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Deu:19, 20: “Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury. Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.”

While there is no reference to poverty in this passage and the prohibition cannot fairly be limited to loans to the poor, a shadow of permission to exact usury is found in the clause: “unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury.”

Hebrews, who have been anxious to obey the letter of the Mosaic law, while indifferent to its true spirit, have construed this into a permission to exact usury of all Gentiles. Christian apologists for usury, who have not utterly discarded all laws given by Moses as effete and no longer binding, have tried hard to show that this clause authorizes the general taking of interest. To do this it is wrested from its natural connection, and the true historic reference is ignored.

Three classes of persons, that were called strangers, may be noted for the purpose of presenting the true import of this passage.

1. Those were called strangers who were not of Hebrew blood, but were proselytes to the Hebrew faith and had cast their lot with them. They were mostly poor, for not belonging to any of the families of Jacob, they had no landed inheritance. The gleanings of the field and the stray sheaf were left for the fatherless, the poor, and these proselyted strangers. But they were to be received in love, and treated in all respects as those born of their own blood. E:48, 49: “And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcized, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcized person shall eat thereof. One law shall be to him that is home born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.”

Le:22: “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God.”

Nu:14: “And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the Lord; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.”

Nu:15, 16: “One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance forever in your congregations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.”

Of these strangers it is explicitly said they are to be treated precisely as brethren of their own blood.

Le:35, 36: “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.”

2. There was also another class of strangers, including all the nations that were not of Hebrew blood, by which they were surrounded. These traded with them and often sojourned for a more or less extended period among them for merely secular purposes, but never accepted their faith. For this reason they were often called sojourners. With us, in law, the former strangers would be known as “naturalized citizens,” these as “denizens,” residents in a foreign land for secular purposes. These denizens were to be dealt with justly, to be treated kindly and even with affection, remembering their long sojourn as strangers in Egypt. E:21: “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

E:9: “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

They were “denizens,” but not citizens of Egypt four hundred years.

Le:33, 34: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

This class of denizens or sojourners was also to be treated with the same kindness as their own blood.

Le:35, 36: “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God: that thy brother may live with thee.”

The sojourner or denizen is here distinguished from the stranger who had been naturalized, adopting their faith.

3. There was another class called strangers. This class was limited to the inhabitants of their promised land.

Robinson’s Bible Encyclopedia says, on this clause: “’Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury.’ In this place God seems to tolerate usury toward strangers: that is the Canaanites and other people devoted to subjection, but not toward such strangers against whom the Hebrews had no quarrel. To exact usury is here, according to Ambrose, an act of hostility. It was a kind of waging war with the Canaanites and ruining them by means of usury.”

God withheld his chosen people from taking possession of the promised land until “their iniquity was full” and the divine sentence of condemnation had been pronounced against them. They were to be rooted out of the land and utterly destroyed for their sins, and their land given to the chosen people. God declared that he would execute his sentence, driving them out before them, as his people should increase and be able to occupy the land. E:23, 28-32: “For mine angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Jebusite, and I will cut them off. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. And I will set my bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.”

E:10-12: “And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the Lord: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee.”

They were in no way to covenant with this people and interfere with the execution of divine judgment. They were commanded, willing or unwilling, to be in a measure the executioners of those under sentence. These people of Canaan were deprived of all rights by the divine sentence and the Israelites were not to grant any. To do so was direct disobedience, and yet most of the tribes failed to obey the command, permitting many of the inhabitants to remain.

When the Gibeonites deceived Joshua and secured a pledge, the pledge of their lives was kept, but they were made slaves, doomed to drudgery forever, “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Jos:23.

This compromise was contrary to the divine command for their utter destruction. To condone the guilt of these people, or to interfere with their execution, was as flagrant a violation of law as that of a modern community that seeks to protect criminals, or that interferes with the execution of those convicted of capital crimes.

This class of strangers had no rights that Hebrews were permitted to respect. They were not to be given any privileges. They were to be treated as Hindoo widows are treated, “accursed of the gods and hated of men.” Debts were not to be forgiven them. The year of Jubilee did not affect them. They remained enslaved forever. The Sabbath’s rest was only incidental, that there might be a complete cessation of all activities.

In the fourth commandment Deu:14, “thy stranger” is mentioned after the ox, ass, and cattle, and was given rest for the same reason the beasts are permitted to rest: “That thy man-servant and maid-servant may rest as well as thou.” They had not the rights of a common servant or slave. The carcass of the animal that died of itself could be given them to eat, and they could be charged usury.

Yet this clause has been seized upon by avaricious Jews as permission to exact usury of all the nations not of Hebrew blood, ignoring the fact that when given it was limited to those peoples under the curse of God for their iniquities. It can not justly be made to mean that the Hebrews have a right to treat other nations with less righteousness than they treat their own people.

It is an unwarranted broadening to make it a permission to exact usury from all the human race except from Hebrews.

It was chiefly the acting upon this false interpretation, classing all Gentiles with these strangers, accursed of God, that had no rights they were permitted to respect, that set every Gentile Christian’s hand against the Jews for fifteen hundred years.

Nothing more clearly marked the line between Christian and Hebrew during fifteen centuries than this one thing, that the Hebrews exacted usury or interest of the Gentiles while the Christians were unanimous in its denunciation, and forbade its practice.

Gentile Christian apologists for the taking of usury or interest, to overcome the force of this prohibition, are compelled to grant that Christians may be less brotherly than Hebrews: that the borrowers whether Christian or not are “strangers” to those who make them loans upon increase.