Buyer and seller of goods for profit. With the exception of the period of Solomon (1 Kings 9:26-28;
1 Kings 10:15,1 Kings 10:22), Israel was not known in biblical times as a nation of merchants. References to Israelites involved in trade are surprisingly few. Israelites were prohibited from selling food to fellow Israelites for profit (Leviticus 25:37), but could sell even carrion to a foreigner (Deuteronomy 14:21). Merchants purchased cloth from housewives (Proverbs 31:24). Olive oil was sold (2 Kings 4:7). Abuses by mercants were often condemned: holding back grain to force up prices (Proverbs 11:26); impatience for sabbath or holy days to conclude so that commerce might resume; dishonest scales (Amos 8:5); forcing fellow Israelites into slavery to buy food (Nehemiah 5:1-8); violation of the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-21). Jerusalem merchants assisted in Nehemiah's reconstruction of the walls, perhaps by providing finances (Nehemiah 3:32).
The majority of Old Testament references to merchants concern nations other than Israel. The term translated as merchant or trader at
Proverbs 31:24 and
Hosea 12:7 is, in fact, the word for Canaanite. Men of Tyre sold fish and all kinds of merchandise in postexilic Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:16).
Ezekiel 27:12-25 recounts the activities of the merchants of Tyre in full. They traded in common and precious metals, slaves, livestock, precious stones, ivory, wool, cloth, clothing, agricultural produce, wine, spices, and carpets. (Compare
Revelation 18:11-13.) Tyre's trading partners included twenty-two nations or peoples encompassing Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. Merchants generated great wealth. The prophets railed against the pride which accompanied merchants' material successes (Isaiah 23:1;
In the New Testament, Jesus used a merchant to illustrate the need to risk all to gain the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:45-46). Other references continue the prophetic attack on arrogant merchants.
James 4:13 warns big businessmen who engaged in long-term foreign ventures not to dismiss God when making plans. Revelation condemns Roman merchants who grew rich on the sins of Rome (Revelation 18:3). See Economic Life; Commerce.