Deuteronomy 15 = The Sabbath’s Far Reach!
Bible Background: Commands related to the Sabbath come up frequently. Maybe you thought that resting 1 day a week covered it. Guess again! Every 7th year becomes a sabbatical year when debts were to be erased and slaves were to be set free! Can you imagine an economic system that bends to the will of God?
Digging Deeper: 1. Ask why debt forgiveness would be such a big concern of God’s? Why would freeing of slaves be on the agenda? Well, because God took a big stance against slavery by bringing the Israelites out of Egypt; and God intended them to prosper in the Promised Land. You can’t prosper if you are a slave, or mired in debt! Debt forgiveness every 7th year would help make sure there’s not a part of society living in permanent poverty. There will still be needy people, but debt could lead to a person selling their kids or themselves into slavery.
2. The debt forgiveness is underscored by this command to be compassionate: “You shall not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor!” And by this one: “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” God’s blessing is seen as depending on this kind of kindness and generosity.
3. Verse 12f, about freeing Hebrew slaves (this particular command does not seem to apply to all slaves), specifically applies to men AND women! This is a new step (beyond the rule in the book of Exodus), granting basic rights to women slaves as well as men!
4. Deuteronomy literally means “2nd giving of the Law”. This book is re-defining what it means to be God’s people in a new era. Even though it is written as though Moses is delivering these commands in person, it’s an effort long after the time of Moses to find the place where tradition and faith intersect with the realities of a changing, more commercially-driven world. Being chosen by God and trusting God means we do not bow down to an economic system where the rich continually get richer, and the poor continually get poorer.
5. So, how does this apply to us? If we loaned someone money, and they haven’t payed it back, must we erase the debt? (Since we don’t have slaves, we tend to look away from that part of the command.) Or does such radical dependence on God require us to seriously look at the financial inequality in our nation and world today? The private accumulation of wealth only serves God’s purposes when it is shared with those in need. Forgiving debts and freeing slaves avoids the sins and pitfalls of devaluing and dehumanizing certain groups of people.