At the end of every seven years you shall make a release.…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.