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Laws concerning the Sabbatical Year


Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. 2And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the L ord’s remission has been proclaimed. 3Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. 4There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the L ord is sure to bless you in the land that the L ord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, 5if only you will obey the L ord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. 6When the L ord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.

7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the L ord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the L ord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the L ord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

12 If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. 13And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. 14Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the L ord your God has blessed you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the L ord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. 16But if he says to you, “I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, 17then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever.

You shall do the same with regard to your female slave.

18 Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the L ord your God will bless you in all that you do.

The Firstborn of Livestock

19 Every firstling male born of your herd and flock you shall consecrate to the L ord your God; you shall not do work with your firstling ox nor shear the firstling of your flock. 20You shall eat it, you together with your household, in the presence of the L ord your God year by year at the place that the L ord will choose. 21But if it has any defect—any serious defect, such as lameness or blindness—you shall not sacrifice it to the L ord your God; 22within your towns you may eat it, the unclean and the clean alike, as you would a gazelle or deer. 23Its blood, however, you must not eat; you shall pour it out on the ground like water.

11. For the poor shall never cease out of the land. The notion 147147     “I know that ye will not obey me with a perfect heart, and therefore my blessing shall be lessened towards you, and there shall be poor among you.” Hebrew commentators quoted in Munster and Fagius. — Poole’s Syn. of those is far fetched who suppose that there would be always poor men among them, because they would not keep the law, and consequently the land would be barren on account of their unrighteousness. I admit that this is true; but God does not here ascribe it to their sins that there would always be some beggars among them, but only reminds them that there would never be wanting matter for their generosity, because He would prove what was in their hearts by setting the poor before them. For, (as I have observed above,) this is why the rich and poor meet together, and the Lord is maker of them all; because otherwise the duties of charity would not be observed unless they put them into exercise by assisting each other. Wherefore God, to stir up the inactivity of the rich, declares that lie prescribes nothing but what continual necessity will require.

13. And when thou sendest him out free from thee. Here not only is the enfranchisement of slaves enjoined, but an exhortation to liberality is also added, viz., that they should not send away their slaves without their hire; for this is not a civil enactment for the purpose of extorting from the avaricious more than they were willing to give. The rule of Paul here applies:

“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7.)

But, since the Hebrew slaves were brethren, God would not allow them to be placed in a worse condition than hirelings. That He commands them to be furnished out of the wine-press, and floor, and flock, does not mean that they were to be enriched, or that a large provision should be assigned to them, but He justly lays a constraint on the rich, whose varied abundance supplied them with the means of liberality; as if He would show them from whence they received their gratuitous gifts, which were at the same time a just compensation for the labors of their slaves.

18. It shall not seem hard unto thee. I have lately observed how difficult and inconvenient to the Jews was the observance of this law; wherefore it is not without reason that God reproves their mean and niggardly pride, if they enfranchised their slaves grudgingly. And, indeed, He first urges them to obey on the score of justice, and then from the hope of remuneration. For He reminds them that for six years the slave had earned double the wages of a hireling, either because his life was more laborious, inasmuch as heavier tasks are required from slaves than from free-men, who are paid for their work; or because he had completed twice as long a period as hirelings were wont to be engaged for. For the Jewish (commentators) 149149     “The Chaldee, Vatablus, and other more recent commentators translate it, Since he has served thee for six years for double the wages of a hireling; which the Hebrews thus explain, that the wages of a slave of six years’ standing are called double, because hirelings amongst the Hebrew’s only engaged themselves for three years, whereas the slave served for sir years; therefore he served twice as long, and earned twice as much.” — Corn. a Lapide in loco. infer from this passage, that three years was the term prescribed for hired servants; and thus they suppose the six years were counted. But since this is a mere conjecture, I know not whether my opinion is not more suitable, that for six years their labors had been twice as profitable as would have been those of a free-man who is not under the compulsion of a slave.

19. All the firstling males. Another caution is added, that they should make no profit of the first-born; for they might have used the labor of the ox in plowing, or as a beast of burden; they might also have sheared the lambs, and have afterwards brought a deteriorated animal into the tabernacle. God commands, therefore, that what was due to Him should be honestly and absolutely paid. But, if good laws sprang from evil habits, it hence appears with what audacious greediness men have ever been led away to wicked gains, since it was necessary that they should be prohibited by an express edict from seeking to enrich themselves at God’s expense. Wherefore, it is not to be wondered at that men are acute and sagacious in cheating each other, since they by no means hesitate to deceive God by wicked artifices.

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