Have you ever felt that things are going well only to discover they are not? You believe you are working honourably, acting wisely and making progress then suddenly a massive problem emerges and shocks you.
In construction, you can find that the land you are about to build on has ancient archaeological treasures and you must stop. In education you can discover one of your co-workers is abusing students. In any field you can become aware that someone has lied, cheated or stolen and nothing is what you first thought.
Most scandals seem to revolve around one or more of the top three issues of “relationships”, money or power. In working environments it is very common for money to be the underlying problem for, as Paul explained “the love of money” (not money itself) “is the root of all kinds of evil”.
So back to our wall where Governor Nehemiah has done the spiritual disciplines, skilfully obtained royal backing, carefully assessed the presenting problems, gathered a fantastic team, motivated thousands of workers, created a brilliant strategy, seen-off external opposition, and is now proceeding with the noble project of restoring Jerusalem to its functioning status as a capital city. They were working hard and collaboratively on what was immensely rewarding for him, the job was already half done twenty-six days in.
Nehemiah’s mind would be racing and satisfied, proud and humbled, full of hope mingled with determination. Tired but envisioned, they were all on task, on message and on track.
Its a great feeling. You sleep well at night and you get up ready to work. You know what you are doing is valuable and, even given the dangers and challenges, you press on moulded by a vision of what you will achieve for yourself, your team, your family and the next generation.
Then the shock. We are focusing on the financial shock here. It takes many forms. A stock market crash, a natural disaster, a business goes bust, bankruptcy emerges, foreclosure, repossession. A ponzi-scheme is revealed, embezzlement comes to light, books have been cooked, numbers have been fiddled and what you thought was a solid foundation turns out to be a house of cards. You find that you have been working with what the cynics today call vapour-ware – nothing is real it’s just smoke and mirrors.
It is thought of as a modern day problem but it is as old as any hill you ever see. It happens in every country, every sector and every part of the political spectrum.
And now it has happened to Governor Nehemiah. A shocking, disgraceful financial scandal breaks open before his eyes and he will now face one of the biggest, if not the biggest tests, of his career.
In order for you to learn from it I may need to refresh your memory as to what the nature of the crisis actually was. So here’s a summary of “what came across the Governor’s desk” you can find it in the fifth chapter of his journal.
First, a great outcry, or protest, exploded from men and their wives (generally the poorer people but not exclusively the very poor, we are talking about working people here) directed against their fellow Jews. This is an internal crisis.
Second, the protest comes from a coalition of groups in distress.
Group one was having trouble feeding their large families due to their inability to afford the grain.
Group two had the same problem of feeding families but were struggling to manage their debts because they had mortgaged their land, their businesses and their homes.
Group three were having the same grain problem but they were in debt because they were struggling to pay the king’s taxes on land and business. This group was so desperate that they had even mortgaged their children (especially their daughters) to try and raise funds.
Third, and this was the absolute scandal, the financial system that was in place and oppressing the people creating these hardships and suffering was not Persian or Babylonian, it was not based in Ammonite or Arabic territory, it was not being run by the enemies of the nation but the Jewish rich and powerful. It was a local financial system run entirely by fellow citizens.
Grain was the commodity everyone needed. Famine conditions had raised the price.
Most people were plunging themselves into debt to obtain food and the lenders were making a fortune acquiring debtors, collateral, and charging high interest rates. Large numbers of people were now facing bankruptcy, property seizure, struggle and starvation. They wanted to pay but had run out of the ability to pay so in desperation they cry out against the financiers.
This story is thousands of years old, but happens yesterday today and tomorrow around the world. Nehemiah has many reactions which we will examine but one is “he ponders what to do in his mind” – there it is again – Nehemiah’s mind. How he handles this will define who he is. Perhaps who he is will define how he handles this. We will define that next week.
5 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. 2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials.
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