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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Re-Finance: Ancient Wisdom For Modern Money Management

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The 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.


July 17

View Money Properly


July 24

Make Agreements Cautiously


July 31

Earn Money Productively


Aug. 07

Manage Money Diligently


Aug. 14

Invest Money Wisely


Aug. 21

Give Money Generously


Aug. 28

Love Gets Involved



Avoid 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, TN.


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 repayment.1 

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. 

Spending  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, TN.


Debt 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.








1.   When have you experienced buyer’s remorse in a big way?

2.   Do you think many people in our society today are in debt due to over spending? 

3.   If so, why do you think people spend themselves into unsustainable debt?

4.   What does Proverb 22:7 say to you regarding indebtedness?

5.   How does indebtedness lead the indebted person into slavery?

6.   What is one way a person becomes subservient to a rich person?

7.   What practical principle does this proverb reinforce? 

8.   What are some ways a person can fall into debt?

9.   According to Proverbs 28:3, why do you think the rich oppress the poor?

10.   Why does borrowing make one dependent on others?

11.   What are some dangers of being at the mercy of a lender(s)?

12.   What impact does debt have on one’s giving?

13.   Why do you think so many people willing to go into so much debt?  (See Introduction above.)

14.   What does it look like to be enslaved to debt?

15.   Why is it so easy to slip into debt, and how can one recognize being enslaved by that debt?

16.   What are some things we can do to better manage our debt so that we are not enslaved to it?


Lasting Lessons in Proverbs 22:7:

1.  No one who is indebted to another is truly free.

2.  As the Israelites regarded it as a disgrace for one of their people to fall back into the status of being a “Hebrew slave,” so we should do everything in our power to avoid getting into a situation where we owe more than we can pay.



Indebtedness 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.

1.   What conditions of indebtedness is addressed by these verses?

2.   Do these verses advise us to avoid acts of generosity? 

3.   If not, then what are we to avoid?

4.   How can we, by recognizing that debt can enslave us, help ourselves stay out of financial obligations that are beyond our ability to manage?

5.   What does it mean to co-sign a loan for someone?

6.   What does the word “security” mean in this type of financial situation? (See Digging Deeper.)

7.   What responsibility does that place on the co-signer?

8.   How might we protect ourselves when entering into agreements with others?

9.   In what ways could co-signing for a loan trap and ensnare us?

10.   What are some problems this loan arrangement can cause on a friendship?

11.   How might we protect ourselves if we were to enter into an agreement in which we are the co-signer of a loan?

12.   How can we think clearly about debt when someone we love is the one asking for help?

13.   Are there some things we could do to minimize our risk or hurting a loved one?  If so, what are they?

14.   Why is entering into such an agreement because of social pressure a potential danger?

15.   Do you think this type of financial arrangement is a matter of “trust”?  If so, why?

16.   How do we navigate the tension between avoiding entanglements and wanting to help those in need?

17.   If we ever find ourselves entangled in a financial agreement, what are some ways we need to do to get out of it?

18.   How would you summarize the primary lesson of this Scripture passage?


Lasting Lessons in Proverbs 6:1-2:

1.  Never make a dangerous financial agreement because of social pressure.

2.  For 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.



Work 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.

1.   According to this passage, what steps are to be taken to be freed from financial entanglement?

2.   Based on this passage, what words and phrases emphasize that action should be taken immediately and with urgency?

3.   What is the lesson to be learned from the comparisons to a deer and bird having been trapped?

4.   What can we learn from the imagery in these verses?

5.   What are some dangers that might arise from co-signing a loan for a relative? a friend?

6.   How can obeying the principles in these passages empower us to serve and honor God?

7.   What would you be willing to sacrifice to get out of debt?

8.   If you are trapped by an ill-advised promise to co-sign a loan for someone, based on this passage, what should you do?

9.   What does it mean to “go humble yourself” with respect to freeing yourself from the obligation of having co-signed a loan?

10.   What are some things you think would help you avoid debt or financial entanglements, especially if it a ?

11.   If we are to work hard to free ourselves from unwise financial commitments, what are some things we can do to achieve that?

12.   What are some things we could do to restore a relationship broken by co-signing a loan? 


Lasting Lessons in Proverbs 6:3-5:

1.  We absolutely and as quickly as possible must be out from under financial arrangements whereby others have control of our assets.

2.  Anyone who 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 questions:

·   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 godly manner.

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

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

 Proverbs 6:1-5 (NKJV)

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  

 Proverbs 6:1-5 (TLB)

1 Son, 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.

 Proverbs 22:7 (TLB)

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; 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


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament:  Proverbs 22:7; 6:1-5

Poverty, its effect (22:7)

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.

Admonition to Seek Release From a Foolish Indebtedness (6:1-5)

Conditions of indebtedness (6:1-2)

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.

Exhortation 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 [1929]: 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 appeal.

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


Believer's 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 Practical Understanding.

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.

1.  You might be helping him to buy something which it is not God's will for him to have.

2.  You might be encouraging him to be a spendthrift or even a gambler.

3.  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.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary:  Proverbs 22:7; 6:1-5

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 mouth”).

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).

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Acts.  Copyright © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.


The Old Testament Survey Series - The Wisdom Literature And Psalms: Proverbs 22:7; 6:1-5

Preserving a Good Name (22:7)

Recognize the dangers of wealth:

Prov. 22:7

"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).

Proverbs 6:1-5

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. 20-35).

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


The Moody Bible Commentary:  Proverbs 22:7; 6:1-5

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.



Security (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.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.





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.


ROVERBS 6:1-3 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 obligations?

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 to debt.

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 night (2:8). 

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.

1.   See Leviticus s25:35-37.

2.   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.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 34, No. 4; Summer 2008.


Ancient Near Eastern Lending Practices

By George H. Shaddix

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).

Lending 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.

People 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. 

The 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.

According 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.

An 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.

Exodus 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.

Israelites 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.”

Israel 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.

A 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.

Some 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 Lev. 25:8-31).

Proverbs 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!

Readers 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.                                                   Bi

1.  Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

2.  Notes on Exodus 22:22-27, Life Application Study Bible Notes, WORDsearch Electronic Version, 1991.

3.  “Neshek,” Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, WORDsearch Electronic Version, 2010.

4.  Williams, ”Lend, Loan” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 3, gen. ed. Orr (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 1865-66.

5.  Ibid.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2016.


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 forever.

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.  John asked,

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 3:17)?

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 (Matt. 25:31-46).

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)!”

1.   Deut. 15:11; translations are that of the writer unless otherwise indicated.

2.   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.

3.   Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy: A Commentary,  trans. Doreothea Barton (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), 106.

4.   J. Morgenstern, “Sabbatical Year,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible,  5 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962-76), 4:141-144.

5.   See Ex. 22:21-27; 23:1-9; Lev. 19:36; and Amos 2:6-8.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1993.


Debtor’s Slavery

By Stuart Arnold

Stuart Arnold is retired pastor, Citadel Square Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina.

BAD 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.

The Slave in Judaism

This 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. 15:12-18).

Significantly, 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!

The 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.

The 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.

The Slave in the Roman Empire

Roman 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.

The 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 raised.

The 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.

Why Did People Sell Themselves Into Slavery?

The 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.

To 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.

Slaves 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. 

Jesus’ Reference to This Custom

Clearly, 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. 6:12-15).

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 1998-99.



Wealth, Trade, Money, & Coinage in the Biblical World

By Joel Drinkard

Joel Drinkard is professor of Old Testament, Hebrew, and archaeology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.


ATHER 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).

“Anyone 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).

Numerous 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.

Some 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 transportable.

Trade, 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.

The 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; 13:;5-7).

One 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.

The 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).

Trade 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.

The 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.

The Uluburun shipwreck mentioned above provides evidence of such standard with several sets of weights and scales included in the wreckage.

The 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).

Clearly 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.

The 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.

The 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. 17:4-7).

By 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.

The 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).

The 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 denarius. 

The tetradrachma (four drachmas) was another common Greek coin.  It was  basically equivalent to the Jewish shekel in size, weight, and value. 

The 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.

One 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. 

Another 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.

A 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!

The 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:

5 talents = $2,880,000

2 talents = $1,152,000

1 talent   = $576,000

Moving 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

1.  Pulak, “Shipwreck: Recovering 3,000-Year-Old Cargo,” Archaeology Odyssey, vol. 2 no. 4, September-October 1999, 18-29,59.

2.  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.





(18.195)  What 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.