Deuteronomy 23:19-20 – God Wants Us To Worship Him Not Our Debts

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Book of Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 23:19-20

Charging Interest on Loans

 

Although I now have a credit score that I am very proud of, through hard work on my debts and simply being wise about new, bright and shiny, it was not that long ago that my financial situation was a horrid one. Stupid financial decisions in my past, divorces, repossessions and you have a credit score in the 400s. Getting loans for anything was almost impossible and interest rates were high when I was able to get a loan. When I was going through my second divorce in 2004 and from then until say 2007 was my low point from a credit perspective. With all the things that you have to pay for during a divorce combined with maintaining two houses and some stupid purchases, there was time that I had no choice but to get payday loans. You know those places where you get a $300 loan for two weeks and then have to pay them back $315 in two weeks. Sounds innocuous enough. But you get several of those going at one time and living from paycheck to paycheck you can get over your head pretty quickly. You can’t afford to lose $300 out of your next paycheck so you renew the loan and pay back $315 again on the next paycheck. It was a maddening cycle that was hard to get out of. Luckily, it was a cycle that I was eventually able to get out of, but there are those who are not so lucky.

 

If you do the calculations, $15 interest for two weeks is the equivalent of 130% annual interest rate. Payday loans are legal usury because they do not call it interest. The money you have to pay back are called fees, not interest. Call it what you will. It’s interest. Then, there are the lenders in the high-risk loan market. They have 15% interest on loans all the way up to 30% interest. These are what they call predatory lenders. Predatory lending is any lending practice that imposes unfair or abusive loan terms on a borrower. It is also any practice that convinces a borrower to accept unfair terms through deceptive, coercive, exploitative or unscrupulous actions for a loan that a borrower doesn’t need, doesn’t want or can’t afford. These lenders typically service the low-end of the credit market and charge high interest on loans to typically the people that can least afford to pay high interest. They prey upon the poor.

 

It is this type of lending that I thought of when I read this passage today. There were two things that I thought of when I read it. First, how can one work for companies like that and, two, what people must do to get out of these cycles of debt craziness. Let’s read the passage together now:

 

19 Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.

 

Some recent writers on this law have thought that it forbids the putting out of money to interest. But it is noticeable that in both the previous passages referred to (in Exod. and Lev.) the loan is supposed to be made to a “poor man” in “real distress.” Usury in such cases means oppression; and so it is proved to be by the examples given in Nehemiah 5:2-5; Nehemiah 5:10-12. The Mosaic law against usury does not belong to commerce with other nations; it is part of the protections of the poor that are intrinsic to Mosaic law.

 

When I look back on my time when my credit was lousy and I had to seek business with predatory lenders, it really amazed me how people could, in good conscience, work for such companies that preyed on those who could least afford high interest rates. In these loan houses, you get commission off the number and value of loans you generate for your location. Thus, high pressure and unscrupulous tactics are the norm. These companies reward the most unscrupulous volume generators which reinforces the behavior. High pressure sales tactics, harassment of customers with loans when they get behind, repossession of property. It’s all so ugly. At the same token, those of us who have been customers of such loan vendors have to share the blame as well. These customers want new and shiny things like everybody else has.

 

That factor is not limited to poor folks and/or others with poor credit ratings. Even when we have good credit, our society is built on consumerism. We all want new, bright and shiny. We all want the newest, next thing. The typical American family no matter their social status lives off more than they make. A raise means we spend more. We want the newest house. The newest car. The newest toys. We make fun of those who have to swim at the bottom of the barrel with these predatory lenders. But, all of us are just a couple of missed payments, a repossession away from dealing with them ourselves.

 

Let us become a people who learns that creating margin in our finances is what God wants for us. He wants us not to be a slave to our debtors. He wants money to work for us and not vice versa. Let us become a people who learns to live on 90% or less of what we earn. Let us have that breathing room where we can not have to worry how we are going to pay next week’s bills. Let us find our value not in things but in God. Let us be God’s children who buys what we need instead of everything we want. Let us be a people who can be generous to friends and neighbors and family in need. Maybe, these predatory lenders would be pushed out of business if we were not so much like the culture where we ourselves are slaves to our debt payments. Help us to be that people. Let us be a people who are obedient to God when it comes to our finances. God does not want our finances to rule us. He wants us to be wise with our money so that we will have breathing room in our lives. He wants us to worship Him and not our debt payments.

 

Amen and Amen.

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