Deuteronomy 15 sheds light on two hotly debated areas in our world today: human rights and social justice. Since the enlightenment era in the 1700s, we have focused on human rights. Philosophers and politicians have emphatically stated that “I have the right to –” or “She has the right to – .” In fact, the United States Declaration of Independence begins with the recognition of the “unalienable rights” endowed by God to all people. This ardent commitment to rights has enabled our world to break free from the chains of slavery, classism, and caste.
However, as good as the pursuit of rights seems in our eyes, it falls short of Biblical ethics. In Deuteronomy 15 we see that the words of a Christ follower are not to be, “I have the right to –” but it ought to be, “I owe her the right to –.” The Bible teaches us that we do not claim our rights; rather we owe others their rights. What it means is that a Christ follower will say, “I owe him the right to life, so I will not enslave him.” Or a Christ follower will say, “I owe her the right to her economic welfare, so I will pardon her debts and bear the cost.” Biblically speaking, as Christians, we owe others their right to life, liberty, and happiness, and we will sacrifice our own for others, especially those vulnerable in our society, to claim their right to life, liberty, and happiness.