I find it important in life to judge things according to God’s grading scale—things are either good, very good, or not good. Nehemiah realized, possibly too late, speaking to the nobles and officials, “The thing that you are doing is not good” (5:9). So according to God’s grading scale, these people have been flunking.
Thankfully, God is gracious and often gives opportunities for repentance. Israel struggled with many things, but one of the big repeated offenses was greed and taking advantage of the oppressed. The prophet Ezekiel, who lived many years before Nehemiah, gave this warning, “See here—this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49) We often associate Sodom with sexual sin (i.e. sodomy), but this passage should cause us to look in the mirror. God judged and destroyed Sodom for many reasons (Genesis 18-19), but its failure to care for the oppressed was a big one. Likewise, Israel did not hear Ezekiel’s plea and suffered the Babylonian Exile. Now they’re back at it!
After the stern condemnation from Nehemiah, he continues by strongly illustrating the depth of their wicked actions. As he continued speaking to the rich men he said, “Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?” This statement was as chilling as a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads. Nehemiah made two bold statements; basically, that they are acting outside the Law (“fear of our God”) and that even the Gentiles revile them for their behavior. This is like having the biggest trouble-maker you know look at you and say, “Dude, you crossed the line.”
Nehemiah not only encouraged these men to act generously to the poor, but he was an example for them. Nehemiah’s governorship allowed him to receive a “tax” from the people, but instead of adding any burden to them he required no such thing. Just because he could, doesn’t mean he should.
This passage is quite timely as we in Lexington are in the midst of trying to figure out how to respond to panhandlers. I offer no suggestions or criticisms either way, but I can say with confidence, God cares how Christians treat the poor and oppressed. Likewise, it is important that we not be confused in word or deed with non-believers when it comes to this issue—much less give them a reason to criticize our Savior. I’m not saying give money every time you see a panhandler—on the contrary, everything I have heard from experts says don’t give money. What I am saying is that your heart in dealing with the poor and oppressed should align with God’s heart, to love all people well, especially those who cannot help themselves.
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate