See also Debt
The OT, particularly in Exodus and Leviticus, records detailed stipulations and limitations regarding debts, loans, interest and contracts. Abuse of the Biblical regulations brought forth repeated admonition and condemnation from the prophets. Interesting word pictures regarding contracts and debts arose among the Israelites. The Mosaic legislation attempts to protect both lender and borrower through a system of pledges and guarantees. The ideas carry over into the NT, although the NT ethic is not so restricted and lacks detail.
It is to be expected that the OT ethic centers much on interest and usury since these were the source of both profit and abuse. In Israel lending and borrowing was not for big commercial enterprises, but to help private individuals who lacked everyday needs. Not the rich, but the poor were in debt. When greed replaced concern in loans the common people considered it unfortunate and a disgrace to be in debt because it placed the debtor at the mercy of the creditor. Jehovah, the God of mercy, would protect by manifold regulations the poor and downtrodden from the wicked oppressor. The OT legislation deals with interest and usury in such a way that both mercy and justice be done. Poverty was common in Israel, caused by over-population, high taxes, poor resources and war. The payment of interest made lending and borrowing both difficult and burdensome for both parties of a transaction in that one party had the power to charge exorbitant interest and the other could choose to default. After the Exile a whole system of guarantees and limitations was developed to protect both debtor and creditor from each other. Later the rabbis worked out ways and means by which profit might be made from capital—not interest, but usury was forbidden.
The Pentateuch indicates that a first principle of lending and assuming debts is that such a transaction was pleasing to both God and man, since it gave the lender an opportunity to help a fellow man in need as an act of love. The Heb. words used indicate the lender lifted a burden from the borrower by helping him through a crisis. Lending to the poor was considered a good deed (
In spite of all the legislation, however, Israel did not follow the Word of the Lord. The preaching of the prophets reveals that the abuse of all guarantees and pledges became a scourge of the people in later Judaism. During the days of Nehemiah, some Israelites were compelled to give up their sons to regain their vineyards (
The borrower gave his right hand in the transaction because it represented the power and honor to repay, as we in our culture raise our right hands when giving an oath. Ezekiel describes the sins of Israel as if they had broken all the statutes of the law regarding debts and interest (
Bibliography H. B. Tristan, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands (1894), 245-262; E. Day, The Social Life of the Hebrews (1901), 175-195; C. Kent, Social Teachings of the Prophets and Jesus (1921), 96-106; A. Rehwinkel, New Testament World (1950), 244-246; J. D. Derrett, Fresh Light on St. Luke, 16:1, NTS (Apr, 1961), 198-219; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 172, 173; S. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (1962), I, 161, 195, 261; H. Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ (1962), 246-248; L. E. Toombs, Love and Justice in Deuteronomy (INT, 1965), 399-411; T. B. Maston, Biblical Ethics (1967), 62-85.