GOD’S LEADERS MUST PROHIBIT ANY TYPE OF FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION
(AND SET THE EXAMPLE FOR SACRIFICIAL MINISTRY)
As I was finishing my preparation last night for today, I came across an interesting reference on the web to the message I preached last week from Neh 4 – Keep on Praying, Trusting, Battling and Building. Apparently Coach Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens must be reading my sermons on my BibleOutlines site. Because after the Ravens defeated the Raiders last Sunday to qualify for the playoffs, Coach geared his locker room speech around the same message from Neh.4. He brandished a sword and a shovel before the players and gave a pep talk about the team’s identity revolving around Building and Battling. In fact the team is going to wear a new patch on their jersey with emblem of a sword and a shovel. Pretty powerful stuff. I’m not sure how he’ll use today’s message – but I’m glad he’s tuned in!
Today we are switching gears from threats from without to look at threats from within – threats that could break apart the unity of God’s people and cause the work to come to a screeching halt.
Need some background before exploring this subject of Financial Exploitation.
OUR CULTURAL CONTEXT
Examples of Financial Exploitation: (major problem in our culture)
– Overextension of Credit – targeting college students and young people and encouraging them to buy things they cannot really afford on credit; not caring about the financial strain that is going to result
“Predatory lending” is defined as consumer loans with any or all of the following characteristics: aggressive and deceptive marketing, lack of concern for the borrower’s ability to pay, high interest rates and excessive fees, unnecessary provisions that do not benefit the borrower (e.g., balloon payments or single-premium credit life insurance), large prepayment penalties, or faulty . Such abuses occur with institutions such as consumer finance companies, banks, and mortgage brokers. These lenders cater to low-income, high-risk consumers who may have difficulty obtaining traditional mortgage credit.
– Whole home mortgage travesty – taking advantage of people’s dreams to fulfill the American Dream; encouraging them to buy a home they cannot really afford; only to have it foreclosed on them down the road; think of the impact this continues to have on individuals as well as our overall national economy; foreclosures at an all-time high
– Elderly are often the target of various schemes – especially dishonest tactics designed to dupe them out of their savings
– Non profit organizations that take such a high percentage of the donations for administration costs (fund raising, excessive internal salaries, etc.)
For better or worse, the percentage of total expenses going to program costs is the most common measure of nonprofit organizational efficiency. Focus group research has found that donors expect worthy organizations to have low fundraising and administrative costs. Consequently, nonprofits frequently tout their low overhead ratios in their mailings to the donors. Most striking, the federal government’s Combined Federal Campaign, which raised nearly $250 million for nonprofits in 2003, requires that participating organizations certify that their combined fundraising and administrative costs constitute no more than 25 percent of the organization’s total revenues.
– Christian ministries where the motivation of the spiritual leader is financial gain; look at their standard of living compared to the people they are supposedly serving; that is why transparency in financial accounting has become so much more important
CULTURAL CONTEXT OF ISRAEL:
Def. of Usury: the lending of money with an interest charge for its use; an unconscionable or exorbitant rate or amount of interest; in excess of legal rate – So it can refer to normal interest or excessive interest
Ex. 22:25 “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.” Ok to lend – in fact a gracious thing to do where appropriate; but don’t charge any interest at all
Deut. 23:19-20 “You shall not charge interest to your countrymen; interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.”
(Deut. 15:7 principle of compassion toward the needy; don’t use the upcoming Year of Jubilee as excuse not to lend at this point in time; “open your hand wide”)
MacArthur: According to Mosaic law, the Jews were forbidden to take interest from their brothers on the loan of money, food, or anything else. If the person was destitute, they should consider it a gift. If they could pay it back later, it was to be without interest (see Lv 25:36, 37; Det 23:19, 20). Such generosity marked the godly (see Ps 15:5; Jer 15:10; cf. Pr 28:8). Interest could be taken from foreigners (Dt 23:20). Interest loans were known to exceed 50 percent at times in ancient nations. Such usury took advantage of people’s desperation and was virtually impossible to repay, consuming their entire family assets and reducing the debtors to permanent slavery.
How can you treat members of God’s family different than members of unbelievers??
Gal. 6:10 “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
2 very different mindsets:
– What’s mine is mine and I will use it how I see fit and nobody will lay any obligations on me – American spirit of independence
– What’s mine is God’s and the family of God will use it corporately in a way that meets the needs of all members of the body of Christ – early NT church – Acts 2: 44-45 “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” We get so concerned about adding caveats to passages like this (it is not advocating socialism; it was voluntary; special hard times applied for these out of country visitors …) that we blunt the impact of the application to us
Raises the question:
Is it Wrong to Borrow and Lend Money?
Difference when you borrow to purchase assets that appreciate (such as your house) vs when you borrow to buy things you can’t afford now and things that are depreciating so that if the loan were to be called in you would not have enough resources to pay it
Fundamental Principle: Rom. 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
Our duty to pay our financial obligations – not saying that it is always wrong to borrow; you don’t really owe in this context unless you are late in your payments
Special Circumstances within the Nation of Israel:
– Importance of the Private Ownership of the family’s portion of the promised land
MacArthur: Enemy opposition and difficult times in general had precipitated economic conditions which had a devastating effect on Judah’s fragile life. The effect of this extortion on the morale of the returnees was worse than the enemy opposition.
I. (:1-5) COMPLAINT OF THE EXPLOITED POOR –
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
A. Financial Exploitation Threatens the Unity and Peace of God’s People
“Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.”
Breneman: The same word “outcry” also describes the complaint of the Israelites under Egyptian oppression in Exod 3:9.
Look at the heartache in many family businesses – they split up over wrangling about the riches
Look at the alimony involved in divorce proceedings and all of the nastiness
Kidner: While the few weeks of rebuilding seem certainly too short a time for these developments (the whole enterprise took only fifty-two days, 6:15), Judah’s post-exilic history had not begun with Nehemiah’s arrival, nor even with the “great trouble and shame” which were reported to him in Susa. His diverting of manpower from raising crops to raising walls may have been the final burden; it did not have to be the first.
The hidden strains within the community, masked by the concerted defence effort . . . needed bringing to the surface, like, e.g., those of the early church (cf. Acts 6:1); and in this case, as in the other, thanks to fine leadership, nothing but good was to come of the exposure. Incidentally it emerges that the wives could take some credit for the protest (1).
B. Financial Exploitation Creates a Caste System of Financial Disparity and Dependence
(Remember the importance of private ownership of each family’s portion of the Promised Land)
Look at the cries of these Jewish laborers – you can see them throwing down their work tools in frustration and complaining that they just can’t go on in this rebuilding project
1. Exploitation Arising From Desperate Economic Conditions –
Impact on Large Families
“For there were those who said, ‘We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.’”
2. Exploitation Arising From Mortgaging the Future for Present Survival = Usury —
Impact on Landowners
“There were others who said, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and bour houses that we might get grain because of the famine.’”
3. Exploitation Arising From Enforcing Servitude on Fellow Brethren —
Impact on Liberty
Prov. 22:7 “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”
Doesn’t forbid borrowing; but it is certainly better not to have to borrow
a. Downward Spiral of Borrowing
“Also there were those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards.”
Swindoll: Artaxerxes was demanding a heavy tribute in excess of what the land could produce . . . Furthermore, tax collectors in that day were notoriously corrupt, inflating the tax bill and pocketing the difference.
b. Incongruity of Slavery among Family Members
“Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children.”
c. Shame of Slavery
“Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already,”
Might even be some references to some forced types of marriages that were not desirable but became almost necessary for survival
d. Hopelessness of No Potential for Income
“and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”
MacArthur: complaints against the terrible exploitation and extortion by the rich Jews who would not help, but forced people to sell their homes and children, while having no ability to redeem them back. Under normal conditions, the law offered the hope of releasing these young people through the remission of debts which occurred every 7 years or in the 50th year of Jubilee (Lv 25). [ex of Grace in the OT!} The custom of redemption made it possible to “buy back” the enslaved individual at almost any time, but the desperate financial situation of those times made that appear impossible.
II. (:6-11) CONCLUSION OF THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE –
WHAT’S THE PRONOUNCEMENT?
A. Righteous Indignation
“Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.”
There is a time when anger is appropriate and it is not sinful; Nehemiah was a busy man involved with directing a major project – but he recognized when he needed to pause, take off his hard hat and deal with personnel issues
B. Righteous Condemnation of Usury (in the Context of Family – Fellow Israelites)
“I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!’”
Wrong to charge any interest at all to your fellow members of the nation of Israel;
Got very angry, but he thought before he spoke; leader must be able to exercise self control – especially of his emotions; not just making some knee-jerk decision; very deliberate and purposeful in how he addressed this crisis; but did not back away from the necessary confrontation and dealt with the situation immediately
Didn’t blame everyone – addressed those who were the problem
Swindoll: “the guys with the heavy wallets”
MacArthur: The commitment of the nobles and rulers to the reconstruction project was negligible (cf. 3:5), while their loyalty to Tobiah and others in opposition added to their opportunistic attitudes, placing them close to the status of opposition. They had become the enemy from within.
Kidner: What exactly was the reproach in verse 7? . . . the words implied a strict business relationship (cf. the Heb. of 1 Sa. 22:2), and Nehemiah’s charge is therefore (in our terms) the lenders were behaving like pawnbrokers – and harsh ones at that – instead of like brothers. They were lending only with the best of cover [collateral] and, in their case, with the worst of motives. It was quite legal to demand a material pledge against a loan (cf. e.g., Dt. 24:10-13), and Nehemiah himself had probably exercised this right. But in hard times legal rights, to say nothing of wrongs, can deal mortal blows.
C. Righteous Reasons Why Usury is Sinful – Already stated above that it is just plain Wrong – but Wrong because it is Inconsistent in 3 Key Areas:
1. Contradicts the Historical Precedent of Conforming to God’s Redemptive Purposes for His People = Release From Bondage
“Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. I said to them, ‘We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?’ Then they were silent and could not find a word to say.”
Got together a large group of the community – public sin needed to be dealt with in public way; he was going to use peer pressure in a positive way
Look at how God had delivered the nation out of bondage in Egypt
Look at how God was delivering them from the 70 year captivity to Babylon
Look at how they used their financial resources to buy out the servitude commitments of specific families in the immediate context
Now they were going to go against all of that precedent and disobey the law as well!
Wrong to enslave your fellow brothers – you could treat them as hired help… but not as slaves
2. Contradicts the Fear of the Lord and Maintaining a Good Testimony
“Again I said, ‘The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?’”
Conscience alone should inform you as to what is good behavior and what is not pleasing to the Lord; plus they had all kinds of specific revelation on these subjects
The Fear of the Lord should be a reliable guide; their conscience was dulled; they were ignoring their accountability before God
That’s what happens in our lives when we don’t take sin seriously; when we live as the unsaved live
Wrong not to maintain your distinctive testimony before a watching world
3. Contradicts Godly Examples of Generosity
“And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain.”
Wrong not to practice Compassion and Generosity = Grace in the OT
Breneman: He had also been lending money and grain. Whatever is meant by the terminology, we might assume that Nehemiah had been acting in accordance with the Law. This would mean he was not charging interest, although he may have been loaning against a pledge. However, he realized that the situation now required giving, not lending. Sometimes one can help others by lending, but at other times even that is not enough; we must be willing to give unselfishly (cf. Deut. 15:7-18).
D. Righteous Plea for Repentance and Restitution
1. Plea for Repentance
“Please, let us leave off this usury.”
Must stop these practices immediately; no discussion or argumentation; he realized the potential for division among God’s people and for impacting the work that needed to take place; you can’t accomplish God’s kingdom objectives when there is sin in the camp
2. Plea for Restitution
“Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.”
Luke 19:1-10 Example of Zaccheus
Problem: “hundredth part” sounds like far too low an amount … may be referring to a refund of the interest charged on the loan or the capital gained by the acquisition of this property; some suggest variant readings here
III. (:12-13) COMMITMENT TO RESTITUTION BY THE REPENTANT WEALTHY –
WHAT’S THE PROMISE?
A. Pledge of Restitution
1. Full Return
“Then they said, ‘We will give it back’”
2. Free Pass
“and will require nothing from them;”
3. Faithful Compliance
“we will do exactly as you say.”
B. Ratification of the Pledge by Nehemiah
1. Confirmation by the Priests
“So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.”
Need to reinforce their commitment to keep this promise; Nehemiah did not just naively trust them; he understood that they had made an emotional decision that they might easily renege on later
2. Curse by God
“I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’”
Fensham: In those days people kept some of their personal belongings in the folds of their gowns or garments. We may call it the pocket of the gown. Nehemiah emptied the pocket before the people, shaking out everything. This became now a symbol of a curse, a kind of rite he performed to illustrate the curse. It was shown to the people in its empty state to signify that, if they should fail to keep the promise, they would be shaken out in the same manner and they would have nothing left.
C. Ratification of the Pledge by the Community
1. Positive Affirmation
“And all the assembly said, ‘Amen!’”
2. Praise of the Almighty
“And they praised the LORD.”
3. Practical Application
“Then the people did according to this promise.”
How Nehemiah dealt so decisively with sin in the midst of the people is the same way we must address any sin problem:
1) Put a stop to it immediately – remember our counseling skit – “STOP IT”! – you can’t delay when it comes to sin
2) Pay back whatever you owe; make restitution; make things right; deliver apologies; ask for forgiveness
3) Promise not to revisit the sin; make a commitment; get some accountability; take your repentance seriously
4) Praise the Lord and move on – not just Put Off / but Put On the positive behavior and put the focus on pleasing the Lord and worshiping and serving Him
Make sure we are not taking advantage of anyone who is in a desperate situation; make sure that our financial decisions are marked by generosity and compassion
Next Week we will see the contrasting behavior from Financial Exploitation:
(:14-19) SETTING THE EXAMPLE FOR SACRIFICIAL MINISTRY