Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 15:1 - 15:1

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Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 15:1 - 15:1

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On the Year of Release. - The first two regulations in this chapter, viz., Deu 15:1-11 and Deu 15:12-18, follow simply upon the law concerning the poor tithe in Deu 14:28-29. The Israelites were not only to cause those who had no possessions (Levites, strangers, widows, and orphans) to refresh themselves with the produce of their inheritance, but they were not to force and oppress the poor. Debtors especially were not to be deprived of the blessings of the sabbatical year (Deu 15:1-6). “At the end of seven years thou shalt make a release.” The expression, “at the end of seven years,” is to be understood in the same way as the corresponding phrase, “at the end of three years,” in Deu 14:28. The end of seven years, i.e., of the seven years' cycle formed by the sabbatical year, is mentioned as the time when debts that had been contracted were usually wiped off or demanded, after the year's harvest had been gathered in (cf. Deu 31:10, according to which the feast of Tabernacles occurred at the end of the year). שְׁמִטָּה, from שָׁמַט morf ,, to let lie, to let go (cf. Exo 23:11), does not signify a remission of the debt, the relinquishing of all claim for payment, as Philo and the Talmudists affirm, but simply lengthening the term, not pressing for payment. This is the explanation in Deu 15:2 : “This is the manner of the release” (shemittah): cf. Deu 19:4; 1Ki 9:15. “Every owner of a loan of his hand shall release (leave) what he has lent to his neighbour; he shall not press his neighbour, and indeed his brother; for they have proclaimed release for Jehovah.” As שָׁמֹוט (release) points unmistakeably back to Exo 23:11, it must be interpreted in the same manner here as there. And as it is not used there to denote the entire renunciation of a field or possession, so here it cannot mean the entire renunciation of what had been lent, but simply leaving it, i.e., not pressing for it during the seventh year. This is favoured by what follows, “thou shalt not press thy neighbour,” which simply forbids an unreserved demand, but does not require that the debt should be remitted or presented to the debtor (see also Bähr, Symbolik, ii. pp. 570-1). “The loan of the hand:” what the hand has lent to another. “The master of the loan of the hand:” i.e., the owner of a loan, the lender. “His brother” defines with greater precision the idea of “a neighbour.” Calling a release, presupposes that the sabbatical year was publicly proclaimed, like the year of jubilee (Lev 25:9). קָרָא is impersonal (“they call”), as in Gen 11:9 and Gen 16:14. “For Jehovah:” i.e., in honour of Jehovah, sanctified to Him, as in Exo 12:42. - This law points back to the institution of the sabbatical year in Exo 23:10; Lev 25:2-7, though it is not to be regarded as an appendix to the law of the sabbatical year, or an expansion of it, but simply as an exposition of what was already implied in the main provision of that law, viz., that the cultivation of the land should be suspended in the sabbatical year. If no harvest was gathered in, and even such produce as had grown without sowing was to be left to the poor and the beasts of the field, the landowner could have no income from which to pay his debts. The fact that the “sabbatical year” is not expressly mentioned, may be accounted for on the ground, that even in the principal law itself this name does not occur; and it is simply commanded that every seventh year there was to be a sabbath of rest to the land (Lev 25:4). In the subsequent passages in which it is referred to (Deu 15:9 and Deu 31:10), it is still not called a sabbatical year, but simply the “year of release,” and that not merely with reference to debtors, but also with reference to the release (Shemittah) to be allowed to the field (Exo 23:11).