Friday, August 29, 2014

Inward Oppression: Compassion over Usury

Nehemiah. Yes, I know what you're (hopefully not but) likely thinking. How many times is he going to draw devotional posts from the book of Nehemiah? I thought that maybe since we hadn't heard from it in a while, we would be safe from hearing about it again.

In answer to your (potential) question, as long as the Lord continues to speak to my heart through it, I will continue to share some thoughts about it.

By now, you are all familiar with the chain of events in the book of Nehemiah. The wall of Jerusalem is torn down, and the people are in great affliction. Nehemiah mourns. Nehemiah takes his emotional burden to the Lord in hopes that the Lord will provide him an opportunity to rebuild the wall. 4-5 months later, Nehemiah still visibly saddened by the trial is given permission by the king to go to Jerusalem and work to rebuild the wall.

Nehemiah heads to Jerusalem; Sanballat and his team of evil villains mock the wall, knowing that it will not come to anything. Sanballat and his team start to become fearful as the wall's rebuilding is progressing remarkably better than they had presumed. Sanballat and his team unsuccessfully try to cease the work on the wall.

Encouraged perhaps by Nehemiah's success in defending from the outward threats, the people come to Nehemiah regarding the persecution they are receiving from within.

And the story progresses, but I will be ending my detailed, yet brief summary of the book here, as this internal oppression is what I would like to talk about today.

So, prior to the events of Nehemiah, the people have undergone some trials and tribulations. During a time of famine and want, the people have been forced to take desperate measures to be able to so much as eat. Nehemiah 5:1-5 explains,
"And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards."

This of course is a distressing situation. Yes it would likely have continued had the wall never been torn down because there seemed to be no compassion on the parts of the nobles and rulers of the land.

On the contrary, the nobles and rulers were a large part of the reason the people found themselves in this particular situation. They had begun to work to charge interest upon the people to the point where they had to sell their children in order to pay their debts, taxes, or just to eat.

It's the typical greedy "Capitalist" who forgets that the people with which he is doing business are actually, you know, people. Instead, the nobles and rulers have begun to see them as means to a particular end. Their needs aren't important; what I need to do is to make sure that I use them to serve my agenda.

Thus, when the problem is brought before Nehemiah, he is touched, he is angry, he shakes his lap because apparently that's a thing (literally refers to the shaking of his garments), and he rebukes the nobles and rulers in his typical bold way. We see simply in Nehemiah 5:8-11,
"And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them."

Nehemiah has rightly critiqued these men according to the works that they have done. But do we ever do the same thing. Sure, we're probably not going to force anyone to sell their children into slavery due to our business practices. But let's just take this to be a bit more relatable.

You're running for some sort of elected position in your school. Suddenly, you start to talk to people more openly than you were before, because each person who likes you is a vote for you in the election. There are obviously other examples, but time does not permit me to discuss them right now (read: I didn't care to think of any additional ones).

So we shouldn't follow in the footsteps of the nobles and rulers. People should be people, and we should care about their needs and work to supply them. What does that look like?

I think Nehemiah shows us quite well. Nehemiah was governor of the Jews at this point in time. Lawfully, he had the authority and liberty to tax the people to take from them some food, so as to furnish his own table. Yet throughout the entirety of his time as governor, he exercised grace on the people, forgoing this particular opportunity.

Even still, Nehemiah went out of his way to consistently host a 150 people at his dinner table daily. He saw the needs of the people and went out of his way to both passively and actively seek those needs.

That's what we should do too. Let's not view people we interact with as objects to further our own agenda. Let us instead look to heed the words of Philippians 2:3,
"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."

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