Deuteronomy 24:6, 10-15, 17-22 – Economic Justice for the Poor


Deuteronomy 24:6


Creditors of the poor must show respect to their poor debtors and are obliged to demonstrate the priority of life over economic surety.


The economic protections for the poor are divided here into three categories. First, if the holding of collateral for a loan made to a poor person would be deleterious to the life or safety of the poor person, the collateral is to be returned. As an example, millstones were prohibited as collateral because holding onto a millstone would prevent the grinding of flour to make daily bread, essentially condemning a poor person to starvation. Likewise, widows’ garments are prohibited collateral, and a poor person’s clothes should not be held overnight as collateral, lest that person feel too cold. Instead, the creditor is to return the pledge, so that the poor person will bless him. 

The second protection for poor people against creditors is that the creditor may not enter the home of the debtor. The creditor must wait outside, he is not allowed to go into the home and take whatever he wants as pledge. The creditor does not own the things of the borrower, and he may not stroll into a debtor’s house and claim what he wants. 

The third major protection for the poor is prevention of a second harvest. When landowners accidentally leave a sheaf, unharvested olives, or unharvested clusters of grapes, they are not allowed to send harvesters back to their fields, orchards, or vineyards. Instead, the produce that is so unimportant to the wealthy landlord that it may be forgotten in an oversight belongs to the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow, who will value the overlooked crop much more. 

The Israelites were called to empathy for the poor, dispossessed, and foreigners because of the national experience of slavery in Egypt. As God redeemed them from poverty and slavery, so God commanded the Israelites to redeem those around them from poverty and debt-slavery. 

The movement from reflexive empathy to imitation of God’s salvific work appears throughout Deuteronomy. The Israelites are repeatedly instructed to remember that they were slaves in Egypt who were freed by God. Therefore, they are not to enslave others, but to practice the redemption that God first gave to them.