Read Chapter V - Denunciation of Jeremiah and Ezekiel of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

The Hebrew nation reached its summit of power and glory during the reign of King Solomon, but corruption crept in and disintegration followed, and a series of conflicts between portions of the kingdom. The laws given by Moses were neglected, and a long period of gross sinning followed. They were warned by the faithful yet hopeful prophet Isaiah that the overthrow of their nation was certain, and that their people would be carried captive to a strange land unless they forsook utterly their sins and turned to righteousness. They did not heed and the predicted calamities came upon them.

In the midst of these calamities the contemporary prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel ministered. They differed greatly in their dispositions.

Jeremiah was a complainer. Always bemoaning his own and his people’s hard lot. The Lamentations are recognized as the best extant expression of unmitigated grief. He lamented his birth because he was treated as a usurer and oppressor, when he had never exacted usury, nor had business with usurers. Je:10: “Woe, is me, my brother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth. I have neither lent on usury, nor have men lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me.”

Ezekiel was always patient, faithfully proclaiming his messages, and suffering in silence. The completeness of his self-control and patient suffering is shown in the short but pathetic description of the death of his beloved wife, yet at the divine command he repressed his grief and delivered his message the following morning. Ezekiel 24:15-18: “Also the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke; yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down. Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thy head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover up thy lips, and eat not the bread of men. So I spake of people in the morning; and at even my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.”

These prophets were familiar with the same scenes. They met the same sins. Some have thought they exchanged messages, sending them respectively to Jerusalem and Chaldea for encouragement and confirmation. This was the opinion of Jerome.

In a catalogue of the sins prevailing in Jerusalem, for which the judgment of God came upon them, this prophet places “Usury and increase.” Ezekiel 22: 7-12: “In thee have they set light by father and mother: in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger: in thee have they vexed the fatherless and the widow. Thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my Sabbaths. In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness. In thee have they discovered their father’s nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbor’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter. In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God.”

It would not be easy to give a list of more gross and flagrant sins than those associated with usury in this passage. They are all, always and everywhere, sinful. In no condition can they be lawful and right.

One of the answers familiar to both Jeremiah and Ezekiel when the people were reproved for their sins and exhorted to forsake them, that the divine judgments might be removed, was this, that their sufferings were not on their own account, but for the sins of their fathers. They thus met the charge of personal sins and claimed their sufferings were inherited and unavoidable. Their fathers had indulged in sin and they must reap the consequences. They complained that this was hardness in God. They expressed this murmur by a proverb. Je:29: “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

The answer of the prophet Jeremiah briefly is, that every one shall answer for his own sin. Je:30: “But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.”

This same proverb was repeatedly given to Ezekiel, as an excuse for continuing in sins, even when the judgments of God were upon them. The word of the Lord came more fully and explicitly to him.

Ezekiel declares that the sins of the fathers were visited on the children only when they continued in their father’s iniquity. That those who forsook the sins of their fathers and were righteous, were free from the punishment of the unrighteous parents.

Ezekiel 18:1-17: “The word of God came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, and hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbor’s wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman, (i.e. neither hath committed a rape,) and hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment. He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man. Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God.”

“If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things; and that doeth not any of those duties but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbor’s wife, hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination, hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: Shall he then live? He shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him. Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like: that hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbor’s wife, neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment, that hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury or increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.”

It will be noticed that usury or increase is here mentioned among the grossest and foulest sins of which that people were guilty. They are placed by the prophet in the worst possible company. He classifies them among those things that can never be right. There is no qualification of “increase” great or small, nor of “usury” whether the loan be domestic or commercial, whether for personal need, or to go into business, whether the borrower be poor or rich.

Usury is mentioned as “malum per se.” “Usury and increase” are treated as sinful in themselves, just as fraud, violence, impurity, and idolatry are sinful, and can never be innocent unless their very natures are reversed. When there is fraud without dishonesty, and violence without injury, and adultery without impurity, and idolatry without false worship, then may there be “usury and increase” without injustice and oppression. “Some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations are more heinous in the sight of God than others,” the prophet Ezekiel places “usury or increase” in the list of “abominations.”