A daily devotion for August 10th
1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. 2 Some were saying, "We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain."
3 Others were saying, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine."
4 Still others were saying, "We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others."
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
9 So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil."
12 "We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say."
Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, "In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!"
At this the whole assembly said, "Amen," and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
19 Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. (Nehemiah 5:1)
In chapter 5, the Unseen Enemy tries yet another approach. Nehemiah has successfully handled the threatened attack from without, but now he runs into a problem from within his own ranks. You may experience that too in your struggle to recover some area of your life. You may run into family problems, pressures, and problems with those who work with you, perhaps even from other brothers and sisters in the Lord. In this case it was a clash between the workers and the officials, the laborers and the overseers who were working on this project.
To a great degree these were justified complaints. Nehemiah deals with them earnestly and forthrightly. He could not change the conditions, but he reveals the real problem--usury. Usury is charging interest for money that has been loaned--a common practice in our day. The Jews were allowed to do this with other races, but Moses said that when Jews lent money to other Jews, they were not to charge any interest. Nehemiah is upset by this usury and demands that they stop. This was more than a demand to end the practice of usury. He was insisting on restitution as well. They must give back their unjust gains. Their reaction was surprising. They were stricken by conscience because they knew from the Scriptures that what they were doing was wrong.
Believers ought to be very careful about taking advantage of others, especially other Christians, and getting rich at their expense. Scripture condemns this practice as uncaring and heedless of the poor testimony it presents to others.
Nehemiah is encouraged by their promise that they will not do this. He has first uncovered the real cause. He shows that it is simple greed that is the problem. He confronts the overseers with it, rebuking them and showing them it is wrong. There is a place and time for forthright, blunt confrontation in our relationships with others. Sometimes we need to point out to people that what they are doing is wrong and help them to see what needs to be done. That is what Nehemiah does.
Father, strengthen us to act like Nehemiah of old and be willing to confront the greed in our own lives. Help us to be men and women who visibly live according to what we profess.
Life Application: Are we honestly confronting greed in all areas of our lives? Are we able to honestly, even bluntly, confront those we are in relationship with to help them?
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