Devotional Reading: Deuteronomy 24:10-21
Background Scriptures: Deuteronomy 24:10-21
LESSON SCRIPTURES: Deuteronomy 24:10-21
Exerted from: Standard Lesson Commentary KJV
10 When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.
11 Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.
12 And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge:
13 In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God.
14 Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates:
15 At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
17 Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge:
18 But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
19 When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.
20 When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.—Deuteronomy 24:18
After participating in this lesson, each learner should be able to:
1. Describe ways Israel showed justice toward the marginalized.
2. Explain the importance of Israel’s remembrance of God’s redemption.
3. Suggest one practical way he or she can help a marginalized individual or family.
Ignorance and Want
In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Present guides Ebenezer Scrooge on a tour of various scenes around London. Some scenes highlight holiday celebrations, while others show poverty-stricken individuals, including Scrooge’s own employee, Bob Cratchit.
Toward the end of the tour, the ghost reveals two destitute children beneath the folds of his robe, a boy named Ignorance and a girl named Want. The ghost warns Scrooge, “Beware them both … but most of all beware this boy.”
Through these characters, Dickens drew his readers’ attention to issues of ignorance and want regarding the economic challenges of his day, which was mid-nineteenth-century England. Many people of that time and place experienced want and neglect and were otherwise marginalized. Those who were better off often adopted a stance of willful ignorance toward the situation. Scrooge’s next words aptly describe that attitude: “Cover [the children Ignorance and Want]; I do not wish to see them.” Unfortunately, many still react this way, avoiding issues of economic justice by looking the other way. Deuteronomy 24:10–21 has important things to say in this regard.
Previous lessons from this quarter focused on other aspects of God’s law: His covenant with Israel (lesson 1), which served as the foundation for the law, and those individuals tasked with ruling on God’s law (lesson 8). This lesson turns to the details of God’s law for Israel. These laws make up the bulk of Deuteronomy’s content and are a central theme of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. The Hebrew word torah can mean “teaching” or “law,” specifically God’s laws for ancient Israel. These laws depicted how the Israelites were to live rightly with each other, with their neighboring peoples, and with their God.
Today’s Scripture text comes from Moses’ second address in Deuteronomy to the people of Israel, with the detailed covenant stipulations that God required for His people (Deuteronomy 12:1–26:19). Moses’ address began with a detailed description of proper worship of God (12:1–16:17) and continued with descriptions of proper justice in law (16:18–20; 17:8–13), regulations regarding the handling of violent acts (19:1–21:23), and issues of marriage (22:13–30), among other things, as God provided an ordered description of a new society.
For Israel, part of being God’s covenant people was the just and proper treatment of poor and otherwise marginalized individuals. Previously, Moses had reminded the Israelites that poor people would always be part of the population (Deuteronomy 15:11; compare John 12:18). As a result, Moses commanded an openhanded policy toward these individuals, requiring generous giving without resentment (Deuteronomy 15:10). Today’s Scripture expands on this theme.
10–11. When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge. Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.
Moses described a situation in which a brother—a fellow Israelite—needed a loan. Elsewhere, the law forbade Israelites from charging interest on loans made to other Israelites (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19–20).
However, lenders were allowed to receive collateral, or a pledge, as security for a loan. Even then, certain restrictions remained for what lenders could take as a pledge; taking as a pledge a person’s method of livelihood was forbidden (Deuteronomy 24:6; compare Job 24:3), as was taking a widow’s clothing (Deuteronomy 24:17; see commentary below).
To maintain the borrower’s dignity, the lender was not permitted to enter the borrower’s house. Instead, the lender was required to stay outside (abroad) the borrower’s dwelling, allowing the borrower to bring out the pledge himself. In this situation, the borrower controlled what was offered as pledge, with dignity and respect maintained.
As Old Testament history unfolded, the dangers of putting up security, or collateral, came to be recognized (see Proverbs 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13).
12. And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge.
The law added extra clarification for loans made to poor individuals. Such lending stipulations were required because of the extra vulnerability poor individuals may have faced. Furthermore, the law specifically prohibited lenders from charging interest on loans in these situations (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35–37).
13. In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God.
Additionally, lenders were limited on what could be done with a pledge of a borrower’s clothing (raiment). If that’s all a poor individual could provide as a pledge, then the lender was prohibited from keeping it overnight (compare Leviticus 19:13); the clothing had to be returned by sundown. This limitation protected the borrower’s health during the night (Exodus 22:26). Lenders were to be gracious in their lending practices because God is gracious (22:27; Psalm 116:5).
The lender’s act resulted in two outcomes. First, the borrower would bless the lender. One can picture the borrower, preparing for a good night’s sleep, offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the lender’s kindness.
Second, the lender’s gesture would be judged by the Lord and deemed as righteousness. Such acts were considered right standing in God’s eyes and conformed to the demands of God’s law and covenant (see Genesis 15:6; Deuteronomy 6:25; Isaiah 56:1; compare Luke 1:6). God desired His people to live in this manner because His own nature is one of righteousness and justice (see Psalms 9:8; 11:7; 33:5; 36:6; 103:6; Isaiah 33:15; Jeremiah 9:24; compare 1 John 3:7). Lending practices as prescribed by the law served as an example of the just and equitable actions the Lord wants His people to pursue, especially toward the marginalized.
What Do You Think?
Is the respect you offer to people poorer than you different from what you offer to those who are wealthier? If so, how?
Consider Matthew 25:40, 45. Does this add importance to how you treat the poor? Why or why not?
14a. Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy.
The concern for justice among the poor and needy extended to hired hands. After their experience of slavery in Egypt, Israelites were not permitted to be sold as slaves (Leviticus 25:42). However, an Israelite who experienced economic difficulty to the point of losing everything might serve other Israelites as an hired servant, or “sojourner” (25:35), with the expectation of eventually receiving freedom (25:40; see also Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12). The status of such a person is sometimes known as indentured servant.
14b. Whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates.
Prescriptions to protect hired hands were enacted to maintain the economic livelihood, dignity, and ability of impoverished individuals, brethren or not, to continue to live among the people of God (Leviticus 25:35–36).
Most requirements also extended to strangers that are in thy land, foreigners living among God’s covenant people; qualifying this with “most” admits the exception found in Leviticus 25:44–46a. Without just treatment, these workers could become further marginalized.
God’s people, however, were not to mistreat these individuals. Even in (or especially in) hiring and working practices, God’s people were to practice justice. The most obvious way to do so was through the timely deliverance of wages (next verse).
15a. At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it.
Workers were paid for their labors at the end of an agreed time of work. However, the hired worker who was poor was to receive their agreed upon wages at the end of each day, before the sun go down. This worker, perhaps living a hand-to-mouth existence, depended on such timely pay to provide for daily necessities (see Leviticus 19:13; Matthew 20:8).
What Do You Think?
What aid does your congregation offer the poor, which would be missed if that support vanished?
How do you contribute to that ministry?
15b. Lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
If workers were treated unjustly, it would be within their power to cry out unto the Lord for help and justice (Exodus 22:22–23; James 5:4). As failing to return a poor person’s pledge at the end of the day would be considered unrighteous (see commentary on Deuteronomy 24:13, above), withholding pay from a poor person at the end of the day would be considered a sin.
Centuries later, the prophet Malachi warned Israel that God would “come near to you in judgment … against those that oppress the hireling in his wages” (Malachi 3:5). God would deal decisively and swiftly with those who did not show justice to their workers.
BEWARE OF OPPORTUNISM!
During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, an enterprising but unscrupulous couple used the demand for hand sanitizer for their own profit. They traveled to nearby towns and purchased all the hand sanitizer they could find, storing up cases of the in-demand product. They advertised their newly acquired product at vastly inflated prices. While hand sanitizer shortages were prevalent, the couple charged several times the suggested retail! People readily purchased the hand sanitizer at the grossly inflated price.
Eventually, the government intervened and redistributed the product to those in need.
During a crisis that necessitated a compassionate response, this couple exploited others for profit and caused an inequitable situation. God requires His people to not take advantage of others. While many people see crises as an opportunity for personal gain, God requires fairness. What can you do to ensure that you are part of the solution rather than part of the problem? —C. R. B.
16. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
The principle described here stands in contrast to other law codes of the ancient world. The Babylonian law code of Hammurabi prescribed that if a builder built a house that collapsed, causing the death of the homeowner’s son, the builder’s son was to be put to death.
In contrast, Hebrew law required certain parameters to allow for just treatment of innocent family members who were vulnerable to harm because of the actions of a relative. The given stipulation would prevent a potentially endless chain of revenge.
However, this principle does not contradict what is found elsewhere regarding God’s “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Deuteronomy 5:9). While each person will surely experience the consequences of their sin, the repercussions of those sins are often experienced by others. We may think of a parent today who is justly sent to prison for a crime, with side effects of their family suffering destabilization in their relationships and finances.
What Do You Think?
What encouragement can you offer to Christian parents, based on this verse?
How would your encouragement change when offered to children of unbelieving parents?
17. Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge.
All Israelites were tasked with looking out for the marginalized and the defenseless among them. The Hebrew words translated stranger, fatherless, and widow occur together in triads in 11 verses in the book of Deuteronomy, emphasizing God’s concern for these vulnerable people (see also Psalms 94:6; 146:9; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5).
To take a widow’s raiment to pledge is in the same category as taking the garment of a poor man—forbidden (Deuteronomy 24:12–13, above). Furthermore, lenders who had wrongly taken such garments in pledge sometimes worsened the offense by taking those items to pagan worship (see Amos 2:8).
The law provided numerous reminders to God’s people to uphold justice for those who needed it most (Exodus 23:6, 9; Leviticus 19:33–34; Proverbs 22:22). Concern for these three groups extends into the New Testament as well (see Matthew 25:35–36; Acts 6:1–5; 1 Timothy 5:3, 16; Hebrews 13:2; James 1:27).
God desires justice for needy individuals and His people are to desire the same. Following God’s commands for just living requires extra attention to vulnerable people.
18. But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
Moses reminded the second generation of Israelites of their history as slaves in the land of Egypt. That along with God’s redemptive act served as the foundation for Israel’s identity (see Deuteronomy 5:15; 7:8; 9:26; 13:5; 15:15; 16:12; 24:22).
The corporate memory of that bondage and their following redemption was to motivate the Israelites to compassionate treatment of the marginalized. That would happen as the Israelites remembered their own suffering and marginalization as slaves in Egypt. To treat others as they had been treated by God was the watchword (compare Matthew 18:23–35). They were to remember that God redeemed them from that situation and provided justice where injustice reigned.
THE POWER OF MEMORY
A young family, expecting their first child, recently moved in next door. One day the young husband caught my attention and hesitantly asked, “Do you have a battery charger I could borrow?” I said, “Of course,” retrieving the charger from my garage. I told him to keep it as long as needed.
A week later, he brought back the charger and asked why I didn’t hesitate lending it to him. I answered him with a story: “When my wife and I were newly married and had our first son, we were living paycheck to paycheck. My car battery was dying, and I was desperate to get back and forth to work. I asked my neighbor, Harvey, if I could borrow his battery charger. He did not hesitate. I used the charger every night. I wanted to treat you the same way Harvey treated me. That’s why I didn’t hesitate.”
On hearing the story, the young man replied, “That was exactly my situation! Maybe I can help my neighbor someday. Thanks!”
One’s memory serves as a powerful tool for inviting action. For the people of Israel, memory of God’s redemptive acts—especially from bondage in Egypt—served to remind them of how to treat others. How do memories of God’s work in your life shape your behavior? —C. R. B.
What Do You Think?
What do you remember that helps you keep the Lord’s commands?
What can you do to strengthen your memory in preparation for particularly trying times?
19a. When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
In addition to justice in lending practices, justice to the vulnerable was also to be seen in agrarian practices at harvest time. Often the poorer Israelites would work in the fields during the annual harvest time (compare 2 Kings 25:12). The work of harvesting was completed with a hand sickle, cutting bundles of grain and binding each into a sheaf. Written in terms of what the landowner hast forgot should have encouraged the underprivileged to boldness in retrieving the grain accidentally left behind. There should have been no worry that the landowner would later demand it back.
Furthermore, the law made clear that the corners of the fields be left unharvested and only a single harvest occur so that “the poor and stranger” might harvest from the fields for their own sustenance (Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22). This legislation is seen enacted in the narrative of Ruth, a foreign widow who gleaned the leftover grain from the fields of her Hebrew relative, Boaz (Ruth 1:22–2:3).
19b. That the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.
The phrase that the Lord thy God may bless thee occurs three times in the book of Deuteronomy: here and in 14:29 and 23:20. In all three cases, God’s blessing is contingent on meeting the needs of others. The Lord will bless those who honor His laws and treat the marginalized with respect and compassion (see Proverbs 19:17).
20–21. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
Grape and olive crops were often planted together using a method called polyculture, the practice of growing several crops side by side, which was made popular in the Mediterranean region. Each crop contributed to the health and well-being of the other.
Harvesting olives required that a harvester beat the boughs of an olive tree with a long stick. Most ripe olives would fall to the ground; and any olives remaining on the branches were to be left for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. The same generous harvesting principle was applied to the gathering of grapes. What remained following the first harvest was to be left for the needy. The people of God should cultivate not only their crops but also the same kind of generous spirit that the Lord had shown to them.
What Do You Think?
What characteristics of offering your “leftovers” to others make it a respectful act?
What should you avoid so that such offerings do not become demeaning?
Ignorance and Want, Today
The physical needs of others confront us daily. Applying God’s principles for an ancient culture, where 98 percent of people lived on farms, to our modern culture, where only 2 percent do, is a challenge. But a common-ground starting point is that people of God in all times should live in such a way as to respect the dignity of those in need. Granted, it may take some challenging conversations and creative thinking on our part to apply these principles in specific and helpful ways. This lesson’s Scripture text provides principles of justice that each and every follower of God should model and help enact.
Ignorance and want continue to manifest themselves today. Unlike Scrooge, we should not desire that injustice be hidden from our eyes. Our heavenly Father has made it clear that His heart and His compassion are with those in need. Are ours?
What Do You Think?
What practical help can your congregation offer vulnerable people in your community?
What role can you play in either starting or continuing such efforts?
Father, we pray that You will help us always to see our neighbors as You see them, especially those who are often ignored or treated with contempt. Help us to treat them justly, with the mercy that You have shown us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thought to Remember
Remembering how God has treated us should always govern how we treat others.
JUSTICE AND THE MARGINALIZED
JANUARY 30, 2022
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