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Be openhanded (Deuteronomy 15:1-18)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

  1. Tight-fisted or openhanded?

Are we tight-fisted or openhanded?

A tight-fisted person is one who isn’t generous. They don’t want to let go of what they have and are not willing to share what they have with others. In Deuteronomy chapter 15 the Israelites are commanded to not be tight-fisted. A more literal translation of the command to “not be tight-fisted” would be to “not shut your hand” which is the opposite of being “openhanded”.

  • Being generous and willing to share

A person who has an openhand is a person who is generous and willing to share what they have with those who are in need. They are ready to freely lend or give to the poor and needy. They are quick to reach into their pockets and pull out their wallets or to reach for their phones to use what they have been given to help those in need.

  • You can be frugal but not tight-fisted

Being “tight-fisted” isn’t the same as being frugal. You can be a frugal person but at the same time a generous one. A frugal person doesn’t like to spend money on themselves. In fact, often generous people are frugal because, instead of finding more ways to spend money on themselves, they limit their spending on themselves so that they can have an openhand towards others.

Today in chapter 15 of Deuteronomy Moses confronted the Israelites with the question of whether they were going to be tight-fisted or open handed towards the poor and needy living among them. Moses has been spelling out to the Israelites what it would mean for them to be God’s holy people (14:1-2) – to love God with all their hearts (Deut. 6:5) and to love their neighbour as themselves[1] (see Leviticus 19:1-18). In chapter 15 he focuses on their attitude towards the poor of God’s people living among them.

Up until chapter 15 of Deuteronomy there has been no mention of the poor, but in this chapter, they are referred to verses 4, 7 and 11. The Lord was calling his people to be openhand and not tight-fisted towards the poor. Verses 7 and 8 are key to this chapter helping us to unlock most of this chapter.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need[i].

  1. Be openhanded

Most of this chapter is spelling out what it would mean for God’s people to be open-handed (generous) towards their brothers and sisters (their fellow Israelites[ii]). Today what I want to do is to concentrate on verses 1 to 18 of chapter 15 where we see how this attitude of generosity was to be worked out among God’s people before thinking more about how it ought to shape us today. In verses 1 to 18 we see that being generous meant:

  • Cancelling debts (verses 1- 6)
  • Freely lending (verses 7 to 11)
  • Freeing servants (verses 12 to 18).

2.1 Cancelling debts

Being generous or openhanded to the poor meant firstly cancelling debts at the end of every seven years.

Deuteronomy 15:1-6

At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for cancelling debts has been proclaimed. 3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. 4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

  • For the poor and needy

The Lord was concerned for the poor and needy. Therefore, he also expected his people to be concerned for the poor living among them. The community was to love and take care of one another. While the Lord would bless them, they too through acts of generosity were to do what they could do to alleviate the plight of the poor living among them. At the end of every seven years debts were to be cancelled or forgiven[iii]. This meant that every seven years everyone’s debts would be written off and everyone would be given a clean slate. It was an important measure of preventing “endemic poverty” among God’s people. It was a means of helping people get back on their feet so that people didn’t live in poverty long term[iv].

  • There should be no more poor among them

If they followed all the Lord’s commands in this way, there would be no need for any permanent poor among them. On the one hand the Lord would be blessing them as he had promised supplying them with all that they needed as a people. Between them they would have enough for everyone so that no one needed to live in poverty. He would give them what they needed so much so that as a nation that they would be the ones to lend to other nations with no need to borrow from other nations. There was no need for anyone to live in poverty. But for this to happen they needed to be open-handed and generous.

2.2 Freely lend

Of course, being willing to cancel the debts of the poor meant that God’s people needed to be willing to lend to poor among them in the first place. This is what the Lord commanded his people to do in verses 7 to 11. They were not to be hard hearted and tightfisted toward the poor among them, but they were to be openhanded and freely lend whatever they needed.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

The people of God together were to take care of the poor. What would prevent this from happening was a hard heartedness that would see them close their hand towards those in need.

  • Be careful

Moses therefore gave them a warning. They needed to be careful. They weren’t to harden their hearts and wrong the poor among them by not having an open hand especially when the year for cancelling debts was drawing near. Instead, they were to give generously without grudging heart because of the Lord’s generosity towards them.

Although not mentioned in chapter 15 all loans to fellow Israelites were to be interest free loans (see Deut. 23:19-20). People were not to lend to their neighbour who, for whatever reason, found themselves in trouble, expecting to make a profit from it. Unlike a bank they were not to charge interest on their loans, but it was to be an interest free loan. The reason that you were to loan money to your fellow Israelites was to help them because they were in need. It was all about helping them not helping yourself.

Exodus 22:25

25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.

What this passage reminds us of is that we are to be generous. As God’s holy people we are called to be like him, and we have been given a responsibility to care for poor and needy brothers and sisters living among us. We can do this because it is God who cares and blesses his people giving us what we need.

We see this attitude to the poor carried over in the New Testament[v]. In his letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul told the Galatians how he had visited Jerusalem to defend the truth of the gospel from Jewish false believers who were disturbing the Gentiles. In chapter 2 he recounted how he’d meet with James, Cephas and John the esteemed pillars of the church there in Jerusalem and how they had given him the right hand of fellowship and had agreed that he (and those with him) should go to the Gentiles, while they (the pillars) concentrated on the circumcised (the Jews). He wrote in chapter 2 verse 10 that all that these pillars had asked of them was that they should remember the poor, which he said was the very thing that he had been eager to do all along.

We see that eagerness demonstrated in the way that the apostle Paul encouraged the Gentiles to give towards a collection for the poor in Jerusalem (see Romans 15:26). He encouraged the churches to set aside a sum of money each week in keep with their income, saving it up, so that they had something they could contribute towards the collection (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). In his second letter he wrote that their plenty would supply what they (the poor in Jerusalem needed) so that in turn their plenty would supply what they (the Gentiles) needed (2 Corinthians 8:14). What’s implied here is that God has supplied God’s people with enough for all of us so that none of God’s people should be without what they need. But for this to happen it means God’s people have to see their plenty differently. They must be generous and willing to share.

We need to be openhanded and not tightfisted and not have a hard or grudging heart. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians we should not give reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). But the other thing that comes out in Paul’s writings is that for this to happen there must be a degree of intentionality and planning. For the Corinthians he said that it would involve putting aside each week from what God had given them so that when the time come, they could give. We need more than eagerness we need to be intentional and make plans to be generous.

2.3 Releasing servants

This concern for the poor is still the topic of concern for Moses in verses 12 to 18 of chapter 15 of Deuteronomy where Moses has given instructions about releasing Israelites who had become poor and had sold themselves into the service of one of their brothers and sisters. We find the situation described in Leviticus chapter 25.

Leviticus 25:39-41

39 “ ‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors.

What is being described is a kind of indentured service that a person might have found themselves in because of poverty or because of the debt they owed. While the passage from Leviticus made it clear that they weren’t to be treated as slave, but as hired workers, the passage in Deuteronomy 15 made it clear that service could only last for a maximum of six years and that the poor who found themselves serving in this way were to be treated with kindness and generosity by those that they had served.

Deuteronomy 15:12-15

12 If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you and serve you six years, in the seventh year you must let them go free. 13 And when you release them, do not send them away empty-handed. 14 Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.

They were not just to release them after six years of service, but they were to be generously supplied with what they needed to start over. They were to be supplied liberally from their flocks, from their threshing floor and their wine press. The Israelites were to be give as the Lord their God had blessed them. They were not to give with a grudging heart but a grateful one. On one hand, they were to be grateful to the Lord for the way that he had release them from slavery and had blessed them. On the other hand, they were to be grateful for the years of service that they had received from those that had served them.

Deuteronomy 15:18

Do not consider it a hardship to set your servant free, because their service to you these six years has been worth twice as much as that of a hired hand. And the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.

In verses 16 to 17 Moses describes the situation of a servant who doesn’t want to leave the service of a family because he believes himself better off with them than going out on his or her own. Provision was made so that they could stay as servant in that household for life. But for those who left they were to be treated with kindness and generosity conscious that by keeping his commands the Lord would continue to bless them in everything that they do.

  1. Be careful

Like the Israelites were warned so to we need to be careful that we don’t develop a hardened heart or heart that is stingy (CSB) or begrudging (NIV).

  • Be openhanded

We are to be people who excel in the grace of giving because of the grace and generosity that the Lord has shown us through the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they knew the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

  • We need to guard our hearts

We need to guard our hearts by remembering the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need respond out of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us and be generous and not have hard and begrudging hearts. We need to learn to have open hands that have been softened by the knowledge of God’s kindness and grace to us. Through Christ we are children of God and behaving like his children brings our Father in heaven praise and honour.

  • We need to think differently about our plenty

We need to think differently about our plenty. While God has provided us with everything we need for our enjoyment (see 1 Timothy 6:17), our plenty hasn’t just been given to us so that we can spend ever increasing amounts on ourselves. It isn’t given to us just so that we can have more things or nicer things or more holidays. While none of those things are ruled out, we must think about how we can be more generous with what we have been given. Our plenty has been given to us so that we have enough to share with those who don’t have enough particularly among our brothers and sisters in Christ (see Galatians 6:4).

  • The Mosaic law embedded generosity into the lives of God’s people.

The Mosaic law embedded generosity into the ebb and flow of life for the Israelite. They were purposely to not reap to the edge of their fields so that poor and the foreigners had something to eat (Leviticus 23:22). If they forgot a sheaf in the field they weren’t to go back and get it, but it was to be left for the foreigner, the widow and the fatherless. When they beat the olives from their trees, they weren’t to do it for second time but to leave what was there for the needy among them (see Deut. 24:19-22). They were to set aside a tithe each year which was to support the Levites working in the temple (Num. 18:21). Every third year the tithe was to be set aside for the poor and the Levites living in their towns (Deut. 14:28-29). They were commanded to be openhand and to freely lend to the poor, to cancel debts every seventh year and to free their indentured servants being generously giving them what they needed to start over.

  • We need to embed generosity into our own lives

We need to embed generosity within our own lives. We need to think about ways of making it part of the rhythm of life for us and not just something that we do now and gain whenever the fancy takes us. We need to be intentional and make plans and take action to set what we have decided to give aside, whether that be on a weekly, or fortnightly or monthly or an annual basis so that we have something to give. You might want to consider sponsoring a child living in poverty through Compassion or Baptist World Aid Australia or you might want to support God’s people who are suffering because of persecution or war or famine. You might want to put something aside for when a need arises during the year or to take a project off the Christmas tree that we set up in the foyer at that time. I don’t mean just rejigging your giving to take away from what you are already doing to support the work here, but learning to spend less on ourselves so that we have more to spend on others.

We need to embed generosity into our lives because we are those who know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his death and resurrection, we have been forgiven and have become God’s holy people. We are called to holy as he is holy – to love God with all heart, mind and all soul and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

 

 

[1] See Leviticus 19:1-18. Israel are called to be holy as Yahweh their God is holy and then various laws that relate to how they were to approach God and how they were to treat others are given. This is also the way that the Lord Jesus summarised all the commandments

[i] Unless otherwise indicated all Biblical citations are taken from the NIV 2011 edition of the Bible.

[ii] Instead of having a closed hand towards the poor, God commanded his people to be open-handed towards their poor brothers and sisters. The NIV translators have chosen to translate the Hebrew word for “brother” as “fellow Israelite” or you “own people.”  Sadly, I think that by translating it this way the translators have failed to capture how they were to regard their neighbours. They were to regard other Israelites as their brothers and sisters. And as brothers and sisters, the Israelites had an obligation to love and care for those who belonged to the people of God.

[iii] There is some debate as to whether it was the debts just for that year that were suspended or whether it was the total debt which was remaining at that time was to be forgiven. Moses has not provided the details for us so that we can be absolutely certain, but what is clear is that either the case whether it was the total amount forgiven or just that year’s amount both were done to help the poor and needy get back on their feet.

[iv] George Athos, “Deuteronomy: One Nation under God”, Reading the Bible Today, (Kindle Edition, Location 3148 of 5316)

[v] See 1 John 3:17