The common people of Judah cried out in desperation. They were enslaved by the nobles because of money trouble. Nehemiah demanded rebates for all the people.
When I was reading today’s text I was having trouble deciding if the people who had bought the Jews were wealthy Jews or other nations. Reading a bit further Nehemiah answers that question for me. He says that he bought back his Jewish brothers and sisters from other nations but the leading Jews have been enslaving them too. (I should have figured that out in the first verse when it says their outcry was against their Jewish brothers.)
The people who came back with Ezra and Zechariah were of varied wealth. Some were leaders while others were common people. I can imagine it cost quite a bit for the trip itself so those with little money probably expended all they had along the way. They also did not come back with military might so getting their homes back from the people who occupied them at the time probably cost too.
Life was not easy for the returnees who were not wealthy to begin with. The things they sought weren’t luxuries. They were the essentials for living. They sold or mortgaged whatever they had to stay alive. The ones fortunate enough to own land or houses had at least something to work with but it also came with its own problem; they were taxed on their property.
Then there were the Jews who came with full pockets. Their lives were far above their neighbors. They easily paid their taxes and had food to fill their bellies. And had learned to leverage what they had to get more. When their brothers came to them for relief they were more than willing to supply it; at a price.
This price was the reason Nehemiah took up their fight. They were being charged interest by their brothers and were being sold into slavery when they couldn’t pay it. In the Law God gave to Moses He told them that they were NOT to charge interest on loans made to their fellow Israelites or to the poor. This mandate is repeated THREE times in the first five books of the bible; the Torah. Exodus 22:25–27, Leviticus 25:36–37, and Deuteronomy 23:20–21 all speak this law for the people.
I find it interesting that Nehemiah says “I took counsel with myself” (verse 7a). He didn’t need anyone’s advice on this issue. He knew the Law and I’m pretty certain he found ‘chapter and verse’ to support his position. He used that knowledge to confront those who had profited from their brother’s distress. He took NO excuses and allowed NO exceptions. What was wrongly taken was to be returned THAT DAY!
Nehemiah was disgusted by the behavior. He had been doing everything he could to free his people from other nations only to find their own nation enslaving them. I wonder if they tried to plead ignorance of the law.
Nehemiah called God onto his side and His judgement if they didn’t correct the situation that very day. He did this AFTER they had said they would comply. He wanted them to know how serious he AND God took this issue. God would be their judge and they couldn’t fool Him with lip service.
We are to follow this example of lending without interest to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not mandated to by the Law but by the heart. We are to love our brothers and care for them as God gives us the ability. The disciples set this example in the early church when they cared for one another and shared what they had with any who were in need. God didn’t charge me or you interest on His gifts so we are not to charge our brothers or sisters in this way either.
Father God, thank You for providing me with the ability to help others in need. Thank You for giving my husband a heart to help too. We are not rich but we are able to help and are blessed by it. Help me always use what You have provided for us in ways that bless You.
Help my children who are struggling Father. Help them see YOU as the TRUE source. Use their issues to open their eyes and hearts. Let my love for them speak Your love into their hearts.
Thank You also for motivating my heart today. I was feeling low and didn’t even have the desire to spend time in study. You raised me up again. Thank You!