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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Deuteronomy 15

Deuteronomy 15:0

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJVNRSVTEVNJB
Debts Cancelled Every Seven YearsThe Lifestyle of a Holy People (Deuteronomy 14:1-23)The Seventh YearThe Sabbatical Year
Deuteronomy 15:1-6Deuteronomy 15:1-6Deuteronomy 15:1-3Deuteronomy 15:1-6
Generosity to the Poor Deuteronomy 15:4-6
Deuteronomy 15:7-11Deuteronomy 15:7-11Deuteronomy 15:7-11Deuteronomy 15:7-11
The Law Concerning Bond Servants The Treatment of SlavesSlaves
Deuteronomy 15:12-18Deuteronomy 15:12-17aDeuteronomy 15:12-15Deuteronomy 15:12-15
Deuteronomy 15:16-18Deuteronomy 15:16-17
Deuteronomy 15:17b
Deuteronomy 15:18 Deuteronomy 15:18
The Law Concerning Firstborn Animals The First-Born Cattle and SheepThe First-Born
Deuteronomy 15:19-23Deuteronomy 15:19-23Deuteronomy 15:19-23Deuteronomy 15:19-23

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO CHAPTER 15

A. Deuteronomy 15:0 is a continuation of the specific laws that deal with some of the unique agricultural needs and symbolic relational truths that YHWH wanted to build into His people.

B. This chapter divides nicely into three distinct sections:

1. Deuteronomy 15:1-11 deals with the expansion of the Sabbath year's rest of Exodus 23:10-13 and Leviticus 25:1-7 to the debtors and local poor. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says that the exile was a result of the Jews' failure to keep this Law.

2. Deuteronomy 15:12-18 deals with the kinsman slave, the Hebrew (man or woman) who had to work for someone to pay off debts.

3. Deuteronomy 15:19-23 deals with the first born of the flocks, or the offering of the first born animals.

C. This chapter is characterized by the use of double VERBS:

1. Some are INFINITIVE ABSOLUTES and IMPERFECT VERBS of the same root (which is a grammatical form for intensifying the meaning):

a. “surely bless,”Deuteronomy 15:4; Deuteronomy 15:4, Piel of BDB 138, KB 159

b. “listen obediently,”Deuteronomy 15:5; Deuteronomy 15:5, Qal of BDB 1033, KB 1570

c. “freely open,”Deuteronomy 15:8; Deuteronomy 15:8, Qal of BDB 834 I, KB 986

d. “generously lend,”Deuteronomy 15:8; Deuteronomy 15:8, Hiphil of BDB 716, KB 778

e. “generously give,”Deuteronomy 15:10; Deuteronomy 15:10, Qal of BDB 678, KB 733

f. “freely open,”Deuteronomy 15:11; Deuteronomy 15:11, Qal of BDB 834, KB 986

h. “furnish liberally,”Deuteronomy 15:14; Deuteronomy 15:14, Hiphil of BDB 778, KB 858

2. Some are the same VERB, used twice:

a. “lend. . .not borrow,”Deuteronomy 15:6; Deuteronomy 15:6, a Hiphil PERFECT and a Qal IMPERFECT of BDB 716, KB 778

b. “rule. . .not rule,”Deuteronomy 15:6; Deuteronomy 15:6, a Qal PERFECT and a Qal IMPERFECT of BDB 605, KB 647

c. “set free. . .free. . .not send,”Deuteronomy 15:12; Deuteronomy 15:12, Deuteronomy 15:13, all three Piel IMPERFECTS of BDB 1018, KB 1511

d. “eat. . .not eat,”, Deuteronomy 15:22; Deuteronomy 15:22, Deuteronomy 15:23, both Qal IMPERFECTS of BDB 37, KB 46

Notice the second category is a positive followed by a negative usage.

3. There is a repetition of the NOUN and the Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE of the same root in Deuteronomy 15:2 - “remission. . .release,” both from BDB 1030, KB 1557

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 15:1-6 1”At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. 2This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD's remission has been proclaimed. 3From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. 4However, there will be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, 5if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. 6For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.”

Deuteronomy 15:1 “At the end of every seven years” Two things happened: (1) the land was to lie fallow as a symbol of God's ownership of the land as well as His care for the poor (cf. Exodus 23:10-13; Leviticus 25:1-7). In Josephus' The Antiquities of the Jews, XIII.8.1, we find a reference to the Jews' habit of letting the land rest and (2) here fellow Israelites were released from debts (cf. Deuteronomy 15:2; Deuteronomy 31:10). Seven was seen as the perfect number because of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest in Genesis 1:1-3.

Deuteronomy 15:2 “remission” This term (BDB 1030) means “let drop.” In Exodus 23:10-11 the VERB is used for the land lying fallow every seven years. The NOUN is used in the OT only twice, here and Deuteronomy 31:10. Here it is used metaphorically of forgiving debt, since the share cropper could not pay his loan in the year in which planting was prohibited and also there was no work for the hired laborer. The foreigner, on the other hand, could work his field and pay his debts.

“every creditor shall release” Whether this meant permanent release or temporary release is not known. The context seems to favor a permanent release, but I believe that it may have been only for the year the land stood fallow that the debt was forgiven (cf. NET Bible, p. 368 #16). God's forgiveness of them was the basis for these land owners' forgiving debts (symbolically, temporarily).

Deuteronomy 15:3 “foreigner” This refers to a non-Israelite who permanently lived in Palestine (BDB 648, cf. Deuteronomy 14:21; Deuteronomy 15:3; Deuteronomy 17:15; Deuteronomy 23:20; Deuteronomy 29:22), who was granted limited civil rights and legal protection by the Mosaic legislation.

The other term “alien” (BDB 158) is used of newcomers or sojourners who also were granted limited rights and protection (cf. Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 5:14; Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 10:19[twice]; Deuteronomy 14:21, Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 23:7; Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:19, Deuteronomy 24:20, Deuteronomy 24:21; Deuteronomy 26:11, Deuteronomy 26:12, Deuteronomy 26:13; Deuteronomy 27:19; Deuteronomy 28:43; Deuteronomy 29:11; Deuteronomy 31:12).

This care for the non-Israelite clearly showed:

1. the character of YHWH

2. the inclusion possible

3. the past experience of Israel in Egypt

Deuteronomy 15:4 “there will be no poor among you” Verses Deuteronomy 15:4-6 state the ideal situation (symbolized in the requirements of the Sabbath Year and Year of Jubilee). The ideal is rarely historical. Many Israelites lost their family lands. There were always poor among the Jews (cf. Matthew 26:11).

Deuteronomy 15:5 This is a recurrent warning about obedience to the covenant.

1. “If only you listen obediently” - the Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and the Qal IMPERFECT of BDB 1033, KB 1570 (which shows intensity)

2. “To observe carefully all this commandment” - two Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCTS of BDB 1036, KB 1581 and BDB 793, KB 889

YHWH's covenant promises are conditional on continuing obedient response.

Deuteronomy 15:6 YHWH's spoken/promised (BDB 180, KB 210,Piel PERFECT) blessings are delineated:

1. “The LORD your God will bless you,” Piel PERFECT of BDB 138, KB 159, cf. Deuteronomy 15:4 (twice); Deuteronomy 1:11; Deuteronomy 2:7; Deuteronomy 7:13 (twice); Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 14:24, Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 15:10, Deuteronomy 15:14, Deuteronomy 15:18; Deuteronomy 16:10, Deuteronomy 16:15.

2. “You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow.” This is the Hiphil PERFECT and the negated Qal IMPERFECT of BDB 716, KB 778.

3. “You will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.” This is the Qal PERFECT and the negated Qal IMPERFECT of BDB 605, KB 647.

These promises have international and eschatological implications (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-10; Micah 5:1-5a).

Verses 7-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 15:7-11 7”If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. 9Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'“

Deuteronomy 15:7 “if there is a poor man with you” The reality is stated in Deuteronomy 15:11. Poverty could be defined as the lack of respect and honor. Here that lack is caused by the loss of family land caused by borrowing money with it as collateral.

“one of your brothers” The Mosaic Law shows YHWH's special concern about and mercy to:

1. other poor covenant brothers/sisters

2. widows

3. orphans

4. alien residents

5. aliens

It is this compassion across socio-economic lines that makes the Israeli legal code unique. The other ancient law codes favored the elite, the wealthy, and the royal. Israel favored the weak, socially and economically deprived, legally vulnerable, and disenfranchised!

“in any of your towns in your land” Notice it is not just local poor, but how society treats the poor. YHWH wants His people to act to the needy the way He acts toward them!

“you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand from your poor brother” Both motive and deed are involved (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7):

1. “You shall not harden your heart,” Piel IMPERFECT, BDB 54, KB 65, cf. 2 Chronicles 36:13

2. “Nor close your hand,” Qal IMPERFECT, BDB 891, KB 1118

Deuteronomy 15:8 Notice the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTES matched to their corresponding IMPERFECTS for emphasis:

1. “you shall freely open your hand to him” - Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and Qal IMPERFECT of BDB 834, KB 986. This metaphor is parallel to Deuteronomy 15:7.

a. open your heart (do not be hard hearted)

b. open your hand (do not be tight fisted) cf. Deuteronomy 15:11, Deuteronomy 15:13

2. “shall generously lend him” - Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and Hiphil IMPERFECT of BDB 716, KB 778

“lend him sufficient for his need” This is BDB 191 CONSTRUCT BDB 341, which denotes enough to meet the brother's need, not just a token in passing (cf. James 2:15-26; 1 John 3:16-17).

Deuteronomy 15:9 “Beware” This is a Niphal IMPERATIVE (BDB 1036, KB 1581), which is a recurrent theme (cf. Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 4:15, Deuteronomy 4:23; Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 8:11; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 12:13, Deuteronomy 12:19, Deuteronomy 12:28, Deuteronomy 12:30; Deuteronomy 15:9; Deuteronomy 24:8). There are covenant consequences for obedience and disobedience.

“base thought” The word “base” is from the same root (BDB 116) as Belial. It refers to a “worthless,” “thoughtless,” “evil person” (cf. Proverbs 6:12). See note at Deuteronomy 13:14.

NASB“eye is hostile” NKJV“eye be evil” NRSV“view. . .with hostility” TEV------ NJB“scowl”

The term “hostile” (BDB 949, KB 1269, Qal PERFECT) means “bad” or “evil.” A similar idiom is used in Deuteronomy 28:54, Deuteronomy 28:56. This same VERB is repeated in Deuteronomy 15:10, where it is translated “grieved.” This idiom relates to an attitude which swells up in a person in certain circumstances and/or toward certain persons. Motives are crucial in both the OT and NT. God looks at the heart!

“he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you” The poor man's prayer does not make it a sin (i.e., illegal), but it highlights to YHWH the sin in the heart of the selfish, conspiring man (cf. Deuteronomy 24:18; Exodus 22:23). YHWH's blessings are conditional on appropriate covenant motives and actions. His people are to model His character!

Deuteronomy 15:10 This is a summary of the context from Deuteronomy 15:7.

“You shall generously give” See Contextual Insights, C, 1, e.

Deuteronomy 15:11 “You shall freely open your hand” See Contextual Insights, C, 1, f.

Verses 12-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 15:12-17 12”If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. 13When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. 16It shall come about if he says to you, 'I will not go out from you,' because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; 17then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant.”

Deuteronomy 15:12 This is literally “brother” (BDB 26), but used in the national sense of “covenant partner” or “kinsman” (cf. Leviticus 19:17; Leviticus 25:25, Leviticus 25:35, Leviticus 25:36, Leviticus 25:39, Leviticus 25:47; Deuteronomy 15:12; Deuteronomy 17:15). It emphasized a national unity vs. a tribal or family distinctiveness. This terminology and theology is similar to Galatians 6:10.

“Hebrew” The word “Hebrew” (BDB 720, KB 782) is a rare OT word. This refers to either (1) the racial descendants of Eber, Shem's grandson (cf. Genesis 10:21; (2) a term that describes a large group of Semites (Habiru) in the Ancient Near East, who migrated across Mesopotamia as nomads in the second millennium B.C.; or (3) a loose group of poor foreign laborers (the term used by foreigners to describe Abraham's, Jacob's and Joseph's family).

“man or woman” This shows legal equality (cf. Deuteronomy 15:17, also note Genesis 1:26-27). Earlier law codes separated them (i.e., men - Exodus 21:2-6; women - Exodus 21:7-11). This was a radical departure from the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian legal document that predates Moses, and the cultural systems of the nations of Canaan. God's people were different!

“is sold to you” The VERB (BDB 569, KB 581, Niphal IMPERFECT) refers to someone selling himself/herself into indentured servitude (cf. Leviticus 25:39, Leviticus 25:47, Leviticus 25:48, Leviticus 25:50; the fellow Hebrew is discussed in Deut. 15:39-46; Exodus 21:2-6).

“he shall serve you six years” This seems to be unrelated chronologically to the Sabbatical year mentioned in Deuteronomy 15:1-11, but if so, then the meaning of Deuteronomy 15:9 is uncertain.

“you shall set him free” This VERB (BDB 1018, KB 1511, Piel IMPERFECT) is so important that it is repeated three times in Deuteronomy 15:12-13.

Deuteronomy 15:14 When a slave was freed after his six years of service, he was to be given all he would need to establish his family.

1. “you shall furnish him liberally,” This is another INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB. It is a Hebrew idiom, literally, “you shall surely make a necklace for him.” See Contextual Insight C, 1, g.

2. Notice the items to be given:

a. from the flock

b. from the threshing floor

c. from the wine vat

d. added guidelines are given in Exodus 21:3-4; Lev. 15:41

3. This giving was to be done in the spirit and quantity that YHWH had shown to Israel, cf. Deuteronomy 15:4, Deuteronomy 15:6, Deuteronomy 15:10, Deuteronomy 15:18 and why specifically in Deuteronomy 15:15 and Leviticus 25:41.

Deuteronomy 15:15 “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt” The basis for the generosity of the slave owner was the fact that his family was once a slave in Egypt and God was generous to him. See full note at Deuteronomy 5:15.

“the LORD your God redeemed you” This VERB (BDB 804, KB 911, Qal IMPERFECT) is used several times in Deuteronomy, always referring to YHWH's gracious act of delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery (cf. Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 15:15; Deuteronomy 21:8; Deuteronomy 24:18). See Special Topic: Ransom/Redeem. The OT is as much a witness to the initiating love and mercy of God as is the NT! Humans did not seek God, He sought and redeemed them! His initial acts and unchanging character are our great hope! The actions of the Messiah for all are foreshadowed in the actions of YHWH for Israel!

Deuteronomy 15:16 This verse is parallel to Exodus 21:5. It illustrates a voluntary submissive relationship which reflects the faith/love/obedient covenant relationship between YHWH and Israel. The goal of the covenant is a loving, blessed life on earth followed by a continuation of an even more intimate relationship in the spiritual realm. The blessings are always a by-product of the relationship, never the goal!

Deuteronomy 15:17 “pierce it through his ear into the door” This has two symbols: (1) the ear was symbolic of obedience and (2) the door was symbolic of love for the home (TEV). This rite was done at home not at the sanctuary or city gate, depending on to whom Elohim of Exodus 21:6 refers. The Septuagint, Peshitta, and the AramaicTargums understand is as “judges”, which is a change from an earlier rite (cf. Exodus 21:1-6). This made him a permanent slave.

“forever” The Hebrew term is 'olam (BDB 761). This usage shows that the Hebrew word must be defined by its context. It can mean “forever” or “for a long time with set boundaries.” The rabbis said it meant “until the year of Jubilee,” but in this context it means the slave's lifetime. See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

Verse 18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 15:18 18”It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free, for he has given you six years with double the service of a hired man; so the LORD your God will bless you in whatever you do.”

Deuteronomy 15:18 “It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free” This means that one should not be complaining when a slave is set free after six years of service.

NASB“double the service” NKJV“he has been worth a double hired servant” NRSV“worth the wages of hired laborers” TEV“at half the cost of hired servants” NJB“he is worth twice what a paid servant would cost you” NET Bible“twice the time of a hired worker”

There is some doubt as to the correct translation (literally, “for at half the cost of,” BDB 1041 CONSTRUCT BDB 969 I). There are three possibilities:

1. a slave was a servant day and night

2. a slave worked free, while a hired man was paid

3. Isaiah 16:14 lists three years as the period of work for a hired man (as does the Code of Hammurabi), therefore, a slave worked twice as long.

“so the LORD your God will bless you in whatever you do” Covenant blessing follows covenant obedience, especially when the appropriate loving, forgiving, helping attitude is present!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 15:19-23 19”You shall consecrate to the LORD your God all the firstborn males that are born of your herd and of your flock; you shall not work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. 20You and your household shall eat it every year before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses. 21But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God. 22You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as a gazelle or a Deuteronomy 2:0; Deuteronomy 2:03Only you shall not eat its blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water.”

Deuteronomy 15:19-23 These verses deal with the appropriate use and non-use of the first born of the cattle. This goes back to Exodus 13:2, which is the context of the plague of the death angel killing the firstborn of mankind and beast in Egypt and Goshen whose houses were not marked with blood. It was a symbolic way of showing God's ownership of everything (cf. Exodus 13:2; Leviticus 2:14-16).

Deuteronomy 15:19 “You shall consecrate. . .all first-born males. . .of your herd or your flock” Exodus 13:0 gives us the Biblical origin, also notice Numbers 18:15-16. This became a way to supplement the income of the Levites.

Deuteronomy 15:20 This goes back to Deuteronomy 12:17-19; Deuteronomy 14:23. See full note at Deuteronomy 12:5.

Deuteronomy 15:21 “But if it has any defect. . .you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God” An animal that had a defect (abnormality) of any kind, i.e., blindness, discoloration, sickness, lameness, deformity, etc. could not be sacrificed, but could be eaten with family and friends in a local setting (cf. Deuteronomy 12:15-16).

Deuteronomy 15:22

NASB“the unclean and the clean alike may eat it” NKJV“the unclean and the clean person alike may eat it” NRSV“the unclean and the clean alike” TEV“all of you, whether ritually clean or unclean, may eat them” NJB“the clean and the unclean”

In Hebrew this could refer to:

1. those who eat it

2. that which is eaten

Option #1 seems best (LXX).

Deuteronomy 15:23 “Only you shall not eat its blood” Blood was the symbol of life and life belongs to God (cf. Genesis 9:4-6; Leviticus 1:17; Leviticus 7:26-27; Leviticus 17:10-16; Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16, Deuteronomy 12:23-25; 1 Samuel 14:32-34). The symbols in the preceding verses show God's ownership of all creation, especially that which is alive.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Is there any historical evidence for the Sabbatical year ever being observed?

2. What is the basic purpose of these laws in chapter 15?

3. What are the possible origins of the term “Hebrew”?

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 15". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-15.html. 2021.