“Restore to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them” (Nehemiah 5:11).
Prior to Covid one of my sons told me about a time in his school hallway where he witnessed a bully picking on another student. What he remembered most about this experience was knowing that he should’ve done something. Can you remember a time when you stood up or should have stood up for someone else for the right reasons?
In this week’s passage we will see how Nehemiah helps to restore the people of Israel by standing up to the nobles and rulers. Previously we saw intensifying opposition on the outside, but we’ll see this week there were also underlying conflicts on the inside. Resolving these issues is going to be key for Nehemiah to continue the goal of rebuilding the wall.
At this point the rebuilding work has stopped, and Nehemiah has just heard the people’s desperate cry. This cry stemmed from the economic hardships caused by the actions of fellow Jews, who were lending money at interest, a practice contrary to Jewish law. The people were suffering under forced land mortgages, high interest loans, and the King’s tax. Unable to pay many sold their children into slavery to these lenders. This was devastating to a people who needed to rebuild for themselves in this work.
As soon as Nehemiah became aware of this oppressive situation, he took decisive action. He didn’t yell at the people to “get back to work” or hurl accusations or ignore their difficulties and allow for passivity. He fearlessly confronted these rulers and nobles, saying “This isn’t right, restore now…. return what’s theirs!”. Miraculously, in receiving his rebuke they actually became part of the crucial restoration process, agreeing to a new direction with an oath. This oath ensured their accountability and strengthened the unity of the people so the work of rebuilding could continue.
Where might you find yourself in this passage? Are there ways you’re like the oppressed? Are there ways you’re like the oppressors? And how might the Lord be calling you to action?