Tuesday, August 31, 2010

There Shall Be No Poor Among You

There is a new book by this title - I know nothing about it - and several interesting commentaries online concerning subtleties that might be missed at first reading. If you're interested in that sort of thing. But I think this is the sort of Bible passage you can have a go at even without a lot of background.


Deuteronomy 15 (New International Version)

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 the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, 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 brother owes you. 4 However, there should be no poor 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.

7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. 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 your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him 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 brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

Freeing Servants
12 If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. 13 And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. 14 Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him 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 ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservant.

18 Do not consider it a hardship to set your servant free, because his 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.


james said...

The first thing that pops to mind is verse 4 versus verse 11.
The second thing is that it can't be talking about loans in the traditional sense, just as the rules for the "sale" of land don't describe what we'd call a sale but a rental.
I find it hard to see how these rules could be applied outside of a small community with the social enforcements you find in a small group. There seems to be an irreducible percentage of the population that is feckless or openly parasitic. In the relatively anonymous environment of a city they'd work this system to death.

Paul Gordon said...

1 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.

If you've gone through a bankruptcy, you must wait seven years before you can do so again. I wonder if the rule was influenced by that.

(Yeah. Yet another "been there, done that" experience. No tee-shirt though.)

Texan99 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Texan99 said...

Re james's point, it's interesting that debts must be cancelled to neighbors but not to foreigners. The rules for the good life in a community are different for people with close bonds than for those without, not so much because we care more about those closest to us, but because systems that work for people in intimate contact don't work for people who are not.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

One commentary noted that this was a method under which no one had to be a member of a permanent underclass. He might again become poor through bad luck or bad judgment, but no one was to spend their entire life getting out from under.