(This was a post I wrote for onemoneydesign.com)
Ok, ok I know my title is a little risky—shock factor, if you will. However, when you look deeply into the Old Testament language and cultural practices of the times, the connection between debt and slavery is not as far-fetched as we might think. And, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, there is a principle hiding there that is anything but outdated.
In biblical times, slavery was more like indentured servitude. (The Bible condemns chattel slavery—i.e., the African Slave trade of the 1700-1800s. Exodus 21:16.) For a variety of reasons, a person who could not pay a debt had to honor that debt by working it off as a “slave”. Hence, the proverb: “The borrow becomes the lender’s slave.” (Prov. 22:7, NASB) When you couldn’t honor your debts financially, you were forced to pay it off by the sweat of your brow. In the book of Nehemiah, we see this practice first hand:
“We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.’ Also there were those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” (Neh. 5:3-5, NASB)
There are a lot of things going on in this passage. The people of Israel have fallen on tough times (famine and heavy taxes), they are trying to rebuild the walls of the city, and God’s commandments for usury have been ignored. While there is a lot we could gain from digging deep into this Old Testament book, today I want to focus in on one aspect: “behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves.” Taxes, famine, and high interest put the average Israelite in a bind. As was the practice of the day, they had borrowed all they could on their land, productivity, and houses yet still were unable to put bread on the table and pay the king’s tax. Therefore, they were up against the only remaining possibility: sending their kids into slavery (indentured servant-hood). Their children had to help carry the weight and consequence of their parent’s debt.
At this point, a lot of Christians may have objections due to cultural context: complaints like it was the royal tax, famine, and abusive usury that sent their kinds into a life of slavery. In this, protestors would be correct. There is a lot in this passage that, contextually, does not hit home for us. But, I think we move on too quickly if we do not challenge ourselves with the same principle: Am I sending my children into “slavery”? Am I sending them into a life of paying off debt?
This begs the question: How does a parent send their children into the snares of debt? I came up with a few thoughts (but certainly not an all-inclusive list):
1. Student loans. Sometimes parents pressure their children to go to college, but then unload the financial burden on their departing adolescent. I am not implying that parents have an obligation to pay for their child’s college education, but there is something wrong with assuming your child will go to college and pay for it, and not giving them the tools or knowledge to take on that challenge with wisdom. They will simply borrow their way through school (without much consideration of the consequences), and will spend the next several years buried in debt. Help them navigate these waters, most likely their first major financial decision, with wisdom.
2. Lifestyle. Parents can often rush their children’s into financial “success”. They want their children to drive a nice car, live in nice neighborhood, and on, and on. This level of expectation often sends young adults heavily into a lifestyle leveraged to the hilt. Allowing your children to start modestly (most likely how you started out!) will help them in the long run.
3. Modeling. Often, a child’s pathway into deep debt is simply following after the example set before them. As parents, we must fix our own finances before we are ever able to help our children. Then, we must do our best to give them the financial skills to be successful.
Certainly there are others, but I felt a few examples would give hands and feet to the principle I am trying to get across: Do not send your children into a life of paying off debt. I challenge parents to consider the financial legacy (be it debt, discipline, or knowledge) that they are passing on to their children. You want the best for your children—do all you can to not “send them into slavery”.