When people of wealth and civic leadership are in a position to lend money or provide wages in challenging times, they have a choice: be fair, greedy or generous. How does Nehemiah handle it? ◊
Product shortages, inflationary prices, and social discontent are always a function of ineffective public policy, civic unrest or war.
Or greed. Or corruption.
Or bad leadership.
In the case of the Book of Nehemiah, it was mere greed and selfishness amongst the nobles and wealthy city officials who were taking advantage of their fellow Israelites in Jerusalem with exorbitant lending charges during a difficult time for everyone.
Recall the people were still rebuilding their lives and their national psyche after returning from exile in Babylon years before. The temple had been rebuilt and Jewish worship had been reestablished and now the protective walls around the city were being built through the orchestrated leadership of Nehemiah, the former Jewish cupbearer to the Persian King, Artaxerxes.
Nehemiah, a picture of the Holy Spirit, comes to comfort, rebuild, and protect God’s people against their enemies and to restore their strength and identity after their longstanding national beatdown.
And now Nehemiah has to defend the people against their own leaders.
The People’s Outcry Amongst Themselves
We see in Nehemiah 5 how God would have us handle business and financial matters. Particularly within our own community.
When people of wealth and civic leadership are in a position to lend money or provide wages in challenging times, they have a choice: be fair, greedy or generous. Why not be fair and conciliatory?
Such was not the case with the wealthy nobles and city officials in Jerusalem at this time. During a time of famine and food shortages, people had to mortgage their land for food and even surrender their own children as slaves to pay off debts:
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” (Nehemiah 5:1-5)
When Nehemiah hears of this, he does not take to it well and calls them out:
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!”
They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. (Nehemiah 5:6-8)
Nehemiah challenges them and then describes his own lending policy, which he mandates and invokes them to do as well:
So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them – one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.” (Nehemiah 5:9-11)
Interesting that it was only 1% interest charged which was considered usurous. The leaders were greatly convicted and agreed to change:
“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”
Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”
At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. (Nehemiah 5:12-13)
As their now regional governor (for 12 years), Nehemiah set an example of transparent fairness and generosity:
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor…. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that….I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people…(Nehemiah 5:14-19)
The Holy Spirit Convicts and Directs
When we acknowledge Jesus as the risen Lord and surrender full authority of our life to God our Creator, we each receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as our spiritual comforter and director.
Like Nehemiah, He intercedes on our behalf, is dialed-in against our spiritual enemy, and convicts our own hearts of darkness and wrong-doing. Like a loving parent, the Holy Spirit, is not above a spiritual reprimand of us, His oftimes wayward children.
Are you wayward, selfish, or worse? How do you respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life?
…Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised….At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. – Nehemiah 5:12-13