by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
CGG Weekly, August 23, 2019
"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."
In Part Five, we studied the three qualifications in Psalm 15:4 for those who would dwell with God both now and for eternity. Those specific criteria focus on the idea of honor: The upright individual will spend little time in the company of those who display contempt for God, but they will honor and emulate those who fear God and live righteously before Him. In addition, the godly person will keep his word even if doing so will cause him inconvenience, disadvantage, or even pain. Such an individual possesses a personal sense of honor and fidelity that he or she will guard jealously.
Verse 5 contains the final two answers to the questions posed in the first verse: "He who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent." These two, speaking of usury and bribery, are easily the most specific of the entire list of qualifications. Both deal with the usage of wealth and power. God is very much against the idea of His people abusing and exploiting their neighbors for personal gain.
Usury, or the charging of interest for a loan, was not forbidden outright in ancient Israel, as we will see. The Old Covenant itself contains a law forbidding it among Israelites: "If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest" (Exodus 22:25). Leviticus 25:35-38 expands this law:
If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
Without mentioning usury, this law is further expanded in Deuteronomy 15:7-11:
If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, "The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand," and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, "You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land."
God desires His people to be generous to one another, to give willingly and freely, and to expect nothing in return. A brother's poverty and hardship are not an opportunity for profit but a chance to exercise the generosity and kindness of God. He does not even want us to dwell on how our liberality will drain our bank accounts because He will bless us for lifting a brother to his feet.
Only in Deuteronomy 23:19-20 does God give Israel permission to charge interest—and then only in one specific situation:
You shall not charge interest to your brother—interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess. (Emphasis ours.)
This exception implies that charging interest to a fellow-Israelite would be tantamount to treating him like an outsider, one who has no stake or privileges among God's people. In other words, to do so would be insulting and demeaning, perhaps even abusive.
However, notice how the qualification in Psalm 15:5 reads: "He who does not put out his money at usury." King David makes no mention of Israelite or foreigner. The blameless child of God simply does not lend at usury. Out of love for neighbor, he treats everyone with the same generosity and kindness; he is not out to make a quick buck on another's misfortune.
The final qualification—"nor does he take a bribe against the innocent"—seems like a no-brainer. God's people should not practice bribery or anything like it! The Old Covenant speaks to this sin as well: "And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous" (Exodus 23:8; see Deuteronomy 16:19).
As it is stated here, the law opens an avenue of possibility about David's real concern in adding the injunction against bribery to his list: His intent may go deeper than textbook bribery into any corruption of justice or even of personal judgment about another person. One does not have to be a judge in a court of law or take actual money to be induced into making an unfair or prejudiced decision against another. When making judgments, the godly person considers his motives and questions whether outside pressures are unduly swaying him to make a discriminatory decision. The more significant principle, then, is that the one who will dwell with God will do his utmost to judge, like Him, with impartiality (see Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; I Peter 1:17).
David ends the psalm with the affirmative statement, "He who does these things shall never be moved" (Psalm 15:5). The final word, "moved," translates Hebrew môt (Strong's #4131), which more expressively means "to be shaken," "to be removed," or "to be overthrown." The righteous, who have built their lives on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-25), will not be dislodged from their abode by the trials and vicissitudes of life. They are secure and unmovable because their trust is in God and in His Word, and He backs them as His dear children to salvation and beyond.
So, who may sojourn in God's Tabernacle? Who may abide in God's holy hill? The answer: the upright, the blameless, the righteous, the godly person—the one who continues to walk in the footsteps of the blameless Jesus Christ (I John 2:6; I Peter 2:21). That person will live permanently in the presence of God.