Extortion


It has been said that as soon as a man knew another man, they began to trade and also to take advantage of each other. Numerous passages of Holy Scripture condemning fraud and extortion of various kinds indicate that even the people of God often became guilty of exploiting their fellow man. God Himself forbids all types of stealing and fraud, including extortion (Exod, chs. 21-23). “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exod 22:21). The prophet Ezekiel warns that God will deal justly with an extortioner (Ezek 18:18) and states that extortion was a common crime of the time, “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy” (Ezek 22:29). The psalmist preached that men who place confidence in extortion and robbery follow a vain hope (Ps 62:10).

Extortion through excessive interest, or usury, is particularly hit hard to prevent the exploitation of a fellow Israelite’s misfortune (Lev 25:35, 36; Deut 23:19). The Talmud and the rabbis called usury the “abomination of abominations” and likened it to murder. The OT has no patience with the plea that the extortioner is within the law; legally or illegally, it is always wrong. One common form of extortion was to trick a man into a huge loan or pledge, then foreclose and force him to become a slave (Lev 25:39, 47). Insolvency was the common cause of people being reduced to slavery in Israel. It was not unknown that a husband would falsely accuse his new wife of not being a virgin to obtain the marriage payment (Deut 22:29). Much extortion went on along the caravan routes. Leaders of brigands would force merchants to pay tribute not to be robbed.

Jesus aimed charges of extortion, fraud, and robbery against the people of His day, particularly the Pharisees, in the sharpest terms their ears could bear: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity” (Matt 23:25; cf. Luke 18:11). John the Baptist counseled repentant tax collectors and soldiers: “Collect no more than is appointed you....Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:13, 14). The final stroke is given by Paul: “nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:10).

Bibliography

R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 172, 173; H. Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ (1962), 219-221; G. A. Buttrick, IDB, 201, 202.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

eks-tor’-shun:

This particular word occurs twice in King James Version: Eze 22:12 (`osheq), and Mt 23:25 (harpage), and indicates that one who is an extortioner is guilty of snatching away from another by strife, greed and oppression that which does not lawfully belong to him. The element of covetousness and usury is involved in the meaning of this word; for it is greedily gotten gain. The publicans were considered as being specially guilty of this sin; this is clear from the Pharisee’s deprecatory remark: "I am not .... an extortioner ..... as this publican" (Lu 18:11). Paul classes extortion (pleonexia, literally, "over-reaching") among a category of the grossest crimes known to humanity (1Co 5:10,11); indeed, so grievous is it that it closes the door of heaven in the face of the one guilty of it (1Co 6:10).