“Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.” (Nehemiah 5:5 ESV)
Derek Thomas begins his comments on Nehemiah 5 with the following:
“Foreclosures…corporate greed…mortgage crisis…laissez faire economics…government interventionism…lending fees…fiscal liquidity. No, those aren’t headlines from this week’s newspaper, though they might well have been. They actually summarize Nehemiah 5.”
You may recall the triumph of our last narratives in the book. On Easter Sunday, for example, we considered the resurrection of the wall in the face of opposition and with materials that seemed all but dead. Yet in God’s power, motivated by God’s word, the people of God arose and built. Once again we saw the enemies’ plans fail.
But Satan was not done. He does not want to see the people of God advance because he knows what that means for his domain. Perhaps the most powerful weapon in his arsenal is division. And here in Nehemiah 5, we see an internal conflict that could be more disastrous than any threat from the outside.
Some of the Israelites had to give up their property, including their own children, in order to afford to live in Jerusalem. Furthermore, they were charged interest by the own kinsmen, which was not only overbearing, it was in direct violation of God’s word (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)! These burdens created a power struggle within the community, with those exacting interest on top and those at the bottom feeling powerless.
The powerless cried out to Nehemiah, who in turn prayed to God and came up with a solution. He called the leaders to repentance, and by the grace of God they did repent. Nehemiah’s swift response to the problem is a reflection of the character of God, who is jealous for the unity of his people. Furthermore, Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord and he heard me.” Many times in life we, too, will feel overburdened and powerless. We will go through times of injustice and conflict. But God delights in answering the cries of his children!
When you are distraught, it’s ok to cry. But do not let your crying turn into bitterness or complaint. Cry out to God, who takes pleasure in answering his people.