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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(שְׁאֵלָה, sheelah'; 1 Samuel 2:20, a petition or request, as elsewhere rendered). The law of Moses did not contemplate any raising of loans for the purpose of obtaining capital, a condition perhaps alluded to in the arables of the "pearl" and "hidden treasure" (Matthew 13:44-45; Michaelis, Comm. on Laws of Moses, art. 147, 2:297, edit. Smith). (See COMMERCE). Such persons as bankers and sureties, in the commercial sense (Proverbs 22:26; Nehemiah 5:3), were unknown to the earlier ages of the Hebrew commonwealth. The Mosaic laws which relate to the subject of borrowing, lending, and repaying are in substance as follows: If an Israelite became poor, what he desired to borrow was to be freely lent to him, and no interest, either of money or produce, could be exacted from him; interest might be taken of a foreigner, but not of an Israelite by another Israelite (Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Leviticus 25:35-38). At the end of every seven years a remission of debts was ordained; every creditor was to remit what he had lent: of a foreigner the loan might be exacted, but not of a brother. If an Israelite wished to borrow, he was not to be refused because the year of remission was at hand (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). Pledges might be taken, but not as such the mill or the upper millstone, for that would be to take a man's life in pledge. If the pledge was raiment, it was to be given back before sunset, as being needful for a covering at night.
The widow's garment could not be taken in pledge (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:6; Deuteronomy 24:17). The law thus strictly forbade any interest to be taken for a loan to any poor person, either in the shape of money or of produce, and at first, as it seems, even in the case of a foreigner; but this prohibition was afterwards limited to Hebrews only, from whom, of whatever rank. not only was no usury on any pretense to be exacted, but relief to the poor by way of loan was enjoined, and excuses for evading this duty were forbidden (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 25:37 Deuteronomy 15:3; Deuteronomy 15:7-10; Deuteronomy 23:19-20). The instances of extorio onu metioate conduct mentioned with disapprobation in the book of Job probably represent a state of things previous to the law, and such as the law was intended to remedy (Job 22:6; Job 24:3; Job 24:7). As commerce increased, the practice of usury, and so also of suretyship, grew up; but the exaction of it from a Hebrew appears to have been regarded to a late period as discreditable (Proverbs 6:1; Proverbs 6:4; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 20:16; Proverbs 22:26; Psalms 15:5; Psalms 27:13; Jeremiah 15:10; Ezekiel 18:13; Ezekiel 22:12). Systematic breach of the law in this respect was corrected by Nehemiah after the return from captivity (Nehemiah 5:13; see Michaelis, ibid. arts. 148, 151). In later times the practice of borrowing money appears to have prevailed without limitation of race, and to have been carried on upon systematic principles, though the original spirit of the law was approved by our Lord (Matthew 5:42; Matthew 25:27; Luke 6:35; Luke 19:23). The money-changers' (κερματισταί and κολλυβισταί), who had seats and tables in the Temple, were traders whose profits arose chiefly from the exchange of money with those who came to pay their annual half shekel (Pollux, 3:84; 7:170; Schleusner, LexL. N.T. s.v.; Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. at Matthew 21:12). The documents relating to loans of money appear to have been deposited in public offices in Jerusalem (Josephus, War, 2:17, 6).
In making loans no prohibition is pronounced in the law against taking a pledge of the borrower, but certain limitations are prescribed in favor of the poor. 1. The outer garment, which formed the poor man's principal covering by night as well as by day, if taken in pledge, was to be returned before sunset. A bedstead, however, might be taken (Exodus 22:26-27, Deuteronomy 24:12-13; comp. Job 22:6; Proverbs 22:27; Shaw, Trav. page 224; Burckhardt, Notes on Bed. 1:47, 231; Niebuhr, Descr. Deuteronomy 1'Ar. page 56; Lane, Mod. Eg. 1:57, 58; Gesen. Thessaur. page 403; Michaelis, Laws of Moses, arts. 143 and 150).
2. The prohibition was absolute in the case of (the widow's garment (Deuteronomy 24:17), and (b) a millstone of either kind (Deuteronomy 24:6). Michaelis (art. 150, 2:321) supposes also all indispensable animals and utensils of agriculture; see also Mishna, Maautser Sheri. 1
3. A creditor was forbidden to enter a house to reclaim a pledge, but was to stand outside till the borrower should come forth to return it (Deuteronomy 24:10-11).
4. The original Roman law of debt permitted the debtor to be enslaved by his creditor until the debt was discharged (Livy, 2:23; Appian, Ital. page 40); and he might even be put to death by him, though this extremity does not appear to have been ever practiced (Gell. 20:1, 45, 52; Smith, Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Bonorum Cessio, Nexum). In Athens also the creditor had a claim to the person of the debtor (Plutarch, Vit. Sol. 15). The Jewish law, as it did not forbid temporary bondage in the case of debtors, yet forbade a Hebrew debtor to be detained as a bondsman longer than the seventh year, or at furthest the year of jubilee (Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:39; Leviticus 25:42; Deuteronomy 15:9). If a Hebrew was sold in this way to a foreign sojourner, he might be redeemed at a valuation at any time previous to the jubilee year, and in that year was, under any circumstances, to be released. Foreign sojourners, however, were not entitled to release at that time (Leviticus 25:44; Leviticus 25:46-47; Leviticus 25:54; 2 Kings 4:2; Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 52:3). Land sold on account of debt was redeemable either by the seller himself, or by a kinsman in case of his inability to repurchase. Houses in walled towns, except such as belonged to Levites, if not redeemed within one year after sale, were alienated forever. Michaelis doubts whether all debt was extinguished by the jubilee; but Josephus's account is very precise (Ant. 3:12, 3; comp. Leviticus 25:23; Leviticus 25:34; Ruth 4:4; Ruth 4:10; see Michaelis, § 158, 2:360). In later times the sabbatical or jubilee release was superseded by a law, probably introduced by the Romans, by which the debtor was liable to be detained in prison until the full discharge of his debt (Matthew 5:26). Michaelis thinks this doubtful. The case imagined in the parable of the unmerciful servant belongs rather to despotic Oriental than Jewish manners (Matthew 18:34, Michaelis, ibids. art. 149; Trench, Parables, page 141). Subsequent Jewish opinions on loans and usury may be seen in the Mishna, Buabal Meziah. c. 3:10. (See JUBILEE).
These laws relating to loans may wear a strange and somewhat unreasonable aspect to the mere modern reader, and cannot be understood, either in their bearing or their sanctions, unless considered from the Biblical point of view. The land of Canaan (as the entire world) belonged to its Creator, but was given of God to the descendants of Abraham under certain conditions, of which this liberality to the needy was one. The power of getting loans, therefore, was a part of the poor man's inheritance. It was a lien on the land (the source of all property with agricultural people), which was as valid as the tenure of any given portion by the tribe or family to whose lot it had fallen. This is the light in which the Mosaic polity represents the matter, and in this light, so long as that polity retained its force, would it, as a matter of course, be regarded by the owners of property. Thus the execution of this particular law was secured by the entire force with which the constitution itself was recommended and sustained. But as human selfishness might in time endanger this particular set of laws, so Moses applied special support to the possibly weak part. Hence the emphasis with which he enjoins the duty of lending to the needy.
Of this emphasis the real essence is the sanction supplied by that special providence which lay at the very basis of the Mosaic commonwealth, so that lending to the destitute came to be enforced with all the power derivable from the express will of God. Nor are there wanting arguments sufficient to vindicate these enactments in the light of sound political economy, at least in the case of the Jewish people. Had the Hebrews enjoyed a free intercourse with other nations, the permission to take usury of foreigners might have had the effect of impoverishing Palestine by affording a strong inducement for employing capital abroad; but, under the actual restrictions of the Mosaic law, this evil was impossible. Some not inconsiderable advantages must have ensued from the observance of these laws. The entire alienation and loss of the lent property were prevented by that peculiar institution which restored to every man his property at the great year of release. In the interval between the jubilees the system under consideration would tend to prevent those inequalities of social condition which always arise rapidly, and which have not seldom brought disaster and ruin on states. He affluently were required to part with a portion of their affluence to supply the wants of the needy, without exacting that recompense which would only make the rich more wealthy and the poor more needy, thus superinducing a state of things scarcely more injurious to the one than to the other of these two parties. There was also in this system a strongly conservative influence. Agriculture was the foundation of the constitution. Had money-lending been a trade, money-making would also have been eagerly pursued. Capital would be withdrawn from the land; the agriculturist would pass into the usurer; huge inequalities would arise, commerce would assume predominance, and the entire commonwealth be overturned — changes and evils which were prevented, or, if not so, certainly retarded and abated by the code of laws regarding loans. As it was, the gradually increasing wealth of the country was in the main laid out on the soil, so as to augment its productiveness and distribute its bounties. The same regulations, moreover, prevented those undue expansions of credit and those sudden fluctuations in the relative value of money and staple comnmodities which have so often brought on financial collapses and prostration in modern communities.
While, however, the benign tendency of the laws in question is admitted, and special objects may be adduced as attainable by them, may it not be questioned whether they were strictly just? Such a doubt could arise only in a mind which viewed the subject from the position of our actual society. A modern might plead that he had a right to do what he pleased with his own; that his property of every kind — land, food, money — was his own; and that he was justified to turn all and each part to account for his own benefit. Apart from religious considerations, this position is impregnable. But such a view of property finds no support in the Mosaic institutions. In them property has a divine origin and its use is entrusted to man on certain conditions, which conditions are as valid as is the tenure of property itself. In one sense, indeed, the entire land — all property — was a great loan, a loan lent of God to the people of Israel, who might well, therefore, acquiesce in any arrangement which required a portion — a small portion — of this loan to be under certain circumstances accessible to the destitute. This view receives confirmation from the fact that interest might be taken of persons who were not Hebrews, and therefore lay beyond the sphere embraced by this special arrangement. It would open too wide a field did we proceed to consider how far the Mosaic system might be applicable in the world at large; but this is very clear to our mind, that the theory of property on which it rests — that is, making property to be divine in its origin, and therefore tenable only on the fulfillment of such conditions as the great laws of religion and morality enforce — is more true and more philosophical (except in a college of atheists) than the narrow and baneful ideas which ordinarily prevail.
These views may prepare the reader for considering the doctrine of "the Great Teacher" on the subject of loans. It is found forcibly expressed in Luke's Gospel (Luke 6:34-35): "If ye lend to them of when ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again; but love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." The meaning of the passage is distinct and full, unmistakable, and not to be evaded. He commands men to lend, not as Jews to Jews, but even to enemies, without asking or receiving any return, after the manner of the Great Benefactor of the universe, who sends down his rains and bids his sun to shine on the fields of the unjust as well as of the just. To attempt to view this command in the light of reason and experience would require space which cannot here be given; but we must add, that any attempt to explain the injunction away is most unworthy on the part of professed disciples of Christ; and that, not impossibly at least, fidelity to the behests of him whom we call Lord and Master would of itself answer all doubts and remove all misgivings by practically showing that this, as every other doctrine that fell from his lips, is indeed of God (John 7:17). Yet, while we must maintain the paramount obligation of our Savior's precept, corroborative — and, indeed, expansive — as it is, of the essential principle of the Mosaic economy, namely, the inculcation of universal brotherly love, nevertheless common sense, no less than sound morality, dictates at least the following coordinate considerations, which should likewise be taken into the account in the exercise of Christian liberality, in loans as well as in gifts:
1. Due inquiry should be instituted, so as to satisfy the lender of the moral worthiness of the creditor, lest the loan, instead of being a benefaction, should really be but a stimulus to vice, or, at least, an encouragement to idleness. 2. The wants of one's own family and nearer dependents must not be sacrificed by ill-judged and untimely generosity.
3. Funds held in trust should be carefully discriminated from one's own personal property, and a greater degree of caution exercised in their administration.
4. We have no right to loan what is already due for our own debts — "We must be just before we are generous."
5. In fine, the great fact that we are but stewards of God's bounty should be the ruling thought in all our benefactions, whether in the form of loans or gifts, and we should therefore dispense funds so as to contribute most to the divine glory and the highest good of the recipients. This principle alone is the true corrective of all selfishness, whether parsimony on the one hand, or prodigality on the other. (See BORROW); (See LIED), etc.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Loan'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/l/loan.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.