No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he takes a man's life to pledge.
The helplessness and dependence of the poor expose them to much harsh treatment. The poor man has, however, his Friend and Judge in God, whose Law here steps in for his protection. It ordains -
I. THAT THE NECESSARIES OF LIFE ARE NOT TO BE TAKEN FROM HIM. The millstone (ver. 6). His raiment, which if taken in pledge is to be restored by nightfall (vers. 12, 13). These are considerate provisions. It is the excess of cruelty to press law against a man to the extent of depriving him of the necessaries of life. This would apply to needful clothing, to a bed, to cooking utensils, to the tools by which he earns his bread. It is nearly as bad to receive and keep these things in pledge or pawn. Help, free and ungrudging, should be forthcoming to all honest persons in need, without driving them to such straits. If men will not work, neither should they eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but while this may be a reason for refusing to support them in their indolence, it can be no reason for helping them to strip themselves of the necessaries of their existence. Instead of taking a man's tools from him, he should rather he encouraged to retain and ply them, "working with his hands the thing that is good," that he may both support himself and "have to give to him that needeth" (Ephesians 4:28).
II. THAT HIS PERSONAL FREEDOM IS TO BE RESPECTED. (Ver. 7.) No strong or rich neighbor was to be allowed to steal, enslave, or sell him. The stealing of a man was punishable with death. And the spirit of the Law carries us beyond its letter. It requires that we respect the poor man's freedom in all the relations of his life. Whatever the degree of his dependence, it does not entitle another to force his convictions, or do aught that would interfere with the exercise of his rights as man or citizen. Yet how often is compulsion and intimidation applied to those in dependent situations to compel them to act, not as their consciences approve, but as their superiors desire! He who takes advantage of a man's weakness to do anything of the kind is a "man-stealer" in principle and at heart.
III. THAT HIS DWELLING IS NOT TO BE INVADED. (Vers. 10, 11.) The fine sense of justice, the delicacy of feeling, in these precepts, is certainly remarkable. The poor man's house is to be as sacred from invasion as the house of the wealthy. Even his creditor is to wait outside, and let the man fetch as his pledge what he can best spare. We are taught a lesson of respect for the domiciliary and proprietary rights of the poor. Many act as if the homes of the poor were not entitled to have their privacy respected in the same way as the homes of the rich, The Law of God teaches otherwise. We owe it to God, and we owe it to the humanity which is in our poorer brethren as well as in us, that we treat them and their belongings with precisely the same amount of respect that we would show to persons in a better social position.
IV. THAT HIS WAGES ARE TO BE PAID WITH REGULARITY. (Vers. 14, 15.) Every day, the text says, and in the East this was necessary. During the Indian famines it was found that the persons engaged on the relief works had to be paid in this manner. Great suffering was sometimes experienced from the neglect of the rule. The law extends to hired service of all kinds, and enjoins in principle regularity in payment of wages. A like principle applies to the payment of tradesmen's accounts. We have heard tradesmen complain bitterly of the inconvenience to which they were subjected from the singular want of consideration displayed by wealthy families in this particular. Accounts are allowed to run on, and payment is withheld, not from want of ability to pay, but from sheer indolence and carelessness in attending to such matters. While to crave payment would, on the tradesman's part, mean the forfeiture of custom. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge.