The LIFE TRANSFORMING Lesson I Discovered While Reading a List of Names in the Bible!

Have you ever caught yourself reading through the Bible and you come to a long list of names and you think, “Do I still get credit if I skip these? There are a few passages in the scripture that can make you pause and wonder if there is really anything to be gained by reading a particular list of hard to pronounce biblical names? (Before you comment… I know all about the genealogy of Jesus and the four women mentioned there as well as characters of biblical  significance.) I’m talking about the lists in the Old Testament where someone’s name is mentioned once and never seen or heard from again! Places where we have NO history other than a name thrown in among dozens if not hundreds of other names. To be honest, I never doubted that these lists were scripture and were profitable some way, but I figured that I didn’t have the biblical chops to know exactly who Nephishesim was and why his name was in the bible. But then I messed up…

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I told a bunch of students that we would go chapter by chapter through the book of Nehemiah! I had read Nehemiah dozens of times, but I always skipped the long list of names, therefore I forgot that Nehemiah chapter seven actually contains a long list of names! (It takes up over two whole pages and four columns in my bible!) So there I was, stuck with a commitment to go through this book chapter by chapter and I came to chapter seven and I had to prepare a message for our students or eat crow and explain that I had forgotten about this chapter or worse, I would have to admit that I was in over my head. I firmly held then (and even more so now)  that ALL Scripture is, “God-Breathed and useful” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)but this put it to the test.

I stared blankly at the text. I begged God. I looked up name meanings realizing that perhaps this was a stretch. I asked “Why?” a whole lot. When I was about to give up… He Spoke through the names!

They were there, because they mattered! I know, simple right? These people were listed because they were there! In this instance, they were there building a wall with Nehemiah. Then it hit me, the book might have Nehemiah’s name as the title, but it was just as much about the faithful who responded to his leadership. These folks weren’t only witnesses, they were participants.

I realized a two things:

  1. God cares about people.
  2. It’s incredibly good leadership take time to recognize and remember the work of the people you lead.

I still can’t pronounce half the names on that list, but I know this, seeing their name has impacted me and changed the way I lead. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to tell them that God used a list with their name on it to bless me! Until then, I write thank you notes, applaud and do my best to encourage everyone who participates in the life of our church. After all, these people belong to God! I may be the leader up front at our church, but I am not the only one serving God.

So today I am thankful for a long list of names in the bible because it helps me really see the people around me.

In Need Of A Savior (part 2)

What are some of the things that have been passed down in your family?  Families pass down all kinds of stuff. We pass down our genetics; you might have your grandfather’s hair or your grandmother’s eyes. We pass down possessions; my grandmother handmade quilts and each of the grandkids have one now. We have traditions. We are Auburn football fans. I’m an Auburn football fan because my dad was an Auburn football fan. He’s one because his dad was an Auburn football fan. It goes back generations in my family.

Your family probably looks different, but there are things that are being passed down. It may be something like a desire to serving your country through military service, or it may be a watch from your grandfather, or it may just be your dimples, but you have something that has been passed down to you.

Sometimes what we inherit isn’t always good. My grandfather was an alcoholic. Fortunately, my dad decided he wanted his life to be different and so he avoided alcohol. I on the other hand found out at an early age just how easy it was to become an alcoholic when it’s in your family tree

But what happens if something really important doesn’t get handed down? What happens when something vital never crosses the generational divide? What happens when parents love God, but their children never develop a real relationship with Him? We are forced to look back and ask…Why? What went wrong?

We see exactly that scenario unfold in the book of Judges. The people of Joshua’s generation loved God. It was Joshua who stood up and made a decree to the people of the Land, “choose you this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). It really seemed like Joshua had long term plans for serving God to be a part of his family’s heritage for generations to come.  The book of Judges even tells us that even while there were elders living after Joshua that all the land served the Lord (Judges 2:7).  When the people were taking over the land it was men like Caleb who went through some means to ensure that his daughter would marry a God serving and brave young man (Judges 1:12-13).

Read Judges chapter 2

It’s hard to imagine how there would come a generation that didn’t love and serve the Lord like their parents did. We have plenty of evidence that this was something that was designed to be left in the family legacy. Certainly each person has to make their own decisions to follow the Lord, but it’s not like the parents were negligent about teaching their kids about God.

Continue reading “In Need Of A Savior (part 2)”

In Need of a Savior (Judges 1)

In the book of Judges, the nation of Israel has entered the promise land. They have had two outstanding leaders, Moses and Joshua. Joshua stood in the Land and declared, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). The people of Israel responded with an overwhelming sense of, “We are with you!” It seemed like the young nation’s future was bright.

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They still had one task to finish; they had to push the Canaanites out of the land. Some people read this and they are concerned. It’s important to know that God wanted the Canaanites pushed out, not simply because they were in the territory that He wanted to give Israel, but because their sins had become so great. You see the Canaanites worshiped the false gods of Baal and Ashtoreth, and sometimes Moloch. It can be helpful to know how they worshiped these false gods. If you were sick and wanted to get better you would take a child and place him in the hands of Moloch and offer its life for yours. In essence you were saying, “I want to live a more comfortable and disease free life, take the life of this child so I can have the life I want.” You would then be appeasing the gods by giving the child’s life for your own.[1]

The temples for worship were full of pornographic art in the form of idols and carvings. The way they worshiped was through prostitution and perverse sexual acts that could even involve family members. It’s too gross and ugly to describe in detail here. It’s enough to know that many of the ways that these people would worship is against the law here in America and punishable by serious time in prison. [2]

God had commanded the nation of Israel to push the Canaanites out. First, for justice in the case of those who had been oppressed, injured and even murdered as part of the pagan worship practices.  And second, so that the nation of Israel would not be tempted to worship false gods and follow the Canaanite ways.

That’s the background. Take a moment to read Judges 1:1-2:6. Read the whole thing and then come back and we will look at some important details togetehr. For the sake of brevity I’m just going to reference parts of the this passage as we talk about it and so I want it open before you and in the back of your mind as we discuss everything. So go ahead and take a moment to read. This page will still be here.

It is important for the nation of Israel to obey the Lord and push the Canaanites out of the land. They are in the middle of the task when Joshua dies and a crisis emerges. Joshua was a brilliant military leader who walked with God. Now that he is gone, there is no clear leader and no clear way forward. What do you do when you lose the leadership of someone you love and trust as a godly leade

You may lose a leader, but you won’t lose the Lord.

I think at this point it is important for us to draw on the fact that all godly leaders always point to the One greater than themselves… they point us to Jesus. In my case I had a great and godly dad but a stroke really changed his personality. Just because I lost my dad’s leadership didn’t mean that the Lord stopped caring about me. I might have lost a leader, but I didn’t lose the Lord. In fact my dad’s mission as a godly father was to point me to the Lord. He was like a shadow. The real leader was Jesus and my dad was evidence of what it looks like when God moves in someone’s life.

A couple of years ago, my son asked why he couldn’t see God. (It’s been a long standing rule in our family that you don’t draw God).  I explained that God is like the wind.[3] You don’t see wind; all you see are its effects.  It fills a sail and moves a boat. It blows a hat off a man. It pushes a windmill. There are lots of ways to see the wind move even though you can’t see it. It’s the same with God; there are lots of ways to see Him move, even though you don’t see him with your naked eye. There are miracles of healing, there are miracles of reconciliation that take place in our families, there are changes in your temperament and attitude as you continue to submit your life to God. Each one of these things are finger prints, evidence of God’s work.

Godly leaders are one of those things that God gives us that point to Him. We see God move in their life and our lives our better because of it. They bring the best out in us. They point us to the scriptures. They challenge us. They help our faith grow. Leaders like this are like shadows. Their substance, their influence, their weight isn’t rooted in who they are, but in who God is. Their whole life, their whole existence is to point us to the greater reality… God. When we lose a godly leader to sickness, death, or even God’s call to go somewhere else it can seem like God has abandoned us, but when this occurs it is important to remember, “we may have lost a leader, but we haven’t lost the Lord.”

It seems like at first the nation of Israel totally gets this. Joshua dies, they seek the Lord, they get directions and they start to finish the job of pushing the Canaanites out.  We get a snapshot of the conquest. They are kicking booty and taking names. All is good in the land of Israel.

Not long into the conquest, the nation starts to make compromises. Instead of looking fiercely different than the people they are kicking out, they start to behave like them. Then they allow them to live in the land. Finally we have a land of Canaanites and Israelites. This mix of people leads to a mix of worship. It isn’t long before the people of Israel are lead into the worship of false gods and a wicked kind of worship which I described earlier.

Today’s Compromise is tomorrow’s Corruption! Put another way. Your children will practice in excess what you do in moderation.

Along the way some unsightly things happen. They torture a guy but cutting of his thumbs and toes before killing him. It’s important to know that they weren’t looking for information! The city had been captured. They were having a little bit of sport at his death. This wasn’t God’s design; it was how the Canaanites did things. Indeed this poor guy understands and thinks it is alright for his captors to do this because he has done the same thing to seventy other kings (Judges 1:6-7).[4]

Then when they see an enemy that has superior battlefield technology known as the iron chariot, they choose not to fight (Judges 1:19). This is actually in direct violation of one of God’s commands to his people as they enter the land. It was spelled out for them in very clear terms by Moses:

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 20:1 ESV)

The people in Joshua’s time went up against unbeatable odds and won. They took down the wall of Jericho just by marching around it for a week and yelling at the top of their lungs. The people of the land were afraid of the Israelites because God was giving them amazing victory after victory in the land. Yet here Israel stops and their knees knock together and they pee their tunics because in their heart they think that there is no way they can take on an army with chariots. They have forgotten that the Lord can take care of any challenge that comes their way.

They make further compromises by allowing a guy to live if he just tells them where the secret entrance to his city is (again they are dealing with their own military brilliance rather than relying on God). He tells them and so they let him and his family go. He goes down the road a little way and then sets up shop, builds a homestead and names a town the same name as the one the Israelites have just destroyed (Judges 1:22-26).

Each compromise is worse than the one before until they are finally the nation of Israel is able and powerful enough to kick out the Canaanites, but they decide to make them slaves instead (Judges 1:35). They had the power and dominance to kick these folks out just as God had commanded but instead they make them slave laborers. This is in total defiance to God’s command.

Imagine that you have cancer and the doctor has to go in to operate? He has to remove a tumor from your body and it is very important that he get all of it. In fact they go ahead and set up a chemo or radiation schedule for after the surgery just in case one tiny bit accidentally gets left behind. Cancer is BAD and they are willing to put you through some rough stuff just to nuke it.

Now imagine that you have had the surgery and the doctor comes in to tell you about the operation. He says that he has tickets to the Alabama game on Saturday and while he could have taken more time to make sure he got the entire tumor it was more convenient for him to be done so he could get on the road.  He’s pretty sure that he got at least half of the tumor but there is a pretty big amount still left… How would you feel?

Cancer isn’t a joke!!!  And neither was the conquest of the land of Canaan. By leaving the Canaanites there in the land, not only have they disobeyed God, but they have also left a dangerous cancer of Baal worship. It is a cancer that spreads and will plague Israel for generations.

      Disobedience in Deadly

So I’m sure the people of the nation of Israel were patting themselves on the back. They had successfully conquered the land… sort of. I mean they did leave a lot behind but it looked pretty good at the moment.

Our old house is for sale and I recently mowed the lawn. Right now the lawn looks amazing. My front yard is made up of mostly weeds and a little bit of grass. The thing I like about mowing is that for a short while the lawn looks semi decent because all the weeds are cut down to the same height as the grass. But give my yard a week and it will look like a jungle again. You see by mowing my weeds down, I haven’t taken the time to really deal with them. I’ve just made them look alright for a while. If you really want to deal with a weed you have to get to its root; either drop in some poison that will kill it down to the root or pull the whole thing out, roots and all. There is no way to effectively deal with weeds without dealing with the root.

It was the same way with the Baal worship in the land of Canaan. They settled for a good mowing back rather than a total removal. Their children would be plagued by the people they failed to remove. The Lord even appears to them again and says that since they didn’t remove the altars to the false gods that they would become a snare to their children (Judges 2:1-5).

You see our sin always affects more than just us. You may think that your private habit of looking at dirty pictures doesn’t affect anyone, but it changes your attitude, it changes how you see other people. Those private moments aren’t so private when they affect the way you treat your spouse, your sister, your mother, your girlfriend, your daughter, your neighbor.

Your gossip goes beyond your friends. It gets back eventually. You can’t be trusted even by your friends anymore because they are afraid you will gossip about them. It’s ruining your friendships. Those lies you tell, they’ll be found out. People will see you as a liar, but what’s worse is they will feel betrayed because they trusted you.

Here is what sin unchecked in your life does! It festers and grows. Anger begets anger, lust begets more lust, a sharp tongue only grows sharper.  You tell yourself that it will get better over time and that you will outgrow it, but the truth is without serious intervention you will repeat the same sins over and over. In fact you will perfect the  sins you dabble in. Unchecked, you will practice them until you don’t even think about what you are doing. Your conscience no longer pricks you when you berate your children, stare at someone elses spouse, or still from your employer.  Sin grows. It doesn’t die unless you rip it out by the root and ripping it out by the root is work.

One of the famous dead guys I like to read goes by the name of John Owen once wrote, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” The point is that apart from some serious intervention and honest reflection before God that the small sins in your life today will be full blown nightmares tomorrow.

So how do you kill sin? The answer is you can’t do it on your own. You must seek the Lord. He’s the only one who can truly take care of your sin for you. The nation of Israel should have trusted God to take on the iron chariots in the valley and you also to need to trust God and take on the sin in your life.  It begins with confession. You agree with God that you have sin in your life that needs dealt with. It progresses toward genuine repentance. Real repentance is turning from your sin and to God. So if you have stolen, you give stuff back. If you are a liar, you start telling the truth. If you look at porn you get accountability, You haven’t repented until you have turned from sin to God.

Don’t get lost here. Don’t start down the path and stop. That’s like mowing the weeds. It will come back. You press into Jesus! You take every thought captive! You know the word of God so when a false guilt or shame arises you can say, “That’s not who I am anymore.”

The amazing thing is that he takes you as you are! He does all the real work! All you do is run to him and never look back. Are you there today? Are you ready to lay aside these things that have been holding you back and press into Jesus?

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[1] I think here it is important to note that we in America practice something similar. There are 1.5 million abortions performed each year. 1 in 6 women have had an abortion. To cause an abortion a provider may injects a baby with poison or  inserts a surgical instrument into the baby and tears it apart, or provides a poison for the mother to ingest which causes the baby to starve and suffocate to death.

[2] I think at this point it’s worth noting that the false gods/ idols that the people of the land of Canaan served required a lot of gross and immoral things at their hands including the burning children alive, child molestation, incest, sexual acts with animals, homosexuality, and necromancy  (see Leviticus 18:6-30, Deuteronomy 18:9-14). The Canaanites primarily worshiped Baal. Baal was a weather god. To a culture that depended on rain for crops, weather mattered. They believed that when Baal was aroused to make love with Ashtoreth (another Canaanite god) that it rained. To get Baal to do his thing, they would demonstrate perverse sexual acts in hopes that he would get the idea. The Canaanites believed the god’s must be manipulated into compliance. This type of worship of this false god destroyed lives.

[3] Actually I first explained that God is not visible to the human eye because he isn’t made of a material substance and thus not bound by the laws of physics, but the fact that physics exists is a sign of his existence. Then I went with the wind analogy.

[4] More than likely this is a slight exaggeration on his part.

Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip is cruel. It is what people who lack the physical strength or capacity to enforce their will resort to when all else fails. It’s what middle school girls do when they try and shame someone into conformity or to make themselves look better. It’s what boys do when they display their own insecurities in their words. They make idle threats through supposition and mindless chatter about someone else’s business. They assign their own motive, thoughts and emotions to the actions of another and call them into account.

 In reality gossip is just hot air designed to look and feel like fire. If you are not careful you will feel the brunt of it and think you were really burned, when the truth is, it has no power over you. It’s just idle breath and it says more about those who breath out such musings than those that are being spoken about. Sure in the moment it may seem like all eyes are on you, but know this that there will come a day when God will review every idle word that has ever been spoken (Matthew 12:36) and those who are guilty of gossip will give a full account.

Nehemiah was not above being gossiped about. When all else failed Sanballat resorted to gossip. He sent an open letter (meaning anyone could read the contents) to Nehemiah. In the letter he slander’s Nehemiah’s character and asks again for a meeting.

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And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. (Nehemiah 6:4-9 ESV)

So what is especially ironic about this letter is that Sanballat accuses Nehemiah of conspiring against the king. Then he asks for a meeting saying, “come let us take counsel together.” This was incredibly stupid on Sanballat’s part for the simple reason that if word ever got back to the king of this letter, it looks like Sanballat is wanting to make a plan with Nehemiah to rebel against the king. Indeed what was intended as slander for Nehemiah could very well be taken and used as evidence to convict Sanballat of treason! But don’t miss the point, that is what gossip does… in attempting to malign the character of someone else, it reveals the corrupt character of the one who is speaking, texting, writing, sharing!

So how does Nehemiah handle gossip? He prays, asks for God’s strength, and goes back to work. This takes incredible strength and trust on his part to know that God will take up his defense. Nehemiah knows he doesn’t need to waste his breath defending himself against lies.

Sometimes when we take up for ourselves, even though we are in the right, we look like we are in the wrong. Nehemiah gets that. He trusts God to sort this out. God will judge what has been said, God will handle those who have said it. In the mean times he has a wall to build.

Danger of Devilish Distractions (Nehemiah 6:1-3)

Danger of Devilish Distractions (Nehemiah 6:1-3)

Several years ago one of our presidents lowered the bar and made it possible for faith based ministries to receive government funding to aid in their addiction and recovery programs. Up to this point many of these ministries had been self-sustaining in that they raised money through donations, thrift stores, local church partnerships, and even fees for those who could afford it. I know of one ministry who jumped at the chance to receive government funding and set out to enlarge the tent of their ministry. However as administrations changed so did the rules that accompanied the funding and this particular ministry was put into the difficult decision of either watering down their curriculum or losing funding that they had come to depend on. The end result was that ministry centers were shut down and many of the people who depended on them were turned over to other ministries or back to their own devices.

The slow fade of this once vibrant ministry serves as a diligent reminder that it matters who you partner with to accomplish the work that God has called you to. There will be some folks along the way who offer to help you, but when understood clearly their offer to help is actually an offer to destroy you from the inside. It is during these times that leadership matters the most. It can be hard to turn down help, but help from the wrong source can lead to destruction.

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Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:1-3 ESV)

When they found out that they couldn’t intimidate Nehemiah, Sanballat and Geshem attempted to sidetrack Nehemiah with the offer of a meeting. They proposed a meeting place that would have been about equal distance for them and Nehemiah to travel, but would have also taken a day away from building the wall. Their goal was to remove Nehemiah from Jerusalem and perhaps sow seeds of discord while he was gone, or spread rumors about him, or perhaps even to kill him.

Nehemiah realizes that their character hasn’t changed overnight and that they are up to no good. He knows they don’t have his best interest at heart. A deal with Sanballat would ultimately come back to haunt him. So Nehemiah doesn’t even hesitate and tells them. The work I’m doing is too important. I can’t come down and deal with you right now.

This is an old tactic of the Devil. He would offer us his help, but his help always comes with a cost. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with what appeared to be helps. He offered him bread for his hunger, a way to prove he was the messiah, and even all the kingdoms of the world without the cross. Of course all he asked was that Jesus betray all of Heaven and worship him (Matthew 4:1-11).

It matters who you partner up with. Some partnerships will cost you more than they will help you. Nehemiah chose to stay engaged with those working on the wall rather than seeking outside help from some shady characters. Sometimes what you are doing is so important that you can’t risk it by partnering with the wrong type of folks.

How Do You Handle Righteous Anger? (Nehemiah 5:6-13)

How Do You Handle Righteous Anger? (Nehemiah 5:6-13)

When I was sixteen years old I was bending down at my locker to get some books out of the bottom and another big guy bumped into me causing me to bump my head on the locker. I was angry. My friend pointed to the guy who did it and said, “He did it on purpose, are you going to let him get away with that?” And before I knew it, in my anger I pulled on his shoulder and said, “Hey, why did you bump me into my locker?” At that moment, it seemed like the whole school had organized to form a ring around us and everyone began to chant, “Fight, fight, fight.” It didn’t matter what he would have said next, my anger had lead me into a situation where I felt like I couldn’t back down and so I threw the first punch I had ever thrown in my life. It landed squarely in his mouth and cut a huge gash in my knuckle and left a scar that I carry to this day. The scar is a good reminder of how stupid I can get when I am angry.  

Don’t get me wrong. Anger can be a good emotion. We should be angry about some of the things that go on in the world. I’m angry whenever I hear about someone abusing or neglecting children. Anger in that context is an appropriate emotional response to an unjust situation. The trouble can come though when I act in anger. You see just anger can and should be used to move us into just action, but if we are not careful our anger will move us to action without concern for justice at all.

In my first fist fight I was angry and I was moved to action, but it wasn’t just. I didn’t take the time to evaluate, much less discuss what had happened. My anger blinded me and in a series of poor choices my anger helped me do more harm than good. You see that’s what action without reflection does, it sabotages our best efforts and turns them into destructive decisions.

Nehemiah was human. He heard some news and it made him angry, but look at his reaction. He was able to process his anger into something productive. I wish I had thought like Nehemiah when I was sixteen years old.

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I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised. (Nehemiah 5:6-13 ESV)

The first thing Nehemiah does is to “take counsel with himself.” In other words he mastered his feelings and brought his anger under control. He realized that while emotions are a good indication of how he feels, they do not get to decide how he acts. Rather than letting the anger control him; he controls the anger.

Anger is like a high powered water hose used by firefighters to put out a blaze. When pointed in the right direction it can actually help put out the fires of injustice that blaze around our world. However, the same hose when not controlled can whip around wildly and cause more destruction than the fire it was designed to put out.

When Money is God, People Suffer (Nehemiah 5:1-5)

When Money is God, People Suffer (Nehemiah 5:1-5)

People fall on hard times. Sometimes there is a fatal error on their part such as mishandling money, sometimes it is due to circumstances such as cutbacks at work, etc. But there is no doubt that people fall on hard times. When folks have fallen on difficult times for whatever reason, they are vulnerable to exploitation. Someone with a little bit of cash can offer to make their situation temporarily better, the only problem is most often cash flows into these situations as a high interest loan rather than a gift.

Sometimes the folks doing the “helping” are just helping themselves rather than truly helping their neighbors in need. What seems like a solution can actually create a worse problem. Folks who needed a little help to get up end up being held down by that hand the was extended to them. This is how part of the cycle of poverty works.

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Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”(Nehemiah 5:1-5 ESV)

Building the wall was a hardship. It took people away from farming their fields and raising crops (their primary source of income). In essence they had to quit paying jobs in order to work a non-paying job. It also seems that when they stepped back from farming there was also a famine in the land which caused the price of food and other things to soar.

This created a situation where folks who had money could buy land and labor cheaper than before and those who didn’t have much had to sell what they had at rock bottom prices. It created a culture of exploitation that kept the rich people rich and the poor people poor. In this passage there are four groups of people.

  1. Those who had to borrow money to eat.
  2. Those who mortgaged their property to eat
  3. Those who couldn’t pay the taxes on the property and had sold their children into slavery
  4. Their fellow countrymen who had used this as an opportunity to gain land, money, and possessions rather than help out their neighbors in need.

Can you imagine your neighbors being in extreme need, even to the point of selling their children and you have enough money to help, but rather than giving them a gift you give them a high interest loan? Not only were the people of Jerusalem open to exploitation by those from outside the city, they were being taken advantage of by their own people! It got so bad that verse one says even the wives were crying out! This was uncommon for women to speak up in the public forum, but when enough has become enough the voice of reason will be heard even if it has to come from unconventional means.