Morning Light – February 4th, 2016: When Money Problems Halt the Work of God
Today: [Nehemiah Five] When Money Problems Halt the Work of God. In this chapter we see the rebuilding of the walls is halted because of a famine. The poor of the land cry out against the unfair lending practices of the wealthier classes. Unity is destroyed and Nehemiah is expected to solve the problem. The more things change the more they stay the same. Financial problems among God’s people can destroy relationships and get our eyes off of God. We can learn from Nehemiah’s wise handling of this situation.
Neh 5:1-19 KJV] 1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. 2 For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, [are] many: therefore we take up corn [for them], that we may eat, and live. 3 [Some] also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. 4 There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, [and that upon] our lands and vineyards. 5 Yet now our flesh [is] as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and [some] of our daughters are brought unto bondage [already]: neither [is it] in our power [to redeem them]; for other men have our lands and vineyards. 6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. 7 Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them.
In the previous chapters we see the narrative of the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem. Neighboring peoples rise up in opposition to the project but it goes forward regardless and the previous chapter concludes seeing the work go forward and the walls and gates nearing completion. In this chapter there is no mention of the walls of the city and no mention of the project itself possibly because the work had halted due to a controversy among the people regarding indebtedness one against the other. Apparently there existed a class disparity among the Jews in the province of Judea. There was one group that were very well off who engaged in unfair lending practices with the poorer classes even to the point of confiscating their lands and selling their sons and daughters to foreigners for repayment of bad debt.
It is important to remember that the building project in the city that Nehemiah was in charge of was financed by the king of Persia exacting no taxes from the local returnees. The money problems that brought a halt to the work existed between the various people themselves. The income disparity and unfair lending practices came particularly to light because of a famine that has made matters much worse. The situation was so grim that people were borrowing money to buy food and pay taxes and in the midst of that the wealthier Jews were exacting inflated tribute and confiscating lands, property and even children to sell into slavery in order to maintain their own lavish lifestyles.
In 1 Timothy Paul spoke about the pernicious and difficult conditions that arise because of wrong attitudes about money:
[1Ti 6:10 KJV] 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Notice that the verse doesn’t say that money is evil but rather the love of money. Loving money is not exclusive to the upper classes. It has been said that there is only one class of people who think about money more than the rich and that is the poor – in fact there are times that the poor can think of little else. In this case money problems among the people have caused the work of God not only to be hindered but to actually be brought to a total halt. All eyes are upon Nehemiah now and he is expected to solve the problem.
8 And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing [to answer]. 9 Also I said, It [is] not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? 10 I likewise, [and] my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. 11 Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth [part] of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them. 12 Then said they, We will restore [them], and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. 13 Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise.
Nehemiah is apparently ensconced among the very class of wealthy Jews who were oppressing the poor because he says “we” have done this thing. Nehemiah shows real integrity because in rebuking these abusers he is coming against people he is close to socially even though they have been hiding their misconduct from his scrutiny for some time. It is one thing to examine people not in close relationship to you and expose their wrongs but what about those you share the same roof with or move in the same circles with? Wrong is wrong and we like Nehemiah should be willing to expose misconduct even when it strikes close to home. Why? Because choices have consequences and God sees how our conduct affects others. Many times we white wash the brutal and unkind actions of those close to us and then feign ignorance as to why problems and difficulties come. When we sow difficulty into the lives of others we will reap difficulty into our own lives in return.
Verse 6 says that Nehemiah became very angry. Anger is not a bad thing. God gets angry. We should become angry with the things that God gets angry about. For all of Jesus’ mild and gentle treatment of those around Him he was very sharp against the scribes and Pharisees that were oppressing the poor and doing violence to others in the name of God. In this case it was money problems and mishandling of brothers and sisters that provoked Nehemiah’s ire. Nehemiah calls the elders and reproves them for exacting usury from their own kinsmen. Now what is usury. In the bible it means interest. In our culture we say it is “unfair interest” but in the bible it is simply identified as interest. That is very controversial when you realize that every modern economy throughout the world is built and vitally established on the charging of interest. If we can’t charge interest then how do we make money? God’s economy is not man’s economy. Is it wrong to charge interest? The opposite of that question is better addressed – is it wrong to borrow money in the first place? Most people could not imagine their lives without the benefits that come to them from borrowing money. Yet when the bills come due in a time of difficulty we often repent for being unwise with credit cards and consumer debt. We should avoid borrowing money as much as is possible.
Something else we see in Nehemiah’s words is that he doesn’t rebuke them for taking financial advantage of foreigners – just their brothers. The unspoken statement is in Nehemiah’s day it was ok to oppress strangers – just not kinsmen in Judah. What about today? Are we justified to make the lives of our enemies difficult? Jesus taught on this:
[Mat 5:43-44 KJV] 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Now I ask you – when we drop bombs on our enemies are we loving them? That is not to say that we love them on their terms or that there is no consequence intended for wrong doing – but those that live by the sword shall die by the sword and nations reap what they sow. In the Middle East the more the United States gets involved the more destabilized the region becomes. We are led to believe that this is happenstance and failed diplomacy but I would submit to you that our nation’s policies in the Arabian Peninsula are by design to keep things difficult in order to maintain our standing as the world’s problem solver. How does this match up to the words of Jesus? As believers we must decide whether our sentiments in regard to such things arises from kingdom values or nationalist sentiments.
14 Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, [that is], twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor. 15 But the former governors that [had been] before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God. 16 Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants [were] gathered thither unto the work. 17 Moreover [there were] at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that [are] about us. 18 Now [that] which was prepared [for me] daily [was] one ox [and] six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people. 19 Think upon me, my God, for good, [according] to all that I have done for this people.
In correcting the excesses of the ruling class Nehemiah makes publicly known that he has not oppressed the poor or taken advantage of the economic downturn in the region. If you are walking in kingdom values you are going to be blessed. You are going to be blessed financially and you are going to have to have a policy toward those that are less fortunate. One important thing to realize is that you can’t love the poor on their own terms. People that struggle financially at times cannot see past a bail out from those more blessed than they are. This happens when children or relatives or friends come wanting money from you to solve their problems. The quickest way to destroy a relationship is to allow that person to see you as a financial resource for them in a time of trouble. Learn to say no even when the relationship is most tender to you. Learn to say yes when the Spirit of God prompts you to get involved. Don’t stay around waiting on them to kiss your hand or heap profuse thanks upon you because you assisted them. Obey God and move on. Nehemiah’s policies corrected the problems that had developed and restored order and justice in the land because he used wisdom and walked in economic equity before the Lord.
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