The Days of No Interest
The success of ancient Israel, and especially the financial success of the Jewish people, was indeed due to the their own religious laws regarding money, especially when it came to debts and loans. As the Torah clearly indicates, Israel was set up to be a banking nation from its very inception. As Moses predicted:
You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.
– Deuteronomy 28:12
As the law clearly stated, Israel usually obeyed it and from the time of King David and Solomon onward were renowned throughout the world for their business and financial skills and success. For a long time after, the financial and monetary system of Israel, then Judea, gave the Jews quite a bit of wealth and power along the way. The following prophecy seemed to be fulfilling itself without any real difficulties.
For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.
– Deuteronomy 15:6
This commercial success was interrupted by the Babylonian captivity, when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonian Empire and its Temple looted for all its gold and silver. Nevertheless, this exile proved temporary and even though the Jews never really regained their political independence again, their financial and commercial freedoms proved to be more than enough to allow for the practice of Judaism and for the prosperity of the Jewish people. One of the keys to their success was a simple rule, one could charge interest to foreigners, but never to their fellow Jews. As the Torah stated:
You may charge interest on what you lend to foreigners, but not on what you lend to Israelites. Obey this rule, and the LORD your God will bless everything you do.
– Deuteronomy 23:20
This religious tradition of not charging any interest to any fellow Jews kept a fair amount of economic equality among the Jewish people both in Israel and abroad in foreign countries. The Bible also established a system of debt relief every seven years, where all debts, especially debts on real estate, were canceled every seventh year regardless of the lender’s financial interests. As Moses stated in the Torah:
Do not refuse to lend them something, just because the year when debts are canceled is near. Do not let such an evil thought enter your mind. If you refuse to make the loan, they will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be held guilty.
– Deuteronomy 15:9
One should keep in mind that the ancient laws of the Torah did not allow for any military expansion or conquest outside of the Divinely-ordained borders of Israel, but this did not stop the Jews from becoming extremely successful international businessmen who established large Jewish settlements and commercial colonies in Babylon, Egypt, Persia, and then eventually throughout the Greco-Roman Empire. The Jewish desire for mercy and justice for its own people, as commanded by the Bible and its one, true God caused the following general rule to be applied:
Be generous to these poor people, and freely lend them as much as they need. Never be hard-hearted and tight-fisted with them.
– Deuteronomy 15:8
The Biblical Ban on Interest
For those modern Judeo-Christian believers who remain in denial when it comes to the clear, and repeated condemnations of usury found throughout Scriptures, it should be remembered that the system was never perfect, or perfectly fair. Regardless, today’s total acceptance of the taking of interest on loans and debts should be tempered with a firm knowledge that the modern world is far from the Hebrew financial traditions of yesteryear. In reality, usury is against the laws of God and today’s believers still need to know this, rather than slipping away into some sort of anti-religious socialist ideals of the recent past. Here is a summary of the relevant Biblical passages when it comes to charging interest:
If you lend money to any of my people who are poor, do not act like a moneylender and require him to pay interest.
– Exodus 22:25
Do not make them pay interest on the money you lend them.
– Leviticus 25:37
When you lend money or food or anything else to Israelites, do not charge them interest.
– Deuteronomy 23:19
My brothers, my servants, and I are lending money and grain to the poor, but we must stop charging them interest.
– Nehemiah 5:10
[He] who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.
– Psalm 15:5
He lends money on interest and takes increase; will he live? He will not live! He has committed all these abominations. He will surely be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
– Ezekiel 18:13
According the the Jewish prophets, the perfect, righteous man was one who, regardless of wealth or prestige, remained staunch in their refusal to practice usury of any kind, even to the smallest degree. Honesty, integrity, holiness, and the ban on the taking of interest, went together just as Moses, indeed, just as God Himself, had originally commanded. Two separate passages of Ezekiel sums this attitude up:
He doesn’t lend money for profit. He refuses to do evil and gives an honest decision in any dispute.
– Ezekiel 18:8
He refuses to do evil and doesn’t lend money for profit. He keeps my laws and obeys my commands.
– Ezekiel 18:17
Sound business advice includes the imperative to avoid poverty at all costs and to never be a borrower, but always a lender. As Solomon intoned, in the Book of Proverbs, ‘Poor people are slaves of the rich. Borrow money and you are the lender’s slave.’ (Proverbs 22:7) Also, one needed to be wary of those who might have the power to refuse to pay back any loans. This makes sense because many lenders would not ever pay back their loans, if they could actually get away with it without any penalties. This is the way of the world and lenders would be wise to heed this advice. The Bible writes as follows:
He will…bless all your work, so that you will lend to many nations, but you will not have to borrow from any.
– Deuteronomy 28:12
You should not lend anything to someone more powerful than you. If you do, you might as well consider it lost.
– Sirach 8:12
The people of Israel were repeatedly commanded by God to remain obedient to His laws and to be wary of any nation which was more financially powerful and who might even try lending money to Israel. As the LORD God warns advisedly, ‘They will have money to lend you, but you will have none to lend them. In the end they will be your rulers.’ (Deuteronomy 28:44) If one is absolutely forced to borrow any money at all, the following rule should be applied:
When you are in debt, pay it back as soon as you can.
– Sirach 29:1-2
The Old Testament also warns against being greedy when it comes to the collection of collateral on any loan. Lenders are advised to be less cautious and to trust that those who borrow money will, in fact, pay it back. The general idea is for those with money to not be so quick to demand collateral and to accept less, all the while giving more to others. The Bible reads:
When you lend someone something, you are not to take as security his millstones used for grinding his grain. This would take away the family’s means of preparing food to stay alive.
– Deuteronomy 24:6
When you lend someone something, do not go into his house to get the garment he is going to give you as security.
– Deuteronomy 24:10
In several different places, the Bible advises those who have the money to freely lend it out to those who need it. The Gospels state: ‘When someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.’ (Matthew 5:42) This includes friends, neighbors, and the poor. Scriptures also promises those who lend without interest that the LORD God Himself will reward them for their good deeds. The reward for their generosity will not only come in this life, but also in the next. Besides, lending at no interest is something the LORD God wants his followers to do. The pertinent passages can be read as follows:
Be kind enough to lend to your neighbor when he needs help. You are keeping the LORD’s commands if you help him. If he needs something, lend it to him.
– Sirach 29:1-2
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.
– Psalm 112:5
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward them for what they have done.
– Proverbs 19:17
When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the LORD, and the LORD will pay you back.
– Proverbs 19:17
In terms of freely lending to those in need at no interest, Jesus Christ goes even further. He recommends to lenders that they should give their money out to people who may never pay it back, This practice of basically giving money away for free should be done in order to ensure a blessing from the LORD God. This is because even the wicked will lend at no interest in order to secure some form of future gain if possible. Jesus Christ advised the following:
Do good and lend, expecting nothing in return and your reward will be great.
– Luke 6:35
The End of Usury?
Unlike the Pagan nations, and their laws, the Jews continued in their tradition of refusing to charge interest on loans, at least amongst themselves, long after the Second Temple of Jerusalem had fallen to the Roman military, scattering the remaining Jews throughout the Empire. The general rules, as stated in the Babylonian Talmud, were as follows:
The general principle of usury is: All payment for waiting for one’s money is forbidden.
– Babylonian Talmud, Nezikin I, Baba Mezi’a 63b
Lenders on interest are compared to shedders of blood.
– Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim III, Temurah 6b
After the religion of Christianity managed to take over the Pagan traditions of the Greco-Roman economic system both slavery and usury were abolished due to the growing influence of the Christian Churches who saw themselves as the New Israel where all men were brothers in Christ and equal before God. Like the religious authorities of ancient Israel had done many centuries before, the Church hierarchy soon banned the taking of interest throughout Christendom. The policy of Jesus Christ was just like that of Moses when it came to the practice of usury:
If you lend only to those from whom you hope to get it back, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount!
– Luke 6:34
After awhile, Jews were allowed to lend money to Christians at interest for purposes of economic necessity. Eventually, the Church lost control over the financial laws of the various Christian kingdoms and the taking of interest, a distinctly Pagan, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian practice, was again legal throughout the Western world of Christianity. This may not have been a good thing, or the only way to modern prosperity. Perhaps someday, mankind will recognize the sheer genius and inherent goodness of the Biblical laws which prohibited usury among fellow religious believers. Indeed, it may still be a possibility to have a capitalistic system not based upon money and interest, but re-established upon the ancient laws of the one, true God once again.