God Doesn’t Charge Interest
This is a matter of finance, not religion, an economist might say after reading this issue of The Trumpet. The fact that many assume God is silent on financial matters reveals just how ignorant most are of what the Bible actually says.
God’s Ancient Nation Israel
A little more than 3,500 years ago, God led the children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery and made these captive people a new nation. To His chosen people at the base of Mount Sinai, God said, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exod. 19:6). Yes, God was restoring true religious worship to this kingdom of priests. But He was also raising up a nation—the nation of Israel.
God told the Israelites He would be their King if they would agree to obey His commands. “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (v. 8). So what did this nation, we should ask, agree to? Above all, the Ten Commandments. These were the ten broad principles God gave to regulate human life—to regulate how people lived. In God’s nation, all subjects were required to put Him, their Creator, first. Six days the Israelites were commanded to work hard—producing fruit, making money. On the seventh-day Sabbath, God commanded them to rest—to remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. In this nation, God did not tolerate disobedient children, violence, lying, cheating, stealing, cursing, adultery, fornication or lusting after your neighbor’s goods. The intent of these ten principles of living can be summed up in two great commands: love God above all (first four); and love your neighbor as yourself (last six). In short, abiding by these laws meant living the way of love, or give.
Most people are familiar with these broad commands known as the Ten Commandments. Most people are not, however, familiar with the fact that God also revealed hundreds of lesser laws to Israel, in addition to the Ten Commandments, which had to do more with national affairs. Israel, remember, was a nation!
These lesser laws were known as statutes and judgments—a civil law that magnified the ten basic principles. In the Ten Commandments, God commanded Israel to love God first. How? Well, among other things, by faithfully observing His annual holy days, laws explained in the statutes and judgments (see Exod. 23:14-16; Deut. 16).
In addition to the annual holy days they were to observe, God went so far as to teach them what they could and could not eat (Deut. 14:3-21). There were other health laws and basic rules of hygiene. There were environmental laws—how to care for fruit trees, when to plant crops, when to rest the land, what to do with the fruit yielded during a land Sabbath, even laws designed to protect nesting birds. There were property rights written within the civil law. Laws which regulated the work force—building codes to prevent unsafe, slipshod construction; even worker’s compensation. There were laws of just recompense—paying a neighbor back for damaging his property (love your neighbor as yourself!).
And on top of all that, there were economic laws. To Israel, God revealed a definite and practical economic system—a system unlike anything you’ve ever known. To begin with, God told them to tithe one-tenth of their earnings—their increase—to Him. He was their God, the Creator of all things. He gave Israel everything they had and only asked for one-tenth back for the purpose of supporting church and national affairs. Beyond the tithe, God revealed dozens of lesser economic laws which He expected His nation to abide by.
Borrowing and Lending
In today’s society, there are two classes of people: creditors and debtors. Most fall within the second group. It’s hard to imagine our society without loan officers, interest rates and monthly payments. Homes, cars, appliances, furniture, vacations, even groceries—you name it! Just put it on credit. The increasing ease with which we can purchase goods and services on time payment at heavy interest has led to a ballooning debt. The national debt in America has escalated to an incomprehensible $5.5 trillion. Individually, America’s consumer debt, largely because of credit cards, is not far behind at $1.4 trillion (not including home mortgages).
The reason we are now steeped in financial quicksand is because we have been living the way of get! Government officials who took out huge loans in the 1970s and ’80s did so because they wanted “good times” to continue. Few involved acted on selfless concern for other parties or for future generations that would have to repay the debts.
Even today, in this so-called ’90s boom, the fundamental reason behind the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates (which at first glance might seem selfless) is so that people might keep taking out loans to buy things! Who among us might honestly say, even at the risk of losing his job, “We’re coming upon tough times, so let’s all work hard to save our money and get out of debt”? Instead, “educated” men tell us that everything is going to be all right—just keep spending. And we do, at least in the United States. Americans now save less than one quarter of one percent of their incomes! That does not bode well for a country on the brink of a recession or worse.
The United States bubble economy, still floating by consumers willing to spend what banks are willing to lend, but increasingly weighted by an ever-expanding, irreversible debt, is about to burst! It’s all heading toward a disastrous end. As God said in Proverbs 22:7, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” As any debtor knows when he can no longer make payments, it is the bank, the lender, that actually owns the car or the house that has not been paid off. What happens when America can no longer make its payments? At that point, all will finally see where decades of selfish living have led us. The way of get does not work.
The guiding principle in God’s society, on the other hand, is the way of give. God’s financial laws are based on this premise. First, above all, give your tithe to God. But what about giving to your neighbor? Did God make provisions anciently for giving loans? For borrowing? Yes, He did!
In Exodus 22:25, God said, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him” (Revised Standard Version). Several things to notice here. First, it says “if you lend.” So it was permissible to offer loans, if you were able. Creditors were commanded to be generous and giving, yet wise and prudent, not loaning more than they were able. Second, loans could be given to the poor, the Hebrew word meaning humble and needy. So if a poor Israelite had genuine needs—not wants—he could ask for a loan. (Loans were not given to those who just wanted to buy things.) And finally, the loan was interest-free!
What a difference that is from today. In fact, God took it one step further. God told those able to loan money to give freely to the needy even if they might not be able to repay! That’s because God said He would repay the lender if the poor borrower couldn’t (Deut. 15:10; Prov. 19:17). God is the greatest giver of all!
Jesus Christ taught this same principle, or law, in the New Testament. “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:34-36).
Now God is not advocating giving handouts to those who don’t deserve it. To the debtor, God says, if you are truly humble and in need, go ahead and seek a loan, but then do everything possible to repay it. To the creditor, God says, if you are able, loan to the needy at no interest, and don’t worry if they might be unable to repay. You see, God doesn’t take sides with either group—lenders or borrowers. He advocates give for both sides. How utterly different than what we are used to today.
A Sabbath Release
God’s economic laws were not only designed to reward hard work and wise financial decisions, they were set in motion to prevent poverty—something this world has never been able to do. (In fact, the ’90s “boom” has done nothing to eliminate poverty. The gap between the rich and poor is increasing, not decreasing.)
In Deuteronomy 15, knowing the long-term destructive effects of increasing debt, God inserted a safety valve within His economic system. It’s called the Sabbath year of release. Every seventh year, as commanded within Israel’s civil law, all short-term debts were canceled. The balance, as we have seen above, was paid in full by God Himself.
God told the Israelites to be careful not to take advantage of this safety valve. The Sabbath release was instilled to prevent poverty, not to allow free-spending. In Deuteronomy 15:7-11 God cautioned lenders not to despise the poor because the seventh year draws near. Again, God admonished both lenders and borrowers to abide by the principle of give.
Additionally, Israel’s civil law set forth provisions to make sure each citizen owned property. If, by chance, an Israelite came upon hard times and had to sell his land and work as a servant for another (whatever it took to repay his debts), he could rejoice in the fiftieth year when his debts would be freed. It was called the year of the jubilee! (Lev. 25:8-17). On that year, not only were the debts canceled, the Israelite returned to his forfeited real estate. The creditor returned his property to him!
How decidedly different that is from today. God’s law prevented generational poverty. It protected future generations from the mistakes and mismanagement of their fathers.
Now there was one notable exception to this rule concerning real estate in cities (Lev. 25:29-31). According to this law, if someone sold urban property to an investor, the seller could buy it back within a year of the sale. After that, however, if it wasn’t redeemed, the property belonged to the buyer permanently. But as for rural land, at least in God’s nation, every citizen was given his fair portion. And if, by chance, through mismanagement or to pay off a debt, a citizen had to sell his rural estate, it was returned to him in the year of the jubilee.
Why Poverty and Debt
Perhaps now when you read of Israel’s response to God when they were assembled together at the foot of Mount Sinai, you will better grasp what they agreed to. They agreed to abide by, and obey, all of God’s commandments, His statutes and judgments. They agreed to practice and teach these laws to their children so that the resultant blessings and prosperity might pass on from generation to generation.
Yet if we jump forward hundreds of years in the story, we find Israel again in captivity—the worst poverty imaginable—because they failed to obey all of these commands! And every nation since has also disobeyed these financial laws, not to mention the Ten Commandments. Thus, we live in a society where poverty is increasing and the gap between the rich and poor is widening; a society where every 50 years or so there’s a depression, not a jubilee; a society where there is runaway inflation and skyrocketing interest rates; a society where national economies collapse.
Shame on Israel for not heeding God’s commands, whether in finance or any other law God set in motion. And shame on every nation today for not learning the lesson of history. The nations of this world are almost totally ignorant of God and His laws.
Today, secular governments and chief financial economists determine and ratify the same kinds of laws you have read about in this article, except most all of those laws are based solely on the way of get. And where have these laws and this way of get led us as a civilization? To the brink of worldwide financial ruin. And when economies crumble, social, political and religious upheavals soon follow.
God has allowed man to live the way of get for 6,000 years now. And He has allowed it all for a supreme purpose—to finally teach man a lesson he will never forget. The soon-coming, international economic crisis is the trigger that will set off a worldwide nuclear conflagration, the likes of which mankind has never seen (Matt. 24:21-22). Yet after our financial bubble bursts, after all of our property is forfeited to creditors, after three-and-a-half years of being servants and slaves in the Tribulation, there will be cause for rejoicing.
Jesus Christ will return and restore God’s government over all the earth. As King, He will administer and enforce God’s commandments, statutes and judgments. This world will be given a fresh start. The problems of the world will be solved; the wounds healed; the debts canceled.
Notice Luke 4:16-19: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Christ was quoting Isaiah 61:1-2. And the last part of that quote, “the acceptable year of the Lord,” is an allusion to the jubilee year. But He’s talking about a much greater jubilee—a millennial jubilee.
Imagine! This time around, Christ will raise up His spiritual nation, Israel, to be built on the foundation of the same laws He revealed thousands of years ago. And Christ will begin this millennial reign by first restoring the jubilee! Everyone will have a clean slate financially—all debts will be canceled. Christ will then determine fair and equitable boundaries in which all will live. All will be given their fair portion—their inheritance. Micah 4:4 says every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree. In God’s nation, all citizens will own property. And as God always intended for ancient Israel, all laws, including financial laws, will be based upon the supreme law of love—the way of give.
We should point out that, anciently, Israel did charge reasonable interest rates on short-term loans to foreign countries. But they were a carnal people who did not have God’s Spirit. They didn’t have God’s love. In the World Tomorrow, however, God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. All will be expected to live the way of give. No more interest on loans. No more skyrocketing inflation. No more poverty that grows worse with each passing generation. No more financial disasters like what has happened in Russia. No more recessions.
There will be peace, happiness, prosperity and abundance for all mankind. What a beautiful time that will be! If you would like an in-depth look into this future utopia, defined in Acts 3:19 as the “times of refreshing,” please ask for your own free copy of Mystery of the Ages. The final chapter of this 363-page book gives a concise, yet detailed, description of this coming age. Most people do not know how much the Bible describes this refreshingly new society. Mystery of the Ages puts these many biblical passages together in one uninterrupted narrative so that you might understand the Bible. Write for your free copy today to get a glimpse of tomorrow’s world—a time when God’s economy will be set up to prevent poverty and reward those who work diligently.