Joined in Sharing
Christopher B. Harbin
Nehemiah 5:4-13; Psalm 133; Acts 4:32-37; 1 John 1:1-2:2
We have heard of predatory lending. We are aware of how many poor are trapped into high interest loans by those with no scruples about enriching themselves at the expense of those in need. Payday loans and car title loans reportedly make life easier for those in financial crisis. They are, however, a momentary fix that places the financial future of those in need in deeper crisis than before.
Such was the issue in Nehemiah's day. There was a difference, however. In the context of Nehemiah, there were regulations set in place to prohibit the very loans in question. It was illegal from the standpoint of Mosaic regulation to charge interest when one made a loan to a fellow countryman. To profit from someone's need and misfortune was deemed usury, immoral, and against God's very will. It ran counter to the understanding that the very land of Israel belongs to Yahweh, not the people living on its surface. It was provided to care for the needs of the nation, not to enrich the crafty at the expense of the gullible.
Nehemiah heard the plight of the people at the expense of their creditors who held their land, vineyards, and olive groves as collateral against the repayment of loans with interest. Money had been loaned to pay taxes to the king, but the means to provide an income for repayment of those loans had been taken away from the people. From Nehemiah's perspective, it was grand theft and unholy profiteering. He called the loan sharks to task. He shamed them into returning the land to those they had abused. He reminded them of Yahweh's definition that they were all one people and called to care for each other according to need, not to greed.
Greed had transformed them from a people joined by the bonds of family and the redemption of God into a society structured in classes of privilege and want. After all, "It's not personal, it's just business" ...
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