With great economy, Psalm 15 distils no fewer than ten behavioural qualities that the faithful worshipper should embody (Brueggemann & Bellinger 2014: 82). Among the qualities of those who would ‘walk blamelessly, and do what is right’ (15:2) is that they ‘do not lend money at interest’ (15:5).
In ancient Near Eastern society, as today, money-lending at interest was ethically problematic. While yielding profits for those rich with the power to lend, it could worsen suffering for vulnerable borrowers. The psalm echoes its proscription in Jewish law (Exodus 22:25–27; Leviticus 25:35–38; Deuteronomy 16:19–20).
Pay Nothing Until April are the words emblazoned over a glossy, picturesque image of a snow-capped mountain. The phrase is familiar as an enticement to buy—to buy, perhaps, something not quite affordable.
Since the Pop era of the 1960s, from his adopted home city of Los Angeles, Nebraska-born artist Ed Ruscha has pioneered a distinctive art practice of exploring words in space—abstract, urban, and natural. Pay Nothing Until April is one of a series of mountain paintings he began making in 1997. Like a sign-painter (Ruscha worked as one early in his career), he superimposes over these scenes of geological grandeur seemingly banal or incongruous words and text fragments, using his own gawky typeface, which he dubs ‘Boy Scout Utility Modern’. Its qualities further reinforce the sense of ‘cheapness’ suggested by the shallow words.
This work features a concise slogan pressing a covert usury—the offer of lent money (15:5) with interest payment deferred—as a lure. The implied human commodification of the earth, which is ‘the Lord’s’ (24:1) in the aspirational image of alpine tourism suggests a secular ‘holy hill’ of its own kind in the cult of beauty and the sublime, here destabilized and ironically rendered cheap by connotations of pop and kitsch.
Brueggemann, Walter and William H. Bellinger, Jr. 2014. Psalms, (New York: Cambridge University Press)
15O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?
2He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right,
and speaks truth from his heart;
3who does not slander with his tongue,
and does no evil to his friend,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
4in whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5who does not put out his money at interest,
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
24The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein;
2for he has founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.
3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false,
and does not swear deceitfully.
5He will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of his salvation.
6Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
7Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
8Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
9Lift up your heads, O gates!
10Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah