|Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”|
Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 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.”
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 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 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.
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? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 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.”
“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”
There has been no shortage of opposition to Nehemiah’s mission, and now we see an internal conflict threatening to sabotage his efforts. Judea, like other Persian provinces, had to pay a yearly tribute to the Persian monarch. The tax itself was not oppressive, but many of the Jewish people had lost everything and couldn’t afford to buy grain to feed their family, much less pay taxes. In these verses, we see the poorer Jews complaining because the wealthy Jews have been exploiting their problems for profit.
Upon hearing this, Nehemiah summons an assembly, calls out the perpetrators’ hypocrisy, and reminds them they are accountable to God. He tells them to stop their unfair practices and to “restore it all” – to give back the money, land, and slaves they had taken.
It’s not easy to hold people accountable for their actions. It’s even harder to be held accountable for our own thoughts or actions. Ask God to reveal any areas of your life where you aren’t being congruent with the person you want to be.