in'-ter-est (neshekh, mashsha'; tokos):
The Hebrew word neshekh is from a root which means "to bite"; thus interest is "something bitten off." The other word, mashsa', means "lending on interest." The Greek term is from the root tikto, "to produce" or "beget," hence, interest is something begotten or produced by money. The Hebrew words are usually translated "usury," but this meant the same as interest, all interest being reckoned as usury.
Long before Abraham's time money had been loaned at a fixed rate of interest in Babylonia and almost certainly in Egypt. The Code of Hammurabi gives regulations regarding the lending and borrowing of money, the usual interest being 20 percent. Sometimes it was only 11 2/3 and 13 1/3, as shown by contract tablets. In one case, if the loan was not paid in two months, 18 per cent interest would be charged. Corn (grain), dates, onions, etc., were loaned at interest. Thus Moses and Israel would be familiar with commercial loans and interest. In Israel there was no system of credit or commercial loans in Moses' time and after. A poor man borrowed because he was poor. The law of Moses (Exodus 22:25) forbade loaning at interest. There was to be no creditor and no taker of interest among them (Leviticus 25:36,37). De permits them to lend on interest to a foreigner (Deuteronomy 23:19,20), but not to a brother Israelite. That this was considered the proper thing in Israel for centuries is seen in Psalms 15:5, while Proverbs 28:8 implies that it was an unusual thing, interest being generally exacted and profit made. Ezekiel condemns it as a heinous sin (Ezekiel 18:8,13,17) and holds up the ideal of righteousness as not taking interest (22:12). Isaiah 24:2 implies that it was a business in that age, the lender and borrower being social types. Jeremiah implies that there was not always the best feeling between lenders and borrowers (15:10). According to Nehemiah 5:7,10, rich Jews were lending to others and exacting heavy interest. Nehemiah condemns such conduct and forbids its continuance, citing himself as an example of lending without interest. The lenders restored 1 percent of that exacted.
In the New Testament, references to interest occur in the parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:23) and of the Talents (Matthew 25:27). Here the men were expected to put their master's money out at interest, and condemnation followed the failure to do so. Thus the principle of receiving interest is not condemned in the Old Testament, only it was not to be taken from a brother Israelite. In the New Testament it is distinctly encouraged.
See also USURY.
J. J. Reeve
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