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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Deuteronomy 15

 

 

Introduction

Verses 1-8

Deuteronomy 15:1-8

Keep the Passover.

The yearly festivals

The darker side of the Jewish religion was more than relieved by its outlets for joy. It identified in a marvelous manner the holy day and the holiday (see the, two words translated “feast” in Leviticus 23:1-44, meaning, the one “holy convocation,” the other “festival”), showing that the people with deepest religious feelings are, after all, the happiest people. The three great yearly feasts were--

1. The Passover, in the middle of Abib (nearly our April);

2. Seven weeks after, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks; and

3. The Feast of Tabernacles, or of Ingathering, in the end of autumn (October). Notice of all three--

I. Their origin. They have their root in the weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath itself is the first of the feasts (Leviticus 23:2-3), in which respect it also is a joyful day (Psalms 18:24; Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 58:14). And the great feasts are framed upon its model. They are ruled by the sabbatical number, seven. They begin and generally end on the seventh day. Two of them last for seven days each, and there are seven days of “holy convocation” in the year. Pentecost takes place seven weeks--a sabbath of weeks--after the Passover. The seventh month is specially distinguished (verses 23-36). Moreover, every seventh year is of the nature of a Sabbath, and seven times seven years bring the Jubilee. Smaller festivals formed connecting links between the Sabbath and the yearly feasts. There was the Feast of Months, distinguishing the first Sabbath of each month with special sacrifices (Numbers 28:11), and with blowing of trumpets (Numbers 10:10), which trumpets were used again on the first day of the seventh month--the “Feast of Trumpets” (Leviticus 23:24-25). Our Sabbaths, like those of the Jews, form the backbone and safeguard of our own national festivities.

II. Their purpose. They accomplished on a larger scale what was already aimed at by the weekly Sabbath.

1. They called away from the round of yearly duty to the public recognition of God. In spring and summer and autumn they presented anew to the people’s consciousness, through the most impressive vehicle of national festivals, their covenant relation to Jehovah.

2. They had a most important educational function. They were a compendium in dramatic form of early Israelitish history, “What mean ye by this service?” (Exodus 12:26.) Moreover, they gave opportunity for special religious instruction. (Josiah’s Passover, 2 Chronicles 34:29 ff.; and Ezra’s Feast of Tabernacles, Nehemiah 8:1-18.)

3. They subserved important ends not directly religious. They promoted the national unity of the Israelites, stimulating their patriotism. (See the action of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 12:26.)

III. Their regulations.

1. The males from all parts of the country must assemble to the three feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16); for which purpose all ordinary labour ceases.

2. The worshippers are to bring contributions (Deuteronomy 16:16-17), both for the necessary sacrifices of themselves and others, and for hospitality (Nehemiah 8:10).

3. The people are to rejoice in their feasts. So Leviticus 23:40 commands for the Feast of Tabernacles, and Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:15 for the Feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles. Ezra tells of the joy at the Feast of the Passover (Ezra 6:22); and Nehemiah of the “very great gladness” at the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:17). But where is happiness to be found if not in the recognition of God’s relation to us? Special protection was promised during the celebration of the feasts. There are frequent promises that the fruits of the earth will not suffer, as Deuteronomy 16:15. And it was specially promised that the absence of its defenders would not expose the country to invasion (Exodus 34:24). In short, Israel’s compliance with God’s will here as everywhere was to be to the advantage even of his worldly prosperity. A truth for all times and all peoples (Psalms 1:3; Psalms 92:13-15). (W. Roberts, M. A.)

The yearly festivals

Looking to these festivals separately, we find that a three-fold meaning attaches to each of them--

1. A present meaning in nature;

2. A retrospective meaning in history; and

3. A prospective meaning in grace.

Moreover, in each of these three respects the three feasts stand in progressive order: the Passover, the first at once in nature, history, and grace; the Pentecost, in all three respects the second or intermediate; and the Tabernacles, in all three respects the consummation of what has gone before.

I. The feast of the passover, occurring about the beginning of April.

1. Its natural meaning was necessarily an afterthought or addition of the wilderness legislation. Looking forward to the settlement in Canaan, and placed at early harvest, it marked the beginning of a people’s enrichment in the fruits of the earth, and recognised in that the gift of a covenant God. Its place was “when thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn” (Deuteronomy 16:9). And hence the special provisions of Leviticus 23:10-14.

2. What was first in nature was also first in history. The Passover night marked the beginning of Israel’s national life. The month in which it occurred was henceforth to be the first of the year (Exodus 12:2), and to be permanently observed (Exodus 12:14; Deuteronomy 16:1). Some modifications necessarily arose in the permanent observance of the Passover; the blood was now to be sprinkled on the altar; and the lamb was to be slain in the one place of sacrifice (Deuteronomy 16:5-7; 2 Chronicles 30:15-16). The eating with unleavened bread and bitter herbs remained, as pointing to--

3. The prospective and spiritual reference of the Passover. The observance of the Passover touched closely the spiritual welfare of the Israelites. It distinguished the reigns of Josiah and Hezekiah and the return of the Jews from captivity. And here we have the third and greatest beginning, the beginning of the kingdom of God, in the world’s deliverance from sin. And we must deal with Christ as the Jews with the Paschal Lamb, taking Him--“eating” Him, as He Himself puts it--in His entireness as a Saviour, with the bitter herbs of contrition and the unleavened bread of a sincere obedience.

II. The feast of pentecost--called also the Feast of Weeks, inasmuch as seven weeks were to be reckoned between Passover and Pentecost. And this distance of a Sabbath of weeks rules in all three meanings of this feast.

1. Its natural reference was to the completion of the harvest. It was the “Feast of harvest.” Now, two loaves baked of the first-fruits are to be waved before the Lord, with accompanying offerings (Leviticus 23:17-20). In addition to which, a free-will offering, in recognition of God’s blessing, is to be brought, and the people are called on specially to rejoice (Deuteronomy 16:10-11).

2. Its historical reference is a matter of inference. The seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost are paralleled by the seven weeks actually occurring between the deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the law from Sinai; and as the Passover commemorates the first, it is reasonable to infer that Pentecost commemorates the second. Moreover, the fulfilment which in nature Pentecost gives to the promise of the Passover is paralleled by the fulfilment which the Sinaitic law actually gave to the promise of the Exodus. For God’s first object and promise was to meet His people and reveal Himself to them in the wilderness. And this connection becomes greatly more remarkable when we notice--

3. The prospective meaning of this feast in the realm of grace. Under the Christian dispensation Pentecost has become even more illustrious than the Passover. Again God numbered to Himself seven weeks, and signalised Pentecost by the gift of the Spirit. And what the Pentecost was to the Passover, that the gilt of the Spirit is to the atonement of Christ. Look at the natural meaning of the two feasts. In the sheaf of corn the Passover furnished the material for food; in the wave loaves Pentecost presented God’s gift in the shape in which it could be used for food. So the Passover atonement furnishes a material for salvation which becomes available only through the gift of the Spirit. Or look at the historical meaning of the feasts: the Passover atonement came to effect spiritually and for the world what the Paschal Lamb effected for the Jewish nation. And the Holy Spirit came to do for the dead law what Christ in His atonement did for the Paschal Lamb. He came to write universally on men’s hearts what of old had been written for the Israelites on stone (Hebrews 8:8; Hebrews 8:10; 2 Corinthians 3:3). As the end of harvest was the fruition of its beginning, and the law the fruition of the exodus, so the pentecostal Spirit was the fruition of the atonement. Should not we who live under the dispensation of the Spirit maintain our pentecostal joy?

III. The feast of tabernacles, in the seventh month, or our October--called also the Feast of Ingathering.

1. Its natural meaning. It came after the harvest of the vineyards and olive yards. It marked the close of the year’s labours and their cumulative results, and was therefore the most joyous of the feasts (Leviticus 23:40; Deuteronomy 16:14); but--

2. The historical meaning of the feast gives us deeper insight into its joy. There is a special provision made in view of the coming settlement in Canaan, and made in order that the hardships of the wilderness may be kept fresh in the people’s memory (Leviticus 23:40; Leviticus 23:42-43). That memorial was to emphasise God’s goodness in the protection of the fathers and in the settlement of their posterity. The Feast of Tabernacles therefore marked the consummation of God’s covenant, and called for highest gratitude and joy. Specially interesting is the celebration of this feast by the Jews on their return from Babylon, where God’s goodness in bringing their forefathers through the wilderness had been a second time, and no less wondrously, manifested to them (Nehemiah 8:13-17; Psalms 126:1-6.) But--

3. The fullest meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles is in the kingdom of grace. The wonder of God’s goodness finds last and highest manifestation in the final home-bringing of His universal Church. The anti-type is the ingathering of God’s good grain into the heavenly garner. Canaan after the wilderness, Jerusalem after Babylon, are paralleled and fulfilled in the multitude that have come out of great tribulation. (Walter Roberts, M. A.)

Jewish commemorative feasts

The Scriptures record two chief outbursts of miraculous power: one at the foundation of the Hebrew commonwealth at the exodus from Egypt, and one at the time of Christ’s appearing and the foundation of Christianity. It is a matter of infinite importance to every man to ascertain whether these great miracles of the exodus and of Christ’s first advent were really wrought.

I. The facts of the case are these:

II. In the same manner, the feast of Pentecost, or the festival of the wheat harvest, fifty days after the Passover, came to be regarded as a memorial of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day after the Exodus. In like manner, the autumnal festival of Succoth, or Booths, called “The Feast of Tabernacles,” is now celebrated just as universally as the Passover in the spring, as a memorial of the children of Israel dwelling in huts or booths. These festivals and commemorations have been celebrated now for more than three thousand years.

III. The rule is that national celebrations and public monuments maintain the remembrance of real events in past ages. It may be objected that if Athens, with all its wisdom, could celebrate the fictitious history of Minerva why may we not believe that the Jews were capable of commemorating things that happened only in the imagination of later writers and poets? To this we answer:

Conditions of worship

The time is specified, and the reason is given. Every month has a memory, every day has a story, every night has a star all its own. Selected instances help us to ascertain general principles. Acting upon these instances, we become familiar with their spirit and moral genius, so much so that we begin to ask, are there not other memorable events? Are there not other times of deliverance? Have we been brought out of Egypt only? Are not all the days storied with providential love? If God is so careful about time, has He any regard for place? (Verses 5, 6.) This is morally consistent with God’s claim for gracious recollection of definite times. May we not slay the Passover where we please? Certainly not. May we not insulate ourselves, and upon little church appointments of Our own creation carry out the ceremony of our worship? Certainly not. We should strive to move in the direction at least of unity, commonwealth, fellowship, solidarity. The sacrifice is the same, the man who offers it is the same; but because it is not offered at the place which God has chosen the sacrifice and the sacrificer go for nothing. That is in harmony with all the social arrangements which experience has approved. There are fit places for all things, as well as fit times. The time having been fixed and the place determined, what remains? (Verse 10.) Here is the beginning of another kind of liberty. A wonderful word occurs in this verse: “a free-will offering.” How wonderfully God educates the human race: He will insist upon definite claims and obligations being answered, and yet He will also give opportunity for freewill action, as if He had said,--Now we shall see what you will do when left to yourselves; the law no longer presses you: the great hand is lifted, and for the time being you shall do in this matter as it may please your own mind and heart. That is an element in the Divine education of the human race. God gives us opportunities of showing ourselves to ourselves. He only would count the gift: no one should know what had been done: the sweet transaction should lie between the one soul and the living Lord. Another singular word occurs in this tenth verse:--“a tribute.” The literal meaning is that the gift is to be proportional. It would have been easy to throw a dole to the Lord that had no reference whatever to what was left behind: that would be a broad, easily-opened gate to heaven; but such is not the condition stated in the bond. Even the freewill offering is to be tributary: it is to be based upon the original substance, the actual property, whatever is in the hand as momentary possession. Thus, sacrifice is to be calculated; worship is to be the result of forethought; nothing is to be done of mere constraint or as consultative of ease and indulgence. A word of taxation touches the very poetry and pathos of oblation. “And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God,” etc. (Deuteronomy 23:11). This gives us the joyous aspect of religion. An ancient Jewish annotator has made a beautiful remark upon this verse, to the effect that “thy four, O Israel, and My four shall rejoice together.” “Thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant”--let them rejoice, let them be glad in response to music, and let them call for more music to express their ever-increasing joy; but God’s four must be there also--the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; they represent the Divine name as authority for admission to the feast. The religious servant, the poor stranger, the orphan, and the widow--they sit down, in seats divinely claimed for them, at the festive board. So the company shall be representative:--son, daughter, manservant, maidservant; priest, stranger, orphan, widow;--this is the typical company sitting down at the symbolical feast. God will not have our small house parties, made up of people of one class, equally well-dressed and accosting one another in the language of equality; He will have a large feast. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Unleavened bread

What does this unleavened bread mean? Two things, I think.

1. First, Christ; for He is the believer’s food. The unleavened bread sets forth Christ in one aspect, as much as the lamb sets Him forth in another. In the Israelite feeding upon unleavened bread, we have presented to us the believer drawing his strength from Jesus, the spotless and Holy One--the unleavened bread. “I am the bread of life.”

2. But there is another meaning of the unleavened bread, and that is holiness, uprightness, singleness of eye. Just as the bread was not the main staple of the Passover feast, but the lamb, so holiness is the accompaniment rather than the principal portion of the Christian feast. In the case of every believer the unleavened bread must accompany feeding upon Christ as the lamb. God has joined these two things together, let us not put them asunder. If we are redeemed by the blood of the lamb, let us live upon the unleavened bread; let us show forth the sincerity and truth which God requires in our life. “For even Christ our passover was sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7). (S. A. Blackwood.)


Verses 4-11

Deuteronomy 15:4-11

Save when there shall be no poor among you.

Rural poverty

These two sentences (Deuteronomy 15:4; Deuteronomy 11:1-32) seem, at first sight, to contradict one another. There are three ways of reading the fourth verse. “Save when there shall be no poor among you,” says the text. “To the end that there be no poor,” reads the margin. Howbeit, there shall be no poor with thee, runs the Revised Version. The explanation may be briefly put thus: There would always be poor people among them; “howbeit, they must not let them be poor, i.e. not let them sink down in poverty.

I. The existence of poverty. My own experience has been that those who are most hurt cry out least. The most deserving, and generally the most pitiful, cases of distress have to be looked for. But, say some, is it not their own fault that they are so badly off? No doubt it often is so. Idleness, drink, waste, folly, incapableness may all cause poverty; but what of that? We cannot stand by and see people starve. It would be easier to die by hanging than hunger; but we do not even hang people except for high treason or murder. Much more must we not by any sin of omission condemn the innocent to suffer with the guilty--the hardworking wife or the helpless children for the sake of the worthless husband or father. The fact is that poverty is largely the consequence of an unequal struggle between the strong and the weak.

II. The duty of relieving poverty. Look at what Moses taught the Israelites.

1. That prevention is better than cure. There was never to be a “bitter cry of outcast” Canaan.

2. That each nation, or community, or church, should care for its own poor.

3. That charity should be systematic. The time was precise--every third year; the quantity was precise--one tenth; the object was precise--“thy poor brother.”

Contrast with these laws of Moses the teaching of Christ.

1. The law of Moses aimed at preventing poverty. Christ came and found men poor. He did more than prevent; He cured. To heal sickness is a harder task than to maintain health. To deliver the needy when he crieth is often more difficult than to preserve him before he has had occasion to cry. Moses provided for keeping people up who were not overthrown; Christ actually went down to the low dark depths, and raised those who were sunk there.

2. Moses taught that each nation, or community, or church, should care for its own. To go beyond that was permitted, but not enjoined. Christ taught a much broader truth than that--charity without distinction. Our neighbour is not the person who lives next door to us, or who has most affinity with us; but the person who is nearest to our helping hand, even though he be a Jew and we are Samaritans. Our first duty is to our own, but not our last. Charity begins at home, but does not end there.

3. Moses was systematic, but Christ was above systems. There was no fixed standard with Him, except this. “Sell all that thou hast and distribute unto the poor.” There was no stint in His giving. It was not certain objects of His kindness whom He blessed: “Whosoever will, let him come.” It was not every few years merely that He was benevolent; but “yesterday, today, and forever.” (Charles T. Price.)

The poor laws of the Bible; or, rules and reasons for the relief of the distressed

I. The rules that are here suggested for the relief of the poor.

1. Contiguity. It is the poor “in thy land.” Those living nearest us, other things being equal, have the first claim on our charity. Let it bless as it goes; work as the leaven in the meal, from particle to particle, until it gives its spirit to the mass.

2. Heartiness. “Thou shalt not harden,” etc. The heart must go with the deed.

3. Liberality. “Open thine hand wide unto him.” The liberality of men is not to be judged by the sums they subscribe, but by the means they possess.

II. The reasons that are here suggested for the relief of the poor.

1. Your relationship to the poor. “He is thy brother.” He has the same origin, the same nature, the same great Father, the same moral relationships, as thyself.

2. The imprecation of the poor. “And he cry,” etc.

3. The blessedness insured to the friend of the poor.

4. The Divine plan as to the permanent existence of the poor. (Homilist.)

General Gordon’s benevolence

A poor dragoman told me that General Gordon used to come often to his house in Jerusalem when he and his wife lay ill, and that he would take any cushion or mat and put it on the floor as a seat, there being no chairs or furniture, and sit down with his Testament to read and speak to them about Christ. But his zeal did not end with such easy philanthropy. Ascertaining that a doctor’s account had been incurred to the amount of three pounds, he went off secretly and paid it. Far away at Khartoum, he still thought of one whom he had thus striven to lead into the fold of Christ, and sent a letter to him which reached Jerusalem almost at the same time as the news of its writer’s death. “That letter,” said the poor Copt, “I would not part with for all that is in the world. General Gordon was a real Christian. He gave away all he had to the poor in Jerusalem and the villages round, and the people mourn for him as for their father.”

Kindness to the poor

A poor sewing girl, who went to the late Dr. John F. Gray for advice, was given a, phial of medicine and told to go home and go to bed. “I can’t do that, doctor, the girl replied, “for I am dependent on what I earn every day for my living.” “If that’s so,” said Dr. Gray, I’ll change, the medicine, a little. Give me back that phial.” He then wrapped around it a ten-dollar bill, and returning it to her, reiterated his order, “Go home and go to bed,” adding, “take the medicine, cover and all.” He who takes account of the cups of cold water will not forget such deeds of kindness and charity. Oh to hear Him say at the last, “Ye have done it unto Me!”

The misery of a niggardly spirit

In Rochester there lived a wealthy man who made a great profession of religion; he knelt at communion seasons and attended church with great regularity, but be would not give one shilling to the poor, nor to any other person. In the year 1862, I asked a trifle of money from him to relieve some families who were in great distress, but he refused, saying, “I am a poor man, sir; I am a poor man.” Listen to what this thorny-ground hearer said, as he lay with glazing, dying eyes, to a clergyman who, noticing his lips move, bent down to catch the whisper, “Ninety thousand pounds, and I must leave it all behind me!” If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren.

Brotherly love

As God had chosen all Israel, so He desired that they should love as brethren. Each was to stand by the other, and all were to be zealous for the Divine honour. Thus they would bear, in contradistinction to the heathen, the character of a people consecrated to God. But even in Israel there were rich and poor, happy and unhappy. Wherever men went the poor and afflicted would be met with. Therefore the people were exhorted to hold heart and hand open--not to harden the heart nor shut the hand. Each was to be ready to stand by his fellow to see that his brother should not suffer.

I. God’s people ever have sympathy with their brethren.

1. If we belong to the people of God--if this were so in Israel, much more should it be among Christians--then there will be in our hearts a tender feeling toward our fellow men--a feeling implanted by God Himself. The heart will say: “This is thy brother; help him.” This results from God’s love in the heart, which leads the brethren to “love one another.”

2. But this tender-heartedness can be destroyed and the heart be hardened, even among Christians, and this against the light of conscience. They often do as it is rumoured the New Zealanders did with their children. They pressed down the necks of the children under a flinty stone in order to harden them, so Christians make their hearts sometimes hard as flints through avariciousness. The avaricious heart ever thinks: “This belongs to me and to no one else, and none shall share it.”

3. This is not well-pleasing to God. He sees that by covetousness men are led to destruction, and to reject His love toward them. For when men are so hard-hearted, how can they have the love of God in them?

II. The hearts and hands of God’s people are open toward their brethren.

1. When this is so, then the love of God has full scope in their hearts; and thus He causes through those open hands and hearts much good to flow out into this evil world. For to His children who are ever ready to give to those who need He will give yet more, so that from their increased store they may give yet more fully to others, and that thus these also may learn to praise God.

2. Therefore he who has a kind heart and open hand will experience and receive a blessing. As he gives, so he receives. It is with such as with Cornelius: “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up before God.” Thus, too, the way is made open for the reception of God’s gifts both temporal and spiritual. Let us all, then, endeavour to preserve a tender heart, arid not let our heart be hardened. (J. C. Blumhardt.)

And he cry unto the Lord against thee.--

The cry of the poor

The poor cry to heaven--from the scenes of oppressive labour, from wretched hovels, from beds of straw, shivering in the cold, from the depths of starvation, they cry! Many a poor mother in these blood-freezing nights hugs to her shivering bosom her starving infant, and tries to hush its cries of cold and hunger with the wails of her own broken heart. God alone knows the cries that rise and pierce the heavens every night from this “great country”--as the cant is. Alas! Alas! that from this land, overflowing with luxuries and burdened with wealth, such wails of wretchedness should rise! Against whom do they cry? Against their Maker? No! The most unobservant of them can scarcely fail to discover that He sends food enough for all. Besides, deep and ineradicably rooted in the heart of all is the sentiment that God is good--a sentiment this, which seems to me the core of conscience. Against the overreaching monopolist, the iron-hearted miser, the ruthless oppressor, the man who has the power to help but not the heart. Against all selfish men and unrighteous laws that grind the people down, they cry--and cry with unremitting vehemence too. Will He hear? Is the ear of Him who heard of old the cries of the enslaved millions in Egypt, and interposed with avenging thunders for their rescue, grown heavy? Nay, modern oppressor! Those cries shall be answered; not a solitary wail shall die away unheeded. Woe to the nation that oppresses the poor! Woe! and again, woe! when retribution comes, as come it must. (Homilist.)

The poor shall never cease out of the land.--

God’s ordinance of rich and poor

I. The perpetual existence of the poor amongst us. You must become reconciled to your poverty. And if you would become really reconciled to it do not regard it as something inflicted by the misgovernment or the management of your fellow men. Put it before you in the light this text puts it, as God’s ordinance and God’s will concerning you; as something that rulers and governors can no more drive out of the world than they can drive midnight out of it, or sickness, or pain, or sorrow. Poverty is to be alleviated, and it is to be removed if honest industry will remove it; but if not so, it is to be welcomed and borne. I could tell you where it often comes from. From the poor man’s own idleness, improvidence, intemperance, and waste; from the foolish indulgence of children; from the still more criminal indulgence of self. But even then it is from God; it is God’s way of showing displeasure against these things. And when it comes not from these things, where does it come from? Often from a love that neither you nor I, nor any angel above us, can measure. The same love that provided a Saviour and built a heaven for sinners now sends poverty often to sinners, to turn them to that Saviour and heaven.

II. Our duty towards the poor. Now if we looked only at the declaration in the first part of the text, and were disposed to reason on it, we might say, Be our duty to the poor what it may, we must not interfere with their poverty; it is God’s will they should be poor, and we must not interfere with His will. This would be like saying, God has sent sickness amongst us, and we must not make use of any means to cure or relieve it; or, He has made the winter, and we will do nothing to mitigate the rigour of it; or, He has created the darkness, and it is wrong to have lights in our dwelling to enlighten it. Many of what we call the evils of our condition are designed of God to bring into lawful and healthy action the powers of man’s mind and the feelings of man’s heart, and this evil of poverty among the number. “The poor shall never cease out of the land”; that is My will, says God. “Therefore I command thee”--what? to let the needy alone in their poverty? No; I have placed them in the land to call forth and exercise thy bounty. The painful work is Mine--I have ordained poverty; the pleasant work shall be thine--thou shalt relieve it. “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor and to thy needy in thy land.” It is a touching circumstance that not only is the general duty of what we call charity to the poor enjoined in Scripture, but so great is the interest God takes in it that the measure and manner of it are strongly enjoined. Here we are told, in the first place, that it must be liberal. “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother.” And it must be extensive charity; that is, as extensive as we can make it. “I will not give my money,” we sometimes say, “to this man or that; he has no claim on me; I must keep the little I have to spare for those who have claims on me.” But look again, “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother”--to “thy brother” first, to those who from relationship or from some other cause seem to have claims on thee; but not to “thy brother” only, “to thy poor and to thy needy in thy land.” The words are multiplied; to those who have no claims whatever on thee but their poverty and their need. And it must be also a cheerful charity.

III. We may go on now to the motives by which we are urged to the exercise of this grace. For these, some of you may be ready to say, I must turn to the Gospel. But no, the God of the Gospel is the God of the law also, the God of the Christian Church was the God of the ancient Church, and there is no motive urged now on us in these Gospel days which was not urged in substance on the Jews in the days of old.

1. For instance, to begin, our own mercies are made use of under the Gospel to impel us to show mercy to others. “Freely ye have received,” our Lord says, “freely give.” Now look at this chapter. “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor and to thy needy”--why? “For the Lord thy God,” the sixth verse says, is opening His hand wide unto thee; He “is blessing thee,” and blessing thee as abundantly as He said He would; “the Lord thy God blesseth thee as He promised thee.”

2. But again, the special love of God to the poor is another reason why our hands should be opened to them. Of all the books that were ever written, no book manifests such care for the poor as the Bible. This has often been noticed by those who have closely studied this book, and many others with it, as one of the many internal evidences of its Divine original. But turn to the tenth chapter of the part of it now before us, the nineteenth verse. “Love ye therefore the stranger,” says God. And why? Ye yourselves, He adds, “were strangers in the land of Egypt.” But this is not the only reason; read what goes before. The Lord Himself “loveth the stranger.” “The Lord loveth the stranger,” “love ye therefore the stranger,” says God. And this applies with much greater force to the widow and fatherless. If natural feeling, as we call it--if our own parental feelings--do not incline us to open our hand to them, let the feelings of God towards them incline us to do so. I love the fatherless, He says; let us, for His sake, because He loves them, love them also.

3. But here is a third motive pressed on you; this “opening of our hand” to the poor will lead the Lord to open His hand to us. “For this thing,” we read in the verse before the text--“for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.” This is the legal promise, you may say. And true, it is; but the Lord is not less bountiful or less generous under the Gospel than under the law. (U. Bradley, M. A.)

Duty of the Church towards the poor

Consider--

I. That poverty is a real evil which, without any impeachment of the goodness or wisdom of providence, the constitution of the world actually admits.

II. That providential appointment of this evil in subservience to the general good, brings a particular obligation upon men in civilised society to concur for the immediate extinction of the evil wherever it appears. (Bp. Horsley.)

Poverty no accident

“The poor shall never cease out of the land.” That is a remark which is not understood. Poverty is not an accident; there is a moral mystery connected with poverty which has never yet been found out. The sick chamber makes the house, the infirm member of the family rules its tenderest thinking. Poverty has a great function to work out in the social scheme, but whilst we admit this we must not take the permanence of poverty as an argument for neglect; it is an argument for solicitude, it is an appeal to benevolence, it is an opportunity to soften the heart and cultivate the highest graces of the soul. It is perfectly true that the bulk of poor people may have brought their poverty upon themselves, but who are we that we should make rough speeches about them? What have we brought upon ourselves? If we are more respectable than others, it is still the respectability of thieves and liars and selfish plotters. We, who are apparently more industrious and virtuous and regardful, are not made of different clay, and are not animated by a different blood. It is perfectly true that a thousand people may have brought today’s poverty upon themselves, and they will have to suffer for it; but beyond all these accidents or incidents there is the solemn fact that poverty is a permanent quantity, for moral reasons which appeal to the higher instincts of the social commonwealth. We have that we may give, we are strong that we may support the weak, we are wise that we may teach the ignorant. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” No man has the slightest occasion or reason for reproaching any other man, except in relation to the immediate circumstance. If the assize were on a larger scale, and we were all involved in the scrutiny, the issue would be this, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Open thine hand wide unto thy brother.--

The duty of Christian charity

I. It is due to the constitution of society. “The poor always ye have with you.” We shall perhaps think correctly on the subject if we admit as the will of God that in every state of society there shall be poor, and that a provision for the production of this fact is laid in the gifts of His providence, in the constitution of men, and in the scheme of His moral government.

II. Charity is due to ourselves. It is due to ourselves, as we would wish with uprightness to discharge the duties of that station in which we are placed. To administer relief to the poor is graciously connected with our present comfort and our future well-being. The very act of charity is accompanied with the most refined complacency; it is answering that sympathy which is born in the heart of every man, and which, unless stifled by unnatural discipline, calls loudly for gratification. They are happy who are the objects of your bounty, but ye who have experienced it can tell that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Connected with this is that blessing over our worldly concerns “which maketh rich, and to which is added no sorrow.” And let it be remembered, that prosperity is but for a season; now, therefore, it is time to lay up a store of good deeds, the remembrance of which shall be the best support when misfortune overtakes the prosperous. Let it be remembered yet again that what possessions men have are not their own, but are the property of their Master, who hath committed it to their stewardship. All their opportunities, and all their means of doing good, must he accounted for.

III. It is due to religion--to a religion which is in its origin, its effects, its principle, and its precepts a system of charity; a religion which, originating in the love of God, proposes to restore to happiness and dignity those who are “poor, and miserable, and wretched, and blind, and naked.” They to whom mercy is shown should be merciful. This is what Christianity requires, nay, what it affirms to be the amount and the criterion of a genuine profession.

IV. It is due to the poor. As a something voluntary is implied in the idea of charity, it may sound paradoxical to speak of the rights of the poor on the charity of the rich. But the incongruity is only in sound, for it is an acknowledged maxim of civil economy that the poor (the industrious poor, of whom only I now speak) have an absolute right to be supported by the State, whose agriculture, commerce, and manufactures have benefited by their exertions. Further, the poor have a right as brethren, and this is a right which the heart of a Christian cannot deny.

V. It is due to the age in which we live--an age characterised for beneficence, an age distinguished above all others for the magnitude of its political events, for the advancement of science, for the general diffusion of literature, and more especially for a spirit that has amalgamated all classes of society, the most opposite ranks and professions, into one mass, and stamped the whole with benevolence. (A. Waugh, M. A.)

The best mode of charity

It is of importance not only that we should do good, but that we should do it in the best manner. A little judgment and a little reflection added to the gift does not merely enhance the value, but often gives to it the only value which it possesses, and even prevents that mischief of which thoughtless benevolence is sometimes the cause.

1. Mankind can never be too strongly or too frequently cautioned against self-deception. If a state of vice be a state of misery, a state of vice of which we are ignorant is doubly so, from the increased probability of its duration. It is surprising how many men are cheated by flighty sentiments of humanity into a belief that they are humane, how frequently charitable words are mistaken for charitable deeds, and a beautiful picture of misery for an effectual relief of it.

2. Another important point in the administration of charity is a proper choice of the objects we relieve. To give promiscuously is better, perhaps, than not to give at all, but instead of risking the chance of encouraging imposture, discover some worthy family struggling up against the world, a widow with her helpless children, old people incapable of labour, or orphans destitute of protection and advice; suppose you were gradually to attach yourselves to such real objects of compassion, to learn their wants, to stimulate their industry, and to correct their vices; surely these two species of charity are not to be compared together in the utility or in the extent of their effects, in the benevolence they evince or in the merits they confer.

3. The true reason why this species of charity is so rarely practised is that we are afraid of imposing such a severe task upon our indolence, though, in truth, all these kinds of difficulties are extremely overrated. When once we have made ourselves acquainted with a poor family, and got into a regular train of seeing them at intervals, the trouble is hardly felt and the time scarcely missed; and if it is missed, ought it to be missed?

4. These charitable visits to the poor, which I have endeavoured to inculcate, are of importance, not only because they prevent imposture by making you certain of the misery which you relieve, but because they produce an appeal to the senses which is highly favourable to the cultivation of charity. He who only knows the misfortunes of mankind at second hand and by description has but a faint idea of what is really suffered in the world. We feel, it may be said, the eloquence of description, but what is all the eloquence of art to that mighty and original eloquence with which nature pleads her cause; to the eloquence of paleness and of hunger; to the eloquence of sickness and of wounds; to the eloquence of extreme old age, of helpless infancy, of friendless want! What pleadings so powerful as the wretched hovels of the pool, and the whole system of their comfortless economy!

5. You are not, I hope, of opinion that these kinds of cares devolve upon the clergy alone, as the necessary labours of their profession, but upon everyone whose faith teaches And whose fortune enables him to be humane.

6. Nor let it be imagined that the duties which I have pointed out are much less imperative because the law has taken to itself the protection of the poor; the law must hold out a scanty relief, or it would encourage more misery than it relieved: the law cannot distinguish between the poverty of idleness and the poverty of misfortune; the law degrades those whom it relieves, and many prefer wretchedness to public aid; do not, therefore, spare yourselves from a belief that the poor are well taken care of by the civil power, and that individual interference is superfluous. Many die in secret,--they perish and are forgotten.

7. Remember that every charity is short-lived and inefficacious which flows from any other motive than the right. There is a charity which originates from the romantic fiction of humble virtue and innocence in distress, but this will be soon disgusted by low artifice and scared by brutal vice. The charity which proceeds from ostentation can exist no longer than when its motives remain undetected. There is a charity which is meant to excite the feelings of gratitude, but this will meet with its termination in disappointment. That charity alone endures which flows from a sense of duty and a hope in God. This is the charity that treads in secret those paths of misery from which all but the lowest of human wretches have fled; this is that charity which no labour can weary, no ingratitude detach, no horror disgust; that toils, that pardons, that suffers, that is seen by no man, and honoured by no man, but, like the great laws of nature, does the work of God in silence, and looks to future and better worlds for its reward. (Sydney Smith, M. A.)


Verses 12-18

Deuteronomy 15:12-18

Remember that thou wast a bondman.

Remember

In an autobiography of William Jay we read that on one occasion he called to see the famous Mr. John Newton at Olney, and he observed that over the desk at which he was accustomed to compose his sermons he had written up in very large letters the following words: “Remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee.” To my mind this story invests the text with considerable interest; it was most fitting that such a remarkable convert as he should dwell upon such a theme, and place such a text conspicuously before his own eyes. Might it not with great propriety be placed in a similar position by each one of us? Mr. Newton lived and acted under the influence of the memory which the text commands, as was seen that very morning in his conversation with Mr. Jay. “Sir,” said Mr. Newton, “I am glad to see you, for I have a letter just come from Bath, and you can perhaps assist me in the answer to it. Do you know anything of So-and-so (mentioning the name)?” Mr. Jay replied that the man was an awful character, had once been a hearer of the Gospel, but had become a leader in every vice. “But, sir,” said Mr. Newton, “he writes very penitently; and who can tell. Perhaps a change may have come over him. Well, said Mr. Jay, “I can only say that if ever he should be converted I should despair of no one.” “And I,” said Mr. Newton, “never have despaired of anybody since I was converted myself.” So, you see, as he thought of this poor sinner at Bath he was remembering that he also was a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord his God had redeemed him; and why should not the same redemption reach even to this notorious transgressor and save him? The memory of his own gracious change of heart and life gave him tenderness in dealing with the erring, and hopefulness with regard to their restoration.

I. First let us consider our bondage. It was exceedingly like the bondage of the children of Israel in Egypt.

1. First, when we were unregenerate, and sold under sin, we were enslaved to a mighty power against which we could not contend. If man had been capable of his own redemption there would never have descended from heaven the Divine Redeemer; but because the bondage was all too dire for man to set himself free, therefore the eternal Son of God came hither that He might save His people from their sins. The prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, held us beneath his iron sway, and sin exercised a tyrannical dominion over us, from which we could not break.

2. Our slavery had so degraded us that we had no heart to desire an escape. One of the worst points of slavery is, that it frequently degrades men into contentment with their condition. That would be thought by some to be a benefit, but it is a giant evil, for a man has no right to be satisfied in slavery. Such contentment is an ensign of debased manhood.

3. Remember, again, that you were in a bondage similar to that of Egypt, for while in that condition you toiled hard and found that all the service wherein Satan made you to serve was with rigour. The Israelites built treasure cities for Pharaoh, and they are supposed to have erected some of the pyramids; but their wage was very small, and their taskmasters were brutal. Could not many a sinner tell of horrible nights and woeful mornings, when under the power of his passions? Who hath woe? who hath redness of the eyes? who is filled with dread of death? who flees when no man pursueth? Of all tyrants, sin and Satan are the most cruel. If men were but in their senses, drunkenness, gambling, gluttony, wantonness, and many other vices would be rather punishments than pleasures, and yet they abide in them.

4. There was a time when, in addition to our hard toil, our bondage brought us misery. Do you not remember when you dared not think a day’s conduct over for the life of you? I recollect also when a sense of sin came over me; and then, indeed, my life was made bitter with hard bondage.

5. All this while our enemy was aiming at our destruction. This was what Pharaoh was driving at with Israel; he intended to cut off the nation by severe tasks, or at least to reduce its strength. As his first policy did not succeed, he set about to destroy the male children; and even so Satan, when he has men under his power, labours by all means utterly to destroy them; for nothing short of this will satisfy him. Every hopeful thought he would drown in the river of despair, lest by any means the man should shake off his yoke. The total overthrow of the soul of man is the aim of the great enemy. What a mercy to have been redeemed out of the hand of the enemy!

6. And like Israel in Egypt, we were in the hands of a power that would not let us go, Your sins captivated you. Then came the reading of the Scriptures, or a mother’s exhortation, or another earnest sermon, and again the voice was heard, “Thus saith the Lord, let My people go” You began to feel uneasy in your condition, and to venture somewhat into the border country, but you could not escape, the iron had entered into your soul, your heart was captive. Blessed was the day when the strong man armed that kept you as a man keeps his house was overcome by a stronger than he and cast out forever. Then Jesus took possession of your nature, never to leave it, but to hold His tenancy world without end. We were bondmen in Egypt, but the Lord our God redeemed us, and let His name be praised.

II. The blessed fact of our redemption: “The Lord thy God redeemed thee.” Here again there is a parallel.

1. He redeemed us first by price. Israel in Egypt was an unransomed nation. God claimed of that nation the firstborn to be His. That portion had been His claim from the first, and the law was afterwards carried out by the setting apart of the Levitical tribe to take the place of the firstborn; but Israel in Egypt had never set apart its firstborn at all, and was therefore an unredeemed people. How was all that indebtedness to be made up? The nation must be redeemed by a price, and that price was set forth by the symbol of a lamb which was killed, and roasted, and eaten, while the blood was smeared upon the lintel and the two side posts. You and I have been redeemed with blood (Revelation 5:9; 1 Peter 1:18).

2. But there would not have been a coming out of Egypt unless there had been a display of power as well as a payment of price, for with a high hand and an outstretched arm the Lord brought forth His people. Greater than Moses’ rod was Christ’s pierced hand. Our tyrant hath no more power to hold us in chains, for Christ hath vanquished him forever.

3. Another form of redemption was also seen by Israel, namely, in the power exerted over themselves. I think sufficient stress has never been laid upon this. That they should have been willing to come out of Egypt was no small thing,--universally willing, so that not a single person remained behind. Marvellous display of power this; and so we will tell it to the praise of God this day, that He made us willing to come out of the Egypt of our sin to which we were rooted; and making us willing, He made us able too; the power of the Spirit came upon us and the might of His grace overshadowed us, and we did arise and come to our Father. Let grace have all the glory. Shall I need to press upon you, then, to let your minds fly back to the time when you realised your redemption, and came up out of the land of Egypt?

III. The influence which this double memory ought to have upon you.

1. We should naturally conclude, without any reference to Scripture, that if a Christian man kept always in mind his former and his present state it would render him humble. Thou wouldst have been in hell now if it had not been for sovereign grace; or if not there, perhaps thou wouldst have been among drunkards and swearers, and lewd men and women, or at least among the proud, self-righteous Pharisees. When thou art honoured of the Lord and happy in the full assurance of faith, still remember that thou wast a bondman, and walk humbly with thy God.

2. In the next place, be grateful. If you have not all the temporal mercies that you would desire, yet you have received the choicest of all mercies, liberty through Jesus Christ, therefore be cheerful, happy, and thankful.

3. Being grateful, be patient too. If you are suffering, or if sometimes your spirits are cast down, or if you are poor and despised, yet say to yourself, “Why should I complain? My lot may seem hard, yet it is nothing in comparison with what it would have been if I had been left a prisoner in the land of Egypt. Thank God, I am no longer in bondage to my sins.”

4. Next, be hopeful. What may you not yet become? “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” You were a bondman, but grace has set you free. Who knows what the Lord may yet make of you?

5. Then be zealous. Here earnestness should find both fire and fuel; we were bondmen, but the Lord has redeemed us. What, then, can be too hard for us to undertake for His sake? John Newton persisted in preaching even when he was really incapable of it, for he said, “What, shall the old African blasphemer leave off preaching Jesus Christ while there is breath in his body? No, never.” He felt that he must continue to bear testimony, for our text was always before him, “Remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee.”

6. But now follow me while I show you the Lord’s own use of this remembrance; and the first text I shall quote will be found in chap. 5:14. You were a bondman. What would you have given for rest then? Now that the Lord has given you this hallowed day of rest, guard it sacredly. Rest in the Lord Jesus yourself, but endeavour to bring all your family into the same peace, “that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.” In chap.

7. we have another use of this remembrance. Here the chosen people are commanded to keep separate from the nations. They were not to intermarry with the Canaanites, nor make alliances with them. Israel was to be separated, even as Moses said, “thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God.” And the reason he gives in the eighth verse is this: “the Lord redeemed thee out of the house of bondmen.” Ah, if we are redeemed from among men, then as the specially blood-bought ones we are under solemn obligations to come out from the world and to be separate from it. In the eighth chapter redemption is used as an argument for obedience, and they are exhorted not to forget the laws and statutes of the Lord, and above all warned lest in the midst of prosperity their heart should be lifted up so as to forget the Lord their God, who brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. The same argument runs through the eleventh chapter, and is a very clear one. We ought to render glad obedience to Him who has wrought us so great a deliverance. We find in the thirteenth chapter that the redemption from bondage is used as an argument for loyal attachment to the one and only God. Our own text is set in the following connection. If a man entered into forced servitude, or came under any bonds to his fellow man among the Jews, he could only be so held for six years, and on the seventh he was to go free. The Lord’s people should be considerate of those who are in their employment. The recollection of their own bondage should make them tender and kind to those who are in subservience to themselves, and never should a Christian man be ungenerous, illiberal, severe, churlish with his servant, or with any who are dependent upon him. There should be in a man redeemed with the blood of Christ something like nobility of soul and benevolence to his fellow men, and so even this stern book of law teaches us. I remind you that they were bound to keep the Passover because of their deliverance from Egypt as we find in the sixteenth chapter at the first verse. So let us also take heed unto ourselves that we keep all the statutes and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. Let us keep the ordinances as they were delivered unto us, and neither alter nor misplace them. Again, in the sixteenth chapter, verses 10 to 12, you have the great redemption used as an argument for liberality towards the cause of God: they were to give unto the Lord rejoicingly of that which the Lord had given to them. “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He hath given thee”; and that because of the twelfth verse, “Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes.” In the twenty-sixth chapter the same teaching is reduced to a set form, for they were there commanded to bring each one a basket of first fruits and offer it unto the Lord, saying, “The Lord brought us forth out of Egypt,” etc. Last of all, in the twenty-fourth chapter there remains one more lesson. We are there exhorted to be careful concerning the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 24:17). A generous spirit was to be exhibited towards the poor. Be ye thoughtful of all your fellow men. You that have been redeemed with price, be ye tender-hearted, full of compassion, putting on bowels of mercy. In spiritual things take care that you never rake the corners of your fields. Do not rob the Gospel of its sweetness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The release of bond-servants

In this ordinance we may see--

I. An encouraging emblem. It represents--

1. The redemption which God vouchsafes to His people.

2. The mercy which He exercises towards His redeemed.

II. An instructive lesson. We are to regard God’s mercies as--

1. A pattern for our imitation.

2. A notice for our exertion. (C. Simeon, M. A.)


Verse 20

Deuteronomy 15:20

Eat it before the Lord thy God year by year.

Memorial days

“Year by year.” It might seem at first sight, antecedent to experience, a surprising thing that the mere mechanical movement of the earth through the heavens should have any special relationship to man’s mind and spirit. Yet we know that it has. Our memory associates special experiences with certain seasons and days. As the season or day returns the event is recalled, and sometimes the impressions awakened by it have, apparently, all their original sharpness. So, in this regard, the course of the heavens comes to be, as it were, a colossal memorandum book.

1. There is a sure evidence of the event seen in the fact of its commemoration.

2. We are taught how comparatively rare are these conspicuous and startling events which punctuate our public and private life. It is well for the sanity of the human mind that life is not filled with startling events. It would be like substituting pyrotechnics for the moonlight, or the stars for the silent skies. It is in the ordinary quiet on going of life that we find healthfulness of heart.

3. Life is always, serious. For we are ever treading on the edge of something unexpected, it may be something terrible. Let us walk circumspectly, and realise that we may always dwell under the shield of God’s providence and under the light of His promises.

4. We see the innate superiority of mind to all temporary events. You recall perhaps your wedding day, the hour, the place, the guests, the joy, through a score of years, a half century ago. Intervals of time fade from view in presence of this supreme experience, just as you look from one lofty peak to another and think not of field, valley, and river between. You see those shining points of life when you were at twenty, forty, or sixty years of age, and lesser experiences are hidden. The mind itself is superior to mere measurements of time, and so is constituted for immortality; is akin to Him to whom a thousand years are but as yesterday.

5. How deep in us is the element of affection which has its expression in the anniversary or festival. As we review the past our memory clings to those experiences in which the heart has a part, those which have touched its springs of joy and grief. We properly cultivate intellectual strength, power of will and endurance, but, after all, it is love that is supreme. Love brings us nearer Him who is perfect love.

6. A sweet illustration of the grace of God in the Gospel is furnished in the fact, with which every believer is familiar, that in these remembered events sorrow loses its sting and joy comes to be even more full in reminiscence than it was at first. Our sorrow only makes more glorious the preciousness and amplitude of Divine grace and sympathy, just as the glory of the sun, shot through a dark cloud, illumines and transfigures it by its splendour and its peace.

7. What a rest it is to the aged to recall the past when they are released from life’s active and strenuous struggles! They are like ships home from long voyages, moated in a quiet harbour, where the memory of storms that are past only enhances the serenity and peace enjoyed.

8. Whatever measurements may hereafter be had as to time and eternity in our immortal life, one thing is certain: we will keep one point in vivid remembrance--that of our entrance into life, when we first knew the joys eternal. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 15:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/deuteronomy-15.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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