What does Deuteronomy 23:15 really mean?

Deuteronomy 23:15 is about ensuring that those who are marginalized, oppressed, or in need of refuge are provided with a place of safety and dignity within the community, showing the importance of compassion and justice in God’s eyes.

15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you.”


Setting the Scene for Deuteronomy 23:15

In Deuteronomy chapter 23, the scene is set in the camp of the Israelites as they journey through the wilderness towards the Promised Land. The camp is bustling with activity as families set up their tents, children play around, and livestock graze in the surrounding fields. The sun is beginning to set, casting a warm glow over the campsite.

Moses, the leader of the Israelites, is standing at the center of the camp, surrounded by a group of elders and tribal leaders. They have gathered to discuss the laws and commandments that God has given them to follow. As they listen intently to Moses, the people of Israel are scattered around the camp, some sitting by their fires preparing their evening meal, while others are engaged in conversation or tending to their belongings.

In the midst of this setting, the importance of following God’s laws and maintaining purity within the camp is emphasized. The verse in Deuteronomy 23:15 specifically addresses the issue of keeping the camp clean and free from anything that would defile it, highlighting the significance of holiness and obedience as they continue their journey towards the land promised to them by God.

What is Deuteronomy 23:15 about?

This verse highlights the importance of protecting and showing care for the vulnerable in society. It speaks to God’s concern for those who may be oppressed or mistreated, such as slaves in biblical times. This verse underscores the need to uphold justice and compassion towards those who are in a position of dependence or disadvantage by forbidding the return of a slave to their master. Consider this commandment’s broader implications. It challenges us to reflect on how we treat those who are marginalized or oppressed in our own communities. How do we show care and empathy towards those who may be in vulnerable situations today? This verse prompts us to examine our actions and attitudes towards others, urging us to stand up for justice and kindness in the face of injustice and inequality. Let the message of this verse inspire us to advocate for the rights and dignity of all individuals, especially those who may be overlooked or mistreated. Let us ensure that we emulate God’s compassion and protection for the vulnerable, striving to create a more just and equitable society for all.

Understanding what Deuteronomy 23:15 really means

Deuteronomy 23:15, nestled within the Mosaic Law, sheds light on the treatment of runaway slaves, urging the Israelites not to return those who have escaped from their masters. This directive stands out against the backdrop of ancient Near Eastern customs where the return of runaway slaves was commonplace. It serves as a poignant reminder of the value of human freedom and dignity, echoing the sentiment expressed in Exodus 21:16, which denounces the heinous act of kidnapping and selling individuals as property.

In the New Testament, the theme of runaway slaves is revisited in Philemon 1:15-16, where Paul implores Philemon to receive Onesimus, a runaway slave, not merely as a piece of property but as a cherished brother in Christ. This resonates with the broader message of equality and unity in Galatians 3:28, where Paul emphasizes the erasure of social distinctions in Christ, including those between slaves and free individuals.

The enduring relevance of Deuteronomy 23:15 transcends its historical context, serving as a timeless call to uphold compassion and justice. It beckons individuals today to champion the cause of the vulnerable and oppressed, advocating for their rights and dignity. This verse prompts introspection on how we respond to those fleeing from oppressive circumstances, whether they are refugees, victims of human trafficking, or individuals in dire need of sanctuary.

Consider a contemporary scenario where a person escapes from an abusive environment and seeks refuge within a community. The community faces a pivotal decision: to turn a blind eye and return the individual to their oppressor or to extend a hand of protection and support. Deuteronomy 23:15 encourages the latter choice, fostering a culture of care and refuge where the marginalized find solace and safety.

The directive, “You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you,” underscores the imperative of offering sanctuary and safeguarding the vulnerable. It embodies a divine call to prioritize the well-being of the oppressed over the demands of the oppressor, reflecting God’s unwavering commitment to justice and mercy. Furthermore, the provision that the escaped slave may dwell among the Israelites in a place of their choosing underscores the importance of autonomy and respect for individual freedom, emphasizing the community’s duty to integrate and support those seeking refuge.

In conclusion, Deuteronomy 23:15 stands as a poignant testament to the biblical mandate of justice, compassion, and the protection of the marginalized. It beckons us to evaluate our responses to those in need of refuge, urging us to act in ways that honor human dignity and uphold the sacredness of freedom.

How can we show compassion to those in need?

We can show compassion to those in need by not ignoring or turning away from them when they require help. It means offering assistance and support without judgment or prejudice. We show empathy and care for our fellow human beings by extending kindness and a helping hand to those who are vulnerable or facing difficulties. It is a reminder to treat others with dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances.

Showing compassion also involves understanding the struggles and challenges that others may be going through. It is about being willing to listen, provide comfort, and offer practical help where possible. It is a call to action to reach out to those in need with a heart full of empathy, kindness, and a willingness to make a positive difference in their lives. Our capacity to love and care for others as we would want to be cared for ourselves ultimately reflects in showing compassion.


It’s time to step up and be the helping hand that someone desperately needs. Let’s not ignore the cries for help around us but instead, be the beacon of light in the darkness for the marginalized and oppressed. Living out these words from Deuteronomy is not just a choice but a responsibility that we carry as believers. So, will you join the ranks of those who advocate for justice and grace in a world that often seems devoid of it?