TBU: The Bible Unpacked: In-Depth Edition

I.  Justice in Action

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Chapter 32  Part I

Justice in Action

Topics encompassed by the theme of justice together form a very large proportion of what the Bible says about how to relate to other people. It is essential that we incorporate the Bible’s teaching on these topics into our own lives. In doing so, we must be mindful that acting justly involves not only doing what is right ourselves; it also involves ensuring that others are treated fairly – notably the needy.

Do What Is Just and Right

Practice justice

Mic 6:8  He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,m and to walk humbly with your God? ▤ 

m Or steadfast love

Deut 16:20  Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ▤ 

Isa 1:17  … learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ▤ 

Jer 7:5  For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, … ▤ 

Hos 12:6  “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” ▤ 

Matt 23:23  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. ▤ 

Lev 19:36  You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin:n I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. ▤ 

n An ephah was about 3/5 bushel or 22 liters; a hin was about 4 quarts or 3.5 liters

Job 31:13-15  If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, 14what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? 15Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb? ▤ 

God’s judgment (v. 14; cf. Lam 3:34-36 ) – particularly in light of the equality of all people before him (v. 15) – provides great incentive to act justly towards others.

Ps 94:15  … for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it. ▤ 

During a time when the wicked held sway, the psalmist had confidence that a time would come when the righteous would again have justice – and all the upright would follow it.

Prov 12:5  The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. ▤ 

Jer 5:1  Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. ▤ 

Jerusalem was devoid of justice.

Lam 3:34-36  To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth, 35to deny a man justice in the presence of the Most High, 36to subvert a man in his lawsuit, the Lord does not approve. ▤ 

  • Unlike the wicked, those who seek God understand justice:

Prov 28:5  Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely. ▤ 

Practice righteousness along with justice . . .

See also:

In accordance with justice, God commands us to act towards others in righteousness. The need to act righteously is reflected in the following subsections.

Gen 18:19  For I have choseno him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him. ▤ 

o Hebrew known

Job 29:14  I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. ▤ 

Job figuratively portrays himself and his actions as being characterized by righteousness and justice.

Ps 106:3  Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times! ▤ 

Prov 21:3  To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. ▤ 

Isa 56:1  Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. ▤ 

Jer 22:3a  Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. ▤ 

Ezek 45:9  Thus says the Lord God: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God. ▤ 

Amos 5:24  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. ▤ 

. . . Do what is right

Deut 6:18  And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers … ▤ 

2Ki 22:2  And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. ▤ 

Ps 15:1-2  O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; … ▤ 

Prov 23:16  My inmost beingp will exult when your lips speak what is right. ▤ 

p Hebrew My kidneys

Eph 6:1  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ▤ 

Rev 22:11  Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. ▤ 

Note that the first part of the verse is not condoning wickedness. With the nearness of Jesus Christ’s return in view, John appears to be mean: Let those intent on committing evil do so for they will be repaid soon enough.

2Ki 7:8-9  And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them. 9Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.” ▤ 

In the midst of a famine, these lepers reasoned that they had nothing to lose by going to the camp of the Arameans (cf. vv. 3-4) who were besieging their city of Samaria (cf. 6:24). On arrival they discovered the Arameans had fled leaving everything behind.

Do no wrong to others

See also:

Lev 25:17  You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God. ▤ 

Lev 19:35  You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. ▤ 

Deut 23:15-16  You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him. ▤ 

Note that this is speaking of the case of a foreign slave, presumably fleeing from oppression.

Jer 22:3b  And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. ▤ 

Ps 15:3  … who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; … ▤ 

Ezek 18:8  … does not lend at interest or take any profit,q withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, … ▤ 

q That is, profit that comes from charging interest to the poor; also verses 13, 17 (compare Leviticus 25:36)

Dan 6:22  My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm. ▤ 

Acts 25:8  Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” ▤ 

2Cor 7:2  Make room in your heartsr for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. ▤ 

r Greek lacks in your hearts

1Thes 4:6  … that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. ▤ 

1Sam 24:11-13  See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. 12May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. ▤ 

1Sam 29:6  Then Achish called David and said to him, “As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. ▤ 

1Cor 6:8  But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!s ▤ 

s Or brothers and sisters

Doing wrong to fellow believers is particularly bad in that it shows disloyalty or unfaithfulness, in addition to being unjust.

  • Do not put off doing good:

Prov 3:27-28  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,t when it is in your power to do it. 28Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. ▤ 

t Hebrew Do not withhold good from its owners

Strive to do what is right in the eyes of both God and people

Rom 12:17  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. ▤ 

2Cor 8:21  … for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. ▤ 

Acts 24:16  So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. ▤ 

Paul is in effect saying that he tried “not to do anything wrong in the eyes of God and man” (NIrV®).

Rom 14:18  Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. ▤ 

  • As Jesus grew up, he grew in favor with both God and people:

Luke 2:52  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in statureu and in favor with God and man. ▤ 

u Or years

Acting justly brings blessing

See also:

Note that in addition to the verses in this and the following subsection, there are a number of other verses throughout this chapter that speak of acting justly bringing blessing and injustice bringing God’s judgment (or other consequences). Usually they speak of a particular kind of just or unjust action and are included in a subsection dealing with the action in view. The verses in this and the following subsection largely speak more generally of justness and/or unjustness.

Ps 50:23  The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God! ▤ 

Ps 106:3  Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times! ▤ 

Ps 112:5  It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. ▤ 

Isa 33:14-16  The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” 15He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, 16he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure. ▤ 

The “consuming fire” and “everlasting burning” (v. 14) appear to be references to God (cf. Deut 4:24; 9:3; Heb 12:29). As such the question would effectively be asking: “Who can dwell with God?” The answer is those who are righteous and act justly (v. 15). Alternatively God’s judgment may be primarily in view in v. 14 (cf. GNT). The passage would then be indicating that only the righteous and just will be able to stand in God’s judgment. In either case, v. 16 adds that the just will be secure and have sufficient provisions.

Isa 56:1-2  Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” ▤ 

One can infer from v. 1 that those who maintain justice and do what is right will experience God’s salvation as opposed to his judgment, when God’s righteousness is manifested and revealed. In v. 2, the blessedness spoken of is in part for not doing any evil (v. 2a) and so would apply to those who act justly and do what is right (v. 1a; cf. Ps 106:3).

Isa 64:5a  You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. ▤ 

The phrase “meet him” speaks of God welcoming (cf. GNT, NLT) or coming to the aid of (cf. CEV, NCV, NIV) those who joyfully do what is right.

Jer 22:15  Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. ▤ 

Ezek 18:5-9  If a man is righteous and does what is just and right6if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, 7does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8does not lend at interest or take any profit,v withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, 9walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God. ▤ 

v That is, profit that comes from charging interest to the poor; also verses 13, 17 (compare Leviticus 25:36)

Acts 10:34-35  So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. ▤ 

Injustice brings God’s judgment

See also:

Job 31:2-3  What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high? 3Is not calamity for the unrighteous, and disaster for the workers of iniquity? ▤ 

Ezek 9:9-10  Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.’ 10As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.” ▤ 

Amos 5:7, 10-12, 16-17  O you who turn justice to wormwoodw and cast down righteousness to the earth! ▤ 10They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. 11Therefore because you trample onx the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. ▤ 16Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: “In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation, 17and in all vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord. ▤ 

w Or to bitter fruit

x Or you tax

In v. 17, “for I will pass through your midst” speaks ominously of God’s judgment.

Mic 3:9-12  Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, 10who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. 11Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” 12Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height. ▤ 

Mic 7:3-4  Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. 4The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. ▤ 

“The day of your watchmen” (v. 4) refers to the day that their “watchmen” the prophets warned them about – the day God would inflict his punishment on them, a time of perplexity (cf. AMP, NKJV) and panic (cf. CEV, NIrV).

Pray for persecuted Christians

Administering Justice

See also:

Administer and maintain justice

See also:

Jer 21:12  O house of David! Thus says the Lord: “‘Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds.’” ▤ 

Deut 33:21  He chose the best of the land for himself, for there a commander’s portion was reserved; and he came with the heads of the people, with Israel he executed the justice of the Lord, and his judgments for Israel. ▤ 

Isa 1:17  … learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ▤ 

“Seek justice” means to “See that justice is done” (CEV, GNT).

Isa 56:1  Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. ▤ 

Ezek 18:8  … does not lend at interest or take any profit,y withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, … ▤ 

y That is, profit that comes from charging interest to the poor; also verses 13, 17 (compare Leviticus 25:36)

Ezek 45:9  Thus says the Lord God: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God. ▤ 

Ps 82:3  Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. ▤ 

Lev 25:53  He shall treat him as a servant hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. ▤ 

The Israelites were to see to it that such servants or slaves (cf. v. 47) were treated justly.

Prov 24:11  Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. ▤ 

This appears to be speaking of rescuing those who have been wrongly condemned to die.

Prov 21:15  When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. ▤ 

  • Oppose the wicked:

Prov 28:4  Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them. ▤ 

Judge justly

See also:

Prov 31:9  Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. ▤ 

Zec 7:9  Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, … ▤ 

Zec 8:16  These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; … ▤ 

Note that the “gates” of the cities was where official business was carried out.

Ex 23:6-7  You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. 7Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. ▤ 

Deut 1:16  And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. ▤ 

Deut 16:18-20  You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you. ▤ 

Deut 25:1  If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, … ▤ 

Ps 58:1  Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?z Do you judge the children of man uprightly? ▤ 

z Or mighty lords (by revocalization; Hebrew in silence)

The second rhetorical question implies that one should indeed judge uprightly.

Prov 17:15, 26  He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. ▤ 26To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness. ▤ 

Isa 5:22-24  Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right! 24Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. ▤ 

  • Judge carefully as well as fairly, on behalf of God, who is with you:

2Chr 19:5-7, 11b  He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, 6and said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. 7Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.” ▤ 11… Deal courageously, and may the Lord be with the upright!”a ▤ 

a Hebrew the good

In saying “you judge not for man but for the Lord” (v. 6), the thought may well be that the judges were judging “on the authority of the Lord” (GNT) – effectively “on the Lord’s behalf” (NRSV). In making decisions on matters of justice, judges are in a real sense acting on behalf of or in place of God – “for the judgment is God’s” (Deut 1:17 ). Note that the declaration that God would be with them whenever they gave a verdict (v. 6b) is reflected in v. 11b.

Do not show partiality in judging . . .

See also:

Ex 23:3  … nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. ▤ 

Partiality by judges is usually to the detriment of the poor, who can least afford to be the victims of it. But it is also wrong to show them favoritism.

Lev 19:15  You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. ▤ 

Deut 1:17  You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it. ▤ 

Prov 24:23-25  These also are sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good. 24Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, 25but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them. ▤ 

Prov 18:5  It is not good to be partial tob the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice. ▤ 

b Hebrew to lift the face of

. . . Nor show partiality in other matters

Prov 28:21  To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong. ▤ 

1Tim 5:21  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. ▤ 

James 2:1-4, 9  My brothers,c show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? ▤ 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. ▤ 

c Or brothers and sisters; also verses 5, 14

Note that v. 4 indicates that showing partiality means that one has made an unfair judgment, “acting like a crooked judge” (CEV).

James 3:17  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. ▤ 

Jude 1:16  These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. ▤ 

Gen 37:3-4  Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.d 4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. ▤ 

d See Septuagint, Vulgate; or (with Syriac) a robe with long sleeves. The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain; also verses 23, 32

Showing favoritism breeds ill will.

Further instructions about legal judgments

Ezek 44:24  In a dispute, they shall act as judges, and they shall judge it according to my judgments. They shall keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall keep my Sabbaths holy. ▤ 

Judges decisions should be made in accordance with God’s laws (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT).

Deut 19:15  A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. ▤ 

Deut 19:18-19  The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evile from your midst. ▤ 

e Or evil person

Accusations should be thoroughly investigated and any false witnesses should be punished appropriately.

Deut 25:2-3  … then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. 3Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight. ▤ 

Any punishment should be in accordance with what the crime deserves (v. 2), but it should not be degrading (v. 3).

Deut 17:8-11  If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose. 9And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. 11According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. ▤ 

Verses 10-11 point out the obligation to abide by the judge’s decision. Note that local courts are being referred to in v. 8a.

Eccl 8:11  Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. ▤ 

This highlights the need for sentences to be carried out promptly.

John 7:51  “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” ▤ 

A person must not be condemned without first being given a hearing.

  • There are two sides to every story:

Prov 18:17  The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. ▤ 

The other person referred to is the opponent of the first person (cf. AMP, CEV, GNT).

Have the same laws for foreigners as for the native-born

See also:

Lev 24:22  You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God. ▤ 

Num 15:29-30  You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. 30But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. ▤ 

Verse 29 is saying that there shall be only one law for anyone who sins unintentionally – applicable to both native Israelites and foreigners among them.

Num 9:14  And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native. ▤ 

Note that the regulations spoken of here concern worship – rather than civil law – which is also primarily in view in 15:14-16 immediately below.

Num 15:14-16  And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do. 15For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. 16One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you. ▤ 

Lev 18:26  But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you … ▤ 

  • All God’s laws were read to all the people including foreigners:

Josh 8:35  There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who livedf among them. ▤ 

f Or traveled

OT laws of compensation

Ex 21:18-19  When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, 19then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed. ▤ 

Ex 21:26-27  When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth. ▤ 

Ex 21:33-34  When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his. ▤ 

Ex 21:35-36  When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. 36Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his. ▤ 

Ex 22:5-6  If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. 6“If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution. ▤ 

Ex 22:14-15  If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. 15If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.g ▤ 

g Or it is reckoned in (Hebrew comes into) its hiring fee

The owner’s presence (v. 15a) presumably should have ensured that the animal was not mistreated or neglected; as such the borrower was not liable for injury or death.

  • The principle to determine the penalty for injuring another:

Lev 24:19-20  If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. ▤ 

This is often understood to be expressing a principle that judicial penalties should fit the crime, rather than being an instruction to be taken literally. Moreover there are no examples in Scripture of it being applied literally. Note that Exodus 21:23-25 gives a similar but more expansive instruction – in relation to a specific circumstance – “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life,  24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,  25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Note: Avoid going to court

See also:

Prov 25:8  … do not hastily bring into court, forh what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? ▤ 

h Hebrew or else

Matt 5:25-26  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.i ▤ 

i Greek kodrantes, Roman copper coin (Latin quadrans) worth about 1/64 of a denarius (which was a day’s wage for a laborer)

1Cor 6:1-7  When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? ▤ 

Verse 7a appears to refer to spiritual failure, either: in being of the unified body of Christ; or in seeking retribution rather than being meek and forgiving of each other.

Prov 29:9  If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. ▤ 

This suggests that going to court or disputing with a fool may well prove to be a pointless exercise, only exacerbating the problem.

Pray for persecuted Christians

Justice and the Needy (I): Instructions

Being created by God and in the image of God, all people have the right to be treated justly and to live without poverty. As such, aiding the needy and fighting poverty are very much matters of justice, not merely charity.

Do not mistreat the needy

Jer 22:3b  And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. ▤ 

Zec 7:10  … do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. ▤ 

Ex 22:22  You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. ▤ 

Ex 23:6  You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. ▤ 

Prov 22:22  Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, … ▤ 

Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and so vulnerable, unlikely to be able to adequately defend themselves in court.

Prov 23:10  Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, … ▤ 

This refers to taking over land of the fatherless by moving boundary markers of their land so as to reduce the size of their land and increase adjacent properties.

Deut 24:6, 10-13, 17-18  No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge. ▤ 10“When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to collect his pledge. 11You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. 12And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge. 13You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you. And it shall be righteousness for you before the Lord your God. ▤ 17“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, 18but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. ▤ 

In addition to being clearly in view in the latter verses, presumably people who are poor – or at least needy to some degree – are primarily in view in vv. 6, 10-11. A millstone (v. 6) was critical to a man and his family’s livelihood as it was usually the means for grinding grain. Verses 10-11 appear in part at least to be aimed at protection of the dignity and privacy of the poor. Verse 18 makes the point that having been redeemed by God from their own needy predicament in Egypt, the Israelites ought to treat the needy in accordance with God’s goodness to them in their need.

Deut 24:14-15  You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. 15You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin. ▤ 

Deut 27:18-19  ‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 19“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ ▤ 

  • Mistreating a poor person insults God, their Maker:

Prov 14:31  Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. ▤ 

Defend the cause of the needy

Ps 82:3-4  Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. ▤ 

Prov 31:8-9  Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.j 9Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. ▤ 

j Hebrew are sons of passing away

Here the “mute” refers to people “who cannot speak for themselves” (GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT).

Isa 1:17  … learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ▤ 

Job 29:11-17  When the ear heard, it called me blessed, and when the eye saw, it approved, 12because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him. 13The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. 14I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. 15I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. 16I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. 17I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth. ▤ 

In addition to the verses which clearly speak of defending the needy (vv. 12, 16b-17), note that vv. 13-16a also speak of Job’s assistance of the needy, in more general terms. Possibly some aspects of these middle verses also have defending the needy partly in view, especially in light of v. 14.

Ps 72:4, 12-14  May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! ▤ 12For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. 13He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. ▤ 

Psalm 72 was composed for a Davidic king, and is understood to be messianic. Note that while those in authority may be in a better position and have a greater responsibility to defend the cause of the needy, all people are obliged to do what they can to help the needy.

Prov 29:7  A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge. ▤ 

A righteous person is concerned about the rights of the poor.

Deut 23:15-16  You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him. ▤ 

As noted earlier, this refers to a slave from another country seeking refuge in Israel from oppression (cf. CEV) – as is implied by the instruction to let him live in whatever town he choose (v. 16).

  • The plea of the Moabite refugees for shelter:

Isa 16:2-4a  Like fleeing birds, like a scattered nest, so are the daughters of Moab at the fords of the Arnon. 3“Give counsel; grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive; 4let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to themk from the destroyer. ▤ 

k Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Syriac; Masoretic Text let my outcasts sojourn among you; as for Moab, be a shelter to them

Give to the needy . . .

See also:

Deut 15:7-11  If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. 9Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudginglyl on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ ▤ 

l Or be evil; also verse 10

Verse 9 refers to the law stating that debts of a fellow Israelite were to be cancelled every seven years (cf. vv. 1-3). Thus if one lent to a needy “brother” just prior to this year, there was little time and less hope of receiving back what was loaned; hence the temptation to take the approach spoken of in v. 9.

Ps 112:9  He [a righteous man] has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. ▤ 

Prov 21:26  All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back. ▤ 

Giving to the needy is most likely what the writer has primarily in view.

Acts 10:1-2  At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. ▤ 

Rom 15:26  For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. ▤ 

2Cor 9:12  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. ▤ 

The “service” referred to was contributing to the collection for the needy Christians in Jerusalem (cf. Rom 15:26 ; Gal 2:10 ).

Gal 2:10  Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. ▤ 

Eph 4:28  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. ▤ 

. . . Provide the needy with food and clothing

Luke 3:11  And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunicsm is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” ▤ 

m Greek chiton, a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin

Prov 22:9  Whoever has a bountifuln eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. ▤ 

n Hebrew good

Prov 31:20  She [a wife of noble character] opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. ▤ 

With the references to cloth and clothing in the surrounding verses (vv. 19, 21-22), providing the needy with clothing may well be primarily in view here.

Isa 21:14  To the thirsty bring water; meet the fugitive with bread, O inhabitants of the land of Tema. ▤ 

Ezek 18:7  … does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, … ▤ 

Acts 9:36, 39  Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.o She was full of good works and acts of charity. ▤ 39So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunicsp and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. ▤ 

o The Aramaic name Tabitha and the Greek name Dorcas both mean gazelle

p Greek chiton, a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin

Job 31:16-23  If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it 18(for from my youth the fatherlessq grew up with me as with a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widowr), 19if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or the needy without covering, 20if his body has not blessed me,s and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep, 21if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate, 22then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket. 23For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty. ▤ 

q Hebrew he

r Hebrew her

s Hebrew if his loins have not blessed me

As reflected in the subsequent verses, v. 16 appears to encompass basic needs such as food and clothing.

Titus 3:14  And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. ▤ 

The phrase “urgent need” (v. 14) is most likely referring to daily necessities needed by the poor, i.e. food and clothing.

  • As well as food and clothing, provide the poor with shelter:

Isa 58:7  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? ▤ 

Even sell your possessions to give to the poor

Luke 12:33  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. ▤ 

Mark 10:21  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” ▤ 

Those who would be quick to point out that Jesus only said this to the rich man because his great wealth (v. 22) had come between himself and God, should be careful to assess if they have a similar problem, as well as to “drink in” the other verses in this and the surrounding subsections.

Acts 2:44-45  And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. ▤ 

Acts 4:34-37  There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. ▤ 

1Jn 3:17  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? ▤ 

We must use our material possessions to provide for the needy – such as by selling them and using the proceeds for providing for the poor, or giving the possessions themselves to the poor (cf. Luke 19:8 ).

Luke 19:8  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” ▤ 

Note that the latter part of the verse indicates that giving half of his goods to the poor was in addition to any compensation Zacchaeus made for any swindling he had done.

  • Giving one’s possessions to the poor must be done with love:

1Cor 13:3  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,t but have not love, I gain nothing. ▤ 

t Some manuscripts deliver up my body [to death] that I may boast

This principle applies to all giving and all charitable acts – in fact to all one does for God’s kingdom.

Note: Treat foreigners the same as your native-born

See also:

Along with such groups as orphans and widows who were usually poor, foreigners (or aliens) were acknowledged as being vulnerable and so needy. Moreover, presumably they were also often poor. As such, specific mention of them is often made in general directives concerning treatment of the needy (cf. Do not mistreat the needy), as well as in matters concerning them in particular (as per the following verses).

Lev 19:34  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. ▤ 

Having been aliens themselves, knowing the difficulties that aliens face and no doubt themselves having desired and prayed to God for equality when in Egypt, the Israelites were accordingly to treat aliens fairly, i.e. the same as their own people.

Deut 1:16  And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. ▤ 

Judge righteously, whether a case is between two native-born citizens or one of them and a foreigner.

Ezek 47:21-22  So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. 22You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. ▤ 

Pray for persecuted Christians

Justice and the Needy (II): Insights

Defending and providing for the needy are a vital part of true religion

Note that a number of the following references have been included here as they correlate defending or providing for the needy with particular aspects of what can be called “true religion” (e.g. honoring God, godly fasting, knowing God, giving offerings to God and having the love of God). The following subsection likewise makes such a correlation, in regard to righteousness.

James 1:27  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. ▤ 

Here “visit” would be appear to include the intention to care for the needs of (cf. AMP, CEV, GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT, NRSV).

Prov 14:31  Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. ▤ 

Isa 58:5-7  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? 6“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressedu go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? ▤ 

u Or bruised

Here fasting is used somewhat figuratively to signify worship generally. True worship should be reflected in and involve action on behalf of the needy. Note that in the last clause, “not to hide yourself from” speaks of not turning away from.

Jer 22:16  He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord. ▤ 

Acts 10:4  And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. ▤ 

Cornelius’s prayers and alms are portrayed as being akin to sacrifices offered up (“have ascended”) to God. As such it portrays his alms (i.e. giving money or food to the poor) “as a sacrifice” (AMP; cf. NIV) or offering to God – i.e. as an act of worship or true religion.

1Tim 5:4  But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. ▤ 

James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what goodv is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. ▤ 

v Or benefit

This passage is quite possibly just drawing a parallel between the uselessness of faith without deeds and mere words without actively providing for the poor – rather than directly correlating not providing for the poor with not having true faith. The possibility that the latter is also true is the reason for this passage being included here.

1Jn 3:17  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? ▤ 

  • Giving to the poor is equated with lending to God:

Prov 19:17  Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. ▤ 

Defending and providing for the needy are associated with righteousness

See also:

Ps 112:9  He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. ▤ 

Note that vv. 1-5 mention other godly attributes and actions that are also important for one to be considered righteous.

Isa 58:8  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. ▤ 

The reference is to defending and providing for the needy (cf. vv. 5-7 ). In v. 8, “your righteousness” may well mean “your rightness, your justice, and your right relationship with God” (AMP; cf. CEV, NLT). Alternatively God and his righteousness may be in view (cf. GNT, NCV, NIrV).

Dan 4:27  Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity. ▤ 

Showing mercy to the oppressed is presented here in association with “practicing righteousness” as an important part of repentance and getting rid of sin, which are themselves fundamental aspects of righteousness. Note that being a king, Nebuchadnezzar’s wickedness was most likely largely expressed in oppressing many of his subjects – and Daniel may well have had this in view.

Matt 19:21  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” ▤ 

Jesus is not saying that selling possessions and giving to the poor is all one has to do to be perfect, but the rich young ruler had rigorously kept the commandments that Jesus had mentioned (cf. vv. 18-19) and Jesus recognized that this was the key thing he still needed to do to be perfect or righteous.

Matt 25:37-40  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,w you did it to me.’ ▤ 

w Or brothers and sisters

Meeting the needs of “these my brothers” (v. 40) is correlated here with being identified as “righteous” (vv. 37, 46). Note that “these my brothers” probably refers primarily to Christians, here obviously ones who had been in need.

  • Jesus linked salvation with Zacchaeus’ generosity:

Luke 19:8-9  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. ▤ 

Jesus’ statement (v. 9) appears to have been in response to Zacchaeus’ promised actions (v. 8). Jesus may have meant that salvation came because of Zacchaeus’ repentance (shown by his promised actions) and his positive response to Jesus (v. 6) – which showed him to be a son of Abraham in a spiritual sense. Alternatively Jesus’ point may have been that Zacchaeus’ promised actions were a sign that salvation had come to him.

Defending and providing for the needy bring one blessing . . .

See also:

Prov 14:21  Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor. ▤ 

Prov 19:17  Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. ▤ 

Prov 22:9  Whoever has a bountifulx eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. ▤ 

x Hebrew good

The term “bountiful eye” here denotes a generous person (cf. GNT, NASB, NCV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV).

Jer 22:16  He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord. ▤ 

Luke 6:38  … give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. ▤ 

Jesus quite possibly has giving to the poor primarily in view. This teaching is at least applicable to it.

Acts 20:35  In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ▤ 

2Cor 9:6  The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifullyy will also reap bountifully. ▤ 

y Greek with blessings; twice in this verse

Note that this is from a passage (cf. chs 8-9) where Paul is speaking of the Corinthians contributing to the needs of the poor in Jerusalem (cf. v. 14 ).

2Cor 9:13-14  By their approval of this service, theyz will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. ▤ 

z Or you

Those who give to needy Christians will be blessed by their prayers.

Deut 24:19  When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. ▤ 

Deut 14:28-29  At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. ▤ 

Particularly in light of v. 19 above, the blessing spoken of in v. 29b appears to be reward for providing for the needy (v. 29a), in conjunction with tithing (v. 28).

. . . but giving to the needy must be done in an appropriate manner

Deut 15:10  You shall give to him [a poor man] freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. ▤ 

Matt 6:1-4  Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ▤ 

In v. 3 Jesus figuratively emphasizes the requirement to give to the needy inconspicuously.

1Cor 13:3  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,a but have not love, I gain nothing. ▤ 

a Some manuscripts deliver up my body [to death] that I may boast

To give to the needy without love suggests doing so grudgingly and unwillingly. As with all giving to God, it is important that we give to the needy in an appropriate manner (cf. Give in a way that is acceptable to God; Give willingly).

Blessings include one’s own needs being met . . .

See also:

Prov 28:27  Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. ▤ 

Ps 41:1-3  Blessed is the one who considers the poor!b In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; 2the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. 3The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.c ▤ 

b Or weak

c Hebrew you turn all his bed

Isa 58:8-11  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. ▤ 

In vv. 8 and 10, “light” signifies well-being or salvation. The latter half of v. 8 speaks of being protected “on every side” (GNT). The “glory of the Lord” (v. 8) most likely alludes to the pillar of cloud and fire that symbolized God’s presence with the Israelites in their journey through the desert.

2Cor 9:7-8  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiencyd in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. ▤ 

d Or all contentment

Those who give to the needy will be blessed by God with all that they need – both for themselves and for “every good work”, such as further giving to others.

2Cor 8:14  … your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. ▤ 

This points to the equality that should exist in the church body through whoever having plenty at a particular time supplying the needs of those who do not. As such, if those who give to the needy amongst the church body later themselves become needy, their needs will or should in turn be met by others in the body.

. . . There will also be reward in the afterlife

Luke 12:33  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. ▤ 

Luke 18:22  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” ▤ 

1Tim 6:18-19  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. ▤ 

Generosity towards the poor – and sharing with them – is probably what Paul is referring to in v. 18b. In v. 19, “that which is truly life” probably has the future eternal life primarily in view, though it may encompass the abundant spiritual life that Christians have now.

Luke 14:12-14  He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brotherse or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” ▤ 

e Or your brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters

Matt 25:31-40, 46  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,f you did it to me.’ ▤ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” ▤ 

f Or brothers and sisters

Luke 16:1-9  He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measuresg of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measuresh of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this worldi are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,j so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. ▤ 

g About 875 gallons

h Between 1,000 and 1,200 bushels

i Greek age

j Greek mammon, a Semitic word for money or possessions; also verse 11; rendered money in verse 13

In v. 8a the manager is commended for his shrewdness, not his dishonesty. In v. 8b Jesus remarks that the people of this world are (often at least) more shrewd “in handling their affairs” (GNT; cf. CEV) than believers. Jesus’ main point is that Christians should likewise shrewdly prepare for the future, using money to benefit the needy in order to be welcomed into heaven (v. 9). (Note that v. 9a has also being interpreted to refer to using money to promote the spread of the gospel. In that case “friends” would refer to those who have accepted the gospel, rather than to the needy.)

  • God remembers one’s gifts to the poor:

Acts 10:4, 31  And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. ▤ 31and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. ▤ 

God will punish those who mistreat the needy

Ex 22:22-24  You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. ▤ 

Deut 27:19  ‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ ▤ 

Job 34:26-28  He strikes them for their wickedness in a place for all to see, 27because they turned aside from following him and had no regard for any of his ways, 28so that they caused the cry of the poor to come to him, and he heard the cry of the afflicted ▤ 

Prov 22:22-23  Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, 23for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them. ▤ 

Prov 23:10-11  Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, 11for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you. ▤ 

Isa 3:14-15  The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devouredk the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. 15What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord God of hosts. ▤ 

k Or grazed over; compare Exodus 22:5

Isa 10:1-4  Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, 2to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! 3What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth? 4Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. ▤ 

Ezek 22:29, 31  The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. ▤ 31Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God. ▤ 

Amos 2:6-7  Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals— 7those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; … ▤ 

“For three transgressions of Israel, and for four” is a poetic device emphasizing the multiple crimes of Israel (cf. AMP, CEV, GNT, NCV, NIrV, NLT).

Amos 4:1-2  Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’ 2The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. ▤ 

Verse 2 speaks of being taken away into exile.

Amos 8:4-10  Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, 5saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekell great and deal deceitfully with false balances, 6that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who dwells in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?” 9“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. ▤ 

l An ephah was about 3/5 bushel or 22 liters; a shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams

Note that “baldness on every head” (v. 10) is a reference to people shaving their heads in sorrow.

Mark 12:38-40  And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” ▤ 

God will punish those who ignore the needy

Prov 24:11-12  Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. 12If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? ▤ 

The rhetorical questions imply that the excuse preceding them was either a lie and/or indicative of ignoring signs of injustice.

Isa 1:23-25  Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. 24Therefore the Lord declares, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. 25I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. ▤ 

Verse 23b appears to speak of authorities ignoring the plight of poor people who have been mistreated, possibly because the poor did not have the money to offer bribes (v. 23a).

Jer 5:27-29  Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; 28they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. 29Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this? ▤ 

Ezek 16:49-50  Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. ▤ 

Presumably “when I saw it” is inclusive of the sin mentioned in v. 49 as well as that in v. 50a.

Matt 25:41-46  “Then he [Jesus Christ] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” ▤ 

Luke 16:19-26  There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.m The rich man also died and was buried, 23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ ▤ 

m Greek bosom; also verse 23

The rich man went to hell not just simply because he had received good things, while Lazarus had received bad things (v. 25), but primarily because he did not helped Lazarus.

  • Those who ignore the needy will themselves be ignored:

Prov 21:13  Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. ▤ 

Pray for persecuted Christians

OT Structured Provisions for the Needy

Although some of the OT structured provisions for the needy may not be readily applicable in modern societies, they nevertheless provide principles and concepts that are relevant to all societies.

The providing of produce for the needy

Lev 19:9-10  When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. ▤ 

The “gleanings” (v. 9b) were the parts of the grain that had fallen to the ground and been left behind during the harvest.

Deut 26:12-13  When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. ▤ 

Ex 23:10-11  For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, 11but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. ▤ 

Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year, for the benefit of the poor and the wild animals – and of the land itself (cf. Lev 25:1-5 ).

  • The Sabbath year would allow the land to rest:

Lev 25:1-5  The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. 3For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. ▤ 

This provision allowed the land to rejuvenate itself.

The prohibiting of taking interest or profit from the poor

Ex 22:25  If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. ▤ 

Lev 25:35-37  If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. ▤ 

Prov 28:8  Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profitn gathers it for him who is generous to the poor. ▤ 

n That is, profit that comes from charging interest to the poor

The text notes in this and the following two verses from Ezekiel indicate that taking interest or profit from the poor in particular is in view, as per the context here.

Ezek 18:17  … withholds his hand from iniquity,o takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. ▤ 

o Septuagint; Hebrew from the poor

Ezek 22:12  In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profitp and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord God. ▤ 

p That is, profit that comes from charging interest to the poor (compare Leviticus 25:36)

Ps 15:5  … who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. ▤ 

Private loans to people in need may be primarily in view, as opposed to business loans.

  • The Israelites were not to charge fellow Israelites any interest:

Deut 23:19-20  You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. 20You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. ▤ 

Note that Nehemiah condemned the practice of charging fellow Jews interest for profit: “You are exacting interest, each from his brother. … The thing that you are doing is not good. … Let us abandon this exacting of interest.” (cf. Neh 5:7-11)

The canceling of fellow Israelites’ debts every seven years

Deut 15:1-3  At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. 2And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed. 3Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. ▤ 

The provision for canceling debts of a fellow Israelite was one way for the well-off Israelites to assist needy fellow Israelites.

Deut 15:9  Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudginglyq on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. ▤ 

q Or be evil; also verse 10

Deut 31:10  And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, … ▤ 

As with 15:9 immediately above, “the year of release” refers to release from debts (cf. AMP, CEV, GNT, NCV, NIV).

Neh 10:31  And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt. ▤ 

The release of Israelite servants every seven years

See also:

Ex 21:2-6  When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever. ▤ 

Deut 15:12-15, 18  If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is soldr to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. ▤ 18It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired servant he has served you six years. So the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do. ▤ 

r Or sells himself

The Israelites were to set free servants who were fellow Hebrews partly at least because of and in recognition of what God had done for them (v. 15).

Jer 34:13-14a  “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, 14‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ ▤ 

  • Protection for Israelite slaves:

Lev 25:39-40, 42-43, 47, 53  If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. ▤ 42For they are my servants,s whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God. ▤ 47“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, ▤ 53He shall treat him as a servant hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. ▤ 

s Hebrew slaves

The year of jubilee

See also:

The year of jubilee occurred every fifty years. It was a year of liberty (Lev 25:10 ) – “the year of liberty” (cf. Ezek 46:17 ). In it, any Hebrew in bondage was to be set free (cf. Lev 25:39-41, 54-55 ). Additionally, any property that a poor person had sold and that had not been bought back was to be returned (Lev 25:28 ; Lev 25:31, 33 ). As such, all were free to and even obliged to return to their family property (cf. Lev 25:10 ; Lev 25:13, 28 ; v. 41).

Lev 25:8-12  You shall count seven weekst of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.u ▤ 

t Or Sabbaths

u Or countryside

Note that the last statement appears to speak of eating “only what grows on its own” (CEV; cf. GNT, NIrV, NLT) – presumably in addition to what had been harvested prior to the commencement of the year of jubilee.

Lev 25:13-16, 28  In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. 14And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. 15You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. 16If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. ▤ 28But if he has not sufficient means to recover it [property sold], then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. ▤ 

Verses 14-16 speak of property transactions in between years of jubilee. Verse 15b speaks of selling property based on the number of years left for harvesting crops before the next year of jubilee.

Lev 25:39-41, 54-55  If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. ▤ 54And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. 55For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants.v They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. ▤ 

v Or slaves

Note that it is not clear how these instructions correlated with the directive to release Hebrew servants every seven years (as per the previous subsection).

Ezek 46:16-17  Thus says the Lord God: If the prince makes a gift to any of his sons as his inheritance, it shall belong to his sons. It is their property by inheritance. 17But if he makes a gift out of his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his to the year of liberty. Then it shall revert to the prince; surely it is his inheritance—it shall belong to his sons. ▤ 

The term “the year of liberty” refers to the year of jubilee.

  • An allusion to the year of jubilee in the Messiah’s mission:

Isa 61:1-2  The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;w he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;x 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; … ▤ 

w Or afflicted

x Or the opening [of the eyes] to those who are blind; Septuagint and recovery of sight to the blind

In applying this passage to himself (cf. Luke 4:18-19), Jesus Christ spoke of spiritual release.

The right of redemption for Israelite servants and of ancestral land

Lev 25:47-52  If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, 48then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. 50He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired servant. 51If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. 52If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. ▤ 

Lev 25:23-28  The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. 24And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. 25“If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. 26If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. 28But if he has not sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. ▤ 

In working out the price for redeeming the land one was to calculate the value for the years since it was sold (v. 27), presumably based largely on the value of the harvests for those years. One was then to subtract this from the original price and pay the balance to the person to whom it was sold (v. 27). Note that the original price would have been based on the number of years and harvests before the next Year of Jubilee (cf. v. 15 ).

Lev 25:29-34  If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption. 30If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong in perpetuity to the buyer, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31But the houses of the villages that have no wall around them shall be classified with the fields of the land. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. 32As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites may redeem at any time the houses in the cities they possess. 33And if one of the Levites exercises his right of redemption, then the house that was sold in a city they possess shall be released in the jubilee. For the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34But the fields of pastureland belonging to their cities may not be sold, for that is their possession forever. ▤ 

The Hebrew in v. 33 is somewhat difficult. The thrust of the verse appears to be that any houses redeemable by the Levites will revert back to them in the jubilee.

  • Boaz’s act as a redeemer in redeeming his relative Naomi’s land – taking her daughter-in-law Ruth as his wife:

Ruth 4:3-6, 9-10  Then he [Boaz] said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if youy will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruthz the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” 6Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” ▤ 9Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” ▤ 

y Hebrew he

z Masoretic Text you also buy it from Ruth

Verse 3 says that Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, was selling the family land. This presumably was because she had become so poor. A redeemer (v. 6) had a responsibility to care for any needy amongst their extended family. The closest male relative was the primary redeemer, who also had the prime responsibility to marry a widow. Boaz qualified as a redeemer, but there was another who was more closely related to Ruth’s dead husband, Mahlon. Before buying and so redeeming Naomi’s property and marrying Ruth, Boaz was obliged to firstly give the primary redeemer the opportunity to exercise his legal right. The man chose not to, as doing so would endanger the inheritance of his own estate (v. 6).

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