Violating the Spirit of the Law

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Published:
October 30, 2019

This week’s lesson is brought to us by Good Word from Walla Walla. To listen to the audio conversation, please visit the Good Word website.

Leading question: Can an example of generosity lead the greedy to be less grasping and help them become more generous? Three issues attract our attention in Nehemiah 5: 1) the danger of greed; 2) the danger of money; and 3) the power of example.

Question: Is there any clue in Nehemiah 5 as to how Nehemiah was able to avoid both the danger of greed and the danger of money? He seems to have been incredibly generous throughout the narrative.

Question: Is there any evidence in the text that could illumine Nehemiah’s possible motivation for being so generous? Nehemiah 5:18 could be taken as an indication that he was being motivated by the hope of eternal reward, or the fear of the Lord if he were to be greedy: “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” How does such a “boast” come across to our western ears? Or is that just our western culture at work?

Comment. The beginning of Nehemiah 5 records how the Jewish leaders were greedily taxing their fellow countrymen. Nehemiah roundly condemns them for their greed. The address to the enemy within abruptly follows the narrative describing the threats from external opponents. The story is told in the first half of Nehemiah 5. The Jewish leaders were oppressing their fellow Jews, lending money to them at usurious rates and taking possession of their lands, houses, and children. Nehemiah confronted the greedy ones and his abrupt words apparently worked. The people promised to end their abuses of their fellow Jews.

Question: Is this another example of Nehemiah using strong medicine with the Israelites? To borrow Paul’s language at the end of 1Corinthians, was this a helpful use of the “stick” (1 Corinthians 4:21)? The last half of Nehemiah 5 presents a radical contrast with its narrative of Nehemiah’s remarkable generosity to his people. For twelve years while he was governor, he had not made use of the governor’s food allowance. In addition, he fed 150 people at his table. Each day, that required “one ox and six choice sheep” plus additional fowls. Nehemiah is quoted as saying that it was the fear of the Lord that motivated him. And at the end of the chapter, he reminds the Lord: “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people” (Neh. 5:18, NRSV).

Question: What does the New Testament say about the role of money in the experience of God’s people?

Comment: Jesus, and indeed the whole New Testament has quite a bit to say about money and greed. These passages are especially noteworthy:

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:24, NRSV: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”

Rich Young Ruler: Luke 18:22, NRSV: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” It is worth noting that Jesus asked the “rich young ruler” for everything. But the taxpayer Zacchaeus only gave part of his estate and was affirmed by Jesus (Luke 19:1-10) What made the difference?

Question: What biblical examples of generosity could help us grasp the power of a good example in matters of stewardship? Did Nehemiah’s example make a difference with his people?

Comment: Jesus’ story of the widow’s “two mites”(Mark 12:42-43; Luke 21:2-3), may not have made much difference initially, but the widow’s self-sacrificing offering has no doubt influenced millions of Christians to be more generous.

Photo by Jordan Rowland on Unsplash

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