Avoiding the Debtor's Prison

Does God forgive us for the sins that we commit against others? Yeshua teaches us to settle matters with our brothers before trying to settle with God.

"Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.…" (Image © Bigstock/FFOZ)

The gospel message proclaimed by Yeshua urged His generation to repent. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He foresaw a terrible doom hanging over the generation if they did not heed His message and repent from the sin of baseless hatred. He warned His disciples that anger and insult were lesser forms of murder—hatred in the heart. He called upon the people to prioritize love for one another.

The Master offered a practical application to His teaching about anger and insult. He told His disciples that before they go to the Temple to make a sacrifice, they should first make peace with an offended brother.

Therefore, if you are offering your sacrifice at the altar and remember that your brother has a dispute with you, leave your sacrifice there in front of the altar and go, atone before the face of your brother, then afterward come and offer your sacrifice. (Matthew 5:23-24)

A man should not attempt to approach God until he has sought forgiveness from his neighbor for any wrongdoing. This is in keeping with the rabbinic maxim that God forgives sins committed against Him but cannot forgive sins committed against others on their behalf.

Yeshua compared an offended brother to a creditor, and He compared the offender to a debtor facing the possibility of debtor’s prison. The Gentile courts of the Roman world routinely imprisoned debtors until they could pay their creditors. If a creditor pressed the charge in a Gentile court of law, he could have the delinquent debtor thrown into a debtor’s prison where he would remain until his debt was paid down to the last cent. The incarcerated debtors often died in prison. The wise debtor wanted to negotiate a settlement with his creditor before the matter reached such a court.

Yeshua advised that a man who had offended his neighbor go plead for forgiveness from the offended party like a delinquent debtor attempting to settle his debt: “On your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison” (Luke 12:58). If the sinner does not settle the matter with the offended party, he will eventually have to settle it in the heavenly court of law:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:25-26)

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