Lending and Borrowing
Lending and borrowing are key activities in any economic system. The Bible emphasises these transactions which demonstrates that they matter to God, and have been important throughout time. This was the case before complex lending and borrowing such as mortgages, 'sale and lease-back', or hedge fund securities lending. Indeed, lending and borrowing are more pivotal to the balance of wealth in society than one might assume. Contemporary society bears increasing debt at household, company and governmental levels. There is something inherently theological about borrowing, because all of creation belongs to God (Genesis 1:1, Joshua 2:11, Psalm 24:1, 1 Chronicles 29:11). While humans may borrow from God, we have only temporal stewardship until Jesus returns, because he has ultimate sovereignty (Revelation 22).
A. Lending and Borrowing in the Context of the OT Agricultural Economy
1. Lending should be a gracious response to poverty rather that motivated by greed.
Lending is commanded as a response to the poor.
Deuteronomy 15:8 You shall open your hand to [the poor] and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
Proverbs 3:27-28 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
Lending can be an action of response from people concerned with justice.
Psalm 112:5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice.
Lending can be an outcome of God's blessings.
Deuteronomy 28:12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.
Psalm 37:26 He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.
God sees generous actions as lending to him, which he will reward.
Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
Borrowing without repayment is seen as wicked.
Psalm 37:21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.
2. Interest on borrowing is inappropriate within the community of faith.
Exodus 22:25 If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.
Deuteronomy 23:19-20 You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
Ezekiel 18:13 Lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.
Ezekiel 18:8 Does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man.
Leviticus 25:35-37 If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.
3. Collateral is a sensitive issue which requires compassionate consideration.
Exodus 22:26-27 If ever you take your neighbour's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
Proverbs 22:26-27 Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?
Ezekiel 18:7 Does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.
4. Forgiveness of debt as a consequence of the fear of God.
Deuteronomy 15:1-7 “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release [from debts]... If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.
B. Borrowing and Lending Due to Oppression or Resulting in Oppression in the OT
1. Borrowing is often regrettable but may be a stage in redressing imbalances.
Receiving lending can be a sign of a reversal of God's blessings.
Deuteronomy 28:44 He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.
Borrowing can lead to slavery. Relationships can become asymmetric once borrowing is involved.
Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
Borrowing may be caused by systemic sin which requires righteous leaders to redress.
Nehemiah 5:1-13 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
Both borrower and lender will be judged by God.
Isaiah 24:2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
2. Debt can be a force for discontent which God can use to create social change.
1 Samuel 22:2 And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
C. Lending and Borrowing in the NT
1. Continuation of OT teaching on the seriousness of debt and the obligation to lend.
Matthew 5:26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
2. God will reward those who lend, expecting nothing in return.
Luke 6:34-35 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 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 evil.
3. The follower of Christ should aim to live debt-free.
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
4. Decisions about temporary finance should be made remembering that God is faithful.
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Suggested derivative social principles:
1. The purpose of lending is not exploiting the borrower but rather responding to the generosity with which God has blessed the one who is able to lend.
2. The borrower is responsible for repayment.
3. Lending to those who have fallen on hard times should be generous (not grudging), interest free, not involve onerous collateral, and in expectation of, but not demanding, repayment.
4. There should be provision for debt forgiveness, so burden of debt does not become insupportable.
5. Be alert to the asymmetry of power between lenders and borrowers which can exacerbate inequality and lead to oppression.
6. Commercial lending and borrowing at interest is admissible (Deuteronomy 23:19-20) but subject to general requirements for market transactions to be relational and to consider the situation of the other party [see Calvin’s treatment of this matter, and his concerns about market lending].
7. Accumulation of debt to finance a materialistic/hedonistic lifestyle is wrong.
Lending and borrowing are commonplace across the world. The Bible has much to say about these activities, relevant to the household level and also across production, trade and economics. Lending and borrowing underpin much of the global economy, and are increasingly more prevalent than outright purchases or sales. Witness the rise in mortgage lending, where most of the transaction (apart from the deposit) is based around a loan/repayment agreement. Consider the government bond markets, which are the largest financial markets at present; essentially, governments borrow money from the bond-holders who are individuals or organisations. The biblical system is radically different, as illustrated by Leviticus 25, which puts the themes of lending and borrowing in context, with the example of the year of Jubilee.
- Read Leviticus 25, and describe how the theme of liberation is applied to land, homes and people.
- Loans are described in Deuteronomy 15:1-11. What do we think about the periodicity of the forgiveness described? Who is responsible for initiating forgiveness? Why was it permitted to charge foreigners interest? Would we be willing to avoid interest as a society if it contributed to having no poor people? How do we view lending to many nations? Proverbs 22:7 demonstrates the relationship between the rich and the poor with regard to rulership and service; how does this connect with the obligation to love your neighbour?
- Collateral is used to reduce risk to the lender in many loans. Exodus 22:25-27 and Deuteronomy 24:6, 10-13 give examples. Do changes in society over three millennia make these commands less relevant today; if so, why?
- Interest is a theme of many passages throughout the Old Testament. Read Leviticus 25:36-37. What is the benefit of the restriction? How does the fear of God relate to living as community? Ezekiel 18:3-13 concerns the themes of “restoring to the debtor” (v7) and “not taking usury, nor increase” (v8).
- Nehemiah 5:1-12 gives an example of a reformation of interest across society. What were the causes for Nehemiah’s anger? How might such a paradigm shift work today?
- What did Jesus borrow in Luke 19:30? How do we learn from his example?
- 2 Kings 6:1-7 recalls a story about lending. What do you notice about the intentions behind the construction project, and the attitude of the person borrowing the axe?
- Deuteronomy 28:44 suggests a connection between borrowing and disobedience. What do you think of this?
- How does Proverbs 19:17 tell us that we can lend to the Lord? To what effect?
- Read Luke 6:34-5. Why do you think Jesus emphasises giving as opposed to lending?
- Romans 3:22 tells us that God gives us righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. We do not “borrow” his righteousness. It is a gift, freely given. What difference does this gift make to the way we behave?
- What does Romans 13:8 tell us about owing anything to somebody?
- How well do you lend? Can you think of how you could lend better? What about your lending (investing) to banks? What about to brothers and sisters in Christ or people in need?
- How well do you borrow? Where do you borrow? Credit cards, car loans, education, spending, mortgages, investment? Is there some borrowing you would do better without? Are there times you would rather not have borrowed?
[Ranjeet Guptara, November 2014]