Hebrew Highlights 122 – Usury
Shalom! This is Yuval Shomron coming to you from Jerusalem.
Listen carefully while I read a truly amazing story.
NEH 5:1-12, “Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, "We, our sons and our daughters, are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live." And there were others who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine." Also there were those who said, "We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. "And now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others." Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words. And I consulted with myself, and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, "You are exacting usury, each from his brother!" Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. And I said to them, "We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?" Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. Again I said, "The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? "And likewise I, my brothers and my servants, are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. "Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine, and the oil that you are exacting from them." Then they said, "We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say." So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.”
Nehemiah is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. On the surface, he seemed to get upset rather easily, but let’s look at his history. Here was a devout Jewish man, living in exile in Babylon, who dreamed of returning to the Land of Israel. He wanted to live under God’s law and principals, and enjoy God’s grace and promises. By a miracle, he was allowed to lead an expedition to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem funded completely by a gentile king.
Upon his arrival, he found the Jews who had been able to stay in Israel taking advantage of each other and completely ignoring God. He was quite literally dumbfounded. How could this possibly be? He set about correcting the situation in many forms. One of the reasons I called this particular passage “amazing” stems from verse 11, where Nehemiah mentions the “hundredth part of the money and of the grain.”
Do you realize this means that Nehemiah was so upset over an interest rate of “one percent”? Can you imagine how he would view the usury exacted today by the landlords of VISA and MASTERCARD?
OK, so what’s the big deal about the one percent? Let’s look at another verse. EXO 22:25, "If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.” There you have it, the law of God. Now it might say, “that’s one obscure verse in the law. After all, we’ve been set free from the law. Well, first of all, that’s not exactly true. We have been given the privilege of having God’s law written on our hearts. We are able to obey it by our desire to please Him, instead of by fear of punishment.
I always like to point out that whenever a principal of God is particularly important, we find it repeated numerous times, in various ways.
Let’s look at DEU 15:6-8, "For the Lord your God shall 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. "If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.”
Not only do we again see the idea of generously lending to the poor, but we discover another important principal. If we borrow from another nation, or in the modern case, a lending institution, they will rule over us as long as we still owe them.
Another passage speaks of our subject today in terms of a promise, EZE 18:7-9, “if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing, if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity, and executes true justice between man and man, if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully-- he is righteous and will surely live, "declares the Lord God.”
As often happens, Jesus himself not only confirmed the law, but expanded it to include others. LUK 6:34-35, "And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”
I think most of us would naturally say, “Hey, wait a minute. That’s not fair. I should be getting something back if I lend!” So, let’s read DEU 28:1-2 "Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your God.”
The point is that God himself wants to be our blessing and to bring the increase, with good measure, pressed down, running over.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to invest in God’s bank. The dividends are eternal.
Shalom, Shalom from Jerusalem