Focal Passage: Nehemiah 5:1-16
“Radical decisions in obedience are of course the stuff of biblical faith, but now it cannot be radical decisions in a private world without brothers and sisters, without pasts and futures, without turf to be managed and cherished as a partner in the decisions. The unit of decision-making is the community and that always with reference to the land. … The central (biblical) problem is not emancipation but rootage, not meaning but belonging, not separation from community but location within it,” said Walter Brueggemann.
Nehemiah stood defiantly in opposition against those outside powers that verbally and physically abused the fallible remnant of Israel as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Each scarred stone placed in formation was a testimony to the great and awesome God who rules and sustains His people. Though victory was still ahead of the Jewish people, progress was assured.
But, external threats were not all that plagued them. An internal problem festered creating tension and dissension (Neh. 5:1). There was a deep disparity between the condition of the common people and the privileged class of Jews.
Due to the economic situation in this radically decimated environment, it was easy for some of the more elite to take advantage of their “neighbors.” What resulted was the pledging of property and children for money to pay taxes, to buy grain and food during a time of famine.
An already subsistence situation became even more intolerable. Brother took advantage of brother (some accounts state that rates of interest were as high as 60-70 percent with severe penalties). Thus high interest rates, stiff penalties, and virtual enslavement created political unrest and economic crisis. Not only were there economic disparities between families and neighbors, but some were even selling their countrymen to foreigners!
Nehemiah confronted this unholy injustice. Calling a meeting of the people, he demanded that the unjust usury stop. He appealed to them (Neh. 5:9b). He called the people to return the properties of the impoverished and a portion of the interest they had exacted. Nehemiah stressed the fact that they were each a vital part of the community, a family in partnership working together in becoming a people before the nations (Gentiles). The outcome was successful and the guilty agreed without reservation (Neh. 5:13).
Rather than simply dictate law, Nehemiah lived out what he demanded. As governor he had access to the lands and goods of Jewish people. He had authority to tax the people for his administration and its continuing needs.
But, instead, he placed his every need in God’s hands and used his own resources to support his leadership. He recognized that his people were God’s people and he was their servant.
“Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.”