Moses' fourth speech, Part 8
Nov 07, 2012
At the end of six years on the Hebrew calendar, a remission of debt took place in conjunction with the Sabbatic year. This gave debt relief during the year when they had no income from the land, as they were forbidden to sow or reap during a Sabbatic year. Moses then explained this law further in Deuteronomy 15:2 and 3,
2 And this is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. 3 From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother.
Once again we see a potential problem of interpretation here. Is there really just one law for both Israelites and foreigners, or has God established a double standard along racial lines? If we interpret this law to mean that God condones a double standard, the Scriptures become self-contradictory. The key is in seeing that if a foreigner becomes a citizen of Israel, wanting to join Himself to Covenant of God, then he is no longer classed as a foreigner.
A foreigner is a guest, not a citizen. But if he obtains citizenship in the Kingdom, he must be treated equally. In other words, the law is impartial to all citizens and discriminates only against non-citizens. The reason is because a non-citizen follows a different set of laws and moral practices, for he does not recognize Jesus Christ as King.
For example, an Israelite could charge interest on a loan to a foreigner (Deuteronomy 23:20). The reason is because the foreigner might obtain an interest-free loan from an Israelite and then loan it at 30% to a Babylonian under their laws. Such a person has no right to profit from such an arrangement. But if he was a non-Israelite who had become a citizen of the Kingdom, the law says in Leviticus 25:35-37 that he is to be treated equally.
35 Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. 36 Do not take usurious interest from him….
In other words, a “countryman” was to be treated “like a stranger or a sojourner” by not exacting usury from him. The way it is worded, the law presumes that the people already know not to charge interest from a resident alien, and so the Israelites are commanded to treat their native countrymen in the same loving manner. Numbers 15:15 and 16 says,
15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
As history shows, the people of Judah later interpreted the law differently in order to justify their mistreatment of foreigners. This came out of their pride in thinking that they were more righteous and more holy, having superior genes by virtue of their descent from Abraham. It is natural (in one’s fleshly tendency) to become nationalistic, for we are influenced by conflicts between nations. By the time Jesus was born, such nationalism was fully ingrained by conflict with Samaritans, Greeks, and Romans. Hence, the religious leaders taught the people to despise all foreigners. We must be careful not to allow such nationalistic self-interest to determine our interpretation of Scripture or to make the law of God our exclusive property.
For this reason, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story that probably shocked many who heard it. In Luke 10:25, a lawyer came to test Jesus, wanting to know what he should DO to inherit life in the Age to come. It was a loaded question, because an inheritance is something that is given, not earned. Inheritance is not given as payment for services rendered. But if he wished to DO something, then the path is to follow the law perfectly—if you think you can do so. Yet Jesus answered the lawyer with a question of his own: “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”
The lawyer gave the correct answer, which was to love God and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). But the lawyer, still wanting to “test” Jesus, asked Him, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke says in verse 29 that the lawyer wanted to “justify himself.” Today we think of this phrase in terms of making one’s self look good, but to a student of the law, it meant achieving right standing before God and His law.
The definition of neighbor is the central core of the parable that follows. This was very much a problem of law interpretation. The lawyer was a student of the law. No doubt he had been schooled in the near universal belief of his day that neighbor meant a fellow Judean who could trace his ancestry back to Judah and ultimately to Abraham. All others did not qualify for good or equal treatment.
So Jesus answered his question with the parable of the Samaritan. Samaritans were despised and hated. When Leviticus 19:18 commanded Israel to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the religious leaders taught that this applied only to fellow Jews. In fact, it was a religious duty to abhor Samaritans. But Jesus’ parable corrected this viewpoint and brought Scriptural interpretation back into alignment with the mind of God.
The man in the parable was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, but was robbed and beaten. In Middle Eastern culture, those being robbed are normally not beaten unless they resist the robbery. So it is plain that he resisted being robbed and was beaten severely for his trouble. He was also stripped of his clothing, which would make it difficult for anyone passing by to recognize his nationality or status in life.
The first to walk by was a priest. Many of the priests in the first century lived in Jericho, and they would come to Jerusalem to minister in the temple when their two-week shift arrived. The priest in the parable simply walked by on the other side. After all, he had priestly duties in the temple, and if the man were dead, he would defile himself by touching him. If he had made himself unclean and then attempted to serve at the altar, he stood in danger of being killed (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 9:6). So the priest walked on.
Next, the Levite came to the scene, and he too did nothing. Levites served as assistants to the priests. He may have been the assistant to the priest walking ahead of him. Hence, if the priest did nothing, surely the Levite was justified in doing the same. He chose to follow the precedent set forth by the priest’s example.
Then a Samaritan came and assisted the wounded man. Though we are not told the nationality of the wounded man, he was presumably a Jew. The outrageous insult came when Jesus said that a hated Samaritan helped a wounded Jew.
Even more astounding is the fact that the Samaritan brought the wounded Jew to an inn in Jericho, which was a Jewish city at that time. Keep in mind that most Jews avoided danger by walking many miles out of their way to go around Samaria. The same was true for a Samaritan in Judea. We may conclude, then, that the Samaritan was willing to put himself in danger by taking the wounded Jew to an inn in Jericho.
The final blow to the lawyer’s ego came when Jesus said that the Samaritan paid two denarii for the wounded Jew’s lodging and care at the inn, which was more than enough for a full week in those days. He was even willing to pay more upon his return, if the cost of his care exceeded this. Jesus then asked the lawyer a final question in Luke 10:36,
36 Which of these three do you think proved to be [ginomai, “became”] a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands?
The key here is that Jesus did not ask the lawyer who WAS the neighbor, but who BECAME a neighbor by his actions. Obviously, the Samaritan became the neighbor to the wounded Jew. Why? Because he acted neighborly. Being a neighbor is not about race or nationality—or even religion. The spirit and intent of the law was to treat all men equally with kindness and love.
This parable provides us with the proper way to interpret the law. While Jews may argue that Jesus was violating the law by His good treatment of the Samaritans, in reality He was only violating their misinterpretation of the law. The law mandates impartiality and specifically singles out foreigners as the beneficiaries of this impartial treatment. It is clear, then, that to love our neighbor as ourselves means that we are to love the foreigners as ourselves, as Leviticus 19:33 and 34 commands,
33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
If the Israelis had followed this law today, they would have avoided much conflict with the Palestinians. In fact, if they had immigrated to that land as law-abiding Christians, modern history would have been far different. Likewise, if the early Americans had understood this law properly, the modern history of America too would have been far different. Unfortunately, like the Jews, even professing Christians have had difficulty knowing the mind of God that is revealed in His law.
This is the eighth part of a series titled "Moses' Fourth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones