At the meeting I said to them, “We are doing all we can to redeem our Jewish relatives who have had to sell themselves to pagan foreigners, but you are selling them back into slavery again. How often must we redeem them?” And they had nothing to say in their defense.
Then I pressed further, “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? I myself, as well as my brothers and my workers, have been lending the people money and grain, but now let us stop this business of charging interest. You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”
They replied, “We will give back everything and demand nothing more from the people. We will do as you say.” Then I called the priests and made the nobles and officials swear to do what they had promised.
God’s concern for the poor is revealed in almost every book of the Bible. The Books of the Law, for example, clearly spelled out the Israelites’ responsibility to care for the poor (Exodus 22:22-27; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:7-11). Here, Nehemiah insisted that fairness to the poor and oppressed was central to following God. Many of the returned exiles suffered at the hands of some of their rich countrymen. These people would lend them large sums of money; then, when the debtors missed a payment, they would take over their fields. Left with no means of income, the debtors were forced to sell their children into slavery, a common practice of this time.
Nehemiah told those with means to stop “charging interest” on their loans to their needy brothers. God never intended for people to profit from others’ misfortunes. In contrast to the values of this world, God says that caring for one another is more important than personal gain. When a Christian brother or sister suffers, we all suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26). We should help needy believers, not exploit them.
The way we help those in need ought to mirror God’s love and concern. The Jerusalem church was praised for working together to eliminate poverty (Acts 4:34-35). Remember, “Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27). Make it a practice to help those in need around you.