So I said, "The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?" (Neh 5:9)
Have you ever met someone that says one thing and does something else? Ever been taken advantage of? If your answers to those questions are Yes, it is really sad. But if your answer to those questions is Yes and the person we are talking about is a Christian and so are you, it is insidious, heinous, or worse!
That's what we are dealing with in Chapter 5. Some nobles and officials who are part of the community of God, Israelites, yet their actions towards their fellow brothers shows different. They are taking advantage of their fellow Jews to make a profit off of them during the wall building and a famine. It's sad really, but a reality all too often, that God's people greedily take advantage of each other instead of lovingly blessing each other monetarily.
In chapter 5 there is a great outcry from the people that threatens not only the building of the wall, but Jerusalem and the nation of Israel as well. Basically, the regular working schmoes, like me, can't feed their families because they have been volunteering to build the wall. They then start mortgaging their farms, vineyards, etc. These mortgages are from their brothers and they are charging high interest even though it is against God's law to charge interest to a brother. Then they can't pay the high tax that King Artexerxes exacts from his kingdom, so they start selling their sons and daughters to these so called nobles and officials.
Nehemiah gets ticked off (aka righteous anger) and holds a good old fashion public church discipline session. He formally charges them all of sin and then drops a bomb by publicly admitting that he too has been doing the same thing (v 10)! He repents and asks the nobles and officials to repent as well. But he doesn't stop there he also says, "Let's pay restitution not just repent!"
The officials agree to follow Nehemiah's lead and repent as well as pay restitution. Nehemiah doesn't stop there...he brings in the priests to witness the nobles and officials swearing to pay back all the interest, return all the property, and return the sons and daughters. It's a contract basically, which he further strengthens by shaking out the dust and whatever is in his pockets (aka folds of his cloak) to show that God will do the same thing to them if they don't honor the contract.
The people obviously rejoice and the situation is taken care of. Nehemiah finishes the chapter by showing how repentant he was by describing that when he became Governor of Israel he did not collect the allowances from the people (food and 40 shekels of silver a day) that normally come with the office. He feared God and loved the people too much to do so (are you listening Washington, DC? This is a great economic stimulus plan!).
Actions speak louder than words. We can say that we are Christians, but "they will know us by our love!" I'll leave you with the 3 questions I left with the KB leaders:
- Are you taking advantage of a brother or sister in Christ? Monetarily, emotionally, sexually, whatever?
- Have you been taken advantage of by a brother or sister in Christ? And have you forgiven them? Bitterness is one of the worst things this side of hell. It imprisons you in a prison cell that is almost impenetrable. Don’t let yourself be caught in it’s trap.
- How are you managing God’s money? That’s not a typo, it’s not your money, it’s God’s and he lets you have some of it. Depending on your answer that will actually show where your heart is at, where your faith is even. It let’s you know if you have greed in there or love!