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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: Ready: Ministering Life to Those in Crisis

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

In the Book of Deuteronomy, we find one of God’s commands related to helping the poor coupled with a promise for those who help the poor.


Jan. 18

Ready When Injustice Prevails


Jan. 25

Ready to Help the Poor


Feb. 1

Ready When Sickness Comes to Stay


Feb. 8

Ready When Sex Destroys


Feb. 15

Ready When Homosexuality Devastates


Feb. 22

Ready When Pornography Controls



Demonstrate God’s heart for the poor.


Deuteronomy 15:7-11




Share Freely When You See A Need (Deut. 15:7-9)

God Blesses Us and Our Giving (Deut. 15:10-11)


The Israelites had the opportunity to enter the land of Canaan not long after they had exited Egypt, but they did not obey the Lord (Num. 13:26-33).   

 Frightened by the report of giants in the land of Canaan, the people chose not to obey God’s plan for them to enter and conquer the Promised Land.  Because of their failure to obey the Lord, He commanded them to wander for 40 years in the wilderness while those who exited Egypt died, except the two spies who brought favorable report, Joshua and Caleb.  In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses began to prepare the Israelites for entrance into the Promised Land, even though he would not enter the Promised Land with them because of a mistake he made earlier (Num. 20:8-12).

Moses reviewed all the instructions God had given the Israelites during their wandering years as they prepared to go forward in obedience to God (Deut. 1:6—26:19).  It was in the context of the regulations about the sabbatical year (15:1-18) that the focal verses for this week’s study appear.

Overviews is adapted from the following sources:

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


So many of us can be thankful for our income, homes, and comfortable lifestyles.  Others among us just barely get by.  What we often share is a pang of discomfort in knowing how to act or respond to those who are in great need.  It’s often easier to look the other way when we cross paths with someone who is homeless or destitute, but the Bible gives us a better approach.

The discomfort we may suffer when confronted by images of a hungry child in Africa, or knowingly passing by a homeless person, often causes us to struggle with the desire to help those in need, but the suspicion that such people may be merely using their poverty to take advantage of us, usually causes us to simply turn and look the other way rather than respond to the need.  It often helps the believer to salve his/her conscience, but it does not absolve us of the responsibility.  This week’s study will help present a reasonable approach to helping the poor.

Introduction is adapted from the following sources:

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Share Freely When You See A Need (Deut. 15:7-9)

7 “If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your gates in the land the Lord your God is giving you, you must not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.  8 Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has.  9 Be careful that there isn’t this wicked thought in your heart, ‘The seventh year, the year of canceling debts, is near,’ and you are stingy toward your poor brother and give him nothing. He will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty.








1.   What do you think of when you hear the word “generosity”?

2.   In your growing up years, what were your impressions of being poor?

3.   Who should be considered among the poor?

4.   What is the proper response of a Christian toward a fellow Christian who is caught in the clutches of poverty?

5.   Do these actions apply equally toward brothers in Christ as well as to those who do not know Him?

6.   Why does the Lord care so much about the poor and require us to respond to their needs?

7.   What would be potential problems with canceling debts every seventh year?

8.   What is the difference between loaning and borrowing for wants rather than needs?

9.   How does the refusal to loan to the poor reflect a stingy heart?

10.   Why would God judge a person for not sharing his/her possessions with those in need?

11.   What two attributes are the characterize God’s people in relationship to the poor?

12.   What should prompt God’s people to be compassionate and generous in their giving to others?

13.   How generous should God’s people be toward others?

14.   How does God assess an insensitive attitude toward those in need that is driven by one’s own greed?

15.   How would you describe the characteristics of a generous giver?

16.   What are some things that cause a Christian to ignore the needs of the poor?

17.   What do you think causes a believer to become haphazard in his/her giving?

18.   What happens when Christians are haphazard with their giving?

19.   How can a believer develop a ”sharing heart” toward the poor?

20.   What are some things a Christian do to develop a “sharing heart” toward the poor?

21.   Do you think generosity toward the poor is both a heart issue and a hand issue?  Why, or why not?

22.   Do you think there are factors you would/should consider when looking to help the poor?  Why, or why not?

23.   If so, what do you think they might be?

24.   Why is it important to be generous even if we know we probably won’t be paid back?

25.   What does a “paid back” attitude tell us about our view of giving to the needy?  How do you think God views that kind of attitude?


Lasting Lessons in Deut. 15:7-9:

1.  Christians have a responsibility to help fellow Christians in need.

2.  Christians should open their hearts and hands to the poor.

3.  Christians should be responsible in lending.

4.  Christians should be responsible in borrowing.

5.  Christians should have an open hand when it comes to helping meet others’ needs.

6.  Christians should give to meet needs rather than using the poor as an investment.

7.  The prayers of the poor implicate those who have the means to help but do not help.



God Blesses Us and Our Giving (Deut. 15:10-11)

10 Give to him, and don’t have a stingy heart when you give, and because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do.  11 For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’

1.   Based on this passage, what should be the disposition of the giver?

2.   How would you describe a believer with a “stingy” heart?

3.   What do you think are some characteristics of a believer with a “stingy” heart?

4.   How would you characterize a “willing” and “generous” giver?

5.   Do you believe that there is a link between “giving” and “prayer”? 

6.   If so, how would you describe it?

7.   How will God respond to the generous giver (v. 10)?

8.   Why do you think God blesses a generous giver and how do you think He does that?

9.   When it comes to giving, is God’s “blessing” of the giver conditional?  Why, or why not?

10.   If so, what are the implications for the believer?

11.   How have you seen God bless those who give to meet other’s needs?

12.   According to verse 11, why should a Christian help those in need?

13.   Does the fact that the poor will always be with us mean we are excused from responding to them?  Why, or why not?

14.   What does the fact that: “ . . . there will never cease to be poor people in the land . . .” mean to you when it comes to “your giving” (v. 11a)?

15.   What is the command of God concerning the presence of the poor around us (11b)?

16.   What does the refusal to help the poor reveal about our view of the grace of God in our own possessions?

17.   In addition to giving money, what are other ways to help the poor?


Lasting Lessons in Deut. 15:10-11:

1.  We need a giving heart rather than a stingy heart when it comes to the needs of the poor.

2.  God returns blessings on His children when He sees them helping those in need.

3.  Stamping out poverty is not the primary motive for giving to the poor, as poverty will always be an issue in society.

4.  Our primary motive for giving should be to reflect God’s heart for the poor.



Moses addressed a people who had come from a life of slavery in Egypt and more recently from 40 years of wandering in the desert.  We would expect they would be particularly sensitive to the needs of the poor when they entered the promised land.  Sadly, the history of Israel demonstrates the sinful natures of succeeding generations.  Selfishness, greed, and cruelty resulted, in a violation of God’s laws of love and compassion.  Today Christians live in a culture of greed and selfishness.  We can distinguish ourselves as disciples of the greatest Giver of all time by helping those who are in need both materially and spiritually.

As a believer, do you have a “heart” for helping the poor with your time, talent(s), and/or financial resources? On a scale of 1 (not much of a heart) to 10 (a very big heart), how would you rate your “heart” for helping the poor? Does your rating need improvement?  If so, ask God to help you enlarge your “heart” toward the poor.   There are many opportunities in which you can become involved in helping the poor.  Look within your church, your neighborhood, or your community to find a ministry or program you would be willing to support with your time, talent(s), and/or financial resources.  Then consider getting involved or become a regular financial supporter of that ministry.  God will bless you for any effort you are willing to make.

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


FOCAL PASSAGE:  Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word: (Deut. 15:1-11)

King James Version: Deut.15:1-11

1 At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.  2 And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD’S release.  3 Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again: but that which is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release; 4 Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the LORD shall greatly bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it: 5 Only if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all these commandments which I command thee this day.  6 For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.  7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: 8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.  9 Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee.  10 Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.  11For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.  (KJV)

New International Version: Deut.15:1-11

1 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.  2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD’S time for canceling debts has been proclaimed.  3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you.  4 However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.  6 For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.  7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.  8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.  9 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 your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.  10 Give generously to him 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 put your hand to.  11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.  (NIV)

New Living Translation: Deut.15:1-11

1 “At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money.  2 This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the LORD’s time of release has arrived.  3 This release from debt, however, applies only to your fellow Israelites—not to the foreigners living among you.  4 “There should be no poor among you, for the LORD your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.  5 You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today.  6 The LORD your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you.  7 “But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.  8 Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.  9 Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the LORD, you will be considered guilty of sin.  10 Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.  11 There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. (NLT)


Lesson Outline — “Ready to Help the Poor” — Deuteronomy 15:7-11



Share Freely When You See A Need (Deut. 15:7-9)

God Blesses Us and Our Giving (Deut. 15:10-11)


COMMENTARY: Deuteronomy 15:1-11

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,The Pulpit Commentary,” andMatthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament,” and is provided for your study.)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Deuteronomy 15:1-11

The year of canceling debts (15:1-11)

15:1-4.  Whether the year for canceling debts involved a release of repayment for one year or a cancellation in perpetuity has long been debated, and the debate continues. The NIV has interpreted the regulation as a cancellation of debt (v. 1). This seems most appropriate to the spirit of Deuteronomy as a whole and to this context. Israel was to have a very special internal relationship of brotherhood in its citizenry. If followed, there would be no poor, no needy among them, because of the Lord’s blessing (vv. 4-6, 10). The cancellation of debt would itself go a long way toward producing that blessing. It would result in the limitation of the centralization of monetary assets in the hands of the more well-to-do. No evidence exists that the Mosaic economy in its details was ever fully implemented with its sabbatical years and years of Jubilee. Fulfillment would have brought a considerable redistribution of assets and nullification of indebtedness. As an economic system, it is an interesting approach to economic and social well-being. Though the notion that the year of release as a relaxation of payment for one year only fits well with the sabbatical year prohibitions (Lev 25:1-7, 20-22) on gathering the produce of the land (Exod 23:10-11)—when the produce was not harvested, the debtor would lack the means to pay debts—that is no proof that the release was only a year’s relaxation of payment. Surely there would be more cause for one to hesitate to grant a loan that would soon be canceled than one whose repayment would be withheld for a year. Consequently, if the debt were canceled, there would be more occasion for the warning of v. 9. The assertion of v. 4 that “there should be no poor” among them at first glance may seem to conflict with v. 7 (“If there is a poor man among your brothers”) and especially v. 11 (“There will always be poor people in the land”). But the same kind of situation appears in the NT in 1 John 2:1: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin.” Both Moses and John kept on proclaiming and urging the ideal situation while being doubtful that the ideal would be fully realized. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of v. 11 when he said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8).

15:5-6.  Israel would realize the ideal situation only if the people would fully obey (infinitive absolute construction indicating intensity) the Lord. Obedience would not only bring rich blessings so that no poor would be among them, but they would also have monetary superiority over the nations around them. They would lend to many nations but borrow from none and would rule over nations but not be ruled by them. This rule over nations is either by economic control or is a military and political extension of their economic advantage.

15:7-11. Moses moved into the subjective bases for the Israelites’ behavior—their thoughts and emotions—when he said that they should not be hardhearted (not harden their hearts) but, conversely, openhanded (open wide their hands), freely lending a brother whatever he needs (vv. 7-8). They must exercise care not to harbor a base thought that would limit generosity, such as “the year for canceling debts, is near” (v. 9). This being the case, giving generously to a brother would limit the possibility of getting a beneficial return on a loan. They must give generously without a grudging heart (v. 10; the Hebrew figure, an evil [?] heart, may be rendered variously to give the English equivalent of a sad or unfriendly or grudging heart). A warning is appended: the brother can appeal to the Lord, and the grudging-hearted will be found guilty of sin. How the appeal is made is not indicated—whether it be an informal prayer or a formal petition through a priest. Likewise, the indictment “You will be found guilty of sin” (v. 9) may be either one made directly by the Lord to the conscience or a formal one made by a priest (23:21-22; 24:15; cf. Lev 20:20; Num 9:13; 18:22).

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers



The Pulpit Commentary – Volume 3: Deuteronomy 15:1-11


Verses 1-6. To the prescription of a tithe for the needy there is added a regulation for the behalf of debtors. The Israelites were not only to help the poor, but they were to refrain from what would be a hardship and oppression to them. Debtors, consequently, were not to be deprived of the benefit of the sabbatical year, for at the close of each seventh year there was to be a release. This does not imply that the debt was to be remitted, but only that the debtor was not then to be pressed for payment. As during the sabbatical year the land lay uncultivated, and the debtor consequently would earn nothing, it was reasonable that he should not then be pressed for payment. A law that every seventh year debts should be remitted, would have frustrated itself, for on such conditions no one would lend, and so there would be no debtors. This is an addition to the law of the Sabbath-year (Exodus 23:10, etc.; Leviticus 25:2-7).

Verse 1.  Release. The word thus rendered (שְׁמִטָּה, from שָׁמַט, to leave, to let lie fallow) occurs only here and in ver. 2; in Exodus 33:11 the cognate verb is used, and from this the word is best explained. The debt was to be left in the hands of the debtor, as the land was to be let lie or left untilled for that year.

Verse 2.  Creditor; literally, master of the loan of his hand, equivalent to owner of what his hand has lent to another. Comp. the expression, “what was laid in his hand” (Leviticus 5:21; Authorized Version, “in fellowship,” Leviticus 6:2); and Nehemiah 10:32, “the debt of every hand” (Authorized Version, “the exaction of every debt”). Neighbor; here, fellow-Israelite. Exact it of his neighbor; literally, press or urge his neighbor, i.e. to pay. It is called the Lord's release; rather, a release for Jehovah is proclaimed; the sabbatical year, like the year of jubilee, was proclaimed, and it was for Jehovah, in his honor, and in accordance with his ordinance.

Verse 3.  A foreigner; a stranger of another nation, having no internal social relation to Israel (נָכְרִי), as distinguished from the stranger who lived among them and had claims on their benevolence (גֵּר). Of such they might exact a debt, without regard to the year of release. “This rule breathes no hatred of foreigners, but simply allows the Israelites the right of every creditor to demand his debts and enforce the demand upon foreigners, even in the sabbatical year. There was no severity in this, because foreigners could get their ordinary income in the seventh year as well as in any other” (Keil).

Verse 4.  Save when there shall be no poor among you; rather, only that there shall be no poor among you; q.d., this ordinance is not intended to prevent creditors seeking the payment of their just debts, but only to prevent there being poor in the land. The reason assigned is that the Lord would greatly bless them in the land which he had given them, so that the creditor would be no loser by refraining from exacting his debt from his brother in the seventh year.

Verses 5, 6.  This blessing, though promised and certified, should come only if they were careful to observe and do all that God commanded them. The for at the beginning of ver. 6 connects this with ver. 4. Thou shalt lend. The verb in Kal signifies to borrow on a pledge; in Hiph. to lend on a pledge, as here; it is a denominative from the Hebrew noun signifying pledge.

Verses 7-11.  The reference to the release leads to a prescription regarding readiness to lend to the poor. They were not to harden their hearts against their poorer brethren, nor were they, in the prospect of the year of release, to refuse to lend them what was necessary for their uses, but, on the contrary, were to open their heart and their hand to them according to their need, lest the poor should appeal against them to God, and sin should lie upon them.

Verse 7.  Harden thine heart; literally, maize strong, so as to suppress natural compassion and sympathy.

Verse 8.  Sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth; literally, the sufficiency of his need which he needeth, i.e. whatever he might need to meet his requirements.

Verse 9.  A thought in thy wicked heart; literally, a thing in thy heart worthlessness, i.e. a thing which is worthless and unworthy. The word used is belial (בְּלִיַּעַל), which does not denote that which is wicked so much as that which is worthless. Thus, “a man of Belial” is a worthless fellow — not necessarily a wicked man (cf. Deuteronomy 13:13). And it be sin unto thee; i.e. entail guilt upon thee, and so expose thee to the Divine displeasure.

Verse 10.  Shall not be grieved; literally, shall not become evil, i.e. shall not entertain a grudge. They were to give, not grudgingly or of necessity, merely through dread of God's displeasure, but cheerfully and spontaneously (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7). For this God would bless them in all their works, so that they should not only be no losers, but should be gainers, by their generosity.

Verse 11.  They were to open their hand wide to their poorer brethren, for there should always be such in the land. This statement is not inconsistent with that in ver. 4, for there it is the prevention of poverty by not dealing harshly with the poor that is spoken of; here it is the continuance of occasion for the relief of the poor that is referred to.

SOURCE:  The Pulpit Commentary – Volume 3: Deuteronomy-Judges; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.


Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament: Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Deuteronomy 15:1-11—In this chapter Moses gives orders, concerning the release of debts, every seventh year (v. 1-6), with a caution that this should be no hindrance to charitable lending (v. 7-11).

Verses 1-11.  Here is,

I. A law for the relief of poor debtors, such (we may suppose) as were insolvent. Every seventh year was a year of release, in which the ground rested from being tilled and servants were discharged from their services; and, among other acts of grace, this was one, that those who had borrowed money, and had not been able to pay it before, should this year be released from it; and though, if they were able, they were afterwards bound in conscience to repay it, yet thenceforth the creditor should never recover it by law. Many good expositors think it only forbids the exacting of the debt in the year of release, because, no harvest being gathered in that year, it could not be expected that men should pay their debts then, but that afterwards it might be sued for and recovered: so that the release did not extinguish the debt, but only stayed the process for a time. But others think it was a release of the debt for ever, and this seems more probable, yet under certain limitations expressed or implied. It is supposed (v. 3) that the debtor was an Israelite (an alien could not take the benefit of this law) and that he was poor (v. 4), that he did not borrow for trade or purchase, but for the subsistence of his family, and that now he could not pay it without reducing himself to poverty and coming under a necessity of seeking relief in other countries, which might be his temptation to revolt from God. The law is not that the creditor shall not receive the debt if the debtor, or his friends for him, can pay it; but he shall not exact it by a legal process.

The reasons of this law are:

1. To put an honour upon the sabbatical year: Because it is called the Lord’s release, v. 2. That was Gods year for their land, as the weekly sabbath was God’s day for themselves, their servants, and cattle; and, as by the resting of their ground, so by the release of their debts, God would teach them to depend upon his providence. This year of release typified the grace of the gospel, in which is proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord, and by which we obtain the release of our debts, that is, the pardon of our sins, and we are taught to forgive injuries, as we are and hope to be forgiven of God.

2. It was to prevent the falling of any Israelite into extreme poverty: so the margin reads (v. 4), To the end there shall be no poor among you, none miserably and scandalously poor, to the reproach of their nation and religion, the reputation of which they ought to preserve.

3. God’s security is here given by a divine promise that, whatever they lost by their poor debtors, it should be made up to them in the blessing of God upon all they had and did, v. 4-6. Let them take care to do their duty, and then God would bless them with such great increase that what they might lose by bad debts, if they generously remitted them, should not be missed out of their stock at the year’s end. Not only, the Lord shall bless thee (v. 4), but he doth bless thee, v. 6. It is altogether inexcusable if, though God had given us abundance, so that we have not only enough but to spare, yet we are rigorous and server in our demands from our poor brethren; for our abundance should be the supply of their wants, that at least there may not be such an inequality as is between two extremes, 2 Co. 8:14. They must also consider that their land was God’s gift to them, that all their increase was the fruit of God’s blessing upon them, and therefore they were bound in duty to him to use and dispose of their estates as he should order and direct them. And, lastly, If they would remit what little sums they had lent to their poor brethren, it is promised that they should be able to lend great sums to their rich neighbours, even to many nations (v. 6), and should be enriched by those loans. Thus the nations should become subject to them, and dependent on them, as the borrower is servant to the lender, Prov. 22:7. To be able to lend, and not to have need to borrow, we must look upon as a great mercy, and a good reason why we should do good with what we have, lest we provoke God to turn the scales.

II. Here is a law in favour of poor borrowers, that they might not suffer damage by the former law. Men would be apt to argue, If the case of a man be so with his debtor that if the debt be not paid before the year of release it shall be lost, it were better not to lend. “No,” says this branch of the statute, “thou shalt not think such a thought.”

1. It is taken for granted that there would be poor among them, who would have occasion to borrow (v. 7), and that there would never cease to be some such objects of charity (v. 7), and that there would never cease to be some such objects of charity (v. 11): The poor shall never cease out of thy land, though not such as were reduced to extreme poverty, yet such as would be behind-hand, and would have occasion to borrow; of such poor he here speaks, and such we have always with us, so that a charitable disposition may soon find a charitable occasion.

2. In such a case we are here commanded to lend or give, according to our ability and the necessity of the case: Thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand, v. 7. If the hand be shut, it is a sign the heart is hardened; for, if the clouds were full of rain, they would empty themselves, Eccl. 11:3. Bowels of compassion would produce liberal distributions, Jam. 2:15, 16. Thou shalt not only stretch out thy hand to him to reach him something, but thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him, to lend him sufficient, v. 8. Sometimes there is as much charity in prudent lending as in giving, as it obliges the borrower to industry and honesty and may put him into a way of helping himself. We are sometimes tempted to think, when an object of charity presents itself, we may choose whether we will give anything or nothing, little or much; whereas it is here an express precept (v. 11), I command thee, not only to give, but to open thy hand wide, to give liberally.

3. Here is a caveat against that objection which might arise against charitable lending from the foregoing law for the release of debts (v. 9): Beware that there be not a thought, a covetous ill-natured thought, in thy Belial heart, The year of release is at hand, and therefore I will not lend what I must then be sure to lose;” lest thy poor brother, whom thou refusest to lend to, complain to God, and it will be a sin, a great sin, to thee.


(1.) The law is spiritual and lays a restraint upon the thoughts of the heart. We mistake if we think thoughts are free from the divine cognizance and check.

(2.) That is a wicked heart indeed that raises evil thoughts from the good law of God, as theirs did who, because God had obliged them to the charity of forgiving, denied the charity of giving.

(3.) We must carefully watch against all those secret suggestions which would divert us from our duty or discourage us in it. Those that would keep from the act of sin must keep out of their minds the very thought of sin.

(4.) When we have an occasion of charitable lending, if we cannot trust the borrower, we must trust God, and lend, hoping for nothing again in this world, but expecting it will be recompensed in the resurrection of the just, Lu. 6:35; 14:14.

(5.) It is a dreadful thing to have the cry of the poor against us, for God has his ear open to that cry, and, in compassion to them, will be sue to reckon with those that deal hardly with them.

(6.) That which we think is our prudence often proves sin to us; he that refused to lend because the year of release was at hand thought he did wisely, and that men would praise him as doing well for himself, Ps. 49:18. But he is here told that he did wickedly, and that God would condemn him as doing ill to his brother; and we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, and that what he says is sin to us will certainly be ruin to us if it be not repented of.

III. Here is a command to give cheerfully whatever we give in charity: “Thy heart shall not be grieved when thou givest, v. 10. Be not loth to part with thy money on so good an account, nor think it lost; grudge not a kindness to thy brother; and distrust not the providence of God, as if thou shouldest want that thyself which thou givest in charity; but, on the contrary, let it be a pleasure and a satisfaction of soul to thee to think that thou art honouring God with thy substance, doing good, making thy brother easy, and laying up for thyself a good security for the time to come. What thou doest do freely, for God loves a cheerful giver,” 2 Co. 9:7. IV. Here is a promise of a recompence in this life: “For this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee.” Covetous people say “Giving undoes us;” no, giving cheerfully in charity will enrich us, it will fill the barns with plenty (Prov. 3:10) and the soul with true comfort, Isa. 58:10, 11.

SOURCE: Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament; Parsons Church Group, A Division Of Findex.Com; Omaha Nebraska



The year of canceling debts—The Hebrew of Deuteronomy 15:9 literally says “the seventh year of the release” or “the year of the seventh the year of the cancelation of debt.”  The phrase refers to the previous verses in 15:1-3.  All debts between Israelites were to be cancelled at the end of the seventh year, regardless of the amount of the debt or the terms of the agreement.  The debts of foreigners did not fall under the same terms and were still liable for repayment.  The purpose of this sabbatical year was to avoid creating a class of poor people who were oppressed by those to whom they owed money.  The year brought rights to the poor, but it also created responsibility within those who lent money to others.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

The year of release: The year of release (v. 9) was another way of referring to the Sabbatic Year, the seventh year when slaves were released, the land lay fallow, and creditors were required to release debtors from their obligations.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Bless—The word bless in Deuteronomy 15:10 literally meant “to kneel.”  It is a word often used for people who bow before God in worship.  However, it occurs numerous times in the Old Testament for God blessing people.  In this case it probably referred to the kneeling of a person before he received a blessing from a superior.  This was the case when Solomon knelt before the Lord, hoping to receive success, prosperity, and longevity (2 Chron. 6:13). 

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Bless: As an act of God toward humankind, to bless (v. 10) is to lift them up to honor and to show them His favor.  God’s blessing is His sovereign act and a reflection of His mercy and graciousness.  God’s blessings are not earned; yet they are God’s response to the heartfelt obedience of His people.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Sabbatical Year sa-bat´ik-al שַׁבָּתוֹן שְנַתshenath shabbāthōnἐνιαυτός ἀναπαύσεως,  eniautós  anapaúseōs, “a year of solemn rest”; or שַׁבָּתוֹן שַׁבַּתshabbath shabbāthōnσάββατα ἀνάπαυσις, sábbata anápausis, “a sabbath of solemn rest” (Lev 25:4); or הַשְּמִטָּה שְׁנַתshehath ha-shemiṭṭāhἔτος τῆς ἀφέσεωςétos tḗs aphéseōs, “the year of release” (Dt 15:9; 31:10)):

1. Primary Intention:  We find the first rudiments of this institution in the so-called Covenant Book (Ex 21-23). Its connection with the day of rest (Sabbath) is obvious, although it strikes us as somewhat remarkable that in Ex 23:10-12 the regulation regarding the 7th year should precede the statute respecting the 7th day. Still it seems natural that after the allusion in verse 9, “Ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” the Covenant Book should put in a good word for the poor in Israel (verse 11: “Let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of thy people may eat”). Even the beasts of the field are remembered (compare Jon 4:11). We must, therefore, conclude that in this early period of the history of Israel the regulation regarding the 7th year was primarily intended for the relief of the poor and for the awakening of a sense of responsibility in the hearts of those better provided with the means of subsistence. It would be wrong, however, to deny its Sabbatic character, for the text says expressly, “But in the 7th year thou shalt let it rest” (literally, “thou shalt release it”), implying that the land was entitled to a rest because it needed it; it must be released for a time in order to gain fresh strength and insure its future fertility. Two motives, then, present themselves most clearly, one of a social, the other of an economic character, and both are rooted in God’s dealings with Israel (compare Ex 21:1).

2. Mosaic Legislation Humane:  Another evidence of the humane spirit pervading the Mosaic Law may be found in Ex 21:2-6 where, in the case of a Hebrew slave, the length of his servitude is limited to six years. The connection with the idea of the Sabbath is evident, but we fail to detect here any reference to the Sabbatical year. It is clear that the 7th year in which a slave might be set free need not necessarily coincide with the Sabbatical year, though it might, of course, The same is true of Dt 15:12-18; it has nothing to do with the Sabbatical year. On the other hand it is reasonable to assume that the “release” mentioned in Dt 15:1-3 took place in the Sabbatical year; in other words, its scope had been enlarged in later years so as to include the release from pecuniary obligation, i.e. the remission of debts or, at least, their temporary suspension. This means that the children of Israel were now developing from a purely agricultural people to a commercial nation. Still the same spirit of compassion for the poor and those struggling for a living asserts itself as in the earlier period, and it goes without saying that the old regulation concerning the release of the land in the 7th year was still in force (compare 15:2: “because Yahweh’s release hath been proclaimed”). According to Dt 15:1, this proclamation occurred at the end of every 7 years, or, rather, during the 7th year; for we must be careful not to strain the expression “at the end” (compare 15:9, where the 7th year is called “the year of release”; it is quite natural to identify this 7th year with the Sabbatical year). Moreover, we are now almost compelled to assert the Sabbatical year by this time had become an institution observed simultaneously all over the country. From the wording of the regulation regarding the 7th year in the Covenant Book we are not certain about this in those early times. But now it is different. “Yahweh’s release hath been proclaimed.”

3. General Observance:  It was a solemn and general proclamation, the date of which was very likely the day of atonement in the 7th month (the Sabbatical month). The celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (booths) began five days later and it lasted from the 15th day to the 21st of the 7th month (Tisri). In the Sabbatical year, at that time, the Law was read “before all Israel in their hearing,” a fact which tends to prove that the Sabbatical year had become a matter of general and simultaneous observance (compare Dt 31:10-13). Another lesson may be deduced from this passage: it gives us a hint respecting the use to which the people may have put their leisure time during the 12 months of Sabbatical rest; it may have been a period of religious and probably other instruction. In Lev 25:1-7 the central idea of the Sabbatical year is unfolded. Although it has been said we should be careful not to look for too much of the ideal and dogmatic in the institutions of the children of Israel, yet we must never lose sight of the religious and educational character even of their ancient legislation.

4. Central Idea:  One central thought is brought home to them, namely, God is the owner of the soil, and through His grace only the chosen people have come into its possession. Their time, i.e. they themselves, belong to Him: this is the deepest meaning of the day of rest; their land, i.e. their means of subsistence, belong to Him: this reveals to us the innermost significance of the year of rest. It was Yahweh’s pleasure to call the children of Israel into life, and if they live and work and prosper, they are indebted to His unmerited loving-kindness. They should, therefore, put their absolute trust in Him, never doubt His word or His power, always obey Him and so always receive His unbounded blessings. If we thus put all the emphasis on the religious character of the Sabbatical year, we are in keeping with the idea permeating the Old Testament, namely that the children of Israel are the chosen people of Yahweh. All their agricultural, social, commercial and political relations were to be built upon their divine calling and shaped according to God’s sovereign will. But did they live up to it? Or, to limit the question to our subject: Did they really observe the Sabbatical year? There are those who hold that the law regarding the Sabbatical year was not observed before the captivity. In order to prove this assertion they point to Lev 26:34 f, 43; also to 2 Ch 36:21. But all we can gather from these passages is the palpable conclusion that the law regarding the Sabbatical year had not been strictly obeyed, a deficiency which may mar the effect of any law. The possibility of observing the precept respecting the Sabbatical year is demonstrated by the post-exilic history of the Jewish people. Nehemiah registers the solemn fact that the reestablished nation entered into a covenant to keep the law and to maintain the temple worship (Neh 9:38; 10:32 ff). In 10:31 of the last-named chapter he alludes to the 7th year, “that we would forego the 7th year, and the exaction of every debt.” We are not sure of the exact meaning of this short allusion; it may refer to the Sabbatical rest of the land and the suspension of debts. For a certainty we know that the Sabbatical year was observed by the Jews at the time of Alexander the Great. When he was petitioned by the Samaritans “that he would remit the tribute of the 7th year to them, because they did not sow therein, he asked who they were that made such a petition”; he was told they were Hebrews, etc. (Josephus, Ant., XI, viii, 6). During Maccabean and Asmonean times the law regarding the Sabbatical year was strictly observed, although it frequently weakened the cause of the Jews (1 Macc 6:49, 53; Josephus, Ant., XIII, viii, 1; compare Josephus, Jewish Wars, I, ii, 4; Ant., XIV, x, 6; XV, i, 2). Again we may find references to the Sabbatical year in Josephus, Ant., XIV, xvi, 2, etc.; Tac. Hist. v. 4, etc., all of which testifies to the observance of the Sabbatical year in the Herodian era. The words of Tacitus show the proud Roman’s estimate of the Jewish character and customs: “For the 7th day they are said to have prescribed rest because this day ended their labors; then, in addition, being allured by their lack of energy, they also spend the 7th year in laziness.”

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Bless (בָּרַךְbārakh): This word is found more frequently in the Old Testament than in the New Testament, and is used in different relations. (1) It is first met in Gen 1:22 at the introduction of animal life upon the earth, where it is written, “And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply,” etc. The context furnishes the key to its meaning, which is the bestowal of good, and in this particular place the pleasure and power of increase in kind. Thus it is generally employed in both Testaments, the context always determining the character of the bestowal; for instance (where man is the recipient), whether the good is temporal or spiritual, or both. Occasionally, however, a different turn is given to it as in Gen 2:3 the King James Version, where it is written, “And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.” Here the good consists in the setting apart and consecrating of that day for His use. (2) In the foregoing instances the Creator is regarded as the source of blessing and the creature the recipient, but the order is sometimes reversed, and the creature (man) is the source and the Creator the recipient. In Gen 24:48, for example, Abraham’s servant says, “I bowed my head, and worshipped Yahweh, and blessed Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham,” where the word evidently means to worship God, to exalt and praise Him. (3) There is a third use where men only are considered. In Gen 24:60, her relatives “blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of ten thousands” (the King James Version “millions”), where the word expresses the wish or hope for the bestowal of the good designated. There are also instances where such a blessing of man by man may be taken in the prophetic sense, as when Isaac blessed Jacob (Gen 27:4, 27), putting himself as it were in God’s place, and with a sense of the Divine concurrence, pronouncing the good named. Here the word becomes in part a prayer for, and in part a prediction of, the good intended. Balaam’s utterances are simply prophetic of Israel’s destiny (Nu 23:9, 10, 11, 23 margin,24). Although these illustrations are from the Old Testament the word is used scarcely differently in the New Testament; “The blessing of bread, of which we read in the Gospels, is equivalent to giving thanks for it, the thought being that good received gratefully comes as a blessing”; compare Mt 14:19 and 15:36 with 1 Cor 11:24

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa




In the City Gate

By Joel F. Drinkard, Jr.

Joel F. Drinkard, Jr. is professor of Old Testament, Hebrew, and archaeology, and the curator of the Joseph A. Callaway Archaeological Museum at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.


HE OLD TESTAMENT has numerous references to city gates; these references give us a great deal of information about city gates in the biblical period.  This article will discuss gates on the basis of archaeological evidence and biblical passages relating to gates.

Gates in Iron Age Israel (1200-586 BC) routinely had two or more sets of pier walls creating chambers on each side of the gateway.  The most common patterns were tow, four, or six chambers.  The number of chambers does not seem to be related to size of the site, the chronology within Iron Age Israel, of location (Israel or Judah or neighboring states).  Instead the number of chambers seems to depend on the topography of the site and the use made of the gate complex.  Most gates at major sites in Israel and surrounding lands were made entirely of stone, or stone lower courses and mud brick above.  Pier walls were typically about 6 feet wide, chambers about 9 feet wide and 15-18 feet deep.  And the gates often had towers on either side.  At a number of sites, inner and outer gates have been discovered.

Gates were not just entryways into and out of cities and towns, but they certainly did provide entry and egress.  The gate complex was at the center of activity for the city.  Obviously gates had a defensive purpose of offering protection to the citizens inside.  As such the gate complex often had military installations associated with it.  The gate complex included the entryway doors (Neh. 6:1; 7:1), towers (2 Chron. 26:9), and gate bars (Judg. 16:3; 2 Chron. 8:5) that could be put in place to secure the town.

Benches were located in the chambers and immediately inside and outside the gate at many sites including Beersheba,2 Gezer,3 and Tel Dan.4 Such benches are often related to biblical texts which speak of “sitting in the gate” (2 Sam. 19:8).  However, these benches vary in height from about 6 inches to over 30 inches, some too low to sit on, others too high, and others too narrow.  In these instances, the bench was probably a shelf on which items could be placed.

In addition, many major business and social activities took place at the gate complex.  An open plaza (Hebrew, rechob, “street, square, plaza,” Gen. 19:2; Judg. 19:15; 2 Sam. 21:12) was often located just inside or outside the gate.  The plaza was the market place where merchants offered their goods, and the people would gather to buy and sell.  It was the equivalent of today’s mall and farmer’s market all in one.  Archaeologists have excavated such plazas at Beersheba,5 Tel Dan,6 and other sites.  The market or plaza was a natural gathering place.  In such a plaza Hezekiah spoke to the assembled people to encourage them at the time of Sennacherib’s attack (2 Chron. 32:6).  Likewise, Ezra read the Book of the Law to the assembled people in the plaza of the Water Gate of Jerusalem (Neh. 8:1,3).  Since many benches in gate chamber were often quite small, to what did the phrase “sitting in the gate” refer?  Most likely it referred to sitting anywhere in the gate complex, either just inside or just outside the gate, but especially in the plaza.  Lot was “in  the gate of Sodom” (Gen. 19:1)7 probably in the plaza area since this is where the angels proposed to spend the night (v. 2).  It is also where the Levite sat with his concubine when he was going to spend the night at Gibeah (Judg. 19:15).

Not all such plazas were inside the gate.  There is at least one reference to “streets” or “bazaars” (Hebrew, chuts ) which were located outside the gate (1 Kings 20:34, the basic meaning of chuts  is “outside”).  The late Israeli archaeologist, Avraham Biran, interpreted such structures excavated outside the gate at Tel Dan as the chuts.8  Again their location close to the gate makes perfect sense.  They are the place merchants would offer goods for sale.  A location just inside or just outside the city gates is convenient, readily accessible, and also easily kept under the watchful eye of officials to prevent trouble.  Another place associated with the gate and just outside the city is a threshing floor.  The kings of Israel and Judah held a summit meeting seated on their thrones at the threshing floor at the entrance to the gate of Samaria (1 Kings 22:10).  Like the bazaars, the threshing floor would be a large open public space, perfect for a public meeting.

The gate complex thus was the place persons gathered and transacted business.  Abraham negotiated to purchase the field and burial cave for Sarah (Gen. 23:10-16) at the city gate of Hebron (or Kiriath-Arba ).  Similarly, Boaz negotiated for the purchase of Elimelech’s property including the hand of Ruth in marriage (Ruth 4:1-12) at the gate of Bethlehem. 

High places or sanctuaries were associated with city gates during the Iron Age.  Josiah broke down the high places of the city gate as part of his religious reform (2 Kings 23:8).  Archaeologists have discovered city-gate sanctuaries at Tel Dan and Bethsaida.  The Iron Age gate complex at Bethsaida had at least seven stele, which were worshiped in the high places in the city gate complex.9 One just to the right of the gate had a couple of steps leading up to a basalt basin for libation offerings.  A stele with a bovine-headed deity sat above the libation area.  At Tel Dan four sets of standing stones (Hebrew, masseboth) have been discovered in the gate complex.10

Biblical references to “justice in the gates” refers to justice dispensed in or near the gate complex.  Because the gate complex was the place the people gathered for business and socialization, and because it was a place of public assembly for reading the Law and encouraging the people, it was also the expected place for holding court.  Accusations were made in public, the trial took place in public, and the decision was given in a public place.  So also the sentence was carried out in public (Amos 5:15; Deut. 17:5; 21:18-21; 22:23-24).

Turning to the focal passage, 2 Samuel 19:7-8, the larger context can help readers visualize the gate complex where David was sitting.  Before the battle between David’s forces and Absalom’s forces, David stood “at the side of the gate” as the army marched out (2 Sam. 18:4).  He was probably standing just outside the gate reviewing the troops.  He then is described as “sitting between the two gates” when a watchman went up to the roof of the gate and saw a runner bringing news of the battle (v. 24).  The description suggests Mahanaim had an inner and outer gate, such as ones found at Beersheba, Tel Dan, Megiddo, and others.  When David heard that Absalom had been killed he “went up to the upper chamber of the gate” and wept (v. 33).  The upper chamber would either be a second story or a rooftop room of the gate complex.  Finally, David got up from his mourning and “sat in the gate”; when the people heard that “the king is sitting in the gate,” all the people came before the king (19:8).  So the gate at Mahanaim had an inner and outer gate, a second story or roof room, and a place for the king to sit between the inner and outer gate.  At Tel Dan excavators discovered a platform in the open area between the inner and outer gate.  The platform originally had a canopy over it.  The excavator suggests that the platform was the location of a seat for the king, a visiting dignitary, or a deity.  That reconstructed platform may help persons today visualize where David sat for the people to come before him.  On a throne in the plaza of Mahanaim, David was re-acclaimed as king by the people after the army had successfully put down Absalom’s rebellion. 

1.  See drawing: Ze’ev Herzon, “Tel Beersheba,” in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land  (NEAEHL), ed. Ephraim Stern, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society & Carta, 1993), 167.

2.  Ibid., 171.

3.  William Denver, “Gezer” in NEAEHL, vol. 2, 503-505.

4.  Avraham Biran, “Dan” in NEAEHL, vol. 1, 329-30; avraham Biran, “Sacred Spaces,” Biblical Archaeology Review  (BAR) 24.5 (September/October 1998): 38-45.

5.  Herzog, 167, 171-72.

6.  Biran, “Dan,” 329-30; and Biran, “Sacred Spaces,” 41, 44-45, 70.

7.  All Scripture quotations are the writer’s translation.

8.  Biran, “Dan,” 329-30; and Biran, “Sacred Spaces,” 41, 44-45, 70.

9.  Rami Arav, Richard A. Freund, and John F. Shroder, Jr., “Bethsaida Rediscovered,” BAR 26.1 (January/February 2000): 44-56; Rami Arav, email message, October 15, 2009; and Tina Haettner Bolmquist, Gates and Gods (Stockholm; Almqvist & Wicksell, 1999), 50-57.

10. Biran, “Sacred Spaces,” 44-45; Blomquist, 57-67.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 36, No. 4; Summer 2010.


Israel’s Understanding of the Land

By D. Larry Gregg, Sr.

D. Larry Gregg, Sr., is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Rutherfordton, North Carolina and instructor of biblical studies, philosophy, and world religions at Isothermal Community College in Spindale, North Carolina.


N EXPLORATION of the relationship between Israel and the land must reflect a balanced understanding of the appropriate tension between two foundational biblical assertions: “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever” (Gen. 13:15).1  And “That the land spew not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spewed out the nations that were before you” (Lev. 18:28).  God’s original promise to Abraham must be read through the lens of the moral and ethical accountability enshrined in the Levitical “fine print” of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.  On the threshold of Canaan, Israel faced the stark truth that the privileges and the responsibilities of chosenness came  wrapped together in the same package.

Israel and the Covenant

Ancient Israel’s covenant relationship with God was the stack-pole around which the people’s understanding of the land was organized.  God said to Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Gen. 12:1).  God reaffirmed the promise He made to Abraham by repeating it to Abraham’s son, Isaac (26:3) and to his grandson, Jacob (46:3-4).  Finally, Joseph reiterated in his deathbed speech the belief that God had promised a land to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants (50:24).  When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, this promise of the ultimate possession of “a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8) was behind his being commissioned to lead God’s people to the land that was their heritage (6:8).  This sense of divine promise reached its apex in the covenant at Sinai where God laid down the conditions of relationship and the people swore, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (19:8).

A covenant is an agreement in which all parties share expectations and obligations.  Covenants, as opposed to legal contracts, are ethical in nature and depend “solely upon the integrity”2 of the covenant partners.  Therefore, the enduring viability of such agreements rests upon the emeth (Hebrew for “covenant faithfulness”) of all parties.  To betray the covenant could lead to suspension, temporarily or permanently, of the relationship.

God warned Israel that when they violated the covenant relationship they “defiled the land” and risked being “vomited” out of it (Lev. 18:25,28; 20:22).  Israel’s classical prophets interpreted the people’s eventual expulsion from the land as the illustration par excellance of this truth.  Ancient Israel’s greatest folly was the assumption that God was obliged to keep His side of the covenant regardless of whether or not they remained faithful.  They forgot that the same God who had, in divine grace, declared them to be His people, could also declare to an idolatrous, morally and ethically bankrupt society, “ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hos. 1:9).

Inherit, Possess, and Rest

Three Hebrew words characterize the nature of Israel’s understanding of the land: nahala (inheritance), ahuzza (possession), and memuha (rest).3  Inheritance here does not simply signify the passage of property from one generation to another on the basis of biological descent.  More accurately the image is that of the feudal bestowal by a sovereign lord of land and title upon a dependent vassal.  “The emphasis falls on God as one who has authority to dispose of land belonging to him.”4  While the land may be passed from generation to generation through biological descent, the sovereign lord retains the right to reclaim the inheritance and bestow it upon another if the original recipient or his descendants betray the trust.

“Possession” reaches back to Genesis where God placed the man and woman in the garden and gave them responsibility of caring for it.  Eden was not their garden; it was God’s.  Their tenure in the garden carried with it both privileges and responsibilities.

Likewise, while the Israelites were to benefit from the blessings of the land, they were also accountable to God for how they used it.  Regardless of how long Israel possessed the land, God ultimately remained its Owner.  “The land [was] a sacred responsibility of stewardship under Yahweh.”5

The land God gave to ancient Israel was to be held in trust.  For this reason God commanded, “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev. 25:23).

Lastly, Israel understood the land as “rest.”  Joshua spoke these words to the Israelites on the threshold of Canaan: “The Lord your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land” (Josh. 1:13).  Through the wilderness journey Israel had been sustained by the hope that a day would come when their wandering would cease, their battles would be over, their liberty would be secure, and every man would sit “under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid” (Mic. 4:4).  However, such rest and covenant faithfulness remained closely linked.  The psalmist warned: “It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Ps. 95:10-11).

Covenant Faithfulness

Leviticus 18—20 makes clear that the Israelites’ right to inherit, possess, and reside in peace in the land was directly connected to their moral behavior.  They were warned that they were called to a higher personal and societal morality than that which existed in Egypt from which they had been delivered, or in Canaan toward which they were traveling.  The abuse of sexual relationships, not being charitable, committing human sacrifice, fraud, talebearing, necromancy, and the abuse of the land were all betrayals of trust relationships, either with others or with the environment.  The deliberate betrayal of such interpersonal relations constituted a breach of the ultimate covenant with Yahweh.  Thus the Lord solemnly warned that as surely as the land was about to spew out the Canaanites for their abominable behavior, the land would also spew out Israel if they refused to abide by the conditions of the covenant.  The same God who chose them and conferred the land upon them was also their Judge.  Therefore, “ye shall . . . keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord” (Lev. 18:5).

A Concluding Thought

Many today are scandalized at any suggestion of a connection between human social ethical behavior and the recalcitrance of the environment expressed in natural disaster, disease, climate-change, and the like.  While one should always be careful in ascribing such things to God’s judgment on a sinful people, reminding ourselves that our decisions and our conduct, individually and collectively, have consequences is always appropriate.  While our eternal salvation is forever secure by our faith in Christ, all that we have in this life may be lost as the consequence of destructive choices, our own or others.  We are a fallen people living in a fallen environment where “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22).  Living in this fallen environment still carries for us, we who are covenant people, both responsibilities and privileges.  We must be careful not to assume that God’s conditional promises are guarantees of perpetual entitlement.  Instead, our right to inherit, possess, and rest in the fullness of God’s blessings are contingent upon our willingness to live faithfully within the covenant relationship we have with Him.  Living as covenant people should be our goal.  Concerning our living on the land, we should remember 1 Peter 2:11, which reaches back to 1 Chronicles 29:15 to remind us that we also are “strangers and pilgrims” accountable to God for how we live our lives.                            Bi

1.  All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version (KJV).

2.  Herion, “Covenant” in Eerdmand Dictionary of the Bible, ed. in chief Freedman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 289.

3.  Janzen, “Land” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. in chief Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 4:144.

4.  Ibid.

5.  Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 211.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2010.


The HEART in Old Testament Theology

By R. Raymond Lloyd

R. Raymond Lloyd is retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Starkville, Mississippi.


HE BIBLICAL ADMONITION to “love . . . and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Deut. 10:12; 11:13)1 is the language of mankind of all the ages. The expression of Moses then, or those who preceded him,2 or the pulpit today; the expression of spiritual relationships, or romantic ones – all incorporate in some fashion intellect, emotion, and will as stemming from the heart.

We, however, know the heart as a muscle, pulsing an average 100,000 times and pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood daily. In the average lifetime the heart beats more than 2.5 billion times.3 Not so the ancient Hebrews. They, like the other peoples of the ancient Near East, while being aware of the existence and general function of the heart, appear to have known nothing of the circulation of blood. The Old Testament only rarely used the word “heart” to describe the physical organ. And each such anatomical reference is, to say the least, quite vague.4

While the physiological significance of the heart was generally unknown, they did recognize its central importance to the life of the individual. In essence, it took the place of the brain as the locus of all psychical activity. This reflects the normal conception of man, both among the Hebrews and the other ancients, whose physical functions have close association with physical organs.5

Of all the physical organs the heart is by far the most important, and most frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It is the “central and unifying organ of personal life.” R. C. Dentan suns it up thusly:

. . . it (the heart) was the inner most spring of individual life, the ultimate source of all its physical, intellectual, emotional, and volitional energies, and consequently the part of man through which he normally achieved contact with the divine.6

The word “heart” occurs 853 times in the Old Testament, both as leb and lebab. The two words appear to be totally synonymous with leb generally being used in the earlier literature and lebab in the latter. These numerous texts reflect the main facets of the psychical center of life. Only a limited number of such texts can be cited here.7

A. The Intellectual Center

The center of intellectual life was located in the heart. Here one is said to perceive, as Ezekiel was commissioned by the Lord to “receive [my words] in thine heart? (Ezek. 3:10); to think as “David said in his heart” (1 Sam. 27:1); to understand as the Preacher expressed it: “I applied mine heart to know wisdom” (Eccl. 8:16); to meditate, as the psalmist encouraged his people to “commune with your own heart upon your bed” (Ps. 4:4); to remember, as Wisdom’s exhortation to let “mercy and truth” be written on “the tablet of thy heart” (Prov. 3:3). In the climax to Jeremiah’s great “Temple Sermon,” he condemned child sacrifice and used the phrase “neither came it into my ‘leb’” (Jer. 7:31). It is translated in most every version as “mind,” for this is precisely its meaning. Typical English idioms as “what’s on one’s mind” or “to bear in mind” are expressed in the Hebrew as “all that is in thine heart” (1 Sam. 14:7) and “layeth it to heart” (Isa. 57:1). Furthermore, wisdom from the Lord was given to the heart (Prov. 2:10), as when “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding . . . and largeness of heart” (1 Kings 4:29).

B. The Emotional Center

As the seat of one’s emotional life virtually every human emotion is attributed to the heart. Fundamental emotions such as joy and pleasure, grief and despair have their roots in the leb. The heart is made “glad” (Prov. 27:11); Hannah’s “heart rejoiceth in the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:1); Israel was “glad of heart” to the Lord for His goodness at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:66); their “heart shall rejoice” in the return from exile (Zech. 10:7); the Philistine’s “hearts were merry” as they celebrated the victory over Samson (Judg. 16:25). On the other hand, God was “grieved . . . at his heart” (Gen. 6:6): Israel poured out its “heart like water before the face of the Lord” over the destruction of Jerusalem (Lam. 2:19); in sickness the psalmist groaned in the “disquiteness of his heart” (Ps. 38:8); Nehemiah is described as having a “sorrow of heart” because of the destruction of Jerusalem (Neb. 2:2).

Numerous are the examples demonstrating fear as an emotion of the heart. Many of those in exile are described as being “of a fearful heart” (Isa. 35:4). Moses called on the tribes of Gad and Reuben not to “discourage . . . the heart of the children of Israel” as they had been at the report of the spies at Kadesh-barnea (Num. 32:7-9). The “hearts of the people melted” as they fled before the men of Ai (Josh. 7:5). The heart trembles when a person is afraid (Job. 37:1). “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear,” said the psalmist (Ps. 27:3). On the other hand, the heart is depicted as being firm and strong. The psalmist called on Israel to “let your heart take courage” (Ps. 27:14, NASB; 31:24); David “found in his heart to pray” for the building of the house of David (2 Sam. 7:27), another way of expressing that he “took courage.” The lack of such was shown by Joseph’s brothers as “their heart failed them” when they discovered the money had been restored (Gen. 42:28).

Seated in the heart also are the “transitive emotions,” as Professor Fabry called them, of love and hate.8 Its romantic expression is found in the relationship of Samson and Delilah (Judg. 16:15,17,18). David’s “heart was toward Absalom,” his son (2 Sam. 14:1). The mode of speech used by lovers, “speak to the heart,” was used by the Lord expressing His unconditional love in seeking to restore the bond between Israel and Himself (Hos. 2:14). References to hatred in the heart are more limited. However, as David danced before the ark, Saul’s daughter “despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:16), and the Holiness Code admonished one not to “hate your brother in your heart” (Lev. 19:17, NIV).

These are but a few examples of the fact that virtually every human emotion expressed in the Old Testament emanated from the heart.

C. The Volitional Center

The third major psychical activity of the heart is will. The line separating the intellectual and volitional functions of the heart is sometimes unclear. However, there are distinctions, because the heart functions as the locus of the “driving force” behind the will of a human being. As a result it has moral, ethical, and religious connotations. It becomes the governing factor of one’s behavior. Here choices are made based on one’s own intuition and conscience or the influence of other persons or of God Himself.

Both virtues and vices spring from the heart. Here lay the motivation for evil deeds: the wicked have “mischief in their hearts” (Ps. 28:3); false prophets have “deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14); the Lord hates a “heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” (Prov. 6:18). Following the command to “love the Lord . . . with all thy heart” come the warning to “take heed . . . that your heart be not deceived” (Deut. 11:13,16). It may be swelled with pride: Uzziah’s “heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chron. 26:16). It may also be “hardened” as was Pharaoh’s (Ex. 7:3; 8:15) or “stubborn” as when Israel walked in “the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 7:24, NASB). On occasions it was called “uncircumcised” (Jer. 9:26, NASB). It may even be duplicitous: the ungodly have a “double heart” (Ps. 12:2). Jeremiah pictured sin as being “graven upon the tablet of their heart” (Jer. 17:1).

Virtues, likewise, originate in the heart. “Upright in heart” is a favorite expression of the psalmist (7:10; 32:11). Solomon instructed Israel on the occasion of the dedication of the temple to “let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God” (1 Kings 8:61). One who walks uprightly “speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:2, NASB). When one conforms to God’s standard of behavior as expressed in the law and thus keeps the covenant, he is said to have “integrity of heart” (1 Kings 9:4).

The heart is the locus of divine contact. The Lord “knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1 Kings 8:39). He knows the “secrets of the heart” (Ps. 44:21). The Creator “who fashions the hearts of them” all knows their deeds (Ps. 33:15, NASB). His primary concern, as described in His instructions to Samuel when seeking one to anoint as king from among the sons of Jesse, was not the “outward appearance,” because “the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Human beings are continuously under God’s scrutiny (1 Chron. 29:17; Ps. 17:3; Prov. 17:3). Because the heart tends toward evil and is crooked and perverted, prone to deceit and filled with pride, it is imperative for it to undergo a radical change.

Thus comes the ringing call throughout the Old Testament for the heart to be shattered of self and controlled by God, for the desired “sacrifices of God are . . . a broken and a contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17). The urgent need is for one to become clean and petition God as did the penitent psalmist: “create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10). Moses directed Israel to “circumcise . . . your heart and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut. 10:16). Jeremiah called on Jerusalem to “wash thine heart from wickedness” (Jer. 4:14). He called for a return to the Lord with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7) and strongly censured those who “hath not returned unto me with [their] whole heart” (Jer. 3:10). God’s ideal standard of behavior may be best expressed by the psalmist when he asked, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in this holy place?” and then proceeded to provide the answer: “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-4). These two phrases describe God’s requirement of both inward and outward purity, a purity of thought and deed. When one responded with unwavering allegiance to God, he was said to have a faithful heart (Neh. 9:8) or a steadfast heart (Ps. 112:7).

Obviously a response to God was expected and the most all-inclusive desired expression of that was communicated through the directive: “love and serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”9 This is the heart of Old Testament covenant theology. This was to be Israel’s response to the God who had delivered them from Egyptian bondage. The eloquent words of the Shema are found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel” The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

The faithful were to recite them twice daily. This command to love God is linked directly with keeping the law. The concluding exhortation of the Deuteronomic Law Code commanded that Israel shall perform all the statues and ordinances “with all thy heart . . .” (Deut. 26:16).

This requirement “to love . . . the Lord thy God with all thy heart . . .” appears several times in the Old Testament and in each instance relates to a covenantal commitment. It was to be Israel’s response to the God who established and set the terms of the covenant at Sinai. It demands a loyalty that is unqualified and unconditional. In keeping with the Hebrew concept of totality, the heart is virtually synonymous with the whole person (Prov. 3:1).

But for Israel, keeping the law with all of one’s heart was an impossibility. Human effort alone was insufficient. Hope for improvement of the heart could be found only in God’s grace. Because Israel had persistently broken the old covenant, Jeremiah introduced the idea of a new covenant whose law was not to be written on tablets of stone, but in the human heart (Jer. 31:31-34). While the new covenant had similarities to the old, it was different in that the new covenant promised the creation of a new man. God was going to the focal point of His contact with man and making known His will and purpose directly to the intellectual, emotional, and volitional center of a person’s life. Jeremiah did not say how this would become reality, but he may well have been speaking not only at Christ’s work, but also the Holy Spirit’s work in enlightening, convicting, and enabling a person in his response to God.

While God gives a new heart to those who put their faith in Him, His expectations remain the same. We are still to “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart,” with our total being, with our full capacity.                                                                                                                      

1.  Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

2.  In Egypt and Mesopotamia various texts reflect very similar meanings to those of the Hebrews, including the psychical functions of the heart. Compare Heinz-Josef Fabry. “Leb”;” lebab” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. Vii (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 1995), 401ff.

3.  Heart and Stroke Facts, American Heart Association, 1992-99, p. 2.

4.  Ibid., 411.

5.  For a most thorough discussion relating the psychical functions to the total human being: soul, body, and spirit, as well as the various parts of the body, in other words, face, mouth, palate, tongue, lips, nose, ear, arm, hand, foot, knees, bones, blood, loins, bosom, bowels, kidneys, and heart, compare A. R. Johnson, The Vitality of the Individual in the Thought of Ancient Israel (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1949). It should be clearly noted that there is “absolutely no unity in the ideas of the Old Testament about the nature of man,” because those ideas came from very diverse periods of time and centers of people. Hebrew psychology is not a precise and exacting science and the equation of certain functions to the particular physical organs was somewhat “loose and inconsistent.” Compare Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1962), 152-153.

6.  R. C. Dentan, “Heart,” The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 549.

7.  For an exhaustive study of the use of leb and lebab in all the dimensions of human life, compare Fabry, 412.

8.  Ibid., 416-17.

9.  Many of the characteristics of the leb are also attributes of the nephesh. Obviously Deuteronomy does not reflect the Greek concept of dichotomy expressing “complimentary attributes of human personality.” However, leb may express the intentional nature of man and the nephesh may well “denote that vital principal in man which animates the human body and reveals itself in the form of conscious life.” Johnson, 9-26.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 2001-02.




What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (01/25/15) A two-part question: In Ephesus, (1) where and (2) for how long, did the Apostle Paul minister?  Answer next week: (1) Where? (2) how long?; Acts 19:9-10.

The answer to last week’s trivia question:  (01/18/15)   Two-part question: (1) Who? added (2) what? to make a water supply safe to drink?  Answer: (1) Elisha; (2) salt; 2 Kings 2:21.