make the nation holy, happy, and independent. It uniformly discovers a compassion worthy of God, and inspires a humanity worthy of his people. To remit the claim of small debts at the entrance of the seventh or sabbatical year, was a gracious and an encouraging regulation for the poor: for if the poor man had any property, or means of refunding his debt, the creditor had full liberty to enforce the payment. But when the seventh year commenced, there being little labour in the fields, it became impossible for the poor to pay, and divine in the creditor to forgive. In this view the legislative wisdom and humanity of our own country are highly commendable, in making book debts, under certain restrictions, unclaimable after six years. Let us learn also from these divine precepts to forgive injuries, and to love one another; for this is the spirit of the whole law. God accounts what is given to the poor as given to himself; and he here pledges his promise to repay in personal wealth and national prosperity. “Thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee:” Deuteronomy 15:6. Whatever is given to the poor is so much treasure stored in heaven; yet the reward is not reckoned of debt, but of grace.

When a Hebrew was waxen poor, his land being already sold till the jubilee, and when he would ask a little aid of his rich neighbour that he might eat bread, that neighbour is forbidden to harden his heart; and on the contrary, he is enjoined to open his hand liberally towards him. The poor of the land have therefore a divine claim to ask bread of the rich: they are the Lord’s creatures, and afflicted with infirmities, burdened with families, or weakened with age. They have for the most part served in the families of the rich; they have cultivated their lands, or wrought in their factories. The earnings of youth, if not dissipated by folly, have been expended in raising up a family; and consequently their feeble age, as well as their orphan children, have claims on the public. To suffer them to languish and die of hunger, is to bring innocent blood on the land; and God will avenge their cause when they cry to him. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father, is to visit the widow and fatherless in their affliction: and again, it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Of the manumission of servants, reference is made to Leviticus 25:0.; and the Lord who commanded the Israelites to borrow, or ask of the Egyptians gold and other valuables, still preserved the law: he would not allow the Hebrew servant to go out empty, and destitute of means to procure his bread. So when Jesus makes a soul free from the fetters of sin, he adorns and enriches it with his grace: and the more a man’s heart is filled with the love of God, the more it is expanded in compassion to all mankind.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 15". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/deuteronomy-15.html. 1835.
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