Deuteronomy 15:1
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.
Sermons
A New ChanceJ. Parker, D. D.Deuteronomy 15:1-2
Economical LawsJames Denney, D. D.Deuteronomy 15:1-2
Forgiveness, Freedom, FavourSpurgeon, Charles HaddonDeuteronomy 15:1-2
Proclamation of ReleaseT. De Witt Talmage.Deuteronomy 15:1-2
The Year of ReleaseS. Lavington.Deuteronomy 15:1-2
The Year of ForgivenessR.M. Edgar Deuteronomy 15:1-6
A Bulwark Against CupidityD. Davies Deuteronomy 15:1-11
The Lord's ReleaseJ. Orr Deuteronomy 15:1-12


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).

Note:

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.







At the end of every seven years...a release.
One of the things that strikes a reader of Deuteronomy, and indeed of the Old Testament in general, is the way in which all kinds of subjects are brought under the scope of religion. The modern mind is ready with distinctions, and classifies subjects as religious, moral, political, scientific, economical, and so forth; but the Israelitish lawgivers, men with the prophetic spirit in them, subordinate politics, economics, and morals alike to religion. Laws, to whatever department of life they are applicable, are to be made and administered in the Spirit of God; they are not an end in themselves; their one end is to enable people so to live as that the purposes may be fulfilled for which God has called them into being and constituted them into societies. This high point of view must always be retained. If we know better than the Israelites the life which God intends human beings to live, we shall have a higher standard for our legislation than they; we shall be more bound than they to remember that law is an instrument of religion, a means to a spiritual end, and that it rests with us who make our own laws to adapt them, over the whole area of national life, to the ends which God sets before us.

1. In the first place, there is legislation regarding land. It proceeds upon the idea that the land belongs to God, and has been given by Him to the nation that on it as a foundation it may live that life of labour, of health, and of natural piety to which He has called it. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as unrestricted private property in land. An individual does not have the power of alienating any part of it forever. One result, and no doubt one purpose of this was, to prevent a single worthless person from ruining his posterity by parting forever with what he really held in trust for them; another, was to prevent the accumulation of great masses of landed property, which was then the only kind of property, in the hands of individuals. Such accumulations, in the circumstances, and in most circumstances, could only lead to the practical enslavement of those who tilled the land to those who owned it. These aims of the land laws in Israel will very generally be acknowledged as worthy of approval. I suppose there is not a statesman in Europe who would not give a great deal to resettle on the land hundreds of thousands of those who have been driven or drawn into the towns. There is not one but sees that private property in land must, if the moral ends for which society exists are to be attained, be limited somehow. Similarly, legislation is justifiable — that is, it is in the line of a Divine intention — which aims at making it hard to beggar the poor, and hard to heap up wealth without limit. It is not a morally healthy situation in which one man of enormous wealth has thousands practically at his mercy. It is not good for him — I mean for his soul; it is not good for their souls either; and the law may properly aim, by just methods, at making it hard to create such a situation and impossible to perpetuate it. Unhappily, in most new countries the need of bribing settlers and capital has proved a temptation too strong to be resisted; and land has been parted with in masses, to individuals, on terms which have simply sown for future generations the seed of all the trouble under which older countries labour. The instinct for gain has proved stronger titan the devotion to ideal moral ends. The future has been sacrificed to the present, the moral interests of the community to the material interests of a few.

2. Besides the land, the Book of Deuteronomy contains a variety of laws regarding money, and particularly the lending of money. To begin with, the lending of money for interest was absolutely forbidden. The Israelites were not a commercial, but a farming people, and when a man borrowed, it was not to float a venture too great for his own means, but because he had got into difficulties, and wanted relief. To assist a brother in difficulty was regarded as a case of charity; he was to be relieved readily and freely; it were inhuman to take advantage of his distress to get him into one's power, as a money lender does his victim. It may be said, of course, that the effect of this law would be to discourage lending altogether; people would not be too ready to part with their money without some hope of profit. Probably this might be so, and to some extent with good effect. There are some people who borrow, and who ought not to do so. They ought not to have money lent to them. It is a mercy not to lend him money: it is a special mercy to protect him, as this law does, against the money lenders. But I am not sure that the law which prohibits lending money for interest has not another moral idea at the heart of it. As distinguished from agriculture, commerce, which depends so much more upon credit, i.e. upon money lent for interest, has a much larger element of speculation in it; and speculation is always to be discouraged, on moral grounds. Everyone knows that there are persons with little money of their own who contrive to make a livelihood by watching the ups and downs in the price of shares. This is a vocation which depends for its very existence on the lending of money for interest, and no one will say that it is morally wholesome, or that, whatever sensitiveness it may develop in certain of the intellectual faculties, it is elevating for the whole man. It would be far better for him to be doing field labour. But there is more still in this law. As it stands, I do not believe it is applicable to the vastly different conditions of modern life, especially in a trading community; here, to lend a trustworthy person money to carry on or extend his business may be what the law intended all lending to be, an act of charity. But the lender must consider his own position — I mean his moral position. His whole income may come — in many cases it does come — from investments. He lives on the interest of money he has lent. He takes no care of it, except to see at first that the investments are sound. He does no work in connection with it. He is largely ignorant of the use made of the power which it bestows. I am not going to say that no one should live on such terms: for many, life would be impossible otherwise. For many it is the proper reward of a life of labour: they are only reaping the fruit of their toils in earlier years. To such it is not likely to do any harm. But those who have inherited such a situation are undoubtedly exposed to moral perils of which they may easily become unconscious. They can live without needing to make their living; and there are very few people in a generation good enough to stand such a trial. Those who labour with the money are conscripts; let those who lend it be volunteers in all the higher services which society requires from its members. Let them be leaders in all philanthropies and charities, in all laborious duties which have it as their object to raise the moral and spiritual status of men.

3. A third class of economical laws which bulks largely in the Book of Deuteronomy, and to which special attention is due, is occupied with the care of the poor. This fifteenth chapter has a number of enactments bearing on this subject. The first is rather obscure, "At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release." In the Book of Exodus (Exodus 23:10) this law refers to the land, and its meaning is that every seventh year it is not to be cropped. Here, there is a year of release established for debts, though it is not clear whether it means that a debt due seven years was to be irrecoverable by legal process, or that every seventh year there should be a period of grace, during which no debt should be recoverable by law. Then, in the laws about lending, the duty of charity is strongly enforced. The forgotten sheaf in the field, or the gleanings of the vineyard and the olive are not to be too carefully gathered in; they are to be left for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, "that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the works of thine hand." God is interested in humanity; He sees such consideration and rewards it, just as He sees inhumanity and judges it. But the most striking thing in these ancient poor laws is the way in which they realise the actual conditions of the life of the poor, and consider them. The lender is allowed to take a pledge, but if he takes the upper garment of the borrower he must not keep it all night. It is not only the poor man's cloak, but his blanket; he has nothing else to cover himself with, and God is angry with the man who inhumanly leaves his poor brother to shiver in the cold night air. So, too, no one may take the hand mill or the upper millstone as a pledge; that is to rob the poor of the means of grinding the handful of corn with which he keeps the breath in his body. We see from laws like these how excessively poor they were, yet the lawgiver who has the Spirit of God in him enters into this deep poverty, realises the conditions of life under it, and insists on due consideration for them. Business is business, of course; but humanity is also humanity, and it is an interest which no consideration of business will ever displace before God. And to refer in this connection to only one point more, what could be more beautiful than the law we find in verses 10 and 11 of Deuteronomy 24? It is a mean and inhuman temper, which is here reproved by God. The poor man is not to be insulted because he is in distress; he is to be treated by the lender as courteously and respectfully as if he were — what he is — his equal. The sacredness of his home is to be respected; he is not to be needlessly affronted before his children by having an unfeeling or insolent stranger walk into the house and carry off what he pleases. Laws like these move us to reflection on the provision which we ourselves make for the poor. On what a large scale poverty exists in the great cities! The practical difficulties of relieving distress without doing moral injury are undeniably very great, but I do not believe they will be overcome by men whom habitual contact with dishonesty and incapacity has rendered hard and inhuman. Those who have the care of the poor should care for them with humanity. They should care for their feelings too, and respect the common nature which is in them. If they do not, they suffer for it themselves, and one can hardly find a more odious type of human being than the man who has been hardened and brutalised by the administration of charity. There is one kind of criticism which has often been passed, and will no doubt continue to be passed, on such laws as these. It is this: they have never been kept. There is no evidence, for instance, that the law of the jubilee year, when all property returned to its original owners, was ever observed in Israel: as a means for preventing the dissipation of family property, or its accumulation in a few hands, it was a failure. So have all laws been which attempted to regulate the business of lending money, either by prohibiting interest altogether, or by fixing a maximum rate of interest. No law written in a book can ever compete with the living intellect of man, with his cunning and greed on the one hand, with his distress, his passions, or his stupidity on the other. There is a certain quantity of truth in this; but taken without qualification it is only a plea for anarchy — an invitation to give up the whole of the economical side of social existence to the conflict of ability, selfishness, and capital with incompetence, need, and passion. Surely there is a moral ideal for this side of existence; and surely if there is, it must find some expression, however inadequate, some assistance, however feeble, from the laws. We cannot by law protect people against the consequences of their vices or their follies; but we can provide in the law a safeguard for those interests which are higher than private gain or loss. We can make it impossible for anyone in the pursuit of private gain to trample humanity under foot.

(James Denney, D. D.)

My text was intended as an especial law to the ancients, and prefigured to all ages Gospel forgiveness. The fact is that the world is loaded down with a debt, which no bankrupt law or two-third enactment can alleviate. The voices of heaven cry, "Pay! Pay!" Men and women are frantic with moral insolvency. What shall be done? A new law is proclaimed, from the throne of God, of universal release for all who will take advantage of that enactment.

1. In the first place, why will you carry your burden of sin any longer? "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from sin." Cut loose the cables which hold your transgressions, and let them fall off. Spiritual, infinite, glorious, everlasting release! "Blessed is the man whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are covered."

2. Some of you, also, want deliverance from your troubles. God knows you have enough of them. Physical, domestic, spiritual, and financial troubles. How are you going to get relief? The Divine Physician comes, and He knows how severe the trouble is, and He gives you this promise: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Does it not take effect upon you? Here, then, He pours out more drops of Divine consolation, and I am sure this time the trouble will be arrested: "All things work together for good to those who love God." All the Atlantic and Pacific oceans of surging sorrow cannot sink a soul that has asked for God's pilotage. The difficulty is, that when we have misfortunes of any kind, we put them in God's hand, and they stay there a little while; and then we go and get them again, and bring them back. A vessel comes in from a foreign port. As it comes near the harbour it sees a pilot floating about. It hails the pilot. The pilot comes on board, and he says: "Now, captain, you have had a stormy passage. Go down and sleep, and I will take the vessel into New York harbour." After a while the captain begins to think: "Am I right in trusting this vessel to that pilot? I guess I'll go up and see." So he comes to the pilot, and says: "Don't you see that rock? Don't you see those headlands? You will wreck the ship. Let me hold the helm for a while myself, and then I'll trust to you." The pilot becomes angry, and says: "I will either take care of this ship or not. If you want to, I will get into my yawl and go ashore, or back to my boat." Now we say to the Lord: "O God, take my life, take my all, in Thy keeping." We go along for a little while, and suddenly wake up, and say: "Things are going all wrong. O Lord, we are driving on these rocks, and Thou art going to let us be shipwrecked." God says: "You go and rest; I will take charge of this vessel, and take it into the harbour." It is God's business to comfort, and it is our business to be comforted. "At the end of seven years thou shalt make a release."

3. But what is our programme for the coming years? It is about the same line of work, only on a more intensified and consecrated scale. Ah, we must be better men and women.

(T. De Witt Talmage.)

God is putting lines of mercy amid all the black print of the law. It would seem as if wherever God could find a place at which He might utter some word of pity or compassion, He filled up that place with an utterance of His solicitude for the welfare of man. Flowers look lovely everywhere, but what must be the loveliness of a flower to the wanderer in a desert? So these Gospel words are full of charm wherever we find them, but they have double charmfulness being found in connection with institutions, instructions, precepts, and commandments marked by the severest righteousness. In the midst of time God graciously puts a year of release. We find in this year of release what we all need — namely, the principle of new chances, new opportunities, fresh beginnings. Tomorrow, said the debtor or the slave, is the day of release, and the next day I shall begin again: I shall have another chance in life; the burden will be taken away. The darkness will be dispersed, and life shall be young again. Every man ought to have more chances than one, even in our own life. God has filled the sphere of life with opportunities. But moral releases can only be accomplished by moral processes. The man who is in prison must take the right steps to get out of it. What are those right steps? — repentance, contrition, confession — open, frank, straightforward, self-renouncing confession; then the man must be allowed to begin again; God will, in His providence, work out for such a man another opportunity; concealment there must be none, prevarication none, self-defence none. Where the case lies between the soul and God — the higher morality still — there must be an interview at the Cross — a mysterious communion under the blood that flows from the wounded Christ. All this being done on the part of the creditor and the owner, what happens on the side of God? The answer to that inquiry is: "The Lord shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it" (ver. 4). God never allows us to obey the law without immediate and large compensation. We cannot obey the laws of health without instantly being the healthier; we cannot obey the laws of cleanliness without the flesh instantly thanking us, in stronger pulsations and wider liberties, for what we have done to it. A blessing is attached to all obedience, when the obedience is rendered to law Divine and gracious. The reward is in the man's own heart: he has a reward which no thief can take away from the sanctuary in which it is preserved; heaven is within. None can forestall God, or outrun God, or confer upon God an obligation which He cannot repay; He takes the moisture from the earth only that He may return it in copious showers. No man can serve God for nought.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I propose to consider death as the Christian's release, and then you will easily perceive what pleasure it must give to the believer, who is waiting for his discharge, to be told that the year of release is at hand.

I. FOR THEY SHALL BE RELEASED FROM ALL LABOUR AND SORROW.

1. From labour (Revelation 14:13). They know little of religion who think that a Christian has nothing to do. When Christ first calls us, He says: "Go, work today in My vineyard." There is not only a great variety of employments, but that which requires much application and labour. To mortify sin is difficult work. But courage, Christians, the year of release is at hand. In heaven there will be much service, but no kind of labour. They rest not, day nor night, from rapturous adorations, and yet feel no fatigue, for the joy of the Lord is their strength.

2. But I said also that you shall be released from sorrow as well as from labour. The sources of present grief are almost innumerable. There are personal, family, and national troubles; and these sometimes follow one another so quickly, that many have tears for their meat, night and day. But courage, Christians, the year of release is at hand, when they that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

II. There will be A RELEASE FROM SIN. Though you go out of this world lamenting your numerous infirmities, you shall be presented before the throne of God without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.

III. It will be A RELEASE FROM TEMPTATION. Within the gates of the New Jerusalem you shall be free from all assaults and troubles whatever, and be proclaimed more than conquerors through Him that loved you.

IV. There will be A RELEASE FROM THIS STATE OF EXILE AND CONFINEMENT. Mysteries of Providence will then be unfolded, and the most delightful discoveries made of the infinite wisdom and goodness of God. The much greater mysteries of grace shall be also laid open; and fill our hearts with love and admiration, and our mouths with never-ending praises.

(S. Lavington.)

I. THE RELEASE WHICH THE LORD DESIRED HIS PEOPLE TO GIVE.

1. They were, at the end of every seven years, to release every man his debtor from the debt which he had accumulated. A man might pay if he could, and he should do so. A man might, at some future time, if his circumstances altered, discharge the debt which had been remitted; but, as far as the creditor was concerned, it was remitted.

2. They were never to exact that debt again. The moral claim might remain, and the honest Israelite might take care that his brother Israelite should not lose anything through him; but, still, according to the Divine command, there was to be no exacting of it. None but a generous Lawgiver would have made such a law as this. It is noble-hearted, full of loving kindness; and we could expect that none but a people in whose midst there was the daily sacrifice, in the midst of whom moved the high priest of God, would be obedient to such a precept.

3. They were to do this for the Lord's sake: "because it is called the Lord's release." It is not enough to do the correct thing; it must be done in a right spirit, and with a pure motive. A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, and because of the greatness and goodness of His holy name. The most powerful motive that a Christian can have is this, "For Jesus' sake." You could not forgive the debt, perhaps, for your brother's sake; there may be something about him that would harden your heart; but can you not do it for Jesus' sake? This is true charity, that holy love which is the choicest of the graces. And then, like the Israelites, we may look believingly to the gracious reward that God gives. We do not serve God for wages; but still we have respect unto the recompense of the reward, even as Moses had. We do not run like hirelings; but yet we have our eye upon the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus. They were not only to perform this kindness once, but they were to be ready to do it again. It is the part of Christians not to be weary in well doing; and if they get no reward for what they have done from those to whom it is done, still to do the same again. Remember how gracious God is, and how He giveth to the unthankful and the evil, and maketh His rain to fall upon the field of the churl as well as upon the field of the most generous.

5. While they were to forgive and remit, on this seventh year, the loans which remained unpaid, they were also to let the bondman go. It was not to be thought a hardship to part with a servant man or woman. However useful they might have been in the house or field, however much they were felt to be necessary to domestic comfort or farm service, they were to be allowed to go; and, what was more, they were not to go empty handed, but they were to receive a portion out of every department of the master's wealth.

6. Further, this setting free of their brother at the specified time was to be done for a certain reason: "Thou shalt remember," etc. How can you hold another a bondman when God has set you free? How can you treat another with unkindness when the Lord has dealt so generously with you? Down at Olney, when Mr. Newton was the rector of the parish, he put in his study this text where he could always see it when he lifted his eyes from his text while preparing his sermon, Remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee. Would it not do many Christians good if they had that text often before their eyes? Would it not excite gratitude to their Redeemer, and tenderness towards those who happened to be in subjection to them, tenderness to every sinner that is a bondslave under the law, tenderness to the myriads that swarm these streets, slaves to sin and self, and who are perishing in their iniquity?

7. The spirit of this release of the Lord is this, "Never be hard on anybody." It is true that the man made the bargain, and he ought to keep to it; but he is losing money, and he cannot afford it; he is being ruined, and you are being fattened by his mistake. Do not hold him to it. No Christian man can be a sweater of workers; no Christian man can be a grinder of the poor; no man, who would be accepted before God, can think that his heart is right with Him when he treats others ungenerously, not to say unjustly.

II. THE RELEASE WHICH THE LORD GIVES TO US.

1. Let me proclaim to every sinner here, who owns his indebtedness to God, and feels that he can never discharge it, that if you will come, and put your trust in Christ, the Lord promises oblivion to all your debt, forgiveness of the whole of your sins.

2. This release shall be followed up by a nonexacting of the penalty forever.

3. God will do all this for thee on the ground of thy poverty. See the fourth verse: "Save when there shall be no poor among you. When you cannot pay half a farthing in the pound of all your great debt of sin, when you are absolutely bankrupt, then may you believe that Jesus Christ is your Saviour.

4. I may be addressing a soul here that says, "I like that thought, I wish I could catch hold of it; but I feel myself to be such a slave that I cannot grasp it." Well, the Lord may allow a soul to be in bondage for a time; indeed, it may be needful that He should. The Hebrew might be in bondage six years, and yet he went free when the seventh year came. There are reasons why the Spirit of God is to some men a Spirit of bondage for a long time. Hard hearts must be melted, proud stomachs must be brought down.

5. The man was set free at the end of the sixth year, paying nothing for his liberation. Though not freeborn, nor yet buying his liberty with a great sum, yet he was set free. O Lord, set some soul free tonight!

6. And when the Lord sets poor souls at liberty, He always sends them away full-handed. He gives something from the flock, and from the threshing floor, and from the wine press.

7. This act never seems hard to the Lord. He says to the Hebrew, in the eighteenth verse, "It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free." It never seems hard to Christ when He sets a sinner free.

8. One thing I feel sure of, and that is, if the Lord sets us free, we shall want to remain His servants forever. We will go straight away to the door-post, and ask Him to use the awl; for, though we are glad to be free, we do not want to be free from Him.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

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