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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Debtor

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(חוֹב, chob, debt, Ezekiel 18:7; χρεωφειλέτης, ower of money, Luke 7:41; Luke 16:5;. elsewhere simply ὀφειλέτης . See generally the prop. Hebrew words לָוָה נָשָׁא, G, Gesenius, Thes. eb. p. 920. The Mosaic laws respecting pecuniary obligations differ in many points from those of modern nations, but this is no proof that they were not suitable to the people for whom they were designed, and it is certain that they are pervaded by a spirit of kindness to the debtor to which no parallel is to be found in the codes of antiquity. (See LOAN). Though they at least tacitly allow of the sale of a debtor as a slave (Leviticus 25:39-40), they also direct that his treatment shall be that of "an hired servant and a sojourner," while the law of the Twelve Tables authorized putting an insolvent debtor to death, and both Grecian and Roman history abound with instances of the disturbances caused in those states by the severity with which this class was dealt with. The laws of Moses are, however, by no means regardless of the rights of creditors, as we find that persons who had property due to them might, if they chose, secure it either by means of a mortgage, or by a pledge, or by a bondsman or surety. The chief provisions in the Scripture on the subject are the following:

1. The creditor, when about to receive a pledge for a debt, was not allowed to enter the debtor's house and take what he pleased, but was to wait before the door till the debtor should deliver up the pledge with which he could most easily dispense (Deuteronomy 24:10-11; Job 22:6; Job 24:3; Job 24:7; Job 24:9).

2. When a mill, or mill-stone, or an upper garment was given as a pledge, it was not to be kept all night. These articles appear to be mentioned as examples for all other things which the debtor could not without great inconvenience dispense with (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:6; Deuteronomy 24:12).

3. The debt which remained unpaid until the seventh or Sabbatic year (during which the soil was to be left without cultivation, and, consequently, a person was not supposed to be in a condition to make payments) could not be exacted during that period (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). But at other times, in case the debt was not paid, the creditors might seize, first, the hereditary land of the debtor, and enjoy its produce until the debt was paid, or at least until the year of jubilee; or, secondly, his houses. These might be sold in perpetuity, except those belonging to the Levites (Leviticus 25:14; Leviticus 25:32). Thirdly, in case the house or land was not sufficient to cancel the debt, or if it so happened that the debtor had none, the person of the debtor might be sold, together with his wife and children, if he had any. This is implied in Leviticus 25:39, and this custom is alluded to in Job 24:9. It existed in the time of Elisha (2 Kings 4:1), and on the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity some rich persons exercised this right over their poor debtors (Nehemiah 5:13). Our Lord alludes to the same custom in Matthew 18:25. As the person of the debtor might thus be seized and sold, his cattle and furniture were undoubtedly liable for his debts (Proverbs 22:27). It does not appear that imprisonment for debt existed in the age of Moses, but it seems to have prevailed in the time of our Savior (Matthew 18:34).

4. If a person had become bondsman or surety for another, he was liable to be called upon for payment in the same way with the original debtor. But this practice does not appear to have obtained before the time of Solomon, when it was attended with serious consequences. It seems that the formality observed was for the person who became surety to give his hand to the debtor, and not to the creditor, to intimate that he became, in a legal sense, one with the debtor; for Solomon cautions his son against giving his hand to a stranger, to a person whose circumstances he did not know; and entreats him to go and urge the person to whom he had given his hand, or for whom he had become surety, to pay his own debt (Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 22:26), (See DEBT).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Debtor'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/d/debtor.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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