Wednesday, October 31, 2012

walking in the fear of God

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?"
Nehemiah 5:9

This confrontation with the priests and noble wealthy among the residents of Jerusalem was meant to stop a societal sin in its tracks. Those with wealth were exploiting the poorest of the returned exiles. The combination of a famine and Persian taxes had impoverished the people to the point that family inheritance holdings were sold or mortgaged to the priests and nobles just so the poor could buy daily food. And this had become such a predatory practice that an outcry came to Nehemiah.

He saw through the social and economic issues at stake to understand the deeper spiritual problem. The practice was "not right". It was immoral to take away a poor man's living from him. None of these practices (mortgaging land, buying up farms, lending at interest, indentured servitude) were allowed as they practiced them by the law. This very type of situation was prohibited numerous times in the law (see Deuteronomy 15 and 23). And the way to repent before The Lord was to return holdings back to the original owners. The practices of exploitation must stop. Giving back to them must start.

Nehemiah included himself in the solution. He led in the efforts to give to the poor (Nehemiah 5:10) so that others would follow his example. As governor he could have decreed this change by force. Instead, he convinced the nation by scriptural precedent and personal example. And the rich and the rulers repented and gave back. And the nation grew spiritually prosperous first.

Walking in the fear of God meant abandoning selfish accumulation. It meant caring for everyone, not just self or family. It was not just a mere altruism, but rather it was worship. What we do for other people may be our sincerest worship and deepest expression of faith.

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