The Year for Canceling Debts
1 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. 3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. 4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.
God understands that even his people will have hard times or make poor choices that require them to go into debt. He allows for the forgiveness of these debts in order to give them a second chance. This was how families were able to hold onto property for generations. Since this is a people who follow God’s moral code, this forgiveness was not viewed as a way to “get one over” on one another, or to shirk responsibility. They knew that God required them to be people of their word and so made every attempt to pay their debts before the seven years expired. God is a just God and doesn’t want anyone to be in lack or for anyone to be poor. He has made provisions in order to make sure everyone has equal opportunity to prosper, in good times or in bad times. He has promised to bless those who follow his commands and says that they will lend but not borrow, rule and not be ruled.
7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
God demands that his people be generous, specifically to their brothers and sisters in the Lord. God promises again and again in his word that those who bless others are blessed. Those who follow God’s law of generous giving will never be in lack. It goes against everything our human nature thinks to be truth, but it has been proven over and over again. There are countless testimonies of how generous and sacrificial giving during rough times has resulted in supernatural blessing for the giver. God always fulfills his word. He provides for his children.
12 If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you and serve you six years, in the seventh year you must let them go free. 13 And when you release them, do not send them away empty-handed. 14 Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the Lord your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.
16 But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, 17 then take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your female servant.
18 Do not consider it a hardship to set your servant free, because their service to you these six years has been worth twice as much as that of a hired hand. And the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.
People became servants in order to pay off debts. So, releasing them from service was the same as the instructions above for releasing monetary debt. Not only are they to be released, but they are to be given some supply to begin their own homestead. They had served to prosper their master, and they are to be given a portion of that prosperity to begin again for themselves. God does not want his people in slavery to one another, whether by monetary or physical debt. It causes a hardship on the servant because they provide for another’s family rather than their own. Here, he gives them a fresh start. However, there are times when a person choses to live in servitude to another, where they are treated well, and God allows them to make that choice.
These things that God tells them serves to remind them that everything belongs to the Lord, and they are like servants themselves, only tending what God has entrusted to them. Notice also how often in the passage he reminds them that they will be blessed by following his commands.
The Firstborn Animals
19 Set apart for the Lord your God every firstborn male of your herds and flocks. Do not put the firstborn of your cows to work, and do not shear the firstborn of your sheep. 20 Each year you and your family are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose. 21 If an animal has a defect, is lame or blind, or has any serious flaw, you must not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. 22 You are to eat it in your own towns. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it, as if it were gazelle or deer. 23 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.
God again gives instruction regarding the “first-fruits” of their labor, lest they forget that God always gets the first and the best as his portion.