the sum paid for the use of money, hence interest; not, as in the modern sense, exorbitant interest. The Jews were forbidden to exact usury ( Leviticus 25:36 Leviticus 25:37 ), only, however, in their dealings with each other ( Deuteronomy 23:19 Deuteronomy 23:20 ). The violation of this law was viewed as a great crime ( Psalms 15:5 ; Proverbs 28:8 ; Jeremiah 15:10 ). After the Return, and later, this law was much neglected ( Nehemiah 5:7 Nehemiah 5:10 ).
And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with USURY? ( Luke 19:20-23 )
(The word usury has come in modern English to mean excessive interest upon money loaned, either formally illegal or at least oppressive. In the Scriptures, however the word did not bear this sense, but meant simply interest of any kind upon money. The Jews were forbidden by the law of Moses to take interest from their brethren, but were permitted to take it from foreigners. The prohibition grew out of the agricultural status of the people, in which ordinary business loans were not needed. and loans as were required should be made only as to friends and brothers in need. --ED.) The practice of mortgaging land, sometimes at exorbitant interest, grew up among the Jews during the captivity, in direct violation of the law. ( Leviticus 25:36 Leviticus 25:37 ; Ezekiel 18:8 Ezekiel 18:13 Ezekiel 18:17 ) We find the rate reaching 1 in 100 per month, corresponding to the Roman centisimae usurae , or 12 per cent. per annum.
1. In the Old Testament:
The Hebrew law concerning exaction of interest upon loans was very humane. Hebrews were to lend to their brethren without interest (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19). This, however, did not apply to a stranger (Deuteronomy 23:20). Two stems are used in the Old Testament, rendered in the King James Version "usury," in the Revised Version (British and American) better rendered "interest":
(2) a stronger and more picturesque word, nashakh, "to bite," "to vex," and so "to lend on interest" (Deuteronomy 23:19,20); noun form neshekh (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Psalms 15:5; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:8,13,17; 22:12).
It would be easy to go from a fair rate of interest to an unfair rate, as seen in the history of the word "usury," which has come to mean an exorbitant or unlawful interest. Abuses arose during the exile. Nehemiah forced the people after the return to-give back exactions of "one hundredth," or 1 percent monthly which they took from their brethren (Nehemiah 5:10; compare Ezekiel 22:12). A good citizen of Zion is one who did not put out his money to usury (Psalms 15:5). One who is guilty of this comes to disaster (Proverbs 28:8).
2. In the New Testament:
The Greek word is tokos, literally, "offspring," interest springing out of the principal. Money lenders were numerous among the Jews in Christ's day, and, in the parable of the Talents, He represents the lord of the unprofitable servant as rebuking the sloth in the words, "I should have received mine own with interest" (Matthew 25:27; Luke 19:23 the Revised Version (British and American)).
Edward Bagby Pollard
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