Friday Psalm II: Walking Righteously and Lending Money to the Poor

So it’s been three weeks since I said I was going to do a weekly psalm. Sorry about that. Let’s try to get this restarted today with Palm 15, a little five-verse psalm about what it means to walk  with God.

1 Who can live in your tent, LORD?
Who can dwell on your holy mountain?
2 The person who
lives free of blame,
does what is right,
and speaks the truth sincerely;
3 who does no damage with their talk,
does no harm to a friend,
doesn’t insult a neighbor;
4 someone who despises
those who act wickedly,
but who honors those
who honor the LORD;
someone who keeps their promise
even when it hurts;
5 someone who doesn’t lend money
with interest,
who won’t accept a bribe
against any innocent person.
Whoever does these things
will never stumble.

I think it’s interesting how most of these are probably what we would consider standard biblical admonitions: be kind to neighbors, abhor wickedness, honor others and keep your promises. Oh, and don’t lend money with interest.

The Old Testament law was particularly adamant about charging interest:

Exodus 22:25:

If you lend money to my people who are poor among you, don’t be a creditor and charge them interest.

Leviticus 25:35-37:

If one of your fellow Israelites faces financial difficulty and is in a shaky situation with you, you must assist them as you would an immigrant or foreign guest so that they can survive among you. Do not take interest from them, or any kind of profit from interest, but fear your God so that your fellow Israelite can survive among you. Do not lend a poor Israelite money with interest or lend food at a profit.

Nehemiah 5:9-11:

What you are doing isn’t good! Why don’t you walk in the fear of our God? This will prevent the taunts of the nations that are our enemies! I myself, along with my family and my servants, am lending them money and grain. But let’s stop charging this interest! Give it back to them, right now. Return their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses. And give back the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you are charging them.

And it’s not just the Old Testament, as evidenced by Jesus’ words in Luke 6:34-35:

If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people.

Heck, the apocrypha gets in on the act, too, in 4 Maccabees 2:8:

As soon as people who love money decide to live according to the Law, they are forced to change their way of life, lending to those who ask without charging interest and canceling all debts in the seventh year.

Why don’t we emphasize these more as Christians? And what should these injunctions, which cross both testaments and are addressed specifically by Jesus himself, mean for those of us who follow Christ while running financial institutions in a day of chronic unemployment?

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2 comments on “Friday Psalm II: Walking Righteously and Lending Money to the Poor

  1. Personal thoughts (as usual); see what you think. Taking interest out of the equation makes it impossible to look at helping others (lending money) as a way to make a profit (interest). It forces us a step away from the idea that our blessings are something we should seek to control, and another step closer to the idea that they were given to us with a purpose outside our personal lives. These passages also remind me of the concept of the Year of Jubilee.

    Passages like the ones you have here also remind me of the picture of the early church in Acts 2; believers “having everything in common” etc. As if, ideally, there’s enough give and take according to need that the line between gift and loan becomes very blurred indeed.

  2. Paul says:

    One of the other things these passages indicate to me is that ancient Israel never really followed the lending requirements. Despite regulations in Exodus and Leviticus, Deuteronomy, believed to have been written around the time of the reforms of King Josiah, adds lots of qualifications, including that it’s OK for business, which would make sense given how much more urban Israel was at the time (of course, some believe all of the Pentateuch was written after the exile, so it’s tricky trying to parse out the changes and contradictions in the three different law codes). Nehemiah comes in after the exile, and the practice is clearly going on, and it’s obviously going on in the time of Jesus.

    Like the Year of Jubilee, which also was never actually enforced, it seems these laws carried more weight as metaphors or analogies than as literal binding regulations.

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