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Written by Jim Jordal   
Friday, 28 August 2009

JUBILEE PRINCIPLE: NO USURY

By Jim Jordal

"If your brother has become poor, and his hand can't support him among you; then you shall uphold him. As a stranger and a sojourner he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God; that your brother may live among you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God."

Leviticus 25:35-38 (WEB)

Jubilee law prohibited the taking of any increase (interest, usury) on money, food, or other commodities loaned to needy fellow Israelites, except during periods when favorable economic circumstances eradicated poverty from the land. However, strangers (non-Israelites) could be assessed interest charges on loans.

Business loans in that rather primitive economy were essentially unheard-of, so money was borrowed mostly because of crop failure and what we might call poor management. Since land was usually offered as collateral, such loans directly threatened the Jubilee provision that each family should earn sustenance from its own land. If interest were charged on the loan the potential for loss became even greater.

Today we quibble over whether usury and interest are synonymous, or if usury means only excessive interest. But we miss the point! It isn’t how much increase is charged; it’s what the practice does to society. The Jubilee prohibition of interest understood that charging increase on loans produced economic bondage, transferred resources from poor borrowers to rich creditors, encouraged destabilizing capital accumulation, threatened family welfare, and lessened community solidarity by creating a class structure of uplifted creditors and subservient debtors.

God-given Jubilee principles of economic justice had the intention of creating a national alternative to the injustices and oppressions endured by the surrounding peoples. Israel was to be different, ruled directly by God and having political, economic, and social systems based upon freedom and justice for all. Thus the Jubilee requirements for fair treatment of debtors and the prohibition of usury.

 

Applied today, the Jubilee principle forbidding interest is not as drastic as it sounds. Banks would still exist as service institutions earning profits, not from interest on loans they create, but by providing safe keeping of money and various other necessary community financial services. People with excess money could still make loans, but rather than receiving interest they would get a one-time fee for their lost alternative uses of the funds. The basic Jubilee principle behind these requirements is that the financial sector should provide service rather than potential oppression to the community and nation.

It seems today as if America’s financial leaders have little or no comprehension of the overall bad effects of their leveraged buyouts, sub-prime loans, tax avoidance schemes, accumulation of capital at the expense of the poor, predatory lending practices, and numerous market manipulations all aimed at increasing profits. They claim to value economic stability, but their actions belie their words.

So who would benefit from the application of Jubilee debt and interest provisions today? How about our grandchildren now burdened by an almost $12 trillion national debt with billions added almost daily? How about the 45 million Americans with no health insurance? How about the poor facing crushing credit card debt at extremely high interest rates? How about the disappearing middle class harassed on every side by rising prices, lowered incomes, mortgage foreclosures, and skyrocketing medical and educational costs?

How about almost everybody else except perhaps the small group perched atop the income pyramid who profit from the labor and travail of everyone else?

It’s economic heresy to claim that we could prosper without a financial system based upon bank-created money, often-usurious interest rates, debt-fueled massive consumption, and the consequent bankruptcies of millions and the suffering of hundreds of millions more. We don’t seem to understand it, but God does. That’s why He instituted Jubilee for His people. And that’s also why sooner or later we as a nation will be forced by circumstance in the form of massive economic instability and upheaval to accept God’s way to national prosperity, peace, and health. It’s foreordained!