Revelation 4; Nehemiah 5:1-7:4; Psalm 99
The Jews in exile, while they were mostly allowed to live freely, were still under the rule of foreigners. Many were slaves whose families had been captured during Nebuchadnezzar’s conquering of Judah. One of the things that the return to Jerusalem brought for the Jews was a chance for some autonomy. They were still subject to taxation. They still had to follow the king. Now, however, they had some space to breathe.
There was a problem, though. A drought arose and those who were on the lower end of the economic scale soon needed to do something to pay their bills – especially the tax to the king. So, they sold lands and borrowed money from those who were wealthy. Soon that wasn’t enough and they ended up selling themselves or their children into slavery to make ends meet. They not only had no money, they had no means to make money and they were caught in an endless cycle of poverty and enslavement.
They cried out to Nehemiah. “Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons 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.” (Nehemiah 5:5)
Once Nehemiah heard this, the fix was in. He worked with the nobles and the other wealthy to get them to stop charging exorbitant interest and return the lands so that they had a means of caring for themselves. There is a two-pronged message here: 1) care for the poor to help them survive; 2) give the poor the ability to create income and restore their dignity as human beings. It is a reminder to us today as we seek ways to care for the poor and help them maintain the dignity that God has given to all human beings.
My God, there are so many in poverty today. Help us care for those in need in a way that will restore their dignity as Your children.