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Deuteronomy 15


Debts Cancelled Every Seven Years The Lifestyle of a Holy People (14:1-15:23) The Seventh Year The Sabbatical Year
15:1-6 15:1-6 15:1-3 15:1-6
Generosity to the Poor   15:4-6  
15:7-11 15:7-11 15:7-11 15:7-11
The Law Concerning Bond Servants   The Treatment of Slaves Slaves
15:12-18 15:12-17a 15:12-15 15:12-15
    15:16-18 15:16-17
  15:18   15:18
The Law Concerning Firstborn Animals   The First-Born Cattle and Sheep The First-Born
15:19-23 15:19-23 15:19-23 15:19-23

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Chapter 15 is a continuation of the specific laws that deal with some of the unique agricultural needs and symbolic relational truths that YHWH wanted to build into His people.

B. This chapter divides nicely into three distinct sections:

1. Verses 1-11 deal with the expansion of the Sabbath year's rest of Exod. 23:10-13 and Lev. 25:1-7 to the debtors and local poor. II Chronicles 36:21 says that the exile was a result of the Jews' failure to keep this Law.

2. Verses 12-18 deal with the kinsman slave, the Hebrew (man or woman) who had to work for someone to pay off debts.

3. Verses 19-23 deal with the first born of the flocks, or the offering of the first born animals.

C. This chapter is characterized by the use of double verbs:

1. Some are infinitive absolutes and imperfect verbs of the same root (which is a grammatical form for intensifying the meaning):

a. "surely bless," v. 4, Piel of BDB 138, KB 159

b. "listen obediently," v. 5, Qal of BDB 1033, KB 1570

c. "freely open," v. 8, Qal of BDB 834 I, KB 986

d. "generously lend," v. 8, Hiphil of BDB 716, KB 778

e. "generously give," v. 10, Qal of BDB 678, KB 733

f. "freely open," v. 11, Qal of BDB 834, KB 986

h. "furnish liberally," v. 14, Hiphil of BDB 778, KB 858

2. Some are the same verb, used twice:

a. "lend. . .not borrow," v. 6, a Hiphil perfect and a Qal imperfect of BDB 716, KB 778

b. "rule. . .not rule," v. 6, a Qal perfect and a Qal imperfect of BDB 605, KB 647

c. "set free. . .free. . .not send," vv. 12,13, all three Piel imperfects of BDB 1018, KB 1511

d. "eat. . .not eat,", vv. 22,23, both Qal imperfects of BDB 37, KB 46

Notice the second category is a positive followed by a negative usage.

3. There is a repetition of the noun and the Qal infinitive absolute of the same root in v. 2 - "remission. . .release," both from BDB 1030, KB 1557



1"At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. 2This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord's remission has been proclaimed. 3From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. 4However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, 5if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. 6For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you."

15:1 "At the end of every seven years" Two things happened: (1) the land was to lie fallow as a symbol of God's ownership of the land as well as His care for the poor (cf. Exod. 23:10-13; Lev. 25:1-7). In Josephus' The Antiquities of the Jews, XIII.8.1, we find a reference to the Jews' habit of letting the land rest and (2) here fellow Israelites were released from debts (cf. v. 2; 31:10). Seven was seen as the perfect number because of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest in Gen. 1:1-2:3.

15:2 "remission" This term (BDB 1030) means "let drop." In Exod. 23:10-11 the verb is used for the land lying fallow every seven years. The noun is used in the OT only twice, here and 31:10. Here it is used metaphorically of forgiving debt, since the share cropper could not pay his loan in the year in which planting was prohibited and also there was no work for the hired laborer. The foreigner, on the other hand, could work his field and pay his debts.

▣ "every creditor shall release" Whether this meant permanent release or temporary release is not known. The context seems to favor a permanent release, but I believe that it may have been only for the year the land stood fallow that the debt was forgiven (cf. NET Bible, p. 368 #16). God's forgiveness of them was the basis for these land owners' forgiving debts (symbolically, temporarily).

15:3 "foreigner" This refers to a non-Israelite who permanently lived in Palestine (BDB 648, cf. 14:21; 15:3; 17:15; 23:20; 29:22), who was granted limited civil rights and legal protection by the Mosaic legislation.

The other term "alien" (BDB 158) is used of newcomers or sojourners who also were granted limited rights and protection (cf. 1:16; 5:14; 10:18,19[twice]; 14:21,29; 16:11,14; 23:7; 24:14,17,19,20,21; 26:11,12,13; 27:19; 28:43; 29:11; 31:12).

This care for the non-Israelite clearly showed:

1. the character of YHWH

2. the inclusion possible

3. the past experience of Israel in Egypt


15:4 "there will be no poor among you" Verses 4-6 state the ideal situation (symbolized in the requirements of the Sabbath Year and Year of Jubilee). The ideal is rarely historical. Many Israelites lost their family lands. There were always poor among the Jews (cf. Matt. 26:11).

15:5 This is a recurrent warning about obedience to the covenant.

1. "If only you listen obediently" - the Qal infinitive absolute and the Qal imperfect of BDB 1033, KB 1570 (which shows intensity)

2. "To observe carefully all this commandment" - two Qal infinitive constructs of BDB 1036, KB 1581 and BDB 793, KB 889

YHWH's covenant promises are conditional on continuing obedient response.

15:6 YHWH's spoken/promised (BDB 180, KB 210,Piel perfect) blessings are delineated:

1. "The Lord your God will bless you," Piel perfect of BDB 138, KB 159, cf. v. 4 (twice); 1:11; 2:7; 7:13 (twice); 12:7; 14:24,29; 15:10,14,18; 16:10,15.

2. "You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow." This is the Hiphil perfect and the negated Qal imperfect of BDB 716, KB 778.

3. "You will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you." This is the Qal perfect and the negated Qal imperfect of BDB 605, KB 647.

These promises have international and eschatological implications (cf. Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Micah 5:1-5a).

7"If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; 8but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. 9Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'"

15:7 "if there is a poor man with you" The reality is stated in v. 11. Poverty could be defined as the lack of respect and honor. Here that lack is caused by the loss of family land caused by borrowing money with it as collateral.

▣ "one of your brothers" The Mosaic Law shows YHWH's special concern about and mercy to:

1. other poor covenant brothers/sisters

2. widows

3. orphans

4. alien residents

5. aliens

It is this compassion across socio-economic lines that makes the Israeli legal code unique. The other ancient law codes favored the elite, the wealthy, and the royal. Israel favored the weak, socially and economically deprived, legally vulnerable, and disenfranchised!

▣ "in any of your towns in your land" Notice it is not just local poor, but how society treats the poor. YHWH wants His people to act to the needy the way He acts toward them!

▣ "you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand from your poor brother" Both motive and deed are involved (cf. II Cor. 9:7):

1. "You shall not harden your heart," Piel imperfect, BDB 54, KB 65, cf. II Chr. 36:13

2. "Nor close your hand," Qal imperfect, BDB 891, KB 1118


15:8 Notice the infinitive absolutes matched to their corresponding imperfects for emphasis:

1. "you shall freely open your hand to him" - Qal infinitive absolute and Qal imperfect of BDB 834, KB 986. This metaphor is parallel to v. 7.

a. open your heart (do not be hard hearted)

b. open your hand (do not be tight fisted) cf. vv. 11,13

2. "shall generously lend him" - Qal infinitive absolute and Hiphil imperfect of BDB 716, KB 778


▣ "lend him sufficient for his need" This is BDB 191 construct with 341, which denotes enough to meet the brother's need, not just a token in passing (cf. James 2:15-26; I John 3:16-17).

15:9 "Beware" This is a Niphal imperative (BDB 1036, KB 1581), which is a recurrent theme (cf. 4:9,15,23; 6:12; 8:11; 11:16; 12:13,19,28,30; 15:9; 24:8). There are covenant consequences for obedience and disobedience.

▣ "base thought" The word "base" is from the same root (BDB 116) as Belial. It refers to a "worthless," "thoughtless," "evil person" (cf. Pro. 6:12). See note at 13:14.

NASB"eye is hostile"
NKJV"eye be evil"
NRSV"view. . .with hostility"

The term "hostile" (BDB 949, KB 1269, Qal perfect) means "bad" or "evil." A similar idiom is used in 28:54,56. This same verb is repeated in v. 10, where it is translated "grieved." This idiom relates to an attitude which swells up in a person in certain circumstances and/or toward certain persons. Motives are crucial in both the OT and NT. God looks at the heart!

▣ "he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you" The poor man's prayer does not make it a sin (i.e., illegal), but it highlights to YHWH the sin in the heart of the selfish, conspiring man (cf. 24:18; Exod. 22:23). YHWH's blessings are conditional on appropriate covenant motives and actions. His people are to model His character!

15:10 This is a summary of the context from v. 7.

▣ "You shall generously give" See Contextual Insights, C, 1, e.

15:11 "You shall freely open your hand" See Contextual Insights, C, 1, f.

12"If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. 13When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. 15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. 16It shall come about if he says to you, 'I will not go out from you,' because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; 17then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant."

15:12 This is literally "brother" (BDB 26), but used in the national sense of "covenant partner" or "kinsman" (cf. Lev. 19:17; 25:25,35,36,39,47; Deut. 15:12; 17:15). It emphasized a national unity vs. a tribal or family distinctiveness. This terminology and theology is similar to Gal. 6:10.

▣ "Hebrew" The word "Hebrew" (BDB 720, KB 782) is a rare OT word. This refers to either (1) the racial descendants of Eber, Shem's grandson (cf. Gen. 10:21; (2) a term that describes a large group of Semites (Habiru) in the Ancient Near East, who migrated across Mesopotamia as nomads in the second millennium b.c.; or (3) a loose group of poor foreign laborers (the term used by foreigners to describe Abraham's, Jacob's and Joseph's family).

▣ "man or woman" This shows legal equality (cf. v. 17, also note Gen. 1:26-27). Earlier law codes separated them (i.e., men - Exod. 21:2-6; women - Exod. 21:7-11). This was a radical departure from the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian legal document that predates Moses, and the cultural systems of the nations of Canaan. God's people were different!

▣ "is sold to you" The verb (BDB 569, KB 581, Niphal imperfect) refers to someone selling himself/herself into indentured servitude (cf. Lev. 25:39,47,48,50; the fellow Hebrew is discussed in vv. 39-46; Exod. 21:2-6).

▣ "he shall serve you six years" This seems to be unrelated chronologically to the Sabbatical year mentioned in vv. 1-11, but if so, then the meaning of v. 9 is uncertain.

▣ "you shall set him free" This verb (BDB 1018, KB 1511, Piel imperfect) is so important that it is repeated three times in vv. 12-13.

15:14 When a slave was freed after his six years of service, he was to be given all he would need to establish his family.

1. "you shall furnish him liberally," This is another infinitive absolute and imperfect verb. It is a Hebrew idiom, literally, "you shall surely make a necklace for him." See Contextual Insight C, 1, g.

2. Notice the items to be given:

a. from the flock

b. from the threshing floor

c. from the wine vat

d. added guidelines are given in Exod. 21:3-4; Lev. 15:41

3. This giving was to be done in the spirit and quantity that YHWH had shown to Israel, cf. vv. 4,6,10,18 and why specifically in v. 15 and Lev. 25:41.


15:15 "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt" The basis for the generosity of the slave owner was the fact that his family was once a slave in Egypt and God was generous to him. See full note at 5:15.

▣ "the Lord your God redeemed you" This verb (BDB 804, KB 911, Qal imperfect) is used several times in Deuteronomy, always referring to YHWH's gracious act of delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery (cf. 7:8; 9:26; 13:5; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18). See Special Topic at 7:8. The OT is as much a witness to the initiating love and mercy of God as is the NT! Humans did not seek God, He sought and redeemed them! His initial acts and unchanging character are our great hope! The actions of the Messiah for all are foreshadowed in the actions of YHWH for Israel!

15:16 This verse is parallel to Exod. 21:5. It illustrates a voluntary submissive relationship which reflects the faith/love/obedient covenant relationship between YHWH and Israel. The goal of the covenant is a loving, blessed life on earth followed by a continuation of an even more intimate relationship in the spiritual realm. The blessings are always a by-product of the relationship, never the goal!

15:17 "pierce it through his ear into the door" This has two symbols: (1) the ear was symbolic of obedience and (2) the door was symbolic of love for the home (TEV). This rite was done at home not at the sanctuary or city gate, depending on to whom Elohim of Exod. 21:6 refers. The Septuagint, Peshitta, and the AramaicTargums understand is as "judges", which is a change from an earlier rite (cf. Exod. 21:1-6). This made him a permanent slave.

▣ "forever" The Hebrew term is 'olam (BDB 761). This usage shows that the Hebrew word must be defined by its context. It can mean "forever" or "for a long time with set boundaries." The rabbis said it meant "until the year of Jubilee," but in this context it means the slave's lifetime. See Special Topic at 4:40.

18"It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free, for he has given you six years with double the service of a hired man; so the Lord your God will bless you in whatever you do."

15:18 "It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free" This means that one should not be complaining when a slave is set free after six years of service.

NASB"double the service"
NKJV"he has been worth a double hired servant"
NRSV"worth the wages of hired laborers"
TEV"at half the cost of hired servants"
NJB"he is worth twice what a paid servant would cost you"
NET Bible"twice the time of a hired worker"

There is some doubt as to the correct translation (literally, "for at half the cost of," BDB 1041 construct 969 I). There are three possibilities:

1. a slave was a servant day and night

2. a slave worked free, while a hired man was paid 

3. Isa. 16:14 lists three years as the period of work for a hired man (as does the Code of Hammurabi), therefore, a slave worked twice as long.


▣ "so the Lord your God will bless you in whatever you do" Covenant blessing follows covenant obedience, especially when the appropriate loving, forgiving, helping attitude is present!

19"You shall consecrate to the Lord your God all the firstborn males that are born of your herd and of your flock; you shall not work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. 20You and your household shall eat it every year before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses. 21But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. 22You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike may eat it, as a gazelle or a deer. 23Only you shall not eat its blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water."

15:19-23 These verses deal with the appropriate use and non-use of the first born of the cattle. This goes back to Exod. 13:2, which is the context of the plague of the death angel killing the firstborn of mankind and beast in Egypt and Goshen whose houses were not marked with blood. It was a symbolic way of showing God's ownership of everything (cf. Exod. 13:2; Lev. 2:14-16).

15:19 "You shall consecrate. . .all first-born males. . .of your herd or your flock" Exodus 13 gives us the Biblical origin, also notice Num. 18:15-16. This became a way to supplement the income of the Levites.

15:20 This goes back to 12:17-19; 14:23. See full note at 12:5.

15:21 "But if it has any defect. . .you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God" An animal that had a defect (abnormality) of any kind, i.e., blindness, discoloration, sickness, lameness, deformity, etc. could not be sacrificed, but could be eaten with family and friends in a local setting (cf. 12:15-16).


NASB"the unclean and the clean alike may eat it"
NKJV"the unclean and the clean person alike may eat it"
NRSV"the unclean and the clean alike"
TEV"all of you, whether ritually clean or unclean, may eat them"
NJB"the clean and the unclean"

In Hebrew this could refer to:

1. those who eat it

2. that which is eaten

Option #1 seems best (LXX).

15:23 "Only you shall not eat its blood" Blood was the symbol of life and life belongs to God (cf. Gen. 9:4-6; Lev. 1:17; 7:26-27; 17:10-16; 19:26; Deut. 12:16, 23-25; I Sam. 14:32-34). The symbols in the preceding verses show God's ownership of all creation, especially that which is alive.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Is there any historical evidence for the Sabbatical year ever being observed?

2. What is the basic purpose of these laws in chapter 15?

3. What are the possible origins of the term "Hebrew"?


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