18 June 2015Nehemiah 5:1-13
“The thing that you are doing is not good.” (v. 9)
Psalm: Psalm 25
The story so far ... in common with many others, Nehemiah was in exile. He was a cupbearer to the foreign king Artaxerxes, in the capital city of the Persian empire, Susa. The king noticed how upset Nehemiah was and asked why. Nehemiah had discovered about the downfall of Jerusalem and its ruins (Nehemiah 1:3; 2:3). Such was the esteem and regard that Artaxerxes had for Nehemiah that the cupbearer was dispatched back to Jerusalem with the king's blessing and material with which to rebuild Jerusalem. (The story is told far better in this short video from the University of Nottingham.)
Nehemiah sets about rebuilding the walls of the city of Jerusalem. He divides the ruined remains into sections and allocates each section to a group or family who then become responsible for the repair.
But why was the reconstruction of Jerusalem so important? For the Jews living in Judah, Jerusalem was central to their identity both politically and spiritually. They viewed the physical condition of the city as symbolic of their status and relationship with God. And something needed to be done - things needed to be put right.
And then we come to today's passage, where we see the result of an economic crisis with people being unable to feed their family, and having to mortgage their land or borrow money at exorbitant rates in order to do so.
Nehemiah's response is interesting. He doesn't create a feeding programme for the people, although it's mentioned in passing that "I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain" (v. 10). Instead he turns his attention to "the nobles and the officials" (v. 7). He challenges their behaviour arguing that it isn't right to "[take] interest from your own people" (v. 7), and that it's time to stop. Rather than just addressing the symptoms of hunger, Nehemiah focuses on a cause - not so much the economic crisis which he can't do anything about, but the behaviour and greed of people which exacerbates the situation.
Surely it is not too far a link to make between the physical restoration of people's relationship with God in the rebuilding of the walls, and the moral restoration of people's treatment of one another?
- What is your faith built upon?
- How does your behaviour reflect your faith? How might this become closer linked?
- When looking at issues that affect people, how do you identify things that you can do to make things better, both in addressing the immediate needs and tackling the more structural problems? And what do you do about it?
(You may be interested to look at the work that the Methodist Church (under the auspices of the Joint Public Issues Team) is doing both in relation to Foodbanks and food poverty, and one of its underlying causes, benefit sanctions.)