neshek, from a root "to devour." (See LOAN.) Any interest was forbidden to be exacted from an Israelite brother, but was permitted from a foreigner (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 23:19-20). Israel was originally not a mercantile people, and the law aimed at an equal diffusion of wealth, not at enriching some while others were poor. Help was to be given by the rich to his embarrassed brother to raise him out of difficulties, without making a gain of his poverty (Psalm 15:5; Proverbs 28:8; Jeremiah 15:10; Ezekiel 18:8; Ezekiel 18:17).
Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:3-13) denounces the usurious exactions of some after the return from Babylon; he put a stop to the practice. They took one percent per month, i.e. 12 percent per annum (the Roman centesimae usurae). The spirit of the law still is obligatory, that we should give timely help in need and not take advantage of our brother's distress to lend at interest ruinous to him; but the letter is abrogated, as commerce requires the accommodation of loans at interest, and a loan at moderate interest is often of great service to the poor. Hence it is referred to by our Lord in parables, apparently as a lawful as well as recognized usage (Matthew 25:27; Luke 19:23).