25. If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.
25. Si pecuniam mutuam dederis populo, meo pauperi qui est tecum, non eris ei sicut usurarius: non imponetis ei usuram.
Before descending to speak of loans, God here adverts to poverty and distress, (Leviticus 25:35,) whereby men's minds may be disposed to compassion. If any one be afflicted with poverty, he commands us to relieve his necessity. He makes use, however, of a metaphor,2 that he who is tottering should be strengthened, as if by catching hold of his hand. What follows about the stranger and sojourner extends and amplifies, in my opinion, the previous sentence; as if it were said that, since humanity is not to be denied even to strangers, much more is assistance to be given to their brethren. For, when it pleased God that strangers should be permitted to inhabit the land, they were to be kindly treated3 according to the rights of hospitality; for to allow them to live is to make their condition just and tolerable. And thus God indirectly implies, that such unhappy persons are expelled and driven away, so as not to live, if they are oppressed by unjust burdens. This, then, is the sum of the first sentence, that the rich, who has the ability, should uplift the poor man who is failing, by his assistance, or should strengthen the tottering.
A precept is added as to lending without interest, which, although it is a political law, still depends on the rule of charity; inasmuch as it can scarcely happen but that the poor should be entirely drained by the exaction of interest, and that their blood should be almost sucked away. Nor had God any other object in view, except that mutual and brotherly affection should prevail amongst the Israelites. It is plain that this was a part of the Jewish polity, because it was lawful to lend at interest to the Gentiles, which distinction the spiritual law does not admit. The judicial law, however, which God prescribed to His ancient people, is only so far abrogated as that what charity dictates should remain, i.e., that our brethren, who need our assistance, are not to be treated harshly. Moreover, since the wall of partition, which formerly separated Jew and Gentile, is now broken down, our condition is now different; and consequently we must spare all without exception, both as regards taking interest, and any other mode of extortion; and equity is to be observed even towards strangers. "The household of faith." indeed, holds the first rank, since Paul commands us specially to do good to them, (Galatians 6:10;) still the common society of the human race demands that we should not seek to grow rich by the loss of others.
As touching the political law, no wonder that God should have permitted His people to receive interest, from the Gentiles, since otherwise a just reciprocity would not have been preserved, without which one party must needs be injured. God commands His people not to practice usury, and still lays the Jews alone, and not foreign nations, under the obligation of this law. In order, therefore, that equality (ratio analogica) might be preserved, He accords4 the same liberty to His people which the Gentiles would assume for themselves; for this is the only intercourse that can be endured, when the condition of both parties is similar and equal. For when Plato5 asserts that usurers are not to be tolerated[in a well-ordered republic, lie does not go further than to enjoin, that its citizens should abstain from that base and. dishonest traffic between each other.
The question now is, whether usury is evil in itself; and surely that which heathens even have detested appears to be by no means lawful to the children of God. We know that the name of usurer has everywhere and always been infamous and detested. Thus Cato,6 desiring to commend agriculture, says that thieves were formerly condemned to a fine of double, and usurers quadruple; from which he infers, that the latter were deemed the worst. And when asked what he thought of usury, he replied, "What do I think of killing a man?" whereby he wished to show, that it was as improper to make money by usury as to commit murder. This was the swing of one private individual, yet it is derived from the opinions of almost all nations and persons. And assuredly from this cause great tumults often arose at Rome, and fatal contentions were awakened between the common people and the rich; since it can hardly be but that usurers suck men's blood like leeches. But if we come to an accurate decision as to the thing itself, our determination must be derived from nowhere else than the universal rule of justice, and especially from the declaration of Christ, on which hang the law and the prophets, -- Do not unto others what ye would not have done to thyself. (Matthew 7:12.) For crafty men are for ever inventing some little subterfuge or other to deceive God. Thus, when all men detested the word foenus, another was substituted, which might avoid unpopularity under an honest pretext; for they called it usury, as being a compensation for the loss a man had incurred by losing the use of his money. But7 there is no description of foenus to which this specious name may not be extended; for whosoever has any ready money, and is about to lend it, he will allege that it would be profitable to himself if he were to purchase8 something with it, and that at every moment opportunities of gain are presenting themselves. Thus there will be always ground for his seeking compensation, since no creditor could ever lend money without loss to himself. Thus usury,9 since the word is equivalent to foenus, is but a covering for an odious practice, as if such glosses would deliver us in God's judgment, where nothing but absolute integrity can avail for our defense. There was almost a similar mode of subterfuge among the Israelites. The name
Let us now examine the words. In the first place, where we have translated the words, "Thou shalt not be to him as a usurer,"13 there is some ambiguity in the Hebrew word
The third passage, however, admirably explains the meaning of God, since it extends usury to corn and wine, and all other articles. For many contracts were invented by artful men, whereby they pillaged the needy without ignominy or disgrace: and now-a-days no rapacity is more cruel than that which imposes a payment upon debtors, without any mention of usury; for instance, if a poor man should ask the loan of six measures of wheat, the creditor will require seven to be repaid; or if the same thing should happen as regards wine. This profit will not be called usury, because no money will pass; but God, indirectly casting ridicule upon their craftiness, shows that this plague of usury16extends itself to various things, and to almost all sorts of traffic; whence it clearly appears that nothing else is prescribed to the Israelites, but that they should humanely assist each other. But, since cupidity blinds men, and carries them, aside to dishonest dealings, God sets His blessing in opposition to all such iniquitous arts, whereby they hawk, as it were, for gain; and commands them to look for riches rather to Him the author of all good things, than to hunt for them by rapine and fraud.
2 Margin. A. V., "If his hand faileth, then thou shalt strengthen him." "When a man is so impoverished that he hath no means, they are commanded to strengthen him, as taking him by the hand; so the Lord is said to strengthen the right hand of Cyrus, when he assisted him against his enemies, Isaiah 45:11, etc." -- Willet, in loco.
3 "Il a entendu qu'on les traittast humainement;" He implied that they should be treated with humanity. -- Fr.
4 "Il permet aux Juifs pareille liberte envers les nations estranges, que les Payens se donnoyent envers les Juifs; "He permits the Jews to have equal liberty with respect to foreign nations, with that which the heathen gave themselves with respect to the Jews. -- Fr.
6 "Furem dupli condenmari, foeneratorem quadrupli." Cato de R. Rust. in procem. "Ex quo genere comparationis illud est Catonis senis; a quo quum quaereretur, quid maxime in re familiari expediret, respondit, Bene pascere. Quid secundum? Satis bene pascere. Quid tertium? Male pascere. Quid quartum? orare. Et, cum ille, qui quaesierat, dixisset, Quid foenerari? Tum Cato, Quid hominem, inquit, occidere?" Cic. de Off. 2:24.
7 In Fr. the following sentence is here inserted: -- "Ce titre la doncques a este favorable: comme en nostre langage Francois le mot d'Usure sera assez en horreur, mais les interests ont la vogue sous nulle difficulte ni scrupule:" This title then was an euphemism, as in our French language, the word Usury will be sufficiently dreaded, whilst Interest is current without difficulty or scruple. Say. Econ. Polit. B. 2 Ch. 8 Section 1., tells us that, "L'interet...s'appelait, auparavant usure, et c'etait le mot propre, puisque l'interet est un prix, un loyer qu'on paie pour avoir la jouissance d'une valeur. Mais ce mot est devenu odieux; il ne reveille plus que l'idee d'un interet illegal, exorbitant, et on lui en a substitue un autre plus honnete et moins expressif selon la coutume."
8 "Terre ou marchandise." -- Fr.
9 "Ainsi, combien que ce nom d'Usure ait este favorable de soy du commencement, en la fin il a este diffame;" Thus, although this word Usury was of no ill meaning in its origin, in the end it has been abused. -- Fr.
11 Addition in Fr., "Je say qu'on nomme cela Interest, mais ce m'est tout un:" I know that they call this interest, but this is all the same to me.
12 Polit., lib. 1. cap. 10. "The enemies to interest in general, (says Blackstone,) make no distinction between that and usury, holding any m-crease of money to be indefensibly usurious. And this they ground, as well on the prohibition of it by the Law of Moses among the Jews, as also upon what is said to be laid down by Aristotle, that money is naturally barren, and to make it breed money is preposterous, and a perversion of the end of its institution, which was only to serve the purposes of exchange, and not of increase." The hypothetical form in which he attributes this dictum to Aristotle, he explains in a note to be, because "this passage hath been suspected to be spurious." -- Comment, on the Laws of England, b. 2. ch. 30 sec. 454.
13 C. here uses the word foenerator; whereas his translation is, it will be seen, usurarius.
14 A. V., "The extortioner."
15 "Neque id (quod stultissimum est) certare cum usuris fructibus praediorurn." Cic. Or. in Cat. 2da. 8, i.e., says Facciolati in voce certo, "tot usuris se onerare, ut praediorum fructus exaequent: qua ratione fructus cum usuris committuntur, et certant, et plerumque superantur, quia usurae quotannis certae sunt, fructus autem incerti." Fr., "Car combien que ceux qui possedent beaucoup soyent aucunefois epuisez, pource qu'ils ne sont que receveurs de ceux auxquels ils doyvent;" for, although those who possess much are often ruined, because they are only the receivers of their creditors, etc.
16 Foenebre malum." -- Lat. "Ceste vermine d'usure." -- Fr.