The Mosaic law required that when an Israelite needed to borrow, what he asked was to be freely lent to him, and no interest was to be charged, although interest might be taken of a foreigner ( Exodus 22:25 ; Deuteronomy 23:19 Deuteronomy 23:20 ; Leviticus 25:35-38 ). At the end of seven years all debts were remitted. Of a foreigner the loan might, however, be exacted. At a later period of the Hebrew commonwealth, when commerce increased, the practice of exacting usury or interest on loans, and of suretiship in the commercial sense, grew up. Yet the exaction of it from a Hebrew was regarded as discreditable ( Psalms 15:5 ; Proverbs 6:1 Proverbs 6:4 ; 11:15 ; 17:18 ; 20:16 ; 27:13 ; Jeremiah 15:10 ).
Limitations are prescribed by the law to the taking of a pledge from the borrower. The outer garment in which a man slept at night, if taken in pledge, was to be returned before sunset ( Exodus 22:26 Exodus 22:27 ; Deuteronomy 24:12 Deuteronomy 24:13 ). A widow's garment ( Deuteronomy 24:17 ) and a millstone (6) could not be taken. A creditor could not enter the house to reclaim a pledge, but must remain outside till the borrower brought it (10,11). The Hebrew debtor could not be retained in bondage longer than the seventh year, or at farthest the year of jubilee ( Exodus 21:2 ; Leviticus 25:39 Leviticus 25:42 ), but foreign sojourners were to be "bondmen for ever" ( Leviticus 25:44-54 ).
The law strictly forbade any interest to be taken for a loan to any poor person, and at first, as it seems, even in the case of a foreigner; but this prohibition was afterward limited to Hebrews only, from whom, of whatever rank, not only was no usury on any pretence to be exacted, but relief to the poor by way of loan was enjoined, and excuses for evading this duty were forbidden. ( Exodus 22:25 ; Leviticus 25:35 Leviticus 25:37 ) As commerce increased, the practice of usury, and so also of suretyship, grew up; but the exaction of it from a Hebrew appears to have been regarded to a late period as discreditable. ( Psalms 15:5 ; Proverbs 6:1 Proverbs 6:4 ; 11:15 ; 17:18 ; 20:16 ; 22:26 ; Jeremiah 15:10 ; Ezekiel 18:13 ) Systematic breach of the law in this respect was corrected by Nehemiah after the return from captivity. ( Nehemiah 5:1 Nehemiah 5:13 ) The money-changers, who had seats and tables in the temple, where traders whose profits arose chiefly from the exchange of money with those who came to pay their annual half-shekel. The Jewish law did not forbid temporary bondage in the case of debtors, but it forbade a Hebrew debtor to be detained as a bondman longer than the seventh year, or at farthest the year of jubilee. ( Exodus 21:2 ; Leviticus 25:39 Leviticus 25:42 ; 15:9 ) [E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary