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Borrowing And Lending

The wicked borrows and does not repay,
but the righteous shows mercy and gives.
Psalm 37:21

Borrowing is receiving something with the intention of returning it. A borrower is bound by law to pay back the debt. The wicked borrows and does not repay.

In ancient Israel, borrowing was done to allow peasant farmers to survive through periods of poverty. It was not used for setting up or expanding a business. Borrowing for needs and not for wants. When a need arose, the needy would borrow from their friends or relatives. Besides money, some examples of borrowing in the Bible were:

  • Pots and pans (2 Kings 4:3)
  • Axe-head (2 Kings 6:5)
  • Loaves of bread (Luke 11:5)

Sometimes, people turned to professional lenders who would charge them interest for the privilege of the loan. But the laws of God admonished the Israelites to help their own people by not charging any interest:

If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. (Exo. 22:25)

If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. (Lev. 25:35-38)

You shall not charge interest to your brother-- interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess. (Deut. 23:19-20)

Apparently, the people of God disobeyed Him by doing otherwise (Neh. 5:6-13). The prophet Ezekiel rebuked the Israelites for charging interest to their own people (Eze. 18:1-18; 22:12). Note that the Israelites were allowed to charge interest to foreigners.

When loans were made, the borrowers gave the creditors a pledge to guarantee that the loan would be repaid. Something was put up as a collateral to ensure that the debtor would pay his debt (Gen. 38:17-20; Deut. 24:10). This pledge would be returned once the loan was repaid. The creditor did not have the right to enter the debtor's house forcefully and claim the collateral. He was required to wait outside until the debtor brought out the pledge and presented it to him before some witnesses (Deut. 24:10-11). Essential objects that were necessary to sustain life, such as the millstone, could not be taken as a pledge (Deut. 24:6). If the pledge of repayment was clothing or such, the creditor must let the borrower have it back at night. For it was probably his only warmth in the cold nights (Exodus 22:26-27). God's laws sought to preserve the worth and dignity of both the family members and the individual debtor.

Sometimes a debtor would give his child to become a slave as the pledge for a debt (2 Kings 4:1; Neh. 5:1-5). Sometimes a family member or a friend would guarantee the pledge for another (Prov. 6:1-5; 17:18). But God's laws lovingly provided times of release when all debts were to be forgiven and all pledges returned. These times occurred on the Sabbatical Year every seventh year (Deut. 15:1) and the Year of Jubilee every 50th year (Lev. 25:8-55).

Below are some biblical regulations pertaining to borrowing and lending that will help us to truly love our neighbours (Deut. 15:1-11):

  • There is a canceling of all debts at the end of every seventh year.
  • Every creditor shall write "Paid in full" on any promissory note that he holds against a fellow Israelite.
  • The Lord has released everyone from his debts.
  • This release does not apply to foreigners.
  • No one will become poor because of debts.
  • For the Lord will greatly bless you in the land that He is giving you if you obey this command.
  • The only prerequisite for His blessing is that you must carefully heed all His commandments.
  • He will bless you as He has promised.
  • You shall lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow!
  • You shall rule many nations, but they shall not rule over you!
  • When you arrive in the land that the Lord will give you, there are some among you who are poor.
  • You must not shut your heart or hand against them.
  • You must lend them as much as they need.
  • Beware! Don't refuse a loan because the year of debt cancellation is close at hand!
  • If you refuse to make the loan and the needy man cries out to the Lord, it will be counted against you as a sin.
  • You must lend him what he needs, and don't moan about it either!
  • For the Lord will prosper you in everything you do because of this!
  • There will always be some among you who are poor; that is why this commandment is necessary.
  • You must lend to them liberally.

By the times of the New Testament, the Jewish economy had changed drastically and commercial loans became common (Luke 16:1-8). During their captivity, the Jews became familiar with the Babylonian banking institutions and systems. Some of them even joined the banking industry and became prominent bankers. In the times of Jesus, banking was already an established institution in Israel. But Jesus did not condemn the charging of interest (Luke 19:23). However, He did admonish lenders to be fair and to show respect to their borrowers (Luke 6:31). He emphasized the need for every person to show love and grace toward his fellow human beings. God is gracious to us, and we need to be gracious to others.

In the Lord's Prayer, He taught us, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). God has offered His Only Begotten Son to pay the price for our debts. He requires that we do the same by forgiving the debts that others have owe us. He also gave this exhortation in Luke 6:35: "Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil."

The Biblical principle is essentially this: "Love our neighbours." If we borrow, we should pay back because we love our neighbours. If we cannot pay back, we should let our creditors know. There should not be any presumptuous sins on our part. The borrower is a slave to the lender (Prov. 22:7). Slaves must honor and respect their masters (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

If we lend, we should give liberally, expecting nothing in return, because we love our neighbours. If we have slaves, we need to love them by giving them wages that are fair and just (Col. 4:1). We all have a Master in heaven. If they could pay back their debts, praise the Lord. If they could not, also praise the Lord. When we help the poor, we are lending to the Lord. And He will greatly reward us! (Prov 19:17) We are blessed to be a blessing to be blessed to be a blessing. And the blessing goes on!

The matter of the heart is the heart of the matter. If we have this agape love in us, borrowing and lending will never be heartaches and headaches. There will be this quiet understanding that God is in the midst of us. He is watching over every transaction. As we desire grace from others, others also desire grace from us. We will begin to taste the goodness of the Lord as we all live in the glory of His grace!

In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus taught us this truth in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check his accounts. In the process of doing so, one of his debtors was brought in before him. He owed the king $10 million! As he didn't have enough to pay, the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and everything that he had, to repay the debt. But the man fell down before the king. With his face in the dust, he cried, "Oh, sir, please be patient with me and I will pay all of it." The king was filled with compassion for him. He released the man and forgave his debt.

But when the man left the king, he went to a man who owed him just $2,000. He grabbed him by the throat, and demanded instant payment. The poor man fell down before him and begged him to give him a little more time. "Please be patient with me, and I will pay it," he pled. But his creditor wouldn't wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt was paid in full.

Then the poor man's friends went to the king and told him what had happened. The king called for the man whom he had forgiven. He said to him, "You wicked wretch! I have forgiven you all that enormous debt, just as you have asked me to. Shouldn't you have mercy on others, just as I had mercy on you?" Then the angry king sent the man to the torture chamber until he had paid every penny due.

And Jesus concluded, "This is how My heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to truly forgive the debts of others."

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus told His disciples:

"The poor will always be with you."

The ball is now on our side. How do we respond?

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written on:
16 July 2004