God commands that every seventh year is to be a year of release. This includes releasing debts to your “brother” and Hebrew servants.
God does a lot of things in groups of seven. Seven days of the week. Seven trumpets. The Seven churches. Seven times seventy for forgiveness. And the seventh year of release. These are just the ones that I came up with off the top of my head. I’m certain there are more if you wanted to do a study on it.
Like the seven days of the week where the seventh day is commanded as a day of rest, the seventh year is also commanded to be set aside as special. But this specialness applies only to transactions between “brothers”; members of the children of Israel.
I was thinking about this seventh year release of debts and wondered if the people would try and make sure to structure their debts so they would be paid off before the seventh year. Apparently God was thinking about that too when He told them not to withhold good from the poor because the seventh year was approaching. They were to give to their brothers in need regardless of expectation of full reimbursement.
When looking at the seventh year release I notice two different timelines. With debts it appears that there is a set schedule and everyone follows it equally. Whatever was borrowed is completely forgiven in that seventh year, regardless of when the deal was entered into. But when a “brother” sells himself into slavery, his date of sale is the beginning of his years of service regardless of where it falls in the seven year debt cycle. At the end of the six years of service the Hebrew slave is freed and provided for. He is set up to once again take care of himself/herself.
This issue with selling oneself to another reminds me of Jacob working for Laban all those different times. The first seven were supposed to be for Rachel but instead wound up being for Leah. The second seven were for Rachel. Seven more for flocks and herds. Jacob NEVER sold himself but hired himself out for a specific price. He also DIDN’T ask to serve Laban forever!
Apparently that is an option for a slave who loves serving where he is. I wonder if it happened more often out of love for the family or fear of having to stand on your own again. There is safety in having someone else be responsible for you. I wonder if there was a distinction in these two different motivations. Was the slave only allowed to pledge lifelong service out of love? Was he given special help if he was reluctant to leave because of fear?
I was shocked at first by verse four. “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess.” Then came verse five with that qualifier “IF.” This is God’s ideal for Israel, that they never know poverty at all. That they never be ruled by any other nation. That they be lenders to many but borrowers from none. ALL these things were possible “IF only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today” (verse 5). We know how that turned out. We also know that Jesus was the ONLY one ever able to follow God’s commands perfectly.
God knew what the truth would be. He knew Israel wouldn’t be able to live up to His standard. He knew there would be poor in the land and He commanded the people to provide for their “brothers” generously. He also knew that they would eventually be ruled by other nations. I have a feeling they would become borrowers at some point too but I have no direct knowledge of that aspect of their history.
When Jesus expanded the concept of who was our “brother” when His family came seeking Him one day, I believe He included that concept to encompass this area of the Law too. No longer would forgiving a debt be restricted to physical bloodlines but to spiritual bloodlines also. My “brother” or “sister” in need shouldn’t be held in bondage by a debt between us. Just as God forgave our debts, we need to stand ready to forgive our brothers/sisters. It is right for the borrower to repay the lender but if it isn’t possible they shouldn’t feel ensnared forever.
I have two different examples from my own life I want to share. In the first I was the borrower. I had experienced a large error in my bookkeeping that resulted in a LOT of overdraft fees. I requested help from a church I had gone to for MANY years. My mother actually made the request for me. The loan was granted and I was able to rescue our finances but nothing beyond breaking even. The church that made the loan began hounding my mother as to when they could expect repayment. As I was still struggling I was not as fast at repaying as they wanted. My mother eventually repaid the loan to stop the harassment and I repaid her. This issue affected the relationship between my mother, me and the church forever, and NOT in a positive way.
In my second example I was the one making the loan. I was holding onto the finances for an upcoming move but a family member needed help and I was asked if I would be willing to help. I agreed to help with the stipulation that this was in fact a loan and that I needed the money back for my future needs. Circumstances turned out that the money couldn’t be repaid. Instead of becoming upset or hounding the person for repayment, I gave it to God and released my family member from the responsibility. I no longer had the funds I was counting on for my future. BUT GOD stepped in! When the time came that I would need the funds God provided for my needs in another way. He provided housing for my little family that cost me nothing. That was what I had been saving for to begin with. I doubt this family member even remembers the incident and I’m glad of that. I’m glad I was able to help. Our relationship was made stronger because of this gift from God.
Letting go is freeing for BOTH parties. You don’t wait for “the seventh year.” Give what is binding you to God and let Him take it from there.
Thank You Father for teaching me these lessons. I don’t always follow the lessons of the past so easily. More than ANY debt was the debt You forgave and continue to forgive for me; the debt of sin. Only because of that release can I release anyone else. No seven years needed. Just one searching moment that has lasted a lifetime.