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DAY ONE: [Re]read Nehemiah 5 (text below). Use the note column to the right to jot down words or phrases that stick out to you.
Nehemiah Helps the Poor 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.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. 14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-‐second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. 17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. 19 Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.
DAY TWO: In the last session, we read that the enemies of Jerusalem had threatened war, if the Jews did not stop the building of the wall. The Israelite builders were on call 24 hours a day. They did not even take off their clothes to sleep, they had to stay prepared for war. From sunrise to sunset, half of the people worked on the wall with their swords strapped to their sides. The other half stood guard. In the midst of the massive [re]building project, Nehemiah became aware of the injustice of the poor, who were struggling to make ends meet but who were routinely being treated unfairly by their very own nobles and officials. Chapter 5 chronicles how Nehemiah became aware of the problem, fixed the problem and modeled a life contrary to the problem. [Re]read 5:1-‐5. What were the troubled Israelites saying? vs. 2: ___________________________________________________________ vs. 3: ___________________________________________________________ vs. 4-‐5: _________________________________________________________ The larger a family was, the more corn or grain it would take to feed them. If the breadwinner had to work an extended length of time on the wall and could not provide for his family, it would cause great hardship. The people of Israel had been through famine in the past, which may have caused many to mortgage their homes and their land. Now, with work on the wall consuming their time, less money would have been coming in, making it impossible to pay a mortgage off. Note in verse 5 that some of their daughters had been sold into slavery. How would that show the desperateness of the people? ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Willingness to sell daughters into slavery was evidence of their great necessity, because their daughters were more tender, and weak, and unfit for bond-service, and more exposed to injuries than their sons. John Wesley Explanatory Notes: Nehemiah 5:5 46
The Israelites should have been very familiar with God’s instruction for caring for the poor. The cries of the poor have never been unheard by God. They themselves ‘cried out’ to God when in slavery and God responded in kind. (Exodus 2:23-‐25) Look up the following verses. What do they tell us about how God wants us to respond to the poor? Exodus 22:22 Leviticus 19:9-‐10 Leviticus 19:15 Leviticus 23:22 Deuteronomy 15:4, 7 Deuteronomy 10:18 Deuteronomy 24:19-‐21 Deuteronomy 27:19 Psalm 34:6 Psalm 72:12-‐13 Jeremiah 22:16 Malachi 3:5 Micah 6:8
NEXT STEPS: How do we as a church care for the poor?
down your thoughts.)
How do we neglect the poor? (jot
[for more scriptures on the poor: go to the http://disciplesteps.tumblr.com blog (look under the ‘Resources’ tab) or go here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/109136441/Poor-‐Scriptures 47
DAY THREE [Re]read Nehemiah 5:6-‐13. As we saw in Day Two, The Lord had given clear instruction to His people on how to be generous with the poor. But, it came to Nehemiah’s attention that despite the work on the wall, the people had not been obeying the Laws and Commandments that the Lord had given Israel through Moses. Despite being set free from captivity and getting a new beginning in the land, many of the leaders and wealthy Jews were still reluctant to live the way God commanded them to, and they were taking advantage of the poor in the hope of personal gain. It seems unthinkable. Rather than use their position and resources to help those in need, the rich used their material blessings to oppress people instead. Everyone knew it was happening – most likely long before Nehemiah ever stepped foot in Jerusalem. With time, and the resurgence of hope brought on by Nehemiah fresh vision, the people in the community began to speak out. The proverbial “elephant” in the room was being named! The first step in confronting a problem is simply to acknowledge it. This step is simple, but very difficult. It involves declaring the truth in love and with a grace-‐filled heart. What made Nehemiah so angry when he heard about the situation? Why was the situation a danger to the unity of the SIDE NOTE: community? Deuteronomy 23:19 (NIV) Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may In 5:6 Nehemiah “carefully pondered” the predicament of the earn interest. people. It does not mention that he prayed. Given his history as a The practice of ‘usury’, as stated devoted and arduous pray-‐er, why might this situation require above, was against the law of immediate action and little or no prayer? God. The people who had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the work of rebuilding the wall were the very ones being exploited. They had demonstrated a strong commitment to the Lord’s work. One would have expected their fellow Jews to be grateful. Unfortunately, they were not rewarded with gratitude, but were taken advantage of.
Life that Is Worthy of the Gospel”)
• • • • We will practice racial and gender reconciliation. We will resist evil and injustice and we will pursue justice. We will share the redeeming, healing, creative love of God in word, deed and presence as an invitation to others to experience the transforming love of God. We will intentionally cultivate relationships with someone outside the Church.
We all witness unfairness, injustice, prejudice and discrimination. What are some of the rationalizations and justifications – and even excuses – we give for remaining silent and not confronting wrong? What good would it be to have a high, strong city wall and be protected from outside enemies and attacks when those who were safe and secure inside the wall were exploiting and taking advantage of each other? What are the two reasons Nehemiah gives the nobles and officials for reversing their actions? Read Leviticus 25:39-‐43. What light does this passage shed on Nehemiah’s judgment? Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” How was Nehemiah living out that principle? After identifying and confronting the problem, the next step is action. Action must be taken and restitution must be made. Nehemiah does three things in calling the people to right the wrong. Why is each one necessary and valuable? • 5:11: He calls them to make restitution for what they had taken and stop the sinful practice of charging interest. • 5:12: He called the priest to come and stand as witnesses to the oath made by the people, as a form of public accountability. • 5:13: He declared that God will shake out and empty all those who do not follow through on their commitment to make restitution. The people were confronted, convicted and committed to give back what they had wrongly taken. What was their reaction, and why do you think they responded this way? 49
In 5:6-13 how does Nehemiah deal with the problem?
verb [ with obj. ] address (someone) in such a way as to express disapproval or disappointment • archaic censure or rebuke (an offense).
noun the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse: each person who turns to God in genuine repentance and faith will be saved.
noun 1. the restoration of friendly relations: 2. the action of making one view or belief compatible with another:
noun 1. the restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner: 2. recompense for injury or loss: 3. the restoration of something to its original state: How do you see these at play in Nehemiah’s confrontation?
DAY FOUR Chapter five describes how Nehemiah succeeded in stopping the practice of usury, which resulted in extreme poverty and even bondage for many Jews. Verses 14-‐19 record Nehemiah's examples of unselfishness and generosity during his twelve years as governor. [Re]read 5:14-‐19. What was unjust about Nehemiah’s predecessors? How does Nehemiah respond differently? SIDE NOTE: The Marks of a Disciplined Leader 1 Timothy 3:2-‐5 (NIV) Explanation of Nehemiah 5:14 – food allotted to the governors: Now the overseer is to be above Nehemiah and his staff did not accept the usual allotments of food reproach, faithful to his wife, and money that the state provided for governors. temperate, self-‐controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to What was his motivation for responding like he did? (vs. 15b, teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not 19) violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full What do you find most amazing about how Nehemiah treated respect. 5 (If anyone does not know the people in vs. 14-‐19? how to m anage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) Each day, Nehemiah willingly practiced hospitality to various Jews and officials. Hospitality was an engrained part of who he was, a generous leader with a vision for a better way of life for him and his people. 51
A celebration of sorts is taking place in this home. If you are the host, how ‘hospitable’ are you? How welcome do people feel? How can we bring people from an observation state to a participation state? The Front Porch. People are invited to a party, a celebration. Some show up but only make it as far as the front porch. They come and hang out and their presence makes them a part of the celebration but they remain on the fringe. The Living Room: Others are invited inside but choose to take a seat on the couch in the living room. The couch is comfortable, but those seated there only observe the party casually. They blend in, remain comfortable, but are easily ignored. They are not yet participating in the celebration. The Dining Room: Some partygoers take seats around the table and are served. There is participation in the act of eating what is served but this is mixed with observation. Opportunities for conversation is natural , yet there is still a separation between host and guest. There is a level of formalness that is hard to overcome. The Kitchen: Activity in the kitchen is participatory for all. When full access to the kitchen is granted by hospitable hosts (through word and action) guests feel comfortable getting involved and digging in. Social interaction is encouraged by the mere invitation to such an open and honest place. Guest and host work together preparing and tasting the food and drink. Fridge rights are granted (giving guests freedom to ‘help themselves’ to what they need, without need to ask). Everyone works together to prepare and serve the meal. Everyone is engaged. There are no observers, only full participants. This is where real life takes place in a loving environment. Both the hosts and the guests have a choice to make. For the host, it’s a question of what level of hospitality will they invite others to be a part. For the guest it’s how well will the amount of hospitality be received and acted upon. The choice is ours, no matter who we are in the scenario. Nehemiah gives us an example of how to live and serve generously in a hospitable way (5:17-‐18), something God offers to us all as well (Psalm 23:5-‐6).
What lessons can we learn from the scenario on page 52?
NEXT STEPS: In what practical ways could you, your group and the church show hospitality
(and to whom would you show it?)
DAY FIVE: Those who were poor in Jerusalem were dealing with a problem of selfishness by those with power and wealth. Nehemiah tackled this problem head on so that justice would prevail. Nehemiah knew that, if he built Jerusalem's walls ever so high, so thick, or so strong, the city could not be safe while there were abuses. The right way to reform men's lives, is to convince their consciences. If you walk in the fear of God, you will not be either covetous of worldly gain, or cruel toward your brethren. Nothing exposes religion more to reproach, than the worldliness and hard-‐ heartedness of the professors of it. Those that rigorously insist upon their right, with a very ill grace try to persuade others to give up theirs. In reasoning with selfish people, it is good to contrast their conduct with that of others who are liberal; but it is best to point to His (Christ’s) example, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). They did according to promise. Good promises are good things, but good performances are better. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible Our example should be that of Christ Jesus. As 2 Corinthians 8:9 says “I am hoping to bring the best out of you. You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.” (The Message). As Matthew Henry again reminds us: The best arguments for Christian duties, are drawn from the grace and love of Christ. Though he was rich, as being God, equal in power and glory with the Father, yet he not only became man for us, but became poor also. At length he emptied himself, as it were, to ransom their souls by his sacrifice on the cross. From what riches, blessed Lord, to what poverty didst thou descend for our sakes! and to what riches hast thou advanced us through thy poverty! It is our happiness to be wholly at thy disposal. If we are to emulate Christ, then we should emulate his generous loving kindness to all. 53
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