Justice and Generosity.
B. C. 1451.
14 Thou shalt not oppress a hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: 15 At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee. 16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. 17 Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge: 18 But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing. 19 When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. 20 When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. 21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. 22 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
Here, I. Masters are commanded to be just to their poor servants, v. 14, 15.
1. They must not oppress them, by overloading them with work, by giving them undue and unreasonable rebukes, or by withholding from them proper maintenance. A servant, though a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, must not be abused: “For thou wast a bondman in the land where thou wast a stranger (v. 18), and thou knowest what a grievous thing it is to be oppressed by a task-master, and therefore, in tenderness to those that are servants and strangers, and in gratitude to that God who set thee at liberty and settled thee in a country of thy own, thou shalt not oppress a servant.” Let not masters be tyrants to their servants, for their Master is in heaven. See Job 31:13.
2. They must be faithful and punctual in paying them their wages: “At his day thou shalt give him his hire, not only pay it in time, without further delay. As soon as he had done his day’s work, if he desire it, let him have his day’s wages,” as those labourers (Matt. 20:8) when evening had come. he that works by day-wages is supposed to live from hand to mouth, and cannot have to-morrow’s bread for his family till be is paid for this day’s labour. If the wages be withheld,
(1.) It will be grief to the servant, for, poor man, he sets his heart upon it,. or, as the word is, he lifts up his soul to it, he is earnestly desirous of it, as the reward of his work (Job 7:2), and depends upon it as the gift of God’s providence for the maintenance of his family. A compassionate master, though it should be somewhat inconvenient to himself, would not disappoint the expectation of a poor servant that was so fond to think of receiving his wages. But that is not the worst.
(2.) It will be guilt to the master. “The injured servant will cry against thee to the Lord; since he has no one else to appeal to, he will lodge his appeal in the court of heaven, and it will be sin to thee.” Or, if he do not complain, the cause will speak for itself, the “hire of the labourers which is kept back by fraud will itself cry,” Jam. 5:4. It is a greater sin than most people think it is, and will be found so in the great day, to put hardships upon poor servants, labourers, and workmen, that we employ. God will do them right if men do not.
II. Magistrates and judges are commanded to be just in their administrations.
1. In those which we call pleas of the crown a standing rule is here given, that the fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers, v. 16. If the children make themselves obnoxious to the law, let them suffer for it, but let not the parents suffer either for them or with them; it is grief enough to them to see their children suffer: if the parents be guilty, let them die for their own sin; but though God, the sovereign Lord of life, sometimes visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, especially the sin of idolatry, and when he deals with nations in their national capacity, yet he does not allow men to do so. Accordingly, we find Amaziah sparing the children, even when the fathers were put to death for killing the king, 2 Kings 14:6. It was in an extraordinary case, and no doubt by special direction from heaven, that Saul’s sons were put to death for his offence, and they died rather as sacrifices than as malefactors, 2 Sam. 21: 9, 14.
2. In common pleas between party and party, great care must be taken that none whose cause was just should fare the worse for their weakness, nor for their being destitute of friends, as strangers, fatherless, and widows (v. 17): “Thou shalt not pervert their judgment, nor force them to give their very raiment for a pledge, by defrauding them of their right.” Judges must be advocates for those that cannot speak for themselves and have no friends to speak for them.
III. The rich are commanded to be kind and charitable to the poor. Many ways they are ordered to be so by the law of Moses. The particular instance of charity here prescribed is that they should not be greedy in gathering in their corn, and grapes, and olives, so as to be afraid of leaving any behind them, but be willing to overlook some, and let the poor have the gleanings, v. 19-22.
1. “Say not, ‘It is all my own, and why should not I have it?’ But learn a generous contempt of property in small matters. One sheaf or two forgotten will make thee never the poorer at the year’s end, and it will do somebody good, if thou have it not.”
2. “Say not, ‘What I give I will give, and know whom I give it to, why should I leave it to be gathered by I know not whom, that will never thank me.’ But trust God’s providence with the disposal of thy charity, perhaps that will direct it to the most necessitous.” Or, “Thou mayest reasonably think it will come to the hands of the most industrious, that are forward to seek and gather that which this law provides for them.”
3. “Say not, ‘What should the poor do with grapes and olives? It is enough for them to have bread and water;’ for, since they have the same senses that the rich have, why should not they have some little share of the delights of sense?” Boaz ordered handfuls of corn to be left on purpose for Ruth, and God blessed him. All that is left is not lost.
– Matthew Henry Commentary