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Nehemiah Chapter Five, God's View Of Our Banking System

In our study of Nehemiah chapter five, we look at the opposition that Nehemiah faced from within the people of Israel. We will see how the failure of the people to follow the instructions of God led to problems among the brothers.

Nehemiah 5:1 & 2

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. Some were saying, 'We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.'

The workers on the wall had given up there normal way of providing for their families. They did not have the time to work on the wall and on their farms or vineyards both so they left them to work on rebuilding the wall. Meanwhile, the family still required food.

Nehemiah 5:3

Others were saying, 'We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.'

In order to feed their families and work on the wall, they took out loans on their farms, vineyards, and homes.

Nehemiah 5:4

Still others were saying, 'We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards.'

Even if they had food, they still required money to pay their property taxes.

Nehemiah 5:5

'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.'

Now, we see who was loaning the people the money and it was their rich Jewish brothers. They were not only taking their fields and vineyards but also their children. This was against God's laws that He gave to Moses. In Exodus 22:25, God forbid charging a brother interest and the instruction was repeated in Leviticus 25:35 and Deuteronomy 23:19.

Nehemiah 5:6

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.

When the people made Nehemiah aware of the problem, it made him mad. Today, there are all kinds of anger management classes and such but, as we see here, there are situations where anger is appropriate. Just as Jesus was angry when the people were selling stuff in the temple, you can be angry without sinning.

Nehemiah 5:7a

I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, 'You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!'

Nehemiah thought about it and then confronted them with what they were doing. It has been taught that the word "usury" in the Bible is talking about charging excessive interest but that is not what God said in Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35, or Deuteronomy 23:19. God said not to charge your brothers ANY interest.

Nehemiah 5:7b & 8

So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 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.

After thought and prayer, Nehemiah called a meeting to deal with the problem. That is a good example for us as well in that, when we see brothers and sisters who are not following God's Word, we are called to lovingly inform them of the problem. Nehemiah reminds the people that they have been buying their brothers out of bondage but now they are putting them back into slavery. The people did not even argue as they understood that it was wrong.

Nehemiah 5:9 & 10

So I continued, 'What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop!'

Nehemiah was a leader by example as he tells us that he and his men were lending the people money but without charging interest. He is basically asking the leaders what the Gentiles will say when they see them treating their brothers like this. We are called to help brothers and sisters in need and not to profit from their hardship. We have to ask ourselves the question: What will those who do not believe in Jesus think if they see us not following God's Word and treating our brothers and sisters wrongly?

Nehemiah 5:11

'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.'

Nehemiah tells the rich people to return the stuff that they had taken from the poor. We also see that they had been charging what we would call an extremely low interest rate of 1% but even that went against the will and Word of God. What would God say about our credit cards and banking system today where the rates are many times more than what was being charged here?

Nehemiah 5:12

'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.

The rich people agreed to give the stuff back but their word was not good enough. Nehemiah figured that anyone who would treat their brothers the way they had could not be trusted to keep their word. He got the priests and had them to swear an oath to God.

Nehemiah 5:13

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.

Nehemiah also proclaimed a curse on anyone that did not repent and follow through on the promise to give it all back. He asked God to remove His blessings from them and all of the people agreed and kept their promise.

Nehemiah 5:14

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.

As the governor, it was the custom that food was brought to him on a regular basis. This food was like a tax on the people but Nehemiah and his brothers did not eat of it even though they were entitled to it.

Nehemiah 5:15

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.

We see that Nehemiah truly led by example as the governors before him had really taxed the people but he did not. He tells us that the reason that he did not do those things was because of the fact that he was a man of God. What would happen if more of our leaders in the church as well as in government would display this same attitude? The word reverence here really describes an attitude of fear in going against the will of God.

Nehemiah 5:16

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.

Nehemiah and his men focused on God's work instead of getting rich. That reminds us of Jesus' words, in Matthew 6:19-21, where He told us to store up treasures in heaven instead of here on earth where they are only temporary. We all have to examine ourselves to see what we are pursuing and where our heart is.

Nehemiah 5:17 & 18

Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 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.

Nehemiah is not bragging but he simply informs the rich people about what he was doing to help the poor. He gives a list of the animals and wine that he was having to pay for each day. He reminds them that, as the governor, he could have gotten it for free but instead was paying for it on his own because the people were already carrying a heavy burden. This is a good example for the leaders of our day who are Christians and have so much but see their brothers without food or shelter and do nothing.

Nehemiah 5:19

Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.

God will answer this prayer of Nehemiah's and He will do the same for us. We are told of two judgments in the book of Revelation. The first is salvation while the second is the judgment of the works of the children of God. It is at this point that what Nehemiah did for the people will be remembered just as our work for the kingdom will be remembered and rewarded.

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