Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday, December 12th Nehemiah 5

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Amos 7-9, Revelation 10
Today's scripture focus is Nehemiah 5

Nehemiah 5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Nehemiah Stops Oppression of the Poor

Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 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.”There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. 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.”
I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 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 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. 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.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these andrequire nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests andmade 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.

Nehemiah's Generosity

14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Accompanying Ray Stedman sermon: Don't Back Down - Build Up
Accompanying Beau Hughes (Village Church) sermon: Oppression and Generosity

It is difficult enough to face opposition from unbelievers, but it is even worse to face opposition or mistreatment from fellow believers.

The people working on the walls were volunteers.  Due to the danger of attack, they were working and/or guarding the walls practically 24/7 which meant there was no time for their regular jobs.  They had no time to plant or harvest crops.  No farming means no food.  Their dedication to what God had called them to do was a huge sacrifice.

They needed money to buy food, and they needed money to pay their taxes - in order to do so they had to borrow money and even sell their wives/children into slavery - to their very own countrymen.  This completely went against God's teachings.  When Jews lent money to each other, they were not supposed to charge interest.  And they most certainly were not supposed to enslave their fellow countrymen.  Nehemiah was justifiably outraged.

Righteous anger is not wrong.  In fact, we must be angry when injustice is done. But we need to make sure that our righteous anger does not erupt in sinful ways.  Nehemiah handles his anger biblically and confronts the wrongdoers with their sin.  He reminds them that they needed to have less fear of the people and more fear of God, and that they should be obedient in order to represent His name well to pagans around them.

Confrontation is not about you. It's not about me.  Confrontation is about God.  It's about the fear of God.  It's about the name and the reputation of God.  So if God is real and if he really wants for his people, you and me, to live distinct from the world, if he really intends for our lives to be any different than those who are not Christians, then for you and me to see one another walking in injustice and oppression and sin and to not lovingly confront each other about it, it's the most unloving thing we could actually do.

Thankfully, they repent and return the money to the people (which is one way you can tell that they were truly repentant, they made restoration).  Nehemiah goes a step further, and contributes generously from his own funds in order to help the people - out of love for God.  A man of priviledge laying down his priveledge for the sake of God's people - which really represents in a much smaller way what Jesus did for us when He layed aside His deity to come to earth to rescue us.

Before we're too quick to judge the greedy leaders who took advantage of those in desperate conditions, we need to take a look at ourselves.

Do we ever presume upon or take advantage of the generosity of others?
Are we sometimes more devoted to making ourselves comfortable than we are to doing the will of God?
Do we have a consumerist mindset when it comes to the church?  Expecting only to be fed and to take, but not to give?
Have we allowed ourselves to become enslaved to our desires in the name of Christian liberty?

Thankfully, when we repent, there is forgiveness.  Grace is always bigger than sin.

Monday's scripture focus: Nehemiah 6
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Obadiah
Sunday's passage: Jonah 1-2
Monday's passage: Jonah 3-4, Revelation 11

No comments: