For the last three weeks, we have been following the story of Nehemiah and his desire to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in order to bring comfort and safety back to the Jewish people. This week Nehemiah’s story takes a slight turn away from the actual building of the wall to a side issue among the Israelites. Greed, rearing its ugly head, threatens to tear the nation apart from the inside out. Turn with me to chapter 5, and let’s see how Nehemiah deals with turning greed into generosity.
As chapter 5 opens, we have the oppressed voicing their complaints:
About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.” Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.” And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.” (verses 1-5)
Can you imagine? Here is a nation of people who have been positioned by God to survive as a family. Even so, the wealthier, more dominant part of the family engaged in taking advantage of the less fortunate members. Surprised? We shouldn’t be. This very thing happens all the time in the family of Christ. We, as Christians, are called to be the body of Christ. We are to care not only for each part of the body, but for those of the world as well. Tall order, but we must remember Jesus values no one person over the other, and neither should we.
For God does not show favoritism. Romans 2:11
So as Nehemiah learns of this discord among the people, he is outraged. He immediately goes to the source of the problem –the nobles and the officials –to confront their behavior of tacking on high interest rates when money is loaned out. Due to their greed, they were exacerbating an already out of control problem among those who had little to no means in which to live. Here Nehemiah stands, struggling to put the Jewish people back together, and there among them were Jews of power and influence ripping it apart again over the love of money.
During his public rebuke of these officials (verse 7), Nehemiah comes to the heart of the problem:
Then I pressed further, “What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations? I myself, as well as my brothers and my workers, have been lending the people money and grain, but now let us stop this business of charging interest. You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.” (verses 9-11)
When one appropriately fears the Lord, they will do anything to please Him in order to honor all He has done. This kind of fear is equal to our understanding of respect and gratitude born out of love. The Jewish officials showed no respect, no gratitude to God by their actions. In comparison, Nehemiah’s actions recorded in verses 10-11 are a great example of Jesus’ way of thinking. Due to his reverence for the Lord and having given up his position as the king’s cupbearer, he had distanced himself from a life of comfort and was in a place to offer help to the Jewish nation. More importantly, he did it willingly and freely. If we are willing to assist our fellow Christian (or others) without expecting a return on our investment, we are then walking in the ways of Christ. Anything less is dishonoring to the One who gave it all.
Now, having their sins uncovered, the officials repent and promise to stop their bad behavior.
They replied, “We will give back everything and demand nothing more from the people. We will do as you say.” Then I called the priests and made the nobles and officials swear to do what they had promised. (verse 12)
Don’t you just love that? Nehemiah, recognizing the lip service that occurred in prior days, has them swear to their promise in front of the priests. As so succinctly put by President Ronald Regan many years ago – “Trust, but verify.” Then Nehemiah goes on to give a stern warning:
I shook out the folds of my robe and said, “If you fail to keep your promise, may God shake you like this from your homes and from your property!” (verse 13)
So let me ask a question here: Is Nehemiah being self-righteous? I mean, who is he to question their integrity? The Scriptures tell us –he is first and foremost a true servant of God. He is honest, courageous, and just plain sold out for the Lord. The end of chapter 5 gives us some concrete ways in which Nehemiah willingly and freely served the Jewish people during the 12 years he was governor:
1. Neither Nehemiah nor his officials drew on the ‘official food allowance’ (meaning they paid their own way instead of demanding the people provide for them as other authority figures had done under the law).
2. He devoted himself to working on the wall, not expanding his own possessions by purchasing land. In addition, his servants were required to work on the wall. Nehemiah was, in essence, not looking to takeover what belonged to someone else. He only desired to assist those in need.
3. Lastly, he regularly entertained and fed many Jewish officials and visitors from other lands. However, he makes it a point to say the ‘official food allowance’ was not used, but that he footed the bill each and every time.
Nehemiah is a picture of generosity, a picture of Christian love, and a picture of someone aiming only to please the Lord. Where will Nehemiah’s reward come from? The person it is supposed to –the Lord.
Remember, O my God, all that I have done for these people, and bless me for it. (verse 19)
Oh that every Christian could let go of what is in their hands, bless someone else with it, and expect the Lord to repay! What an awesome community of believers we would be. Today, consider what it is you need to let go of and trust the Lord to repay you for your kindness. Let your faith grow!
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34 NIV
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