THE LAW OF USURYBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Chapter Index
The Law of Usury is one of the few laws that was given to ancient Israel, that required the death penalty for its violation. God calls taking usury (interest) on something loaned an abomination, which is one of the most detestable things that can be done. Through the prophet Ezekiel God says, "Is one worthy of life that loans for usury? . . ..That person shall die and it shall be his own fault." Lending property or money for interest hardly seems worthy of the death, but God says that it is. On the surface, the law of usury seems harsh and unfair, but is it?
A DIFFICULT QUESTION FOR THE CHRISTIAN
Current theological thinking on usury by many Bible scholars seems to indicate that charging excessive interest on a loan is wrong. However, a careful study of this issue shows that in the cases where usury is prohibited, the prohibition is against the charging of ANY interest at all, excessive or not. This fact leaves Christians with a very difficult question to answer, especially if they are in the banking or money lending business. In fact, if one expects to buy or sell anything in this society, it is almost impossible to escape paying interest or being associated in some way with the business of paying or receiving interest.
The following questions must be answered by Christians:
This study will examine this subject and the scriptures that pertain to usury in detail, in order to gain an understanding of this law in both a physical and a spiritual context.
The laws contained in the Bible cover the entire spectrum of human behavior from birth to death; every activity that humans can engage in is covered either specifically or in principle. God's laws, precepts, and principles are empirical and do not depend on human acceptance or approval for them to function. When these laws are obeyed, the end result is good. Moreover, when they are disobeyed, the end result is evil, and penalties are exacted upon the lawbreaker as well as society as a whole. The law of usury is a highly misunderstood law that offers tremendous benefits for obedience or the death penalty for disobedience. Moreover, the principles of this law affect every society on earth.
DEATH TO THOSE WHO VIOLATE THE LAW OF USURY
In Ezekiel chapter 18, the prophet delivers an indictment and a stern warning from God to the people of Israel concerning their national and personal sins. This warning message was given to Ezekiel who was a captive with the nation of Judah about 127 years after the ten-tribe nation of Israel had been taken into captivity by a foreign power. Because Ezekiel was being held captive along with the nation of Judah, this warning never reached Israel at that time; therefore, this can be seen as a prophetic warning for today.
In Ezekiel, the introduction to the subject of usury shows the seriousness of violating this law:
"Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezk.18:4 KJV).
This verse says that a sinner will die. Here, the English word 'die' is translated from the Hebrew word 'mut' which means 'to die', 'to kill', or 'to have one executed'. The use of this word indicates that this death sentence is a part of the condemnation on those who are judged worthy of eternal death.
Through the writer to the Hebrews, God says, "And as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb.9:27 KJV). At this judgment all those who are not found worthy of eternal life will die the second death from which there is no return.
Revelation 20:11-15 KJV
"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
Revelation 21:5-8 KJV
"And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said to me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
BUT IF A MAN IS JUST
Ezekiel 18:5-9 shows that there is a lifestyle that will lead to eternal life instead of death:
"But if a man is just, and does that which is lawful and right, And has not eaten upon the mountains, neither has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither has defiled his neighbor's wife, neither has come near to a menstruous woman, And has not oppressed any, but has RESTORED TO THE DEBTOR HIS PLEDGE, has spoiled none by violence, has given his bread to the hungry, and has covered the naked with a garment; He that has not given forth upon USURY, neither taken any increases, that has withdrawn his hand from iniquity, has executed true judgment between man and man, Has walked in my statutes, and has kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, says the Lord God" (KJV).
The Living Bible Paraphrased translates these verses as follows:
"And has not gone out to the mountains to feast before the idols of Israel and worship them, and does not commit adultery, nor lie with a woman during the time of her menstruation,. . . and is no robber, but gives food to the hungry and clothes to those in need, and grants LOANS WITHOUT INTEREST, and stays away from sin, and is honest and fair when judging others, and obeys my lawsthat man is just, says the Lord, and he shall surely live" (vs. 6-9).
Ezekiel lists a number of positive things that are just and right for a person to do that will lead to eternal life. Notice the reference to the law of usury in verse 7: "but has restored to the debtor his pledge." This refers to a merciful creditor who does not keep the things that are given to him as a pledge by the poor debtor. See also Ex.22:25-26.
Ezekiel 18:10-13 KJV
"If he fathers a son who is violent, who sheds blood, and does to a brother any of these, and even if he does not any of these, but has eaten on the mountains, and has defiled his neighbors wife; he has oppressed the poor and needy and been a thief, and has not returned the pledge; and has lifted up his eyes to the idols; he has committed abomination, or he has loaned on interest and has taken increase; shall he also live? he shall not live; he has done all these abominations; he shall surly die; his blood shall be on him."
God says that the person that does these abominable things shall die, and it shall be his own fault. However, the one who has the opposite attitude and performs good deeds will live.
Ezekiel 18:16-17 Paraphrased
"And has not oppressed a man; nor has withheld the pledge. . . and has given his bread to the hungry, and he has covered the naked with clothes; and has not held back his generosity to the poor; and has not received interest and increase; this man has done my judgments, he has walked in my statutehe shall not die for the lawlessness of his father. He shall surely live."
Clearly the good things mentioned above are things that God wants his people to do out of love and compassion for their fellow man. Notice also that these things are done in compliance with God's judgments and statutes.
Ezekiel 22:6-12 KJV
"Behold, the princes of Israel, every one were in you to their power to shed blood. In you have they set light by father and mother: in the midst of you have they dealt by oppression with the stranger: in you have they vexed the fatherless and the widow. You have despised my holy things, and have profaned my sabbaths. In you are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in you they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of you they commit lewdness. In you they have discovered their fathers' nakedness: in you they have humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one has committed abomination with his neighbor's wife; and another has lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law; and another in you has humbled his sister, his father's daughter. In you have they taken gifts to shed blood; you have taken USURY AND INCREASE, and have greedily gained of your neighbors by extortion, and have forgotten me, says the Lord God."
USURY IS A CAPITAL CRIME
It is easy to understand why the death penalty should be administered to those who blaspheme God, murder, rape, or kidnap another person. The death penalty for adultery is even understandable. But the lending of property or money for interest hardly seems worthy of the death penalty to most people. And yet, the Creator of all that exists says that usury is a capital crime and that those who commit it shall be put to death.
On the surface the law of usury may seem harsh and unfair. However, this law reveals the great love, concern, and compassion that God the Father and Jesus Christ have for each individual.
TO WHOM IS THE BIBLE WRITTEN?
The Bible was written almost totally to and for the physical and spiritual nation of Israel as they existed anciently and as they exist today. The Bible only speaks to other peoples and nations as they affect and interact with Israel. The truth is that God is only dealing with humanity through physical (national) Israel and spiritual Israel (the elect children of God). Therefore, we must view God's laws, statutes, judgments, and ordinances as they pertain to physical and spiritual Israel and as they pertain to the plan of God that is being completed through them for humanity.
When God offered to make a covenant with the Israelites in Exodus 19:5-6, he offered to make them a nation of priests and a holy people. After Israel accepted the terms and conditions of the covenant that God offered them, God gave them laws, precepts, and principles to live by. Later he told them that no other nation had laws as great or as good as the ones he gave to them.
Deuteronomy 4:5-8 KJV
"Behold, I [Moses] have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land whither you go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?"
But why did he give these laws to this people only? Why didn't he give them to all mankind at the same time? The reason is that God has been using Israel as an example for all of humanity as a witness and a teaching device. He gave them a perfect set of laws by which to govern their behavior. If they had obeyed these laws, they would have been blessed beyond anything any other nation that lived outside of these laws could remotely hope for (Deut.28:1-14).
THE DEFINITION OF USURY
Because the law of usury was given to Israel so that they could be an example of righteous behavior, it is important for the elect of God to understand this law. Therefore, in order to clarify each scripture containing the English words 'usury' and 'increase', it is necessary to understand the Hebrew and Greek words from which they were translated:
The primary Hebrew word that has been translated into the English word 'usury' is 'nashak', which means 'bite.' The derivatives are 'neshek', which means 'interest', and 'nashak', which is a denominative verb that means 'to lend for interest'.
Whenever the verb 'to bite' occurs in its literal physical sense in the Bible, it has a snake or serpent as its subject. In one case, men (false prophets) are the 'biters' (Mic.3:5).
The relationship of this noun to the basic verb 'bite' is sustained by its Ugaritic usage (Ugaritic, a Semitic language closely related to Phoenician and Hebrew): the verb 'bite' (of a serpent), the noun 'bit' (interest' ).
The denominative verb is favored as the correct sense with some translators using 'bite' and others using 'lend upon usury' or 'lend upon/for interest'.
The Hebrew word, 'marbit', which means 'multitude', 'greatness', 'larger part', 'increase' or 'interest', and the Hebrew word 'tarbit' which means 'increase', 'usury' or 'interest', and the Greek word 'tokos' which means 'interest on money loaned' are translated into the English word 'interest.'
'Marbit' is the principle form of the root 'raba', and it appears five times in the Old Testament. Its initial occurrence is in Leviticus 25:37 in connection with nesek (usury) and tarbit (increase.).
'Tarbit' is a feminine noun developed from the root 'raba.' It appears four times in Ezekiel. In all cases it appears with the masculine noun 'nesek.' The association with nesek ('usury'), which is derived from the verb 'to bite' suggests oppressive expensive interest.
'Tokos' is from the base word 'tikto', which means 'interest on money that is loaned as a product' (i.e., usury).
WHAT USURY IS NOT
The Hebrew and Greek language leave no room for doubt as to the meaning of the word usury as it is used in the Bible. It means 'something to be returned with the thing that is loaned'.
Most of the past and current thinking defines usury as excessive interest or an interest that is above and beyond just or legal limits. Although this may be the legal definition of usury today, it is not the definition of the biblical law of usury. The biblical principal of usury has almost nothing to do with excessive interest; it has a far more profound meaning for humanity
THE YEAR OF RELEASE, LAND REST,AND THE JUBILEE
The Year of Release, the Land Rest, and the Jubilee are just as misunderstood by most professing Christians as the subject of usury. These three periods of time have great physical, spiritual, and prophetic meanings attached to them, and they are extremely important to the fulfillment of the plan that God has for humanity. Moreover, they have a very direct impact on the meaning of the law of usury.
In Exodus 12:2 God instructs the Israelites: "This shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you." See also Deut.16:1. This particular month of Abib also began Israel's first year as a nation and it was to be used as a starting point from which to calculate all the events that God commanded Israel to observe.
THE YEAR OF RELEASE
Every seventh year all debts were commanded to be released (except for those of foreigners). This meant that everyone who was indebted to another person could have a fresh start economically. It meant that a person, because of circumstance or poor judgment, had the opportunity to get rid of economical or physical bondage and put his energy into benefiting himself or his family.
Deuteronomy 15:1-5 KJV
"At the end of every seven years you shall make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lends ought to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord's release. Of a foreigner you may exact it again: but that which is yours with your brother your hand shall release; Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess it: Only if you carefully hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe to do all these commandments which I command you this day."
Notice the provision in verse 4, which states that when there are no more poor people in Israel, the law of usury is to be suspended. This provision will be discussed in detail later in this study.
In his wisdom, God covers the entire spectrum of the lending process. Understanding human nature far better than the most astute psychologist, God understands the mental and physical burden that the borrower is under. King Solomon was inspired to write: "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender" (Psa.22:7 KJV). God also understands the greed, power, and oppression factors of one who lends for the wrong reasons. Therefore, he placed limitations on the length of time a person could be held responsible to pay a debt back; this length of time was seven years, and was a great benefit to the lender and the borrower alike.
Although some might disagree with the year of release because they think it is unfair to the lender, it is important to remember that God repeatedly promises tremendous blessings for those who will obey him, and even more blessings if a person obeys with a right attitude.
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 KJV Paraphrased
"If there is among you a poor man of one of your brethren within any of your gates in your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother: But you shall open your hand wide to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wants. Beware, do not have wicked thoughts in your heart, saying, the seventh year, the year of release, is close at hand; and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nothing; and he complains to the Lord about you, and it becomes a sin to you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him: because you give to him, the Lord your God shall bless you in all your works, and in all that you put your hand to. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land."
The law says to lend to the poor; moreover, the law says to lend enough for their immediate needs and beyond. God commands those who follow his way of life to be more than generous with what they loan to a poor person.
God also tells the lender not to worry about getting paid back because of the year of release. He reminds the lender that if he does not lend, it will count as sin to him, but if he does lend to the poor, he will receive blessings for compliance.
GENEROSITY IS COMMANDED
When it comes to the needs of the poor and unfortunate, God did not suggest that the Israelites be generous. He commanded them to be generous or be punished for disobedience:
"Beware that there be not a thought in your wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nought; and he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin to you" (Deut.15:9 KJV).
All people want to prosper and live happy, abundant, and successful lives. Although this is the dream of most people, the reality is that things do not always go the way we would like them to, especially in the area of economic desires. Most of the time desires can be coped with rationally, but needs for survival are quite another matter. When a person's basic needs are not met, all other things seem to take a lesser position. The year of release guaranteed that perpetual monetary slavery would not exist in Israel.
THE LAND REST
Every seventh year the land was to rest from intensive agricultural production. Today, most organic farmers and gardeners well understand the benefits of such a land rest. Because the Israelites were basically an agrarian society, the land rest had a profound and dramatic impact upon their economy. In the seventh year, there would be no major profits from the land; therefore, it would be very difficult for a person to pay back a debt during this land rest, which is one reason God canceled these debts.
The Jubilee Year, which occurred every fiftieth year, ensured that economic equilibrium would be maintained in the nation. All indebtedness was to be released, and all lands were to be returned to their original owners, which allowed the economy to be brought back into balance. By the observance of these three laws, the nation of Israel would always have a balanced economy with a relatively debt free population, which would create the environment for prosperity to flourish.
WHY LEND SOMETHING?
Why do we lend something to another person? There seem to be two basic reasons for lendingpersonal gain and charity.
To lend something where there is an expectation of a return of whatever was loaned plus something added to it is for personal gain. Whatever the gain that is desired, this gain constitutes a benefit to the person doing the lending.
To lend something because of an outgoing concern for another's well-being with no motive for gain above the return of the thing lent is done for charity.
The first type of lending is a purely selfish act and the second type is an unselfish act. Of course there can be a blend of both attitudes.
LENDING TO THE POOR BROTHER, STRANGER , OR SOJOURNER
Leviticus 25:35-38 KJV
"And if your brother becomes poor, and falls in decay with you [cannot maintain himself with you]; then you shall relieve him: yes, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with you. Take you no usury of him, or increase: but fear your God; that your brother may live with you. You shall not give him your money upon usury, nor lend him your victuals for increase. I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God."
In order to gain a clear understanding of this text, we need to know who the brother, stranger, and sojourner are.
The Hebrew word 'ah' means 'brother', 'relative', 'fellow countryman', or 'a friend'. In this verse the inference is that of a fellow countryman who is considered a friend or brother.
The Hebrew word 'ger' means 'an alien', 'sojourner' or 'stranger'. 'Ger' refers to someone who did not enjoy the rights usually possessed by a resident. The 'ger' in Israel was largely regarded as a proselyte. He had to be present for the solemn reading of the law (Deut.31:12), and a circumcised 'ger' could keep the Passover. The Israelites were not to oppress them and were to love them as they loved themselves (Lev.19:34).
The 'stranger' in Leviticus should not be confused with the 'stranger' mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:20, because the status of these individuals was quite different before God. This will be explained later in this study.
The Hebrew word 'toshab' means a 'sojourner'the temporary landless wage earner who was sometimes referred to as a hired servant. This is in contrast to the term 'ger', which refers to the permanent resident alien. The 'toshab' could not take the Passover and his children could be sold as slaves. Although he shared some of the same privileges as the 'ger', his freedom was not as great.
In Leviticus 25:35-38, the law concerning lending specifically refers to the poor of Israel. This text is, in part, a summary of the law and it shows a strict prohibition against lending money or food for interest to a poor relative or countryman. This prohibition also included those who were proselytes and those who were under the authority or within the service of an Israelite.
But, why is the Creator so concerned about debt and borrowing? Is there some logical reason why he placed such stringent rules on the lending of property or money to another person? God is extremely concerned about our welfare and the law of usury shows his tremendous love, concern, and compassion for humanity.
The parable of the wicked servant who would not forgive the debts of one who owed him is an excellent example of an attitude that displeases God.
Matthew 18:23-35 KJV
"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought to him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
"But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what you owe. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
"So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said to him, O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you desired [besought] me: Should not you also have had compassion on your fellowservant, even as I had pity on you? And his lord was wroth [angry], and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due to him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also to you, if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
LENDING TO AND COLLECTING FROM A FOREIGNER OR A STRANGER
Deuteronomy 15:1-3 KJV
"At the end of every seven years you shall make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor who lends any thing to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or his brother; because it is called the Lord's release. Of a foreigner you may exact it again: but that which is yours with your brother your hand shall release."
Deuteronomy 23:19-20 KJV
"You shall not lend upon usury to your brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: To a stranger you may lend upon usury; but to your brother you shall not lend upon usury: that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you set your hand to in the land whither you go to possess it."
This is an example of lending to foreigners and strangers. But why did God allow the Israelites to exact interest from these people and not from an Israelite? It is apparent from the scriptures that, if a foreigner or stranger obeyed God, he could and would receive many of the blessings that the Israelites received. One of these blessings was that he could not be charged interest on a loan of necessity. This blessing came directly because of his obedience to and submission to the law of God. But those who were neither of the nation of Israel nor under the authority of an Israelite could not partake of this blessing, because this blessing came from obedience to the laws, precepts, and principles of God.
Citing their deliverance from Egypt, Moses reminds the Israelites, "And you shall remember that you were a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you: therefore I command you this thing today" (Deut.15:15 KJV).
Moses reminds the Israelites that the purpose of God's law is to deliver people from slavery into freedom, just as God delivered them from Egyptian slavery to freedom. The purpose of the law governing interest (and the purpose of the whole law) is to bring individual and national freedom under God's care and rule.
Loans for Charitable Reasons
Should a person keep lending to someone who will not repay or refuses to work? God says that if a man will not support his family, he is worse than an infidel:
"But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1.Tim.5:8 KJV).
The principle here is that a person who is capable of earning his own way and does not, should not be given assistance until his attitude changes. The scriptures are abundant with examples of what God thinks of a lazy person, and what the end result of physical and spiritual laziness is. But there are those who, because of circumstances and real emergencies, cannot provide for themselves or their families. These are the people who are worthy of loans being given without interest or outright gifts, if their situation warrants it.
Some could say that an unscrupulous person could use the law of usury to take advantage of the lender, which is absolutely right. The lender can be taken advantage of by the dishonest borrower. However, we must remember that the third party involved in the transaction between the lender and borrower is the Sovereign God who knows the thoughts, intentions, and motivations of all people. God inspired the Psalmist to write: "The wicked borrows, and pays not again; but the righteous shows mercy, and gives" (Psa.37:21 KJV).
Just because a person is poor does not cancel his responsibility to pay back what he owes if it is at all within his power to do so.
FORGIVENESS OF FRAUD
1.Corinthians 6:6-9 KJV
"But brother goes to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because you go to law one with another. Why do you not rather take wrong? why do you rather not suffer yourselves to be defrauded? No, you do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? . . ."
God wanted Israel to prosper and to be an example to the other nations around them. He wanted to show, through the example of the Israelites, that obedience to his laws, precepts, and principles would bring tremendous blessings. During the reign of King Solomon, Israel prospered and reached the zenith of physical wealth as a nation. The people were very happy and prosperous as long as they were in obedience to God.
THE PLEDGE OR LOAN COLLATERAL
Deuteronomy 24:10-13 KJV
"When you do lend your brother any thing, you shall not go into his house to fetch his pledge. You shall stand abroad, and the man to whom you do lend shall bring out the pledge abroad to you. And if the man be poor, you shall not sleep with his pledge: In any case you shall deliver him the pledge again when the sun goes down, that he might sleep in his own raiment, and bless you: and it shall be righteousness to you before the Lord your God."
The context of these scriptures is equity and fairness in a specific situation. This text gives instructions to the lender who is for some reason, concerned that the borrower will not repay him or return what is loaned. Therefore, he holds a valuable of the borrower until whatever is loaned is paid back or replaced. The lender is not allowed to enter the borrower's home to procure the pledge. This insures the privacy of the borrower and prevents a multitude of other problems that could arise from a concerned lender being allowed to wander around the borrower's home. Moreover, when a lender follows these instructions (the letter of the law), God counts it as righteousness to him.
"If you lend money to any of my people with you that is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor (usurer); neither shall you lay upon him interest (usury). If you take your neighbor's garment to pledge, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down: for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin; wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he cries to me, that I will hear; for I am gracious." (American Revised Version 1901).
In this situation, the borrower is so poor that his only valuable possessions are the clothes on his back. If all a person has are the clothes on his back, he is very poor. In fact, he is destitute by all civilized standards. Because of this situation, the lender is even prevented from keeping the pledge overnight. Here, God imposes upon the lender the Godly attribute of kindness and mercy. Moreover, God says that, when the lender obeys the injunction, it will be counted as a righteous act by him.
While charity is clearly intended in verses 25-27, charity should not be confused with a gift. Although it is not required, a security pledge can be taken and held during the day to ensure that the borrower will not use it to negotiate a second loan. If the borrower was trustworthy, no pledge would be required. The pledge or security was insurance against failure to repay or to work out the loan. The charity in this case is not requiring the borrower to pay interest on the loan.
Things Not to Be Taken as a Pledge
In the Books of Deuteronomy and Job there are references to situations where the taking of a security pledge constitutes a sinful attitude on the part of the lender.
"No man shall take the nether [mill] or the upper millstone to pledge: for he takes a man's life to pledge" (Deut.24:6 KJV).
Here, we see that it is wrong to take a pledge of anything that someone is using to sustain their life or make their living.
"You shall not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge" (Deut.24:17 KJV).
Eliphaz accuses Job of a sinful practice by saying,
"Is not your wickedness great? and your lawlessness infinite? For you have taken a pledge from your brother for nothing, and stripped the naked [the poor] of their clothing" (Job 22:5-6 KJV).
Speaking of the wicked Job says,
"They drive away the ass of the fatherless, they take the widow's ox for a pledge. . . They pluck the fatherless from the breast, and take a pledge of the poor" (Job 24:3, 9 KJV).
Clearly these scriptures show that it is wrong to take certain things as a security pledge or to take advantage of those who are fallen into misfortune.
THE CHARITABLE LOAN
It is easy to understand the implications of the usury prohibition concerning a charitable loan, because the lender faces a sure loss on his loan. He bears the risks associated with loans to the impoverished because he is unable to charge interest and gets his goods returned in the future, and future goods are less valuable than goods in the present. Moreover, the lender must forfeit the use of his goods over time without any compensation. Additionally, during inflationary times, the lender also forfeits purchasing power if it was a loan of money. Therefore the lender bears several costs of the loan. The lender clearly suffers a loss for the sake of a needy brother. This loss is required by God but it will be balanced by other benefits to the lender.
If one perceives things in a purely physical sense and discounts the influence of God, the lender is truly the loser. However, one who lives under God's rule cannot discount his involvement in the charitable loan, because God promises to return more than what is given away:
"You shall therefore keep the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which I command you this day, to do them. Wherefore it shall come to pass, if you hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Lord your God shall keep to you the covenant and the mercy which he swore to your fathers: And he will love you, and bless you, and multiply you: he will also bless the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your land, your corn, and your wine, and your oil, the increase of your kine [cattle], and the flocks of your sheep, in the land which he swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle" (Deut.7:11-14 KJV).
"He that has pity upon the poor lends to the Lord; and that which he has given will he [God] pay him again" (Pro.19:17 KJV).
"He is ever merciful, and lends; and his seed is blessed" (Psa.37:26 KJV).
"A good man shows favor, and lends; he will guide his affairs with discretion" (Psa.112:5 KJV).
"Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away" (Matt.5:42 KJV).
"For if you love them that love you, what thank [reward] have you? for sinners also love those that love them. And if you do good to them that do good to you, what thank have you? for sinners also do even the same. And if you lend to them of whom you hope to receive, what thank have you? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Lk.6:32-36 KJV).
God says it is more blessed to give than to receive, because it shows that one has been blessed with an abundance so that one is able to lend to another, and that one has an attitude of love and self-sacrifice, which is an attribute of God.
LENDING FOR GREED
The fifth chapter of Nehemiah shows that many of the poor Jews had borrowed money to buy food because of a drought and tribute (tax) payments to the king. These people were in such dire circumstances that they even mortgaged their lands and sold their children into slavery to buy food and pay taxes (Nehe.5:1-5).
When Nehemiah heard of this tragic state of events, he became very angry and condemned the lenders for the hardness of their hearts and made them promise to return the pledges to the debtors.
Nehemiah 5:7-13 KJV
"Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said to them, You exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. And I said to them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold to the heathen; and will you even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold to us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer.
"Also I said, It is not good that you do: ought you not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive-yards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that you exact of them.
"Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as you say. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labor, that performs not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise."
Jeremiah also reprimands his brethren for their persecution of him, and points to his innocence of the crime of usury:
"Woe is me, my mother, that you have born me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor have men lent to me on usury; yet every one of them does curse me" (Jer.15:10 KJV).
Other Mentions of Usury
"He that puts not out his money to usury, nor takes reward against the innocent. He that does these things shall never be moved [waver, slip or fall]" (Psa.15:5 KJV).
"He that by usury and unjust gain increases his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor" (Pro.28:8).
INVESTMENTS AND ASSET MANAGEMENT
Lending money at a reasonable rate of interest for the purpose of business or trade is different from lending to the poor and needy and it is not forbidden. This kind of lending is referred to in the New Testament as a perfectly understood and allowable practice.
In Luke 19:12-23, there is a parable in which servants are given charge over certain amounts of money; some were given more and some were given less. The point of the parable is that each person should use what God has given them to produce profits for him. And those who produce nothing will be punished for their lack of effort. Notice what the master says to the servant with the poor attitude in reference to usury:
"You knew that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Wherefore then gave not you my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have received mine own with usury [interest]?" (vs.22-23).
It seems that verse 23 sanctions usury and indeed it does sanction the act of making a profit by wisely investing money in a profit making venture.
Matthew 25:27 shows the same account of this parable, which clarifies that the collecting of usury is condoned for the purpose of making money. Moreover, the taking of interest in a purely commercial investment situation is nowhere forbidden in the Bible.
Investments should never be considered an act of selfish lending. Investments are purely a business function, which are made purely for gain of one type or another. There must be a benefit for the lender or there would not be an incentive to make the investment.
THE MONEYCHANGERS AND PROFIT
Moneychangers were in the business of foreign currency exchange at the temple in Jerusalem. This situation came about, in part, because of an incorrect understanding and perversion of a number of scriptures concerning the payment of the census and temple tax, offerings in currency, and the second and third tithe. During the annual observances and commanded assemblies, Jerusalem was flooded with visiting Israelites and Jews. Because of a belief that only Jewish coins could be offered to God at the temple, the various coins from many lands were converted to the proper coinage by the moneychangers who performed this service at a profit:
"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said to them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves" (Matt.21:12-13 KJV).
What was their crime? Profiting from foreign exchange transactions is an old and perfectly legitimate profession. Why, did Jesus act the way he did toward these moneychangers? The reason almost certainly lies in the location of their tables in the outer court of the temple. It was not the profit making nature of money changing that Jesus was concerned about, it was where the business was being transacted and the manner in which it was being performed that was wrong.
"It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves" (Matt.21:13 KJV).
Making a Profit is Not Wrong
In the parable of the talents (Matt.25:14-30), Jesus teaches his disciples a very important lesson about spiritual growth by using a physical thing (money) as an example. He mentions the existing practice of exchanging one currency for another for a profit, which was purely a business deal and had nothing to do with making a loan. Moreover, Jesus did not condemn this practice. The lesson he teaches to those who are called to his service is that they must be doing his business while he is in heaven. And if one is timid about stepping out and using his particular God-given talent to do a work for God, that servant should put that talent under the direction of another person, so that he will still be able to be a profitable servant.
Luke 19:11-28 is basically the same parable with the same general theme about being a diligent servant and increasing the gifts God has given. The King James Version uses the word usury, but other versions use the word interest. However, the original Greek word used is 'tokos', which means 'interest on money loaned' (as produce). In no way can the word 'tokos' be used to infer anything but a gain above what is originally being submitted in the transaction.
From the biblical perspective there is nothing wrong with making a profit from lending goods or money. However, there is clearly something wrong with profiting from those whom God considers worthy of compassionate treatment.
THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW
Jesus taught the same exact thing about usury to his disciples that he had taught as the Creator God to the ancient Israelites. The only difference was that, as the Messiah, he explained the law's true intent and purpose and magnified it as the prophet Isaiah said he would:
"The Lord is well pleased for his [Christ's] righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable" (Isa.42:21 KJV).
Notice this magnification of the law of usury in Luke 6:33-36:
"And if you do good to them which do good to you what thank [reward] have you? for sinners also do even the same. And if you lend to them of whom you hope to receive, what thank have you? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward will be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. Be you therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful."
Jesus shows how the royal law of love applies to the law of lending (usury): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt.22:39 KJV).
Jesus shows what kind of attitude one should have and what kind of example one should be. He says to be merciful just like God the Father is merciful. This is what the law of usury is about; it is about being concerned, kind, compassionate, and merciful to those who are less fortunate than yourself. The law of usury is encompassed within the royal law of love.
God the Father and Jesus Christ are the personification and perfection of love. The violation of the usury law demands the death penalty because it violates the principal of love. And those who lack this Godly attribute cannot inherit eternal life. Those who will become eternal must have this attribute to become like God, because we will be like him in the resurrection.
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him. . ." (1.Jn.3:2 KJV).
Love Made Perfect
"And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also" (1.Jn.4:16-21)
THE SEPARATION OF THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and heshall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
"Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you hungry, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came to you? And the King shall answer and say to them, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.
"Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was hungry, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and you visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
In this parable of the separation of the sheep and the goats (i.e., the righteous and the unrighteous), Christ illustrates the royal law of love. He shows that doing good showing kindness to other humans is the same as showing kindness to him. The bottom line is that Christ equated kindness toward those in need as righteousness and unkindness as evil. Moreover, kindness will be rewarded, and unkind- ness will be punished.
BUSINESS AND CHARITY
A Christian must understand the distinctions between business and charity. Business involves making a profit for the investor. Charity involves the transfer of scarce economic resources to another with no thought of it being returned (Matt.10:8; Lk.6:35). Business is not charity, and charity is not business. Charity should be carefully administered in a business-like manner with honest accounting and budgeting.
No one should call themselves a Christian and a steward of God's word if one seals off business from charity in an absolute manner. Businesses are supposed to earn profits, if they are to be successful. However, ruthless competition that is utterly devoid of mercy is condemned by God's word. The fact that Jesus told a rich young man to sell all of his goods and give everything to the poor does not stand as the requirement for every steward.
God may command a person to give up all that he has in order to follow him, but this does not imply that God is sanctioning economic equity among all people or continued economic ruin because of the inability of another person to cope with the challenges of life. God does not want the elect to be morally ruthless in business, nor does he want them to be morally wasteful in charity.
Some say that a Christian cannot borrow because of Paul's teaching in Romans 13:8: "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law." However, by reading the beginning of this chapter, it is apparent that the context of this chapter is being in subjection to civil officials and civil tax laws. The New Testament in Modern Speech translates the first part of this verse as: "Leave no debt unpaid except the standing debt of mutual love. . ." This seems to be the more accurate translation, because it parallels and supports other scriptures that speak of paying one's debts. Paul simply states that it is important to pay debts.
THE ROYAL LAW OF LOVE
"For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Rom.13:9 KJV).
"Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away" (Matt.5:42 KJV).
CHRISTIANS AND FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS
Is a Christian allowed to borrow money or anything else at interest? Yes, a Christian may borrow at interest. However, the problem arises when one borrows too much and places himself in debt to the point of being a slave to the lender. Although this is not a study about how to conduct one's financial affairs, it is a good practice when purchasing anything, to obtain total ownership at the outset of the transaction. This releases one from any future obligations and burdens of payment. One must realize that banks are in business to make a profit. They are not charitable organizations; therefore, they have no mercy on those who cannot repay their debt.
Some professing Christian groups who have a legalistic view of Biblical law have come to believe that a Christian should not participate in the existing financial systems of this world and that having a checking or an interest-bearing account in one of these institutions is sin. Although there is no doubt that this world's current banking and monetary systems are not operated in a godly manner, from the biblical perspective, there is no sin attached to participating in this world's financial system or borrowing money from a lending institution. But, for a Christian to find it necessary to borrow from a secular source because of acute necessity or poverty is a condemnation upon those who profess to be Christians, because God's law requires those of the brotherhood to care for their own.
Having a checking or interest-bearing account in no way violates the biblical law of usury. Of course, if one has individual concerns about the privacy of his financial matters and does not wish to be associated with a financial institution that is his business.
Some people think that most poor people are poor because of some fault of their own, which could very well be true in some cases. However, many people are poor, because of circumstances beyond their control, such as the death of the provider, injury, physical defects, job loss, or disabilities. These and many other circumstances beyond one's control can cause a person to be poor or to fall into poverty. A person in such a state must not to be shunned or scorned, but should be helped so that he can overcome his particular situation. The apostle John echoed God's desire for his spiritual children when he said:
"Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers" (3.Jn.v2).
THE LAW OF USURY TODAY?
Does the law of usury apply today? For the answer to this question one must answer a foundational question about the law in general and whether or not one called to be a child of God must obey the laws of God.
If one admits that the Father's elect children are a part of spiritual Israel (Heb.8:8-10; 1.Pet.2:25), and that God's law is spiritual as well as physical (Rom.7:12-14), it follows that a law that is not specifically canceled or suspended by God or physical circumstances (e.g., destruction of the temple has suspended the sacrificial system) is still in force and should be obeyed. See our studies about the law of God and its application today.
Deuteronomy 15:4 states that the law of usury will be in force for Israelites until there are no more poor among them. Are there still physical and spiritual Israelites that are poor? Yes, there are!
When a contention arose among the disciples about what they considered a waste of valuable ointment that a woman anointed Jesus with, he says,: "For the poor always you have with you; but me you have not always" (Jn.12:8 KJV). Because Jesus said the poor will always be with us, will this law ever be canceled? It will be canceled, but before its cancellation the whole world will go through some very traumatic events spoken of in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
THE CHRISTIAN POSITION ON USURY
True Christians are aliens, strangers, and sojourners in this world. A true Christian is not of this world or its systemseconomic, political, or otherwise. The elect are of the Family and Kingdom God and must be separate from this world's corruptness.
"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Am.3:3). Can the elect of God enter into the corrupt practices of today's society and take advantage of the poor? No! If one wants to please God the Father and Jesus Christ, this is not acceptable. Therefore, one cannot make a loan to a poor brother in Christ and attach interest to it. It would be far better to make a gift of the loan if possible.
For a true Christian to loan money at interest to a poor person or a person in need is breaking the royal law of love and the law of usury in both the letter and the spirit of the law. The law of usury was not written for a society devoid of God's law. It was written for a society of kings, priests and a holy people who have love and compassion and exhibit the very attributes of God.
THE LAW OF USURY TO BECOME OBSOLETE
When there is no longer a need for a law, it becomes obsolete. This is what was referred to in Deuteronomy 15:4: "Except when there are no more poor among you." There will no longer be a need for the law of usury when all of humanity have had their opportunity for salvation and the Kingdom of God rules over humans who have been made into spirit-beings:
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said to me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Rev.21:1-7). For details concerning this climactic event see our study about the Festival of the Eighth Day.
It should be obvious from this short study into the law of usury that the God family is extremely concerned about all of humanityrich or poor. Moreover, our heavenly Father is mostly concerned about our spiritual well-being. Physical objects are secondary; they are as temporary as we are. The things of concern are those that can be taken into eternity. And these things are spiritual in nature; they are the godly character, attitude, and love that come through obedience to God's law and the precepts and principles that surround this law.
The law of usury is actually about building the godly character trait of concern and love for others. Moreover, God makes the following promise to those who build this godly character:
"For as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him" (1.Cor.2:9; Isa.64:4).
God the Father offers everlasting, abundant life and more to those who love, respect, and obey him. The choice is yours. Choose life!