By Kevin Ivy
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tullahoma
Though the people were persevering in the midst of persecution, they had become fatigued by their hard labor on the city wall (Nehemiah 5:1-5). They were wearied by the constant harassment and threats of their enemies. Due to their poverty and trials, there was little hope. They cried out because they were having to mortgage their fields, vineyards and homes in order to get grain to eat and money to pay their taxes with.
Borrowing from their brethren had become necessary. To make it even more frustrating, these “brethren” were not treating them according to the law of God, but were charging them high interest on their loans. They were having their sons and daughters taken as slaves because of their debts! There was terrible exploitation by the rich Jews who were so busy capitalizing on an opportunity to get richer that they had no time to even help with the building of the wall. They were too busy collecting on their loans to invest in what God was doing. They viewed themselves as good Jews, but they failed to recognize that they could not separate who they were from what they were doing. They were acting like pagans and pagan is what they were!
This is a reminder for us today as well. As Christians, we cannot separate who we are from what we do. We may have all of the right answers and an impressive spiritual pedigree, but actions speak louder than words. Scripture makes it clear that our practice preaches louder than our profession (Matthew 7:21, James 2:26).
How we treat others reflects how we honor God. Nehemiah knew this and was angered (Nehemiah 5:6-11). The wealthy Jews were ignoring the law and using the vulnerability and need of the people to benefit themselves. Nehemiah contends with these Jews and calls them out for their sin. They fell silent in the face of his rebuke. They knew that they had been more loyal to the enemy of the Jews, and to the dollar, than to the mission God had put before them.
I wonder how many of us are guilty of the same? As we look at our own stewardship of our finances, resources, gifts and energy, how many of us have been more loyal to the world and to money than to the mission God has put before us (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8)? Nehemiah not only calls them out on their sin, but sets the example for them by lending to the needy without any interest (Nehemiah 5:10). He is calling the rich to return what they had taken from the people who couldn’t pay their loans and the exorbitant interest they had charged (Luke 19:1-10). He is calling them to repent.
Repentance is pictured for us very clearly as a literal, practical change (Nehemiah 5:12-13). The consciences of the guilty were struck by Nehemiah’s words, so that they pledged to release their loans. They pledged to restore the poor Jew’s property and the interest they had taken. They said, we will give it back and require nothing from them! Nehemiah took an oath from the guilty Jews and then gave a visual of how God’s wrath would be called down on anyone who would not follow through with His commitment to release debts. And all the assembly said, “Amen!” As we consider the mission God has put before us as believers, may we repent of our misplaced energy and dollars, and commit to put our resources where God’s heart is with a hearty Amen.