Read Nehemiah 5:1-5. What is happening here? What are the people crying out against?
The Jewish community seems to be united under Nehemiah’s leadership against the outside pressures. But all is not well within the nation that is standing up to persecution and defending itself from foreign assaults. Despite the outward appearance of toughness and cohesive efforts against the enemy, the community is broken inside.
The leaders and the rich have been using the poor and underprivileged for their own gain, and the situation has become so bad that the families are crying out for relief. Some families were saying that they did not have any food to feed their children; some were crying out that because of a famine they had mortgaged their property and now had nothing; other families moaned that they had to borrow money for the Persian tax and even their children were slaves.
It appears that the main culprit of the trouble was a famine and tax payments that caused the poorer families to seek help from their neighbors. The Persian government required a tax of 350 talents of silver annually from the province of Judah (see note on Neh. 5:1-5 in the Andrews Study Bible, p. 598). If a person couldn’t pay the designated portion of the mandatory tax, the family would usually mortgage their property or borrow money first. If, however, they couldn’t earn the money the next year, then they had to do something about the debt they now owed. Usually debt slavery was the next option. They had already lost their land, and now they had to send someone from the family, usually children, to be in the service of the creditor in order to work off the debt.
There are times in life when we find ourselves in trouble because of the consequences of our own actions; of course, there are also times when we end up sick or in financial straits due to no fault of our own. The story above recounts a time when government policies disadvantaged the people, leading to intensified poverty. They were caught in the spiral of deepening poverty, with no way out.
|How fascinating that then, as now, people struggle with economic oppression. What message should we take from the fact that this is a topic the Bible often addresses?|