Once again, we need to remember that Deuteronomy is the covenant between God and His people. It is the basis of the Mosaic Covenant to a new generation about to enter the promised land and lists the expectations of God if Israel is to be blessed and prosper. This chapter gives us how we are to care for the poor and needy among us.
Deuteronomy 15:1-3 This first section of Deut. 15 deals with dealing with the concept that the Lord owns all and we are but stewards of what He has entrusted to us. What applied to Israel applies to us as well. Every 7th year was a Sabbath year. Just as the Sabbath reminded us that we are to enter God’s rest and that He is our provision the Sabbath year also is a reminder that He is our supply. We are to have an open hand both to receive and give. In the Sabbath year the lender was to forgive the debt as God called it the “time for canceling debts” (v. 2). If all are debtors to the Lord, then the relation of debts between men are only relative. This is the concept that Yeshua gives in Matt. 6:12. All Israelites are brothers, and just as God forgives us so are we to forgive our brothers. This occurred on the day of atonement (Lev. 25:2). This was applicable only to fellow Israelites, however. The foreigner, because he was not a part of the covenant would not be so privileged. This prevision may have been an incentive to the foreigner to consider the privileges of being a part of the covenant fellowship and to want them for himself.
Deuteronomy 15:4-6 That “there should be no poor among you” (v. 4), is a possibility but v 11 cites reality with the words, “there will always be poor in the land.” This is not a contradiction but instructions on how to experience God’s blessings sadly there will be rebellion, and this is its consequences. If Israel would obey fully all the commands being given (v. 5) they would experience God’s blessing on the Promised Land. The law of verse 4 would not be necessary obedience was fully embraced. In fact, obedience would lead to becoming a ‘creditor nation’ (cf. 28:12, 44) rather than a dependent one with all the negative personal, economic, social and political consequences (v. 6).
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 With the opportunity to have no poverty in the Promised land but knowing that such faith and obedience was not likely Moses addresses their attitudes toward the poor. It must be one of tender heart and openness of hand (vv. 7-8). True kindness consists of compassion so that if a brother asks for help before the sabbath year when debts are cancelled, giving would be done (v. 9a). Lending in this case would essentially be a gift since he would have little or no time to pay back the loan. In such a case common sense would tell you not to make the loan. But this is not what a child of the Kingdom is to do. If the neglected a brother might appeal to the Lord, who will hear and judge. Moreover, an attitude of tight-fistedness is inappropriate for a kingdom citizen. Motivation and obedience of the heart always controls the hand. The true motive for lending was not economic advantage, since loans were to be made without interest (23:19–20), but compassion for the needy brother. Israel’s covenant and life together were built on brotherhood, to disobey this law would undermine the community and family of God.
Deuteronomy 15:12-15 Poverty sometimes led to servitude in which case a person would be provided for their needs while serving their benefactor. Service was to last until the Sabbath year (v. 12). Whereupon they were released so that he could begin anew free and independent. He was to be provided with enough so that it would be possible to begin again. Israel was to remember that they too were in a similar situation when they were slaves in Egypt. There they were forced into slavery, cruelly mistreated, but delivered by the redemption of their redeemer, God. The Egyptians likewise sent them away with provisions so they too would be able to begin anew. If the Lord did for all Israel so too should Israel do for their brothers.
Deuteronomy 15:16-17 There might be some who would be content to remain in such servitude when they were free to go. Two motives are cited: (1) Great affection had developed between the debtor and his benefactor and (2) his life under his service was so much better than when he was in charge of his own life (v. 16). There master also recognized the benefits of having a loyal loving servant who worked for him freely. Such a relationship was formalized by a legal procedure of the piercing of the ear with an awl on the doorpost (v. 17). This servant was known as a bondservant and esteemed above the other servants as he was a willing slave to the master. Those who come to faith in Yeshua are so described (Lk. 1:38, 48; Rom. 1:1).
Deuteronomy 15:18 If, after the six years the servant wishes to go free, he must be released with provisions to begin anew. There should be a spirit of gratitude toward the servant since generally a servant was considered twice valuable as a hired servant (v. 18). Obedience to this law would assure God’s blessing on the benefactor. There is a link with the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart, as well as the sending away.
Deuteronomy 15:19-20 Just as Israel was deemed God’s firstborn, so too the firstborn of Israel’s oxen and sheep were to be released to the Lord (v. 19). In the case of the firstborn Israelite is for service to the Lord. In the case of animals, the offering was to sacrifice to the Lord. This sacrifice was not for atonement but an expression of their covenant relationship between the Lord and his people. The firstborn here were the offerings that gave thanks for the atonement already provided by the Lord. They reflect what communion points to and explains the difference between Catholic and Protestant understandings of this rite. That this was to be done annually points to one of the annual festivals, most likely the Feast of Tabernacles. Exodus 22:29-30 supports this idea where the firstborn is mentioned in connection with the ingathering in the fall. This corresponds with Deut 14:22-23, which speaks of the presentation of offerings annually. The Feast of Tabernacles is identified with peace or fellowship offerings that align with this passage and Deut 16:13-15.
Deuteronomy 15:21-23 The offering of the firstborn is to be perfect as possible (v. 21). This because the offerer must be to give what is most valuable. The law of the firstborn relates to the herds and flocks (v. 19), which is God’s provision for the eating of the firstborn by each family (Num. 18:15–18) in the presence of the Lord at the central sanctuary (v. 20). No restriction is placed on eating the blemished animals in their towns, in accordance with the instruction of 12:15–28. The rule concerning the blood holds here as always. It could not be eaten and must be poured out on the ground like water (cf. 12:16, 23–25).