Deuteronomy 15 contains laws relating to the sabbatic year. This important year is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture.
First, Exodus 23:10-11 emphasizes the importance of allowing the land to lay fallow every seventh year for the sake of the needy and the animals.
Second, Leviticus 25:1-7 emphasizes the importance of allowing the land to rest from production every seventh year.
Third, Deuteronomy 15:1-6 expresses a humanitarian concern for various classes of needy people. According to these instructions, the Israelites were not to press those in debt to them to pay their debts in a sabbatic year. Maxwell notes, “There is much debate over whether a debt was to be terminated permanently or suspended for one year, meaning the repayment could not be demanded during the course of the seventh year. The latter alternative seems probable. At the end of seven years all debts that had been contracted were again extended for another year. The total debts were forgiven in the year of jubilee (every fiftieth year).”
These verses address the subject of loaning to the poor. Notice the use of the words “heart” and “hand” in these verses. Matthew Henry said, “If the hand is shut it is a sign that the heart is hardened.” Notice the following points in these verses.
First, those with wealth should not close their hearts to assisting those in need (15:7-8).
Second, those with wealth should not look for ways to avoid assisting those in need (15:9). Moses illustrated this point by referring to a case in which a man with means might consider withholding help from a man in need just prior to the sabbatic year.
Third, those with wealth should joyfully and generously assist those in need and so experience God’s blessings (15:10).
Fourth, those in need will always “be in the land” (15:11). Jesus said, “For the poor you have with you always … ” (Matthew 26:11). See also Jesus’ comments in Matthew 25:31-46 regarding the importance of how we treat those in need.
Practical Consideration: Those who have should assist those who have not. As Moses instructed the people in the laws that were to govern their lives in the Promised Land, he did not neglect to mention the poor and needy. He instructed those who were blessed with means to assist those suffering misfortune. Billy Graham is quoted as having said, “if every church in America would take care of eight welfare families the problem would be eliminated immediately.”
These verses address the treatment of servants who are members of the covenant community. Notice the following points in these verses.
First, a servant was to serve six years and released on the seventh or sabbatic year (15:12).
Second, the needs of the servant were to be generously provided by the master (15:13-14). The motivation for such generous treatment was three-fold. First, because of the generous treatment and provision of the Lord for the master (15:14b). Second, because the master’s forefathers were once slaves in Egypt (15:15). Third, because the master had received his “money’s worth” from the servant (15:18).
Third, provision was made for a servant to remain with his master in the sabbatic year. If the servant loved his master and his master’s family and personally chose to remain, the master was to pierce the servant’s ear with an awl. This was to serve as a visual indicator of the servant’s personal commitment to remain with and continue in the service of his master (15:16-17 and see also Exodus 21:5-6).
Consecration of the First Born
These verses address the sacrifice of firstborn animals. They specify the conditions placed on the use of such animals as sacrifices. The theme of these verses is the importance of consecrating only the best to God. He deserves first-place in every aspect of our lives.