Monday, January 23, 2012

An ancient 'Occupy' complaint

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Nehemiah 5:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "I also with my brethren and my servants am lending them money and grain. Please let us stop this usury!" Nehemiah 5:10

The complaints of the people to Nehemiah in today's reading remind me of the modern Occupy Movement that began in the fall of 2011. It is a protest against unfairnesses in society. Rooted in the financial collapse of 2008, people are protesting many things including the use of tax money to bail out big businesses and banks. While executives of the companies (who many perceive to be the cause of the problem) get huge bonuses and severance packages, the little guy loses his job and then his house because he can no longer pay his debt.

It appears that an economic crisis had also hit Jerusalem and its surroundings just prior to Nehemiah's arrival. A footnote in my Bible explains, "A famine along with the need to pay taxes had forced many families into insolvency. Nehemiah's presence emboldened the dispossessed to cry out for justice" - Study notes, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 618.

The confidence of the poor people in Nehemiah was well placed. Outraged by conditions, he took up their cause. He assembled the nobles and rulers and:

  • Rebuked them (Nehemiah 5:7).
  • Reasoned with them, showing how it didn't make sense that they had freed Jewish citizens held captives by other nations but were holding their own people to ransom with debt (Nehemiah 5:8).
  • Told them to stop charging interest (Nehemiah 5:10). Actually what they were doing to their brothers was against Moses' law (Leviticus 25:35-38).
  • Commanded them to restore absconded property along with some of the interest that had been paid to them (Nehemiah 5:11).
He himself was a good example, in that he lent the poor people money and grain (Nehemiah 5:10) and refused to live the customary high lifestyle of a governor himself (Nehemiah 5:15).

There is a place for us to be champions of justice in our society too. Though I don't personally endorse the occupy movement and don't suggest aligning oneself with their cause, there are things we can do. For starters, we can treat others fairly, lend or give money when we see a need, and live modestly and within our means, like Nehemiah did.

PRAYER: Dear God, please grow in me an attitude of justice for the poor and the generosity and willingness to help when I can with what I have. Amen.

MORE: Your gift to the poor: a gift to God?

Michael Hyatt in a recent blog post "5 Ways You Can Become an Everyday Hero" writes:
"I have an author friend who has a policy about giving to homeless people. He told me, 'Every time I used to encounter a homeless person, I would go through all kinds of mental gyrations. If I give money to this person, will they just use it to buy alcohol or drugs? Why don’t they just get a job? Maybe it would be better if I offered them some work rather than just give them money?'
Then he read the words of Matthew 5:42, 'Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.' He then decided to make a deal with God.

Now, whenever he encounters a homeless person or a beggar, he gives them all the cash in his pocket. Sometimes that’s two dollars. Sometimes it’s a hundred. Regardless, he decided to stop over-thinking it and start living the Gospel. The money he gives is his gift to God."
Read all of "5 Ways You can Become an Everyday Hero"

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