You shall not lend on interest to your brother Deuteronomy 23:19
Interest – What do we do with a commandment like this? Our entire global economy is based on financial leverage. Interest is an integral part of this mix. How could God command us not to loan funds without any profit?
There are several verses in the Scriptures that speak about interest-bearing loans. You might look at Psalm 15:5 or Exodus 22:25. Of course, there is also Deuteronomy 23:21, the very next verse, which says interest-bearing loans to foreigners are acceptable. Finally, you could look at the implication in the great blessing of Deuteronomy 28:12. The simple fact is that God expects a different behavior toward those within His community. The legislation about interest-free loans applies to action between followers, not to everyone. If we looked carefully at the Hebrew word for “interest,” we would see why this is the case.
The Hebrew verb here, nashak, also means “to bite.” The pictograph of this Hebrew word really paints a picture we would recognize immediately – biting the hand that feeds you. Why is interest described as biting the hand that feeds you? Two important factors help us understand this image and its implications for the community. First, from the Hebrew worldview, every blessing comes from God. If I am wealthy enough to be able to make a loan, it wasn’t my money in the first place. My wealth is a direct result of God’s blessing. I am merely the steward of His treasure. Therefore, He determines how I am to use it, not me. Secondly, the circumstances surrounding loans to fellow believers imply that these loans are given to those members of God’s community who are in real need. These are not loans so I can buy a new car or take a vacation. These are loans so that I can stay alive. The idea is that one of my brothers in the faith has fallen on desperate times. God says, “You are to help him without expectation of profit.” In the cultural setting of the 14th Century BCE, these loans were given as a shield against abject poverty. They were not so much financial transactions as they were charity. God expected His people to be gracious to each other. After all, the money was His.
Why is loaning money with interest like biting the hand that feeds you? The only reason you have the money needed to make a loan is because God gave it to you. So, to take advantage of the blessing God gave you by charging interest to one of His own is literally to bite God’s hand. The commandment is simple: Don’t do it!
On the other hand, the Torah does allow interest on loans to those outside the community. These loans are not expressions of charity. They are business transactions, and the Scriptures explicitly allow profit from such transactions. The Scriptures never allow exorbitant rates but they do allow reasonable interest. Even some of Jesus’ parables imply that business transactions with bankers should bring profit. So, rest easy. You have a different obligation to those inside the household of God, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. Or so it seems, until we take seriously Jesus’ requirement to love our enemies. What is allowed may not always be what love requires. Jesus’ commentary on the Torah gives us something else to wrestle with, doesn’t it?
Topical Index: Money