Deuteronomy 15
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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. (Vers. 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. (Vers. 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:

(1) liberal;

(2) ungrudging;

(3) disinterested (cf. Matthew 5:42).


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. (Vers. 4-7, 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 (vers. 4, 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, 25). - J.O.

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 (vers. 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" (ver. 4, margin). 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 (Psalm 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 ver. 4, which has received the imprimatur of Jonathan Edwards ('Works,' Tegg's edition of 1860, vol. 2. p. 164), 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 (ver. 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" (ver. 6). 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.

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. (Vers. 4, 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. (Ver. 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.

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 giver." 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. 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 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.


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.).


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. (Vers. 12, 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. (Vers. 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 ver. 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. (Vers. 17, 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 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.ft3 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, 2; Luke 4:17, 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, 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 Psalm 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." R.M.E.

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. (Ver. 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 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.

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.

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.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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