Book of Deuteronomy Chapter Fifteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-3: "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. 2 This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. 3 From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother." The concept of debt remission for ancient Israel was amazing, and it's just as rare in today's world. If you owe money on your house or car and can't make the payments, someone will likely come and take what you have away from you. And notice here that the "foreigner" wasn't part of this blessing. Israel is both a historical and present fact and also a parable, a flesh-and-blood picture of God's purpose for humanity. "Smile" the Lord says, taking a "picture" of Israel and showing God's intention that we are to have faith in the Lord. There are, and always have been, only two kinds of people in the world: 1) Those who have faith in the Lord, and 2) those who don't. Here's how it works:
All of us are hopelessly indebted to God. His creation of you means that you owe Him everything already and then your sins make it worse, compounding the problem. Add to it that all of us are actually "dead" in His sight and dead people can't make payments. Read Ephesians 2:4-6 (& context): "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." The debt is remitted because the sinless Jesus Christ made payment in full, giving His precious blood, His life, for your sins and mine. And note that the faithful on earth are already in heaven from God's perspective. Through His grace, we have credit in the bank of heaven for what Jesus has done, and we are already in the heavenlies with Him! Amazing... And if you are a "foreigner" to these blessings, then join the heavenly chorus by simply placing your faith in Jesus Christ. He has paid the debt you could not, cannot pay. We are set free—in Him.
Verses 4-8: "However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, 5 if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. 7 If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks." In our natural state, each one of us is desperately poor, but worse than being financially destitute, we are spiritually poor until we trust in the Lord. When we do, He and His resources are given to us. As Jesus would later say: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). To recognize that we are poor in spirit is to accept reality. We are to trust in Christ, our Wonderful Neighbor, Faithful Friend, our Elder Brother. The inheritance is His and He shares it with us when we simply go to Him in prayer, crying out, "Help me, Lord, save me"—and He will.
Verses 9-11: "Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10 You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11 For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'" Laws, such as those shown in these chapters, can be very good and also necessary because we as the human race would have destroyed humanity long ago, except for laws that make us think twice before we act. But we tend to take the law and bend it to our advantage. You have the option of forgiving and blessing others but to do so will produce humility within you... Will you do it? Will you forgive others their debts? Jesus couldn't have been more clear when He said in what we call the "Lord's Prayer"—"Forgive us our debts AS WE FORGIVE our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). Actually, as you can read in Matthew 6:7-9, this was intended as a model teaching us HOW to pray, not simply words we endlessly recite, for in Matthew 6:7 He said, "do not use vain repititions as the heathen do..." We are to actually FORGIVE the debts of others, seeking the Lord's help in doing it. The real "Lord's Prayer" is in John 17:11,21-23, encouraging, praying for us to be "one," seen in our loving forgiveness of one another.
Verses 12-14: "If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. 13 When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you." It should occur to us by now that life is not merely about you or me. God has given much to us, whether we see the connection or not, and His gifts, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual, are intended to be shared with others who may not have the giftedness we thought was "ours." Just like the freed slave of these verses was not to go away empty handed, we are to open our wallets and our words in a kindly manner to those around us. As it says in Verse 14, "You shall give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you." And it continues in Verse 15: "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today." Each of us is to recognize and remember that we were slaves to sin and death, now redeemed by our Lord, and we are to kindly bless others as the Lord has blessed us. Even what we DON'T have in life is a blessing because it helps us understand and comfort others who also lack that which is missing in us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The Lord sets us free and we are enabled, in Christ, to grant freedom to those we have not previously been able to forgive.
Verses 16-18: "It shall come about if he says to you, 'I will not go out from you,' because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; 17 then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free, for he has given you six years with double the service of a hired man; so the Lord your God will bless you in whatever you do." The Lord is our Master. The time of our slavery to sin is over—He sets us free from sin and death. He is wonderful, He loves you, and you will never find lasting joy anyplace except with Him. He knows what we should do in life, whereas we are only guessing and we often guess wrong. You and I are free, except it's infinitely better to be His servant than it is to go back to doing things "my way," which didn't work out well before, and it won't be any better next time. Let's let Him who loves us take the awl and pierce our "ear," marking us as His. Trust in Him utterly and remain with Him in joy—forever. True freedom means we belong to Him.
Verses 19-22: "You shall consecrate to the Lord your God all the firstborn males that are born of your herd and of your flock; you shall not work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. 20 You and your household shall eat it every year before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses. 21 But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. 22 You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as a gazelle or a deer." Exodus 12:29-33 is a historical record of the deaths of Egypt's firstborn, both human and animal. The first Passover was taken by Israel as the Lord commanded, and the firstborn of Israel did not die. The Egyptians were so unsettled by death everywhere in the land that Israel was released from slavery. The nation Israel was to remember God's act of freedom for them, and so Israel's firstborn were declared to be the Lord's for His purposes. But there's more. It's literal history and also a parable of the then-future Jesus Christ, who "is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation..." and "the Firstborn from the dead..." (Colossians 1:15-18). He is our Firstborn, the One who lived, died for our sins and rose again to set us free.
Verse 23: "Only you shall not eat its blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water." Leviticus 17:11 is clear that "the life of the flesh is in the blood," and Jesus was to shed His precious blood for us, pictured prophetically in verses like this one. For someone to give their blood so that someone else might live is not unlike a transfusion given during surgery on a cancer patient. Humanity has cancer of the soul and the Lord Himself is our Great Physician, the Surgeon who not only removes our cancer, but has also donated His heart to be transplanted into the patient. The Father looks into us who have faith and sees the heart of His Son, allowing men like Peter, who walked with the Lord for years, to observe: "you were not redeemed by corruptible things... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19), depicted here in the parable of Deuteronomy 15:19-23. Jesus Christ is the "lamb without blemish and without spot" who died in our place and is in our hearts when we trust in Him. John the Baptist observed in the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). We need Jesus the Messiah. Nothing, no one else will do. He is our love and He is our freedom.
God of Freedom, I am Yours. You are my King, Master and Lord. I surrender my future to You, my purpose, my life. I confess the sins that led me into slavery, and I receive the freedom offered in Christ. Enable me to accomplish what You intend for my life. I praise Your Holy Name. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.