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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Spring 2016
Study Theme: Re-Finance:
Ancient Wisdom For Modern Money Management
What This Lesson Is About:
focus for this week’s study is on what the Bible offers in the way of
dire warning and the consequences of foolishly going into debt or taking
on financial obligations irresponsibly.
View Money Properly
Make Agreements Cautiously
Earn Money Productively
Manage Money Diligently
Invest Money Wisely
Give Money Generously
Love Gets Involved
financial obligations that could sink you.
Proverbs 6:1-5; 22:7
Debt Can Easily Enslave Us – Proverbs 22:7
Indebtedness May Not Be Wise – Proverbs 6:1-2
Work To Get Untangled From Debt – Proverbs 6:3-5
Proverbs 6:1-5 is part of a section dealing with
three types of behavior one should avoid (Prov. 6:1-19), which is itself
part of the larger body of “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king
of Israel” (1:1–24:34). In Proverbs 6, Solomon warns against
becoming involved in legal entanglements and indebtedness (6:1-5), against
being lazy (vv. 6-11), and against becoming a person who loves causing
conflict and dissension (vv. 12-15). The section ends with a list of seven
things which are detestable to the Lord, actions which harm both the
intended victim and the perpetrator as well (vv. 16-19). Proverb 22:7,
also a proverb of Solomon, is part of a section of proverbs dealing with
various topics and continues the theme of the danger of indebtedness.
SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide;
LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville,
We live in a culture of
instant gratification and our indebtedness is staggering.
According to data from the U.S. Census and the Federal Reserve, as
of October 2015, American consumers owed $11.85 trillion.
It includes $890 billion of credit-card debt, $8.17 Trillion of
mortgage debt, and $1.19 trillion in student loans with the last item We
don’t like to wait, and we want things now. Credit cards and loans can
make it easy to get something now, even if we can’t afford it yet.
Although a debt may seem manageable now, circumstances can quickly change
and work against us. The Bible offers dire warning and shows us the
consequences of foolishly going into debt or taking on financial
obligations irresponsibly.ing an increase of 7.1% from 2014.
The U.S consumer debt profile includes an average credit-card debt
of $16,140! Considering that
some people maintain zero credit card debt, the figure for many debtors is
much higher. In addition,
where indebtedness has fallen, it is largely due to defaulting on loans
rather than repayment of debt. Americans
are becoming irresponsible on both ends oof the transaction: they
accumulate debt too easily, and then they look for a way to avoid
Of course, consumer debt
pales in comparison to the public debt.
As of October 2015, the national debt of the United States was well
in excess of $18.4 trillion.
beyond our means is part of our culture.
We do it on every level, from the offices of the United States
Treasury to a couple wondering if they can stretch their credit allowance
enough to allow them to purchase a new car instead of a used one.
But contrary to what our political leaders tell us, the Bible
indicates that deficits do matter. Our
study this week will show us that God does care about how we manage our
resources in order to best serve our Lord.
SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide;
LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville,
Can Easily Enslave Us – Proverbs 22:7
Prov. 22: 7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender.
May Not Be Wise – Proverbs 6:1-2
1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor or entered into
an agreement with a stranger, 2 you have been trapped by the
words of your lips—ensnared by the words of your mouth.
conditions of indebtedness is addressed by these verses?
these verses advise us to avoid acts of generosity?
not, then what are we to avoid?
How can we, by recognizing that debt can enslave
us, help ourselves stay out of financial obligations that are beyond our ability
What does it mean to co-sign a loan for someone?
does the word “security” mean in this type of financial situation? (See
What responsibility does that place on the
might we protect ourselves when entering into agreements with others?
what ways could co-signing for a loan trap and ensnare us?
What are some problems this loan arrangement can
cause on a friendship?
might we protect ourselves if we were to enter into an agreement in which we are
the co-signer of a loan?
How can we think clearly about debt when someone
we love is the one asking for help?
Are there some things we could do to minimize
our risk or hurting a loved one? If
so, what are they?
Why is entering into such an agreement because
of social pressure a potential danger?
Do you think this type of financial arrangement
is a matter of “trust”? If so,
How do we navigate
the tension between avoiding entanglements and wanting to help those in need?
If we ever find ourselves entangled in a
financial agreement, what are some ways we need to do to get out of it?
How would you summarize the primary lesson of
this Scripture passage?
Lessons in Proverbs 6:1-2:
make a dangerous financial agreement because of social pressure.
every financial agreement or investment, remember that you are putting
your money under the control of someone else.
Ask yourself how much you really trust that person.
To Get Untangled From Debt – Proverbs 6:3-5
3 Do this, then, my son, and free yourself, for you have put yourself in
your neighbor’s power: Go, humble yourself, and plead with your
neighbor. 4 Don’t give sleep to your eyes or slumber to your
eyelids. 5 Escape like a gazelle from a hunter, like a bird
from a fowler’s trap.
to this passage, what steps are to be taken to be freed from financial
on this passage, what words and phrases emphasize that action should be taken
immediately and with urgency?
is the lesson to be learned from the comparisons to a deer and bird having been
What can we learn from the imagery in these
What are some dangers that might arise from
co-signing a loan for a relative? a friend?
How can obeying the principles in these passages
empower us to serve and honor God?
What would you be
willing to sacrifice to get out of debt?
you are trapped by an ill-advised promise to co-sign a loan for someone, based
on this passage, what should you do?
does it mean to “go humble yourself” with respect to freeing yourself from
the obligation of having co-signed a loan?
are some things you think would help you avoid debt or financial entanglements,
especially if it a ?
we are to work hard to free ourselves from unwise financial commitments, what
are some things we can do to achieve that?
are some things we could do to restore a relationship broken by co-signing a
Lessons in Proverbs 6:3-5:
We absolutely and as quickly as possible must be out
from under financial arrangements whereby others have control of our
would behave irresponsibly at your expense is no friend.
This study was not designed to rule out helping other people in need or
making a commitment or a pledge to support worthy causes.
Times may come when a great favor can be done by helping someone
borrow money for a critical need. However,
the commitment ought not to be taken thoughtlessly.
These proverbs, however, warn us against putting ourselves, our
businesses, our families, and our financial well-being at risk by entering
into obligatory situations that exceed our means or that may include
circumstances we cannot control. Yes,
indeed, be kind, be generous, but be cautious.
In review of the truths of this lesson, ask yourself the following
Can you recall a time when yu entered into or assumed an obligation that
turned out not to have been a wise venture?
How did it affect you?
What did you learn from the experience?
Based on this study, how would you be prepared to respond to someone
(friend or relative) who asked you to co-sign a loan?
Why might “no” be the best answer in the long run, both for
you and the person making the request?
Under what circumstances might you agree to guarantee or co-sign an
obligation for another?
What questions would you ask, or preparations would you make, before
co-signing a loan?
Your answers to these questions will help prepare you in the event you
are faced with a request to co-sign a loan for another.
May the Lord give you the wisdom to deal with such a situation in a
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Focal Passage from three different translations of
English Standard Version:
Proverbs 6:1-5; 22:7
Proverbs 6:1-5 (ESV)
1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, 2 if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, 3 then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. 4 Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; 5 save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)
7 The rich rules over the
poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
New King James Version:
Proverbs 6:1-5; 22:7
1 My son, if you become
surety for your friend, If you
have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, 2 You are snared by the
words of your mouth; You are taken by the words of your mouth. 3 So
do this, my son, and deliver yourself; For you have come into the hand of your
friend: Go and humble yourself; Plead with your friend. 4 Give no
sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids. 5 Deliver yourself
like a gazelle from the hand of the
hunter, And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
Proverbs 22:7 (NKJV)
7 The rich rules over the
poor, And the borrower is
servant to the lender.
The Living Bible: Proverbs 6:1-5; 22:7
if you endorse a note for someone you hardly know, guaranteeing his debt, you
are in serious trouble. 2 You may have trapped yourself by your
agreement. 3 Quick! Get out of it if you possibly can! Swallow your
pride; don’t let embarrassment stand in the way. Go and beg to have your name
erased. 4 Don’t put it off. Do it now. Don’t rest until you do. 5
If you can get out of this trap you have saved yourself like a deer that
escapes from a hunter or a bird from the net.
7 Just as the rich rule the
poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.
(NOTE: Commentary for the
focal passage comes from five sources: “The Expositor’s Bible
Commentary New Testament,”
“Believer's Bible Commentary,” The
Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” “The Old Testament Survey Series - The Wisdom Literature And Psalms,” and “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
Lesson Outline — “Make Agreements
Cautiously” — Proverbs 6:1-5;
Debt Can Easily
Enslave Us – Proverbs 22:7
Indebtedness May Not Be Wise – Proverbs 6:1-2
Work To Get Untangled From Debt – Proverbs
Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament: Proverbs
22:7 Poverty makes people dependent
on others. The parallel is synonymous. The verse simply states a fact that the
poor or the borrowers become subservient to the rich. The verse may be referring
to the apparently common practice of Israelites selling themselves into slavery
to pay off debts (see Exod 21:2-7). It is not appreciably different from
the modern debtor who is working to pay off bills.
Seek Release From a Foolish Indebtedness (6:1-5)
6:1-2 It was fairly common for someone
to put up security for someone else, that is, to underwrite another’s debts.
Here the guarantee of surety is graphically represented by the image of striking
hands (v. 1; cf. 11:15; 17:18; 22:26). But the pledge is
foolish because the debtor is a neighbor who is a misfit (rea‘ ... zar
lit., “neighbor ... stranger”). He would be under no obligation to do
this—it was merely an impulsive act of generosity. A gullible young man might
lack judgment and be easily swept in, only to realize too late that he was
“trapped” (yaqash v. 2) and “ensnared” (lakad). Such
a rash act of generosity might take a lifetime to pay.
to obtain release (6:3-5)
6:3-4 The advice for an indebted
person is to try to get released from the pledge as soon as possible (‘epo’
signifying “here and now”; NIV, “then”). Freeing oneself (hinnasel
has the force of rescuing or delivering oneself from a situation) may be a
humiliating process, but it is far better than the debt. The verb “humble
yourself” (hith rappes) may have behind it the literal idea of allowing
oneself to be trampled on (which Gesenius interpreted to mean “prostrate
yourself” [Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (London: Samuel Bagster and Son,
1847), p. 777]). G.R. Driver related it to the Akkadian rapasu
(“trample”) and interpreted it in the sense of trampling oneself, or
swallowing pride, with the implication of being unremitting in the effort
(“Some Hebrew Verbs, Nouns, and Pronouns,” JTS 30 : 374). This purpose
for the humbling is “to press [the] plea” (rehab from rahab
“to act stormily, boisterously,” here “to importune”). The pledge can be
released if one begs the creditor, but one should lose no time in pressing the
6:5 The exhortation is then repeated
and enhanced by two similes that retrieve the motif of the person’s being
entrapped by the pledge.
SOURCE: The Expositor’s
Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General
Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers
Bible Commentary: Proverbs 22:7; 6:1-5
Prov. 22:7. Money is power, and it can be
used for good or for evil. Too often the rich use it for evil, and
perhaps that is why it is called the mammon of unrighteousness.
The borrower is a slave to the lender.
Debt is a form of bondage. It requires the payment of exorbitant interest rates.
It keeps a man's nose to the grindstone. It limits his mobility and his ability
to take advantage of opportunities.
Believer's Bible Commentary: A
Thorough, Yet Easy-to-Read Bible Commentary That Turns Complicated Theology Into
The Folly of Suretyship
6:1. The first five verses are a warning against
becoming surety, that is, making oneself liable for someone else's debt
in case that other person is unable to pay. Suppose your friend wants to
buy a car on the installment plan but doesn't have much of a credit rating. The
loan company demands the signature of someone who can pay in case the borrower
defaults. The neighbor comes to you and asks you to cosign the note with him.
This means that you will pay if he doesn't.
The friend in this verse is your neighbor. The stranger is
the loan company to which you give your guarantee.
6:2. You are snared by the words of your mouth; you
are taken by the words of your mouth. In other words, if you have made a
rash promise, you have fallen into a trap. It was a great mistake.
6:3. Now the best thing to do is to get yourself
released from the agreement. Try to persuade your friend to get your
signature removed from the note you have been trapped into signing.
6:4,5. The matter is of such importance that you shouldn't
rest until you are released from this liability. You should squirm free like
a gazelle from its captor, or like a bird from... the fowler.
But why does the Bible warn against suretyship so sternly? Isn't it a
kindness to do this for a friend or neighbor? It might seem to be a kindness,
but it might not be at all.
You might be helping him to buy something which it is not God's will for
him to have.
You might be encouraging him to be a spendthrift or even a gambler.
If he defaults and you have to pay for something
that is not your own, friendship will end and bitterness begin. It would be
better to give money outright if there is a legitimate need. In any case, you
should not become surety for him.
Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990,
1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Proverbs
Prov. 22:7. Let the borrower beware—he
puts himself in the power of the lender. This proverb reveals a simple truth:
the borrower works for the lender, not for himself. Since there were no banks in
ancient Israel, borrowing was a personal affair arranged between individuals or
families. With relatively few covenantal
constraints upon lenders (cf. Exo. 22:25ff; Lev. 25:36f; Deut. 23:19f), a
borrower needed to consider carefully whether a particular lender might prove
benevolent or tyrannical, even to the point of requiring him to sell his family
or himself into slavery to repay the loan (Exo. 21:2-7). Those in a position to
lend money must also understand their relationship to their borrowers in light
of the covenantal stipulations (cf. 19:17).
Prov. 6:1-5. The first poem of this chapter warns against “giving surety” (HED
#6386) for someone else. Rather than forbid this folly outright, as he does
elsewhere (e.g., 22:26f), Solomon here urges his student to do whatever it takes
to get out of that situation (6:1-5). He describes the underlying reality (v. 2)
and the urgency of his exhortation to escape the situation by any means (vv.
3ff). Like the “command” proverbs (e.g., 22:22-23:14), this is a warning,
not an absolute prohibition. There may be circumstances in which guaranteeing
someone else’s loan is wise. Solomon’s point is that the guarantor needs to
realize how dangerous such help can be to his or her own well being before
making that commitment.
“Going surety,” as it is often translated, is
the ancient equivalent of co-signing a loan or pledging one’s own property as
collateral for someone else’s obligation. The pledge was apparently sealed by
clasping hands (6:1b). In the first biblical occurrence of this word, Judah
pledged himself as the guarantee that Benjamin would return from Egypt (Gen.
43:9; 44:32). If he failed to bring Benjamin back to Israel their father, Judah
would bear his guilt for the rest of his life. Judah then demonstrates how
seriously he understood his promise when he offered to become a slave in Egypt
rather than forfeit his pledge and bear his guilt (Gen. 44:33).
Solomon reveals the true nature of co-signing in v.
2 when he uses terms from hunting (“snared”) and warfare (“taken” or
“captured”). To endanger one’s property by pledging it as collateral for
someone else’s loan is to be a wild animal caught in a trap or a prisoner of
war. This is largely because whoever shakes hands in pledge gives his or her
belongings to another person, without really knowing whether or not that person
will fulfill his or her obligation. Moreover, the guarantor has no control over
that person’s fulfillment. His property is, in essence, lost until the loan is
paid off. He has assumed someone else’s risk. The verse further focuses on the
verbs by making the rest of the lines identical (“by the words of his
Having described the situation in which the
guarantor is entrapped in his neighbor’s power, Solomon urges him or her to do
whatever is necessary to escape from the contract (vv. 3ff). He must deliver
himself, since the person with the obligation is under no pressure, the
guarantor having assumed it all for him.
When he says that they should not sleep until they
are free (v. 4), this is anticipatory, rather than hyperbolic. The same two
words occur, in the same order, in the description of the sluggard (v. 10). Just
as a wild animal would not wait to struggle free, but struggle at once upon
being snared (v. 5), they must not delay, because now is the right time to
escape (just as now is the right time for the sluggard to get to work).
Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Acts. Copyright ©
2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
Old Testament Survey Series -
The Wisdom Literature And Psalms: Proverbs
Preserving a Good Name (22:7)
dangers of wealth:
"The rich shall rule over
the poor, and a borrower is servant to the lender." The word
"rich" is singular, the word "poor" is plural, for there are
many poor for one who is rich. The author faithfully depicts the facts of life,
whether he approves of them or not. Wealth breeds power and preeminence. Poverty
leads to trouble and servitude. A person loses his independence when he is
beholden to another for assistance. A debtor loses to a certain extent his
freedom. The implication is that everyone would strive and labor to master a
competency, and thus avoid the evils of poverty (22:7).
Having discussed in the previous discourse the happiness of the married
life and the dangers of the promiscuous life, the teacher now speaks of certain
dangers to marital bliss. He speaks of reckless pledges (vv. 1-5), sloth (vv.
6-11), mischievousness (vv. 12-15), seven vices (vv. 16-19), and adultery (vv.
Warning against Reckless Pledges (6:1-5)
The teacher warned his pupil of the consequences of becoming
"surety" for either a neighbor or a stranger. In such agreements one
pledged to pay the debt incurred by another if he failed to repay it.
"Striking the hands" was a symbolic act sealing the agreement. This
was equivalent to the modern practice of shaking hands on a deal. The act no
doubt was accomplished before witnesses. The hand which was stricken was that of
the creditor who thereby received assurance that the responsibility of the
debtor was undertaken by the surety. So the pupil is envisioned pledging himself
on behalf of a neighbor, and making the pledge to a "stranger," i.e.,
the money lender who may have actually been a foreigner (6:1).
In agreeing to stand surety for a friend one is "snared" by the
words of his own mouth. Agreeing to back the loan is fraught with danger both to
the friendship and to the financial stability of one's immediate family. The
phrase "with the words of your mouth" is repeated in the verse to
stress that the entanglements in which the surety is involved are the result of
his own indiscretion (6:2).
If he had inadvertently fallen into this trap, a person should
immediately try to extricate himself. The teacher suggests a four step process.
First, he should go and humble himself (lit., "trample upon himself")
before the debtor to beseech him to release him from the obligation which he had
assumed to back the debt. Second, if this failed, he must "urge"
(lit., "beset him violently") until the surety agreement has been
nullified. The Hebrew verb suggests raging at the neighbor, refusing to take
"no" for an answer (6:3).
Third, the teacher advises that his student seek the release from the
pledge immediately. He should not leave it to the next day. He should allow
nothing to take precedence over this urgent matter. Fourth, he should struggle
valiantly to free himself from his obligations as a trapped bird or deer tries
desperately to tear away from a snare or trap (6:4-5).
SOURCE: The Old Testament
Survey Series: The Wisdom Literature And Psalms; By James E. Smith;
College Press Publishing Company; Joplin, Missouri
Moody Bible Commentary: Proverbs
22:7. This proverb urges extreme
caution about indebtedness in order to avoid becoming the lender's slave.
The first line is a frank observation: "Those with material means usually
call the shots in a society" (Longman, Proverbs, 405). The same
dynamic happens to the borrower: the lender has the power in the
relationship. After all, the borrower owes the lender money, and should he fail
to pay, in that society he could quite literally become enslaved as a debtor.
The Bible does not forbid making or taking out loans (see Lv 25:35-36; Mt 5:42;
Lk 6:35); however, financial and social bondage can be the result. Extreme
caution is wise when incurring debt.
Warning Concerning Becoming a Guarantor (6:1-5)
Though these verses do not share all the elements of the standard lesson,
where the father is addressing his son directly, they continue to follow the
typical "if-then" pattern. If the son gets into a foolish
situation (vv. 1-2), then he should do the following (vv. 3-5).
6:1-2. The first foolish situation involves loans. The son
allows himself to become surety for someone else (v. 1). This involves
cosigning, or guaranteeing, the loan of another. Because of the distinction
between a neighbor and a stranger, commentators dispute over the
precise scenario described here (e.g., who is loaning the money, and who is
borrowing it?). It is probably best to see the two lines in v. 1 as parallel,
with neighbor and stranger functioning as two extremes that
include everything in between (Longman, Proverbs, 170). That is, do not
become a guarantor for anyone else, whether friend, stranger, or anyone in
between. To do so is to become snared by one's own words or verbal
pledge (v. 2).
The Scripture certainly does not discourage generosity to the needy, nor
does it forbid offering collateral for a loan (cf. Dt 24:10-13) or even paying
someone else's past debts (cf. Phm 18-19). But what it does discourage here is
something akin to gambling (Kidner, Proverbs, 71-72). For when a man
becomes surety for another's debt obligation, he exposes himself and his own
assets to future situations completely outside of his own direct control—a
foolish legal entanglement indeed (Garrett, Proverbs, 96; cf. Pr 27:1).
6:3-5. When caught in such a trap of one's own making, the
wise son should do everything he can to deliver himself from the
situation (v. 3a). He has foolishly "handed himself over to the debtor, who
may unmercifully throw him into the hands of the creditor" (Waltke, Book
of Proverbs 1-15, 333) (v. 3b). So the son must humble himself and importune
his neighbor to get out of this obligation; he must grovel before him and
badger him (v. 3c). The matter is so urgent that he should act immediately and
be willing to lose sleep in his effort to extricate himself from the situation
(v. 4). He should be as eager to escape this arrangement as a gazelle or bird
escaping from the traps of those who hunt them (v. 5).
SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael
Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database
© 2015 WORDsearch.
(v. 1)—If the debtor defaulted, the individual who put up
the security for the loan became responsible for the debt and could have his
assets seized to repay the debt.
An agreement (v. 1)—The Hebrew for “entered into
an agreement” can be literally translated “struck your palm.” This was
probably a custom used to make a transaction between two people official.
DEBT IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST
By: Terry W. Eddinger
Terry W. Eddinger is Professor of Old
Testament And vice president of academics At Carolina Evangelical Divinity
School, High Point, N.C.
depicts a father giving advice to his son on how to handle an all too common
problem in the ancient Near East—debt. In
this case, the advice concerns pledging oneself as payment for a debt on behalf
of a neighbor(6:1). How bad was the
problem of debt in the ancient Near East? What
caused people to get into debt and how did they settle those financial
Debt was common
enough that almost every section of the Bible addresses the topic.
The Pentateuch contains several laws concerning debt.
Here is a sampling of them. Exodus
tells us that a person was not to charge interest when lending money to the poor
(Ex. 22:25) and not to keep over night a poor person’s clock given as a pledge
(vv. 26-27). Leviticus tell s us how
a person could be redeemed if he had to sell his property (25:25-28), his house
(vv. 29-32), or sell himself into slavery (vv. 47-55).
Deuteronomy tells us that a person could not take a millstone as a pledge
because such an item was necessary for making food (24:6).
Furthermore, Deuteronomy also instructs that a person should not enter
the house of a poor person to receive his pledge and that any pledge taken
should be returned at sunset (vv. 10-13).
In 2 Kings, the Bible tells of a widow
who sought help from Elisha because creditors wanted to take her two sons as
slaves (4:1-7). Nehemiah tells of a
situation where famine caused some Jews to sell their sons and daughters into
slavery (Neh. 5:1-13). Eliphaz
accused Job of taking pledges without cause (Job 22:6).
Proverbs 22:26-27 warns
against “co-signing” for debts. Amos
preached against those who “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a
pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6, NASB; see 8:6).
Debt was still common enough in the
first century that Jesus mentioned the subject in His Model Prayer (Matt: 6:12).
He also used the example of debt or money in several of His parables.
Jesus told about a king who had slaves who owed him money (Matt.
18:23-35), about two debtors who acted differently concerning debts owed to them
(Luke 7:40-50), about a nobleman who entrusted money to his servants (19:11-27),
and about a vineyard owner who sought to collect rent (20:9-16).
Jesus used these stories involving indebtedness to teach His followers
about being responsible, honest, and good stewards.
Causes of Debt
People found themselves in debt for
various reasons. One of the most
common was natural calamity, such as a drought or famine.
Nehemiah told about some of the Jews in Jerusalem who had returned from
exile and who went into debt because of a severe famine.
They needed money to buy food. The
people had become so desperate they mortgaged their fields, vineyards, and
houses, and even sold their children into slavery (Neh. 5:3-5).
Although not nearly so severe of circumstances, we see a similar
situation earlier with Jacob’s family. A
severe famine ravaged the ancient Near East.
Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy food because there was none to be
found in his homeland (Gen.42-43). Although
the text does not mention that they went into debt, such circumstances often led
Another cause of
debt was taxation. Again, Nehemiah
told that some of the Jews had to borrow money to pay Persian taxes (Neh.
5:4-5). Jesus was questioned several
times about taxes. On one occasion,
He instructed Peter to take a coin from the mouth of a fish to pay taxes,
perhaps an indication the money was not readily available (Matt. 17:24-27).
People could find
themselves in debt due to making poor financial decisions.
Perhaps this is the kind of debt about which the father in Proverbs 6:1
warned his son. The father knew that
assuming such a financial responsibility could cost a person his home,
possessions, sons and daughters, and even his own personal freedom.
Vouching for someone else’s credit was just too risky.
In a sense, the father said do not vouch for the credit of a stranger:
but if you do, fulfill your obligation.
Response to Debt
Once people found themselves in debt,
they had few options. One option was
to borrow money from a relative or a neighbor.1
Such borrowing, however, meant that a person had to put up something as
collateral. In extreme
circumstances, individuals had to offer their outer garment (cloak) as
collateral. In these cases, a
creditor was supposed to give back the cloak at night since this cloak also
served as a blanket against the cold (Deut. 24:13).
Proverbs 22 warns that a creditor will take one’s bed when no other
collateral remains (vv. 26-27). Prophets
such as Amos spoke harshly against those who did not give back the cloak at
A person could sell
land or other property to pay off debt (Neh. 5:3).
If a person chose to sell land, then the transaction was not supposed to
be permanent. God’s laws provided
for the right of redemption (Lev. 25:23-24).
Ruth 4:1-12 provides an excellent example of the process of redemption
where Boaz redeemed Elimelech’s land for Naomi and Ruth.
Another option to settle debt included
selling either one’s children or oneself into slavery.
This was the concern of the widow whose husband had died and left the
family in debt. Creditors sought to
take her two children and make slaves of them (2 Kings 4:1).
Although an acceptable practice in that day,2 Nehemiah
condemned the Jews for doing this to each other (Neh. 5:1-13).
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus told us that the son hired
himself out to a foreigner to survive (Luke 15:14-15).
This process was disgraceful and was to be avoided if at all possible;
however, it does show the extreme measures a desperate person will take.
Jesus taught a different approach to
handling debts. In His Model Prayer,
He taught forgiving debts (Matt. 6:12). The
word that Matthew used for debtor can refer either to a person under obligation
to another or to someone guilty of a misdeed.
Luke includes both of these concepts in his account of the Lord’s
Prayer: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who
is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4, NASB). In
both Gospels, Jesus’ message is clear: we are to forgive others because we
have been forgiven. Jesus had a
second teaching about debt; He also
taught that people should honor their tax debt by paying their taxes (22:17-21).
Debt in the ancient Near East was as
common a problem as it is today. However,
unlike today, ancient people did not have banks and government agencies to turn
to for help. Instead, they had to
depend on what few resources they had, including the wealth (and mercy) of
relatives. Too often this led to
debt slavery from which recovery was extremely difficult or impossible.
The father’s advice in Proverbs 6 is prudent and practical.
Avoid debt; but if it occurs, honor your pledges.
See Leviticus s25:35-37.
Exodus 21:2 tells us that a Hebrew could be kept as a slave
for up to six years. At that time,
the slave had to be released and set free. Leviticus
25:39-41 says that if a Hebrew had to sell himself to another, he was not to be
treated as a slave but with more respect, as a hired hand was treated.
Eastern Lending Practices
By George H.
Shaddix is pastor of Dunn’s Creek Baptist Church in Echola, Alabama.
SOLOMON, IN HIS WISDOM, said, “The rich rule over the poor, and
the borrower is a slave to the lender”1 (Prov. 22:7).
and borrowing predate Israel being established as a nation.
Lending and borrowing arose from the basic situation of one individual
needing an item and another person having the item and being willing to loan it.
Through a bartering system people would lend to each other.
Every known society used this system.
In this system, people gave little thought to receiving gain.
The action was simply a kind, considerate way of helping one’s
neighbor. Most lending in this
system consisted of materials, tools, and even livestock.
In the case of lending livestock for breeding to increase someone’s
herd or flock, often the lender would receive a portion of the increase.
This was perhaps the first interest payment.
quickly learned they could profit from lending.
The Israelites came out of Egypt where they had been slaves; therefore,
they were not a prosperous people. Yet
God gave them specific instructions concerning living as a new nation and living
in relationship to people of other nations.
These included instructions concerning lending to both a “brother”
(fellow Israelite) and a foreigner. In
Exodus 22:25, God says, “If you lend money to My people, to the poor person
among you, you must not be like a moneylender to him; you must not charge him
interest.” Hebrew Law “is noted
for its fairness and social responsibility toward the poor.”2
Throughout the Bible, God instructs His people to treat the poor with
fairness. In other nations
moneylenders often charged excessive interest rates in order to gain a good
income on their loans. God told His
people, though, that they were not to be “moneylenders” who charged interest
to their fellow Israelites.
Hebrew word for “interest” (neshek)
derives from a root meaning “to strike with a sting (as a serpent).”3
The point is that interest added to a loan “stings” a poor person.
The related word (nashakh),
which can mean “to bite,”4 also refers to a loan.
Deuteronomy 23:19-20 used the term to refer to a “usury” loan,
meaning one with excessive interest.
to Leviticus 25:35-38, an Israelite was not to charge his “brother” (another
Israelite) interest for a loan of money or food.
The text refers to a brother who has become destitute and is unable to
sustain himself. Rather than
profiting by charging interest, the Israelite was to help his brother, so the
brother could work himself out of his destitute situation.
Often a borrower could satisfy his loan by working for the lender.
In this Leviticus 25 passage, God reminds the Israelites of His
delivering them from Egypt, His provision of the land of Canaan, and the fact
that He is their God. That is, God
has been kind to them, thus they were to show kindness to one another.
Israelite was not to take as collateral anything the borrower needed for his
livelihood. Deuteronomy 24:6 says,
“Do not take a pair of millstones or an upper millstone as security for a
debt, because that is like taking a life as security.”
A pair of millstones was necessary for grinding grain.
To take as collateral either one millstone or a pair of millstones would
mean the borrower could not prepare grain-based food for himself and his family.
22:26 says the lender who takes a person’s outer coat as a pledge for a loan
must return it to the owner before the sun goes down.
This garment was a large square of cloth with a place cut for the head to
go through and was worn as an outer garment.
This garment was used for double duty, a garment by day and a covering by
night. This outer garment provided
protection from the cold night air. The
lender, therefore, was to return it before nightfall.
considered willingness to lend to a needy brother to be an honorable
characteristic. God said, however,
that Israel would be a lender to other nations.
Deuteronomy 15:6 says, “When the Lord your God blesses you as He has
promised you, you will lend to many nations but not borrow; you will rule over
many nations, but they will not rule over you.”
was not to borrow from other nations. God
said instead they would become a lender to many nations.
Borrowing placed an individual or a nation in a position of being
indebted to any other nation.
unique instruction in the Law concerned the release of the debt between an
Israelite lender and an Israelite borrower.
Deuteronomy 15:1-3 spells out this instruction:
At the end of every seven years you must
cancel debts. This is how to cancel
debt: Every creditor is to cancel what he has lent his neighbor.
He is not to collect anything from his neighbor or brother, because the
Lord’s release of debts has been proclaimed.
You may collect something from a foreigner, but you must forgive whatever
your brother owes you.
interpret these verses to mean the debt was deferred with no payments due during
the seventh (or Sabbatical) year. Others
interpret them to mean the lender was to cancel the debt and to expect no
further payments.5 Based
on the statement in Deuteronomy 15:9 that the seventh year is “the year of
canceling debts,” this was not a deferment but a cancellation of the debt.
Also, every 50 years all property that had been mortgaged or otherwise
put into someone else’s possession was to revert to its original owner (see
6:1-5 refers to putting up security for a neighbor, which would be equivalent to
co-signing a loan today. Solomon
explained that this traps the co-signer and puts him “in [his] neighbor’s
power”—meaning he was at his neighbor’s mercy (Prov. 6:3).
In this verse “neighbor” probably refers to both the borrower and the
lender. The co-signer would be at
the mercy of the borrower since he could leave the co-signer to pay the debt.
The co-signer would also be at the mercy of the lender because he would
have power to expect payment if the borrower failed to pay.
Solomon advised the co-signer to go the lender and plead to be released
from the responsibility of the debt. Solomon
later explained that the Lord would reward those who helped the poor (19:17).
Receiving the Lord’s reward is far better than being at someone’s
mercy because of co-signing a loan!
today should heed this timeless and scriptural principle:
“The rich rule over the poor, and
the borrower is a slave to the lender” (22:7).
We prevent being a “slave to the lender” by working hard and trying
to avoid borrowing.
Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture
quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).
Notes on Exodus 22:22-27, Life
Application Study Bible Notes, WORDsearch Electronic Version, 1991.
“Neshek,” Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, WORDsearch
Electronic Version, 2010.
Williams, ”Lend, Loan” in The
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 3, gen. ed. Orr (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 1865-66.
Poverty in Ancient Israel
By Peter Haik
Peter R. Haik is associate professor of Old
Testament, Mississippi Baptist Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.
OR THE POOR WILL NOT CEASE from out of the
land.”1 With these words, one is reminded that poverty is a
universal reality. Indeed, poverty
is a tragic experience known in all times and places.
Ancient Israel was an agricultural society.2 For most of its
history and most of its people, agriculture was the economy, not just its
backbone. Survival depended almost
completely on the abundance of the crops and livestock.
Drought and pestilence could destroy both in a short time.
Various natural disasters could impoverish even the wealthy.
The Mosaic Law included numerous regulations to protect the needy.
The verse quoted above and its context—Deuteronomy 15—offer God’s
solution to the problem: “For the poor will not cease from out of the land;
therefore I—even I—command you, saying, ‘You shall indeed open wide your
hand unto your brother, to your poor and your needy in your land!’” (Deut.
15:11, author’s translation).
The poor and needy are to be recognized as “brothers” and helped
accordingly. The ideal was for all
Israelites to see one another as family. One
should care for, and be generous to, other family members, especially in their
time of need. “This sermon is a
summons to meet the poor at all times with an open hand and an open heart.”3
One means of assisting the poor commanded in
Deuteronomy 15 is the Sabbath Year, also known as the Year of Release.4
Those fortunate enough to have an excess were to lend freely to those in need.
For up to six years, the borrower was to seek to repay the debt.
In the seventh year, however, all debts to fellow Israelites were to be
canceled. Foreigners were not
included in the mandate. This law
protected people from becoming slaves to the debt.
Such an act of mercy reflected the Lord’s benevolence to His people.
An identical injunction applied to people who had been sold into
slavery. They were to serve for six
years as payment of their debt. Having
done such, however, their debt was to be considered as paid in full.
Thus, in the seventh year these servants were to be released.
The memory of God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery was the primary
motivation. In addition, these
“brothers” were not to be released empty handed.
Rather, they were to be given a fair portion from the crops and the
livestock with which to begin their lives anew.
Again, this was a reflection of God’s generosity to His people: “as
Yahweh your God has blessed you, you shall give Him” (Deut. 15:14).
Closely related was the Year of Jubilee, elaborated in Leviticus 25.
The Year of Jubilee was the 50th year, culminating 7 cycles of
7 years each, including a Sabbath year. The
unique feature about aiding the poor was the return of any land lost to debt
since the last Jubilee. The land was
recognized as God’s special endowment to His people and , as such, was
ultimately to be returned to the people to whom it had been given.
Thus, the family land, and inheritance from God, would not be lost
Another legal protection for the poor involved regulations for
harvesting (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19-22).
Harvesting was to be deliberately less than complete.
Corners were to be left untouched as were the gleanings and any fruit
that may have fallen to the ground. Such
left-overs were available for the poor and needy.
The message was simple: the loss will not be great, but the gain for the
poor could mean the difference between life and death.
One purpose of the tithe was to assist the needy (Deut. 14:28-29).
After every third year, a tithe was to be brought to town for collection
and later distribution. The tithe
was used by the Levites, who had no property as an inheritance from the Lord.
It was also used by orphans, widows and aliens who were in need.
Over and over, the Lord sought, through His Law, to insure that the poor
received assistance in their need.
Family and national solidarity were crucial aspects of the Hebrew
faith. This is seen especially in
the concept of the “kinsman redeemer”
(Lev. 25:25; Jer. 32:6-8). If a
relative were in danger of lowing property due to debt, the “kinsman
redeemer” (Hebrew goel ) was to
purchase the land; thus, saving it for the family.
Similarly, if one were to be sold into slavery, the relative was to buy
his or her freedom. The person so
redeemed was to work as a hired servant to repay their relative.
While not directly addressing the issue of poverty, the law regarding
Levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-6; Ruth 3—4) also had definite positive results.
When an Israelite male had a married brother or kinsman die without male
children, he was to marry the widow and name the first child after the deceased.
The law’s purpose was to carry on the name of the deceased.
Yet, because of this law, many women and their female children were saved
from the dire existence of widows and orphans.
Perhaps the greatest causes of poverty, after crop and livestock
shortages, were social injustice and overt crime.
The Law and the Prophets addressed these problems.5 Underlying
the laws and prophetic messages was one basic assumption: the poor were
protected by God. The lord’s
demands for fairness for all—especially the poor—can be found throughout the
Old Testament. One good example is
found in Psalm 82:3-4:
Vindicate the weak and orphans:
Do justice for the afflicted and poor.
Rescue the weak and needy;
From the hand of the wicked, deliver them.
The appeal was necessary because the opposite was far too common.
Injustice is no modern invention. False
weights and measures were used. Exorbitant
interest rates were charged. Bribery,
favoritism and false witness in legal matters were widespread.
These and the more blatant forms of highway robbery contributed to many
people having little chance of rising above abject poverty.
By the time of the New Testament, the economy was more international in
scope. Industry and trade were a
larger part of the life of the nation. Still,
for most, agriculture was their life. Unfortunately,
crime and injustice were also a fact of life.
Poverty, as always, was a threat, if not reality, for many.
John challenged early Christians to respond to people’s needs around
them. To know Christ, to be a
Christian, means to have experienced God’s love through Christ.
Having known such love, a Christian should share it with others.
Love is more than sentimental feelings.
Sharing one’s worldly goods with those in need is imperative.
Whoever has the goods of the world and sees his brother having a need
and shuts his heart away from him, how does the love of God dwell in him (1 John
John clearly expected a negative answer.
Simply put: God’s love does not dwell in that person!
John had learned from the example of the Lord Jesus.
His concern for the needy was evident in both His words and deeds.
Jesus fed, taught, and loved the needy.
His followers will be known for doing the same.
He made this abundantly clear in His parable of the sheep and the goats
Those who follow Jesus will be welcomed into His glory because they fed
Him when He was hungry, gave Him a drink when He was thirsty, welcomed Him when
He was a stranger, clothed Him when He was naked, and visited Him when He was
sick or in prison. In dismay, they
will ask, “When?” Then the King
will answer saying to them: “Amen I say to you, inasmuch as you did it for the
least of these my brothers, you did it for Me (Matt. 25:40)!”
Deut. 15:11; translations are that of the
writer unless otherwise indicated.
Martin Noth, The Old Testament World, trans.
Victory I. Gruhn (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 163; H. N. Richardson,
“Agriculture,” The Interpreter’s
Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vols.
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962-76), 1:56.
Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy: A Commentary, trans.
Doreothea Barton (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), 106.
J. Morgenstern, “Sabbatical Year,” The
Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible,
5 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962-76), 4:141-144.
See Ex. 22:21-27; 23:1-9; Lev. 19:36; and Amos
Arnold is retired pastor, Citadel Square Baptist Church, Charleston, South
CREDIT IS NOT peculiar to the 20th
century! Jesus told a story of a
servant who owned an enormous sum of money—perhaps as much as several million
dollars. He, in turn, was owed just
a few dollars by another servant. In
this parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:21-35), which emphasizes the
importance of forgiveness, Jesus referred to a practice that would certainly not
be used in modern-day America. This
was the practice of selling a free man who was a debtor into the bonds of
slavery in order to recover the money owed (v. 25).
Sometimes a free man would see advantages in being owned and cared for by
a rich, influential person and would sell himself into slavery.
Slave in Judaism
aspect of the parable would not have around bewilderment in Jesus’ audience.
The Old Testament laws regarding the poor carefully preserved respect for
the Hebrew who might be sold into slavery (see Ex. 21-1-11; Lev. 25:35-55; Deut.
following the account of the Lord God of Israel’s giving the Ten Commandments
in Exodus 20, the inspired writer immediately applied the commandments to the
condition of a Hebrew sold into slavery.
In the Exodus 21 passage the law limited the length of the term of
service to six years. At the end of
that period “he shall go free without paying anything” (v. 2, NIV).
If a man was already married when he was sold, his wife would also regain
her liberty. The protection given to
a slave by law is further illustrated in Exodus 21:27, which says that if a
master knocks a tooth out of a slave’s mouth, that slave must be freed!
principles set down in Leviticus 25:39-43 permitted Israelites to buy a country
man as a slave, but he was to be treated not as a “slave” but as a “hired
worker” until he was released from his slavery in the Year of Jubilee.
Deuteronomy 15:12-18 states rules concerning a fellow Hebrew who had sold
himself into slavery. He was to be
freed in the seventh year after six years of service.
To establish him in his regained freedom, the master was to give to him
in liberal measure food, drink, and animals from the master’s flock.
motivation for this generosity was to be found not only in the fact that the
service of a slave was worth twice “the service of a hired hand” (v. 18),
but because of the history of the people of Israel (v. 15).
They had known long and harsh enslavement by the Egyptians (compare Lev.
25:42-43; Deut. 15:15). Their God
had raised up the mighty leader, Moses, and had set them free from the
pharaoh’s control. It was His will
that they should never be slaves again.
Slave in the Roman Empire
law had no such imperative. In their
large cities the number of slaves exceeded the number of free men.
Slavery was regarded as being a normal way of life.
In Rome this numerous workforce provided the power that machines provide
for our society. To meet the demand
for cheap labor, the Empire needed a regular supply of slaves.
They found them in four ways. Many
slaves were captured in war, but the most productive source was the children
borne by slaves themselves. A
minority were freemen who had been sold into slavery for failure to repay debts.
Fourthly, persons acting as slaves, who had worked for a master under the
same conditions as a slave, could not regain their freedom.
main difference between the Roman and the Jewish treatment of slaves was that
Rome had no laws like those in the Old Testament.
Many slaves suffered from the cruelty of harsh owners who were not
limited by law. In fact, the few
laws that they had were designed for the protection of the master, not the
slave. For instance, slaves were not
allowed to marry. Owners had the
right to punish slaves in any way they chose.
Slave owners could have a slave put to death without having to satisfy
any law. He would simply hire the
municipal executioner to carry out his wishes without any questions being
only possibility that a slave had of gaining freedom was through redemption.
A slave owner might decide to give a slave his freedom as a reward for
some special service or for long years of service.
The Greek word apolutrosis was the term used for the act of
redemption, the process of granting freedom to a slave.
Did People Sell Themselves Into Slavery?
free man who sold himself entered into a lifestyle in which he lost his status
as a free human being. He had no
will of his own but was under the absolute control of his owner.
He became a piece of property, a tool possessed by the master.
He was expected to behave morally and to this extent was treated like a
normal human being. Slaves were
treated as if they were overgrown children.
They were called by the diminutive “little one” or “boy” even
when they were old.
balance these limitations, the free man could gain advantages by becoming a
slave. Slaves were owned by
well-to-do citizens, and this meant that the slave might enjoy material
security. The slave was likely to
have better living conditions than when he was free.
He was not likely to be fired from his job!
Often the slave’s life was more comfortable than a freeman’s.
He had to perform his duties without question, but in many houses the
work was easier than that demanded by an employer.
If he satisfied his master, he would be regarded as part of the family,
one who was “loved” as a dog might be loved in a modern household.
performed many different services for their masters.
A slave might be employed as a farmhand, a bookkeeper, or as a teacher of
the master’s children. Or he might
be put in charge of a store—though the profits belonged to the master.
He could serve as an architect, a musician, or an actor.
As with Joseph in Egypt, he might rise through his service in an
aristocratic family into a place of high responsibility in the community.
Reference to This Custom
the practice of selling a free man into slavery was so well-known in Israel that
Jesus could make reference to it in His parables.
He obviously expected His hearers to understand what He was talking about
in this parable. Slavery was an evil
institution, but there was another, perhaps less desirable, possibility.
When the unmerciful servant has shown such a terrible lack of compassion
by committing his debtor to prison, Jesus pictured the king passing a more
drastic sentence, “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be
tortured, until he should pay back all he owed” (Matt. 18:34, NIV).
Forgiveness of others is a priority of Christian behavior (Matt.
Trade, Money, & Coinage in the Biblical World
Drinkard is professor of Old Testament, Hebrew, and archaeology, Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
FREQUENTLY THE BIBLE mentions wealth.
We often think of the references in terms of warnings in the P:rophets
and Proverbs of the dangers of wealth: “Wealth is not profitable on a day of
wrath, but righteousness rescues from death” (Prov. 11:4, HCSB).
trusting in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like
foliage” (11:28, HCSB).
“You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your
couches. You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves,” (Amos 6:4, NIV).
references to wealth, though, are positive.
The patriarchs were likely very wealthy.
Genesis describes Abraham as having vast herds and flocks as well as
numerous male and female servants. So
vast were Abraham’s holdings that he and Lot separated because the land
couldn’t support all their combined herds and flocks (Gen. 13).
In the Bible, wealth itself wasn’t primarily the problem.
Acquiring or using wealth improperly was the problem.
persons from civilization’s earliest periods in the ancient Near East were
wealthy. The wonders of the ancient
world spotlight the wealth of some of the ancients.
Whether one considers the pyramids of Egypt or the ziggurats of
Mesopotamia, these massive structures themselves indicate their builders’
wealth. Certainly the rulers of
these highly developed societies had to control vast wealth in order to
undertake such building projects. Additionally,
huge herds and flocks and numerous servants, as in the above example of Abraham,
were indicators of substantial wealth. Mesha,
king of Moab, exhibited his wealth by his annual tribute to the king of Israel:
100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000rams (2 Kings 3:4).
Other indicators of wealth included imported goods, luxury items, gems,
and often silver and gold. These
imported and luxury goods gave evidence of trade.
Neither the empires of Egypt nor Mesopotamia had great stocks of natural
resources. Thus most metals and
luxury good for these empires came through trade or tribute.
Wealth and trade thus usually went hand in hand.
Silver and gold were the favorite materials for use in commercial
transactions. Other goods such as
copper and tin, the ingredients of bronze, were also very valuable commodities.
All these metals were relatively easy to refine and were easily
even long-distance trade, was part of life for even the early inhabitants in the
ancient Near East. At Pre-Pottery
Neolithic Jericho, excavators have found obsidian tools.
Obsidian, a black or banded volcanic glass-like stone, came from Anatolic,
about 500 miles away. Its presence
at Jericho clearly indicates trade, even international trade.
The mechanism of trade from that early time is unknown, but the
speculation is that those who lived near the natural resources would trade
surplus amounts of their natural resources with nearby communities, who in turn
traded with more distant communities, and so forth.
One would not have to posit full-blown trade routes and caravans at this
early period. Other items indicating
trade at Pre-Pottery Neolithic Jericho include turquoise from the Sinai
Peninsula and cowrie shells from the Mediterranean coast.
Old Testament itself describes long-distance travel, with the clear implication
of trade at least from the time of Abraham onward.
Abraham traveled with his father Terah from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran,
a distance of approximately 600
miles. Abraham then traveled to
Canaan (another 500 miles) and eventually to Egypt and back to Canaan.
The text indicates he traveled with vast herds and flocks (Gen. 12:5,16;
of the clearest evidences of international trade is a 14th century BC
shipwreck off the coast of Uluburrn, Turkey.1
This late Bronze Canaanite merchant vessel carried a cargo of over 10
tons of copper and a ton of tin, much of this metal in large ingots each
weighing about 60 pounds. The vessel
also carried glass ingots, ivory, ebony wood, cedar wood, and terebinth/pistachio
resin. In all, the materials and
cargo reflect goods from much of the Mediterranean world:
Canaan, Egypt, Cyprus, Anatolia, and the Aegean areas.
The ship apparently made a circuit to ports in each of these regions
buying and selling goods.
Beni Hasan tomb paintings from Egypt, dating to about 1890 BC, depict a
Canaanite merchant caravan bringing goods to Egypt.
The travelers have with them animals, weapons, and perhaps metal ingots.
The item often described as a bellows carried on several of the donkeys
is more likely ingots of copper similar to those found in the Uluburun
shipwreck. Also such a caravan is
reminiscent of the Midianites/Ishmaelites who, while traveling to Egypt, bought
Joseph from his brothers (Gen. 37:25-28).
would require some means of assessing value.
Commodities were not of equal value.
How would one compare the value of a goat and a donkey?
Or more to the point, the value of a donkey in terms of silver?
Obviously some equivalences were needed and even essential.
Since precious metals, especially silver, and gold, were the favored
means of exchange for trade transactions, a system of weights and measures
became essential for buying and selling.
need for weights and measures also produced the need for standards of weights
and measure. We do not know the
precise equivalent of all the ancient weights and measures, but we can
approximate many of them. Many of
the measures came from human anatomy. The
cubit was a standard of length; it was the distance from the elbow to the tip of
the middle finger. Similarly, the
span was the width from the outstretched thumb to the little finger.
The palm was the width of the hand across the base of the four fingers,
and the finger was the width of one finger.
Four fingers made a palm, three palms made a span, and two spans made a
cubit. Some of the weights and
measures were originally descriptive: the
measure homer was the same as the word for “donkey.”
The homer measure was probably equivalent to a donkey-load.
Perhaps a talent was the measure
of a human load. In terms of surface
area, a yoke was the amount of land a yoke of oxen could plow in a day.
Seed was also used as a form of measure: one would describe a field in
terms of the amount of seed it would require for planting. Leviticus
27:16 speaks of a field’s size in terms of sowing a homer of barley.
Uluburun shipwreck mentioned above provides evidence of such standard with
several sets of weights and scales included in the wreckage.
Old Testament shekel was the primary measure for weight, though both larger and
smaller weights existed. When
Abraham purchased the burial cave at Machpeiah for Sarah, he negotiated the sale
with the owner, Ephron the Hittite, in the presence of Hebron’s elders.
“Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price
he had named in the ehearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver,
according to the weight current among the merchants” (Gen. 23:16, NIV).
coinage was not known at this time; the silver was weighed.
Abraham also used a set standard’ the shekel was in current use among
the merchants. The mention of
merchants gives further evidence of trade being common in Abraham’s time.
Since coins were still yet undeveloped, pieces of jewelry, metal, and
ingots served as the money. Though
the exact weight of the shekel from Abraham’s era is not known, shekel weights
from the monarchy’s later period and the weight of shekel coins of the New
Testament era show that a shekel weighed about 11.4 grams or 2/5 ounce.
narrative of Jeremiah purchasing the field from his cousin Hanamel shows the
continued use of metal weights rather than coins.
He purchased the field in Anathoth for 17 shekels, weighing out the money
on scales (Jer. 32:8-9). The low
price in comparison to Abraham’s price for a field and burial cave may
indicate a much smaller field or the reality that the field was virtually
worthless, being in land occupied by the Babylonian army.
mina and the talent were larger weights used for monetary exchange.
Fifty shekels made a mina and 60 minas made a talent.
A talent weighed the same as 3,000 shekels.
A mina was about 1 ¼ pounds, and a talent was about 75 1/3 pounds.
But most often even large weights were in shekels.
Thus Goliath’s body armor weighed 5,000 shekels (about 125 pounds) of
bronze and his spear head weighed 600 shekels (just over 15 pounds, 1 Sam.
the end of the seventh century BC, coinage had developed.
Coins were a means of establishing a guaranteed standard of weight of
metals. Kings began to produce
standardized weights of silver and gold to guarantee their weight.
The earliest coins come from Asia Minor with the kingdom of Lydia
certainly being among the first to produce coins.
One notable ruler of Lydia was Croesus, known from the proverbial
statement “rich as Croesus.” Lydia was especially rich in metal ores, silver and gold, in the mid-500s
BC and used these metals for coins. But
even early coins could be forged. It
was quite possible to make a coin of base metal and plate it with silver or
gold. To the casual observer, the
coin might well look authentic. So
ancients often tested coins, making deep incisions across them; the cut was not
to deface the coin but to determine if the coin was pure metal or base metal.
few Old Testament references to coins are in the latest eras—reflecting the
Persian Period when coins first appeared. One
such coin, the first mentioned in Scripture, the daric (KJV, “dram”), was a
gold coin about the size of a dime (1 Chron. 29:7; Ezra 2:69; Neh. 7:69-71).
New Testament mentioned several common coins.
The denarius was the most common Roman coin.
It weighed about 3 grams and was about the size of a dime.
The denarius is the coin called the tribute “penny” in King
James Version. The 30 pieces of
silver mentioned as payment to Judas were probably denarii.
The Greek drachma was approximately the same weight and value as the
tetradrachma (four drachmas) was another common Greek coin.
It was basically equivalent
to the Jewish shekel in size, weight, and value.
lepton was the smallest Jewish coin. It
is most likely the coin called the widow’s mite in the King James Version. The prutah was the most common bronze coin in
Judea in the New Testament era; it was equivalent to the Greek kodrantes.
It was the equivalent of two leptons and in the King James Version was
called a farthing.
real problem is trying to determine comparable value today for coins mentioned
in the Bible. What was the value of
a denarius or talent or lepton mentioned by Jesus?
For a talent, the American Standard Version has a footnote as £200 or $1,000.
Likewise, the New International Version notes in Matthew 25 that a talent was
worth more than $1,000. These
translations agree remarkably on the value of the talent.
But these amounts do not communicate the value of a talent well.
way to compare the relative value of a talent is to determine its weight and
then determine the value of that weight of silver today.
The talent was equivalent to 3,000 shekels of silver, each of which
weighed approximately 11.4 grams or 2/5 ounce.
So the talent of silver would weigh 75.3 pounds.
Silver currently (12-31-02) costs $4.81 per ounce.
On that basis, 75.3 pounds of silver would be worth $5,797 ($4.81 per
oz., 16 oz. to the lb., 75.3 lb). But
I don’t think even that communicates best the meaning or value of the talent
in Jesus’ day.
better way to determine the equivalent value of a talent today is to look at the
relative earning power or buying power of the talent in that day and consider a
comparable earning power or buying power today.
The talent was equivalent to a weight of 3,000 shekels, and that would be
equivalent to 12,000 denarii. The
denarius was a day’s wage or salary for the common laborer.
In Matthew 20, the owner of the vineyard agreed with the day laborers to
the pay of a denarius for a day’s work. A
denarius was also probably the wage for a laborer is based on the minimum wage
of $5.30 per hour. Typically
unskilled workers earn more than the minimum wage, perhaps $6.00 or $6.50 per
hour. If we take $6.00 per hour as a
typical wage for a laborer, then an 8-hour day would earn $48.00—that’s what
a denarius would have meant in Jesaus’ day translated into a day’s wage for
us today. The master of the
household in the parable of talents gave one servant five talents, another two
talents, and another one talent. Remember
that a talent was 12,000 denarii, so it was 12,000 day’s wages.
Again based on the equivalence of value today, a talent would be $48 X
12,000 = $576,000!
New Revised Standard Version note on
Matthew 25 says the talent was worth more than 15 years’ salary for a laborer.
If a laborer worked every day in a year, 12,000 days of work would amount
to nearly 33 years work. So the New
Revised Standard Version note as stated would be about half the comparable
value of a talent today.2 The
master of household was putting a fortune in the hands of each servant.
Following our buying equivalent using today’s funds:
talents = $2,880,000
talents = $1,152,000
from a massive fortune to the minuscule, Jesus pointed out to His disciples a
poor widow who put into the treasury “two mites, which make a farthing”
(Mark 12:41-44, KJV). The Greek text
says the poor widow put in two lepta, which make a kodrantes.
It took 336 leptons to equal a denarius.
Two leptons made a prutah, equivalent to the kodrantes.
This widow put into the treasury 2 leptons or 2/336 of a day’s wage.
Using the same buying power equivalence as above, a day’s wage today
would be $48; 1/168 would be $.28—a bit more than a quarter; or in terms of
two coins, it would be a little more than 2 dimes. Bi
Pulak, “Shipwreck: Recovering
3,000-Year-Old Cargo,” Archaeology
Odyssey, vol. 2 no. 4, September-October 1999, 18-29,59.
From the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible copyright © 1989 by the
Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in
the United States of America. Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234;
Vol. 42, No. 3; Spring 2016.
Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question
Found? While in the wilderness, what Moabite god did the
Israelites begin to worship? Answer Next Week:
Last week’s question: What
prophet called the city of Nineveh the mistress of witchcraft? Answer:
Nahum; Nahum 1:1; 3:4.