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22. Protection of Property
If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.
2If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. 3If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.
5If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.
6If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.
7If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. 8If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. 9For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour. 10If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: 11Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. 12And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof. 13If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn.
14And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good. 15But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire.
16And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. 17If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.
18Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
19Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
20He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
21Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
22Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. 23If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; 24And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
25If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury. 26If thou at all take thy neighbour’s raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: 27For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.
28Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.
29Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. 30Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.
31And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.
Thus far God has proclaimed Himself the avenger of iniquities, and, citing thieves before His tribunal, has threatened them with eternal death. Now follow the civil laws, the principle of which is not so exact and perfect; since in their enactment God has relaxed His just severity in consideration of the people’s hardness of heart.
What God formerly delivered to His people the heathen legislators afterwards borrowed. Draco, indeed, was more severe, but his extreme rigor became obsolete by the silent consent of the people of Athens; and the Decemvirs borrowed from Solon part of their law, which they published in the ten tables, although there were some variations in the distinction of the double or quadruple restitution, and in process of time other alterations were afterwards made. But if all things be duly considered, it will be found that both Solon and the Decemvirs have made a change for the worse, wherever they have varied from the law of God. First of all, no distinction 132132 The negative added from Fr. See A. Gell. 11:18. is here made, such as the Roman laws decree, between manifest thieves and those that are not manifest; for by them the thief not manifest is condemned to a double amend, and the manifest to quadruple; and he is called a manifest thief who is caught before he has carried what he has stolen to the place of its destination. I suppose that the awarders of the punishment had this point in view, that the wickedness of that person was the more egregious who was so greedily and anxiously set on his prey as not to be afraid of disgrace; and undoubtedly he who has no fear of shame is more audacious ill sin. But, on the contrary, God condemns to a double amend those upon whom the stolen goods were found; and to quadruple, those who had killed or sold it; and deservedly so, because greater obstinacy in crime betrays itself where the theft is turned to profit, nor is there any hope of repentance; and thus by this further process the crime of dishonesty is doubled. It might be that, immediately after the offense, the thief should be alarmed; but he who had dared to kill the stolen animal or to sell it, is altogether hardened in his sin. Besides, the more difficult its investigation is, the greater is the punishment which a misdemeanor deserves. Meanwhile, it is to be remembered, that the pecuniary fine imposed upon thieves did not free them from guilt; for, as Marcellus says, 133133 “Il est dit en la loy;” it is said in the law. — Fr. not even the president of a province can bring it to pass, that infamy should not pursue a man condemned of theft; and there was no need of establishing by law that in which all by nature are agreed. Thus, when God punished thieves by a fine, He left them still marked by infamy. I know not whether they 134134 This first opinion is “that (says Corn. a Lapide) of S. Thomas, 1:2. q. 105, art. 2. ad 9., after Strabo; God commands that a thief should restore five oxen for one, because the ox has five utilities; first, it is killed in sacrifice; secondly, its flesh is eaten; thirdly, it ploughs; fourthly, it gives milk; fifthly, it supplies leather; — whilst a sheep only has four advantages; for, first, it is slain in sacrifice; secondly, its flesh is eaten; thirdly, it gives milk; fourthly, it gives wool.” The second opinion is attributed to Junius by Willet, “oportet hunc furem audacem, et versutum esse.” assign the true cause why he who had stolen an ox is fined to a larger amount than he who had stolen a goat, or sheep, or other cattle, who say that the loss of the owner is taken into account to whom the labor of the ox is especially useful in agriculture; for what is said as to an ox I extend to cows and the whole herd. Those seem to come nearer to the truth who say the audacity of the thief is punished who, when he stole the larger animal, did not fear being observed by witnesses; yet it seems to me more likely that the different sentence depended on the price of the article; for assuredly it is more reasonable that he who has done the most harm should be exposed to the greater punishment.
2. If a thief be found breaking up. This clause is to be taken separately, and is inserted by way of parenthesis; for, after having decreed the punishment, God adds in connection, “he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he should be sold for his theft;” and this exception as to the thief in the night is introduced parenthetically. But although the details are not expressed with sufficient distinctness, still the intention of God is by no means ambiguous, viz., that if a thief should be killed in the dark, his slayer should be unpunished; for he can then hardly be distinguished from a robber, especially when he proceeds with violence; because he cannot enter another man’s house by night without either digging through a wall or breaking down a door. The Twelve Tables 135135 This provision of the Twelve Tables is thus given by A. Gell. 11. ult., “Si nox furtum faxit, sim (si eum) quis occisit, jure caesus esto: si luci furtum faxit, sim aliquis endo (in) ipso furto capsit, verberator, illique, cui furtum factum escit (erit) addicitor, sed non nisi is, qui interemturus erat, quiritaret,” i.e., shall have called out for assistance. differ slightly from this; for they permit the killing of a thief by night, and also by day if he should defend himself with a weapon. But, since God had sufficiently repressed by other laws murders and violent assaults, He is silent here respecting robbers who use the sword in their attempts at plunder. He therefore justly condemns to death those who have avenged by murder a theft in open day.
3. He should make full restitution. These words, as I have said, are connected with the first verse, since here the execution of the punishment is only enjoined; as if God forbade thieves to be spared, but that they should pay either twofold or quadruple, or even quintuple, according to the measure of their crime. But, if they were unable to pay, He commands them to be sold as slaves, which also was the custom at Rome. Whence the saying of Cato, 136136 “Sed enim M. Cato in oratione quam de praeda militibus dividenda scripsit, vehementibus et illustribus verbis de impunitate peculatus atque licentia conqueritus. Ea verba, quoniam nobis impense placuerunt, adscripsimus: Fures (inquit) privatorum furtorum in nervo atque in compedibus aetatem agunt: fures autem publici in auto atque in purpura.” — A. Gell. 11 ult. “that private thieves lived in bonds and fetters, but public ones in gold and purple.” And since this condition was a harsh one, a caution is expressly given, that they were not to be absolved on the score of their poverty. If any one should ask whether it was lawful for the owner of the thing stolen to recover double or quadruple its value, I answer, that what God awards, a man has the best of rights to; meanwhile, in equity men were bound to take care that they did not grow rich at the expense of others, but rather were they to apply whatever they gained to pious and holy uses.
5. If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten. This kind of fraud is justly ranked among thefts; viz., if any man shall have put in his beast to feed in another’s field or vineyard. For if a person have made improper use of his servant to steal by him, he himself is deemed guilty of the offense, even although he may have touched nothing with his own hand; nor does he less do wrong who has given occasion of injury by means of a brute. Still, God restricts the punishment to a compensation of double the amount, because it cannot be certainly established that the master of the animal desired to effect the damage fraudulently and designedly; yet He requires the loss to be made up at the highest estimate of its value; 138138 C.’s view of these words seems to be adopted by none of the commentators. They understand them more simply, that the restitution was to be made in kind, and of the best of the aggressor’s produce. Whether we read with C. “bonum agri,” or with others “de bono,” or “de optimo,” as Dathe and A. V., does not appear to affect this sense. for thus I interpret “the goodness of his field and his vineyard,” that the place having been examined, a liberal restitution shall be awarded to its owner, according to the utmost it would have probably produced in its greatest state of fertility.
6. If fire break out and catch in thorns. This injury is somewhat different from the foregoing, for he who kindles the fire is commanded to make good the damage done by him, although there may have been no willful intention to do harm. For the incendiary who had maliciously destroyed either a cornfield or a vineyard was to be far more severely punished; here, however, mere carelessness is punished. Although no mention is made either of house or barn, still the law includes all similar cases requiring compensation from him who had kindled a fire even in an open field. But it seems that such a person would be blameless, because he could not. foresee that the fire would ignite the thorns; yet, in order that every one should take as much care of the property of another as of his own, God commands him to suffer the penalty of his heedless or stupid negligence.
7. If a man shall deliver unto his neighbor money. It is here determined under what circumstances an action for theft would lie in case of a deposit, viz., if an inanimate thing, as a garment or furniture, be given ill charge, and the person with whom it is deposited should allege that it is stolen, God commands that, if the thief be discovered, he should pay double; but, if not, that an oath should be required of the man who declares that the thing has been stolen from him. But, if it be an animal that was given in charge, a somewhat different provision is made, viz., that if it have been violently carried away, or torn by beasts, the person with whom it was deposited should be free; but if it had been stolen, that he should make restitution. In order to understand the principle of this law, we must observe that depositaries are not to be compelled to do more than faith. fully preserve the thing entrusted to them; just as a prudent and careful father of a family is attentive to the preservation of his property. When they have acquitted themselves diligently in this respect, it would be unjust to require more, of them; otherwise, when they undertake the burden of this gratuitous office, their generosity would be an injury to themselves. But, since it is not so easy to steal an animal from the stall, or from the hands of the shepherd, the negligence of the shepherd betrays itself in the loss of the beast, 139139 “Que la beste se soit esvanouye sans qu’il en ait rien sceu;” in that the beast has vanished without his knowing anything about it. — Fr. supposing no violence to have been used. Justice, then, is done in both cases, i e., that the depository shall not make good a vessel, or money, or a garment, because this would be in a manner to put him in the place of the thief; but that if the animal be stolen he shall pay its price, unless he can cleat’ himself of carelessness. If any should think that too great indulgence is shown to the depositary, when God would have the dispute terminated by his oath; the reply is easy, that we do not entrust anything to be kept by another, unless we are persuaded of his honesty. Whoever, then, has chosen a guardian for his property, has borne witness to his own prejudice that he is a good and trustworthy man; and consequently, it would be absurd that he should soon afterwards be involved in all accusation of theft without proof. Wherefore it was reasonable that God would have the owner of the lost goods acquiesce in the oath of him. whom he has considered to be his faithful friend. Besides, a man is altogether acquitted who clears himself by calling God to witness his innocence, unless any sinister suspicion is alleged against him, and provided he excuses himself on probable evidence.
9. For all manner of trespass. An action for theft is here permitted, but with a fine attached if any should rashly accuse his neighbor; for else it might be doubted when or for what reasons the restitution of double or quadruple was to be required. He therefore permits that if any one suspects another of theft, he should summon that person to plead his cause; and if he should prove his case, that he should recover double the thing lost; but if the judges should pronounce that he had brought his action groundlessly, that he, on the contrary, should pay the penalty of his false accusation. For such an action as this is not altogether a civil one, but carries with it the stain of infamy, and thus it would be unjust that a man should be injured by false suspicions whom the judges acquit of crime. The word used here for judges is אלהים, elohim, which properly means gods, as being of the plural number; it is, however often used for God. 137137 “Le Dieu vivant.” — Fr. It is transferred to judges for the purpose of dignifying their office; because in it they represent the person of God, in whose hand alone is all dominion and power. Therefore Christ says they were called gods, because to them “the word of God came,” (John 10:34,) i.e., that they should preside in His name, and be set over others, on which subject we treated under the Fifth Commandment.
10. If a man deliver unto his neighbor an ass. Since in the passage from whence I have taken these four verses, mention is made of a deposit, and Moses is professedly providing against frauds, and robberies, and thefts, I have thought it well to place them under this head. It has indeed some relation to the Third Commandment, because it shows the lawful use of an oath, viz., that in matters of concealment men should have recourse to the witness of God, and that, by the interposition of His sacred name, an end should be put to their strife. But, while the authority attributed to oaths depends on the reverence due to God, at the same time faith and piety are enforced in them, 140140 For these latter words, which I hardly understand, the following are substituted in Fr., “Cela touche quant et quant a son service et religion.” so that all things should correspond. I have, however, considered the main point, i e., how controversies as to things concealed should be brought to an end for the advancement of peace and equity. He would therefore have the depositary acquitted, if he swears that the animal entrusted to him is lost (either by death or violence, 141141 Added from Fr. ) although lie should produce no witness of the matter, since it would be unjust that he should bear the blame, unless fraud, or some more palpable offense, have been committed by him. At the conclusion, then, it is said, “the owner of it shall accept” the oath, which is equivalent to saying, that lie shall be compelled to acquiesce, and shall give no more trouble about it. The expression, “an oath of the Lord shall be between them both,” is a remarkable one, whereby the obligation and sanctity of an oath are enforced, whilst Moses reminds us that God is the author of this sacred mode of attestation, and presides over it as its judge and avenger.
Moses now lays down the law as to a borrowed animal, if it die, or be mutilated, or injured. There is, however, a wide distinction between a thing borrowed and a thing deposited, for he who lends confers a favor; and therefore, when a man borrows a thing, he binds himself to restore it in safety, as far as in him lies. A distinction, however, is made, if the owner himself of the animal be an eye-witness of the death or fracture, he shall bear the loss; but if the animal should die or be injured in his absence, its value is awarded to him. His presence is tantamount to this, as if it were said, if he shall have seen with his own eyes that the injury did not occur by the fault of him to whom he lent it, then he shall give him no trouble about it. For instance, if you have lent me a horse, and take the journey with me, although anything untoward should happen — supposing you are assured that it did not occur by my temerity, or negligence, or bad management, I am free, and exempt from loss.
What is here laid down as to a borrowed animal must be applied also to all other things borrowed.
Hence, also, it is manifest that, although God remits the judicial penalty, fornication is displeasing to Him. As to the spiritual judgment of the conscience, there were expiations to propitiate Him; He here only has consideration for young females, lest, being deceived, and having lost their virginity, they should become prostitutes; and thus the land should be defiled by whoredom. The remedy is, that lie who has corrupted girl should be compelled to marry her, and also to give tie a dowry from his own property, lest, if he should afterwards cast her off, she should go away from her bed penniless. But, if the marriage should not please her father, the penalty imposed on her seducer is, that he should assign her a wedding portion.
18. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. In these passages the punishment of those is appointed who should in any respect violate the worship of God. We have lately seen how severely God avenged apostasy from the faith; but now He touches upon certain particular points when religion is not professedly forsaken, but some corruption is introduced, whereby its purity is affected. The first passage denounces capital punishment upon witches; by which name Moses means enchantresses, or sorceresses, who devote themselves to magic arts, either to injure persons by their fascinations, or to seek revelations from the devil; such as she was whom Saul consulted, although she might be called by a different name 6565 It is said of the woman, (1 Samuel 18:7,) that “she had a familiar spirit,” (אוב See vol. 1, p. 428; the word here used is מכשפהfrom כשף, praestigiis uti. — Taylor’s Concordance. Since such illusions carry with them a wicked renunciation of God, no wonder that He would have them punished with death. But since this pestilent crime would be no more tolerable in a man than a woman, it has been probably supposed that the law was directed against women, because their sex is more disposed to superstition. Certainly the same enactment is made respecting males in Deuteronomy 18:1, 6666 See ante, vol. 1, p. 426, on Deuteronomy 18:10. only the punishment is not there denounced, but God merely prohibits any of the people from being an enchanter or a witch. Now it is clear that all the kinds which are there recited, are here included under one; so that God would condemn to capital punishment all augurs, and magicians, and consulters with familiar spirits, and necromancers and followers of magic arts, as well as enchanters. And this will appear more plainly from the second and third passages, in which God declares that He “will set. His face against all, that shall turn after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards,” so as to cut them off from His people; and then commands that they should be destroyed by stoning. Wherefore, since it is not just that men should escape with impunity, when the infirmity of women is not spared, nor that dissimilar sentences should be pronounced in similar cases, the same punishment which was decreed against witches and enchantresses, is now extended to either sex, and to all magical superstitions. In the words also “that turneth to go a whoring,” the atrocity of the crime is again expressed, the similitude being taken from immodest women, who seek with wandering glances for the indulgence of their lust. Moses, therefore, signifies that, as soon as we begin to cast our eyes this way and that, and do not keep them fixed on God alone so as to be content with Him, that sacred union 6767 “Le mariage spirituel."—Fr. is violated wherein He has bound us to Himself.
25. If thou lend money to any of my people Humanity ought to be very greatly regarded in the matter of loans, especially when a person, being reduced to extremities, implores a rich man’s compassion; for this is, in. point of fact, the genuine trial of our charity, when, in accordance with Christ’s precept, we lend to those of whom we expect no return. (Luke 6:35.) The question here is not as to usury, as some have falsely thought, 111111 See C. on Luke 6:35. Harmony of the Evang., vol. 1 p. 302. — (Calvin Soc. edit.,) together with the Editor’s note. as if he commanded us to lend gratuitously, and without any hope of gain; but, since in lending, private advantage is most generally sought, and therefore we neglect the poor; and only lend our money to the rich, from whom we expect some compensation, Christ reminds us that, if we seek to acquire the favor of the rich, we afford in this way no proof of our charity or mercy; and hence lie proposes another sort of liberality, which is plainly gratuitous, in giving assistance to the poor, not only because our loan is a perilous one, but because they cannot make a return in kind.
Before descending to speak of loans, God here adverts to poverty and distress, (Leviticus 25:35,) whereby men’s minds may be disposed to compassion. If any one be afflicted with poverty, he commands us to relieve his necessity. He makes use, however, of a metaphor, 112112 Margin. A. V., “If his hand faileth, then thou shalt strengthen him.” “When a man is so impoverished that he hath no means, they are commanded to strengthen him, as taking him by the hand; so the Lord is said to strengthen the right hand of Cyrus, when he assisted him against his enemies, Isaiah 45:11, etc.” — Willet, in loco. that he who is tottering should be strengthened, as if by catching hold of his hand. What follows about the stranger and sojourner extends and amplifies, in my opinion, the previous sentence; as if it were said that, since humanity is not to be denied even to strangers, much more is assistance to be given to their brethren. For, when it pleased God that strangers should be permitted to inhabit the land, they were to be kindly treated 113113 “Il a entendu qu’on les traittast humainement;” He implied that they should be treated with humanity. — Fr. according to the rights of hospitality; for to allow them to live is to make their condition just and tolerable. And thus God indirectly implies, that such unhappy persons are expelled and driven away, so as not to live, if they are oppressed by unjust burdens. This, then, is the sum of the first sentence, that the rich, who has the ability, should uplift the poor man who is failing, by his assistance, or should strengthen the tottering.
A precept is added as to lending without interest, which, although it is a political law, still depends on the rule of charity; inasmuch as it can scarcely happen but that the poor should be entirely drained by the exaction of interest, and that their blood should be almost sucked away. Nor had God any other object in view, except that mutual and brotherly affection should prevail amongst the Israelites. It is plain that this was a part of the Jewish polity, because it was lawful to lend at interest to the Gentiles, which distinction the spiritual law does not admit. The judicial law, however, which God prescribed to His ancient people, is only so far abrogated as that what charity dictates should remain, i.e., that our brethren, who need our assistance, are not to be treated harshly. Moreover, since the wall of partition, which formerly separated Jew and Gentile, is now broken down, our condition is now different; and consequently we must spare all without exception, both as regards taking interest, and any other mode of extortion; and equity is to be observed even towards strangers. “The household of faith.” indeed, holds the first rank, since Paul commands us specially to do good to them, (Galatians 6:10;) still the common society of the human race demands that we should not seek to grow rich by the loss of others.
As touching the political law, no wonder that God should have permitted His people to receive interest, from the Gentiles, since otherwise a just reciprocity would not have been preserved, without which one party must needs be injured. God commands His people not to practice usury, and still lays the Jews alone, and not foreign nations, under the obligation of this law. In order, therefore, that equality (ratio analogica) might be preserved, He accords 114114 “Il permet aux Juifs pareille liberte envers les nations estranges, que les Payens se donnoyent envers les Juifs; “He permits the Jews to have equal liberty with respect to foreign nations, with that which the heathen gave themselves with respect to the Jews. — Fr. the same liberty to His people which the Gentiles would assume for themselves; for this is the only intercourse that can be endured, when the condition of both parties is similar and equal. For when Plato 115115 Πολιτεία Γ. in fin. asserts that usurers are not to be tolerated in a well-ordered republic, lie does not go further than to enjoin, that its citizens should abstain from that base and. dishonest traffic between each other.
The question now is, whether usury is evil in itself; and surely that which heathens even have detested appears to be by no means lawful to the children of God. We know that the name of usurer has everywhere and always been infamous and detested. Thus Cato, 116116 “Furem dupli condenmari, foeneratorem quadrupli.” Cato de R. Rust. in procem. “Ex quo genere comparationis illud est Catonis senis; a quo quum quaereretur, quid maxime in re familiari expediret, respondit, Bene pascere. Quid secundum? Satis bene pascere. Quid tertium? Male pascere. Quid quartum? orare. Et, cum ille, qui quaesierat, dixisset, Quid foenerari? Tum Cato, Quid hominem, inquit, occidere?” Cic. de Off. 2:24. desiring to commend agriculture, says that thieves were formerly condemned to a fine of double, and usurers quadruple; from which he infers, that the latter were deemed the worst. And when asked what he thought of usury, he replied, “What do I think of killing a man?” whereby he wished to show, that it was as improper to make money by usury as to commit murder. This was the swing of one private individual, yet it is derived from the opinions of almost all nations and persons. And assuredly from this cause great tumults often arose at Rome, and fatal contentions were awakened between the common people and the rich; since it can hardly be but that usurers suck men’s blood like leeches. But if we come to an accurate decision as to the thing itself, our determination must be derived from nowhere else than the universal rule of justice, and especially from the declaration of Christ, on which hang the law and the prophets, — Do not unto others what ye would not have done to thyself. (Matthew 7:12.) For crafty men are for ever inventing some little subterfuge or other to deceive God. Thus, when all men detested the word foenus, another was substituted, which might avoid unpopularity under an honest pretext; for they called it usury, as being a compensation for the loss a man had incurred by losing the use of his money. But 117117 In Fr. the following sentence is here inserted: — “Ce titre la doncques a este favorable: comme en nostre langage Francois le mot d’Usure sera assez en horreur, mais les interests ont la vogue sous nulle difficulte ni scrupule:” This title then was an euphemism, as in our French language, the word Usury will be sufficiently dreaded, whilst Interest is current without difficulty or scruple. Say. Econ. Polit. B. 2 Ch. 8 Section 1., tells us that, “L’interet...s’appelait, auparavant usure, et c’etait le mot propre, puisque l’interet est un prix, un loyer qu’on paie pour avoir la jouissance d’une valeur. Mais ce mot est devenu odieux; il ne reveille plus que l’idee d’un interet illegal, exorbitant, et on lui en a substitue un autre plus honnete et moins expressif selon la coutume.” there is no description of foenus to which this specious name may not be extended; for whosoever has any ready money, and is about to lend it, he will allege that it would be profitable to himself if he were to purchase 118118 “Terre ou marchandise.” — Fr. something with it, and that at every moment opportunities of gain are presenting themselves. Thus there will be always ground for his seeking compensation, since no creditor could ever lend money without loss to himself. Thus usury, 119119 “Ainsi, combien que ce nom d’Usure ait este favorable de soy du commencement, en la fin il a este diffame;” Thus, although this word Usury was of no ill meaning in its origin, in the end it has been abused. — Fr. since the word is equivalent to foenus, is but a covering for an odious practice, as if such glosses would deliver us in God’s judgment, where nothing but absolute integrity can avail for our defense. There was almost a similar mode of subterfuge among the Israelites. The name נש5, neschec, which is derived from biting, sounded badly; since then no one chose to be likened to a hungry dog, who fed himself by biting others, some escape from the reproach was sought; and they called whatever gain they received beyond the capital, תרבית, therbith, as being an increase. But God, in order to prevent such deception, unites the two words, (Leviticus 25:36,) and condemns the increase as well as the biting. For, where He complains of their unjust modes of spoiling and thieving in Ezekiel, 120120 See C. on Ezekiel 18:5-9, where the subject is more fully discussed. C. Soc. Edit. vol. 2 p. 225, et seq. See also Mr. Myers’s Dissertation, ibid., p. 469. and uses both words as He does here by Moses, there is no doubt but that He designedly cuts off their empty excuses. (Ezekiel 18:13.) Lest any, therefore, should reply, that although he derived advantage from his money, he was not on that account guilty of usury, God at once removes this pretense, and condemns in general any addition to the principal. Assuredly both passages clearly show that those who invent new words in excuse of evil, do nothing but vainly trifle. I have, then, admonished men that the fact itself is simply to be considered, that all unjust gains are ever displeasing to God, whatever color we endeavor to give to it. But if we would form an equitable judgment, reason does not suffer us to admit that all usury is to be condemned without exception. If the debtor have protracted the time by false pretences to the loss and inconvenience of his creditor, will it be consistent that he should reap advantage from his bad faith and broken promises? Certainly no one, I think, will deny that usury ought to be paid to the creditor in addition to the principal, to compensate his loss. 121121 Addition in Fr., “Je say qu’on nomme cela Interest, mais ce m’est tout un:” I know that they call this interest, but this is all the same to me. If any rich and monied man, wishing to buy a piece of land, should borrow some part of the sum required of another, may not he who lends the money receive some part of the revenues of the farm until the principal shall be repaid? Many such cases daily occur in which, as far as equity is concerned, usury is no worse than purchase. Nor will that subtle argument 122122 Polit., lib. 1. cap. 10. “The enemies to interest in general, (says Blackstone,) make no distinction between that and usury, holding any m-crease of money to be indefensibly usurious. And this they ground, as well on the prohibition of it by the Law of Moses among the Jews, as also upon what is said to be laid down by Aristotle, that money is naturally barren, and to make it breed money is preposterous, and a perversion of the end of its institution, which was only to serve the purposes of exchange, and not of increase.” The hypothetical form in which he attributes this dictum to Aristotle, he explains in a note to be, because “this passage hath been suspected to be spurious.” — Comment, on the Laws of England, b. 2. ch. 30 sec. 454. of Aristotle avail, that usury is unnatural, because money is barren and does not beget money; for such a cheat as I have spoken of, might make much profit by trading with another man’s money, and the purchaser of the farm might in the meantime reap and gather his vintage. But those who think differently, may object, that we must abide by God’s judgment, when He generally prohibits all usury to His people. I reply, that the question is only as to the poor, and consequently, if we have to do with the rich, that usury is freely permitted; because the Lawgiver, in alluding to one thing, seems not to condemn another, concerning which He is silent. If again they object that usurers are absolutely condemned by David and Ezekiel, (Psalm 15:5; Ezekiel 18:13,) I think that their declarations ought to be judged of by the rule of charity; and therefore that only those unjust exactions are condemned whereby the creditor, losing’ sight of equity, burdens and oppresses his debtor. I should, indeed, be unwilling to take usury under my patronage, and I wish the name itself were banished from the world; but I do not dare to pronounce upon so important a point more than God’s words convey. It is abundantly clear that the ancient people were prohibited from usury, but we must needs confess that this was a part of their political constitution. Hence it follows, that usury is not now unlawful, except in so far as it contravenes equity and brotherly union. Let each one, then, place himself before God’s judgment-seat, and not do to his neighbor what he would not have done to himself, from whence a sure and infallible decision may be come to. To exercise the trade of usury, since heathen writers accounted it amongst disgraceful and base modes of gain, is much less tolerable among the children of God; but in what cases, and how far it may be lawful to receive usury upon loans, the law of equity will better prescribe than any lengthened discussions.
Let us now examine the words. In the first place, where we have translated the words, “Thou shalt not be to him as a usurer,” 123123 C. here uses the word foenerator; whereas his translation is, it will be seen, usurarius. there is some ambiguity in the Hebrew word נש5, nashac, for it is sometimes used generally for to lend, without any ill meaning; but here it is undoubtedly applied to a usurer, who bites the poor; as also in Psalm 109:11, “Let the usurer catch all that he hath.” 124124 A. V., “The extortioner.” The sum is, that the poor are to be liberally aided, and not to be oppressed by harsh exactions: and therefore immediately afterwards it is added, “neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.” When again He repeats, “And if thy brother be waxen poor,” etc., we see that reference is everywhere made to the poor; because, although sometimes those who possess large properties are ruined by usury, (as Cicero says that certain luxurious and prodigal persons ill his days contended against usury with the fruits of their farms, because their creditors swallowed up the whole produce; 125125 “Neque id (quod stultissimum est) certare cum usuris fructibus praediorurn.” Cic. Or. in Cat. 2da. 8, i.e., says Facciolati in voce certo, “tot usuris se onerare, ut praediorum fructus exaequent: qua ratione fructus cum usuris committuntur, et certant, et plerumque superantur, quia usurae quotannis certae sunt, fructus autem incerti.” Fr., “Car combien que ceux qui possedent beaucoup soyent aucunefois epuisez, pource qu’ils ne sont que receveurs de ceux auxquels ils doyvent;” for, although those who possess much are often ruined, because they are only the receivers of their creditors, etc. ) still the poor alone, who had been compelled to borrow by want, and not by luxury, were worthy of compassion.
The third passage, however, admirably explains the meaning of God, since it extends usury to corn and wine, and all other articles. For many contracts were invented by artful men, whereby they pillaged the needy without ignominy or disgrace: and now-a-days no rapacity is more cruel than that which imposes a payment upon debtors, without any mention of usury; for instance, if a poor man should ask the loan of six measures of wheat, the creditor will require seven to be repaid; or if the same thing should happen as regards wine. This profit will not be called usury, because no money will pass; but God, indirectly casting ridicule upon their craftiness, shows that this plague of usury 126126 Foenebre malum.” — Lat. “Ceste vermine d’usure.” — Fr. extends itself to various things, and to almost all sorts of traffic; whence it clearly appears that nothing else is prescribed to the Israelites, but that they should humanely assist each other. But, since cupidity blinds men, and carries them, aside to dishonest dealings, God sets His blessing in opposition to all such iniquitous arts, whereby they hawk, as it were, for gain; and commands them to look for riches rather to Him the author of all good things, than to hunt for them by rapine and fraud.
Exodus 22:28. Thou shalt not revile the gods. These four passages confirm what I have said, that in the: Fifth Commandment are comprised, by synecdoche all superiors in authority.: For it was not the design of God to add to the Two Tables, as if something better and more perfect had afterwards come into His mind; which it is sinful to suppose. He was therefore content with the rule once laid down, although He afterwards spoke in a more explanatory manner. But the precepts here given would be unconnected with the Law, if they were not an adjunct, and therefore a part, of the Fifth Commandment.
First of all, He commands that we should think and speak reverently of judges, and others, who exercise the office of magistrate: nor is it to be questioned, that, in the ordinary idiom of the Hebrew language, He repeats the same thing twice over; and consequently that the same persons are called “gods,” and “rulers of the people.” The name of God is, figuratively indeed, but most reasonably, applied to magistrates, upon whom, as the ministers of His authority, He has inscribed a mark of His glory. For, as we have seen that honor is due to fathers, because God has associated them with Himself in the possession of the name, so also here His own dignity is claimed for judges, in order that the people may reverence them, because they are God’s representatives, as His lieutenants, and vicars. And so Christ, the surest expositor, explains it, when He quotes the passage from Psalm 82:6, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High,” (John 10:34,) viz., “that they are called gods, unto whom the word of God came,” which is to be understood not of the general instruction addressed to all God’s children, but of the special command to rule.
It is a signal exaltation of magistrates, that God should not only count them in the place of parents, but present them to us dignified by His own name; whence also it clearly appears that they are not to be obeyed only from fear of punishment, “but also for conscience sake,” (Romans 13:5,) and to be reverently honored, lest God should be despised in them. If any should object, that it would be wrong to praise the vices of those whom we perceive to abuse their power; the answer is easy, that although judges are to be borne with even if they be not the best, 1313 “Encore qu’ils ne sont pas tels qu’ils devroyent;” even though they be not what they should. — Fr. still that the honor with which they are invested, is not a covering for vice. Nor does God command us to applaud their faults, but that the people should rather deplore them in silent sorrow, than raise disturbances in a licentious and seditious spirit, and so subvert political government.
29. Thou shalt not delay. We may gather from this passage that the first-fruits were offered, to the end that the Israelites should devote themselves and their possessions to God; for Moses enjoins these two things in conjunction, that they should not delay to consecrate to God of the abundance of their fresh fruits, and their first-born. But we know that, in offering the first-born, the recollection of their deliverance was revived, by the acknowledgment of the preservation of their race, and of their cattle. And there was, moreover, added to the grace of their redemption, the continual supply of food to them from day to day. I do not assent to their opinion who restrict the word fullness339339 Vide margin, — A. V. to wine, because it flows more abundantly from the press, and take the word tear 340340 Vide margin, — A. V. to mean oil, because it runs less freely; nor do I approve of their notion who apply fullness only to dry fruits. It seems to me more proper to take fullness as the generic term, whilst tear is taken to denote liquids, as if Moses commanded them not only to offer grapes, and olive-berries, but the very drops which were expressed from the fruit. The other passages confirm this command, that they should not defraud God of the first-fruits, and so bury the remembrance of their redemption, and profane themselves in their very eating and drinking, but rather by this portion of the fruits sanctify the food of the whole year. Nor is it causelessly that Moses so often inculcates a point by no means obscure, since all these admonitions were despised and neglected by the Jews, as soon as they had returned from the Babylonish captivity, as Malachi complains in his third chapter.