The success of ancient Israel, and especially the financial success of the Jewish people, was indeed due to the their own religious laws regarding money, especially when it came to debts and loans. As Moses predicted:
As the law clearly stated, Israel usually obeyed it and from the time of King David and Solomon onward were renowned throughout the world for their business and financial skills and success. For a long time after, the financial and monetary system of Israel, then Judea, gave the Jews quite a bit of wealth and power along the way. The following prophecy seemed to be fulfilling itself without any real difficulties.
For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.
This commercial success was interrupted by the Babylonian captivity, when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonian Empire and its Temple looted for all its gold and silver. Nevertheless, this exile proved temporary and even though the Jews never really regained their political independence again, their financial and commercial freedoms proved to be more than enough to allow for the practice of Judaism and for the prosperity of the Jewish people. One of the keys to their success was a simple rule, one could charge interest to foreigners, but never to their fellow Jews. As the Torah stated:
You may charge interest on what you lend to foreigners, but not on what you lend to Israelites. Obey this rule, and the LORD your God will bless everything you do.
This religious tradition of not charging any interest to any fellow Jews kept a fair amount of economic equality among the Jewish people both in Israel and abroad in foreign countries. The Bible also established a system of debt relief every seven years, where all debts, especially debts on real estate, were canceled every seventh year regardless of the lender’s financial interests. As Moses stated in the Torah:
Do not refuse to lend them something, just because the year when debts are canceled is near. Do not let such an evil thought enter your mind. If you refuse to make the loan, they will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be held guilty.
One should keep in mind that the ancient laws of the Torah did not allow for any military expansion or conquest outside of the Divinely-ordained borders of Israel, but this did not stop the Jews from becoming extremely successful international businessmen who established large Jewish settlements and commercial colonies in Babylon, Egypt, Persia, and then eventually throughout the Greco-Roman Empire. The Jewish desire for mercy and justice for its own people, as commanded by the Bible and its one, true God caused the following general rule to be applied:
Be generous to these poor people, and freely lend them as much as they need. Never be hard-hearted and tight-fisted with them.
For those modern Judeo-Christian believers who remain in denial when it comes to the clear, and repeated condemnations of usury found throughout Scriptures, it should be remembered that the system was never perfect, or perfectly fair. Regardless, today’s total acceptance of the taking of interest on loans and debts should be tempered with a firm knowledge that the modern world is far from the Hebrew financial traditions of yesteryear. In reality, usury is against the laws of God and today’s believers still need to know this, rather than slipping away into some sort of anti-religious socialist ideals of the recent past. Here is a summary of the relevant Biblical passages when it comes to charging interest: