By Ranjeet Guptara
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, I 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 than 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 ofGod'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 New Testament
1. Continuation of O.T. 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 6:34-5 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.
[Ranjit Guptara, November 2014]