1 - 5 The Year of Remission
1 “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. 4 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.
In Exodus and Leviticus, the sabbatical year is called the seventh year (Exo 23:10-11; Lev 25:1-7). The only issue there is that the land must not be cultivated in the seventh year and must remain fallow. There is no mention of a remission. Here, however, the theme of remission is expounded..
After a third year (Deu 14:28) there is talk here of a seventh year, which in verse 9 is called “the year of the remission”. In that year, a remission must be granted. Seven years indicates a completeness. Spiritually applied, this can be seen in the result of the work of the gifts given by the Lord Jesus to His body, the church. They are given to build up, so that the whole can come to full maturity (Eph 4:12-13).
Levitical service must be aimed at the spiritual maturity of believers. Then these believers have reached the seventh year, they have become fathers in Christ (1Jn 2:13-14). The seventh year is characterized by rest. We see this with the fathers in Christ: they have found everything in Christ, He is everything for them.
This chapter deals with the resting of debts. In the seventh year, debt is written off. Anxious thoughts concerning creditors are banished. If we are treated unfairly, the other has a debt to us. Someone who has let his flesh working against us has a debt to us. It may be that this debt is never repaid. It is no good with such debtors, they have to make up for it. But this chapter, however, is about the creditor as someone who has reached the seventh year. He is in the year of remission.
Do we leave debt for what it is and don’t we stand up for our right, and demand back what we have lent? Those who stand up for their rights are actually poor brothers and sisters, they do not know what it is to live in the ‘seventh year’. When we insist on our rights in this way, we have learned little from the Lord Jesus. He was rich and became poor for our sake (2Cor 8:9).
Sons of God are like God: they are joyful givers following the God Who gave an indescribable Gift (2Cor 9:15). We can learn from the parable of the two debtors, one with a large debt and one with a small debt (Mt 18:21-35). When we demand that a small debt be paid to us, we forget that we have been forgiven a huge debt that we could never pay. The standard to which we as Christians should forgive is God and not ourselves. We must learn to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13; cf. Mt 6:12).
Difficulties in religious communities rarely arise due to really principle matters. It is often a collision of characters, which leads to debts. When a seventh year arrives, what a relief that can give. We don’t dwell enough on the fact that we are a wealthy people, blessed with all spiritual blessings. We are wealthy sons of God. Those who have this awareness are capable of leaving debt to rest. That does not, as has already been said, take away the debtor’s responsibility, but the accountability of the debtor is not the crux of the matter here.
It is “the LORD’s remission” (verse 2). We will only be able not to claim our debts if we keep the Lord Jesus in view. That brings His blessing with it. It is as it were declaring guilt with Him. He always reimburses what is remitted for His sake. Remission does not make one poorer, but richer: God promises His blessing (verse 4) and does not fail that promise (verse 6). As a result of this, the people will be able to distribute blessings in a wider circle. Loaning places us in a position of liberty and authority.
Israel has been given the opportunity to become the richest and most prosperous people on earth. This prosperity cannot be achieved by technological efforts, but by obedience to what God has said. They have even been promised world domination through which they will have a pivotal position for all peoples to experience abundant blessing.
6 - 11 Lend to the Poor
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. 9 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.’
It is not about how the poor have become so poor, but it is about the attitude of the rich, to test their feelings of compassion and mercy. God expects us to open our hands freely and lend generously. In Christianity, as a whole, there is hardly any knowledge of heavenly blessings. God loves the joyful giver; we may pass on our riches which the Lord has given us. Rich Christians, that is, those who know their spiritual riches and live in them and live up to them, do not lend from others, but lend to others. Thus there will be equality (2Cor 8:13-14).
Those who know their spiritual riches have as sinful a heart as those who do not know them. The arguments not to give come from a sinful heart (verse 9). A hardened heart holds its hand closed. Excuses are sought to avoid the obligation to give to our poor brothers and sisters (cf. Jam 2:16). He who has a hardened heart shows that he does not trust the Lord in the promise of blessing which He has given.
When the rich man closes his heart (1Jn 3:17), he charges sin upon himself, for which he will be called to account. The poor man shall call to the LORD when he has dealings with a man with a hardened heart. Calling to the Lord is to “draw near … to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). There is help. In Him the poor finds a Friend Who hears his cry and does not put to shame.
The thought that borrowing just before the seventh year is equal to giving away should not prevent one from generously meeting the needs of another. Loaning, or giving, must be done with understanding and insight into the situation in which the other person finds himself. The LORD does not give the instruction to lend, or give, at will, but “sufficient for his need [in] whatever he lacks” (verse 8).
If rich Christians do not look after poor Christians and enjoy their wealth among themselves, they are acting unworthy of sonship. The Lord Jesus speaks about lending even to enemies (Lk 6:35). He makes it clear there that it is for sons to give and not to demand, thereby resembling their Father. They afford themselves the luxury of giving. Where demands are made, we are faced with poor believers.
Giving is God’s great feature. He wants us to follow Him in this as good sons who resemble their Father. We are encouraged to give with mildness and not reluctantly. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9:7). He who gives may count on His blessing, both materially and spiritually (Isa 58:10-11; Pro 3:10; 28:27). Solomon may have thought of this word of Moses when he wrote down his proverb: “There is one who scatters, and [yet] increases all the more; And there is one who withholds what is justly due, [and yet it results] only in want” (Pro 11:24).
Verse 11 seems to contradict verse 4. The contradiction is in appearance alone. In verse 4 it is God’s intention, in which He gives the rich the responsibility to ensure that there will be no poor. In verse 11 it is a prophecy from the all-knowing God Who knows that by unfaithfulness, or to try the rich, there will always be poor (cf. Mk 14:7).
12 - 18 Setting Free of Slaves
12 “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. 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. 16 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.
A person who is unable to pay his debt can sell himself as a slave to the creditor. If the amount of his debt makes it necessary for him to work as a slave for at least six years, he must be released in the seventh year. That year of release is not the same as the year of remission, but the year of his slave ministry.
The provision to release slaves in the seventh year makes it clear that God wants to see His people as a free people. He wants to guarantee them that freedom, even if they have lost it through their own fault. The starting point for that freedom is obedience of the master to this provision of God. Through the act of setting free he can show that his heart is attuned to God’s heart and he can interpret God’s heart.
This section is similar to the section in Exodus that is also about a Hebrew slave (Exo 21:1-11). However, the relationship between the two parts shows that, from a spiritual point of view, there are two different applications. In Exodus 21 the Hebrew slave is a type of the Lord Jesus. The wife and children of the slave are a picture of the church and the individual believers.
Here it is about a male slave and a female slave. There is no mention of a woman and children of the slave. Here it is written in verses 13-14 that the slave who is set free gets all kinds of gifts from his master, although he can also stay voluntarily out of love for his master. The emphasis here, however, is not on the attitude of the slave, but on the mind of the master. This is about doing good to the brother, whether he is a debtor (verses 1-6), a poor person (verses 7-11), or a slave (verses 12-18).
The slave is released in the seventh year and must be set free with full hands. What he receives depends on the appreciation the master has of the blessing with which the LORD has blessed him. Through the slave, the master has earned much. If he had had to hire a man for all the work the slave did, it would have cost him twice as much.
It can already be difficult for us to forgive a brother who is morally committed to us. We do it, but sometimes with a grumbling heart. To set him free with full hands requires even more spiritual mindedness. Such an attitude can only be there if we realize ourselves that we have received everything we have from the Lord. That will make us grateful, and that thankfulness will bring us to this action in imitation of how the Lord has acted with us. We used to be slaves in Egypt ourselves. When the people leave Egypt, they are also overloaded with gifts. That’s how God does it.
There is gratitude not only to God, but also to the slave who has served faithfully. The benefit the master has derived from this, he may reflect in what he gives to the slave. What or how much it should be, is left to the master.
Paul tells Philemon not only to forgive Onesimus, but to set him free and overload him with all the Christian love of his heart (Phlm 1:15-17). In so doing, he will fill the hands of Onesimus and win him and bind him forever to himself.
19 - 23 Firstborn of the Herd and of the Flock
19 “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. 23 Only you shall not eat its blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water.
This section is a transitional section to the next chapter. The firstborn of the cattle must be sanctified and eaten, year after year, before the LORD. They are the food for the sons of God, with whom Deuteronomy 14 begins. Sons are also firstborn. They are redeemed by a lamb and sanctified to God (Exo 13:1-16).
The firstborn speaks of strength (Psa 78:51; 105:36). In this God struck down the Egyptians when He smote the all the firstborn. When people boast of their strength, they are always set aside. God cannot begin anything with them and must even judge them. Firstborn sons who have been hiding behind the blood of the Lamb are not only freed by God from judgment, but He wants to possess them for Himself (Eph 1:5). With God, every son has the character of a firstborn son. This is also how He calls Israel (Exo 4:22).
The Lord Jesus is the Firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29). We have become sons through Him (Heb 2:10-12). The whole church consists of firstborn sons (Heb 12:23). Thus they resemble Him, they are conformed to Him. The title ‘Firstborn’ indicates an order of precedence, a place above others. His unique, incomparable Person is expressed in another name, the name ‘Only Begotten’.
The firstborn must be taken from the herd and the flock. These animals are a type of the Lord Jesus. In general, oxen and sheep are the food for sons. But the firstborn oxen and sheep are a special kind of food. They are sanctified before the LORD. This aspect is added here in connection with the place He has chosen to dwell there.
In Numbers it says that only priests may eat this near the sanctuary and after it has been sacrificed (Num 18:17-18). Here in Deuteronomy it is not about priests or sacrificing, here God expects the whole people to be a priesthood and that they all enjoy before God the blessing He has given.
We may eat of the blessings together with others, but we must never forget to involve God. He wants His share of sons who go into the sanctuary to honor Him. When there is talk of ‘children’, the emphasis is more on the care and love we receive from God, on Who God is for us. When there is talk of ‘sons’, the emphasis is more on what we are for God.
Firstborn animals that are deficient may not be brought to Jerusalem. They can be eaten at home. The norms for the fellowship of the church – the place where the Lord Jesus is in the midst – are different from home. This has to do with other responsibilities. In the church believers come as ‘wise men’ (1Cor 10:15) to honor the Lord. At home, the children also have their input in honoring the Lord, without there being any insight or ‘wisdom’ of the Lord’s things, for example, because of their age. The levels are different. In this way, children’s songs can be sung in the family, which for believers, when they come together as a church, would not be suitable.