“And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’s release… For the LORD your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.” ~Deuteronomy 15:2,6
Have you ever lent money, tools, toys, or anything else to someone and didn’t get it back? Maybe you’ve lent them something and when you got it back it was broken, heavily worn, or damaged in some way. No matter how it’s happened, we’ve all been put in a situation where we’ve owed somebody something, and we’ve all been in the position where someone owed us.
It’s important that we think about this from both directions or we’ll never quite get the principle that is being taught here in Deuteronomy 15. Every seven years the law required that all debts be released that were lent to a neighbor or a brother. Depending on what end of the spectrum we’re looking at this text from, we’ll either say “That’s Awesome” or “That’s not fair!”
First, if we’re in a lot of debt, and we owe a lot of people a lot of money, we’re going to respond by saying “That’s Awesome.” I, for one, am in this situation. A series of poor choices have put me, and my family, behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to finances. We’re working hard to square all our debts and when I read this passage I said “That’d be pretty sweet.”
However, if we’re the ones lending the money, we may have a tendency to think about this a little differently. If someone owes us a lot of money we may look at this text and say “that’s not fair at all!” In either case there is an over riding principle at work in these two passages that will help us understand why the debtor gets a free pass, and the lender is required to release the debt.
That overriding principle is brotherly love. In the Old Testament Israel was first the people of God. They were a nation, and a people, set apart for God’s holy purposes. Their individual accounts were secondary to the national account. For one Israelite to enslave another Israelite with debt, was equivalent to enslaving one’s own nation. What is missed in our typical, individual responses, is a brotherly love that transcends individual “rights” and “principles”.
As they freed their brothers and sisters they strengthened the people as a whole. Everyone’s account was brought back to zero and freedom reigned throughout the nation. I think this same principle can be applied in the local church. Rather than Christians enslaving one another to debt, we should be doing whatever we can to strengthen one another so that we can strengthen the entire community of Christians.
A side note before I move on. Notice that the debts were paid on for seven years. This is not simply a free ride. These debts were paid on for seven years, and the Lord says “that’s long enough.” This is no excuse for Christians not to pay back what they’ve borrowed nor is it any kind of support for the fallacious idea that if we’re going to lend we should “lend without the expectation of getting back in return.”
There is another principle here that I want to bring out. Notice that Israel was not required to release foreigners from their debt nor were they to EVER borrow from foreigners. It is interesting to me that this passage parallels the act of borrowing to the act of being brought under submission to another. If it is true that the borrower is slave to the lender, America is in deep trouble. Those countries that we have borrowed money from are now our masters. They reign over us.
Some may not buy that idea, but know this: if any, or all, of these countries decide to cash in their chips, we’re in deep trouble. That said, I am not as concerned about the principle of being enslaved by borrowing as I am about the principle of reigning by lending. I have said for some time now that the Church needs to step up and start supporting the poor in this country. The reason our Government is getting so powerful, is because we have allowed ourselves to become dependent upon (borrowed) its resources. We are slaves to our lender.
Imagine with me, for a moment, a radical church full of radical individuals who sought to help the U.S. government. We’re so busy trying to be “tax exempt” that we forget that if we were lending (or better yet giving) our money we’d be gaining power. We think we’re winning when we get a tax write off. In reality, we’re just slaves getting our rations. We walk around with a big a grin on our face because we’re tax exempt but in reality we’re slaves who let our master (U.S. government) pay our way.
I’m convinced that we can reverse this trend and put the local church in a position of power, rather than in a position of submission. We need to discover the power of incredible generosity that leads to power and influence. I envision a world where people come to the church to get help when they lose their job, and not to the U.S. government.
It’s a long road, and it begins by releasing individuals from their debt. Sadly, we have not heeded the warning given in verse 6 which tells us emphatically not to borrow from the foreigner. In the case of the believer, that would be the unbeliever. We’ve put ourselves into a place of submission and we need to break free. It starts with getting rid of all of our debt. To get started on becoming debt free let me recommend @DaveRamsey and Financial Peace University as a great starting point.