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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Deuteronomy 15

Verses 7-11


Deuteronomy 15:7-11. If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand: and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

THE existence of various ranks and orders among men is the necessary consequence of civilization. A perfect equality among them is impossible in the nature of things: nor, if it were made to exist, could it continue for any time. An inequality of condition is even far more conducive to the general good, not only in that it tends to keep up a due subordination of the lower to the higher classes, but that it binds all the classes of men together by the ties of mutual usefulness and dependence. Even in the state that was formed by God himself, it was ordained that such a diversity of ranks should subsist [Note: “The poor shall never cease out of the land,” ver. 11.]. Still, however, it never was the divine intention that some should be left destitute of all the comforts of life, while others rioted in opulence and prodigality. To prevent this he commanded his people to forgive the poor their debts at the year of release [Note: He assigns as his reason for this ordinance. “to the end that there may be no poor among you.” ver. 3; 4. See the translation in the margin of the Bible.], and required all who should enjoy a comparative state of affluence, to relieve the poor and indigent.

In discoursing on the words before us, we shall consider,


The duty enjoined—

God commanded his people to exercise liberality to the poor—
[He had appointed every seventh year to be a year of release [Note: ver. 1, 2.]. By this means the poor could not be oppressed for any length of time. But this very law might also tend to the disadvantage of the poor. To prevent any such evil consequence, God ordered that his people should be equally favourable to the poor notwithstanding the year of release. He enjoined the rich to lend to the poor, even under a moral certainty of losing their debt. Yea, they were to perform this duty in a bountiful and willing manner.]

His injunctions to them are, as far as it respects the spirit of them, equally binding upon us—
[God requires us to “do good and lend, hoping for nothing again [Note: Luke 6:35.].” And certainly this is our duty. The relation which the poor bear to us necessarily involves in it this obligation [Note: They are four times in the text called “our brethren.” The force of this idea is admirably expressed. Job 31:15-19 and it is further confirmed by the words of our Lord. Matthew 25:40.]. The Scriptures at large, as well as the immediate expressions in the text, inculcate this duty in the strongest terms [Note: “Thou shall not harden thy heart thine hand — Thou shalt surely lend—surely give—I command thee saying. Thou shalt open thine hand wide,” &c. See this enjoint on all generally, Luke 11:41.; on all individually, 1 Corinthians 16:2.; and in the most solemn manner, 1 Timothy 6:17. “Charge,” &c.].

The manner also of performing this duty is as strongly enjoined as the duty itself. We must act bountifully towards the poor, proportioning our alms to our own ability, and, as far as possible, to their necessities [Note: “Thou shalt open thine hand wide — lend him sufficient for his need.” See true bountifulness defined, 2 Corinthians 8:12.; exemplified, 2 Corinthians 8:2.; encouraged, 2 Corinthians 9:6.]. We must also administer relief cheerfully. Grudging and niggardly thoughts are apt to arise in our minds: but they proceed from a “wicked heart;” and must be guarded against with all possible circumspection [Note: “Beware, &c.—and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother—thine heart shall not be grieved when than givest,” &c. See similar directions, Rom 12:8; 1 Timothy 6:18. “Ready to distribute; willing to communicate.”]. Our alms are then only acceptable to God, when they are offered with a willing mind [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:7.].]

To call forth a just sense of our duty, let us consider,


The arguments with which it is enforced—

Waving all other arguments that might be adduced, we shall confine our attention to those specified in the text. There are two considerations urged as inducements to the performance of this duty:


The danger of neglecting it—

[Men are apt to think themselves sole proprietors of what they have; but, in fact, they are only God’s stewards. The poor have, from God’s command, a claim upon us; and when their distresses are not relieved, he will hear their complaints. He expressly warns us that, “when they cry to him, it shall be sin to us.” Our guilt contracted by want of liberality, shall surely be visited upon our own heads; it shall bring upon us the execration of our fellow-creatures [Note: Proverbs 28:27.], a dereliction from our God [Note: Proverbs 21:13.], yea, an everlasting dismission from his presence and glory [Note: Matthew 25:41-43. “For.”] — — —Who that reflects a moment on these consequences, will not “beware” of indulging a disposition that must infallibly entail them upon him?]


The reward of practising it—

[Heaven cannot be purchased by almsgiving: and to think it could, would be a most fatal delusion. Nevertheless God has annexed a blessing to the performance of this duty; “For this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest.” Supposing our motives and principles be such as the Gospel requires, and our alms be really the fruits of faith and love, the Scriptures assure us that they shall be followed with blessings temporal [Note: Luke 6:35, last part. and Proverbs 3:9-10.]—spiritual [Note: Isaiah 58:7; Isaiah 58:10-11.]—eternal [Note: Luke 16:9; Luk 14:14 and 1Ti 6:19 and Matthew 25:34-35. “For.”]. Yea, God, speaking after the manner of men, condescends to say, that we make him our debtor; and to promise, that He will repay us the full amount of whatever we give to others for his sake [Note: Pro 19:17 and 2 Corinthians 9:6.]. What greater encouragement can we have than such assurances as these?]


[The occasion on which we now solicit your alms, is urgent; the objects of distress are many—the season inclement—work scarce—wants numerous—provisions high—and few to administer relief.
Consider then the urgency of the call—the danger of non-compliance—the blessings promised—and especially, the great account. Guard against a grudging spirit: and act towards the poor at this time, as you, in a change of circumstances, would think it right for them to act towards you.]

Verses 12-15


Deuteronomy 15:12-15. If thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy wine-press: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bond-man in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to-day.

BENEVOLENCE characterized the whole of the Jewish law; as well of that law which regulated the state, as of that which was to govern the souls of individuals. Some things indeed were tolerated under that dispensation which do not accord with the more sublime morality of the Gospel. Polygamy and divorce were suffered, on account of the hardness of the people’s hearts, and in order to prevent the still greater evils which would have resulted from the entire prohibition of them. Slavery also was permitted for the same reasons: but still there were restraints put upon men in relation to these things, and many regulations were framed, to counteract the abuses which were likely to flow from the licence afforded them. It was permitted to men to purchase slaves, and that even from among their brethren. But an express command was given, that no man should “rule over them with rigour;” that every slave should be liberated after six years of service; and that ample provision should be made for him on his dismission, in order that he might be able in future to support himself. It is of this ordinance that we are now to speak: and in it we may see,


An encouraging emblem—

As the whole of the ceremonial law, so parts also of the judicial law, were of a typical nature. This appointment in particular emblematically represented two things;


The redemption which God vouchsafes to his people—

[Both Scripture and experience attest, that all mankind are in a state of bondage. They are “tied and bound with the chain of their sins:” they are “led captive by the devil at his will”— — — But the time is come when we are permitted to assert our liberty. The Lord Jesus Christ has “proclaimed liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound:” and it must be by our own voluntary consent alone that we can be retained any longer in our former bondage. Whatever had been the occasion of the Hebrew servant’s bondage, whether he had sold himself through poverty, or been sold by a relentless creditor to pay his debts, or been sentenced to such a punishment by the civil magistrate for his crimes, he was equally free the very moment that the six years of his servitude were expired. Thus it is with us: there is no room to ask in desponding strains, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered [Note: Isaiah 49:24-25.]?” for the truth now sounds in our ears, and “the truth shall make us free [Note: John 8:32.].” As surely as ever Moses was sent to the oppressd Israelites to deliver them, so surely are the tidings of salvation now sent to us: and though our tyrannical master may use his utmost efforts to keep us in subjection, he shall not prevail. The Lord Jesus Christ is come to deliver us; and “if the Son make us free, we shall be free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].”]


The mercy which he exercises towards his redeemed—

[There was a direction given to Moses, that the people at their departure from Egypt should “borrow of their neighbours jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and that they should spoil the Egyptians;” “When ye go,” said God to them, “ye shall not go empty [Note: Exodus 3:21-22.].” In like manner this injunction was given to the Hebrew master, at the time when he should be required to liberate his slave; “Thou shall not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy wine-press: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee, thou shalt give unto him.” And is it not thus that God deals with his redeemed people? “Does he require any man to go a warfare at his own charges?” True it is, he does not set up his people with a stock of grace, that they may afterwards live independent of him; but “he will supply all their need” out of the fulness which he has treasured up for them in Christ Jesus: and “out of that fulness they shall all receive, even grace for grace [Note: Col 1:19 with John 1:16.].” Yes assuredly, this picture shall be realized in all who assert their liberty: for “they that fear the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good.”]

But besides this emblematical representation, there is in the test,


An instructive lesson—

The Hebrew masters were bidden to “remember, that they themselves were once bond-men in the land of Egypt,” and that on that very account God had given them this command in relation to their bond-slaves. From hence it appears, that we are to regard God’s mercies,


As a pattern for our imitation—

[When Israel were groaning under their burthens in Egypt, God said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people; I know their sorrows:” and on another occasion we are told, “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel [Note: Judges 10:16.].” And when once they were liberated from their bondage, what incessant kindness did he shew them, administering to all their wants, and fulfilling all their desires! This was the conduct which the Hebrew masters were to imitate: and this tenderness, this compassion, this sympathy, this love, is to characterize his people to the end of time. Remarkable is that direction given us by the Apostle Paul; “Be ye followers (imitators [Note: μιμηται, Ephesians 5:1-2.]) of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ has loved us.” Here the same principle is established: we are to imitate God in all his imitable perfections, and especially in that which is the crown and summit of them all, unbounded love. We are, as far as it is possible for finite creatures to do it, to tread in the very steps of Christ himself, and to follow him even in that stupendous effort of love, his dying on the cross; for St. John, having spoken of his “love in laying down his life for us,” adds, “And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren [Note: 1 John 3:16.].” What an object for our ambition is here! O that we might be satisfied with nothing short of this! that instead of admiring ourselves on account of more common exercises of love, we might rather see how defective we are even in our best duties; and might learn to overlook all past attainments as nothing, and to be pressing forward for higher degress of conformity to our God and Saviour [Note: Philippians 3:13-15.]!]


As a motive for our exertion—

[The mercy vouchsafed to the Jewish nation was to operate on all of them as an incentive to obedience; and, as God has required acts of love to our brethren as the best evidence of our love to him, it is in that more especially that we must endeavour to requite the loving-kindness of our God. The man that grudges a few pence to a fellow-servant after having been forgiven by his Lord a debt of ten thousand talents, can expect nothing but indignation from the hands of God [Note: Matthew 18:32-34.]. The true spirit of God’s redeemed people was well exemplified in the Apostle Paul, when he declared, “The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again.” If then we have any hope that we ourselves have been partakers of mercy, let us feel our obligations, and say with David, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” and, if we have in ourselves an evidence that God hath “bought us with a price,” let us strive to the uttermost to “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].”]


Those who are yet in bondage to sin and Satan—

[Why should you continue in bondage another day? May not the past rime suffice to have served such hard masters? and is not liberty at this moment proclaimed to you? “Behold, this is the accepted time, this is the day of salvation.” Think not of the difficulties that are in your way, but of the power that will enable you to surmount them. He who rescued Israel from Egypt, yet liveth: and “will shew himself strong in behalf of all who call upon him.” If you continue in your bondage. O think of the wages that you will receive! “the wages of sin is death:”—but if you assert your liberty, you shall be numbered among “the freemen of the Lord,” and have him for your portion in time and in eternity.]


Those who profess to have been freed from their bondage—

[You have seen wherein you are to glorify your God. Remember, that it is in relative life especially you are to shew forth the power of divine grace. Let it be seen in your households, that you are enabled to walk worthy of your high calling. It is in your families that the truth and excellence of your principles is to be displayed. It is easy enough to be kind and liberal abroad: but look to it that these graces are exercised at home: let your wife, your children, your servants, reap the benefit of your conversion. Let liberality be in your hearts, and the law of kindness in your lips. Shew that religion is an operative principle: and that it is uniform in its operation: and know that a profession of religion without such an exhibition of its power, will be accounted no better than hypocrisy either by God or man. If you would be approved of God at last, you must “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”]

Verses 16-17


Deuteronomy 15:16-17. And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee, (because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee,) then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever.

THE work of redemption was typified, not only by stated proclamations of liberty every fiftieth year, which was called the year of jubilee, but also by provision that all Hebrew servants, for whatever cause they had become bond-men, should be liberated from their bondage after the expiration of six years. But it would sometimes happen that a person might be so well pleased with his situation as not to wish to leave it, but to prefer it before that to which he was entitled. For such cases particular provision was made by God himself; and a very singular rite was appointed for the ratification of his purpose: on declaring before a magistrate that he chose to continue his master’s bond-servant, his master was to bore his ear through with an awl to the door or door-post; and the servant could never afterwards claim his liberty till the year of jubilee.
We should not have ventured to annex any great importance to this ordinance, if the inspired writers themselves had not led the way. But we apprehend that they refer to it as a type; and in that view we conceive it deserves peculiar attention. We shall endeavour therefore to point out to you,


Its typical reference—

It is well known that our Saviour, as Mediator between God and man, was the Father’s servant [Note: Isaiah 42:1; John 12:49.]: in this capacity he set himself wholly to do the Father’s will [Note: John 4:34.]; and never for one moment admitted so much as a thought of relinquishing his service, till he could say, “I have finished the work which thou hast given me to do.”

Let us briefly notice this at the different periods of his humiliation—
[At his incarnation.—When the fulness of time was come, and the season had arrived when he must assume our fallen nature in order to execute the work assigned him, though he must empty himself of all his glory, and leave his Father’s bosom, and “make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant,” and be “made in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and bear all the infirmities (the sinless infirmities) of our nature, he would not go back from the engagements which he had entered into with his Father, but condescended to he born of a virgin, and to become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He loved the work he had undertaken; he delighted in the prospect of glorifying his Father, and saving our ruined race; and accounted no condescension too great for the accomplishing of this stupendous purpose.

At the time of his sufferings and death, he still persisted in his resolution to do and suffer all that was necessary for our redemption. He often forewarned his disciples of the precise sufferings which he was to endure: and when one of the most highly favoured among them endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose, he reproved him with great severity [Note: Matthew 16:21-23.], determining never to recede till he had completed the work which he had engaged to perform. When, under the pressure of inconceivable agonies, his human nature began, as it were, to fail, he still maintained his steadfastness; “Not my will, but thine be done.” Had it pleased him, even when apprehended by his enemies, or hanging on the cross, to terminate his sufferings before the time, he might have had legions of angels sent for his deliverance [Note: Matthew 26:53-54.]: but he would not suffer the cup to pass from him till he had drunk it to the lowest dregs.]

All this, it may be said, is very true; but what relation has it to the point before us? We answer, that this steadfastness of his in performing engagements, which without any necessity on his part he had undertaken, was the very thing typified in the ordinance we are now considering—
[The Psalmist expressly speaking of Christ’s appointment to make that atonement for sin which the Mosaic sacrifices only prefigured, says, (in allusion to the ordinance before us,) that God the Father had “opened, or bored, the ears” of his servant [Note: Psalms 40:6-8.]. And St. Paul, citing that very passage, quotes it, not in the same precise words, but according to their true meaning: “Sacrifice and burnt-offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me [Note: Hebrews 10:5-7.].” Moreover both the inspired writers go on to mark in the strongest terms the determination of heart with which the Messiah should fulfil, and actually did fulfil, the inconceivably arduous task which he had undertaken [Note: Note the varied expressions; “Lo, I come: I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” These, applied as they are to the whole of the Messiah’s humiliation, (Hebrews 10:8-10.) mark strongly his determination as grounded upon love. The circumstance of the Septuagint translation of the 40th Psalm containing the same words as the Apostle quotes, proves nothing either for or against the point in hand. We apprehend that some early transcriber of the Septuagint, from a deference to St. Paul’s authority, altered that translation to make it agree with his words: for we have no reason to think that the Seventy would have presumed to paraphrase that part of the Psalm, instead of translating it; and we are certain that they could not have paraphrased it in that manner (unless by express revelation for that purpose), because they neither had, nor could have, sufficiently clear views of the Gospel, to mark its deepest mystery in so precise a way.].]

Trusting that we have not been guided by fancy in our interpretation of this type, let us inquire into,


The practical instruction to be deduced from it—

As a civil ordinance, it seems to have been well calculated to instill into the minds both of masters and servants a strict attention to each other’s happiness and welfare, so that neither of them might ever wish for a dissolution of their mutual bonds. (And O! that our present consideration of it might be so improved by all who sustain either of those relations!) But, as a typical ordinance, it must, in its practical improvement, have a wider range.

Our blessed Lord has not only redeemed us to God by his blood, but has also “set us an example, that we should follow his steps.” Hence it is evident that we should,


Love the service of our God—

[We should not account any of “his commandments grievous,” or say concerning any precept of his, “This is an hard saying.” He himself has told us that “his yoke is easy, and his burthen is light:” and in our Liturgy we acknowledge “his service to be perfect freedom.” Such was the language of David: “O how I love thy law!” and again, “I esteem thy commandments concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.” Let it “not then be of constraint that you serve him, but willingly and of a ready mind.” And if you foresee difficulties and trials in your way, be not ashamed; but give up yourself unreservedly to God, and adopt the language of the Messiah himself, “Lo, I come; I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart ”— — —]


Adhere to it steadfastly to the latest hour of your life—

[Many reasons might have operated on the mind of a
servant to prevent him from perpetuating his bondage. He might fear an alteration in the behaviour of his master, and comfort himself with the idea of liberty. In like manner we may paint to ourselves many trials that may be avoided, and many gratifications that maybe enjoyed, by declining the service of our God. But let no considerations operate upon your minds: you shall lose no gratification that shall not be far overbalanced by the comfort of a good conscience; nor suffer any trial, which shall not be recompensed with a proportionable weight of glory in a better world. You are not likely to lose more than Paul; yet he says, “What was gain to me, that I counted loss for Christ; yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of him.” You are not likely to suffer more than he: yet he says, “But none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself.” Thus let it be with you: “Be not weary in well-doing;” but “cleave unto the Lord with full purpose of heart:” “Be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in his work:” “Be faithful unto death, and he shall give you a crown of life”— — —]


Those who have already declined from the Lord’s ways—

[I ask not what sufferings you have avoided, or what pleasures you have gained. This only will I ask; Are you as happy as you were? I am content to put the whole to the issue; and to abide by the decision of your own conscience. I know that though a conscience may be seared, a soul cannot be happy that departs from God. O think what a Master you have slighted; and say, “I will return unto my first husband, for then it was better with me than now.”]


Those who are doubting whether to devote themselves to God or not—

[Many there are who, seeing the necessity of serving God, are contriving how they may do it with the least risk or trouble to themselves. They are thinking to “serve both God and Mammon.” But this is impossible, because the two services are opposite and inconsistent. Let us not however be misunderstood. We may, and must, fulfil our duties in the world, yea, and fulfil them diligently too: but God alone must be our Lord and Governor. He will not accept such a measure of our affection and service as the world will deign to allow him; but says, “My son, give me thy heart,” thy whole heart. Every interest of ours, and every wish, must be subordinated to his will. Determine this then with yourselves, that you will be his, wholly and for ever. Let your ears be bored to his door-post: and let, not your actions merely, but your very thoughts, be henceforth kept in a willing captivity to him. “If Baal be God, serve him: but if the Lord be God, then serve him.”]


Those who profess themselves his willing and devoted servants—

[Shew to the world that his service is a reasonable and a delightful service. Let not the difference between you and others be found merely in some foolish peculiarities, but in a holy, heavenly conversation. And be not mournful and dejected, as if God were an hard master; but “serve him with gladness and joyfulness of heart,” that all around you may see the comforts of religion, and know, from what they behold in you, that the Church militant and Church triumphant are one; one in occupation, and one in joy.]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 15". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.