At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.
Verse 1. - Release. The word thus rendered (שְׁמִטָּה, from שָׁמַט, to leave, to let lie fallow) occurs only here and in ver. 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.
And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD'S release.
Verse 2. - 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" (Leviticus 5:21; Authorized Version, "in fellowship," Leviticus 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.
Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again: but that which is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release;
Verse 3. - 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; for the LORD shall greatly bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it:
Verse 4. - 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.
Only if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all these commandments which I command thee this day.
Verses 5, 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 ver. 6 connects this with ver. 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.
For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.
If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
Verses 7-11. - 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. Verse 7. - Harden thine heart; literally, maize strong, so as to suppress natural compassion and sympathy.
But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
Verse 8. - 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.
Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee.
Verse 9. - 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 (cf. Deuteronomy 13:13). And it be sin unto thee; i.e. entail guilt upon thee, and so expose thee to the Divine displeasure.
Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.
Verse 10. - 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 (cf. 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.
For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
Verse 11. - 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 ver. 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.
And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.
Verses 12-18. - 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.
And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty:
Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.
Verse 14. - 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.
And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.
Verse 15. - 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, 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.
And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee;
Verses 16, 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.
Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever. And also unto thy maidservant thou shalt do likewise.
It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest.
Verse 18. - 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.
All the firstling males that come of thy herd and of thy flock thou shalt sanctify unto the LORD thy God: thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock, nor shear the firstling of thy sheep.
Verses 19-23. - In Deuteronomy 12:6, 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. Leviticus 22:19, etc.).
Thou shalt eat it before the LORD thy God year by year in the place which the LORD shall choose, thou and thy household.
And if there be any blemish therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it unto the LORD thy God.
Thou shalt eat it within thy gates: the unclean and the clean person shall eat it alike, as the roebuck, and as the hart.
Only thou shalt not eat the blood thereof; thou shalt pour it upon the ground as water.