Last Post on Nehemiah!
This Sunday I will wrap up our sermon series on Nehemiah. In that final sermon, I plan to share what it is in this book that stands out to me the most. There is a lot that stands out, but there is something that I find most impressive about the people in this book, and I’m excited to share what that is.
For today, however, I want to highlight a line from Nehemiah that has got me thinking.
In chapter five of the book, Nehemiah is confronting the leadership in Jerusalem for practicing economic policies that encouraged the systemic poverty of the people. Specifically, the nobles and officials of Jerusalem were charging interest on loans, mortgaging the land of the people, and even requiring people to sell family members into servitude in order to pay off this crushing debt. The way these policies were being carried out not only broke specific commands of God in the Torah, but they also put the people is a hopeless economic position – “We are helpless to do anything about this!” (Neh. 5:5).
It is something that Nehemiah says in confronting these leaders that I’ve been pondering. In speaking out against the leaders Nehemiah says this: “What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations?”
It’s the line ‘walk in the fear of our God’ that’s got me thinking. Given this context, it is clear that Nehemiah believed that a proper fear of God would motivate the leaders of Jerusalem to practice economic policies that were fair to the people. Specifically, they would begin to follow the teachings of Torah, which protected the people from unfair economic practices. “If the leaders hold a proper fear of God,” the thinking goes, “then they will treat the people with justice and equality economically.” The use of this same phrase in 5:15 confirms this understanding, where Nehemiah says of his own governing policies, “Because I feared God, I did not (engage in these practices).”
Obviously, the details of Nehemiah’s context and those of today are quite different, both economically (for example, eliminating all interest on all loans would be devastating in our current economic system) and religiously (Jesus followers do not relate to Torah in the same way as 5th century Jews did). But values like economic fairness and the confrontation of systemic poverty are sprinkled throughout the New Testament and taught by Jesus himself. So we would do well to take this short but powerful line from Nehemiah to heart, “…should you not walk in the fear of our God?”
For Nehemiah there is a relationship between fearing God and systems that keep people in poverty. Where you have the one, you will not find the other.