One of Moses’ lectures to the Israelites as they were poised to go in an claim the land has a section about finance, money and lending:
"There will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you." (Deuteronomy 15:4-6 ESV)
At this point in their history they had profited by the riches of Egypt. Remember? Their Egyptian bosses, friends and neighbors gave them what they wanted just to get them to leave after the ten plagues. “Here…Go…Now!” And the Israelites left with great treasures.
In the future, they would learn to trade and lend.
In the middle Ages, the Christians were taught not to lend at interest. But the Jews lived under no such prohibition. They always had working capital since as they moved from place to place, they were skilled in concentrating their wealth (Paul Johnson: A History of the Jews). They could trade easily. If in one place they were persecuted, they could easily pick up and move to another and in that new place they could then use their wealth to invest. They were quick to respond to new situations.
Indeed, it was the Jews who became capitalists, having come to terms with borrowing and lending which brought them influence. This turned out to be one of the greatest contributions the Jews made to human progress. So says Johnson. Why? Because they were accused of loving money. Others might be said to love real estate, cattle or some other commodity. Any of these could be idolatrous.
Johnson: “If they made money work for them, they were parasites.” That’s the reputation they got.
Again, Johnson: “The Jews had particular contributions to make to the spirit of economic innovation and enterprise.”
In the 17th century the population of Europe was expanding fast. It needed to import growing quantities of grain. “Ambitious Polish landowners, anxious to meet the need, went into partnership with Jewish entrepreneurs to create new wheat-growing areas to supply the market, take the grain down-river to the Baltic ports, and then ship it west. The ports were run by German Lutherans. The Dutch Calvinists owned most of the ships. But the Jews did the rest.” They managed, they leased, they ran the tolls, they built and ran mills and distilleries.
Many of the Jews who were eventually expelled from Europe went to the Americas, there to establish factories, create new industry and establish trade.
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Those who read this blog regularly know that this column is not easy on the Jewish people for their stubborn disregard of the Word of God. Nevertheless, God who has made them a witness in this world has not rejected them. So says the Apostle Paul.
So, let us look and see and acknowledge their ingenuity. When Moses declared: “You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow,” we see that God has imbued this people with talents that, all in all, have been a blessing. We live better lives in this world because of them.
And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you and make your name great.
So that you will be a blessing.
-- Genesis 12:2 (ESV)
*Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews. Harper & Row, 1987.
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