Current theological thinking on usury by many Bible scholars
would seem to indicate that charges for interest of an excessive
nature is wrong. But, a careful study of the issue shows that in
the cases where usury is prohibited, the prohibition is against
the charging of ANY interest at all, excessive or not.
This fact leaves the Christian with very difficult questions to
answer, especially if he is in the banking or money lending
business. In fact, if one expects to buy or sell anything in this
society, it is almost impossible to escape paying interest or
being associated in some way with the business of interest paying
or getting, and debt borrowing or lending.
Two questions a Christian must answer are: (1) Does the law of
usury apply to Christians in this day and age? and (2) If the law
of usury does apply today, how does a Christian obey this law?
The Law of Usury can be understood in both a physical and a
spiritual context, and this is exactly how it must be understood
if we are to gain the full impact of it. This Study Paper will
explain some of the spiritual intent and concepts behind each
specific scriptural example.
Although a laborious task, it is necessary to examine most of
these scriptures in minute detail in order to gain a full
understanding of usury. However, this study will be well worth
the effort, as the reader should come into new insights of the
greatness and goodness of our Creator.
There are many, many laws in the Bible. These laws cover the
entire spectrum of human behaviour from birth to death - every
activity that humans can engage in is covered either
specifically or in principle. God has left nothing out of His
instruction book for human survival.
The Creator's laws, precepts and principles are empirical, and do
not depend upon man's acceptance or approval for them to
function. When these laws are obeyed, the end result is good;
when they are disobeyed, the end result is evil, and penalties
are exacted upon the law breaker as well as society as a whole.
Usury is a little-understood law that offers tremendous benefits
for obedience, or the death penalty for disobedience. Usury is a
law whose principles affect all the societies of the world.
DEATH TO THOSE WHO BREAK THE LAW OF USURY
The eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel is a dissertation about the
national and personal sins of Israel. Here Ezekiel gives an
indictment and stern warning from God to the people of Israel.
It is very interesting to note that this warning message was
given to Ezekiel who was a priest and a captive with the nation
of Judah. This warning message was given some 127 years after the
ten-tribed nation of Israel had been taken into its own captivity
by a foreign power:
'And the word of the Lord carne unto me, saying, Son of man,
Put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of
Israel" (Ezek. 17:1-2).
Since Ezekiel was being held captive along with the nation of
Judah, this warning more than likely never reached Israel at that
time, thus making it a warning message and a prophecy for the
"Behold all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so
also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sins, it
This verse says that a sinner will die. The word 'die' used here
is quite interesting: it is the Hebrew word 'mut' and can mean
"die, kill or have one executed." This word, coupled with the
understanding of the Second Death as revealed in Revelation
chapters 20 and 21, would also add to the validity of this
sentence of death being carried out at a future date after a
person has had the opportunity to choose whether to follow God's
way or not.
THE SECOND DEATH
All people know that they will eventually die. God says through
the apostle Paul: "And it is appointed unto men once to die but
after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). At this judgment all those
who are not found worthy of eternal life will die the Second
"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it,
from whose face the earth and the heaven fled, away; and
there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small
and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and
another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the
dead were judged out of those things which were written in
the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the
dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the
dead which were in them: AND THEY WERE JUDGED EVERY MAN
ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS. And death and hell were cast into
the lake of fare. This is the SECOND DEATH. And whosoever
was not found written in the book of life was cast into the
lake of fire."
"And he that sat upon the throne said, behold, I make all
things new. and he said unto me, write: for these words are
true and faithful. And he said unto me, it is done. I am
Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto
him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life
freely. He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I
will be his God, and lie shall be my son. But the fearful,
and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and
whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars,
shall have their part in the lake which bums with fire and
brimstone: which is the SECOND DEATH."
"BUT IF A MAN BE JUST..."
"But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and
right" (v. 5)" This verse shows us that there is an
alternate lifestyle that will not lead to this condemnation,
"And has not eaten upon the mountains, neither has lifted up
his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither has
defiled his neighbor's wife, neither has come near to a
menstruous woman, And has not oppressed any, but has
RESTORED THE DEBTOR HIS PLEDGE, has spoiled none by
violence, has given his bread to the hungry and has covered
the naked with a garment; He that has not given forth upon
USURY, neither taken any increases, that has withdrawn his
hand from iniquity, has executed true judgment between man
and man. Has walked in my statutes, and has kept my
judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live,
saith the Lord" (vs. 6-9).
Notice how these verses are translated in the Living Bible,
Paraphrased Edition: "And has not gone out to the mountains to
feast before the idols of Israel and worship them, and does not
commit adultery, nor lie with a woman during the time of her
menstruation, and is no robber, but gives food to the hungry and
clothes to those in need, and grants LOANS WITHOUT INTEREST, and
stays away from sin, and is honest and fair when judging others,
and obeys my laws: That man is just says the Lord, and he shall
Ezekiel lists here a number of positive things that are just and
right for a person to do that will lead to life. Notice the
reference to the usury law in verse 7 - "but has restored to the
debtor his pledge" - referring to a merciful creditor who does
not hold on to the items given to him in pledge by the poor
debtor. (See also Ex. 22:25-26).
"If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and
that does the like to any one of these things, And that does
not any of those duties but even has eaten upon the
mountains, and defiled his neighbor's wife," (vs.10-11).
"Has oppressed the poor and needy, has spoiled by violence,
has not restored the pledge, and has lifted up his eyes to
the idols, has committed abomination," (v.12).
"Has given forth upon USURY, and has taken INCREASE; shall
he live? He shall not live; he has done all these
abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon
Here God equates 'usury' and 'interest' with abominations, which
are the most detestable of things to Him. He asks, "Is one worthy
of life who loans for usury?" God answers His own question and
says this person shall die, and it shall be his own fault. Notice
the opposite attitude in the next verses: God will give life to
those who execute His judgments and abide in His statutes.
"Neither has oppressed any, has not withheld the pledge,
neither has spoiled by violence, but has given his bread to
the hungry, and has covered the naked with a garment, That
has taken off his hand from the poor, that has not received
usury nor increase, has executed my judgments, has walked in
my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his
father, he shall surely live."
"Behold the princes of Israel, every one were in you to
their power to shed blood. In you have they set light by
father and mother. In the midst of you have they dealt by
oppression with the stranger. In you have they vexed the
fatherless and the widow. You have despised my holy things,
and have profaned my Sabbaths. In you are men that carry
tales to shed blood: and in you they eat upon the mountains:
in the midst of you they commit lewdness. In you they have
discovered their fathers' nakedness: in you they have
humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one has
committed abomination with his neighbor's wife; and another
has lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law; and another in you
has humbled his sister, his father's daughter. In you have
they taken gifts to shed blood; you have taken USURY AND
INCREASE, and have greedily gained of your neighbors by
extortion, and have forgotten me, saith the Lord God."
USURY IS A CAPITAL CRIME
There were few laws given to the nation of Israel that required
the death penalty. It is easy to understand why the death penalty
should be administered to those who murder, rape, and kidnap
another person. The death penalty for adultery is even
understandable. But the lending of property or money for interest
hardly seems worthy of the death penalty to most people. And yet,
the Creator of all that exists says that usury is a CAPITAL
CRIME, and those who commit it SHALL BE PUT TO DEATH!!
On the surface the law of usury may seem harsh and unfair. But as
we go through this study, we shall see that this one
little-understood law reveals the great love, concern, and
compassion that our Creator has for each and every individual.
Some people think the law of usury was imposed because the
Israelites were an agrarian society. It is true they were
basically an agrarian society; however, we must understand that
the laws of God will work in any type of societal technology,
whether agrarian or industrial. God's laws, precepts and
principles will work anywhere there is a sincere desire to obey
them, because the Creator God will help those who truly desire to
We should also remember that nothing is impossible with God; to
impose limitations on Him shows a total lack of understanding of
His awesome power. If the nation of Israel had continued in
obedience to God, it would surely have advanced into a
technological society with all the industrial capacity of a great
and prosperous people. To say the law of usury was instituted
because of an agrarian society is ludicrous, to say the least. A
far more profound reason than this dictated the issuance of this
TO WHOM IS THE BIBLE WRITTEN?
It must be understood to whom the Bible is written in order to
understand to any degree the Plan of God as it relates to
humanity. Although the following statements may not be believed
by most, they are true nonetheless. For those who use logic and
an open mind in this study, these statements will not be a
The Bible was written almost totally to and for the physical and
spiritual nation of Israel as they existed anciently and as they
exist in this modern age. The Bible only speaks to other peoples
and nations as they affect and interact with Israel. The plain
truth is that God is only dealing with humanity through
physical (national) Israel and spiritual Israel (Christians).
Therefore we must view God's laws, statutes, judgments and
ordinances as they pertain to physical and spiritual Israel and
as they pertain to the plan of God that is being worked through
them for humanity. When God offered to make a contract (covenant)
with the Israelites in Exodus 19:5-6, He offered to make them a
nation of priests and a holy people. After Israel ratified the
contract, God gave them laws, principles and precepts to live by.
Later He told them that no other nation had laws as great or as
good as the ones He gave them.
"Behold I [Moses] have taught you statutes and judgments,
even as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do so
in the land whither you go to possess it. Keep therefore and
do them; for this is YOUR WISDOM AND YOUR UNDERSTANDING in
the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these
statutes, and say, surely this great nation is a wise and
understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who
has God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all
things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there
so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as
all this law, which I set before you this day?"
But why did He give these laws to this people only? Why didn't He
give them to all mankind at the same time? The reason is really
quite simple: God was, and is, using Israel as an example for all
humanity as a witness and a teaching device. He gave them a
perfect set of laws by which to govern their behaviour. If they
had obeyed these laws, they would have been blessed beyond and
above anything any other nation that lived outside of these laws
could remotely hope for (Deut.28:1-14). The Israelites' obedience
and resultant blessings would be a tremendous example to the
nations around them. Of course the converse would also be true if
they disobeyed; but, nevertheless, God chose them for an example
- either good or bad.
2. DEFINITION OF USURY
Prior to launching into more scriptures containing the words
'usury' and 'increase,' it is necessary that we know, exactly
what each word means in the original Hebrew or Greek. This must
be done in order to clarify each scripture containing these
words, and to eliminate any preconceived ideas as to their
Hebrew words for USURY:
The prime word is 'nashak' which literally means "bite."
The derivatives are 'neshek' - interest, usury; and, 'nashak' -
lend for interest, usury; a denominative verb.
1. Nashak (bite)
Whenever the verb "to bite" occurs in its literal physical sense
in the biblical Hebrew, it has a snake or serpent as its subject.
In one case, men (false prophets) are the "biters" (Micah 3:5).
2. Neshek (usury)
The relationship of this noun to the basic verb "bite" is
sustained by evident usage [Ugaritic, i.e., a Semitic language
closely related to Phoenician and Hebrew - verb: "bite" (of
serpent), noun: "interest"].
Denominative verb, favored as correct sense (e.g., Hebrews 2:7)
where some translators have used "bite," others use "lend upon
usury" or "lend upon/for interest."
Hebrew words for INCREASE: 'marbit' (multitude, greatness, larger
part, increase or interest) - 'tarbit' (increase, usury,
The principle form of the root 'raba' which appears five times in
the Old Testament. The initial occurrence in Leviticus 25:37
interest "usury" in connection with 'nesek' "usury," and 'tarbit'
This is a feminine noun developed from the root 'raba.' It
appears four times in Ezekiel. In all cases it appears with the
masculine noun "nesek," q.v. the association with 'nesek'
"usury," which derives from the verb "to bite" suggests
oppressive exorbitant interest.
Greek word for USURY:
'Tokos' from the base word 'tikto' interest on money loaned as a
product, i.e., usury.
WHAT USURY IS NOT
The Hebrew and Greek leave no room for doubt as to the meaning of
the word usury as used in the Bible. It means "something to be
returned with what is lent in excess of what was lent."
Most of the past and current thinking defines usury as EXCESSIVE
interest or an interest that is charged which is above and beyond
that which is just and legal. Although this may be the legal
definition of usury today, it is NOT the meaning of the law of
usury in the Bible. The biblical principal of usury has almost
nothing to do with excessive interest - plain, simple or
compounded - and has a far more profound meaning for humanity.
3. YEAR OF RELEASE, LAND REST, AND THE JUBILEE
The year of Release, Land Rest and the Jubilee are as little
understood by most professing Christians as the subject of usury.
These three periods of time have great physical, spiritual and
prophetic meanings attached to them and are extremely important
to the fulfillment of the plan God has for humanity, as well as
having a very direct impact upon the meaning of the law of usury.
In Exodus 12:2 God instructed the Israelites: "This shall be unto
you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the
year to you." (Also see Dent.16:1). This month of Abib also began
Israel's first year as a nation, and this month was to be used as
a starting point from which to calculate all the events that God
commanded Israel to observe.
THE YEAR OF RELEASE
Every seventh year all debts were commanded to be released
(except for those of foreigners). That meant that everyone who
was indebted to another person could have a fresh start
economically. It meant that a person, because of circumstance or
poor judgment, had the opportunity to cast off all economical or
physical bondage and put his energy into benefiting himself or
"At the end of every seven years you shall make a release.
And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that
lends aught unto his neighbor shall release it; he shall not
exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is
called the Lord's release. Of a foreigner you may exact it
again: but that which is yours with your brother your hand
shall release; Save when there shall be no poor among you;
for the Lord shall greatly bless you in the land which the
Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess it.
Only if you carefully harken unto the voice of the Lord
your God, to observe to do all these commandments which I
command you this day."
Notice the proviso in verse 4: when there are no more poor among
Israel, the law of usury is to be suspended. This proviso will be
discussed in detail later in this paper.
God in his wisdom covers the entire spectrum of the lending
process. Understanding human nature far better than the most
astute psychologist, God understands the mental and physical
burden that the borrower is under. King Solomon was inspired to
write: "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant
to the lender" (Psalm 22:7). God also understands the greed,
power and oppression factors of one who lends for the wrong
purposes. Therefore he placed limitations on the length of time a
person could be held responsible to pay a debt back and this
length of time was seven years, and was a great benefit to the
lender and the borrower alike.
Although some might take exception with the year of release and
side with the lender, we must remember that our Creator promises
over and over again to bless tremendously if we will obey Him,
and even more so if we do it in the right attitude.
"If there be among you a poor man of one of your brethren
within any of your gates in your land which the Lord your
God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut
your hand from your poor brother. But you shall open your
hand wide unto him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for
his need in that which he wants. Beware that there be not a
thought in your wicked heart, saying, the seventh year, the
year of release, is at hand; and your eye be evil against
your poor brother, and you give him nought; and he cry unto
the Lord against you, and it be sin unto you. You shall
surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when
you give unto him: because that for this thing the Lord your
God shall bless you in all your works, and in all that you
put your hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of
the land: therefore I COMMAND YOU, saying, you shall OPEN
YOUR HAND WIDE unto your brother, to your poor, and to your
needy, in your land."
The commandment here is to lend to the poor, and moreover not to
lend just enough for the poor to get by on, but enough for the
immediate needs plus some extra. God is commanding us not to be
stingy with what is loaned to a poor person.
God also tells the lender not to worry about getting paid back,
[because of the year of release]. Here He reminds the lender that
if he does not lend, it will be counted as sin to him. And He
again commands us to lend and promises blessings for compliance.
GENEROSITY IS COMMANDED
When it comes to the needs of the poor and unfortunate, God did
not SUGGEST that the Israelites be generous. He COMMANDED and
demanded that they be generous under penalty of punishment for
"BEWARE that there be not a thought in your wicked heart, saying,
The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and your eye
be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nought; and
he cry unto the Lord against you, and it be sin unto you."
All people want to prosper and live happy, abundant and
successful lives. Although this is the dream of most, the reality
is that things do not always go the way we would like them to,
especially in the area of economic desires versus economic
reality. Most of the time desires can be coped with rationally,
but needs for survival are quite another matter. When a person's
basic needs are not met, all other things seem to take a lesser
position. The year of release guaranteed that perpetual monetary
slavery could not exist in Israel.
THE LAND REST
Every seventh year the land was to rest from intensive
agricultural production. Most organic farmers and gardeners well
understand the benefits of such a land rest. Since the Israelites
were basically an agrarian society, the land rest had a profound
and dramatic impact upon their economy. In the seventh year there
would not be major profits from the land, so thus it would be
very difficult for a person to pay back a debt during this land
rest. Therefore God cancelled these debts.
The Jubilee Year [every fiftieth year] insured that economic
equilibrium could be maintained in the nation. All indebtedness
should be released, and all lands were to be returned to the
original owners, allowing the economy to be brought back into
By the observance of these three laws, the nation of Israel would
always have a balanced economy, with a relatively debt free
population, creating the environment for prosperity to flourish.
TO BE CONTINUED