Friday, August 24, 2012

God's Heart for the Humbled (Part 4 - Canceling Debts)

(Here at Venture, we believe that God's heart is with the humbled.  He cares deeply for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.  There are two main reasons God's heart is with the humbled: (1) He is compassionate beyond understanding and (2) He wants to make it clear to the world that when He does something it is Him doing it, not people.  So, we are taking some time to tour the Bible and see God's heart for the humbled.  See all our  posts in this series here.)

The next stop in our tour of God's Heart for the Humbled is in Kadesh Barnea on the east side of the Jordan about 40 years after the Exodus.  God's nation, Israel, is about to enter the promise land and Moses is about to die.  But before they enter, Moses retells them God's law, reminding them of what God requires of them when they receive the land He gives to them.

In the 15th chapter of Deuteronomy we read this: 

At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.  This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite.  The shall not require payment from anyone of their own people, because the time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. (Deut 15:1-2)

We see here that God instituted a system that would cut the length of time that debts could be held in Israel to seven years.  Debt was a dangerous thing that could easily ruin a life and often led to slavery.  It would have be easy for one person to have a bad harvest, go into debt, then have it hanging over them for the rest of their lives.  So, in order to free people from the oppressiveness of debt, God instituted a seven year statue of limitations.  But, there is more:

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.  Rather be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.  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. (Deut 15:7-9)

With a law that required the canceling of debts every seven years it would be easy for people to be generous in the first year and stingy in the seventh.  But God warns about this sort of greed.  Instead, He commands His people to give to the poor whatever and whenever they need.  And if they do not give then He will take up the case of the poor.  What a scary thought to be place in the hands of the living God for refusing to help the people with whom His heart is!

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 out your hand to.  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.  (Deut 15:10-11)

This section ends with a command to be generous.  God understands how money can easily corrupt and the greed that many have.  So He warns them and shows His people that He cares more about people, especially the poor, than any material thing.  Are we the same?   Do we care more about the broken or our bank balance?  Would we rather help the poor or increase our prosperity?  When we see the need of the poor what wins, our greed or our generosity?

Devlin McGuire
Venture Corps Chaplain

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