5 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. 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 fellow Jews and though our children 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 charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, 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 us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive 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 their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”
At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
(Nehemiah 5:1-13 NIV)
Nehemiah and the Jewish people faced great persecution from the five neighboring regions. Many threats and plots against them emerged and caused much fear and anxiety amongst the Jewish people, even to the point of causing a work stoppage.
Nehemiah dealt with each issue and put countermeasures and emergency preparedness plans in place to protect the people and give them the confidence to carry on their work.
Today, in addition to the external persecution, we discover there is internal persecution as well. The outcry from the families (both men and women) got Nehemiah’s attention. There is a famine in the land (v. 3) and the wealthy Jewish people were taking advantage of their poorer and less fortunate Jewish neighbors, not caring for them as God had instructed (Deuteronomy 15:1-14).
When Nehemiah found out about this evil practice, he was outraged (v. 6). He brought all the Jewish leaders together in front of those they had defrauded and confronted them. What was were the accusations? Charging interest on loans, confiscating land, and even taking their children as servants (slaves). God’s standard for lending money to others was no interest (Deuteronomy 23:19-20).
Nehemiah confronted the wealthy and made them promise to give back all the interest and property they had taken from their Jewish brothers and sisters. Nehemiah also used himself and his officers as an example of lending money and grain without interest.
Nehemiah also made all of them take an oath (a promise) to act according to God’s Word in all their financial dealings, especially their lending practices (vv. 12-13).
Notice that Nehemiah did not resolve this matter in the court system but in the hearts of those using this evil practice to get wealthy from their fellow Jews. Economic relations between Jewish people were to be governed by love, not profit (Leviticus 19:18).
May we live with an open heart and generous spirit toward other followers of Christ.
May we live our lives for the love of Jesus and care for others and rely on God to give us increase along the way, following Nehemiah’s example.