Introduction: What causes poverty? In my country some say it is
because the poor made bad choices. If you finish high school, get a
job, and don’t have children until you are married, your chances of
being poor are very slim. Others say poverty is the fault of society.
It comes from discrimination on the basis of race or gender. It comes
from economic dislocation. World-wide, I think poverty is mainly
caused by government policy. Many are poor because of the impact of
war. Many are poor because the government refuses to allow economic
freedom. Sometimes poverty exists because of weather problems. What
does the Bible say? Our study this week deals with complaints about
poverty. Let’s dive into the Bible during Nehemiah’s time and see
what we can learn about poverty!
- Read Nehemiah 5:1-2. Who is the target of this complaint
about food? (Their fellow Jews.)
- What is the stated reason for poverty? (They have
- Who is at fault for that? Why would you blame
“fellow Jews” when you are the one having so
- Let’s ask a fundamental question. I thought in
agricultural times having more children meant you had
more food, not less. (Notice that verse two says “we
must get grain.” That suggests that they are not
raising their own grain.)
- Read Nehemiah 5:3. What is the reason for poverty here?
- Why is this group borrowing money? (To get grain.)
- What is the reason for a shortage of grain? (A
famine. Now this is beginning to make sense. If you
have a famine, having more mouths to feed is a
challenge. If you have a famine, the price of food
goes up and you raise the additional money by
- Read Nehemiah 5:4. What is the source of poverty here?
(Government policy in the form of high taxes.)
- Read Nehemiah 5:5. How can you complain that you made your
own children slaves? (While it might not be obvious, the
text explains it. These poor people have sold their other
assets, their fields and vineyards. Their last asset to
sell is their children into slavery.)
- Nehemiah’s Response
- Read Nehemiah 5:6-7. What is Nehemiah’s first reaction?
(He is angry!)
- Why? Is he angry with those who are complaining or
those they are complaining about?
- What is Nehemiah’s second reaction? (He is like us.
He is contemplating what caused this poverty.)
- What is his third reaction? (To blame those running
the country. He has decided that those complaining
- Look again at the last part of Nehemiah 5:7. What does
Nehemiah conclude is the cause for poverty? (One reason is
- Wait a minute! I’ve got a deal for Nehemiah. If he
will give me $10,000 dollars today, I’ll give it back
to him twenty years from now. Is that fair? (There is
something called “present value.” The value of
getting $10,000 twenty years from now is much less
than its present value. Interest represents the
difference. Giving me $10,000 now without charging me
interest cheats you.)
- Read Exodus 22:25. How were loans to the poor supposed to
be handled? (No interest was to be charged. Thus, the poor
had valid complaints about being charged interest.
Nehemiah stands against charging interest to the poor.)
- Read Deuteronomy 23:19-20. Does God accept the present
value concept? (Yes, for foreigners. Notice that this
instruction about interest is not limited to poor
- Read Nehemiah 5:8. What is the nature of the problem?
(Nehemiah is not specifically commenting on selling
children as slaves, rather he talks about the irony of
what is happening. Parents sell their children as slaves
to Gentiles, and then Nehemiah and other more wealthy
Hebrews buy them back. How does this make any sense?)
- Are you unhappy that Nehemiah does not directly
attack selling children? (Read Exodus 21:2. We do not
have the full picture without understanding this
verse. In general, Hebrews were not to own fellow
Hebrews long-term. On the seventh year, the Hebrew
slave was let free. This undoubtedly depressed their
value, thus the parents are selling their children to
Gentiles. If they sold them to fellow Jews, it was
more like renting them out for a limited period of
- Who is the source of this problem? Look at Nehemiah
5:8 again. Who is keeping quiet? (It must be the
parents. It obviously is not the wealthy people who
are buying back the Hebrews.)
- Read Nehemiah 5:9. What concern does Nehemiah raise here?
(God’s reputation. How do His people look in the eyes of
their enemies? How do God’s people handle their problems?
- Do you ever ask yourself that question when you face
problems? How will your solution look to the world?
- Read Nehemiah 5:10. What is Nehemiah doing to fix the
problem? (He reminds them of God’s direction in the matter
and he leads by example. He lends money and grain, but
does not charge interest.)
- Do you ask people to do things you are not willing to
- Read Nehemiah 5:11-12. What is the result? (Those who are
charging interest and taking the land of the debtors agree
to stop it and give back the land.)
- What about the children? (This should cure the
problem of selling children. Those suffering from the
famine first borrow grain and money. But, when their
resources are gone, they then sell their children.
This restores their resources.)
- Did you notice that the amount of the interest being
charged is disclosed here? They are charging about
12% a year.
- Read Nehemiah 5:13. What else does Nehemiah do to be sure
the problem has been fixed? (He demands that the people
take an oath in front of the priests to do as they have
promised. Obviously, in this meeting those who have been
charging interest feel a great deal of pressure. He does
not want them changing their mind later on.)
- Read Nehemiah 5:14-16. What else does Nehemiah do to help
the poverty problem? (He lowers taxes. He does not take
the income to which he is entitled as governor.)
- Have you ever heard of a political leader like
Nehemiah who did not take any salary?
- Have you ever heard of a political leader who cut
taxes to help the poor?
- Principles for Today
- Re-read Nehemiah 5:9. We looked at this before. How
important a point is this? (Isn’t bringing glory to God
our primary duty? Nehemiah is concerned about how the
Hebrew approach to poverty is affecting God’s reputation
- What is the application for today? (Some of these
principles apply within the body of believers. They
are not necessarily the policy that a secular
government should apply.)
- What seems to be the main cause of poverty in Nehemiah 5?
(The famine. It seems like a cascading problem. The famine
put greater financial pressure on the people. Likely those
with limited resources were harmed the most.)
- What can be done about famine? (Nothing, assuming it
is not man-made, except to save resources for
- What is the next source of poverty? (Lending practices.)
- Is this how problems arise in your life? Something outside
your control arises. You have not prepared for it. Others
take advantage of your situation.
- What lesson do we learn from Nehemiah? (To turn to
God’s answers to problems. To practice what we
preach. To demand accountability.)
- Friend, will you make it a priority for your life to bring
glory to God?
- Next week: The Reading of the Word.