Deuteronomy 15

Release for Debt Slaves

1At the end of every seven years you must declare a cancellation
The Hebrew term שְׁמִטָּת (shemittat), a derivative of the verb שָׁמַט (shamat, “to release; to relinquish”), refers to the cancellation of the debt and even pledges for the debt of a borrower by his creditor. This could be a full and final remission or, more likely, one for the seventh year only. See R. Wakely, NIDOTTE 4:155–60. Here the words “of debts” are not in the Hebrew text, but are implied. Cf. NAB “a relaxation of debts”; NASB, NRSV “a remission of debts.”
of debts.
2This is the nature of the cancellation: Every creditor must remit what he has loaned to another person;
Heb “his neighbor,” used idiomatically to refer to another person.
he must not force payment from his fellow Israelite,
Heb “his neighbor and his brother.” The words “his brother” may be a scribal gloss identifying “his neighbor” (on this idiom, see the preceding note) as a fellow Israelite (cf. v. 3). In this case the conjunction before “his brother” does not introduce a second category, but rather has the force of “that is.”
for it is to be recognized as “the Lord’s cancellation of debts.”
3You may exact payment from a foreigner, but whatever your fellow Israelite
Heb “your brother.”
owes you, you must remit.
4However, there should not be any poor among you, for the Lord
After the phrase “the Lord” many mss and versions add “your God” to complete the usual full epithet.
will surely bless
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates with “surely.” Note however, that the use is rhetorical, for the next verse attaches a condition.
you in the land that he
Heb “the Lord your God.” The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons to avoid redundancy.
is giving you as an inheritance,
The Hebrew text includes “to possess.”
5if you carefully obey
Heb “if listening you listen to the voice of.” The infinitive absolute is used for emphasis, which the translation indicates with “carefully.” The idiom “listen to the voice” means “obey.”
Heb “the Lord your God.” See note on “he” in 15:4.
by keeping
Heb “by being careful to do.”
all these commandments that I am giving
Heb “commanding” (so NASB); NAB “which I enjoin you today.”
you today.
6For the Lord your God will bless you just as he has promised; you will lend to many nations but will not borrow from any, and you will rule over many nations but they will not rule over you.

The Spirit of Liberality

7 If a fellow Israelite
Heb “one of your brothers” (so NASB); NAB “one of your kinsmen”; NRSV “a member of your community.” See the note at v. 2.
from one of your villages
Heb “gates.”
in the land that the Lord your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive
Heb “withdraw your hand.” Cf. NIV “hardhearted or tightfisted” (NRSV and NLT similar).
to his impoverished condition.
Heb “from your needy brother.”
8Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute before both verbs. The translation indicates the emphasis with the words “be sure to” and “generously,” respectively.
him whatever he needs.
Heb “whatever his need that he needs for himself.” This redundant expression has been simplified in the translation for stylistic reasons.
9Be careful lest you entertain the wicked thought that the seventh year, the year of cancellation of debts, has almost arrived, and your attitude
Heb “your eye.”
be wrong toward your impoverished fellow Israelite
Heb “your needy brother.”
and you do not lend
Heb “give” (likewise in v. 10).
him anything; he will cry out to the Lord against you and you will be regarded as having sinned.
Heb “it will be a sin to you.”
10You must by all means lend
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates with “by all means.”
to him and not be upset by doing it,
Heb “your heart must not be grieved in giving to him.” The LXX and Orig add, “you shall surely lend to him sufficient for his need,” a suggestion based on the same basic idea in v. 8. Such slavish adherence to stock phrases is without warrant in most cases, and certainly here.
for because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you attempt.
11There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates with “make sure.”
your hand to your fellow Israelites
Heb “your brother.”
who are needy and poor in your land.

Release of Debt Slaves

12 If your fellow Hebrew
Elsewhere in the OT, the Israelites are called “Hebrews” (עִבְרִי, ’ivriy) by outsiders, rarely by themselves (cf. Gen 14:13; 39:14, 17; 41:12; Exod 1:15, 16, 19; 2:6, 7, 11, 13; 1 Sam 4:6; Jonah 1:9). Thus, here and in the parallel passage in Exod 21:2–6 the term עִבְרִי may designate non-Israelites, specifically a people well-known throughout the ancient Near East as ’apiru or habiru. They lived a rather vagabond lifestyle, frequently hiring themselves out as laborers or mercenary soldiers. While accounting nicely for the surprising use of the term here in an Israelite law code, the suggestion has against it the unlikelihood that a set of laws would address such a marginal people so specifically (as opposed to simply calling them aliens or the like). More likely עִבְרִי is chosen as a term to remind Israel that when they were “Hebrews,” that is, when they were in Egypt, they were slaves. Now that they are free they must not keep their fellow Israelites in economic bondage. See v. 15.
– whether male or female
Heb “your brother, a Hebrew (male) or Hebrew (female).”
– is sold to you and serves you for six years, then in the seventh year you must let that servant
Heb “him.” The singular pronoun occurs throughout the passage.
go free.
The Hebrew text includes “from you.”
13If you set them free, you must not send them away empty-handed. 14You must supply them generously
The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates with “generously.”
from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress – as the Lord your God has blessed you, you must give to them.
15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore, I am commanding you to do this thing today. 16However, if the servant
Heb “he”; the referent (the indentured servant introduced in v. 12) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
says to you, “I do not want to leave
Heb “go out from.” The imperfect verbal form indicates the desire of the subject here.
you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you,
17you shall take an awl and pierce a hole through his ear to the door.
When the bondslave’s ear was drilled through to the door, the door in question was that of the master’s house. In effect, the bondslave is declaring his undying and lifelong loyalty to his creditor. The scar (or even hole) in the earlobe would testify to the community that the slave had surrendered independence and personal rights. This may be what Paul had in mind when he said “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17).
Then he will become your servant permanently (this applies to your female servant as well).
18You should not consider it difficult to let him go free, for he will have served you for six years, twice
The Hebrew term מִשְׁנֶה (mishneh, “twice”) could mean “equivalent to” (cf. NRSV) or, more likely, “double” (cf. NAB, NIV, NLT). The idea is that a hired worker would put in only so many hours per day whereas a bondslave was available around the clock.
the time of a hired worker; the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.

Giving God the Best

19 You must set apart
Heb “sanctify” (תַּקְדִּישׁ, taqdish), that is, put to use on behalf of the Lord.
for the Lord your God every firstborn male born to your herds and flocks. You must not work the firstborn of your bulls or shear the firstborn of your flocks.
20You and your household must eat them annually before the Lord your God in the place he
Heb “the Lord.” The translation uses a pronoun for stylistic reasons. See note on “he” in 15:4.
21If they have any kind of blemish – lameness, blindness, or anything else
Heb “any evil blemish”; NASB “any (+ other NAB, TEV) serious defect.”
– you may not offer them as a sacrifice to the Lord your God.
22You may eat it in your villages,
Heb “in your gates.”
whether you are ritually impure or clean,
The LXX adds ἐν σοί (en soi, “among you”) to make clear that the antecedent is the people and not the animals. That is, the people, whether ritually purified or not, may eat such defective animals.
just as you would eat a gazelle or an ibex.
23However, you must not eat its blood; you must pour it out on the ground like water.

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