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THE YEAR OF RELEASE FOR THE BENEFIT OF DEBTORS AND THE EMANCIPATION OF HEBREW SLAVES. THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE FIRSTBORN OF CATTLE.
To the prescription of a tithe for the needy there is added a regulation for the behalf of debtors. The Israelites were not only to help the poor, but they were to refrain from what would be a hardship and oppression to them. Debtors, consequently, were not to be deprived of the benefit of the sabbatical year, for at the close of each seventh year there was to be a release. This does not imply that the debt was to be remitted, but only that the debtor was not then to be pressed for payment. As during the sabbatical year the land lay uncultivated, and the debtor consequently would earn nothing, it was reasonable that he should not then be pressed for payment. A law that every seventh year debts should be remitted, would have frustrated itself, for on such conditions no one would lend, and so there would be no debtors. This is an addition to the law of the Sabbath-year (Exodus 23:10, etc.; Le Exodus 25:2-7).
Release. The word thus rendered (שְׁמִטָּה, from שָׁמַט, to leave, to let lie fallow) occurs only here and in Deuteronomy 15:2; in Exodus 33:11 the cognate verb is used, and from this the word is best explained. The debt was to be left in the hands of the debtor, as the land was to be let lie or left untilled for that year.
Creditor; literally, master of the loan of his hand, equivalent to owner of what his hand has lent to another. Comp. the expression, "what was laid in his hand" (Le Deuteronomy 5:21; Authorized Version, "in fellowship," Le Deuteronomy 6:2); and Nehemiah 10:32, "the debt of every hand" (Authorized Version, "the exaction of every debt"). Neighbor; here, fellow-Israelite. Exact it of his neighbor; literally, press or urge his neighbor, i.e. to pay. It is called the Lord's release; rather, a release for Jehovah is proclaimed; the sabbatical year, like the year of jubilee, was proclaimed, and it was for Jehovah, in his honor, and in accordance with his ordinance.
A foreigner; a stranger of another nation, having no internal social relation to Israel (נָכְרִי), as distinguished from the stranger who lived among them and had claims on their benevolence (גֵּר). Of such they might exact a debt, without regard to the year of release. "This rule breathes no hatred of foreigners, but simply allows the Israelites the right of every creditor to demand his debts and enforce the demand upon foreigners, even in the sabbatical year. There was no severity in this, because foreigners could get their ordinary income in the seventh year as well as in any other" (Keil).
Save when there shall be no poor among you; rather, only that there shall be no poor among you; q.d; this ordinance is not intended to prevent creditors seeking the payment of their just debts, but only to prevent there being poor in the land. The reason assigned is that the Lord would greatly bless them in the land which he had given them, so that the creditor would be no loser by refraining from exacting his debt from his brother in the seventh year.
Deuteronomy 15:5, Deuteronomy 15:6
This blessing, though promised and certified, should come only if they were careful to observe and do all that God commanded them. The for at the beginning of Deuteronomy 15:6 connects this with Deuteronomy 15:4. Thou shalt lend. The verb in Kal signifies to borrow on a pledge; in Hiph. to lend on a pledge, as here; it is a denominative from the Hebrew noun signifying pledge.
The reference to the release leads to a prescription regarding readiness to lend to the poor. They were not to harden their hearts against their poorer brethren, nor were they, in the prospect of the year of release, to refuse to lend them what was necessary for their uses, but, on the contrary, were to open their heart and their hand to them according to their need, lest the poor should appeal against them to God, and sin should lie upon them.
Harden thine heart; literally, maize strong, so as to suppress natural compassion and sympathy.
Sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth; literally, the sufficiency of his need which he needeth, i.e. whatever he might need to meet his requirements.
A thought in thy wicked heart; literally, a thing in thy heart worthlessness, i.e. a thing which is worthless and unworthy. The word used is belial (בְּלִיַּעַל), which does not denote that which is wicked so much as that which is worthless. Thus, "a man of Belial" is a worthless fellow—not necessarily a wicked man (of. Deuteronomy 13:13). And it be sin unto thee; i.e. entail guilt upon thee, and so expose thee to the Divine displeasure.
Shall not be grieved; literally, shall not become evil, i.e. shall not entertain a grudge. They were to give, not grudgingly or of necessity, merely through dread of God's displeasure, but cheerfully and spontaneously (of. 2 Corinthians 9:7). For this God would bless them in all their works, so that they should not only be no losers, but should be gainers, by their generosity.
They were to open their hand wide to their poorer brethren, for there should always be such in the land. This statement is not inconsistent with that in Deuteronomy 15:4, for there it is the prevention of poverty by not dealing harshly with the poor that is spoken of; here it is the continuance of occasion for the relief of the poor that is referred to.
From injunctions regarding the treatment of the poor and of debtors the transition is easy to the law concerning slaves, inasmuch as it was through the stress of poverty that any became such from among their brethren. The law, as here laid down, is the same as that in Exodus 21:2-6, somewhat expanded; the most important addition being that the slave is not only to go free after six years of service, but is to be furnished by his master with the means of setting up a home for himself. The six years here specified are not to be confounded with the years ending at the sabbatical year; they are any six years during which the individual has been in bondage.
Thou shalt furnish him liberally; literally, shalt lay on his neck, i.e. thou shalt load him. The meaning is well expressed in the Authorized Version. This is the new prescription added to the earlier law.
Compliance is enforced by the consideration that the Israelites had been themselves bondmen in Egypt, and had been redeemed out of that bondage by God (cf. Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 16:12; Deuteronomy 24:18, Deuteronomy 24:22; Exodus 22:20; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34). As God had dealt by them, so it behooved them to deal by others in like condition and need.
Deuteronomy 15:16, Deuteronomy 15:17
It might happen, however, that the slave chose rather to remain with his master than to be manumitted, and in that case he was not to be forced to go free, which would be a hardship to him, but was to be, by a formal process of nailing his ear to the door of his master's house, constituted his slave for life (cf. Exodus 21:5). This was not a painful operation, especially as the servant's ear was probably already pierced for a ring; nor does any infamy appear to have been attached to the bearing of this badge of perpetual servitude. There is no mention here, as in Exodus, of the matter being referred to the judges; and this has led some to suppose that, by the time this later prescription was given, the earlier usage had passed away; but it is more natural to suppose that this usage was so regular and well known that it was needless formally to announce it.
Where a slave determined to have his freedom, the master was to set him free without grudge; for he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years; literally, double the hire of a hireling he hath served thee six years, i.e. he hath saved to thee as much again as it would have cost thee to pay a hired laborer to do the same amount of work.
In Deuteronomy 12:6, Deuteronomy 12:17 and in Deuteronomy 14:23, reference is made to sacrificial meals, and to the appropriation of the firstlings of the herds and flocks thereto; Moses here reverts to this, and gives a fuller exposition of it. It is enjoined that, as all the firstborn were to be sanctified to the Lord (Exodus 13:2-13), they were not to work with the firstborn of their cattle, either by yoking the bullock to the plough or wagon or by shearing the sheep: these belonged to God, and were not to be put to any vulgar uses of men; year by year they were to be brought to the sanctuary, offered as sacrifices, and eaten before the Lord. If any of the firstborn animals were blind, or lame, or in any way blemished, such was not to be offered to the Lord, but might be used as food in their ordinary places of residence (cf. Le Deuteronomy 22:19, etc.).
Divine checks on human greed.
In this paragraph the institution of the sabbatical year is presupposed (of. Exodus 23:9-13; Le Exodus 25:2-7). During this year the land was to rest, and it would doubtless be conducive to after-fruitfulness to give the soil this respite, by letting it lie fallow every seventh year, for at this time the effect of the rotation of crops was unknown. £ We by no means affirm that such was the only reason for the appointment; yet nothing hinders us from regarding it as a reason. In that year there was to be a general remission of debts. To all appearance, there would, however, be one social danger arising from so peculiar an arrangement. Human nature, as regards capacity, aptitude, tact, kindness, hardness, etc; would differ as greatly among Hebrews as among any other peoples. There would be the wise manager, and the man who knew not how to manage at all. There would be some easily "taken in," and others watching for an opportunity of enriching themselves at another's expense. And among the harder men, the thought would naturally arise, "Well, if I must not work to increase my gains that year, I will at least secure all that I ought to have, by collecting all debts due to me, and this I will do with rigor." Now, here comes in this law mercifully guarding the weak against the rapacity of the strong, compelling men, at least outwardly, to show some regard for those who are somewhat behindhand in the race for life, and preventing the more successful ones from so exacting from poorer men as to reduce them to helpless dependence upon others. The following points may be noted.
1. The sabbatical year is here assumed, ut supra.
2. This year debts were to be remitted,—not cancelled, but pressure for payment was to be postponed.
3. Thus there was to be an enforced pause in the accumulation of wealth.
4. The sentiment of kindliness and forbearance as well as of justice in business life, was thus taught.
5. At the same time, there is a safeguard against the Hebrews being trifled with by foreigners by a misuse of this law. A foreigner (one who was so in all respects) might incur a debt in the sixth year, thinking that, as a Hebrew could not press for it the next year, he should have a long respite; while, as he was not bound by the Hebrews' Law, he could press for debts due to him! This would have been unequal. Hence God guards Israel against such inequality, and says, as a foreigner is not under this law so far as debts due to him are concerned, so neither is he included in it with regard to debts incurred by him; and the release is not intended to operate where its operation cannot be equal all round.
6. Moreover, there is in this law no encouragement to mendicancy, but rather such a check on pressure by the rich, and such an inculcation of regard for the poor, that beggary may be a thing unknown among them. The word "beggar" does not occur once in the Mosaic institutes. Surely in all this there is abundance of material for homiletic teaching from a Christian point of view. The formal institution here referred to has passed away. But, if we follow out the formula already laid down, that forms change, but principles never,—we cannot be at a loss for an exposition of the ethical teaching which this paragraph suggests for all time. For, as is well remarked by Mr. Garden, "The spirit of this law is the same as that of the weekly Sabbath. Both have a beneficent tendency, limiting the rights and checking the sense of property; the one puts in God's claims on time, the other on the land. The land shall keep a Sabbath unto the Lord." "The land is mine." Let us, then, study the Divine cheeks on human greed, as they are shown to us in the teaching of the New Testament.
I. WE HAVE THE DISTINCT DECLARATION, "YE ARE NOT YOUR OWN." This is far wider and deeper than any analogous statement of Moses. For while Israel had been redeemed out of Egypt, so that God said, "I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee," we must all feel how infinitely short that comes of the tender pathos in 1 Corinthians 6:19, 1Co 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19. The phrase, "Ye are not your own," must needs cover the whole ground of all that we are and have. As "redemption" was the appeal at the basis of Israel's life, so is it in the case of God's people now.
II. WE ARE REDEEMED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE FOR GOD BY LIVING FOR OTHERS. We are expected to have "the same mind" which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-8). Note the argument involved in 2 Corinthians 8:7, 2 Corinthians 8:9; also that in Romans 14:7, et seq. See the purpose of Christ's redeeming work, as stated in Titus 2:14; and also the law of the Christian life in Galatians 6:1-10. In these passages there is so much of duty indicated with regard to others, that though little of minute detail is now specified, yet Christian men cannot go far wrong if their lives are regulated thereby (1 Corinthians 10:24).
III. THE PROHIBITION OF OUR LORD AGAINST COVETOUSNESS IS VERY STERN AND STRONG. (See Luke 12:13-21.) At every stage of that paragraph there is some new and startling light in which the evil of covetousness is seen.
1. It cherishes a totally mistaken view of life (Luke 12:15).
2. It is perilous (Luke 12:20). Hence:
3. It is foolish (Luke 12:20, Luke 12:21). Strong checks these! Far stronger than Israel's.
IV. THERE IS A DIVINE STIGMA UPON COVETOUSNESS. (See Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5.) It is idolatry. It is giving to creature objects the regard which is due only to God. He would have us "in his light see light," and regard the greed of gain as an abominable thing.
V. THERE IS A DIVINE RULE FOR LABOR. It is given us in Ephesians 4:28. The observance of this precept would prevent the social evil arising from covetousness on the one hand, and would create the good accruing from benevolence on the other. "Let him labor in order that he may have the wherewith to give!" How truly sublime! It is like the benevolence of God.
VI. THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER HAS SPECIAL INJUNCTIONS FOR THE RICH, with the giving of which he is charged. (1 Timothy 6:17-19.) Thus the Christian code is by no means less comprehensive than the Mosaic. On the contrary, it is far more so. It is equally stringent in allowing no one to think of his property as his own.
VII. OUR GOD WOULD WIN AS WELL AS WARN. See Hebrews 13:5, "Let your turn of mind be free from the love of money (ἀφιλάργυρος)." Why? "Because himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee" (see also 2 Peter 1:4). We are permitted, in Christ, to call God "ours," to find in his love our joy, in his wisdom and strength our stay, in his wealth our supply. Hence we ought to be lifted up above any consuming racking care, and to be loyally obedient to God's will in the sanctified use of all that we have (Matthew 6:33). Let any one set side by side the Mosaic regulations in the paragraph we have just been considering, with the seven considerations adduced from New Testament teaching. Let him compare them with one another. And, if we mistake not, he will find more than ample material for other Homilies on the height, the breadth, the depth, and the length of Christian ethics, as covering the entire ground of the relations of man to man and of man to God, and as requiring no less exactitude in detail through less detail being specified. It is said (and we fear it is said truly) that the great hindrance to God's work in the world is that the Christian name does not carry with it Christian morality. Ah! if it did, how luminous would such morality appear! Let but the above considerations be universally acted out, on all sides, and no more strifes between capital and labor would ever be known. The rich would neither oppress, nor despise, nor neglect the poor; the poor would no longer be jealous of the rich. Both would recognize their mutual relation to and need of each other. While, with universal righteousness and kindness, mendicancy would be a thing unknown. And never, never, till there is a new principle of love infused through the various classes of society, will such a consummation be attained! Still, however sad our hearts may be as we consider how far we are off from the mutual regard between owner and laborer which even Moses enjoined, let each of us feel his personal responsibility for fidelity to the Divine Law. Only as this is felt and discharged by each, can it be felt and discharged by all. The Lord make us and all men to abound in good will, and may the supreme benevolence which has its source in heaven flow o'er the world as a pure river of water of life!
The duty of kindness to the poor.
There seems to be at first sight a discrepancy between the phrase in Deuteronomy 15:4 and that in Deuteronomy 15:11. The former is, "Save when there shall be no poor among you;" the latter, "The poor shall never cease out of the land." The first phrase is, however, a reason assigned for the injunction which had been given: it is equivalent to, "Simply, that there be no poor among you," i.e. this or that was an appointment in Israel, in order that the number of the poor might be reduced to a minimum, and that those who were poor might not become abjectly so. But no such external law could ever prevent some from falling back in the race. As long as men's constitutions, capacities, and characters were widely different, so would their measure of success be. A leveling of circumstances could be brought about only through a leveling of men, after all had been brought to a uniform starting-point. Such genial enactments as the one in Deuteronomy 15:1-6 might prevent beggary, but would not do away with poverty. "The poor shall never cease out of the land." This phrase is not to be regarded as indicating a Divine appointment that it should he so, but as a Divine declaration that it would he so. As long as men are what they are, and the varied features of temperament and ability continue as they are, so long will there be abundant scope for the exercise of sympathy and of kindly help. The points noticeable in this paragraph are five.
1. Year after year fresh claims on the kindly help of the prosperous would be presented by their poorer brethren (Deuteronomy 15:11).
2. These claims were to be generously and even gladly met, as if it were a delight. We need not charge the writer with ministering to idleness and beggary (see reference to Michaelis, in previous Homily). The word for, yea, even the conception of, a beggar, as we now understand it, is entirely absent from the Mosaic statutes. Honest and diligent work is supposed to be universal; though it might not be uniformly skilful or successful.
3. The desire to evade any obligation thus presented, was a wicked violation of the spirit of the Law (Deuteronomy 15:9).
4. The cry of the neglected or oppressed poor would rise up to God, and be heard.
5. The Lord would remember the, sin of cruel neglect and unkindness, or of haughty coldness.
Now, this chapter generally, and therefore this paragraph as a part of it, may be viewed in one of two aspects: either as a section of the Mosaic code of jurisprudence, or as an inculcation of social duty. It would be obviously beyond or beside our province to deal with it in the former aspect; we are concerned solely with the latter. We need not ask whether, in our New Testament standard, kindness to the poor is enjoined? That is understood. Our one query is this—
NOW THAT WE ARE UNDER CHRIST, AS OUR LEADER, HOW IS THE DUTY OF KINDNESS TO THE POOR PUT AND ENFORCED?
1. That duty which Moses enjoined as the leader and legislator of Jehovah's people, our Lord Jesus Christ set on the ground of his own sovereign right, and enforced by his own example. In that wondrous chapter of John's Gospel, the thirteenth, we are told that, when our Savior had washed his disciples' feet, he told them that he had given them an example that they should do as he had done to them, and also said, "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master," etc. We cannot suppose that this one act of kindness and condescension was merely meant to be literally followed. It must have been a kind of representative deed, in which our Lord virtually said, "In whatever way you may comfort or soothe a worn and weary brother by ministering to his wants, do not shrink from doing it, even though it may involve many a lowly, self-sacrificing act." Surely this covers the ground indicated in this paragraph, and includes the duty of giving to the poor and helping the needy, whatsoever their need may be.
2. Our Lord regards the poor and needy as his poor: all, generally, because he died for them; some, especially, because he lives in them. Hence, whoever would act towards them so as to show them the power and glory of a living Savior's sympathy, must let the poor feel through him the warm touch era tender Savior's love. Our Lord said in his intercessory prayer, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." Thus believers are to act in the world in the name and on the behalf of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the friends and benefactors of men.
3. Our Lord reckons a kindness shown to men for his sake, as if it were done to him. Even in the Old Testament we get a thought akin to this (Isaiah 63:9). But in the New Testament the truth is more clearly defined (cf. Acts 9:4, where it is presented to us in connection with the reverse of kindness). In Matthew 25:31 Matthew 25:46 it is shown us more strikingly still. Christ and his people are one; and a kindness done to men, out of love to him, is done to him. Is there not a wondrous touch of nature here? Would not a mother feel a kindness shown to her son, for her sake, as if it were shown to her? If the mother were in England and the son in New Zealand, she would feel the same. And if the son were even base and unworthy, and love did cling to him for the mother's sake, she could not feel the kindness the less. And we are permitted to take this thought up into the heavenly region, and to read the amazing words, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … ye have done it unto me."
4. Of so much importance is this kindness to the poor for Christ's sake to be reckoned by us, that we are to watch for and seize opportunities of doing "good unto all men, specially to them that are of the household of faith;" yea, so laboring, we are even to support the weak, recalling those priceless words which an apostle was mercifully led to save from the peril of unrecorded sayings, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Whenever and wherever there is presented to us a case of genuine need, there is an opportunity for honoring our Savior which we must not suffer to pass by unimproved.
5. There are New Testament warnings against the neglect of the poor, which are not only not less severe than any in the Old Testaments—they are even more so. We may arrange them in three classes, giving one specimen under each.
(1) 1 John 3:17 : If a man can knowingly neglect the poor, God's love is not in his heart. Where love dwells in the heart, there will be corresponding words on the tongue, and corresponding blessings in the hand.
(2) James 2:5-9; James 5:1-4 : The Apostle James declares that to neglect or despise the poor is sin against God; and that the cries of oppressed poverty will be heard in heaven.
(3) Matthew 25:31-46 : Our Lord has explicitly told us that in the day of judgment, the one test which will be applied to men, and by which their destiny will be decided, will be that of kindness to the poor for his sake! Where that has been, penitence and faith have wrought out in love. Where that has not been, there has been no love, and, consequently, neither faith nor penitent obedience. It is not necessary to be openly wicked and profane, in order to incur rejection by the Great Judge at last. There may have been not a single vice which shocked society or violated outward propriety. Be it so. Even then the absence of the activities of love will be a man's ruin. He who has not lived to save his brother will not himself be saved. A piety that is known only by negatives will be disowned by our sovereign Lord; while genuine, active, unselfish love, though it may have had but a limited sphere for service, oft shedding a tear that it could do no more, will meet with the holy Master's loving recognition, and will receive his gracious reward!
The rights of the slaves.
By some who are but slightly acquainted with the subject, and who have too strong an animus against the Old Book to deal fairly with it, it has been made a matter of complaint against our Lord and his apostles that they did not put down slavery with a strong hand. The same may be said of Moses. If, however, without prejudging the case, we reverently ask, Why was it that he, as a divinely commissioned legislator, tolerated the institution of slavery? we are but proposing a question which opens up a field for thoughtful study, and we shall not be left without a satisfactory answer. And in the answer which the facts will supply there will be contained a world of instructive teaching to the devout and thoughtful mind. (The student would do well to examine the articles of Michaelis on this subject.) Putting the case generally, so as to prepare the reader for the details which follow, we would say—Moses found slavery existing; he permitted its continuance, but he placed the slave-holder under such restrictions that the slaves would become conscious of their rights as men and as brethren; he so limited slavery itself, that no Hebrew could be a slave for life, except of his own voluntary will; and in his elevated ethical code, he repeatedly insisted on the equality of men before God; thus dropping in men's minds such seeds of truth that, when they germinated and brought fruit, the institution of slavery would cease, because the peoples would come to be educated out of it!
If now we briefly enumerate the several provisions connected with slaves and slave-holding, we shall see, in detail, the proof of the above general remark.
1. The Hebrew slave might be held for six years only; in the seventh he was to be permitted his freedom: excepting as provided in the eleventh detail.
2. There were other provisions, e.g. those connected with the year of jubilee, for ensuring the freedom of the slave, given in Leviticus 25:1-55.
3. Rigorous exaction and harshness were distinctly and sternly forbidden (Le Leviticus 25:39-43). If these injunctions and the reasons for them are considered, it will be seen that Hebrew slavery was unlike any other that the world has known.
4. If a master by revengeful treatment inflicted serious bodily injury on the slave, such slave was to have his freedom (Exodus 21:26).
5. Undue punishment was avenged by the judges (Exodus 21:20, Exodus 21:21).
6. The slave might acquire property of his own, and might even amass enough to buy his own freedom (Leviticus 25:1-55.).
7. There were special decrees for the benefit of the slave. They were to be free from all manner of work on the Sabbath day. They had a right to fruit which grew spontaneously during the sabbatical year. They were to have their share of the feasts at the great national festivals.
8. If they accepted freedom at the end of the sixth year, they were not to be sent away empty, but were to be furnished by their master, liberally and gladly, with a sufficiency wherewith to "start on their own account."
9. The idea of freedom was ever kept before them. They might not sell themselves for life to any one. They were the Lord's freemen, and they were not to pervert the Divine thought by becoming life-long bondmen (Le Leviticus 25:42).
10. As the nation rose in intelligence, their laws became more and more liberal. Provisions which were intended at first only for the menservants, were extended, even in the lifetime of Moses, to the maidservants likewise (cf. Exodus 21:7 and Deuteronomy 15:17).
11. If a slave did not accept his freedom when he might have it, he was to have his ears bored, that so he might bear about with him the brand that he had chosen servitude for life (Leviticus 25:16, Leviticus 25:17). Surely the object of this apparently strange enactment was to create among the people a disrespect for self-chosen servitude, and so, silently yet powerfully, to lift them above it. And yet one more feature should be noted, viz.:
12. When a foreign slave escaped from his master, the moment he touched the Hebrews' soil he was a free man! (Deuteronomy 23:16). Surely no one can study all these details without seeing that the entire tendency of the Mosaic Law was to lift up the people, to advance their happiness, their freedom, their intelligence, and their mutual regard!
If now for a little we pass to the New Testament, to see how the apostles of Jesus Christ regarded and dealt with slaves and slavery, and what their teachings were on this subject, we find that very little is said. There is no denunciation of the institution, notwithstanding the very wide difference between slavery under the Hebrews and under the Greeks and Romans. But we find:
1. Rules for masters, demanding that they render unto their slaves, that which is just and equal, since even they, with all their power, are not irresponsible, but have themselves a Master in heaven, to whom the slave is as precious as his owner.
2. They taught at the same time loyalty and obedience on the part of the slave, and urged on him the duty of so serving an earthly master that, in the very act thereof, he should serve a heavenly one.
3. That both master and slave would receive from their common Lord a reward according to their measure of fidelity; "knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free."
4. They laid down afresh, in the name of the Lord Jesus, the old Mosaic law, that "there is no respect of persons with God;" thus teaching the equality of all men in the eye of him "who judgeth according to every man's work."
Now, comparing the Old and New Testament treatment of slavery, what do we see? In the Old Testament a number of details which would work in the direction of freedom, and thoughts dropped which would bring slavery to an end. In the New Testament the details are not repeated.
1. Because, having been given once, repetition would have been of little service.
2. Because the apostles were not laying down laws for a commonwealth in the same sense that Moses was. But, though we have no repetition of details, we have
(1) such an inculcation of kindness on one side and of loyalty on the other, as, when mutually heeded, would make slavery cease to be slavery in all save the name; and
(2) such a clear enunciation of the truth, that in Christ there is neither bond nor free, that, when the power of this Divine impartiality was felt, slavery would ultimately cease both in fact and in name the wide world over!
Thus we see that the Divine Being in his infinite wisdom has seen fit to adopt a similar process under both the Jewish and Christian dispensations, viz. that of educating men by the power of truth and goodness up to such a level, that they voluntarily put down this or that social wrong, instead of thrusting it out at once by a violent hand. Had e.g. this wrong of slavery been forcibly put down, the spirit of enslaving would have still existed on one side, and an opening for unbridled lawlessness might have been created on the other. But by the Divine process, slower though it be, the master is lifted up above the level of the tyrant, the slave comes to be regarded as a man and a brother, and ultimately the last letter shall be snapped, and men brought unto the glorious liberty of the children of God!
Nor can we do justice to our theme unless we point out, for practical use and fervent exhortation, the spiritual significance of the whole.
I. THE EQUALITY OF MEN BEFORE GOD. The Divine love and regard embrace all, The overshadowing wing of mercy covers all, and the free offers of mercy are made to all (Isaiah 55:1-7).
II. BECAUSE OF THE VALUE GOD SETS ON EVERY MAN, HE FORBIDS ANY MAN TO TAKE ANOTHER CAPTIVE, AND FORBIDS MAN SELLING HIMSELF INTO CAPTIVITY OF ANY KIND. "Ye are bought with a price; be ye not the slaves of men."
III. WE ARE FREE FROM HUMAN FETTERS THAT WE MAY BE ABSOLUTELY FREE TO SERVE GOD. "As free, but not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness; but as the servants of God."
IV. ABSOLUTE LOYALTY TO GOD IS THE SUREST AND BEST GUARANTEE OF FIDELITY TOWARDS MEN. Nothing would be wanting between master and servant now, if both were purely loyal to the Great Supreme. He who is bound by the vow of a holy consecration to serve a holy God, may be trusted with any department of human service.
V. TO THIS OUR GOD WOULD WIN AND LEAD US, BY PATIENT TEACHING AND GRACIOUS TRAINING. It takes long to perfect a world or even a class.
Sacrifices to be without blemish.
A reference to passages in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, will show the frequency with which the injunction here contained was insisted upon, and the importance attached to it. Sacrifices offered to God must be without blemish. The entire Mosaic system of sacrifice was symbolic in relation to the Church that then was, and typical in relation to the Church of the future. We can scarcely miss the teaching of the enactment before us, if only we seek to interpret it with reverent and loyal hearts. Surely it taught two things in the region of law, and also two things in the sphere of grace. The former were:
1. That in the eye of the All-pure One, every moral flaw or defect was an offence, and therefore could not be accepted by him.
2. That as man was guilty before God, he could not, on the reckoning of bare law, be well-pleasing in the eyes of a righteous Being, to whom all evil was an abomination.
The latter were:
1. That a flawless sacrifice was to be selected and offered to God by, and in the name, and on the behalf of, the guilty one.
2. That such flawless sacrifice, if offered in sincerity and penitence of spirit, would be accepted on his behalf. Now, we are not left to interpret the type as best we may, nor are we called on to offer the symbolic sacrifice. The antitype has come. The reality is ours. And an inspired interpretation of ancient rites is given us by apostles and prophets of our Lord and Savior (cf. Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19; Eph 5:27; 2 Peter 3:14; Jude 1:24; Revelation 14:5). With such teaching before us, we can see a sixfold significance in our text.
I. HERE IS A DIVINE APPEAL TO THE CONSCIENCE. It says, in language which ought never to be mistaken, "the least speck of sin is an offence to God;" and guilty man cannot, on the ground of his own right, have any standing-ground for an instant before him. It is said that in the later days of the Jewish economy, when the offerer brought his sacrifice, the slaughterer (who was other than the priest) took a two-edged knife and ran it from the nape of the neck down the spine, laying it bare. Not infrequently this would disclose a dark spot: this was a blemish; the animal was unfit for sacrifice, and had to be cast away. Hence the allusion in Hebrews 4:12, which, so understood, has in it marvelous power. For this blemish did not appear on the surface, it came not out to the light till the spinal marrow was exposed to view. Hence, see Hebrews 4:13, specially the marvelous phrase, "πάντα δὲ γυμνὰ καὶ τετραχηλισμένα κ.τ.λ.. Every creature is "opened" unto the eyes of him with whom is our account. And though exterior conduct may be such as to commend itself to the eye of man, yet in the "marrow" of one's being there may be a sin which is an offence to God. May be? There is. There are sins upon sins, and there is sinfulness, which is the root and ground of all. And hence it must be the case that sinful man has no right, on the ground of his own merits, to expect acceptance before God. This is the very ground-work of evangelical theology. It is said, "Pectus facit theologum," but we would say rather theolgum; for only as this appeal to (as has been remarked to us), "Conscientia facit" the conscience is felt, will the after-appeals properly tell.
II. HERE IS A DIVINE INVITATION TO FAITH. There was to be a sacrifice chosen, without blemish, which was to be presented by and on behalf of the offerer (John 1:29). God has provided a Lamb for a burnt offering, and for a sin offering too (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21). (For a discussion of the grounds on which the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all could be valid for the race, see Dale on the Atonement, sect. 10.) Suffice it here to say that this offering had the dignity of a Divine Sacrifice, the appropriateness of a human one, and the "sweet-smelling savor" of a perfectly pure one. Besides which it had all the spontaneity of a voluntary offering, and all the generosity of a noble serf-surrender for the sake of others; in making which the Redeemer was satisfied. And this offering which infinite love has made, loving faith may take and call its own; and abandoning all pretence to a standing-ground in native right, it may find an everlastingly firm one in sovereign grace!
III. HERE IS A DIVINE CALL TO PENITENCE. The sacrifice was to be offered with confession of sin (see Leviticus 16:21). All the several ordinances which were spread over different sacrificial services in Israel, find their varied significances grouped in one, in the attitude of the sinner before the cross of his Savior. Well might Watts write, "My faith would lay her hand," etc. While we accept the Divine Sacrifice for sin, penitential confession over sin should ever mark us (see Psalms 51:1-19.).
IV. HERE IS A DIVINE DEMAND FOR RECTITUDE OF HEART. When we bring our offerings to the Lord, no defect should be knowingly tolerated by us. Grace gives no warrant to laxity, and true penitence will be scrupulously intolerant of it (Psalms 66:18). The freeness of pardon to the penitent involves no modification of ethical stringency, for the fact is, wherever there is any known tolerance of ill, to that extent penitence does not exist. God puts away sin by forgiving it, only as we put it away by repenting of it and casting it off.
V. HERE IS A DIVINE SUMMONS TO DEVOTION. Jesus died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. And where a man, sorry for sin, intolerant of the evil in his nature, struggling against it, and pleading with God to uproot it, casts himself before God in this genuine uprightness of soul, none of the imperfections over which he mourns shall prevent the Divine acceptance of such an offering, presented, as it will be, in the name of the spotless Son of God. The virtue of his spotless sacrifice ensures the acceptance of ours. Every true and sincere penitent is, on this ground of free grace and dying love, as well-pleasing to God and as near to his heart as the purest angel before the eternal throne. The offering to God of a broken and a contrite heart is one which he cannot and will not despise (see also Hebrews 13:15, Hebrews 13:16).
VI. HERE IS A DIVINE PROPHECY, TO INSPIRE HOPE. These sacrifices of ours, offered in penitence, faith, and love, are still but imperfect. And the holiest souls are most alive to such imperfection, and most sorrowful over it. Hence it should be no small joy to find in the Word of God precisely the same expressions used to express the future purity of believers that are employed to indicate the perfection of the Redeemer's sacrifice. As the one Great Sacrifice was "without blemish and without spot," so all those who are themselves living sacrifices to God, shall be "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." He who received them at first on the ground of his own purity, shall create in them a spotlessness like his own. They shall be "without fault" before the throne of God. And he who died for them shall then present them as his own!
Have we not here (in conclusion) a remarkable illustration of what the Apostle Paul so often speaks of as "the righteousness of God?" Each one of these six steps is a fresh aspect of it. The first shows the righteousness of God in taking cognizance of sin; the second, the righteousness of God in offering a spotless sacrifice for sin; the third, the righteousness of God in requiring penitential acknowledgment of sin; the fourth, the righteousness of God in demanding intolerance of sin; the fifth, the righteousness of God in accepting our consecration in the name of a Sinless One, only when we penitently put away sin; the sixth, the righteousness of God in ensuring that those who are living sacrifices to him shall ultimately be perfectly freed from all sin! Thus from beginning to end "grace reigns through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord." "Now unto him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and everse Amen."
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The Lord's release.
The sabbatic year was in many respects a year of mercy to the poor. The beautiful name given to it here—"the Lord's release"—suggests gospel ideas. It finds its higher counterpart in that "acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:19), which is the true "Lord's release." Christ came "to preach the gospel to the poor," and "to preach deliverance to the captives " (Luke 4:18). This "accepted time" is the period of God's forbearance with our sins (2 Corinthians 5:19; 2 Corinthians 6:2). It is the time also of forgiveness of sins to those who believe—a "Lord's release" indeed, not from money debts, but from spiritual ones (Matthew 6:12), not temporary, but eternal. It is the time of the setting free of bondsmen—Satan's captives—those held in thrall by evil (Romans 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:26). We are taught by this law—
I. THAT THE POOR HAVE A CLAIM ON THE FORBEARANCE OF THE RICH. (Deuteronomy 15:1-5.) Such a claim will willingly be recognized by the loving heart. It will shrink from pushing hard on any one. It will put itself in the debtor's place, and bear with him as long as possible. This was the lesson enforced by the law of "the release" It secured for the poor debtor a whole year of grace. It interposed a check upon the creditor s selfishness, and rebuked him if disposed to press hard upon his brother. It did more, testifying by its very existence to God's sympathy with the poor, and to his desire that they should be mercifully treated. The harshly exacting spirit, however common, is not God's or Christ's (Matthew 18:23-35). It is assumed, of course, that the case of poverty is genuine. There is no evidence that, even during the sabbatic year, the creditor was not entitled to recover his debt from a man well able to pay it.
II. THAT THE POOR HAVE A CLAIM ON THE ASSISTANCE OF THE RICH. (Deuteronomy 15:7-12.) Assistance goes beyond forbearance. The Law requires, not simply that lenders of money should not be harsh and unforbearing in exacting its repayment, but that, where need exists, they should be willing, nay forward, to render such assistance as is in their power. Honest poverty—for such only is in contemplation—creates a claim which those "having this world's good" (1 John 3:17) are not at liberty to disregard. Heart and hand are to be alike open to the cry of distress. The giving is to be:
(3) disinterested (cf. Matthew 5:42).
Note: 1. Liberal assistance in a time of need is worth many doles spread over a longer period.
2. Assistance, where practicable, should be given in the form of loans. This is the idea of the law, and it is in harmony with the best modern opinion. Loans are preferable to simple charity; they do not pauperize; they develop the principle of self-help, encourage diligence and thrift, and foster the spirit of honest independence. Those who cannot be helped save by gratuities must, of course, be helped cheerfully.
III. THAT LIBERALITY TO THOSE IN NEED TENDS TO OUR OWN ENRICHMENT. (Deuteronomy 15:4-7, Deuteronomy 15:10.) No truly liberal man will make this the motive of his liberality. But as a secondary encouragement to liberal giving, and as removing fears of the possible results to one's own fortunes, it deserves to be considered. The liberal soul is usually not the loser, but the gainer, by its liberality. Selfishness defeats itself. Subtle spiritual laws operate to produce this result.
1. Liberality reacts upon the soul itself to ennoble and expand its powers. This tends in the direction of enrichment.
2. The liberal man is loved and trusted. He gets kindness shown him for his kindness to others (Luke 6:30-39). He is one whom neighbors and friends are always willing to serve, and to speak a good word for.
3. God's blessing is upon him (Deuteronomy 15:4, Deuteronomy 15:10). Through that blessing he is prospered. He divides and conquers. By opening his hand liberally, he gets more than he parts with. "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth," etc. (Proverbs 11:24, Proverbs 11:25).—J.O.
The poor in the land.
The meaning is that there will always be greater or less scope for the exercise of the virtues of kindness and liberality,—that it is vain to hope for a Utopian condition of society in which there shall be absolutely no poor.
I. THIS DOES NOT IMPLY:
1. That many existing causes of poverty cannot be permanently removed.
2. That every attempt ought not to be made to reduce poverty within its narrowest limits. The saying, "Ye have the poor always with you" (Matthew 26:11), is no utterance of fatalism. Much can be done to reduce poverty. With the growth of society, still more as a result of the spread of Christian principles, numbers of the causes of poverty now existing may be expected to disappear (idleness, intemperance, bad laws, merciless competition, class antagonisms, unfavorable sanitary conditions, etc.).
II. IT DOES IMPLY:
1. That under the most favorable conditions of existence on earth a residuum of poverty is still to be looked for.
(1) There are diversities of talents. There will always be those whose abilities only fit them for the humblest positions in society. And these may be left friendless, or health may fail them, or they may live to old age, and become dependent.
(2) There are vicissitudes of fortune. These come to the most fortunate of men, reducing them oftentimes to great straits. And it is too much to expect that, even under millennial conditions, the causes of such vicissitudes will altogether cease to operate.
2. That while poverty lasts, it is our duty to help to bear its burden. Poverty, in a state of society such as we anticipate as the goal of history, need never be the painful thing it is now. With loving hearts, and hands ready to help, its sting will be taken away.—J.O.
No argument in favor of modern slave-holding can be drawn from Hebrew bend-service. The Hebrew bondmen, unlike modern slaves, were incorporated as part of the nation; had legal rights; took part in the religious feasts; if mutilated or injured, thereby obtained their freedom. On the sabbatic year the Hebrew bondman regained his freedom, going out, not simply free, but loaded with presents. We learn—
I. THE NATURAL RIGHT OF MAN TO HIS FREEDOM. (Deuteronomy 15:12, Deuteronomy 15:13.) Freedom is man's birthright. It cannot be bartered. He must not be robbed of it by violence. If from temporary causes the use of it is lost, the right itself is not destroyed. So the Jews were taught by the return of every Hebrew to his freedom in the seventh year. It is a primary and unalienable right of man, which here, like underlying rock, juts to the surface.
II. THE RIGHT OF SERVANTS TO EQUITABLE AND GENEROUS TREATMENT. (Deuteronomy 15:13-16.) Bondmen were not to be regarded as mere "hands," still less as chattels. They were to be kindly treated, and dismissed with presents. It is a principle of equity which comes to light in Deuteronomy 15:18. We may apply it to modern times by saying that if servants are worth more to us than their wages, it is but fair that they should participate in profits. The principle is already being recognized, and has in it the germ of the solution of many difficult problems in political economy.
III. THAT LOVE IS THE TRUE RECONCILER OF SERVICE AND FREEDOM. (Deuteronomy 15:17, Deuteronomy 15:18.) It made the service no service—no real bond-service. Compare Jacob's service for Rachel (Genesis 29:20). Were the law of love to rule more than it does in the relations of servants and masters, of employers and employed, it would greatly sweeten trade, commerce, manufactures, and domestic life. There are doubtless faults on the side of servants as well as of masters—but how seldom is any earnest attempt made to break down feelings of antagonism, and to bring in healthier relations! The law of Christ is the true cure for strikes, lock-outs, combinations, etc. Apply to the service of God in Christ. Law here, but also love, and through the love freedom in obedience. The highest freedom is in obedience to the law of holiness.—J.O.
The solution of the apparent discrepancy between this passage and Numbers 18:18 seems to lie in the custom of inviting the worshippers to share in the feasts provided by their offerings. View the sanctification of the firstlings as symbolical.
1. Of God's claim on the first and choicest of what we have for his own service.
(1) Of our property.
(2) Of our affections.
(3) Of our powers of body and mind.
2. Of God's right to redeemed life. The firstlings were redeemed by God for himself on the memorable night of the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 13:12). God claims redeemed life as peculiarly his own (Isaiah 43:1-4; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
3. Of God's right to young life. A symbol of early consecration.
4. Of happy fellowship with God. The fellowship was a fruit of the dedication of the best.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The year of forgiveness.
We have here what we may call the "poor law" of Palestine. The poor were to be regarded as "brethren," they were to be treated as neighbors, as members of the one society. Money was to be lent them to give them a start in life (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), and if they were unable to repay it by the seventh or sabbatic year, they were to be forgiven the debt, "to the end that there be no poor among you". Usury was thus discouraged between brethren. Loans were to be acts of generosity, and the idea was distinctly to be kept in view that a person should sometimes lend, "expecting nothing again." With foreigners, that is, those not of "the household of faith," it might be different; the debt need not in this case be cancelled; the year of release was a Divine institution for the people of God. The Jews were intended, if obedient, to be creditors of the world, and debtors to none; and the poor brother was to have the joy in the sabbatic year of being forgiven.
I. THE DUTY OF FORGIVENESS WAS PRESCRIBED TO ALL THE BRETHREN. In fact, this poor law was the proclamation of the "brotherhood" of believers in the one God. Upon this forgiveness of debt was based. The creditor was to realize how much more blessed it is to give than to receive (Acts 20:35); how blessed it is to be able to help a brother! Had the Jews been faithful, the parable of the good Samaritan would not have been such a wonder. It was just the spirit fostered by this institution of the year of release.
Now, this duty of forgiveness of the debts of brethren arises out of the forgiving character of God. As the common Father of these brethren in the faith, he inculcates forgiveness because he practices it. The experience of Israel in the wilderness was of a series of Divine forgivenesses, even though in forgiving them he took vengeance on their inventions (Psalms 99:8). And the beautiful parable about the two debtors (Matthew 18:23-35) is really meant to bring out the truth that unforgivingness is a violation of the family spirit encouraged by the king, and is the unpardonable sin.
II. THE IDEAL SET BEFORE THEM WAS TO BE THE EXTIRPATION OF POVERTY IN THE FAMILY OF GOD. It would most probably never be reached, but it is well to be aiming at the high and the noble, even though it may not be all attained. The marginal reading in Deuteronomy 15:4, which has received the imprimatur of Jonathan Edwards, brings out the beautiful aim thus set before Israel. The effort was to be to make Jewish poverty impossible. The same idea seized on the mind of the Church after Pentecost, leading to the trial of a Christian commune, wherein for a time it could be said, "Neither was there any among them that lacked" (Acts 4:34). Poverty was for a time at least banished from the Christian Church. These strivings after an ideal shall be crowned at last with success when under the new regime, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat" (Revelation 7:16).
III. THE OBEDIENT ARE INTENDED TO MAKE ALL MEN THEIR DEBTORS. The Lord promises his people, if they are only obedient, that they shall lend to many nations, but shall not borrow (Deuteronomy 15:6). It is sometimes thought to be a special benefit when a person can contract debt from all and sundry, his credit being so good. But it surely is a higher benefit to be in a position to oblige everybody. This is what God meant his people to be. Surrounding nations were to borrow from them, and own their indebtedness. And has not this a moral and spiritual side? The religious spirit is the obliging spirit, the spirit which hails with delight the opportunity of "doing good unto all men, especially unto such as are of the household of faith."
IV. IT IS THE SECRET OF SOVEREIGNTY TO BE ABLE TO OBLIGE OTHERS. For it is significant surely that the Israelites are told, immediately after the promise of being able to lend unto many nations, "and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee" (verse6). Rule arises out of obligation. Influence is acquired when we are able to befriend others. Doubtless many of the conquests of Israel were by force rather than by finance; but it is the peaceful acquisition of power that a Divine promise contemplates, and we begin to rule as "kings and priests unto God" when we become thoroughly obliging. It is thus love and loyalty are secured among men.
Thus we have in this arrangement of the year of release principles laid down that God has illustrated himself in his considerate and forgiving conduct towards us, and in which we are to try to follow him.—R.M.E.
Having inculcated the forgiveness of a brother's debts during the sabbatic year, Moses now proceeds to speak of the open-handedness which should precede that year. It might be made a pretext for refusing a poor brother a helping hand that the year was almost on when the debt would be cancelled legally; but to make this a pretext for niggardliness would only betray wickedness of heart. The most beautiful consideration is thus inculcated for the poor; and as "the poor shall never cease out of the land," there will be the call evermore for this open-handed-ness. Now this poor-law regulation is a most beautiful illustration of what God does for us; and something like it will yet supersede the hard-heartedness of our national systems.
I. GENEROSITY SHOULD NOT BE TOO CALCULATING IN ITS TURN. Doubtless, often times it receives a noble return, but this should not be too much regarded, lest the speculative spirit mar the motive altogether. Nor again should we harden our hearts under the persuasion that our generosity is misspent, and that we shall never be repaid in any way. God has himself shown us true generosity in making his sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, and in sending his rain upon the unjust as well as the just. And hence we are exhorted to "lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35). There is something noble in an uncalculating generosity.
II. IT IS THE NEED OF THE POOR BROTHER WHICH WE ARE BOUND TO SUPPLY. That is, we are asked to supply him not with the luxuries or comforts of life, as if to these he had a right; but with his needs. The open-handedness will be considerate so far as not to encourage unworthy dependence. The brother will be helped in a brotherly way—enabled to help himself, and having his needs only supplied. This principle has been urged in connection with our national poor-law system. If it is lost sight of, then a premium is paid to idleness, and the "ne'er-do-wells" become the favorites of fortune. £ Our Father in heaven acts in the same wholesome fashion. "He supplies all our need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." He supplies us with salvation because we cannot save ourselves; he supplies us with what enables us to help ourselves. He could keep the whole world in idleness, "ladies and gentlemen at large," but he prefers to keep the whole world in work. Our reliance on God is for our need.
III. OPEN-HANDEDNESS FOR GOD'S SAKE IS SURE OF ITS REWARD, "The liberal soul shall be made fat." "He that watereth others shall be watered also himself." "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth." In this way the Lord showeth in both dispensations how "he loveth a cheerful giverse" When a religious man, acting on principle, lives an open-handed life, he has the finest business stimulus. He works that he may have the more to give, and thus be the more God-like. There is nothing so hallows business in all its ramifications as this desire to be able to help those in need.
IV. IT IS A SOLEMN THOUGHT THAT THE POOR ARE NEVER TO CEASE OUT OF THE LAND IN THE PRESENT DISPENSATION. The unequal distribution of wealth, the improvident habits of many, and the pressure of population upon subsistence seem destined to keep the poor always with us. And in consequence our Savior stepped out of his rich condition in the bosom and home of the Father and became poor, that he might call every poor man a brother, and leave the poor his legatees after his departure. We need the spectacle of poverty to move our hard hearts to the generosity required. Were abundance the rule, and no human being wanted bread, the selfishness of the race would know no bounds. But the poor ones call for the sympathy which Jesus so abundantly deserves, and we can now sell our spikenard and give to them with all the careful calculation which a Judas once desired (John 12:1-50. l-8).
Let our help to others be systematic, because conscientious, and then shall it prove a perennial rill, benefiting the lives of many as it wends its way down the vale of years to the ocean that engulfs us all.—R.M.E.
The freedom of the slave.
The seventh year was the year of personal release as well as release from debt. Slavery among the Jews was utterly unlike the slavery of modern times. It arose when a Jew became bankrupt; he might then sell his services to his creditor, and pay off his debt by honest work. But beyond sis years his service need not continue. As soon as the sabbatic year came round he could claim his liberty. In such. a case, his master is counseled to be generous when he goes, that he may have something with which to begin the world again. "Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy, floor, and out of the winepress of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him." On the other hand, if the service was so delightful to him that he would rather not leave, it was allowable to bore his ear through with an awl, that he might be recognized as a servant forever.
I. LIBERTY IS RECOGNIZED IN GOD'S LAW AS EACH MAN'S RIGHT. It may be conditioned upon certain services, just as the liberty of Israel was conditioned upon God's redemption of them from Egypt; but come at last it will. No property in persons is recognized, merely in services for a certain definite period. Man-stealing, as we know from Exodus 21:16, was a capital crime, punishable with death, so that there is really no warrant in the Jewish institution for modern slavery. £ Under Jewish law no involuntary servitude was allowed; and there was always the right to freedom in the sabbatic year.
And is there not underlying this arrangement for each man's liberty an undertone of gospel truth? What is the gospel but a great provision for conferring spiritual liberty upon those who have sold themselves to sin, and are in bondage? The present dispensation is, in fact, the sabbatic year, wherein liberty is preached to the captives (Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 61:2; Luke 4:17, Luke 4:18).
II. FREEDOM WAS TO BE CONFERRED IN A SPIRIT OF GENEROUS JOY. The ransomed one was not to be sent out empty-handed, but furnished liberally. Emancipation was not to be given with a grudge, but to be granted with joy and love-tokens besides. It was not to be something in which the master reluctantly acquiesced, but in which he gladly co-operated. In fact, God's joy in emancipating Israel from Egypt was to be the type of the joy of the Jewish master in liberating the slave.
And here again we have the type of the spiritual joy which the emancipation of souls should ensure in all who help therein. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." When he "drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing" (Luke 15:10-25). No joy should be so deep as this of helping the slaves of sin to spiritual freedom.
III. LOVE ALONE COULD MAKE SERVICE PERPETUAL. For it is supposable that sometimes a slave found himself so happy with his master, especially if the master had made him his son-in-law (Exodus 21:4, Exodus 21:5), that he preferred slavery with love to liberty with separation. In such a case it was allowed him to have his car bored and to become a perpetual slave, because a son. Such a service was indeed perfect freedom, because its spirit and motive were devotedness and love.
And it is this which is taken in Psalms 40:6 as the prophetic type of the relation of Jesus Christ to his Father. He became by voluntary and loving contract the Father's Servant or Slave forever. He found his service such a delight that liberty and independence could not be thought of.
And in this we surely follow in his steps. We are the Lord's slaves after having become the Lord's freemen. He delivers us from the slavery of sin, and then he introduces us to his service; and lo, we find it so blessed that we insist on our ears being bored, and our being made his slaves forever. Now obedience is the slavery of love. When Law is delighted in, it is a "law of liberty," and the soul feels freedom perfect "under Law."
"Anywhere with Jesus, says the Christian heart;
Let him take me where he will, so we do not part;
Always sitting at his feet, there's no cause for fears;—
Anywhere with Jesus in this vale of tears.
"Anywhere with Jesus, though he leadeth me
Where the path is rough and long, where the dangers be;
Though he taketh from me all I love below,
Anywhere with Jesus will I gladly go.
"Anywhere with Jesus, for it cannot be
Dreary, dark, or desolate where he is with me;
He will love me always, every need supply;
Anywhere with Jesus, should I live or die."
The firstlings for God.
The firstlings which were males were not to be reared for work, but kept for communion. They were to constitute, if perfect, a peace offering before God; if imperfect, they were to be eaten at home, imperfect fellowship between imperfect persons. Just as in the firstfruits God claimed the first share; so in the case of the firstlings of the herd or flock, and the firstborn among men.
I. THE BEGINNINGS OF LIFE SHOULD BE RECOGNIZED AS GIFTS OF GOD, AND DEDICATED GRATEFULLY TO HIM. He is the Source of life; hence the firstlings should be the cause of quiet meditation and acknowledgment. Such increase should be the occasion of special fellowship with God, enlarging gratitude and dictating devotion.
II. IMFERFECTIONS IN GOD'S GIFTS SHOULD BE ACCEPTED BY MEN AS MORE THAN THEY DESERVE. The imperfect firstling, in being made a feast for men only, and not a sacrifice for God as well, seemed to say that, however imperfect God's gift may be sometimes, it should be gratefully accepted as beyond our desert. The blemished, the lame, the blind, when God sends them in his providence, we should not despise, but rather hail them as beyond our desert.
And if this was to be the case in the use of beasts, does it not throw clear light upon our conduct in the case of imperfect men? When children come into this world with any defect, let us not rebel against his will, but cherish the defective gift as reminding us how little we deserve, and by our love give such children compensation.
III. THE DEDICATION OF THE PERFECT FIRSTLING POINTED TO THE CONSECRATED FIRSTBORN, JESUS CHRIST. He is indeed the Firstborn of every creature. To him the firstlings and firstborn pointed. He was dedicated in life and death to the Father. He became the great Peace Offering which makes God and man one. And this suggests—
1. The Father's delight in Jesus. How it burst forth from time to time in "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"! What delight in our Lord's life! what satisfaction in his obedience unto death! God well pleased!
2. Our delight in Jesus. Jesus becomes the medium of communion. We have him in common with God. "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). The more we meditate upon him, the deeper must be our delight.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
A bulwark against cupidity.
Material prosperity was the only form of blessing that had attractive charm for the Hebrews. Neither mind nor conscience was yet sufficiently developed to value higher good. God had to raise them by slow and successive steps. Material prosperity had its dangerous side. It might foster pride, self-sufficiency, a sense of overweening superiority, and might lead to tyrannous treatment of others. Or, used in devout recognition of God, it might give scope for generous impulses, furnish leisure for intellectual pursuits, aid the culture of the aesthetic arts, diffuse religious knowledge, and practically relieve human distress. The institution of the year of release was designed to serve as a flood-gate, by which the tide of material wealth might be turned into the fittest channel.
I. MATERIAL WEALTH, WITH ITS CONCURRENT POWER, WAS A FRUIT OF RELIGIOUS OBEDIENCE. (Deuteronomy 15:4, Deuteronomy 15:5.) The acquisition of wealth is the effect of law. It does not follow an erratic course. If we can see the operation of fixed law in nature and in human life, we are constrained to believe that law (whether discovered or undiscovered) operates in getting wealth. In the case of the Hebrews, the law of earthly success was clearly revealed. In return for loyal obedience to Divine command, the soil should be fertile; early and latter rain should descend; a salutary awe should restrain the neighboring tribes from predatory raids; the seasons should be auspicious; there should be plenty for man and for cattle. Still it is true that the "hand of the diligent maketh rich;" "them that honor me I will honor;" "godliness is profitable unto all things." Yet earthly prosperity is not the badge of piety. Many of God's saints are in the ranks of the poor. Imprudent courses, though pursued by the righteous, end in disaster. Prudent courses in business, assiduously pursued, even by the profane, terminate in worldly success.
II. MATERIAL WEALTH IS VERY UNEVENLY DISTRIBUTED AMONG MEN. Some men are creditors; some are debtors. Some begin life in affluence; some begin in poverty. Such varieties of human circumstance are best. They teach that the same hand that has fashioned material nature has molded the externals of human life. Such a plan affords variety of occupation and pursuit. The poor are benefited by the "learned leisure" of the rich; the rich are benefited by the industry of the poor. Men require quiet freedom from bodily toil to investigate and to invent; men require the stimulus of hunger to perform arduous labor. It is a mutual benefit; the rich are as much indebted to the poor, as the poor to the rich. We learn also that material wealth is not the highest good that God has to bestow, or he would put it within every man's reach. It is but a visible symbol of invisible treasure.
III. MATERIAL WEALTH IS INTENDED FOR MUTUAL HELPFULNESS. It was never intended to be hoarded in caves or coffers. The possession of wealth carries an obligation to render high service to humanity. This very obligation to do good prevents an indiscriminate scattering of wealth. Simple communism would be an immeasurable curse. The industry and self-restraint which enable one nation to lend to another nation, give to the former immense influence and wholesome power. We are to distinguish between the objects of our help. We are not to treat brothers and fellow-citizens as we may aliens and strangers. We may exact from foreigners what, for a time, we have lent; but towards a fellow-citizen we should be lenient and indulgent, remembering that all wealth belongs absolutely to God. There is a volume of instruction in the fact that the Hebrews were restrained from parsimony by a Divine Law. Thus were they taught that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." Generosity strengthens the sense of brotherhood.
IV. THE WEALTH THAT CLOSES THE HEART AGAINST CHARITY BECOMES AN ACTIVE CURSE. (Deuteronomy 15:9.) It is possible to abuse the most beneficent law of God or man. This very provision of God that, at the end of the septennial period, release should be afforded to all debtors, might become very prejudicial to the interests of the poor. The approach of the sabbatic year might make the Hebrew capitalists parsimonious and close-flared. "Beware of this!" saith God. "Such an act will be an act of unfaithfulness to me." Jehovah has constituted himself the Guardian of the poor. His eye is upon their straits; his ear is open to their cry. And if his stewards fail to fulfill their mission, to them it will be accounted sin. Thus we are taught to take large and extended views of human life. We are integral parts of a great system. Our conceptions of life must stretch beyond the narrow confines of time. We should aspire to think and feel and act as God does. This is God's great ambition, and for this he is now training us.—D.
Slaves to be regarded as brethren.
Quiet revolutions are the most permanent and the most successful. Sudden and violent assaults upon social institutions are sure to provoke reaction. All great changes must commence in the thought and feeling of the people.
I. SOCIAL USAGES, THOUGH EVIL, MUST BE TEMPORARILY TOLERATED. It is difficult to realize the conditions of human life in the earlier ages of the world. Many found a livelihood: by the use of the sword and by violent plunder. The honest poor found very precarious opportunities for labor. Coin was almost unknown, and therefore wages must be paid in the form of food and raiment. Amid these circumstances, personal servitude became almost a necessity. It was a social usage liable to great abuse, and gradually degenerated into a system of evil oppression. Yet, as God patiently tolerates on his earth so many forms of evil, and quietly provides his remedy, so we should learn, not to connive at evil, but patiently to endure it, until a real remedy can be set in motion.
II. JEWISH SLAVERY WAS CURTAILED BY LIMITS OF TIME. In this way the back of the burden was broken. The bondage, which must terminate within a fixed period, was endurable. It inspired the oppressed with hope. It checked the violence of the oppressor. The slave-holder, if severely exacting, would earn an unenviable reputation, and every device would be resorted to by the emancipated to avoid that man's service. His lands might remain untilled, his flocks neglected, his vineyards unpruned, because of his oppressive treatment of former slaves. Divine wisdom had fixed this short term of service as a barrier against human cruelty.
III. JEWISH SLAVERY WAS FURTHER RELIEVED BY A SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY. It is possible to show a spirit of kindness everywhere. If we have an unpleasant duty to perform, firmness may be always tempered with kindness. God would not allow the Hebrews to deal with their bondmen on terms of mere justice. They were not permitted to extort all that was in the bond. To make the largest possible gain out of human flesh and blood was strictly prohibited. They might continue the usage of slavery for a time, but the system should be relieved and penetrated and embellished by acts of kindness. The day of release was not to be a day of mourning for the masters. They were to share in the gladness of the emancipated, to send them away laden with flocks and with fruit. In proportion as had been the industry and fidelity of the bondman, would be (unless his master were a brute) the bountiful reward. This new spirit of fraternal benevolence would speedily undermine and overthrow the old usage of slavery. Such is God's process of change.
IV. GENEROUS KINDNESS MIGHT SECURE THE LIFELONG SERVICE OF THE SLAVE. There was no necessity that the condition of the bondman should be one of hardship. Love might surmount all custom, rise above law, and transcend all considerations of gain. The spirit of religion can find its way down to the root of all wrong, eradicate all the evils that curse society, and make human life beautiful as heaven. In the very midst of slavery, it is possible for love to operate, to soften asperities, and lighten burdens. To this practical affection the hearts of slaves would soon respond. Their service would rise in quality, and would increase in indefinite measure. Kindness is a most remunerative investment. And at the close of the term of service, many a bondman would decline his freedom, and prefer the service of such a master for the possible drawbacks and risks of liberty.
V. REMEMBRANCE OF OUR OWN OBLIGATION SHOULD MAKE US INDULGENT TO OTHERS. (Deuteronomy 15:15.) If adversity has not made us tender-hearted, it has been wasted upon us. God has redeemed us from the bondage of sin, and redeemed us at costly price, and it is plain that we do not prize our redemption if we oppress others. The love of our heart, which God rightly claims for himself, he commands us to express in the form of practical kindness. God has identified his interests with the interests of humanity, so that we either promote both or neither.—D.
The first for God.
As God is supreme, so his claim to recognition and obedience must have consideration prior to all other claims. Such priority is his indefeasible right; such priority best subserves the interests of men. The first day of the week he claims and hallows; the firstfruits of the soil he claims for religious offering; the first place in our affections he asks as his due; the firstborn, both of man and of beast, he marks as his own. This is his royalty.
I. THE REPRODUCTIONS OF LIFE A CONTINUOUS CREATION OF GOD. It is acknowledged on every side that life can only spring from life. No arrangements of material atoms—no processes of chemical change with which men are acquainted—can produce life. It is a force unique in itself, and can only rationally be traced to the creative power of a personal God. The potency to reproduce life, which God has placed in all the species, is as clearly a demonstration of his creative energy as if he manifestly and alone created each individual being. We cannot escape from the conclusion that he is sole Life-giver. "I kill," saith God, "and I make alive."
II. THE CLAIM OF THE FIRSTBORN ALONE IS A CONCESSION OF THE FULLEST RIGHTS OF GOD. He has a rightful proprietorship in all life. But he allows to man, as his liege vassal, dominion over the inferior races of his creatures. Acknowledgment of man's subjection must, however, be made; tribute must be paid to the Heavenly King. This arrangement is an act of combined justice and kindness. For man's highest good, he must be kept in perpetual remembrance of his dependence and his obligation. If the springs of gratitude in man's nature should dry up, his loss would be immeasurable. Every memorial we have of God is a gospel.
III. GOD'S CLAIM AND MAN'S ENJOYMENT ARE IDENTICAL. This devotement of the firstlings to God was no real loss: it was every way a blessing. It cherished in them a feeling of filial dependence. It took them up to the temple, year by year, and so brought them into close contact with eternal things. It served to link religion with the commonest affairs of daily life. It taught them that God found a pleasure in their enjoyments, and that his commandments were promotive of real delight. Thus the acts of Jehovah's worship were not identified with fasting and austerity, but with eating and drinking in the sacred temple. The pleasure was all the greater because it was social. In the banquet and festivity the whole household partook.
IV. IMPERFECT SACRIFICES PROHIBITED. Very evident is it that this demand of the firstborn was designed for spiritual instruction. However great God's care for our bodily life appears, his desire for our souls' well-being is immeasurably greater. By such visible and impressive methods God sought to teach the Jews that perfection of nature was God's design, and that such perfection would alone find a place in his heavenly temple. The best feelings and aspirations of our nature yearn after perfection. Nothing less will satisfy the mind of God; nothing less will satisfy us. "Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness."
V. YET BLEMISHED LIFE IS BETTER THAN BARRENNESS. A lame or a blemished lamb—a firstborn—was not utterly useless. It served as food for man, it sustained human life. But it was deprived of the honor of being devoted to God. Imperfect service is not altogether useless in the world. If we do a kindness to a neighbor, though no love to God prompt the deed, some good will result. Continuance in good deeds will gradually lead to better feelings and to nobler purposes. He who serves well his fellow-men now, will ere long learn to serve God. Let us ever follow the best sentiments which arise within, though yet very imperfect.—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27