LIVE: In preparation for this lesson, fast from one meal. (Use discernment regarding fasting; check with your doctor before doing it. If you can’t do it for whatever reason, that’s okay.) When you feel the pangs of hunger, use that discomfort as a catalyst for this devotion.
READ: Nehemiah 5:6-11 – Read this slowly.
(6-7) I got really angry when I heard their protest and complaints. After thinking it over, I called the nobles and officials on the carpet. I said, “Each one of you is gouging his brother.”
(7-8) Then I called a big meeting to deal with them. I told them, “We did everything we could to buy back our Jewish brothers who had to sell themselves as slaves to foreigners. And now you’re selling these same brothers back into debt slavery! Does that mean that we have to buy them back again?”
They said nothing. What could they say?
(9) “What you’re doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you? Don’t you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you?
(10-11) “I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money. But this gouging them with interest has to stop. Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”
THINK: While in Babylonian exile as a cupbearer to a foreign king, Nehemiah has a God-given burden: to rebuild the ransacked walls of the forgotten city of Jerusalem and, in the process, to restore the hope of his people. But in the midst of this massive architectural restoration project, the people are being abused by their own countrymen.
Nehemiah’s burden grows larger. His burden now includes poverty and injustice. Imagine yourself in Nehemiah’s shoes today. What does this burden feel like? Consider your empty stomach and write down how you feel.
PRAY: Begin praying by listening for God’s heart regarding justice. Ask him to show you people who need your prayers. Then ask him to point out when you need to speak up on their behalf, and ask for the courage to actually follow through with it.
One thing I’ve discovered about justice over the course of our situation is that it is seldom swift. Maybe as swift as possible, but never as swift as we’d like. Think about it. Whenever someone has done you wrong, is it ever remedied fast enough? When the courts get involved, things slow down to a snail’s pace. Then, evidence or no, the case goes the way the people trying it think it ought to go, or whichever way is going to make the appropriate people look as good as possible, or prevent them from looking horrible. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the truth of the matter is: the truth rarely counts for much. Except with God.
God commands us to seek justice, to love mercy, to take care of the widows and orphans. Seems like those commands match up with the burdens of poverty and injustice Nehemiah was feeling. Sad to think so little has changed over the years. Jesus talks about how, when we visit the people in prison, or feed people without food, or clothe the naked, we are doing the same to him. The book of James warns against seeing someone cold and telling them to “Go, in peace, and be filled” without offering them what they need to actually be filled because judgment is without mercy to those who’ve shown no mercy.
As I sit in my hotel room, waiting to leave to go visit my husband who sits in jail, this verse hits home. I am getting to visit my husband because of the people around me who’ve fed and clothed a widow and her orphaned children. This is a bit of a stretch, I realize. My husband is not dead. My children still have both of their parents. But considering our source of support has been taken away from us, we resemble a widow and orphans. I do not wish this position on anyone, really; but the lessons it is teaching are invaluable. And humbling.
Today, I don’t really need to pray for God to show me who needs my prayers. I’m about to go to a place full of people I may never know that need prayers, who have families that need prayers. Though I am not personally in a position to be able to physically or financially help these people, my husband has been doing all he can to help those around him who’ve not received justice from one of the only systems in the world that – supposedly – prides itself on preferring that 100 guilty men would go free than one innocent man would go to prison.
Even so…Dear Heavenly Father, You alone know for what purposes you have placed each one of us here. If there are people around us that need what we have to offer, please show us. If “all we can do” is pray for them, let their names be on our lips in prayer as often as we pray. If you have given us the financial wherewithal to help those folks, give us an urge to do so that we cannot ignore. If they merely need a listening ear, may we be willing to be inconvenienced enough to give them the time they need. Relationships are messy and dirty, Lord. Help us to be willing to get dirty and messy with the people who need it the most, and let us do so without reservation when that’s what you require. In Jesus Name, I pray, AMEN.