GOD’S LAWS ENSURE THAT ISRAEL REMAINS DISTINCT FROM HER SURROUNDING PAGAN NEIGHBORS IN TERMS OF PERSONAL INTEGRITY AND CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS
Daniel Block: Verses 15–25 consist of various instructions whose arrangement appears random. However, they exhibit an A B A B A pattern, with the A elements treating horizontal issues (vv. 15–16, 19–20, 24–25), and the B elements dealing with vertical concerns (vv. 17–18, 21–23).
Meredith Kline: Respect was to be shown to all those dignified by the status of covenant servant to the Lord. This section of stipulations was designed to guarantee this sanctity of the theocratic citizen by regulations which assured peace, prosperity, and liberty within the covenant commitment to all God’s people, but especially to those classes whose welfare was jeopardized by various circumstances. The legislation seems to be arranged in groups corresponding to laws six through ten in the Decalogue, but in a slightly different order, as follows;
– Laws of property (23:19-25),
– of family (24:1-5),
– of life (24:6-15),
– of justice (24:16-18),
– and of charity (24:19-22).
Charlie Garrett: Holiness, purity, and justice — Miscellaneous Laws for Israel —
a. rights within the land (15, 16)
b. prohibitions concerning vows (17, 18)
c. you shall not charge interest to your brother (19)
x. to a foreigner you may charge interest (20)
c. to your brother you shall not charge interest (20)
b. mandates concerning vows (21-23)
a. rights within the land (24, 25)
I. (:15-16) FORBIDDING THE EXTRADITION OF ESCAPED FOREIGN SLAVES
A. (:15) Prohibition against Extraditing an Escaped Slave
“You shall not hand over to his master a slave
who has escaped from his master to you.”
Daniel Block: The prohibited action (lit., “to shut someone in”) means to apprehend and imprison the fugitive until the owner arrives, when he would be delivered into the master’s hands.
Duane Christensen: This command runs contrary to all known ancient Near Eastern law codes, which forbade the harboring of runaway slaves. . .
The law of asylum for escaped slaves was intended to remind the people of Israel that they had been slaves in Egypt. Those who have known firsthand the degradation of human slavery understand; we too are in a position to begin to understand why Israel’s policy against extradition flies in the face of other law codes produced by the powerful nations responsible for inflicting slavery on subject peoples.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The ambiguity is whether the slaves of this passage refers to all slaves, both Israelite and external, or only to foreign slaves who have fled to Israel, seeking asylum from their owners and their homeland. The strongest argument for reading the passage as speaking of foreign slaves is that it is hard to imagine such a protection for Israelite slaves. A regulation that allows any and all escaped slaves to be recognized as free would “spell the end of slavery in a short time,” and so “obviously… not every case of slavery is intended here” (Cairns: 206). The language of verse 16, which allows slaves to reside with you … in any one of your towns, may support understanding these escaped slaves as coming from elsewhere. . .
The highly theological language of this passage, against the background of Israel’s story, raises the possibility that this passage envisions a former slave becoming part of Israel, a “brother” living in their communities, where they please. If so, then this astonishing passage not only challenges all cultural norms of slavery but also puts into question any narrow reading of Deuteronomy that sees it as interested only in an ethnic Israel. Deuteronomy is a book that highlights Israel as a community of “brothers,” of kinfolk, but this provision raises the possibility that foreigners may become those kinfolk.
B. (:16a) Placement of the Escaped Slave
“He shall live with you in your midst,
in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him;”
Daniel Block: The magnanimity of verse 16 is extraordinary. The Israelites must not only let fugitive slaves reside among them, but also allow them to choose a place in any town that seems good to them. Nor may the Israelites exploit and oppress them. The word hônâ (from yānâ) refers to any kind of mistreatment by which the owner takes advantage of the person’s alien status. In effect, foreign slaves who fled to Israel were free to live anywhere without fear. By calling the Israelites to provide safe haven for fugitives, Moses treats the entire land as terra sancta.
C. (:16b) Protection of the Escaped Slave
“you shall not mistreat him.”
II. (:17-18) FORBIDDING THE ABOMINABLE PRACTICE OF CULTIC PROSTITUTION
A. (:17) Prohibition of the Abominable Practice
“None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute,
nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute.”
Daniel Block: The qedēšô and qedēšî seem to have been young women and men dedicated for service to the gods at the local shrines. Their service may have ranged from menial janitorial service at the shrine to singing and dancing in public events (cf. Judg. 21:19–23). As in the ostensibly religious celebrations of Mardi Gras, cultic events often occasioned orgiastic revelry. . .
If qedēšâ designates a female consecrated for service at a shrine but who also functioned as a prostitute serving male worshipers, then qādēš denotes a dedicated male involved in similar service. Apparently they combined official roles with unofficial participation in sexual orgies, either with female worshipers, or more likely gross homosexual acts with male worshipers.
Eugene Merrill: Though prostitution of any kind was regarded with contempt in ancient Israelite society and therefore as antithetical to covenant law and behavior (cf. Lev 19:29; 21:9; Deut 22:21), such practice in the name of religion was particularly reprehensible. So-called cultic prostitution was widespread among the fertility cults of the ancient Near Eastern world that saw in its employment a means of achieving productivity of plant, animal, and even human life. Whole guilds of male and female temple personnel participated in grossly sexual rituals designed to induce the various gods and goddesses to release their procreative powers on the earth. Nowhere was this more commonly practiced than among the peoples of Syria and Canaan, hence the special need to warn Israel against it.
B. (:18) Prohibition of Payment of Vows with Such Dirty Money
“You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.”
Daniel Block: Verse 18 suggests the actions of qedēšâ and qādēš had economic significance. The phrase “earnings of a female prostitute” involves a word that always refers to the fee for a prostitute’s sexual services. Accordingly, meḥir keleb (lit., “payment of a dog”) refers pejoratively to fees paid for the sexual favors of a qādēš. Although other ancient Near Easterners valued dogs for protection and healing and as symbols of loyalty to a master, the Old Testament views them as dangerous and unclean. As scavengers that consume carrion and return to their own vomit (Prov. 26:11), dogs represented the antithesis to holiness. Moses’ equation of qedēšîm with “dogs” pejoratively portrays them as engaging in the most disgusting and defiling practices, but also copulating indiscriminately with any available female dog.
Peter Craigie: The second part of the legislation prohibits the payment of a vow to God with “dirty money.” When a vow was to be paid to God, it was not as though God required the money; the payment betokened an attitude of gratitude for God’s gracious provision, but money that had been acquired by sinful means could not be a part of God’s gift, and therefore could not be used in paying a vow to him. A prostitute’s wage—the term translated prostitute (zônāh) indicates a common prostitute, not specifically a cult-prostitute. The hire of a dog—the meaning of these words is doubtful, though they are commonly taken to refer to wages acquired from male prostitution. Because the activities that provided the funds were an abomination, the money could not be brought to the house of God.
Eugene Merrill: The final law concerning purity not only graphically brings the whole collection of such legislation to a conclusion but provides a transition to the next section, that having to do with theft (23:21–24:7). This is implicit in the reference to paying vows to the Lord with illegitimate earnings (v. 18) and explicit in the connection between keleb (“dog”; “male prostitute”) in v. 18 and n ak (lit., “bite”; “charge interest”) in v. 19. The placement of this stipulation where it is gives every evidence of careful literary and thematic design, contrary to those scholars who view this and other entries as consisting of miscellanea thrown together in a more or less hodgepodge manner.
Earl Kalland: Whatever is acquired by evil means as well as what is evil in itself is not to be offered to the Lord. Such things do not belong in the house of the Lord; nor are they acceptable to him.
Jack Deere: The payment of a vow allowed an Israelite to express his gratitude for God’s gracious provision in his life. Therefore to use money God did not provide in order to pay a vow was insincere and hypocritical. No wonder it was detestable to the Lord.
III. (:19-20) FORBIDDING THE CHARGING OF INTEREST TO COUNTRYMEN
A. (:19-20b) The Prohibition of Charging Interest
1. (:19) Applies to Fellow Countrymen
“You shall not charge interest to your countrymen:
interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest.”
Daniel Block: Prohibiting Israelites from charging interest on loans to their countrymen was driven by the sense of community and the desire to inhibit economic stratification, which often resulted in debt-slavery. By addressing would-be lenders rather than borrowers, Moses makes interest-free loans a matter of responsibility for those with means rather than a right of the poor. True righteousness (cf. 16:20) is demonstrated when the rich lend willingly to those in need, without compulsion or desire to profit from someone else’s misfortune.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Deuteronomic regulations address the economic realities and practices of Israel, exhorting the people how to treat needy neighbors. Money was used in ancient Israel, but its economy was not based on money. Commercial activity tended to be the exchange of labor and products. In this simple subsistence economy, borrowing was an act of desperation in the face of great need. Those in desperation would borrow food or seed for the field. It is unclear exactly how pledges worked, whether they were part of the arrangement from the beginning or only used in cases of repayment default. But at some point the lender could request or demand a pledge, some piece of property belonging to the person who had borrowed. Given that those borrowing tended to be the very poor, with little property, this pledge commonly had little commercial value. The taking of the pledge thus was a way of pressuring the person to pay rather than a substitute way of paying off the loan (Tigay: 223).
Andrew Webb: What of us, what should we think of usury? Well any exorbitant interest charged on a loan, merely because one can get away with it is clearly theft, and the greater the interest above normal levels, the greater the theft.
What I would say, is we would do well to be as circumspect as possible in this regard, as a general rule we should never charge interest to our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in their times of need. If we must charge interest, we must not allow the dire need of the person we are loaning to, to cause us to jack up the rate, and to basically agree in advance on a premium and rate of repayment that all reasonable men would regard as fair.
2. (:20a) Does Not Apply to Foreigners
“You may charge interest to a foreigner,”
Daniel Block: Unlike the “alien” who lived among the Israelites, albeit with limited rights, the “foreigner” remained an outsider with no intention of settling down in Israel. The persons envisioned here might have been merchants who bought and sold goods for profit rather than the sheer need for survival. If their business ventures did not succeed, they could always go home.
Gerald Gerbrandt: In the case of the foreigner (cf. 14:21; 15:3), a loan is more probably a commercial transaction with a business person or traveling merchant, an example of international trade rather than a desperation loan, and so interest may be charged.
3. (:20b) Applies to Fellow Countrymen
“but to your countryman you shall not charge interest,”
Peter Craigie: The man wealthy enough to make a loan would be wealthy only because of the gracious provision of God; if, then, he lent something on interest (money, food) to a fellow in crisis, he would be abusing God’s provision. He should lend freely, without interest, reflecting thereby his own thankfulness to God, and receiving the continued blessing of God.
B. (:20c) The Promise of Future Blessing
“so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake
in the land which you are about to enter to possess.”
Michael Grisanti: Since Yahweh is the source of blessing for his people, financial profit is not to be the ruling standard for the way they treat their Israelite kinsfolk.
IV. (:21-23) FORBIDDING THE DELAY OR BREAKING OF VOWS
A. (:21) Vows Must Be Kept on a Timely Basis
“When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it,
for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: A vow is a voluntary promise or commitment made by a person or people to God, frequently to praise God in public for what God has done. It is distinguished from oaths in that oaths normally are commitments made between people supported by a formula of self-cursing. . . Most frequently a vow is made in a time of crisis or need when an individual promises to give God something in exchange for deliverance from the crisis. The kinds of predicaments that can precipitate a vow are wide ranging, from sickness to physical danger, from barrenness to familial alienation. A natural setting for making vows is worship. A psalm of petition can include a vow to praise God if God delivers the person from the particular situation of need (e.g., Pss 22:25; 56:12; 61:8), with a psalm of thanksgiving declaring that the praise being offered is in fulfillment of a vow (e.g., Pss 66:13–15; 116:14, 18).
B. (:22) Vows (Before Being Made) Are Optional
“However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you.”
C. (:23) Vows (Once Made) Are Obligatory
“You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised.”
Michael Grisanti: The importance of doing precisely what one has promised is modeled and demanded by Israel’s covenantal Lord. The word he has spoken to his covenantal nation is totally reliable and sure to find fulfillment. His character is at stake where his promises are concerned. He has not made promises or vows just to stimulate a certain kind of conduct (i.e., offer a bribe). He has made them because he is totally committed to doing (and is able to do) exactly what he has said. For his covenantal people to make vows and not keep them would be to provide their fellow Israelites and the pagan nations around a corrupt picture of the character of the God whom they serve and whose name they bear.
V. (:24-25) FORBIDDING UNACCEPTABLE AGGRESSIVE GLEANING PRACTICES
A. (:24) Regarding Harvesting Fruit on the Vineyard
“When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket.”
Meredith Kline: The law of crops (vv. 24, 25) provide such liberty as to satisfy the principle of brotherly hospitality, but prohibited the changing of liberty to license in violation of the property rights of the theocratic citizen.
B. (:25) Regarding Harvesting Standing Grain
“When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The instructions directed to the gleaner give permission to glean, stated twice (You may eat your fill.… You may pluck the ears), but they also impose a limitation (cf. Mark 2:23, par.). The gleaner is not to carry away grapes … in a container, nor put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain. To take from someone’s field for eating is acceptable as a form of mutual support, but to take grapes away from the field or to begin the harvest process presumably in order to take away from the field is unacceptable, and thus a form of theft.
Deuteronomy’s emphasis that all of Israel is to participate in receiving the blessings of the land does not lead to a simplistic “Everything belongs to everyone.” The farmer has developed the vineyard and seeded the field. The farmer has a certain right to the produce even if elsewhere the farmer is challenged to remember always that the produce is a gift from God and not the result of human effort (8:11–20). This the gleaner recognizes by not taking produce away from the field. The tradition of gleaning in order to meet the need of hunger, however, is an appropriate way in which the community helps those in need. The poor are given some freedom (i.e., they can glean), but at the same time the text places a clear limitation on them, protecting the farmer.
Michael Grisanti: He may eat until his hunger is satisfied. In ancient days, travelers had no means to prevent perishable food from spoiling during their journey. This requirement seeks to create an atmosphere of compassion between fellow members of Yahweh’s people (cf. Mt 12:1–8; Mk 2:23–28; Lk 6:1–5), for after all, Yahweh is the one responsible for the abundance of any given field. This permission does not, however, include taking some of a fellow Israelite’s harvest for personal advantage. The property and its produce belong to the owner of the land, and those passing through his property must respect his ownership.
Peter Wallace: Now, in our day, we no longer live in an agrarian society. Moses’ law could work well in an agrarian society, where the widows and orphans could glean the fields, but an urban, post-industrial society must care for the poor in a different way.
What are the principles involved?
1) there will always be poor people who need assistance
2) everyone who has substantial wealth (in those days it was land) must contribute a portion of their harvest/income.
3) those who receive this must work to get it (in those days, by gleaning). (Although remember that Naomi did not glean–only Ruth)
In other words, the equity of the Mosaic law suggests that we honor the poor in the land, by giving a portion of our income for their benefit. We ought to encourage welfare reform that discourages laziness, but the principle of welfare is in fact thoroughly biblical, so long as they are required to work in some form to get it.