God's Law on Usury
Dec 19, 2008
In a Babylonian system, usury is regulated and often limited to a certain percentage. In other words, usury is not simply "interest" in general, but it is defined by Babylonian law as interest beyond, say, 20%. The Bible, however, defines usury as being ANY interest, or "increase," over and beyond the amount loaned.
The first objection that one normally gets to God's law is this: Well, if you can't charge interest, then who would want to give anyone a loan?
Such a question strikes at the very heart of the entire issue. Babylon's entire motive is based upon greed, while the Kingdom of God is motivated by love.
The law of God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It commands us to be generous toward the poor. It does not mandate that we give loans so that someone can buy a luxury condo or a Mercedes Benz. In fact, there is no specific mandate to loan money at all, and there is no penalty attached to the laws mandating generosity and love. Such laws follow the "honor system," because it gives each person the right to discern and judge for himself when it is appropriate and right to loan money to someone. In other words, the law encourages us to be led by the Spirit.
Perhaps that sounds strange, since so many think that the law is somehow the precise opposite of being led by the Spirit. But the entire experience of Israel in the wilderness was based upon being led by the Spirit. That is why Israel was instructed to follow the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
Here is the basic usury law, 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."
The promise of PROSPERITY is promised to those who follow this law. This law ought to be the central theme of today's Prosperity Message--but it is not. They want prosperity through disobedience and sin. Usury may make some of them rich--especially those evangelists who own banks--but when Babylon falls, their prosperity will evaporate with it.
Another law must be understood in order to know what the word "foreigner" means. Can one lawfully charge interest on a loan to a foreigner living in a Kingdom nation? Or does "foreigner" mean someone living outside the Kingdom of God? You see, if we contemplate the Kingdom of God as a nation with territory, citizens, laws, and ruled by King Jesus, we must know if foreigners (i.e., non-Israelites in the biblical context) can be oppressed if they have followed Isaiah's instructions in Isaiah 56:4-6. If they have joined themselves to the Covenant of God, are they to be treated unequally just because their genealogy is different?
First of all, Isaiah makes it quite clear that such foreigners will be made "joyful in My house of prayer" (vs. 7). Their "sacrifices" will be accepted on the altar of God, because "My house will be called a house of prayer for ALL the peoples." Verse 5 says,
"To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name BETTER than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off."
I'm not sure what can be better than being one of the sons or daughters of God, but that is the promise to these foreigners. There is obviously no double standard here. There is one law for the whole land. But in the area of charging interest on money, look at Lev. 25:35 and 36,
" (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 a fellow Israelite ("countryman") becomes poor and needs money or a place to live, you are to TREAT HIM LIKE A FOREIGNER OR A SOJOURNER. That does not mean we must oppress him. It means that we are to treat him as a guest and not charge interest on any money loaned to him.
Treating foreigners with respect and love is a basic command in God's law. It makes no difference how the rabbis in later years treated foreigners with disdain and relegated them to the position of second-class citizens. The rabbis violated the law all the time. Nor is it relevant how people today may mistreat or hate aliens. Men's misuse of God's law does not make the law evil. Men have always tried to interpret the law to their own advantage. But God makes His will crystal clear in passages such as Deut. 10:18, 19,
" (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."
Those who think that a biblical "alien" is a fellow Israelite living in another country is sadly mistaken. In verse 19 above God defines "alien" in reverse--the Israelites were ALIENS in Egypt. The Israelites were not Egyptians returning from afar. They were an entirely different nation. The Israelites are reminded how they were mistreated as aliens when they lived in Egypt, and they are to learn HOW NOT TO TREAT ALIENS in the land of Israel.
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."
God's law sets forth the revolutionary idea of equal justice for all. This is where America's founding fathers learned it, although their application of the mind of God has often fallen short.
Once we understand the idea of equal justice for all, as set forth in the divine law, it is not difficult to see that in the case of usury, the only aliens that may be charged interest are those living outside the land. Such aliens are not part of the Kingdom of God, and they live by a different set of moral laws. A Babylonian saw nothing wrong with loaning money at interest. Why should he receive an interest-free loan from an Israelite, when he would certainly use it to oppress someone else with usury?
This principle brings out another subtle principle, at least to some degree. It is the judgment side of the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. The judgment side of this is that if a man steals $100, he owes his victim $200. It is sort of like the victim robbing the thief, treating the thief by his own standard of measure. The purpose of this is to teach the thief what it means to be a victim of robbery, forcing him to walk a mile in his victim's shoes.
In other words, there is a place for treating a sinner according to his own standard of measure--if done wisely by the leading of the Spirit. The motive ought to be for correction and teaching, of course, and not anger, hatred, or revenge. So also, the foreigner who practices usury has no right to receive an interest-free loan from a citizen of the Kingdom.
These are the laws of usury.
Dr. Stephen Jones