Ezekiel chapter 18 gives us lists of how both the righteous and the unrighteous live. On this list is how debt is dealt with. The person lending the money needs to know and understand the financial position of the person borrowing the money. If the borrower is not doing so out of a desire to purchase something but out of necessity then according to v.7-9 He is a merciful creditor, not keeping the items given as security by poor debtors. He does not rob the poor but instead gives food to the hungry and provides clothes for the needy. He grants loans without interest, stays away from injustice, is honest and fair when judging others, and faithfully obeys my decrees and regulations. NLT).
On the other hand the lender is not expected to do this with everyone. He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest v. 8. NIV) Charging interest and making money is not against God’s laws. Taking advantage of someone else by charging them outrageous interest rates would put you on the side of a bad lender.
The lists go on to identify one trait of the righteous as not refusing to loan money or refusing a pledge (v.16-17). During the time Ezekiel wrote the book, a pledge was the same thing as an unsecured loan is now. In other words, you trust the person that their word was good, and you have no guarantee of ever getting paid back. You also understand you have no recourse if they don’t pay you back.
Ezekiel also addresses those who borrow money. The un-righteous pile up bad debts (v. 12 He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. NIV). The righteous pay off their debts in a timely manner (v. 7 He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. NIV).
God does not oppose debt; he does oppose not paying it back. That means we must be cautious about obtaining debt when we don’t have the means to pay off. In other words don’t get in over your head! This is actually common sense
There is not a clause for bankruptcy or even death as a means of getting out of debt in the bible. Keep in mind that if the person has become destitute between when the loan was made and when it was to be paid back then the lender would have the option of either forgiving the loan, changing it to an interest free loan with no expected time to be paid back, or they could take the person or one of his children as a servant until the loan was paid in full. Once the loan was paid the servant was set free and given provisions to start a new life. If the person died still owing money then the widow and her children were expected to re-pay the loan. This sounds harsh but it was actually a means of keeping people from taking on debt that they could not pay back in a reasonable time frame.
So where are you, if you lend money to others have you followed the principle of not expecting payment back from someone who was poor and charging a fair interest rate to those you do lend money to. If you are a borrower have you kept your debt in a reasonable fashion to allow you to pay it back in a timely manner? If not why not and how are you going to remedy the situation?
Quotes from the NLT: New Living Translation, and the NIV: New International Version.