In act 1, scene 3 of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock defends charging interest on loans by telling a story from the biblical book of Genesis, chapter 30, starting at verse 25. According to Shylock, in this story, the patriarch Jacob used his wits to ensure that a disproportionate number of "parti-colored" lambs (lambs that were both black and white) were born in Laban's herd. He did this because he had been promised in advance that any such lambs would belong to him. Shylock ends the story by saying,
This was a way to thrive, and he was blessed.
And thrift is blessing, if men steal it not.
Shylock implies that charging interest is another form of "thrift" and therefore blessed: Antonio
shows he understands that this is what Shylock means when he says to Shylock,
Was this inserted to make [charging] interest [seem] good?
Shylock never answers this question, showing a refusal to be pinned down. However, the context of his story defending usury is the widespread belief among Christians, and one supported at that time by the Roman Catholic Church, that usury was a form of theft, because it was taking money that had not been earned. Since Christians were barred from charging interest, only Jews made interest-bearing loans. In telling Antonio, a man he hates, this story about Jacob and the sheep, Shylock is standing up to him and saying that his money-lending enterprise is as honorable a business as Jacob's and Antonio's.