“Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)
Although the modern usage of the word refers to charging exorbitant rates of interest, the historical meaning was of any rate. Poor people are often forced to borrow because they have no reserves, and high interest rates make them even poorer. Leviticus 25:35-37 commanded, “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.”
God warned that there will always be poor people, and interest free loans was a major part of the Jewish welfare system to help the poor get back on their feet. Given as a loan rather than a gift, the assistance did not destroy the recipient’s self esteem like handouts do. Under Jewish law, a person who didn’t pay his bills could be sold as a bond servant for up to seven years so there was little risk of losing ones money, even for a Jew from another tribe or community, and God promised to bless the efforts to help others. Loans to people from other countries were less sure of recovery and interest was allowed on them to compensate for taking the risk.
On the other hand, Proverbs 28:8 warns, “He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.” Taking advantage of a poor person by charging them interest or paying less than a fair price for their belongings will result in God taking it away to give to those who will be fair.
Scientific laws such as the Newton’s Law of Gravity explain certain natural principles of the physical world. They cannot be successfully ignored, even by a society that has no formal science. The most primitive societies learn to live according to those scientific laws, even though they may not be able to explain why. In a similar way, The Old Testament Law states certain principles that cannot be safely ignored. Societies succeed only to the degree they follow those principles, whether they understand them or not.
The current mortgage crisis is a direct result of financial institutions and individuals trying to take unfair advantage. The principles have not changed. It ought not surprise us when ignoring God’s principles turns out badly.
Promises to God
“When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the LORD thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.” (Deuteronomy 23:21-23)
In Judges 11, Jephthah was chosen to lead Israel against the Ammonites. In the excitement and stress of the moment just before the battle, he promised that if they won the battle, he would sacrifice the first thing that came to meet him to God. They won the battle and his only daughter was the first one to meet him. Judges 11:35 describes his reaction. “And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.” Once the commitment was made, it must not be broken for any reason.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 goes into more detail. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?”
How many young people have been convinced by some youth pastor or evangelist to commit to being a preacher or missionary, or how many adults have made a financial commitment they couldn’t afford because of excitement or peer pressure and been unable or unwilling to fulfill it. “I didn’t realize what it would require” is no excuse for failing to keep the promise. There was nothing wrong with not making the promise, but it is sin not to keep it. Preachers who pressure people to make such commitments are causing people to sin and will be held accountable.
Other People’s Crops
“When thou comest into thy neighbour's vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel. When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour's standing corn.” (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)
Passing a loaded fruit tree or a strawberry patch it is very tempting to pop some in your mouth. A person was not to be considered stealing for giving in to such a temptation, even though they might eat several. Placing them in a container to take home or using reaping tools to get more implied it was not a matter of simply yielding to a momentary desire, but a deliberate intention to take advantage, and was forbidden. This closely relates to the provision for the needy,supplying for those who are traveling.