Moses' seventh speech, Part 24, Laws of Usury
Apr 29, 2013
Biblical usury does not have the same definition as in modern times. Today, “usury” is charging more interest than is allowable by man’s law. Biblical usury is all interest. The basic law against usury is found in Deut. 23:19, 20,
19 You shall not charge interest to your countrymen, interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. 20 You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countryman you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.
“Foreigners” in this case refer to non-citizens of the Kingdom—the equivalent of unbelievers. Such people are those who live by a different set of moral laws established by someone other than Jesus Christ. If one was to give them an interest-free loan, they would have no twinge of conscience in loaning it to someone else at interest. A Kingdom citizen has no obligation to provide such a person with an interest-free loan. In such cases, charging interest is optional.
Biblical law makes a distinction between non-Israelites living in Israel and those living elsewhere. Any non-Israelite who came to live in Israel was to be treated by the same laws as all others, even as he was obligated to abide by the laws of the Kingdom. Lev. 25:35-37 makes this clear:
35 Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. 36 Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. 37 You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain.
In other words, if someone is in need, whether an Israelite or a foreigner, he was to be treated without oppression. Hence, Scripture makes it clear in so many places that the Israelites were not to oppress foreigners. This law is usually explained by the fact that the Israelites had been oppressed as foreigners in Egypt—so they ought to know how it feels to be oppressed. For example, we read in Deut. 24:14-18,
14 You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens that is in your land in your towns … 15 so that he may not cry against you to the Lord, and it become sin in you ... 17 You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.
Lev. 19:33, 34 says further,
33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
What immediately follows is the law of equal weights and measures.
The Law of Equal Weights and Measures
Leviticus 19:35 and 36 says,
35 You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt.
A biblical monetary standard, having no usury built into it, keeps prices stable. Money, including currency, would always have an equal weight and measure, disturbed only by occasional shortages, particularly in times of famine.
Jesus showed in Matthew 7:1, 2 that this law applied not only to literal weights and measures, but also to unequal applications of the law. In other words, we cannot measure men’s sins by different standards. We cannot judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.
In Leviticus 19, it is apparent that the law of equal weights and measures was meant to apply to Israelites and foreigners living in the land. To put it in more modern terms, there was to be equal justice for all. Numbers 15:15, 16 says,
15 As for the assembly [kahal, “church”], there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
The purpose of remembering our former slavery in Egypt is so that we remember not to enslave others. It is implied that this was one of the reasons God allowed the Israelites to be enslaved in Egypt prior to their deliverance under Moses. It was to show them by personal experience what it means to be treated with injustice and inequality, so that they would not treat aliens in the same manner when they formed their own nation. If we treat others by the golden rule, we will never oppress or enslave foreigners.
Deuteronomy 10:18, 19 not only mandates equal justice for all, but commands us also to show love for the alien:
18 He executes justice for the orphan, and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
These laws are some of the terms by which God allows us to live on His land. If we do not abide by His terms, He reserves the right to remove us from the land and even to put us under the authority of other lawless men in order to remind us of the consequences of lawlessness.
Traditions of Men
It is truly unfortunate that traditional Jewish thought has so often missed this lesson and has justified the oppression of non-Jews. Even today, this kind of lawless behavior permeates the Israeli state in their treatment of Palestinians. In New Testament times, the Apostle Paul was hated and persecuted by the priests of the synagogue, primarily because he treated non-Jews as equals, rather than as second-class citizens. (See one such story in Acts 13:42-52.) They accused him of being a law-breaker for going against the traditions of the elders, when in fact the Jews had destroyed the law by their traditions (i.e., interpretations of the law).
This lawless attitude of the Jews toward non-Jews was a big factor in later years when the Church rejected the law of God. Instead of casting out the “traditions of men,” by which the Jewish leaders misinterpreted the law, they ignorantly thought that the divine law actually was discriminatory; hence, they discarded the law itself as being inferior to the love that Jesus proclaimed.
But no society can live without laws by which to judge bad behavior or injustice. The Church could discard God’s law, but as long as imperfect people were in the Church, they had no choice but to adopt laws by which to adjudicate disputes. Unfortunately, they ended up doing precisely what the Jewish leaders had done before them. They adopted laws that seemed right to men. These laws were their own “traditions of men,” their own understanding of right and wrong. In rejecting the law of God, they inevitably legalized sin and injustice in various ways.
They came to mistreat foreigners and ultimately to justify slavery of Africans by the same carnal mindset as was found in much of traditional Judaism.
When we violate God’s law, it is sin (1 John 3:4). But men later began to define sin as a violation of Church traditions. They did precisely what the Jewish leaders had done under the Old Covenant, which caused Isaiah to say:
8 This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 9 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matt. 15:8, 9, quoted from Isaiah 29:13)
Most Christians no longer think that usury is a sin. Though the Roman Church borrowed money at interest very early in its history, usury was always considered a sin until recently. On June 27, 1942, the Church established the Institute for Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank), funded by the “donation of Mussolini” in 1929.
Most Protestants and evangelicals had already cast aside the law of God and saw no harm in usury. In fact, many justified it by a unique interpretation of Jesus’ parable in Luke 19.
Did Jesus Legalize Usury?
In that parable, the “nobleman” went on a journey and left varying amounts of money in the care of his servants. When he returned, two of the wiser servants had increased the money by trade—that is, lawful business.
However, the third servant had a warped view of his master (who represented Jesus Himself). We read,
20 And another came, saying, “Master, behold your mina [a certain type of money], which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.”
In other words, this foolish servant did not really know his master at all, and hence he was afraid to increase the “mina” by lawful trade. Further, he accused his master of being “an exacting man,” who was essentially a THIEF, reaping what he did not sow. So the master judged this servant by his own words:
22 He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know [perceive] that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put the money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?”
In other words, Jesus said, if you really thought that I was an unscrupulous tyrant that reaped where others had sown, then why did you not just put the money in the bank in order to collect interest on the money? That way, I could have increased my wealth by robbery.
Interest on money was the equivalent of reaping where one has not sown.
This parable employs irony. One cannot take this as a command to charge interest on money. In fact, it teaches precisely the opposite. Only an unscrupulous businessman would engage in the practice of usury, because charging interest is theft. It is reaping where one has not sown. It is unlawful profiteering on other people’s labor.
But because the Church discarded the law of God, many have come to sanctify theft in the name of Jesus. Because of this, we allowed the practice of usury in our modern banking system. And hence, God put us into bondage to Mystery Babylon through the Federal Reserve Act, which put the entire nation and the Church itself into captivity.
It is therefore important that we repent of our sin and obey God by faith. If we have faith in God, we will be obedient to Him and accept His ways, rather than accept the ways of our Babylonian masters. When we repent, then God will deliver us from Babylon and establish us in true prosperity under the laws of His Kingdom.
This is the twenty-fourth part of a series titled "Moses' Seventh Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones