Moses has been reviewing the Law for the people of Israel. In most cases, he has been abbreviating the law. However, as we begin chapter fifteen, we see that he is actually giving more detail about the Sabbath year than we received earlier in Exodus and Leviticus.
Every seventh year was the Sabbath year. In that seventh year, the land was to rest (Exo. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:2-7). Only what grew naturally without sowing seed and pruning vines could be eaten.
Now Moses is saying what else is to happen in the seventh year: remission of debts. The word "remission" means "to drop it."
Why are debts to be dropped, cancelled, during the seventh year? In the Bible, God has caused numbers to be significant and consistent. Seven is the number of completion, of finalization. God created the earth in six days.
Gen. 2:2 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done...
This remains consistent from the beginning of the Bible to the end. In the book of Revelation, the seventh angel finishes the mystery of God (Rev. 10:7). John wrote,
Rev. 15:1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.
In the case of debts, seven years signals the completion of debt. That seventh year is called in verse nine, "The year of remission," or literally, "the year to let it drop."
Some commentaries say that the year of remission was simply a time when the lender should not press the debtor for payment. But after much study, I cannot agree. The context of the entire chapter and the spiritual application of the principle both point to complete erasure rather than a temporary reprieve. And linguistically, verse two clearly says in Hebrew, "to let drop that which was loaned," not "temporarily drop the pressure of the loan's obligation."
I believe that people's hesitation to read this for what it truly says is that we don't like the idea of financial forgiveness. "There's no free lunch, there's no free ride. You owe me this money," is the prevailing attitude. But that is not the Biblical position.
You might say, "Well, Ron, you don't understand what it is to have real money owed to you." Really? One man skipped town owing us $1,000. Another took our car without ever making a single payment of the $2,500 she owed. Another person has defrauded our family of over $55,000! All three of these people claimed to be Christians!
But do you know what I've discovered? Unless you forgive the debts owed you, you will never have peace. Unless you release what you have loaned, and freely forgive what you're owed, you yourself will never be free.
Jesus taught us to pray,
Matt. 6:12 "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
Then He explained,
Matt. 6:14 "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
I want you to see something else here too. In verse three we read that during the year of remission, the debts of fellow Israelites were to be dropped, yet the debts of foreigners continued to be an obligation.
This carries through to the church today. Paul spoke of disputes between Christians, and how terrible it was that Christians were suing other Christians in court to defend their rights. He said,
1Cor. 6:6-7 ...brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?
It is better to release the debt of another Christian than to go to court. But those outside the household of the faith who seek to steal from Christians have no such protection. The church should not be a target for wicked people who believe we will take no recourse when we are ripped off. The debt of a foreigner can be exacted without hesitation.
Now, if we take both of these principles together, we see a perfect application of them in the work of Jesus Christ, for this is what He did. Paul told the Colossians,
Col. 2:13-14 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
The debt we owed was death...
Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death...
Jesus has called us brethren, and forgiven our debt. But those who reject Him are not His brethren, and will not be forgiven. Those whose certificates of debt are not cancelled will be cast away from God forever, being thrown...
Matt. 18:30 ...in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
And of course that debt will never be able to be repaid. The debt of foreigners will certainly be exacted in full.
Some people see a contradiction in this chapter, for verse four says,
Deut. 15:4 "...there will be no poor among you..."
Yet verse nine says,
Deut. 15:11 "...the poor will never cease to be in the land..."
But if you look at the first statement, it is a conditional promise: "There will be no poor among you... IF only you listen obediently to the Lord..." The Lord knew that they would never completely fulfill the Law and that there would always be poor among them.
This tells us that if the church properly applied the principles of Scripture, there would be no poor among us. In the first century, we saw this begin to take place:
Acts 4:34-35 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
But right away, the system was corrupted by Ananias and Sapphira's desire for acknowledgment.
In fact, poverty will never cease in this age. Jesus confirmed this the week that He died. It was six days before the Passover, and Martha's sister Mary used a very expensive bottle of perfume to anoint Jesus. Judas got very upset, saying...
John 12:5-8 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and given to poor people?" Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Jesus therefore said, "Let her alone, in order that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me."
The poor we always have with us. James told us that there will be poor in the church (James 2:2-3), and John told us that there will be poor in the end times, for the false prophet will cause...
Rev. 13:16 ...all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead
Until Jesus reigns on the earth, poverty will continue to be a reality. However, this does not free us from our personal obligations to obey Scripture, as these next verses demonstrate...
When we refuse to lend to people in need, we harden our hearts. When we freely and generously open our hands, God blesses us.
The warning is also given here: "Don't refuse to lend to someone in need because the year of remission is coming." How generous are you in lending when you know there is a good chance you're not going to get paid back? You see, this is a great motivation tester. Are you lending to get credit for doing something good that really didn't cost you anything, or are you sincerely trying to help out someone in need?
Jesus taught us,
Luke 6:30 "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back."
Our response to this really shows us where our hearts are.
The year of remission also applied to Hebrew servants. Having been sold into slavery because of a debt they owed, they too would be forgiven for their debts, and would be released.
They were not to be released empty-handed. If you can imagine the nightmare of being thrown out into the world with nothing, you can see how you would immediately become homeless and probably have to steal to eat, resulting in being enslaved all over again.
And so God's law says that the servant was to be released with liberal furnishings of livestock, grain, and wine.
Again, God set the example when He released the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. They didn't just leave with the clothes on their backs. When they left, they asked their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold (Exo. 3:22; 11:2), and left with great wealth.
For some of them, it was difficult to set a servant free. In the same manner as forgiving debt, they were having to release something of great value. But God makes the same point as He did in lending to the poor: God will bless you if you are faithful to give up this valuable asset.
He also says that the servant has given double the service of a hired man. How is that? Well, generally speaking, a hired man will sleep eight hours, work eight hours, and have eight hours of his own time. A servant will sleep eight hours, and work for sixteen hours. Because he is a servant, he doesn't have his own time. He's been twice as productive as a hired man.
Also addressed in these verses is the concept of bondservants. These are those whose time has come to be released, yet state that they wish to stay. In that case, he becomes a servant permanently: a bondservant.
Many Christians in the Bible were referred to as bondservants: Paul, Timothy, Epaphras, Tychicus, James, Simon Peter, and Jude were all given this title. Why? Because these were men who realized that every human being is a slave to something: either to sin or to God.
Rom. 6:17-23 ...thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Rom. 6:22 ...now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God...
These men came to the realization that it's better to be enslaved to God for life than enslaved to sin, which results in death.
Releasing debts was a sacrifice. Releasing a servant was a sacrifice. Another sacrifice they were called to give was the firstborn male of their livestock. They were to be offered at the temple and eaten.
However, God didn't want the defective ones. Frankly, there is no sacrifice in offering something defective to God. When the Israelites tried to offer these things in Malachi's day, the Lord said,
Mal. 1:8 "...when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?"...
When I last taught this Scripture, I pointed out that too often, people give their castoffs to God. Their car breaks down, and they say, "We'll give it to the church." They want to replace their 50-year old torn and smelly couches and say, "We'll give it to the church." I said, don't give God your castoffs - the church doesn't want them. One man left the church that day and said he'll never be back. "The church should be happy for anything they get." But I stand by the teaching: If you wouldn't give to the governor, and you yourself wouldn't want it, then why is it okay to give it to us?"
The Law of the Lord said, "If it's defective, you eat it, I don't want it."
What the Lord wants is real sacrifice in every area - of our very lives. King David said, "I will not...
1Chr. 21:24 "...offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing."