1Some of the men and their wives complained about the Jews in power 2and said, “We have large families, and it takes a lot of grain merely to keep us alive.”
3Others said, “During the famine we even had to mortgage our fields, vineyards, and homes to them in order to buy grain.”
4Then others said, “We had to borrow money from those in power to pay the government tax on our fields and vineyards. 5We are Jews just as they are, and our children are as good as theirs. But we still have to sell our children as slaves, and some of our daughters have already been raped. We are completely helpless; our fields and vineyards have even been taken from us.”
6When I heard their complaints and their charges, I became very angry. 7 So I thought it over and said to the leaders and officials, “How can you charge your own people interest?”
Then I called a public meeting and accused the leaders 8by saying, “We have tried to buy back all of our people who were sold into exile. But here you are, selling more of them for us to buy back!” The officials and leaders did not say a word, because they knew this was true.
9I continued, “What you have done is wrong! We must honor our God by the way we live, so the Gentiles can't find fault with us. 10My relatives, my friends, and I are also lending money and grain, but we must no longer demand payment in return. 11Now give back the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and houses you have taken and also the interest you have been paid.”
12The leaders answered, “We will do whatever you say and return their property, without asking to be repaid.”
So I made the leaders promise in front of the priests to give back the property. 13Then I emptied my pockets and said, “If you don't keep your promise, that's what God will do to you. He will empty out everything you own, even taking away your houses.”
The people answered, “We will keep our promise.” Then they praised the Lord and did as they had promised.
Nehemiah Is Generous
14I was governor of Judah from the twentieth year that Artaxerxes was king until the thirty-second year. And during these entire twelve years, my relatives and I refused to accept the food that I was allowed. 15Each governor before me had been a burden to the people by making them pay for his food and wine and by demanding forty silver coins a day. Even their officials had been a burden to the people. But I respected God, and I didn't think it was right to be so hard on them. 16I spent all my time getting the wall rebuilt and did not buy any property. Everyone working for me did the same thing. 17I usually fed 150 of our own Jewish people and their leaders, as well as foreign visitors from surrounding lands. 18Each day one ox, six of the best sheep, and lots of chickens were prepared. Then every ten days, a large supply of wine was brought in. I knew what a heavy burden this would have been for the people, and so I did not ask for my food allowance as governor.
19I pray that God will bless me for everything I have done for my people.
After working on the walls and completing the task, Nehemiah becomes aware of the need to work on hearts – his own and his people’s. There are more than broken walls to mend; there are broken hearts to heal. His people are not living like those who have been redeemed. Having been redeemed from Babylonian exile where they were enslaved, the exiles are engaged in slavery of their own.
A famine has created economic hardship and many need money to buy food. There are others who have to mortgage their lands in order to survive. Others have had to borrow money by selling their children into slavery.
This was not right. Nehemiah saw that clearly and saw the hypocrisy of his own people. They had actually redeemed some of their own people who had been sold into slavery to surrounding pagan nations, but now they were enslaving each other.
Even Nehemiah realized that he himself had been engaged in the economic gouging by charging interest to his fellow Jews. He showed great leadership by admitting to this and changing. In addition he turned down the benefits of his own rank as governor by not taking the food allotment that was due to him. He used his own resources to benefit his community and served 150 people at his generous table.
The atheist philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once remarked that he would pay more attention to the church when it looked like it had been redeemed. Jesus declared that the people of God needed to repent and be the city set on a hill that demonstrated to the world what the kingdom was like (Matthew 5:14-16). The early church set the world on fire when people looked at the members of the community and said, “See how they love one another!”
O merciful God, help me to have such an awe of living for you that I would turn away from self-profit and self-aggrandizement and turn to love of my neighbour. Develop in me a generous spirit that would welcome more and more to my table and help others to have lives that are inspired and empowered by love.