Damariscotta Baptist Church
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

09/13/15 Sermon - Nehemiah Helps the Poor

“Nehemiah Helps the Poor”

Nehemiah 5:1-19

 

We have been reading through the book of Nehemiah and up to this point, the Israelites have been struggling and fighting against their enemies so they can continue to build the wall around the city of Jerusalem. In the previous chapter, chapter 4, we saw the Jewish people uniting and working together to defeat the threat of attacks from Tobiah, Sanballat, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites. They had resorted to wearing a sword on their side while they carried the trowel and worked on building the wall. This must have slowed the pace down but the building of the wall did not stop.

Until….. we reach chapter 5.

Did you notice, that there was not a word mentioned about “working on the wall”, which leads one to the understanding that the work had stopped. And rightly so!

It’s not easy to get up in the morning and build a wall when you have had nothing to eat and when your children have been sold to help pay for what little you have. These things were bad in themselves, but in this case they were even worse, because the reason these Jewish people are crying out for mercy was not because of their enemies, but because of their fellow Jews.  

The enemy was unable to stop the work by direct attack, but the strife among God’s people due to money problems stopped the work, because God’s people were no longer unified or working together.

“United we stand, divided we fall”.

While reading this I began to think how different this money issue is compared to the money issues we generally face in our churches or our homes today. Generally the money problems we face have to do with the fact that there isn’t enough money to do the work. Well in the case of re-building the walls of Jerusalem, the cost of the building project had been paid for.

Remember, back in Nehemiah 1:8-9 the building materials and the royal guards had been provided by the king of Persia, Nehemiah’s boss. The money problems in this case were due to the decision the people made and how they were managing their money in regards to each other. Their choices harmed the unity among God’s people.

Listen to their complaints:

Some said, they had large families and were in need of food just to survive. People were having problems feeding their families because they were spending time working on the wall, and this left them little time to provide for the needs of their household.

This is still a fact today and makes sense. If you are spending much of your time directly ministering to the needs of God’s people, it will affect your ability to do other things, including the ability to provide for yourself and your family. Ministry takes time, and last time I checked, ministry does not make a lot of money.

Some said, they had to mortgage their fields and vineyards and homes to get enough grain to keep from starving.

People didn’t have the time to grow their own food and take care of their gardens. And to make matters worse, there was a famine which created more money problems in regard to purchasing food because the food was more expensive. So expensive, in fact, that people were being forced to mortgage their property to purchase the food they would eat. This wasn’t any one’s fault, the fact there was a famine was not within their control.

Still others said, they had to borrow money to pay the royal tax on their fields and vineyards.

Each one of us sitting in this room comprehends this one. The Government kept taxing them, even when they were not working as much, because they were building the wall and even though it was clear the cost of living had gone up.  

In the process they had to sell their children as slaves, especially their daughters ( and you know what that means don’t you?) and their hands were tied because their fields and vineyards were owned by someone else.

And who was that “someone else”? It was a fellow Jew, a brother. Not only that, but it was the Jewish nobles and officials.

What a mess!

The loans they had taken out to live, cost them interest, and some were in default. This meant some were forced to give their children as servants to their lenders to pay off the debt. For the Israelites in 5th Century BC, the law permitted parents to sell their children in times of extreme necessity, Exodus 21:7. The key problem here was the rich were taking advantage of the crisis by making money off the poor and charging a high interest.

Who needs weapons from the enemies to stop the work? The Jewish people were doing a fine job on their own and they would need to find a way to handle their money problems the way God would want them to, otherwise, the enemies would win, without even having to fire one shot.

Notice Nehemiah’s immediate response – he gets angry.

Have you noticed how human Nehemiah is? He hears about the terrible state of the walls of Jerusalem in chapter one and we read “(he) sat down and wept.”

In chapter two, we read he was sad in the presence of the king. Then he becomes afraid when the king notices.  Now in chapter 5, Nehemiah says he heard their outcry and these charges and he was very angry.

In his anger, we read that he pondered them in his mind and his response was to accuse the nobles and officials. When Nehemiah pondered what had been said, he realized these money problems were caused in part by:

-       Greed – there were those who wanted to make a profit, no matter who they affected and this was something Moses’ law clearly said was wrong, in Exodus 22:25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.”

Nehemiah was also angry because –

-       These money problems caused disunity among the people of God. To Nehemiah, unity was more important than any amount of money.

Thirdly, Nehemiah was angry because – the money problems had stopped the work of Lord, in rebuilding the walls.

You can understand his frustratration. Up to this point the Israelites had done such a great job of standing up against the enemy, only to go down from within, because of greed and disregard to each other.

Nehemiah’s response to his anger was straight forward and to the point. He went straight to those who were wrong and told them to stop doing the wrong thing, and start doing the right thing. Immediately!

His approach was to remind them of the past. The nobles and officials had just purchased these Jews after they had been conquered by the Gentiles enemies around them. Now these same Jews were being sold to each other. Were they not becoming like the Gentile nations around them? How could this be? Where was their fear of God? What was more important? More money, or a fellow Israelite? Today we might ask, “What would Jesus Do?”

Notice, Nehemiah wasn’t asking them to feel badly or to stop what they were doing. Nehemiah was telling them they had to make things right, immediately!

Their response was a refreshing one. They heard what Nehemiah said, they comprehended his rebuke and they responded by saying, “We will give it back. And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”

I think that is impressive. What an example for each of us. They had teachable spirits. They were willing to admit they were wrong and then do what was right, even when money was involved.

Nehemiah didn’t just take them at their word, he made them take an oath and claimed a consequence on them if they didn’t do what they said they would do. He made them accountable to what they had said they would do.

At this, the whole assembly said, “Amen” and praised the Lord.

It then reads, “And the people did as they promised.”

Nehemiah requested a change from wrong doing to right doing and then arranged for the wrong doers to be made accountable for what they said they would do.

We then read of how Nehemiah was personally dealing with the same situation, the lack of food. Nehemiah was the Governor of Jerusalem at this point, and as such he was entitled to a “governor’s provisions” and rather than taking them and selling them for his personal profit, he gave it away, feeding as many as 150 people regularly. Nehemiah could have demanded more, but he didn’t. He practiced what he preached.

This chapter ends with what seems to be Nehemiah asking God to give him favor, because of what he had done.

I think we should remember to take this in the context of which it was written. We are reading Nehemiah’s diary. This was Nehemiah’s private time with God, and makes sense for Nehemiah to have confidence in a heavenly reward because that was what God had promised. Nehemiah was seeking God’s reward not the praise of humans. What an excellent example for us to follow.

Today’s Scripture describes how financial problems can mess up people’s lives.

Sound familiar? I am sure there are many of us who can relate.

How we deal with money affects us whether we like it or not. We sometimes want to separate what we do with our money from our walk with God. This chapter demonstrates how Satan uses that deception to keep us from God’s will. From buying a house, taking a job, choosing a career, or planning for retirement, these matters directly affect our walk with God, both at the time and in the future. 

We are called to handle our money with God in the center and with our focus on eternity. You can’t take money with you to heaven, but the people around us will be there.

Money problems are rarely just problems with money. The issue with money is that emotions are wrapped around them. Money isn’t supposed to be an emotional thing. It is a current medium of exchange that assists in the buying and selling of material goods. Period. It is not Good or Bad, it is money.

And everything we have is God’s and while we are here on earth God allows us to have a lot or a little and we are called to use it wisely.

Sometimes there are going to be times when financial problems will face us that are not our fault.

Like the famine or the taxes that were placed on the Israelites in chapter 5. Neither Nehemiah nor the people acted as if the taxes were unfair, yet they were still a hardship. And a famine is no one’s fault.

Yet, Nehemiah demonstrated what one should do when financial problems occur. I think we would be wise to follow his example.

Nehemiah listened to what was really going on and pondered the situation in his heart. He did get emotional, if you remember he became angry. But his anger was not at the money, it was towards the people who demonstrated greed. Nehemiah wasn’t telling the nobles and officials not to lend the poor money, he was telling them not to practice usury. Nehemiah was angry over the very same problem Jesus was angry about in the book of Mark we recently studied. Both men had a heart for the poor, while the world didn’t. The world sees problems with the poor.

Nehemiah and Jesus saw humans in the poor.

They also saw humans in the rich.

They focused on God’s creation, which was more important than money, more important than working on the wall, more important than anything.

In essence we should have the same focus as Nehemiah and the same focus that we saw in Jesus’ life in the book of Mark. Nehemiah reached out to the poor and defended their humanity. Jesus spoke out for the marginalized in society and gave his life as a servant for all humankind.

Nehemiah did what was right before God, not what was “right” for his own cares and concerns - because he knew he would have to answer to God. Nehemiah did not act like those who were greedy, out of his reverence to God. He lived by another standard.

Today, we are called to also live by another standard.

When confronted by the ways of the world we should state, “I will not do so, because of my love of Jesus.”

 

Let’s pray.  (Help us have your eyes God. To see people, not money. To seek your will and to do so with humility because we love you. Thank you for loving us.)