The region had recently been through a famine and food supplies were scarce. Cruel and greedy moneylenders and landlords had inflated the prices of food supplies and some people had been compelled to mortgage their fields, vineyards, and homes in order to live.
Some were in such poverty that they had to sell some of their family members into slavery, which was a common practice at the time! In addition, some of the moneylenders were charging exorbitant rates to fellow Israelites, a practice forbidden by the Law.
Nehemiah was very angry when presented with the facts, but he mastered his feelings before he took practical action. He called a public meeting that included those who were poverty stricken and those who were oppressing them. By appealing to conscience, love, morality, theology, scripture, testimony, experience, and commitment he makes a very strong case for this to be changed. He even confessed that he may have made a mistake in dealing with the poor.
Leviticus 25 has much to say about the way the poor should be treated and Ex 21:2-6 describes how an Israelite slave should be set free after 6 years.
Nehemiah was motivated by two Biblical principles in his relationship with others. The first principle was he showed reverence for God. Before he thought what was profitable to himself, he thought about honouring God’s name, obeying God’s word and loving God’s people. The second principle was his compassion to others, he did not live extravagantly, nor did he tax the local people to provide food for himself and his servants. He lived generously by providing an abundant supply of food and drink for those at his table and for those visiting. By doing this he provided an example to the other affluent people in the area to be generous in sharing what they had been blessed with.
This is a partial foretaste of what happened after the Holy Spirit filled the Church at Pentecost. As described in Acts 4:32-37 all believers were of one heart and soul and they had everything in common.
With all that is happening at the moment and all the changes that have taken place it seems as though this might be an opportunity for change. We need to listen to what God is saying to us so I would ask that we pray asking for wisdom and guidance on how to respond both as individuals and as a church to influence working towards a fairer, more caring society.