He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself . . . will only come to poverty.
The people of Jerusalem were in financial bondage, and it was keeping them from finishing the God-given work of rebuilding the wall around the city. What was the cause of this financial pressure? First of all, they were suffering a great famine. Look at Nehemiah 5:2: “There were those who said, ‘We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.’” There had been this sudden influx of people who had come back from Persia, but nothing had changed with the food supply. What happens when you have more demand than you have supply? Inflation. That is what was happening here. Food prices were going up, and verse 3 says people were having to mortgage their property in order to buy the necessities of life.
But that was not the only problem. They also were experiencing taxes. Look at verse 4: “Also there were those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax.’” Even though these Jews had left Persia, they still had to pay their tax back to the king. But the people were already strapped financially because of the famine, so when the taxes came due, they could not pay. That led to a third problem, and that is high interest. Look at verse 5: “Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” Apparently there were some Jews in Jerusalem who had plenty of money. When they saw their fellow Jews in need, they said, “We will lend you the money with interest.” According to God’s law, there was nothing wrong with lending a fellow Jew money, but there was everything wrong with lending a fellow Jew money with interest. Deuteronomy 23:19 says, “You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest.”
This was the law for God’s people, the Israelites, during the Old Testament; it does not apply to us today. But there is a principle behind this law that does apply to Christians today: we are not to take advantage of those who are poor. We are not to enrich ourselves with somebody else’s poverty. In Proverbs 22:16, Solomon said, “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself . . . will only come to poverty.” There is a movie with Denzel Washington called “John Q.” It is about a man who does not have health insurance for his family, and his little boy needs a heart operation. Denzel’s character, John, does everything he can to get the money together. In one scene he has all of his possessions for sale, and a man comes by and says, “I’ll give you twenty dollars for the TV.” John is in desperate need. He says, “It’s a color TV.” The man growls, “Twenty dollars.” That is what was happening to the Israelites. They were in need, and their fellow Jews were taking advantage. That is why they were facing financial pressure.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Avoiding The Dollar Holler” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2010.
“John Q.,” dir. Nick Cassavetes, Evolution Entertainment, 2002.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org