Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Financial Oppression of Interest

Read Nehemiah 5:1-13

Nehemiah and the people of Israel that have returned from the land of Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem are in the midst of the massive building project. In Nehemiah 4 we read of oppression from outside sources. Now Nehemiah and company will face oppression from inside the camp.

The stage is set by the explanation of the financial situation of the Jewish people. First of all, there were a lot of people and they were hungry (v. 2). Feeding these people was not necessarily a problem, but it became a problem because the people tried to solve the matter on their own without Nehemiah's counsel. Some had mortgaged their land in order to buy grain (v. 3). Some had borrowed money to pay their taxes (v. 4). Some had even gone so far as to sell their children  as slaves (v. 5) and they didn't have the necessary funds to redeem their children from the slave market.

When Nehemiah hears of the circumstances, he is not a happy camper. Scripture tells us (v. 6) that he became 'very angry.' I imagine that this is possibly an understatement. If Nehemiah were anything like me, he would have been totally furious. However, even though he was very angry, verse 7 tells us that Nehemiah still took the time for some serious thought

Then Nehemiah rebuked the nobles and rulers (the money lenders) for charging interest on money loaned to their Jewish brethren. Nehemiah exposes the wickedness of what they were doing. They were, in essence, forcing their own people to become slaves without the possibility of being redeemed. After hearing Nehemiah's rebuke, the nobles and rulers had nothing to say. So Nehemiah continued with his solution to the problem.

The nobles and rulers were to stop charging interest and restore the lands, vineyards, houses, and a hundredth of the money and goods that they had charged the people. Interestingly enough, Nehemiah contrasts the charging of interest with walking in the fear of God. The nobles and rulers responded well. They vowed before the priests and people that they would restore what was taken and require nothing from the people. They did as Nehemiah said. 

What does this mean for us? Is it wrong to charge interest ? Is it wrong to mortgage your land or borrow money? What does it mean for our building projects? What does it mean for church finances?

At the very least, it means that Christians ought not to charge each other interest and we ought to seriously weigh the cost of borrowing money or mortgaging our land. The people in Nehemiah 5 made foolish financial and family decisions just because they were hungry and needed to pay their taxes. Just because you can borrow money doesn't mean that you should.

Secondly, there is a need for personal financial planning. These people put themselves in the position of borrowing to pay taxes. This is not a good spot to be in. Essentially, the people locked themselves into paying interest on something that happened in the past. This causes financial enslavement to the past. We ought to always be looking ahead with our finances. That is why it involves planning. 

When it comes to building projects, I can't help but think that the only option ought to be saving until you can pay for the project up front. That ensures financial freedom at the beginning, middle, and end of a project. Churches that take out mortgages in order to fund building projects trap themselves into paying for a project years after it is completed. The whole of church finance ought to be operated on a cash basis. 

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