After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials. I told them, “You are hurting your own relatives by charging interest when they borrow money!” Then I called a public meeting to deal with the problem. At the meeting I said to them, “We are doing all we can to redeem our Jewish relatives who have had to sell themselves to pagan foreigners, but you are selling them back into slavery again. How often must we redeem them?” And they had nothing to say in their defense. Then I pressed further, “What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations? Nehemiah 5:7-9 NLT
Mocked by enemy nations? What was Nehemiah thinking about? I suggest that his reasoning was something like this: one, we claim to worship a God who is unique in all the world, who is, in fact, the only God; two, the evidence that our claim is correct is that this God does not act like the other gods; three, evidence for claim two is that he does not value people as those gods do, namely, on the basis of their wealth, their political clout, or their social standing, but values all people equally; four, this is demonstrated by his requirement that if we are in the fortunate position of having money to lend we cannot charge interest if we lend to other members of our nation.
But, in fact, to Nehemiah’s horror, that is exactly what was not happening in Judah. The wealthy were gaining more and more control over the land by forcing the poor to mortgage their property to them to guarantee their loans. Evidently the interest rates were ruinous, with the result that the poor were losing their land, land that actually had been a gift from God. The rich clearly were not conducting their lives in awe and reverence for God and his commandments (i.e. no fear of God).
What was the result? The result was mockery from the enemy neighbors. I suspect it went something like this: “Oh, you hypocrites! You say your God is the only God because he is different from all the rest and expects a different kind of living from his people. Oh, yeah? Well, then why are you living just like us? You don’t really believe in your so-called God. He is just a convenient crutch you use when it’s to your advantage.”
The application to us is pretty obvious, isn’t it? If we claim that Jesus is the only Savior, and buttress our claims with statements that he can give new life and new living to people he saves, then our lives had better give concrete evidence of that new life. To paraphrase Nehemiah, “Shouldn’t we be determined to show the life of Christ in everything we do so that the enemies of the Gospel will have no grounds to mock him or us?”