• Nehemiah and social justice

Nehemiah and social justice

Chris Thayer is the Director of Discipleship at Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, NC where he oversees adult life groups and Biblical education. On Thursdays I share his weekly “Thayer’s Thoughts” for small group leaders, which are based on the previous Sunday’s sermon. Click HERE to watch or listen to the accompanying sermon.

It’s probably safe to assume that almost everybody reading this is currently paying back some sort of loan. Most of us have car loans, house loans, credit lines, or credit cards. For right, wrong, or indifferent, our economic system relies heavily on lending and borrowing. None of this is ‘free money’ either. It comes with interest.

When I signed my mortgage—I was not taken aback by the fact that I had to pay interest on what I was borrowing from the bank. I expected it. It makes sense. They’re providing a service (access to their money) and I’m paying them for that service (interest). No problem, right? In 21st century Western culture: this is business as usual. But within the nation of Israel during the period of the Old Testament: this practice was forbidden. When we read the Old Testament, and Nehemiah 5 in particular, we find a completely different set of rules about lending, borrowing, and charging interest than what we know today.

The people of Israel were not supposed to charge interest to their fellow Jews on anything they lent them. It was one of the ways God protected the poor and future generations. If you helped somebody, it wasn’t to benefit yourself—it was to benefit them. Everybody had a duty to look out for their fellow Israelite. Therefore, you didn’t charge interest.
So, when Nehemiah hears the people crying out against their fellow Jews because they can’t eat, pay their taxes, or buy back children who have been sold into slavery [they can’t make the money to do so from the fields they no longer own since they lost them to payback the loans]—he becomes irate. He calls all of the nobles and officials together and calls them out on their practice which is not only against Torah, but is making them laughable to the surrounding nations. They bought back their people from the other nations after the exile only to now re-sell them into slavery to those nations, and then buy them back again!

Nehemiah has all of the nobles and officials swear that they will return all land and interest to the people so they can be unified as a community and get through their circumstances without making it worse for them than it already is.

This is a much different from the world we live in today. However, it shouldn’t be that different from the way we live as brothers and sisters in Christ. What we can find in Nehemiah 5 is a principle that should inform how we act as members of the body of Christ.

Are we taking care of one another?

Are our actions (and not just the ones having to do with money!) actually benefiting others, or are they just benefiting us?

Is what we’re doing advancing the community or indebting people in ways they can’t escape?

Unlike what the prevalent ethos of our culture would have us believe—it’s not about “me getting mine.” Our focus should be on the benefit of the community over the benefit of our self. How can we make Nehemiah 5 a reality in our churches today?


Chris Thayer

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