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