What does Deuteronomy teach us about how to treat our fellow man with respect to charity?

This is part of a post I made on Connor Boyack’s blog about the Book of Deuteronomy and what the Law of Moses said about how we should treat our fellow man and avoid stinginess. 

First in Deuteronomy 23 the Lord says:

24 When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel.
25 When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn.

This statement is kind of heavy, because, the neighbor is apparently not given any choice in the matter.  You could walk into his yard and eat his crops without the approval of the owner.  This is in fact the reason that the cities of Sodom and Gommorah were destroyed.  They wouldn’t live by this sort of code and their meanness of spirit and selfishness/covetousness and pride is what Ezekiel lists as the reasons for their destruction.

As for the jubilee Moses introduces it in chapter 15 as thus:

1 At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.
2 And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD’s release.

So every 7 years, all debt is released.  Moses then states that you can’t even withhold a loan because the release year is just around the corner:

9 Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee.
10 Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.

Additionally, any servant or slave you have bought, no matter the price, must be released after 6 years of servitude:  From Chapter 15:

12 And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.

Not only must you release him, you have to send him away with a uhaul truck full of stuff (from the same chapter):

13 And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty:
14 Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.

In chapter 15 Israel is commanded:

7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.

Moses gave this curious commandment as well.  In Chapter 23 he says:

15 Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee:

Indeed, not only did you have to refrain from returning him to his rightful owner, we are told:

16 He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.

All meanness of spirit or greediness was forbidden under the law of Moses and this is well seen in Chapter 24 were we learn:

19 カ When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.
20 When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.

Great rules to live by here. 

The Lord knew that there would always be poor in the land and His laws were meant to provide for the poor (Chapter 15):

11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

You are right about the usury issue.  Chapter 23 states this:

19 カ Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:
20 Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

The law required a certain level of human dignity be afforded to servants or slaves in Chapter 24:

14 Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates:
15 At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.

Thus in the Mosaic Law, the right to eat, the right to be nurtured, was more important than the right to make a profit.  There were even laws that made them treat their beasts of burden well:

4 Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.

Even oxen have to eat.

Now, admittedly, this is the Mosaic Law, a religious law that the people of Israel were to live by.  However, as you also know, it was a binding law.  The law allowed for capital punishment where it was called for.  For example, anyone caught red-handed in human trafficking (perhaps what we might compare to sweatshop labor, child labor etc.) was to be put to death!  Chapter 24:

7 If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.

This was the religious law, but pretty much the law of the land as far as the people were concerned.  Admittedly as well, these laws were to be performed out of love for God and for fellowman, for compassion on one’s fellow man, constantly remembering the captivity in Egypt and the great mercy of God, and His mercy on the people of Israel. 

These laws were made to fit this people as a people of God.  But, remember, this was the lesser law!  Can we even live the lesser law today?  Even these laws would be entirely impractical in our society today, even in a community of Mormons in the middle of Utah!  We are indeed still far away from the Celestial Law.

There was a punishment given for collective disobedience to these laws.  A huge list of curses ends the book of Deuteronomy, mostly from the Lord.  Of course, the wicked Pharisees took the law and twisted it to fit their own purposes.  This law was supposed to point the people towards Christ.  If we could live like this I’m sure we all agree that we could have a people prepared for Christ when He comes again.

As you notice, there are a few laws in here that you don’t have any choice in the matter over.  Some will say that this is socialistic in nature and I bring it up, not because Socialism is the ideal way to run an economy, but because it is as viable an alternative to the utopian society we envision as “Zion” as any other system in my mind.  Man’s economic systems will always fail though.  I’m really for Zion or bust, but I desire to see my fellow man taken care of along the way.


1 Response to “What does Deuteronomy teach us about how to treat our fellow man with respect to charity?”

  1. 1 thenonconformer June 30, 2008 at 6:06 pm


    PS 1/7 of the tithe was to be given to the local poor people too whcih is mostly not being practised theses days by the Churhes.

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