1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. 2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 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.”
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 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 8 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.
9 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? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 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.”
12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” – Nehemiah 5:1-12 (NIV)
As Nehemiah is leading the rebuilding effort of Jerusalem, he is forced to confront poverty and injustice amongst the people. The nobles and officials, fellow countrymen, were causing a vicious cycle to transpire. Their price gouging was causing their fellow Jews to sell their own family members into slavery in order to eat.
First, I cannot ever imagine being in a position where I would be forced to sell my son into slavery in order to eat. To add insult to injury, to have a fellow American force me into this would just be angering. Yet, with the way our consumerist society works, we are constantly selling each other into the slavery of debt. Now there is nothing wrong with buying goods, as long as you have the means to do it.
Second, I can’t believe that the nobles and officials just jumped in line with what Nehemiah was saying. This shows that they knew that what they were doing was wrong and that they feared God.
Injustice is committed against our fellow human beings on a daily basis. What is cool though is that God is committed to justice. He sends people like Nehemiah to speak up on oppressed behalf. If we don’t speak up when we see something unjust, who will?