From Nehemiah 4-6
After building the wall, Nehemiah finds out the rich of Israel had been oppressing the poor. He calls them in, instructs them to stop and warns them of the LORD’s judgment. The incident was remembered by Israel and Jesus used the very same curse as a warning to those who did not receive those he sent out in his name.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Nehemiah has faced outside opposition from people who want to stop him working on the wall. Now he faces difficulties inside and from his own people.
5 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.
2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.”
3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.”
4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.” (Neh 5.1-5)
There is a famine in the land. People are hungry. The rich have taken advantage of the situation and are exploring their poorer kinsmen.
Do you hear the cries of the poor?
The first group complain because they have no food. The second are so desperate for food they have sold their own lands. The third group under the burden of the Kings tax (‘’) have gone so far as sold their children into slavery.
Nehemiah works out quickly what’s going on.
6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them,
“You are exacting interest, each from his brother.”
And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!”
They were silent and could not find a word to say.
9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” (Neh 5.6-11)
Nehemiah rebukes them for charging their brothers interest and putting financial burdens on them they could not bear without selling their families into slavery. They are not even paying in gold and silver. But also grain, wine and oil. Their primary for sources for food.
‘They were silent and could not find a word to say.’
Nehemiah instructed them to stop charging interest and return their properties.
12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.”
And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised. (Neh 5.12-13)
They promise to do as Nehemiah said. Nehemiah then shakes the fold of his garment. It’s a symbolic action.
A sign of judgment against his own people who refuse to help their own brethren.
The LORD would punish them if they did not restore their properties and stop charging interest.
Its sad that so soon after they had finished rebuilding the wall together that something like this happens. Israel has long been at war with itself, ever since Israel split from Judah have the people been oppressing one another.
Nehemiah’s description of the LORD shaking them out stayed in Israel’s memory. When Jesus sent out his disciples to preach the kingdom he instructed to give them a similar warning.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Mt 10.5-15)
They were instructed to go to the lost sheep of Israel. If they were not received by their own people, they were to shake out the dust from their clothes. The dust representing the people who would be shaken out and judged by the LORD.
Be considerate with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2016. All Rights Reserved.