Read Nehemiah 5:6-8 (see also Exod. 21:2-7). Why does Nehemiah react in anger?
However difficult for us to grasp today, slavery was a cultural norm in the ancient world. A parent could either become a slave himself/herself or sell a child. Socially and legally, the parents had the right to sell their sons and daughters.
However, since God is all about giving freedom, He regulated the practice in Israel by requiring creditors to release their slaves every seven years. Thus God protected people from becoming permanent slaves and demonstrated His desire for people to live freely.
Although lending was permitted by the law, charging interest was not (for biblical regulations against usury, see Exod. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:36-37; Deut. 23:19-20). And yet, the interest that the lenders charged was small compared to what the nations around them charged. They were asked to pay one percent every month. Mesopotamian texts from the 7th century show interest of 50 percent for silver and 100 percent for grain annually. Thus, the 12 percent interest per year was low compared to the practice of the countries in Mesopotamia. But overall, according to God’s Word, the only thing the creditors did wrong was to charge interest (Neh. 5:10), and interestingly, the people didn’t even mention that in their grievance. Everything else was within the social norm as well as within the provisions of the law. So why is Nehemiah “very angry”? Remarkably, he doesn’t act right away, but gives the matter some serious thought.
The fact that Nehemiah deals with the issue so decisively is very admirable. He doesn’t leave a grievance alone just because it doesn’t technically break the law or is socially acceptable, even “nice” compared to the practices of the land. It was the spirit of the law that was transgressed in this situation. Especially during a time of economic hardship, it was the duty of the people to help each other. God is on the side of the oppressed and needy, and He had to commission prophets to speak against the evils and violence committed against the poor.
|What are ways that, even unintentionally, we can follow the letter of the law while violating the spirit behind it? (See Micah 6:8).|