Oppression and Generosity
Another week in Nehemiah. Let’s open our bibles to .
This is where we will be spending the bulk of our time today.
Now when we started this series, we saw instantly that Nehemiah was a guy that is driven by compassion. He gets the news of Jerusalem being destroyed and it brings him to his knees.
We see during this time that prayer is an extremely important part of his spiritual life and in that, he prays continuously to God.
Not just for what has happened but he also prays for wisdom, guidance, and a lot of help.
We saw just last week that opposition was introduced.
Sandballat and his boy Tobiah show up. They mock him, they make fun of, they even get to the point of threatening violence.
During this time we continue to see Nehemiah put his trust in the Lord and looks to him for protection.
In fact we saw in that he prays to God and if you will, he prays that God would stand up for his own namesake.
Even though we have active enemies in this world still today who oppose the work of the gospel, who don’t believe what we believe and every day are growing in more and more opposition to the name Jesus, our God is with us every step of the way.
So as we look here in Nehemiah, chapter 5, this morning, we’re going to see this idea still continuing on: opposition, persecution, oppression.
It’s going to change forms a little bit, but it’s still there. We have a big work to do today.
It’s not just the amount of text we have to get through, although there’s a lot there. It’s this idea.
Oppression, injustice…it’s everywhere. It’s worldwide.
Every time we turn on the TV there are news stories about how these innocent people were murdered or these parents abandoned their children.
It’s a weighty, sobering reality that we live in a world where the blades of injustice are sharpened every day.
But hear me. Our God is a God of justice.
He looks after his people.
He takes care of his people. I love what is going to speak to us about today.
When there is division, when there is conflict, when there is a problem within a structure or a church or between two believers, when there’s not unity, what is intended to be will never be because there’s an issue that needs to be fixed.
We’re going to see here in the first few verses there’s a big problem going on inside the walls with the Israelites.
Let’s begin reading, beginning in verse 1 of .
Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.
Let me paint a picture as to what’s going on here.
Just as things were starting to settle down from the outside threats, things inside the walls were starting to heat up.
There was a big problem, a concern.
These weren’t just a few disgruntled members who were complaining about the color stone they were putting up.
It wasn’t a preference game.
They weren’t complaining about how hot it was or where their position was working on the wall.
No, this is a legitimate distress call. A great outcry arose.
Notice their wives are mentioned here as well.
“With their wives.”
Because the Israelites were so busy building the wall, they just didn’t have time to handle all the business back at home, so the weight of the things on the farm and on their land were falling on their wives and their families.
So you see the seriousness of this problem. It doesn’t just affect the workers.
This problem affects the entire clan of Israel: the wives, the families.
It’s a serious problem that’s going on.
So what are they crying out about?
What are they in distress about? Let’s keep reading in verse 2.
For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards.
You see in these few verses there are several things going on.
They’re hungry. They have these big families, and they are hungry.
In this day and age, they ate what they grew.
They eat what they grow on their farms.
But because the men were away from their houses working on the wall in Jerusalem, they slipped into a famine, because they weren’t producing enough crops.
So these people are hungry.
“Let us get grain so we can feed our families.”
One way they had to get grain was they had to mortgage off their fields.
That probably doesn’t resonate too much with us in this room.
Most of us in this room aren’t relying on eating the food we grow in our house.
If you’re hungry you go get a meal from a restaurant or fast food place.
You don’t have to grow your own food here.
But this is what was taking place.
There was a famine.
They were hungry, but they had no money, so they mortgaged their fields off just to buy grain.
Not only that, they then had to borrow money to pay the tax on the fields they had just mortgaged off.
So they’re borrowing money to pay for these taxes they have to pay on the fields they no longer own.
Do you see the problem there?
They don’t have food.
They have to borrow money to eat.
They can’t afford to eat, so they mortgage their fields.
They borrow the money just to try to pay for the fields.
Just more and more debt accumulated. It’s a problem.
If that was all that was happening it would be bad. Right?
But look at verse 5. It gets worse.
Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
I mean, how bad is this?
They’re going, “Listen, we can’t afford to eat, so we’re selling our sons and daughters into slavery.
We can’t do anything about that, because we don’t even own the land we had.
Someone else does.”
Just downward spiral into more debt and more debt, more desperation, more desperation. These people are crying out. There is a big problem.
Perhaps the worst part about it is look at who it was against.
Look at who was behind all of this. Verse 1:
“Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.”
Opposition, persecution, oppression…these things shouldn’t have surprised the Israelites.
Deuteronomy, chapter 28, verse 32, alerts the Israelites that their sons and daughters would be given to a foreign nation, a nation they did not know.
But it wasn’t coming from the outside.
It wasn’t coming from the Sanballats.
It was coming from within the household of Israel.
Certain wealthy nobles and officials were oppressing and abusing and taking advantage of these impoverished Israelites.
They were basically setting up and running these payday advance-type companies.
Where they would lend them money and then charge an incredible amount of interest.
It would be like some of us in this room, members of the same church, loaning money to another brother or sister in this room and charging so much interest you basically own them as slaves.
That’s a problem.
They were taking advantage of their brothers and their sisters, charging an incredible amount of interest.
It wasn’t just morally wrong. It was sinful.
They were disobeying the Word of the Lord.
Listen to this text.
“You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.
Strong preying on the Weak
Strong preying on the Weak
At its very core, oppression leads to the exploitation of the weak and the vulnerable by the strong.
Rather than walking in generosity toward their brothers, rather than walking in unity and helping them out and lending them a hand, these wealthy nobles and officials inside the walls were taking advantage of their brothers.
The issue wasn’t money. It’s not because they were rich.
The reason why they were power hungry and feeding on the weak was due to the fact that they loved money.
It was their God.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Grace Abounds/God Hears
Grace Abounds/God Hears
Two quick things. If you are the offender in this room, the one who is oppressing, know that grace abounds.
In Christ, God has lavished grace upon grace upon grace.
So don’t be too proud to confess and repent where you’re wrong.
Then also, if you’re the one who is being oppressed, who is hurting, who is in pain, God hears your cries.
This word is for us in this room.
Are we listening to those cries?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Let’s look at what our boy Nehemiah does in response to all of this, starting in verse 6 of .
I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
Nehemiah Responds to Oppression
Nehemiah Responds to Oppression
Right off the bat in these verses we get an even greater glimpse into the character of Nehemiah.
He sets a great example for us in this room today, very much a practical, step-by-step response to oppression, if you will. We see it right in the beginning from verse 6.
“I was angry when I heard their outcries.”
Nehemiah was a man who listened to the voice of the people.
He listened to the cries of those around him.
He didn’t just post a suggestion box and then disregard all of the comments.
No, he heard their cries.
Just as we have a God in heaven who hears us, Nehemiah heard the cries of the people.
Two kinds of Anger
Two kinds of Anger
In Scripture we see two kinds of anger.
Most of the time when we think of the word anger or angry we think sin.
And that’s absolutely true.
In there’s a call to refrain from anger.
Jesus, in chapter 5 of Matthew, equates anger in our hearts to murder.
I think for most of us we probably walk too much in this type of anger.
Our parents do something we don’t like, or our Internet connection speed isn’t as fast as we want it to be.
We get angry.
This anger is birthed out of an idolatrous heart. You are not getting what you deserve.
There’s also another type of anger we see in Scripture.
It’s a righteous anger.
Paul, in Ephesians, chapter 5, says,
“Be angry and do not sin.”
Somehow there’s a way to be angry yet not be in sin.
We see it in Mark, chapter 3, when Jesus is with the Pharisees, and they’re trying to catch him breaking one of their laws.
He looks at them with anger.
They were in sin.
When Jesus went to the temple and drove out the money changers because the temple was not being regarded as a house of prayer, he drove them out in anger.
There’s a righteous anger here.
That’s what Nehemiah is walking in.
That’s what he is experiencing.
It’s an appropriate response to the injustices and iniquities in the world.
We should feel something bubble up within us when we see oppression, when we hear stories of prostitution or sex trafficking or poverty.
That should push our buttons, because what is supposed to be, isn’t.
Something is broken.
Something is fractured.
That should move us to a righteous anger.
Notice Nehemiah didn’t get angry and then just start going postal on those guys.
He didn’t turn into The Hulk, flipping over chariots and busting down walls.
He listened, and then he took counsel.
Verse 7: “I took counsel with myself…”
In his anger he didn’t just blow up to a reactionary, emotive response.
He took counsel first.
That’s a good word for us today.
He let the emotion of it that was wrong get out of his system so he could appropriately, in anger, respond and act to the injustices.
First he had to take counsel.
Do we walk in that enough? Or are we just reacting to things?
Before we even fully get the story, are we just reacting to it?
It’s a good word for us. Take counsel.
Then you notice what he does.
“I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials.”
He listened, he took counsel, and then he acted.
He confronted the problem.
He went straight to the source and confronted the sin.
This can be hard.
I don’t do that because I don’t want to deal with the problem. I do that because Scripture directs me to do that. Matthew, chapter 18, is probably one of the most horrifying texts in Scripture for those who don’t like confrontation. What are we called to do? Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go to him and tell him his fault. If he listens, you’ve won a brother.” Your first step, if someone sins against you, is not to go gossip about them, to slander their name. Don’t jump on Twitter and post an aggressive response. You go to that brother, you go to that sister, and confront them on the sin.
We often don’t want to deal with the problem.
The only reason why I do is because Scripture directs me to do that.
I do that because Scripture directs me to do that. Matthew, chapter 18, is probably one of the most horrifying texts in Scripture for those who don’t like confrontation. What are we called to do? Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go to him and tell him his fault. If he listens, you’ve won a brother.” Your first step, if someone sins against you, is not to go gossip about them, to slander their name. Don’t jump on Twitter and post an aggressive response. You go to that brother, you go to that sister, and confront them on the sin.
Matthew, chapter 18, is probably one of the most horrifying texts in Scripture for those who don’t like confrontation.
What are we called to do?
Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go to him and tell him his fault. If he listens, you’ve won a brother.”
Your first step, if someone sins against you, is not to go gossip about them, to slander their name.
Don’t jump on Twitter and post an aggressive response.
You go to that brother, you go to that sister, and confront them on the sin.
Then I love what he did next. Verse 10.
Let’s look at this.
“Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest.”
Do you see what he did?
He included himself in the charges.
He admitted where he was wrong.
I don’t think he was guilty to the extent these other guys were, but there was something he was doing that was not right, so he admitted where he was wrong.
It’s such a convicting word for me.
I don’t want to do that.
My pride wants to step in.
No one likes to admit they’re wrong, but it’s a good word from a great leader.
Don’t walk around with your fingers pointed at everyone else, pointing out the sin in everyone else.
Don’t go walking around blowing your justice whistle, all the while the plank in your eye continues to grow more and more every day.
Admit where you’re wrong.
Nehemiah was a man who listened to the cries, he took counsel with himself, he confronted directly, and then he admitted where he was wrong.
Following Scripture Works
Following Scripture Works
Then look at verse 12 one more time.
“Then they said, ’We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.’”
Do you see that?
At first they were silent.
They didn’t have a word to say.
It was like deer in headlights.
But they said, “Okay, you’re right. We will give them back everything.”
It is such a great testimony of the Lord’s healing work in putting an end to oppression, using Nehemiah, using you and me, walking in faithfulness to his people.
Christ Hears our Cries
Christ Hears our Cries
How much greater is Christ’s example to us?
Then the Lord convicted me, because how much greater is Christ’s example to us? How much greater, how much better, does he hear our cries when we call out to him? How much better does he walk in wisdom? He is the exact definition of wisdom. You want to talk about humility; Jesus humbled himself to be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus enters into the pains of the oppressed. He hears our cries.
How much greater, how much better, does he hear our cries when we call out to him?
How much better does he walk in wisdom?
He is the exact definition of wisdom.
You want to talk about humility; Jesus humbled himself to be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus enters into the pains of the oppressed.
He hears our cries.
Christ hears the cries of the oppressed today in this room.
Isaiah, chapter 53, says Jesus was bruised. He was beaten. He was afflicted. He was pierced.
Then in verse 7 it says he himself was oppressed.
Jesus knows the pain and the cries of the oppressed.
As he’s standing before Pilate in Matthew, chapter 27, a crown of thorns smashed on his head… He has been beaten senseless.
Jesus, an innocent man, perfect, without sin, was charged as a guilty man.
He went to the cross as a criminal and a lawbreaker.
Even in his humiliation, justice was denied our Savior.
He hears the cries of the oppressed.
He knows the calling of the injustices of the world.
He is our great example.
As you encounter oppression inside these walls and outside, listen to the cries all around.
Be a person who takes these things, oppression and injustice, seriously, and when you’re able, step in and help.
Enter into the work.
Financially, if you’re able, give to ministries.
Give to efforts that seek to put an end to poverty or prostitution or sex trafficking.
Walk in Unity
Walk in Unity
But until we walk in unity in here, all that work outside is just social work.
Until we are people who have been changed by the power of the gospel, it’ll be social work.
When we are changed, when we are walking in unity, it then becomes a kingdom work.
The Lord is at work in our world.
He’s doing mighty things.
He is healing.
He is setting free.
Oh, may we be a people who love the unlovable, who fight for those who cannot defend themselves.
Maybe some of you need to just gather where you’re at and pray for the Lord to heal, to intervene, and to stop the oppression. Maybe you need to pray and ask him to raise a greater awareness of what’s going on in the world. Maybe after this service you go talk to Pastor Isaac about what the Lord is doing, and maybe you need to go on a trip. Maybe you need to go over there and see it. Maybe you need to join that work. I don’t know how it’s going to look in here, but I’m just trusting the Lord’s movement and his direction in this. I’ll pray, we’ll respond, and then I’ll come back up and we will take Communion together as a family. Let me pray.