The Review and Herald


March 11, 1884

Exacting Usury of Brethren


When the Jews were restored to their native land after the Babylonish captivity, they found themselves in a deplorable state of insecurity and discouragement. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down. The favor of God, their blessing and defense, had been removed because of their transgressions; and there were continual rumors of threatened invasion by their enemies. At this time God raised up a deliverer for his people in the person of Nehemiah, who was also a religious reformer to restore the worship of the true God and correct wrongs among the people. On account of his courage and fidelity, he was chosen of God to do this great work. Nehemiah prayed much, and trusted in God to help him; yet he was a man of wise forethought and resolute action, and he neglected no precaution that could tend to the success of the enterprise he had undertaken. RH March 11, 1884, par. 1

While under his direction the people were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and at the same time defending themselves against their enemies, they suffered many privations. They had no courage to plant or sow, for they were sure of nothing. And the sabbatical year, which God had commanded them to keep, increased their difficulties by shortening their supplies. Many who had large families were unable to buy necessary food except on credit. “And there was a great cry of the people and their wives against their brethren the Jews. For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many; therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought into bondage already; neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.” RH March 11, 1884, par. 2

Now was the time for the wealthy Jews to carry out the principles of the law of God, and show that they loved their neighbor as themselves. Did they do this? No; they saw that they had an opportunity to enrich themselves at the disadvantage of their neighbor, and they improved it. The Lord had commanded that every third year a tithe be raised for the benefit of the poor,—a tithe in addition to, and entirely distinct from, that given every year for the service of God. But instead of observing this law of kindness, love, and mercy, they took advantage of the necessities of the poor to charge exorbitant prices, nearly double what an article was really worth. RH March 11, 1884, par. 3

The poorer class of people were obliged to borrow money to pay their tribute to the king; and the wealthy, who loaned this money, exacted high rates of interest. They took mortgages on the lands of the poor, and finally added them to their own large possessions. Thus some became very wealthy, while others were in deep poverty. But the rich felt no compassion for their poorer brethren, not even when they were obliged to sell their sons and daughters into bondage, with no hope of being able to redeem them. Nothing but accumulating distress, perpetual want and bondage, seemed to be before them. There appeared to be no prospect of redress, no hope of redeeming children or lands. Yet these men were of the same nation and faith as their more wealthy and prosperous brethren; they too belonged to the chosen people of God. RH March 11, 1884, par. 4

Some had brought upon themselves financial embarrassment by their own mismanagement and want of foresight; but this was not a sufficient reason for oppressing them, and those who took this advantage were revealing their true character. They were going directly contrary to the letter and spirit of God's command: “If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as a usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.” “Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother: usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of anything that is lent upon usury.” RH March 11, 1884, par. 5

Nehemiah entered upon the work of reforming these wrongs with characteristic energy and promptness. He says: “And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. And I said unto them, We, after our ability, have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. Also I said, It is not good that ye do; ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?” RH March 11, 1884, par. 6

The people had departed from the word of the Lord, and were following the inclination of their own hearts. And the rulers in Israel, the very ones who should have carried out the expressed will of God in dealing compassionately with the needy, who should have seen that no wrong was done, were themselves the worst oppressors. Nehemiah rebuked the rulers and the nobles for their unjust exaction. He set before them their course and its consequences, and their guilt in disobeying the command of God. He inquired, “Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn; I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them. Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labor, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise.” RH March 11, 1884, par. 7

Here is important instruction for all who would walk in the fear of the Lord and in the way of his commandments. Some who profess to be so walking are acting over again the course pursued by the rulers and nobles in Israel. Because they have the power, they exact more than is just and honest, and thus become oppressors. The word of God must be the rule in deal. Those who profess to love God, and yet take advantage of the necessities of their brethren to exact large interest, perhaps ten or twelve per cent, may for a time appear to gain by this course; but they will finally learn that God can scatter. The Lord will judge and punish; he will hear the cry of the oppressed, and will repay the oppressor according to his deeds. RH March 11, 1884, par. 8

There are sins among us as a people. Love is not cherished as it should be. A cold, selfish, indifferent hard-heartedness is increasing, and this has separated us from our God. There are reasons why the Lord does not favor us with his presence and love; there is great need of sharp, pointed testimonies, for selfishness has eaten out the love of God from our hearts. Hear what the Lord says to his people: “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him naught; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him; because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor and to thy needy, in thy land.” RH March 11, 1884, par. 9

This is the voice of God to you, my brethren and sisters who profess to keep the law of God. That law requires that you love your neighbor as yourself. Are you doing it? Our faith is peculiar, and separates us from the world. Our enemies reproach us and bear false witness against us, and if we give them the least occasion, they will reproach our faith also. Do not, I beg of you, deceive your own souls. We are all debtors to divine justice, and we have nothing to pay; but Jesus so pitied us that he paid the debt. He became poor, that through his poverty we might be made rich; and we should prove the sincerity of our gratitude by works of liberality and love performed for Christ's sake. We are assured by the Lord that his poor will always be among us, and we may at any time express our gratitude for his goodness to us by being thoughtful and liberal to them. RH March 11, 1884, par. 10

No institution that God has established can afford to be unjust or unfair in any of its business transactions, either with brethren or worldlings. In no case should advantage be taken with the excuse that it is justifiable and right because the means gained will enrich the cause of God; for he will never approve injustice. The Bible rule, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” should never be lost sight of in deal. Men in responsible positions should correct wrongs among the people, but they should not practice a wrong course themselves. RH March 11, 1884, par. 11

God never designed that one man should prey upon another because the laws of the land justify him in this course. The world's maxims, customs, and practices are not to be our criterion; there is a higher law to be respected and obeyed. The religion of Christ has been regarded with contempt because his professed followers have acted out the selfishness of their hearts. Many worldlings and heathen abhor Christianity on account of the avarice, treachery, and cruelty of professed Christians. The churches retain upon their church-books the names of men who have gained their possessions by unjust usury; they support their luxurious and extravagant style of living by means wickedly obtained. RH March 11, 1884, par. 12

Those who are made the depositaries of God's law, those who are preparing for the Judgment, when every one will receive as his works have been, should carefully review their course in the light of the word of God. The men whom God has made rulers and watchmen, should consult with one another as to the best means to reform every wrong; and they should teach the churches everywhere that if wrongs are not corrected, the guilty must be placed under censure. But it is too often the case that the very men who should see that mercy and tender pity are shown, are themselves at fault, and have justly earned the name of sharpers. If these men would have the favor of God and his prospering hand with them, they must learn the principles of right dealing in the school of Christ. RH March 11, 1884, par. 13

As genuine faith and the love of God are cherished in the heart, they will be manifested in deeds of mercy and benevolence to our brethren, and in this manner selfishness will be overcome. Paul enjoins: “Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” We have the word of God as our rule of action, and we need not fear to carry out its principles by dealing justly and loving mercy; for when we do this, God becomes our surety, and promises to bless all that we undertake. RH March 11, 1884, par. 14