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The seventh year is appointed a year of release for the poor. Firstlings of animals are to be dedicated to the Lord.
Before Christ 1451.
Ver. 2. Every creditor that lendeth—shall release— This cannot well be meant of money lent to those who were well able to pay; for nothing could have been more absurd than to have extinguished debts whereby the borrower was enriched: but it must be meant of money lent to an Israelite who was in poor circumstances, as appears from ver. 4. Le Clerc, with others, seems to understand the precept thus: that they were only to forbear to demand it this year; for, as there was no sowing or produce of the land every seventh year, Hebrew debtors, unless they were very rich, could not have paid their debts that year without great inconvenience: and indeed the Hebrew word does not import an absolute remission, but an intermission only. However, with respect to the indigent and necessitous, more seems to be designed, namely, that they should have an entire acquittance of their debts; though, if afterwards they grew rich, they were bound in good conscience to pay. Accordingly, most of the rabbis hold the release to be perpetual, though they have their limitations for some debts and debtors; for instance, if a man lent his neighbour money, setting him an appointed time to repay, as of ten years, he was not released from the debt in the seventh: if he conditioned with him not to release that particular debt in the seventh year, the obligation remained. The words, because it is called the Lord's release, are rendered by Dr. Waterland, because the Lord's release hath been or is proclaimed, with which Houbigant agrees: postquam remissio domini fuerit promulgata.
Ver. 3. Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again— Of an alien, that is, one who was neither a native Israelite, nor proselyted to the Jewish religion, but a mere Gentile: for this was one of the privileges of the Jewish community, and not one of the common rights of mankind; and therefore it is restricted wholly to Jews or Gentile proselytes: besides, there was not the same reason for releasing the principal or interest to a foreigner as to a Hebrew; for the Hebrews observed the sabbatical year, whereas the other sowed and reaped and traded in that year, as well as in others. See Grotius and Le Clerc.
Ver. 4, 5. Save when, &c.— Houbigant follows the marginal reading of our Bibles, joining the first clause of the 4th verse to the end of the 3rd, as explanatory, he observes, of the law: as if it had been said, "Thou shalt not exact thy debt from thy brother; for this reason, that there may not be a poor man among you through your severity." He asserts, that the words אפסאּכי epes-ki, can signify here no other than to the end that: asin que, in the French.
Ver. 9. And thine eye be evil against thy poor brother— The eye, say the Jews, is the index of the mind: so an evil eye, when giving is spoken of, signifies a covetous and hard-hearted disposition. Proverbs 23:6. Mat 20:15 and, on the contrary, a bountiful eye is a sign of a generous and charitable soul. Proverbs 22:9. Sir 35:8. And it be sin unto thee, signifies either a great and enormous sin, as the word is sometimes used by way of eminence. Proverbs 24:9. John 15:24. Jam 4:17 or, the punishment of sin.
Ver. 11. For the poor shall never cease out of the land— i.e. There shall be always some indigent persons among you who shall stand in need of your charitable relief. The Jerusalem Targum understands this, as if there should have been no poor among them, had they been obedient to God's precepts. Though God, by his providence, could easily supply the necessities of all, he nevertheless permits the perpetual continuance of the poor; and that for divers reasons worthy of his wisdom: among others, to put to proof the humanity and compassion of the rich. So our Saviour says, ye have the poor with you always; and whensoever ye will, ye may do them good. Mark 14:7. See Grotius's Commentary on Matthew 26:11. Houbigant, in defence of his interpretation, observes, that these words are by no means contradictory to those in the 4th verse: for it is not there said, that there should be no poor in Israel; but it is commanded, that brother should not reduce brother to poverty.
REFLECTIONS.—We have here, 1. An order for the release of insolvent debtors on the sabbatical year. Note; (1.) The Gospel preaches to us poor debtors this acceptable year of the Lord, even the free pardon of all our sins through the blood of Jesus. (2.) God teaches us not to be severe exactors upon our brethren, but to forgive them as we hope to be forgiven. (3.) They who can take God's security for payment of what, for his sake, they remit to the indigent, will find him a responsible bondsman. 2. He cautions them against making this a plea for uncharitableness; that the year of release approached, and they should be in danger of losing what they lent: such a wicked thought God rebukes, enjoining them to open both their heart and hand to their brother's necessities, and according to their ability to lend, hoping for nothing again; and this not grudgingly, or of necessity, but with cheerfulness, assured that God will not suffer them to be losers by their kindness; and lest, if they refused, the cry of the needy should come up against them, and their sin be had in remembrance before God. Note; (1.) God knows and remarks every evil thought of our hearts, and therefore we should watch against and suppress the first risings of them within us. (2.) It is a dreadful thing to have the cry of the poor against us; for God hears, and will avenge them speedily. (3.) It is not so much the gift, as the temper of the giver, that God regards. (4.) The best and most useful charity, probably, is, to assist the industrious poor with a small loan, by the help of which they may be put in a way of comfortably providing for themselves and families. (5.) Though we lose what we thus lend, we shall find ourselves gainers at last.
Ver. 18. For he hath been worth a double-hired servant to thee— A slave might well be thought worth a double-hired servant, because he was bought for a little, served for nothing, and more labour is commonly exacted from such a one, than from a hired servant. See Calmet.
Ver. 19. Thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock, &c.— This would be better rendered, with the firstling of thy herd. Beside the firstling males, which were given to the priests, there were firstling females, which were first offered as peace-offerings to God, and then, after the priest had his share, the owner feasted upon the rest with his friends. See the next verse. Le Clerc, however, takes firstling here, as in other places, in a figurative sense, for the prime or select cattle; such as were only fit to be offered to God. The original word, rendered in the latter clause shear, as Calmet observes, signifies to pluck off: and Varro tells us, this was the method of fleecing sheep before that of shearing was found out. Prius lanae vulsuram, quam tonsuram inventam; and Pliny assures us, that the same custom still subsisted in his time, lib. 8: cap. 48.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Every seventh year the servants who had sold themselves, &c. were discharged. Note; God's spiritual Israel are called to liberty; and though their ear is bored to serve their divine Master for ever, yet his service is their happy freedom.—If a servant was discharged, he must not be sent away empty, but supplied, according to his master's abilities, with the means to procure himself a future livelihood. Note; If our Master in heaven has been kind to us, in filling our cup with affluence, it is but reasonable that we should shew kindness to our poor tenants and servants, that so they may be made happy in our service.
2nd, We are now delivered from the burdensome rites of the ceremonial law; and all ceremonial distinctions have ceased: but one obligation remains perpetual, that we should offer up ourselves, as first-fruits, to God and to the Lamb, to be living sacrifices, employed in his work, and devoted to his glory.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 15". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany