the Second Week of Lent
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
God expected all Israelites to realize that because they existed in a special relation to him, they were not to take advantage of their fellow Israelites. They were not to exploit those in need, but show mercy. They were to help with the necessities of life and treat the needy as equals. They could lend money or goods to the poor, but were not to charge interest (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-38; Psalms 15:5; Ezekiel 18:10-13).
Repayment of loans
Though not allowed to take interest from the poor, creditors could, if they wished, ask for temporary possession of some article belonging to a debtor, as a guarantee that the debtor would repay the loan. But they were not to take items essential to a person’s everyday living. For example, they could not take a millstone, as it would leave a person with no way of grinding flour to make food for the family. If they took clothing as a guarantee, they had to return it by evening, so that the person would not have to sleep in the cold (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:6; Deuteronomy 24:10-13). Creditors could give employment to debtors who wished to repay debts by working for them, but he could not make the debtors their permanent slaves (Leviticus 25:39-40).
Disorders arose when creditors took advantage of debtors, and debtors took advantage of friends whom they had asked to guarantee them. People could get themselves into trouble by agreeing to be financial guarantors for friends (or strangers) if they did not have enough money to honour their promise. Also, debtors could get themselves so far into debt that guarantors could be ruined. Wise advisers therefore warned guarantors against making rash promises, and even suggested they withdraw their guarantees from dishonest debtors before it was too late (Proverbs 6:1-5; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 22:26).
Although dishonest debtors were a problem, dishonest creditors were a much greater problem. The Bible records cases of ruthless creditors who ignored the laws that Moses had laid down. They seized debtors’ food and clothing (Amos 2:6-8; Amos 5:11; Amos 8:6), farm animals (Job 24:3), and houses and land (Micah 2:2; Micah 2:9). Some even took members of the debtors’ families and made them slaves (2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:1-5).
Release from debt
These disorders existed in spite of the law which laid down that, at the end of every seven years, Israelites were to forgive debts owed them by fellow Israelites. They were to consider themselves one big family, where no one would be driven into poverty or refused a loan in a time of need, even if the year for releasing debtors was approaching. God promised to reward those who were generous to their fellows (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). (Concerning the year for releasing debtors see .)
As with the law concerning interest on loans, the law concerning release from debt did not apply to cases involving foreign debtors. In those cases normal business procedures applied (Deuteronomy 15:3; cf. Deuteronomy 23:20).
Lessons for Christians
In all these laws the emphasis was on helping fellow Israelites in need. The background to the laws was the simple farming society of ancient Israel. What the laws condemned was the exploitation of the disadvantaged, not the investment of money to set up or expand business, such as one might find in a more commercially developed society.
Jesus too condemned the exploitation of the needy through taking interest on private loans (Luke 6:34), but he apparently approved of wise investment to earn income (Luke 19:23). He did not, however, approve of investment and trading where people were so concerned with making money that they neglected the needy (Matthew 25:42-45; Luke 6:24-25; Luke 16:19-25; cf. James 4:13; James 5:1-6). The New Testament encourages Christians to give to those in need (Luke 6:30-31; Romans 12:13), and discourages them from getting into debt (Romans 13:8).
The generosity of creditors in helping the needy and forgiving debtors is frequently used in the New Testament to picture truly godly attitudes. It is an illustration of that mercy and grace by which God forgives people their sins and by which they should forgive each other (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 7:41-48). By contrast, the bondage that binds debtors to their creditors is an illustration of that bondage to the old nature from which Christians have been freed by Christ (Romans 8:12-13).
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Lending'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​l/lending.html. 2004.