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  • Writer's pictureRev. Kim Taylor

Pastor's Ponderings: Old Testament bible study on Nehemiah 5:1-5 (May 30, 2024)

May 30, 2024:  Thursday Bible Study on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah 5:1-5

I pray that lovingkindness will surround your lives every day. Thank you for joining me this morning for the study of Nehemiah.

A reminder that this Sunday is Gospel Music Sunday, and also the carry-in meal after worship. There will be no Sunday school this week because the Gospel Music group needs their pianist, and that's me.   They are rehearsing at 9AM. You may not have signed up at Church to come to the meal, and that's OK.  You are certainly welcome to come be a part of the Sunday Carry-in meal.  The theme this month for the meal is Asian, and it can include east Indian food as well. I hope that you will join us. Water and coffee will be provided. Desserts are certainly OK too.

In the book of Nehemiah, we have read that the people really responded positively to Nehemiah's call to drop everything that they were doing, and that they made a commitment to come rebuild the wall and gate of Jerusalem. We have an entire section where all of the people who are coming are named, and following that, we read that they have indeed come to work on a specific section of the wall and gate. Even the priests are working at rebuilding the area that is close to where the temple will be. But in today's reading we discover that everything is not as rosy as we might have thought from earlier readings. Now, the people have come to Nehemiah with an outcry for justice to be done for them. While they are working and camping along the wall, their family farms and businesses have suffered, and in order to even feed their families, they have had to borrow the value of their family's food and necessities from people who have the resources to provide the money for those purchases to continue, and they have no way to repay it while the work on the wall continues.  Everyone who came back from exile in Persia had been given a strip of land to farm in order that they might have the necessary resources to survive. When they are building the wall, their family farm or business is fallow. They literally have no money, and they have borrowed in a way that we may be unfamiliar with.  We know that many people from Europe had to borrow against their value as servants and laborers to the people who provided the money for their trip. Our history is filled with the stories of indentured servants, who were really more like slaves. They had to work for the ones who gave them the money for their travel to get to the colonies. The situation in Jerusalem is similar. Since the men are rebuilding the wall and the temple, that means that when they have borrowed money for their families to live on, someone in the family must commit to working off the value of that loan. It was often the wives and the children who had to do that, and then the family property, which had stopped being worked comes into play, as continued borrowing means that the land we be turned over to the wealthy as payment. No wonder there was an outcry. The word used here is the same word used in Genesis when Cain murders Abel. This is way more than just a complaint. It is filled with grief, disbelief, anger, and frustration. After all, the Torah provided for these things, and the rule is that no interest can be charged for the loan, and after 50 years, what is called Jubilee, the time when loans and land must be forgiven and returned.  The Torah also provides a rule for no mistreatment of the people who have become servants to pay off their debts. However, as we see this happening in Nehemiah's presence, we must understand that the balance of wealth that was intended in the resettlement of Jerusalem is getting out of balance in greater and greater ways.

In this reading we find that there are three groups of people.

The first group are those that I have been talking about. They are the ones who have had to borrow resources and money to keep their families provided for while they work on the wall.

The second group of people are those whose land is away from Jerusalem. Not everyone who came back from exile would get their strip of land next to the city. Some people's land was far away, and now stood empty and unused.

The third group of people and their families were those whose experience with Persia meant that they were faced with their demanding labor on the wall, and having the burden of the taxation that came from Persia and King Artaxerxes.

There is of course a fourth group. These are the people who are gaining wealth from the unavoidable circumstances of others who have committed to doing the work on the wall. I guess we would call them opportunists, or culture vultures. They may well have been some of those from outside of the Judahite community. But in all likelihood, they were people who had come with Ezra and were well established and ready to take advantage of the whole situation.

In next week's reading we will get Nehemiah's response to all of this.

With love in Christ, Pastor Kim

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