Lesson 8: Chapters 14-15
Moses' Second Homily: The Deuteronomic Code (Ethical Stipulations of the Covenant Treaty Continued)

Eternal Father,
We are Your children, beloved Father-God-children born through the power of the Holy Spirit and entrusted to into the loving care of Mother Church who guides us on our journey of faith and teaches us to love You and to love our neighbor.  Help us to see that the struggles endured by the Israelites and the choices they made are lessons for us today.  For them and for us, covenant loyalty is defined by love for You, the love we willingly extend to our fellow man, and our obedience to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.   Please guide us, most Holy Spirit, in Moses' teachings concerning right worship and covenant obedience in today's lesson.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ + +

For it is I, Yahweh, who am your God.  You have been sanctified and have become holy because I am holy: do not defile yourselves with all these creatures that swarm on the ground.  Yes, it is I, Yahweh, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God: you must therefore be holy because I am holy.
Leviticus 11:44-45

He himself says, "Be holy, for I am holy," that is to say, choose me and keep away from what displeases me.  Do what I love; love what I do.  If which I order seems difficult, come back to me who ordered it, so that from where the command was given help might be offered.  I who furnished the desire will not refuse support.  Fast from contradiction, abstain from opposition.  Let me be your food and drink.  None desire in vain which is mine, for those who stretch out toward me seek me because I first sought them.
Pope St. Leo the Great (reign 440-461), Sermon 94.2

In chapter 12 Moses began the section of his second homily that is entitled "The Deuteronomic Code."  The Deuteronomic Code resembles the other two collections of commands and prohibitions found in the Pentateuch: the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20:19-23:33) and the Holiness Code (Lev chapters 17-26).

Theme Book of the Covenant Holiness Code Deuteronomic Code
Prologue: right worship Ex 20:19-23:9 Lev 17:1-16 Dt 12:1-19
Duties toward the Land Ex 23:10-11 Lev 19:9-37; 25:23-34 Dt 15:1-11; 24:19-22; 26:1-15
Liturgical Calendar Ex 23:12-19 Lev 23:1-44; 25:1-22 Dt 16:1-7
Epilogue: covenant blessings and curses Ex 23:20-33 Lev 26:3-46 Dt 28:1-69/29:1
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 14: The Laws of Holiness

The ritual purity laws forbade the Israelites and the foreigners living among them to participate in pagan practices (Lev 19:27-28; 21:1-9) and to abstain from eating certain kinds of foods (Ex 22:20; Lev 11:1-47 and 17:15).  These prohibitions were established to train the people in the practice of self-discipline in holiness and to separate them from their pagan neighbors.   Deuteronomy 14:1-21 is a repeat of laws already listed in the Holiness Code (Lev 17-26), but they are repeated in the Deuteronomic Code so that the new generation will understand that the ritual purity laws that guided Israel in the wilderness years will also be in effect for them while living in the Promised Land and wherever their descendants may live in the future.

Deuteronomy 14:1-21 addresses four laws of Ritual Holiness:

  1. Prohibitions against pagan mourning practices (verse 1).
  2. Defining clean animals fit to eat and unclean animals that are unfit for food (verses 3-20).
  3. Prohibition against eating any animal that has died a natural death (verse 21a).
  4. Prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother's milk (verse 21b).

Deuteronomy 14:1-2
1 'You are children [sons] of Yahweh your God.  You must not gash yourselves or shave your foreheads for the dead.  2 For you are a people consecrated to Yahweh your God, and Yahweh has chosen you to be his own people from all the peoples on the earth. 

Deuteronomy 14:1 You are children [sons] of Yahweh your God.
In the Bible the title "son(s) of God" is given to three different groups:

  1. Angels of the heavenly court (Ps 29:1Ps 89:6; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7)
  2. the divinely elected children of Israel (Dt 14:1;Wis 2:13; Hos 2:1; Jn 1:10; Rom 8:14, 19; Gal4:5, 6; Phil 2:15; Heb 12:7; Jn 1:12)
  3. the Davidic kings (2 Sam 7:14; 1 Chr 17:13; 22:10; Ps 2:7; 89:28)

Also see CCC 441.

The first prohibition in verse 1 is a repeat from the Holiness Code in Leviticus 19:27-28.  The practices of self mutilation, head shaving, and making offerings of food and material goods for the dead were part of pagan mourning rituals (Dt 26:14) and cultic worship (1 Kng 18:28).  These practices were probably also demonstrated at the annual commemoration of the "death" of pagan gods like Baal and Tammuz at the beginning of the summer when vegetation withered from the heat of the sun (Ez 8:14).(1) As "children of Yahweh your God," the Israelites were to be obedient to their kingly God-Father and to image Him in the lives.  They were not to become associated in any ways with pagan practices because the Israelites have been chosen through divine election to be God's holy people.

Deuteronomy 14:3-20
Clean and unclean animals
3 'You must not eat anything disgusting.  4 These are the animals you may eat: ox, 4 sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roebuck, ibex, antelope, oryx, mountain sheep.  6You may eat any animal that has a divided and cloven hoof and that is a ruminant.  7 Of those, however, that are ruminants and of those that have a divided and cloven hoof you may not eat the following: the camel, the hare and the coney, which are ruminants but have no cloven hoof; you must class them as unclean.  8 So also the pig, which though it has a cloven hoof is not a ruminant; you must class it as unclean.  You must neither eat the meat of such animals nor touch their dead bodies.  9 Of whatever lives in water you may eat the following: you may eat anything that has fins and scales.  10 But you must not eat anything without fins and scales: you must class it as unclean. 11 You may eat all clean birds, 12 but the following birds you must not eat: the tawny vulture, the griffon, the osprey, 13 the kite and the several kinds of buzzard, 14 all kinds of raven, 15 the ostrich, the screech owl, the seagull, the several kinds of hawk, 16 owl, barn owl, ibis, 17 pelican, white vulture, cormorant, 18 stork, the several kinds of heron, hoopoe and bat.  19 You are to class all winged insects as unclean and must not eat them.  20 You may eat any clean fowl.'

In many ways this list in the second set of prohibitions is a summary and an explanation of the list in Leviticus 11:1-45 in the section of "Purity Laws" (Lev chapters 11-16).  Clean and unclean animals are first defined in Genesis 7:2; the unclean animals were those that pagan peoples regarded as sacred or animals that were unpleasant to humans and were considered therefore not suitable for human consumption.  For the people of the Sinai Covenant, the animal kingdom was divided into four classes of "clean" animals that can be eaten and "unclean" animals that were not edible. 

Question: What were those four classes or animals? See verses 4-20.
Answer: Land animals, water animals, birds and insects.

Clean animals represented the Israelites while unclean animals, unfit for eating or sacrifice, represented the pagan peoples who did not acknowledge Yahweh as God.  The list in Deuteronomy chapter 14 compliments the list in Leviticus chapter 11.  Where the Leviticus list describes only the kinds of clean animals that can be eaten, without giving examples (see Lev 11:3), the list in Deuteronomy gives specific examples including both domesticated and wild horned animals (Dt 14:4-5), and where Leviticus gives examples (see Lev 11:21-23), the list in Deuteronomy lists only the general prohibition (Dt 14:20). 

The List of Clean and Unclean from Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 

  1. Land animals:
    1. Clean: animals which ruminate and have cloven hooves were classified as clean and edible.  These animals included the domesticated cattle, sheep and goats; wild animals including deer, gazelles, antelopes, oryx, and mountain sheep (all horned animals)
    2. Unclean: Camels, hares, coneys (badger-like animal), all reptiles and pigs
  2. Sea/fresh water animals:
    1. Clean: fish with fins and scales
    2. Unclean: shellfish and other sea creatures without fins and scales
  3. Birds:
    1. Clean: turtle doves and pigeons.
    2. Unclean: nineteen kinds are named in Leviticus and twenty-one kinds are named in Deuteronomy
  4. Insects
    1. Clean: four species of locusts
    2. Unclean: all other insects

All "clean" animals could be eaten, but not all "clean" animals could be offered to Yahweh in sacrifice.  Only five kinds of "clean" land animals were acceptable for sacrifice: cattle, sheep, goats, turtledoves and pigeons.  It was a religious duty to only eat "clean" animals. 

Question: What did Jesus teach about the covenant prohibition against unclean foods? See Mk 7:14-23.
Answer: Jesus did away with the ritual purity laws associated with eating certain foods.  Jesus came to purify His covenant people internally.  He told them that it wasn't what they ate that made them acceptable to God, but it was instead the condition of their hearts that make them pure or impure ... Thus he pronounced all foods clean (Mk 7:19)

Deuteronomy 14:21
21 'You must not eat any animal that has died a natural death.  You may give it to a resident foreigner to eat, or sell it to a foreigner.  For you are a people consecrated to Yahweh your God.  You must not boil a kid in its mother's milk.'

The third prohibition against eating an animal that has not be slaughtered is a repeat from Exodus 22:31 and Leviticus 17:15-16; however, in this passage we are given the additional information that any although any animal that died of natural causes or was found dead was unclean for Israelites, it could be given or sold to a non-Israelite who did not observe the prohibition.  The resident foreigner is not a Gentile in covenant with Israel, but a complete outsider who is not required to observe the purity laws.

The fourth prohibition against boiling a young kid in its mother's milk is a repeat from Exodus 23:19 and 34:24.  The Ras Shamra cultic texts discovered in the ruins of the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit describe boiling a goat-kid in its mother's milk as part of pagan rituals for a sacred meal.  This is most likely the reason for the prohibition since the restriction only applied to a goat-kid and not to lambs or calves.

The purpose in repeating these laws from Exodus and Leviticus is to show that the regulations first given in the purity laws at Sinai were to continue when the people lived in the Promised Land.

Question: What is the other reason this passage gives for these particular purity laws?  See the same phrase repeated in Dt 14:2 and in verse 21.
Answer: The must observe these covenant prohibitions because the Israelites are different from all other peoples on the earth; they are "a people consecrated to Yahweh your God."  Observance of the purity laws identifies the Israelites as holy as their God is holy, and these prohibitions demonstrate the measures necessary to maintain that holiness.

Deuteronomy 14:22-27
The Second Tithe
22 'Every year, you must take a tithe of what your fields produce from what you have sown 23 and, in the presence of Yahweh your God, in the place where he chooses to give his name a home, you must eat the tithe of your wheat, of your new wine and of your oil, and the first-born of your herd and flock; and by so doing, you will learn always to fear Yahweh your God.  24 If the road is too long for you, if you cannot bring your tithe because the place to which Yahweh chooses to make a home for his name is too far away, when Yahweh your God has blessed you, 25 you must convert it into money and, with the money clasped in your hand, you must go to the place chosen by Yahweh your God; 26 there you may spend the money on whatever you like, oxen, sheep, wine, fermented liquor, anything you please. There you must eat in the presence of Yahweh your God and rejoice, you and your household.  27 Do not neglect the Levite living in your community, since he has no share or heritage of his own among you.

The Patriarchs gave Yahweh voluntary tithes (Gen 14:20; 28:22).  Tithing to the great king and giving offerings to the sanctuary of the regional god was a common practice in the ancient Near East.

The Instructions for tithing were given in Leviticus 27:30-33 and Numbers 18:21-32.  The tithe in Numbers 18:21-32 is identified as the "first tithe."  Leviticus 27:30-31 and verses 21-27 of this passage refer to the "second tithe," taken from the remaining ninety percent of the produce.(2)  The second tithe is to be used in making pilgrimages to the Temple and in providing for food at the sacred festivals as part of their communion sacrifices.  The "second tithe" on produce is replaced in the third and sixth years by a "third tithe" or "tithe for the poor" (Dt 14:28-29).

In this section Moses gives additional details on the procedures the people were to follow concerning their tithes.

Question: When the first tithe and the firstfruits were taken to God's Sanctuary (or the equivalent in money), who was to receive the tithe?  See Ex 22:28-29; 34:19-20; Num 18:21-32.
Answer: The "first tithes," a tenth of all produce and the firstfruits of produce and domesticated animals were given for the support of the Levites, who in turn gave a tenth of it to the chief priests.

All the first-born males of humans and domesticated animals became God's property.  The first-born of the humans were dedicated to God, but a redemption tax was paid by their parents for their "return" (Ex 13:13; 34:19-20; Num 3:46-47).  The first-born of the "clean" male animals: cattle, sheep, and goats were offered in sacrifice (Dt 15:19-20). 

Question: Why was the domesticated donkey the exception?  See Ex 13:13; 34:20; Lev 27:26-27 and Num 18:15.
Answer: The exception in domesticated animals was the donkey because as an "unclean animal" it was not acceptable as a sacrifice. The first-born of the donkey was either redeemed by the substitution of a "clean animal" or its neck was broken (Ex 13:13; 34:20), like all unclean (blemished) first-born animals unsuitable for sacrifice (Lev 27:26-27; Num 18:15).

Question: Why did all the first-born of men and animals become God's property?  See Ex 13:14; Num 3:13 and 8:17.  Why were the first-born males redeemed with a tax instead of serving God in His Sanctuary? See Num 3:12, 40-51; 8:16-18.
Answer: Their dedication was associated with the redemption of the first-born males of Israel and male animals on the night of the tenth plague in Egypt.  In place of the first-born males who were spared in that event and who were intended to serve God in His Sanctuary, the Levites replaced the first-born males and were consecrated to God after their heroism in putting down the Revolt of the Golden Calf.  Because of the unfitness of the first-born males in the failure to rally to Moses in the Revolt of the Golden Calf, they became "unfit for service" like the unclean donkey was "unfit for sacrifice."

Deuteronomy 14:22'Every year, you must take a tithe of what your fields produce from what you have sown ...

Out of the blessings of the land, not every year but every first, second, fourth, and fifth years the Israelites were to set aside a tenth of their produce, including grain, fruit, oil and domesticated animals from the herd and flock.  The giving of the tithe is also closely associated with the giving of firstfruits commanded in Exodus 22:28Deuteronomy 14:28-29 deal with the third and sixth years.  In the seventh year no tithe of produce can be given since neither planting nor harvest took place during a "Sabbath year" (Ex 23:10-11; Lev 25:2-7; Dt 15:1):

Tithing Schedule:
Year 1: tithe for the Levites
Year 2: tithe for the Levites
Year 3: tithe for the poor
Year 4: tithe for the Levites
Year 5: tithe for the Levites
Year 6: tithe for the poor
Year 7: Sabbath year, no tithe from the produce of the land

Deuteronomy 14:23 ... you must eat the tithe of your wheat, of your new wine and of your oil, and the first-born of your herd and flock; and by so doing, you will learn always to fear Yahweh your God.  This verse refers to the second tithe taken from the remaining ninety percent of the produce after the first tithe.  Wine, oil and grains were included as well as fruit, honey and other types of produce (2 Chr 31:5).  The law required that the tithes be given from all foodstuffs grown in or on the soil in the holy land.  Israelites living outside the holy land tithed the domesticated animals and material wealth and brought the equal in money to contribute as their fair share.

Question: In Deuteronomy 12:6-8, where were the people commanded to bring their second tithes and "firstlings" and why?
Answer: They were commanded to bring them to Yahweh's Sanctuary and to celebrate a joyful feast in thanksgiving for Yahweh's many blessings.

Numbers Verse 23 does not designate the time the second tithe offerings and the "firstlings" were to be brought to the Sanctuary.  The regular three times a year pilgrim festivals were the most convenient time, but if a covenant member attended any of the other sacred festivals at the Sanctuary, the money or produce from the "second tithe" provided for the voluntary offering communion meals for him and his family and the invited Levites and the poor.

In four years out of seven, the second tithe was to be consumed at the Sanctuary by the farmer and his family.  It was to be collected out of the remainder of the produce after the first tithe had been set aside for the Levites.  This tithe, or the money from it, was to be used when making the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary in communion feasts to which the Levites were to be invited (see Mishnah: Demai, 1:2; and  Mishnah: Maaser Sheni, 1:1-5:15 for regulations on the second tithe). 

Deuteronomy 15:19-20 makes it clear that all the "firstlings" are dedicated to Yahweh, not only a tenth of them, and that the people's communion sacrifices must come from the "firstlings"-remaining "firstlings" became the property of the Temple and were used in the communal sacrifices of the Tamid and for festival sacrifices.  They are mentioned in 14:23 because, like the tithe, they are eaten by their owners who have offered them to Yahweh at the Sanctuary. 

... and by so doing, you will learn always to fear Yahweh your God.

According to Deuteronomy 14:23-27, the Israelites were commanded to bring the second tithe to Yahweh's Sanctuary in order to teach the people to fear (respect and fear offending) Yahweh.(3)

Question: How did personally bringing the second tithe to the Sanctuary and eating a Todah (thanksgiving) communion meal within the courtyard of the Sanctuary or a festival communion meal within the "camp of God," foster reverence and fear of God?
Answer: Closeness to God's Sanctuary and interaction with His ministers fostered reverence.  At the Sanctuary, the people and their children learned about piety, the right practice of their religion and observance of the law.

Then as now, children and adults who do not worship in God's Sanctuary on a regular basis, do not learn about their covenant obligations; they do not learn to have reverence for God; and they do not fear offending the Almighty.

Question: What were the people to do if they lived too great a distance from the Sanctuary to bring their animals and other produce?
Answer: They were to sell the tithe and convert their tithe into money and bring their donation to the Sanctuary during the next pilgrim feast.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29
The Third Year Tithe
28 'At the end of every three years, you must take all the tithes of your harvests for that year and collect them in your community.  29 Then the Levite-since he has no share or heritage of his won among you-the foreigner, the orphan and the widow living in your community, will come and eat all they want.  And so Yahweh your God will bless you in all the labors that you undertake.'

Question: What happened every third year?  Why?
Answer: Every third year the tithe was to be given to the poor.  The Israelites were to be as generous to the poor and disadvantaged as Yahweh had been to them when they were poor, disadvantaged slaved in Egypt.  There were to be no poor in God's Holy Land.

Every third and sixth year in a seven year cycle, the Israelites were not to bring the tithe to the Sanctuary but must deposit it within their communities to feed the poor.  The Levites living among the people were not deprived of the third year tithes.  Deuteronomy 26:12-15 prescribes a declaration of obedience the Israelites must recite in the presence of God at the Sanctuary after having given their allotted amount of the third year tithe.

Chapter 15: The Sabbath Year and Measures to Protect the Poor

Israelite declaration of obedience to the tithe for the poor: ... in the presence of Yahweh your God, you must say: "I have cleared my house of what was consecrated.  Yes, I have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, in accordance with all the commandments you have imposed on me, neither going beyond your commandments nor neglecting them ..."
Deuteronomy 26:13

Then fixing his eyes on his disciples he said: How blessed are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours.  Blessed are you who are hungry now: you shall have your fill. Blessed are you who are weeping now: you shall laugh.
Jesus in Luke 6:20-21

Deuteronomy 15:1-6
The Sabbath Year of Redemption
1 'At the end of every seven years, you must grant remission.  2 The nature of the remission is as follows: any creditor holding a personal pledge obtained from his fellow must release him from it; he must not exploit his fellow or his brother once the latter has appealed to Yahweh for remission.  3 A foreigner you may exploit, but you must remit whatever claim you have on your brother.  4 There must, then, be no poor among you.  For Yahweh will grant you his blessing in the country which Yahweh your God is giving you to possess as your heritage, 5 only if you pay careful attention to the voice of Yahweh your God, by keeping and practicing all these commandments which I am enjoining on your today.  6 If Yahweh your God blesses you as he has promised, you will be creditors to many nations but debtors to none; you will rule over many nations, and be ruled by none.

Instructions for observing a Sabbatical year are also given in Leviticus 25:1-7 where landowners were commanded to let the land "rest" in the seventh year by planting no seeds and organizing no harvesting of crops. This passage is God's plan for social justice, national solvency and economic prosperity.  The remission of all debts for covenant members every seventh year provided for the preservation of a balanced distribution of wealth and resources across the Israelite community and is of special benefit for the poor (see Ex 22:24-26; Lev 25:36-37; Dt 23:20-21 and 24:6, 10-13, and 17).  It was not in the creditors' interest, therefore to allow someone to amass a huge debt that he couldn't pay off earlier than the seventh year.(4)

Question: What are the conditions of God's plan?

The law of the Sabbatical Year was first ordained in the Holiness Code in Leviticus 25:1-7 and again in 25:8 in association with the 50th year of the seventh Sabbatical Year, which was called the Jubilee Year.

The Liberation of the Sabbath and Jubilee years
The Sabbath Year Liberation The Jubilee Liberation
(every seventh year is a Sabbath Year)
Ex 23:10-13; Lev 25:1-7; 18-22; Dt 15:1-11
(the year after every seventh Sabbath year is a Jubilee Year)
Lev 25:8-17, 28-55; Dt 15:1-11
For six years fields will be sown but in the seventh year the fields and vineyards will not be sown (Ex 25:3-4). The year after the seventh Sabbatical Year, in the fiftieth year beginning on the tenth of Tishri (Feast of Atonement) the land will continue to rest for a second year  (Lev 25:8).
The fields are to lie fallow, no seed is to be sown, no vineyards pruned for a year and there will be no organized harvest; it is a year of rest for the land (Lev 25:4-5). The fields are to lie fallow, no seed will be sown, no vineyard pruned and there will be no organized harvest for a second year (Lev 25:11, 21-22).
Any crops that grow naturally will be food for the Israelites and their animals (Lev 25:6-7). Any crops that grow naturally will be food for the Israelites and their animals (Lev 25:12).
The poor and wild animals will be permitted to eat from the fields; extend mercy to the poor (Lev 25:7; Dt 15:7-11). The poor and wild animals will be permitted to eat from the fields; extend mercy to the poor (Dt 15:7-11).
At the end of the seventh year all Israelite debts remitted (Dt 15:1-2, 12-18). At the end of the seventh seven year, in the beginning of the year of Jubilee, all Israelite debts remitted (Dt 15:1-2).
The land will rest in the seventh year but in the eighth year grain may be sown (Lev 25:21-22). For two years the land will rest and in the third year crops can be sown and harvested (Lev 25:22).
  There is to be redemption of the land; the land must be returned to the original Israelite owner/tribe.  The land belongs to God and can never be sold (Lev 25:10-13, 23-34).
  Trumpets are to be blown throughout the land and the fiftieth year will be proclaimed a year of liberation (Lev 25:9-10).
  All Israelite slaves and their children will be freed (Lev 25:35-46); an Israelite can only be enslaved for a seven year period outside of a Jubilee year (Ex 21:2; Dt 15:12-18).*
God will provide for Israel in the year the land lies fallow by giving the land abundant harvests in the sixth year, the produce of which will last for three years into the eighth (Lev 25:18-22a). God will provide for Israel in the years the land lies fallow by giving the land abundant harvests in the sixth year, the produce of which will last for three years into the eighth year and even the ninth (Lev 25:18-22).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

*The liberation of Israelites slaves, who were in effect indentured servants, only applied in a Sabbath year if the bondage began seven years earlier; an Israelite was never to be keep in servitude beyond six years and all Israelites were freed from bondage in a Jubilee year (Ex 21:1-11; Lev 25:46b).  This regulation did not apply to Gentile slaves.

Question: Did the Israelites faithfully keep the Sabbath year of Redemption in the Promised Land?  See 2 Chr 36:19-21.
Answer: No, they did not keep the Sabbath year requirement.  As a result of their failure, in 587/6 BC Yahweh allowed Judah to be conquered by the Babylonians and sent them into exile in Babylon for the seventy Sabbath years of "rest" the people owed Yahweh's land.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11
The Obligation to the Poor
7 'Is there anyone poor among you, one of your brothers, in any town of yours in the country which Yahweh your God is giving you?  Do not harden your heart or close your hand against that poor brother of yours, 8 but be open handed with him and lend him enough for his needs.  9 Do not allow this mean thought in your heart, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near," and scowl at your poor brother and give him nothing; he could appeal against you to Yahweh, and you would incur guilt!  10 When you give to him, you must give with an open heart; for this, Yahweh your God will bless you in all your actions and in all your undertakings.  11 Of course, there will never cease to be poor people in the country, and that is why I am giving you this command: Always be open handed with your brother, and with anyone in your country who is in need and poor.'

Question: How did God command that the poor be taken care of in a non third-year tithing period?  See Lev 19:9-10; 25:4-7; 23:32; Dt 24:19-22.
Answer: Every landowner was forbidden to reap the edges of his fields or to pick up the gleanings of the harvest.  He also had to leave the fallen fruit on the ground and could not strip the fruit vines bare. These must be left for the poor to gather.  Also in every Sabbatical year, the poor had free access to all fields where the crops naturally grew from the year before.

Question: What heroine in salvation history fed herself and her mother-in-law by taking advantage of God's provision for the poor?  See Rt 2:2-7; 4:13-17; Mt 1:4-16.
Answer: Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David and ancestress of Jesus of Nazareth.

Deuteronomy 15:11 Of course, there will never cease to be poor people in the country [land], and that is why I am giving you this command: Always be open handed with your brother, and with anyone in your country who is in need and poor.'

The continued existence of the poor is a sad condition of humanity.  The fact that the poor will always be present, does not excuse the responsibilities of others to relieve their burden, but rather increases the responsibility of those who are blessed with plenty. 

Question: The Law of the Sinai Covenant provided in numerous ways for the care of the poor.  Name some of those laws.  See Ex 23:10-11; Lev 19:11-13; 25:13-22; Dt 14:28-29; 15:1-18; 24:14-21.

  1. The Sabbatical and Jubilee years of forgiveness of debts and return of ancestral lands.
  2. Prohibition of loans at interest.
  3. The obligation to the third year tithe.
  4. The daily payment of the day-laborer.
  5. The right to glean from the fields and vines.
  6. Giving the freed Israelite slave the means of starting a new life.
  7. Command not to exploit the poor

See CCC 2449.

In John 12:8, Jesus refers to this verse and connects it to Himself: The poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me.  In quoting the passage from Deuteronomy 15:11, Jesus invites us to recognize His love for the poor and His connection to their suffering.

Deuteronomy 15:12-18
12 'If your fellow [brother] Hebrew, man or woman, sells himself to you, he can serve your for six years. In the seventh year you must set him free, 13 and in setting him free you must not let him go empty handed.  14 By way of present, you will load his shoulders with things from your flock, from your threshing-floor and from your winepress; as Yahweh your God has blessed you, so you must give to him.  15 Remember that you were once a slave in Egypt and that Yahweh your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this order today. 16 But if he says to you, "I do not want to leave you," because he loves you and your household and is happy with you, 17 you must take an awl and drive it through his ear into the door and he will be your servant for ever. You must do the same to a female slave.  18 Do not think it hard on you to have to give him his freedom; he is worth twice what a paid servant would cost you, and has served your for six years. And Yahweh your God will bless you in everything you do.'

The laws in Deuteronomy addressing the maturation of slaves are in addition to the legislation in Exodus 21:2-11.  Six years is the standard length of indentured service for an Israelite (also see Ex 21:2 and verse 18).

Question: In addition to setting a Hebrew slave free in the seventh year, what other requirements are placed on the Israelite master?
Answer: The master must provide the newly freed slave with enough goods to start his new life according to the degree the Lord has blessed the master with material goods.

According to Jewish tradition, the gift of liberation had to be not less than thirty silver shekels, which is the value of a slave according to Exodus 21:32.  You will recall it is the same amount that Judas was paid for betraying Jesus (Mt 26:14-16) by the chief priests.

Deuteronomy 15:16 But if he says to you, "I do not want to leave you," because he loves you and your household and is happy with you, 17 you must take an awl and drive it through his ear into the door and he will be your servant for ever.  You must do the same to a female slave.'

Some Israelites preferred to live in security in a household and to not have to struggle to make their own living as a freed man.  In that case, the Israelite could become permanently bonded to his/her master in a small ceremony.  It is unclear why a hole was driven through the slave's ear. It may have been so the slave could wear an earring as a symbol of his permanent slave status, or it may be punishment that physically marks the Israelite who has denied himself the right of redemption and rejected God's command in Leviticus 25:42 that Israelites may not be sold into permanent servitude because they are Yahweh's servants.  There is no consensus of opinion among Biblical scholars on the meaning of the ceremony.(5)

Question: What is the reason given for the redemption of Israelites slaves?
Answer: The Israelites' own experience of slavery and redemption by God is cited as the reason why Israelite slaves should be treated with such generosity.  The Israelite masters are to remember God's graciousness in liberating their ancestors from slavery in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 15:19-23
The First-born
19 'You must consecrate every first-born male from your herd and flock to Yahweh your God. You must not put the first-born of your herd to work, or shear the first-born of your flock.  20 You must eat it, you and your household, each year, in the presence of Yahweh your God, in the place which Yahweh chooses.  21 If it has any defect, if it is lame or blind-any serious defect-you must not sacrifice it to Yahweh your God.  22 You will eat it at home, unclean and clean together, as you would gazelle or deer; 23 only, you will not eat its blood, but pour that like water on the ground.'

This section of Moses' second homily began and ends with the blood prohibition (see 12:16; 15:23).  The unblemished first-born male animals like the second tithe are to be eaten in ritual communion meals in the presence of God or in the camp of God that surrounds the Sanctuary and later the Temple.  The first-born cattle had to be sacrificed within a year of their birth and not earlier than the eighth day of life (Ex 22:29).  The animal's sacred status prevents shearing of its wool-every part of the animal belongs to God. However, God is generous and will share His sacrifice with His covenant community in the sacred meal; the hides went to the officiating priest (Lev 7:8; 6:38).

Question: What about first-born male domestic animals that had blemishes or had a physical imperfection?
Answer: Those animals were not given to God but were retained by the owner and could be eaten as food like any other animal.

Only unblemished animals could be offered in sacrifice to Yahweh (Lev 22:2, 17-25, 32; Mal 1:6-9).  The only exception was that an animal with a slight blemish could be offered as a free-will festival communion offering (see Lev 22:23). In verse 22, You will eat it at home, unclean and clean together, as you would gazelle or deer refers not to the status of "clean" or "unclean" concerning the animal but the ritual cleanliness of the individual eating the animal. If a person was ritually unclean from some contamination, he was not prohibited from eating with other members of his family; the ritually unclean and clean could eat together.

Question for group discussion:

In the New Testament, Jesus declared formerly unclean foods were edible and no longer defiling.  The revelation of the end of the ritual food restrictions that separated Jews from Gentiles was revealed to St. Peter in a divine vision in Acts 10:9-16 just before he was called to the home of a Gentile Roman officer and his family who were God-fearers.  God-fearers were Gentiles who worshiped the God of the Jews but who stopped short of circumcision.  Hint: remember that a three times repetition points to something that has an impact on God's plan of salvation.

Question: What was St. Peter's vision and what did Peter understand to be the will of God for the Church in the revelation of the vision?  Read Acts 10:1-35.
Answer: God gave Peter a vision of a large sheet containing every kind of unclean animal and commanded Peter to kill and eat. When Peter objected, God's message was "What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane"-it was a message repeated a significant three times. Peter didn't understand the vision until the men arrived to ask Peter to come to Cornelius' home.  When the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter that is was God's will for him to return with the men and that it was God's will that they were to seek him, Peter returned with them.  When he met Cornelius, his family and the other Gentiles who formed a community of God-fearing Gentiles, Peter understood the vision-Jesus had purified all men and women, and all people were welcomed into the New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ.  The Gentiles were no longer to be considered a defiling people, just as all animals were no longer defiled and unfit to eat.  St. Peter baptized the first Gentile community of Christians.

It is significant that Cornelius had his vision at about the ninth hour or three o'clock in the afternoon (Acts 10:1, 30).  It was the time when the second Tamid lamb was sacrificed at God's holy altar and the Temple gates opened for the afternoon liturgical service.  It was also the time that Jesus gave up His life on the altar of the Cross (Mt 27:46-50; Mk 15:34-36; Lk 23:44-47).  It was the practice for the Jews to have individual prayer time at the times of the Tamid sacrifice, if they could not attend the Temple services.  Peter had his vision the next day at the sixth hour Jewish time, which is noon (Acts 10:9).  It was when the second Tamid lamb that was sacrificed at the ninth hour (three in the afternoon) was brought out and tied next to the altar.


1. Tammuz was an Assyro-Bablyonian deity, known in Greek-Mediterranean mythology as Adonis ("my Lord").  His counterpart in Canaanite religious cults was Baal. 

2. (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 141).

3. Also see Mishnah: Masser Sheni, 1:1-5:15; Mishnah" Sanhedrin, 1:3D.

4. According to Jewish tradition, debts were canceled at sunset on the last day of the seventh year (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 145).

5. According to Jewish interpretation of the law, "perpetuity" meant for the rest of the master's life, unless a fiftieth Jubilee year came first.  The Israelite slave was not passed on to the master's heirs like Gentile slaves and did not remain beyond the Jubilee year (The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, page 150).

Catechism references: * indicates that Scripture is quoted or paraphrased in the citation.

Dt 14:1 441*
Dt 15:11 2449

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2011 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.