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D'varim/Deuteronomy 15:1 At the end of seven years, you shall make a release.
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is a feminine noun, meaning a remission or release, from the root verb - to let go, release, remit; to let lie uncultivated, to cease from (Davidson). It is most commonly thought of in the context of the agricultural sabbatical year - the fields are to lie fallow and not be actively cultivated for one complete year after six working years - and the manumission (release, freeing) of indentured slaves. The immediate subject of this verse, however, is debt; the next verse goes on to say: "and the matter of this release is this: anyone who has lent something to his neighbour shall release that debt from over him" (D'varim 15:2).
Rashi emphasises the connection between this release of debt and the agricultural sabbatical year. The text, he explains, does not mean that any debt runs for seven years from the date it was made, but that the debt is cancelled or released in the same year that the fields lie fallow and slaves are given their liberty. In this he follows the earliest rabbinic commentaries (Sifrei 117). Rashi demonstrates this by referring to another verse below where the text says: "Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near ...'" (v. 9, NASB). Here, where someone is considering making a loan - and is being urged not to be put off helping his neighbour because the sabbatical year is approaching - it must mean the sabbatical year rather than the seventh year of a loan.
Tigay, in the (JPSTC5, JPS Torah commentary), points out that the loans or debts in view were most likely to be items such as seed, food or agricultural supplies, as a result of crop failures, unemployment or natural disaster. As such, the loans were made as "acts of charity rather than commercial ventures, and the forgiving of such loans," in the event that they could not be repaid by the time of the sabbatical year, "was an extension of the charity." He goes on to suggest that "The Torah's aim here is primarily to state the principle that indebtedness is not to continue indefinitely, and to identify the authorised legal remedy for long-term debt." In other words, G-d did not intend that loans made initially by individuals or the community as a matter of charity or welfare should end up trapping their recipients in a permanent state of indebtedness, unable to break through the debt threshold.
As part of a long discussion about whether this release should be proclaimed at the beginning of, during or at the end of the sabbatical year,Nachmanides underlines the final phrase of the following verse: " - for He proclaimed a release to Adonai" (v. 2) and connects it to "When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the L-rd" (Vayikra 25:2, NASB). Ultimately, farmers and lenders should not observe the year of release in order to either feel good about their righteousness (notice the word play here - the Hebrew word means both righteousness and charity) or to enjoy the self-growing crops of the land without having to do any work, although of course both may be true as incidental side-effects; they observe the year "to the L-rd" because He has commanded it, it is His year of release.
As the One who sets the standards and instructs others, G-d Himself models both the announcing and the practice of release. "'Here, the days are coming,' says ADONAI, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Isra'el and with the house of Y'hudah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day I took them by their hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt; because they, for their part, violated my covenant, even though I, for my part, was a husband to them,' says ADONAI. 'For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra'el after those days,' says ADONAI: 'I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their G-d, and they will be my people. No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, "Know ADONAI"; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickednesses and remember their sins no more'" (Jeremiah 31:30-33, CJB). Although our people repeatedly broke the covenant thatHaShem made with our people, so that we were deeply in debt to Him and totally dependent upon His righteous acts of grace and charity, He wants to announce a release from that indebtedness, so that we might have relationship with Him on the basis of desire rather than compulsion. So here G-d proclaims a (then) future release of spiritual debts: He is/was going to forgive all our wickedness and not press us on the matter of our sins. Then we will all know Him personally and have His Torah written on our hearts.
How was G-d going to accomplish this? Another announcement: "'Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the L-RD's hand double for all her sins.' A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the L-RD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our G-d. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the L-RD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the L-RD has spoken'" (Isaiah 40:2-5, NASB). This was fulfilled by John the Immerser: "It was during those days that Yochanan the Immerser arrived in the desert of Y'hudah and began proclaiming the message, 'Turn from your sins to G-d, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!' This is the man Yesha'yahu was talking about when he said, 'The voice of someone crying out: "In the desert prepare the way of ADONAI! Make straight paths for him!"'" (Matthew 3:1-3, CJB). John was still announcing the coming of G-d's promise, but now on a much shorter time-frame; Yeshua was within a few weeks or months of starting His ministry.
Isaiah again: "The Spirit of the L-rd G-d is upon me, because the L-RD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favourable year of the L-RD, and the day of vengeance of our G-d; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the L-RD, that He may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:1-3, NASB). Yeshua fulfilled this announcement: "Now when He went to Natzeret, where He had been brought up, on Shabbat He went to the synagogue as usual. He stood up to read, and He was given the scroll of the prophet Yesha'yahu. Unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of ADONAI is upon me; therefore he has anointed me to announce Good News to the poor; he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned and renewed sight for the blind, to release those who have been crushed, to proclaim a year of the favour of ADONAI.'" (Luke 4:16-19, CJB). This is not just the interpretation of the gospel writer, applying these words "after the facts", so to speak; Yeshua Himself spoke in front of all the people and confirmed: "Today, as you heard it read, this passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled" (v.21, CJB)!
In this generation we once again find ourselves with Yeshua's words urgently on our hearts and mouths: "Turn from your sins to G-d, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17, CJB) or "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (id. NASB). Once again, G-d is announcing that the time is approaching when He is going to call in His loans of life, wealth, family and blessing; this time from all the nations of the earth. Who will be ready for His coming? Before He comes, He once again extends His hand graciously to all who will hear and proclaims an option of release in Yeshua that "everyone who trusts in Him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed" (John 3:16, CJB). As we approach the start of the seventh millenium from creation, G-d is offering to make a release; who will hear and receive His offer?
Further Study: Isaiah 40:9-10; Romans 10:14-15
Application: What proclamation do you have on your lips? Are you concerned about falling standards, the persecution of believers, the exploitation of widows, orphans and the weak in society? So is G-d, but "it is not His purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn from his sins" (2 Peter 3:9, CJB). Instead of pursuing enforcement and judgement on evil and wrongdoing, we should be shouting louder than ever to make sure that G-d's offer of release is heard before it is too late.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009i
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