Reverend Anthony R. Locke
Nehemiah 5:1-13 English Standard Version
1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.
2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.”
3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.”
4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards.
5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.
7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them
8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say.
9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?
10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest.
11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.”
12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.
13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
The Jews returned from Babylon to desperate conditions. They were poor and living in a country devastated by wars and ruin. Most of their time was spent building the wall, not building their businesses or planting their fields.
Some people had money, but they lent that money at interest rates which further impoverished their neighbors. Moral people would have provided food to starving people as charity. Even providing money to buy food as a loan without interest would have been acceptable. Verse 2 shows we are talking about basic necessities of life.
Excessive interest was being charged. Homes were confiscated. Children were turned into slaves as they worked off their parent’s debt. Verse 2-5 are the complaints to Nehemiah.
In verse 6 Nehemiah responds. The Bible says he got angry. He was very angry.
Nehemiah didn’t use his anger to fuel his words. He made a passionate appeal. In verse 7 Nehemiah took counsel with himself. The question – How do you change an abusive financial culture? How do you change a community built on debt, which enslaves the next generation into debt even before they are born?
We need to be asking ourselves the same question.
The average American family has six credit cards with an average of $8,000 total on those cards. If the average family stopped using their cards, just cut them up, and made the minimum balance payment on those cards until they were paid off, the average American would pay over $55,000 in interest over their lifetime.
But we don’t stop using our cards. Most people pay what they can, but the balance stays around the $8,000 mark. Hence, what constitutes a national average. So over our lifetime, we pay closer to $150,000 interest on an $8,000 credit card balance that we never pay off. Ouch.
Again, how do you change a financial culture that ensnares people with just enough debt to turn them into lifetime financial servants? We and Nehemiah have the same problem.
I do not know all the solutions to our problems in America, but I know that verse 6 is our starting point. We must get very angry over financial structures which confiscated homes and turn young people into slaves working a lifetime to pay off debt. The Bible would call this a righteous anger. But anger isn’t the destination.
In verse 7 Nehemiah brought charges against the nobles and officials. He called an investigation. He called a grand jury. He worked behind the scene so they wouldn’t see it coming, and then BAM! He called a press conference and leveled charges against them.
He did this with the power of the people behind him. He assembled a crowd to pressure the officials. This is happening today in our culture with the new bipartisan Tea Party Movement.
Nehemiah spoke truth to power. He confronted injustice. He showed them a better way in verse 8.
Verse 8. Nehemiah used his life as an example to confront the abuse. He personally had used his financial resources in Babylon to buy people out of financial slavery and bring them back with him to Jerusalem. (i.e. Don’t tell others how to manage their money until you have a healthy savings account)
8 “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations . . . He couldn’t buy everyone back, but as far as he was able, he helped.
Nehemiah appealed to their love for country and love for their fellow man. His example exposed their greed. With plain speech he appealed to their better nature.
In verse 9 Nehemiah appealed to their fear of God. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?
It is time that we follow the example of Nehemiah and call our civic leaders to change.
American financial leaders (public and private) are not living in the fear of God in the way they manage money. The world sees our misuse of money and feels righteously indignant. They feel like they are doing the Lord’s work when taunting us because we hurt people in our use of money.
Let me explain that with an illustration. America sold the world scam investments through our subprime mortgage scheme. We labeled the loans as good investments, but over a million of those home loans have gone into foreclosure. Our leaders lied and gave them a “Triple A” rating.
Our nation severely damaged financial institutions throughout the world. Our financial leaders gave cause for us to be despised and scorned.
We are also hurting world financial institutions by monetizing our debt. We are printing money which makes the money we owe them worth less. It is immoral. It’s a white collar crime of theft that steals the value of the asset. Our leaders are hurting everyone using the dollar, especially Americas.
In the subprime mortgage debacle the American people came out of pocket billions of dollars. Our government political leaders abused Fannie May and Freddie Mac to our shame.
Nehemiah did the opposite. He modeled the fear of God and called others to do right.
In verse 10 Nehemiah gave interest free loans for basic necessitates as a moral obligation.
He confronted regardless of the consequences. As a leader he could have been run out of town. He was willing to pay a political price. We need people in leadership with these qualities.
Nehemiah was revolutionary. He called for the leaders to return, verse 11, their ill gotten gains. He calls them to restructure the community relationships based on responsibility and respect.
The bankers, in verse 12 said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.
The problem in our country is that people say that they will do something and then do the opposite. We as the American people have a hard time holding our leaders accountable.
In 2007 the speaker of the House of Representatives promised that After years of historic deficits, this 110th Congress will commit itself to a higher standard: Pay as you go, no new deficit spending. Our government promised to not burden our children with mountains of debt.
In the four years since that promise, the national debt has gone from 8.5 trillion to 14.5 trillion dollars. The 2010 election was an attempt to hold those leaders accountable. It still isn’t working.
Let me give you some perspective on that 6 trillion dollar increase in a 5 year period.
From George Washington to the end of Ronald Reagan’s 8 years in office, the total national debt grew to a whopping 2.5 trillion dollars over that 213 years.
Starting with Bush senior, Clinton and then Bush junior, our national debt grew from 2.5 to 10 trillion. In 18 years the debt increased 4 fold or by 7.5 trillion dollars.
Under President Obama the debt has increased by 4 trillion in just the first two years of his presidency. He predicted that with his budgets, even with his best efforts, that there will be red ink as far as the eye can see.
Why is it a national sin to have our collective debt this high? Let me illustrate.
It would be a sin for me to use the social security number of my children, apply for credit cards, and then borrow money for what I want expecting my children to pay the debt.
Our national debt of 14.5 trillion dollars is more than we will ever be able to pay off. Our children will be born into our debt. This is why the excessive debt is a sin. We expect our children to pay this debt.
So what if we found our moral compass? The Jews of our passage were inspired by love of country and love of their fellow man to do right. Imagine this generation being driven by the fear of God to do right by our children and pay off our debts. How much would each of us owe?
The current tax payer in America would owe $136,000 of that 14.5 trillion dollars. If we as Americans stopped using our Washington credit card, and paid off our debt right now, each tax payer would owe 136,000 dollars. (If you want to rework my math, assume that only tax PAYERS will be paying on the debt. Don’t divide by 350 million people, but households paying taxes)
We don’t have that money to pay our debt, so we will lay that debt on our children.
That’s immoral. We are selling the next generation into financial slavery.
But that’s not all the debt we will pass on to our children. We collected money for Social Security, but never saved the money. That’s fraud. It’s stealing. We spent the retirement money on bigger government. New tax payers enrolled in the program have to pay for the current recipients. That’s a textbook Ponzie scheme.
Our children will have to refund trillions to the Trust Fund that this generation stole for our own consumption. How much have we stolen? Over 50 trillion dollars. That’s prison worthy fraud. It was a sin. Government officials should go to prison.
But that’s not all, when we add in the unfunded pensions, the promises we made in Medicare and Medicaid, we are talking about 150 to 202 trillion dollars of money that this generation would need to find to keep our children from being burdened with our debt.
So to square our finances, do we need $136,000 per tax payer? No. We need 1.5 million from every tax paying American right now if we are to pay for what we have purchased.
It is immoral to bind our children to this debt. It is immoral to rob our children’s future and make them beholden to China. An ethical and noble society would not treat its children this way.
Proverbs 22:9 says that A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. The devastating consequences of our debt will cause future generations to relabel the “Greatest Generation” as the “Greatest Spending Generation”. Those are the folks who have held the powers in government and the banks. The last few generations might not even be remembered as good, but rather greedy and selfish. How sad.
And by our collective votes as a nation we have cosigned our names to the debt. Every time we send another financially irresponsible legislator to Capital Hill they sign our name for more debt.
The federal government’s accumulation of debt will constrict the freedom of future generations. It is unpatriotic, unloving and reflects a lack of fear of God. It is a great sin.
Recently, the government almost shut down because the two political parties couldn’t agree how to spend the 2 trillion we pay in taxes annually.
After weeks of arguing, both sides claimed victory for agreeing on a budget that spends 3.5 trillion. They are spending 1.5 trillion more than they collect, yet telling the American people that this is a victory of responsible leadership. That’s a lie.
Even the “Buffet Rule” is a ruse to distract us from the real issues. The Buffet tax would bring maybe 4 billion into the Treasury. If each government agency saved just 1% it would result in 36 billion saved. The issue is our budget and savings, not new taxes.
We need to cut 1500 billion from this years budget to break even. This would get us even, but still not give us any hope of ever paying off our debts. A responsible budget would be closer to 1.5 trillion so we can start paying down our debt.
We need responsible people in politics. We need leaders willing to hold congressional hearings, level charges, and clean up this mess. We need people like Nehemiah to beg God to bless us with wisdom and the public support to make system wide changes.
The Church should publicly champion the Biblical principles in our nation’s founding documents: private property rights, limited government, freedom of religion, sanctity of life, liberty and justice for all.
Any politician willing to spend more than we make needs to be labeled a thief and voted out of office.
Sadly, the money troubles we face are just a symptom of a bigger moral problem. Last Summer our president ordered all government lawyers to stop supporting the Marriage Defense Act, and then caused a budget impasse because he wouldn’t sign a decrease in abortion funding.
Like Nehemiah, we need to get angry, PRAY, develop a plan of action, and then embrace the public, legal and spiritual channels to force people to do the right thing.
Nehemiah spoke plain speech and called people of influence to repent. He prayed for the Lord to give him success as he organized the community to fight these moral hazards.
May God give us the strength of character to do the same. May we not cosign our names to more debt by voting for politicians who will increase our debt. And may we beg God’s forgiveness for not taking our nation’s debt serious.
God help us.
 The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.