Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. In the. Hebrew, “at the extremity of seven years,” which some erroneously refer to the end, though the original signify also the beginning. (Calmet)
Ver. 2. Again. Hebrew does not mention friend. (Haydock) — “He shall not exact it, (or urge) his neighbour or his brother, because,” &c. Whence Cajetan gathers, that debts might be demanded after the expiration of the seventh year, on which the products of the earth did not enable the Jews to pay any thing. Grotius also asserts, that perpetual debts might be required; and Menoch, includes things lent under the same regulation. But all debts became extinct as soon as the seventh year commenced; (ver. 9.; Calmet) at least they could not be demanded till it was expired; though things merely lent, might be taken back. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 3. Stranger, who has not received circumcision. Such were entitled only to the common privileges of people in distress. They could not claim a share in the feasts, made out of the tithes of the Jews, &c. (Grotius)
Ver. 4. There shall be no poor, &c. It is not to be understood as a promise, that there should be no poor in Israel, as appears from ver. 11, where we learn that God’s people would never be at a loss to find objects for their charity: but it is an ordinance that all should do their best endeavours to prevent any of their brethren from suffering the hardships of poverty and want. (Challoner) — Beggar, is not expressed, though it be implied in Hebrew or the Septuagint, which connect this with the preceding verse, (Haydock) “because (or save when) there shall be no poor among you;” as if the rich could not derive the benefit from the remission of debts. (Vatable) — God had made abundant provision for the poor. He might have prevented any from falling into distress. (Calmet) — But he suffered this sometimes to take place, to try the dispositions both of the rich and of the poor. (Haydock) — If they had faithfully complied with his laws, he would not have permitted them to fall into the last degree of misery. (Calmet) — He allows no public begging, which all well regulated nations discountenance. (Menochius) — The Jews carefully relieve their brethren. They gather alms, and one of the judges distributes what may be sufficient for the ensuing week. (Leo, p. i. c. 14.) — Those who refused to give according to their abilities, were formerly ordered by the Sanhedrim to be scourged, till they had complied with their duty; and sometimes, things were taken forcibly from their houses. (Maimonides) — They relieve the distressed in proportion to their former condition. (Selden, Jur. vi. 6.)
Ver. 6. Lend. The Jews give a wrong interpretation to this passage, to authorize usury with regard to strangers. But God can never sanction injustice. He promises such riches to his people, if they be faithful, that they shall be in a condition to lend to many, without wanting themselves. (Calmet) — Over thee. Hence the Jews submitted to a foreign yoke with so much reluctance. But they should have remembered to keep God’s law. (Haydock)
Ver. 8. Need of. The Rabbins understand this of giving freely without any prospect of receiving again, much less of any advantage by usury. They esteem themselves bound also, by the laws of humanity, to assist even idolaters, though they will not beg of such, in public. Some assert, that they never allow public beggars among themselves, and indeed such are seldom to be seen. Yet no law forbids it; and Juvenal (vi. 541,) upbraids them with begging slyly at Rome. Arcanum Judæa tremens mendicat in aurem. (Calmet) — If people be in extreme want, the law requires that necessaries should be given them; but if they be not so far reduced, but that they may be able to pay again in a little time, it may suffice to lend. (Haydock)
Ver. 9. Eyes. Hebrew, “and thy eye be evil against,” &c. This expression denotes one who is a prey to the base passions of avarice, jealousy, envy, &c., chap. xxviii. 54., and Matthew xx. 15. (Calmet) — A sin, or draw on punishment. (Menochius) — “If thou hast not fed, thou hast killed” thy neighbour in extreme want. (St. Ambrose, Off. ii. 7.) (Worthington)
Ver. 10. Neither. Hebrew, “thy heart shall not be evil in giving: for to this end the Lord….hath blessed thee.” Imitate his clemency. — Hand, in all thy undertakings and possessions.
Ver. 11. Needy. Hebrew expresses the order to be observed in giving alms, “open thy hand wide (give with profusion) to thy brother, (or relations) to thy needy, (in extreme want) and to thy poor in the land,” whoever they may be. (Calmet) — To exercise the charity of his people, God suffered some to be poor. (Worthington)
Ver. 12. Free. The Hebrews might sell themselves only to their own countrymen; and the judges might condemn those who had committed a theft, and had not wherewith to make restitution, to be sold to their brethren. See Exodus xxi. 2.
Ver. 14. Way. Hebrew literally, “Thou shalt put round his neck, (or furnish him abundantly) out of thy flock,” &c. This is not specified in the Book of Exodus.
Ver. 17. House, before a judge. It is supposed that this law regarded only those who had sold themselves, or had been condemned to be slaves. (Fagius) — For ever; that is, till the year of jubilee. — Also, not by piercing her ear, as some have thought, but by setting her at liberty, and giving her something, ver. 14.
Ver. 18. Hireling. His freedom is due to him, as much as wages are due to the hireling. He is alse entitled to a decent provision, for which he has laboured. Hebrew, “he hath been worth twice as much to thee as a hired servant,” by his greater diligence, labour, and fidelity. Servitude has also rendered his worth doubly severe. (Calmet)
Ver. 19. Firstlings. Some belonged to the priests. Others, of which Moses speaks here, might be disposed of by the owners, chap. xii. 17. (Calmet) — Thus females, which came first, belonged to them, but they could not work with them; (Menochius) with such at least as were the best, and fattened for a religious feast. Sheep designed for this purpose were not to be shorn; or, as the original term means, their wool was not to be “torn away.” Bellon observes, that this is still the custom in some parts of the East, as it was formerly in Italy, according to Varro. Pliny ([Natural History?] viii. 48,) also remarks, that fleece was torn off in some places, (Calmet) and the same method is said to prevail still in Shetland. (Haydock)
Ver. 22. Unclean. This shews, that they could not be peace-offerings. (Menochius) (Chap. xiii. 15.) (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The law of the seventh year of remission. The firstlings of cattle are to be sanctified to the Lord.
1 In *the seventh year thou shalt make a remission.
2 Which shall be celebrated in this order. He to whom any thing is owing from his friend, or neighbour, or brother, cannot demand it again, because it is the year of remission of the Lord.
3 Of the foreigner or stranger thou mayst exact it: of thy countryman and neighbour thou shalt not have power to demand it again.
4 And there shall be no poor nor beggar among you: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in the land which he will give thee in possession.
5 Yet so if thou hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and keep all things that he hath ordained, and which I command thee this day, he will bless thee, as he hath promised.
6 Thou shalt lend to many nations, and thou shalt borrow of no man. Thou shalt have dominion over very many nations, and no one shall have dominion over thee.
7 If one of thy brethren, that dwelleth within the gates of thy city, in the land which the Lord thy God will give thee, come to poverty: thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor close thy hand,
8 But shalt open it to the poor man; *thou shalt lend him, that which thou perceivest he hath need of.
9 Beware lest perhaps a wicked thought steal in upon thee, and thou say in thy heart: *The seventh year of remission draweth nigh; and thou turn away thy eyes from thy poor brother, denying to lend him that which he asketh: lest he cry against thee to the Lord, and it become a sin unto thee.
10 But thou shalt give to him: neither shalt thou do any thing craftily in relieving his necessities: that the Lord thy God may bless thee at all times, and in all things to which thou shalt put thy hand.
11 *There will not be wanting poor in the land of thy habitation: therefore I command thee to open thy hand to thy needy and poor brother, that liveth in the land.
12 *When thy brother, a Hebrew man, or Hebrew woman, is sold to thee, and hath served thee six years, in the seventh year, thou shalt let him go free:
13 And when thou sendest him out free, thou shalt not let him go away empty:
14 But shalt give him for his way out of thy flocks, and out of thy barn-floor, and thy wine-press, wherewith the Lord thy God shall bless thee.
15 Remember that thou also wast a bond-servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God made thee free, and therefore I now command thee this.
16 But if he say: I will not depart: because he loveth thee, and thy house, and findeth that he is well with thee:
17 Thou shalt take an awl, and bore through his ear in the door of thy house, and he shall serve thee for ever: thou shalt do in like manner to thy woman-servant also.
18 Turn not away thy eyes from them, when thou makest them free: because he hath served thee six years according to the wages of a hireling: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the works that thou dost.
19 Of the firstlings, that come of thy herds, and thy sheep, thou shalt sanctify to the Lord thy God whatsoever is of the male sex. Thou shalt not work with the firstling of a bullock, and thou shalt not shear the firstlings of thy sheep.
20 In the sight of the Lord thy God shalt thou eat them every year, in the place that the Lord shall choose, thou and thy house.
21 *But if it have a blemish, or be lame, or blind, or in any part disfigured or feeble, it shall not be sacrificed to the Lord thy God.
22 But thou shalt eat it within the gates of thy city: the clean and the unclean shall eat them alike as the roe, and as the hart.
23 Only thou shalt take heed not to eat their blood, but pour it out on the earth as water.
1: Year of the World 2553, Year before Christ 1451.
8: Matthew v. 42.; Luke vi. 34.
9: Exodus xxxiii. 10.; Leviticus xxv. 2.
11: Matthew xxvi. 11.
12: Exodus xxi. 2.; Jeremias xxxiv. 14.
21: Leviticus xxii. 20. and 21.; Ecclesiasticus xxxv. 14.