KJV Deuteronomy 15 : 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.

In the above text we are simply told that debts shall be released but its not clear which ones.

Did this also involve contractual obligations as well?

2 Answers 2


Contractual obligations are not released because a contractual obligation is not a debt. It can lead to a debt but it itself is not a debt and Deuteronomy 15 talks about canceling/releasing debts.


The scripture says, Deuteronomy 15:2 NKJV

2 And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release.

Lets define the terms:

The term "contractual obligation" refers to the duty to pay or perform some certain acts created by a contract or an agreement. "Conditional obligation" means the duty to pay or perform certain acts depending on the happening of an event.

First point I want to mention is that:

  1. This was meant for the poor

According to the Benson Commentary, I paraphrase: This applies primarily to situations where someone lends money to a fellow Israelite who is in a poor financial situation and unable to repay the debt. This release of debts doesn't make sense to include situations where the borrower is capable of repayment, especially when the borrowed money is used for investments or where the borrower is enriched. The focus is on showing compassion and assistance to those in need within the community.

According to this law, every poor Israelite who had borrowed money, and had not been able to pay it before, should this year be released from it. And though, if he were able, he was bound in conscience to pay it afterward, yet it could not be recovered by law.

The Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament says:

The end of seven years, i.e., of the seven years' cycle formed by the sabbatical year, is mentioned as the time when debts that had been contracted were usually wiped off or demanded, after the year's harvest had been gathered in (cf. Deuteronomy 31:10, according to which the feast of Tabernacles occurred at the end of the year).

A second point that I want to note is:

  1. This may not necessarily mean that all debt was cancelled

שׁמטּה, from שׁמט morf ,, to let lie, to let go (cf. Exodus 23:11), does not signify a remission of the debt, the relinquishing of all claim for payment, as Philo and the Talmudists affirm, but simply lengthening the term, not pressing for payment.

Matthew Poole's Commentary gives 4 reasons for this interpretation:

Shall release it; not absolutely and finally forgive it, but forbear it for that year, as may appear,

  1. Because the word doth not signify a total dismission or acquitting, but an intermission for a time, as Exodus 23:11. He shall not exact it, as it here follows, i.e. force it from him by course of law or otherwise, to wit, that year, which is easily understood out of the whole context.

  2. Because the person releasing is called a creditor, and his communicating to him what he desires and needs is called lending here and Deu 15:8; whereas it were giving, and the person giving it were no creditor, but a donor, if it were to be wholly forgiven to him.

  3. Because the reason of this law is temporary and peculiar to that year, wherein there being no sowing nor reaping, they were not in a capacity to pay their debts.

  4. Because it seems unjust and unreasonable, and contrary to other scriptures, which require men to pay what they borrow, as Psalm 37:21. Yet I deny not that in case of poverty the debt was to be forgiven; but that was not by virtue of this law, but of other commands of God.

Gill's Exposition says something perhaps slightly different contrary to this point:

And this is the manner of the release,.... Or the rules to be observed in making it:

every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; that is, forgive the debt, or free the debtor from any obligation to payment. Some think this was only a release of debts for this year, in which there was no ploughing nor sowing, and so a poor man could not be in any circumstances to pay his debts, but might be exacted afterwards; but it rather seems to be a full release, so as the payment of them might not be demanded, neither this year nor afterwards; indeed, if a person afterwards should be in a capacity to pay his debts, he would be obliged, in conscience, duty, and honour, to pay them, though no reserve was made in this law, which nowhere appears:

he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother: he might receive it, if payment was offered, but he might not demand it, or sue for it; or give his neighbour or brother, whether in a natural or religious sense, any trouble about it: the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases it,"his brother, an Israelite;''one of the same nation and religion with him, though he might not be related in the bonds of consanguinity:

Here's what I conclude. Whether contractual or a conditional obligation "every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it." It seems to me that whether it was contractual or conditional is irrelevant. However, if the borrower is capable of repayment "he would be obliged, in conscience, duty, and honour, to pay them."

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