And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them. Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise. – Nehemiah 5:6-13
Nehemiah’s solution to the fleecing of the poor by the nobles is simple. He confronts them directly, firmly, and with many witnesses against them. He tells them plainly that they are treating their fellow Jews just like the Babylonians and the Persians who held them in bondage. He sets forth a plan to repay the poor their losses and assure that they will have enough to live on through the drought. Then, he issues a warning of how God would treat those that would go back on their vow to do better. There was an overwhelmingly good response to this harsh rebuke. The people repented, and united in praise to God!
Our modern view of sin has become both weak and judgmental at the same time. When we have sin discovered in ourselves, we try justify it with terms other than “sin,” and seek to give reasons and extenuating circumstances. The fact is, sin is sin, and we need to face up to our failures. On the other hand, when we sin in others, we are very quick to point it out and think ourselves better than those whose sins we have discovered.
What we need is a good dose of Nehemiah’s plain-spoken rebuke and call for repentance. One of the main purposes of church is to encourage or provoke one another to good works and admonish one another when we step out of the way into sin.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: – Hebrews 10:24
This work is not to declare who is a child of God or who is the most righteous. This work to discipline one another is for the purpose of bringing God more glory through our Christian walk. We need to humble ourselves. We each need to prefer our brother over ourselves. And we need to seek the glory of the kingdom rather than our own comfort and pleasure. What we need really every once in a while is a good kick in the pants and then make a u-turn in our lives.
Contrary to what the world may say, the Bible teaches us that when we actively help one another in Biblical discipline, it leads to more unity in the church, and the Lord receives more glory!