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If God provides us liberty from owing Him, can we do less towards our fellow man?
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A Meditation on Leviticus 25

My mom strongly advised against taking on debt. She was a young woman during the Great Depression. During that time, her father’s business, a grocery store, failed. I understand it was because he allowed struggling customers to owe him for their food purchases. Fast forward ninety years—and today, many people are in debt up to their eyeballs.

In Leviticus 25, we read about legislation in God’s “love your neighbors” series: laws intended to shield people in debt from being mistreated. In Israel, the responsibility to help rested with family, other individuals (that’s you and me), and God, because there were no social services to pick up the tab.

Did the Law distinguish between different causes of debt? Was debt that came via uncontrollable disasters, such as death or crop failure, treated differently from debt due to over-consumption, irresponsible risk-taking, gambling, drinking, or financial incompetence?

No, God did not allow “if” or “but” discrimination against the debtor. The Law didn’t require that excuses be offered and left no space for not providing help because they were “stupid, lazy people!”

God talks a lot about liberty in this chapter. Liberty from owing something to Him is fundamental to God’s character, and that’s clear in the legislation here. In Israel, liberty from permanent poverty and indebtedness was set in concrete.

It appears in Leviticus 25:35 that giving free financial assistance with no strings attached was preferable over repayable loans. However, if loans were given, they had to be either interest-free or have extremely low rates. Furthermore, all of Israel’s debt had a mandatory “write it off” date.

Listen to this from Deuteronomy 15:1-3:

At the end of every seventh year, cancel all debts. This is the procedure: Everyone who has lent money to a neighbour writes it off. You must not press your neighbour or his brother for payment: All-Debts-Are-Cancelled—GOD says so. You may collect payment from foreigners, but whatever you have lent to your fellow Israelite, you must write off.”1All Scriptural citations are taken from The Message Bible.

Hmmm, how would that work today? How difficult would writing off the debt be for the creditor? What about your bank or your credit card company? Or friend or relative?

When the value of help needed was assessed, God’s principles applied. Moses said this on the subject:

When you happen on someone who is in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse.
No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever, and as much as, he needs.
Don’t count the cost. Don’t listen to that selfish voice saying, “It’s almost the seventh year, the year of All-Debts-Are-Cancelled,” and turn aside and leave your needy neighbour in the lurch, refusing to help him. He’ll call GOD’s attention to you and your blatant sin. 
Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God’s blessing in everything you do.
There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbours in trouble. (Deut 15:7-11).

Do God’s principles apply to other non-monetary forms of indebtedness? How about the personal debt of other kinds—such as saying sorry? Forgiving? Dishing out revenge of some kind because of a grudge we are carrying? Well, yes! 

Paul said, “Love… doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel.” (1 Cor 13:5-6). And in Romans 13:8, “Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along.”

If God provides us liberty from owing Him, can we do less towards our fellow man?
Meditate on these thoughts. 

Jackie Grieves,
Pakaranga Ecclesia, NZ

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