Every seventh year among the Israelites was to be a year of release, in which the ground was to rest from being tilled, and Hebrew servants were to be discharged from their services. And among other acts of grace, one of them was that those who had borrowed money, and had not been able to pay it before, were to be released from their debt in this seventh year – yet under certain limitations that are here described. Only Israelites could avail themselves of this privilege, and he had to be in true poverty; he could not have borrowed for trade or a special purchase, but only for the subsistence of his family. He had to be in a position in which he could not pay the debt without coming under the necessity of seeking relief in other countries (which might tempt him to go astray from God). This year of release was a picture of the grace of the Gospel and the freedom of the forgiveness of our sins! (Luke 4:16-21)
Herein God was teaching His people to depend upon His Providence, by allowing their fields to rest and their debtors to be forgiven. He gave them a Divine promise that no matter what they might lose from their poor debtors, it would be made up to them in His blessing upon all that they had and did (verses 4-6). In verses 7-11, He also set forth a law in favor of poor borrowers; for a selfish person would naturally be inclined to reason, “If the debt will be lost because it will not be paid before the year of release, it would be better not to lend.” The Lord told His people to beware of such covetous, ill-natured thoughts. Even if the seventh year – the year of release – was swiftly approaching, the people were still commanded to lend or give, according to their ability and the necessity of the case. When an object of charity presents itself to us who are able to render assistance, we are sometimes tempted to think that we may choose whether we will give anything or nothing, or little or much; but here in verse 11, we have an express precept: the Lord not only commands us to give; but also to open our hand wide, and give generously! We must not grudge a kindness to our brother or sister because of our distrust of the Providence of God – as if we ourselves will end up in need, because we gave something in charity. Instead, on the contrary, it ought to be a pleasure to our souls to be honoring God with our possessions, making a bad situation a little easier for our brother, and laying up for ourselves a good security for the time to come. Covetous people say, “Giving undoes us.” But actually, giving cheerfully in charity enriches us! It will fill our barns with plenty (Prov. 3:10), and our souls with true comfort (Isa. 58:10, 11).
The second part of this chapter contains a repetition of the law concerning Hebrew servants, which was originally given in Exodus 21. If an Israelite fell on hard times, this was a kind of “bankruptcy-law” that would help him get back on his feet. This servitude was not “slavery” in the sense that we usually think of the word; rather, it was actually a very gracious program that would enable a person to work for a good master, get out of debt, have a home to live in, and receive on-the-job training in a productive trade – and he only had to do it for six years! And then, when his six-year-term of service was ended, the law ensured that he was set up to a good start again. His master was required to outfit him with livestock and food – the measure of which was left to the discretion and generosity of the master, but surely it would have been proportionate to the servant’s merit and necessity.
The reasons for this law were based upon the law of gratitude. First, it showed an attitude of thanksgiving to God, Who had brought the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery with the spoils of Egypt itself; and so they must not send their servants out of their houses empty, for God’s tender care for us obliges us to be careful and kind to our own dependents. Second, it showed a spirit of goodwill to their servants, who had served them double the length of time that an ordinary hired servant was obliged to (only three years). And to these reasons, it was added that the Lord would certainly bless them with family-blessings and family-prosperity, if they were careful to fulfill their duty in family-relationships toward their poorer brethren.
As we read these things, we must remember that we are debtors to Divine justice, and we have nothing to pay with. We are slaves – poor and perishing. But the Lord Jesus – by becoming poor, and by shedding His blood – has made a full and free provision for the payment of our debts, the ransom of our souls, and the supply of all our needs! When the Gospel is clearly preached, it is the proclamation of the year of the release of our debts, the deliverance of our souls, and the obtaining of perfect and lasting rest in our Savior!
Lord Jesus! In the fullness of love, You came to give liberty to the captives, and to proclaim the year of release to all Your redeemed ones! All praise to you, precious Savior! Blessed be Your name; for when our poor fallen nature lay bound in the prison-house, as debtors to the infinite justice and law of our God, You came to redeem us – full of grace and truth! You restored us to our freedom; and not only did You send us out in happy liberty, but You also sent us out full of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit! How can we ever thank You enough, O compassionate Redeemer? May we never forget that we are no longer our own, for we have been bought with the price of Your own blood. Help us to glorify You always in our body and in our spirit, which both belong to You! Amen.
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