If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbour’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is the cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious (Ex.22:25-27).
Servitude is a fact of life. This is one of the themes of Exodus. But the children of Israel, having escaped the tyrannical control of Pharoah in Egypt, were very slow to get the message: their new-found God-given freedom was given by Him, so they could worship and serve Him. This would be the basis of their future freedom.
People today frequently proclaim their desire for the forms of freedom, while they amass large, unwarranted amounts of debt on their credit card or property mortgage. Whether they acknowledge it or not, their debt has become the means of their servitude. So the question is never whether we will serve, or not. It is always, “Whom shall we serve?”
The poor person who needs to borrow for the basics of life is in a vulnerable position. God considers it a heinous thing to capitalise on this, by compelling someone to pay interest on a charitable loan. The Bible explains that “the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Prov.22:7).
Now the lender may self-righteously claim, “Well he owes me money, and I want to encourage him to pay it back, so I’ll charge him interest while he owes me.” But this text shows that God considers all lending and borrowing to be subject to His law. The very nature of a charitable loan means this: it is not to be with a view to making money from the borrower. Its motivation must be a love for God and His people, and to help someone in need.
This negative command to charitable lenders is matched by God’s promises to them:
How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth (Ps.41:1-2).
He who despises his neighbour sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor (Prov.14:21).
He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honours Him (Prov.14:31).
One who is gracious to the poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed (Prov.19:17).
He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses (Prov.28:27).
Notice too, that the text pictures lending and borrowing in an individual context: “you shall not charge him…” Welfare and “compassion” is never a task of civil government. According to the Bible, it is always an individual, family or church responsibility. The Bible never authorises any form of government initiated “welfare.”
As Ronald Reagan stated in 1985, “Government that is big enough to give you everything you want is more likely to simply take everything you’ve got.”