In God We Trust - Hebrew Bible and Lenders and Borrowers

This post is the third in a series exploring how the thread of Partnership Economics weaves through the ancient texts of the Hebrew Bible, particularly the "Holiness Code" of Leviticus. See the first post here and the second post here.


Image Credit: educba.com



Leviticus 19:33–34 When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.


Don’t do wrong to strangers/foreigners—treat them as your own people, your partners. Love them as yourself—seek their benefit as well as your own. Partner, even with strangers, for mutual benefit.


Luke Bretherton’s excellent article “‘Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be’?” insightfully shows that the apparent inconsistency of some scriptures approving lending with interest and others forbidding that practice is resolved by considering the relational context. Within the covenant community there should be trust for repayment without charging interest; outside the covenant community, where trust is not yet well-established, the use of interest is allowed and encourages the formation of exchanges/relationships—dare we say partnerships—between people or groups who otherwise would not interact. Trust is necessary for mutual exchange; Bretherton demonstrates a scriptural basis for economic practices that help create that trust and mutuality among new partners.


Strangers do not need to be excluded but can be lovingly engaged with sturdy finance practices that enable exchanges appropriate to the relationship and level of trust, leading toward increasing trust and partnership.


Leviticus 19:35–36 You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures, or length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah [a measurement of volume], and a just hin [a smaller measurement of volume]. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.


In assessing or measuring what you provide someone, do no wrong—how’s that for a fiduciary standard? Do no wrong. Partnership means exchanges of goods and services have a just balance.


These examples all point to partnership, and they demonstrate what partnership looks like with various partners: the poor, strangers/foreigners, those entrusting you, neighbors, laborers, the poor and the great alike, brothers and sisters, the elderly, those receiving your assessments or measured goods and services. Leviticus 19:18 provides a brilliantly brief summary of these many laws: “love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”


Already many types of economic “neighbors” have been addressed, so a broad understanding of “neighbor” makes this a far-reaching principle. “Love your (economic) neighbor as yourself” is the essence of Partnership Economics. It can be accurately restated as “benefit your (economic) neighbor as yourself” and “partner with your (economic) neighbor for mutual benefit.”


Strong as this concept of partnership is in Leviticus, if it were found only in Leviticus and afterward faded into obscurity, we could question its import for other contexts, including our contemporary culture. However, this core principle of partnership, including its economic aspects, is carried forward by a noteworthy teacher in the Hebrew tradition in the first century CE and someone who holds no less a title than "father of capitalism."


Thanks for reading this series of posts exploring economic aspects of Leviticus's holiness. Please consider sharing this post with those interested in a better capitalism. Thanks!


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