12 April, 2024

February 19 | Courage to Deny Oneself

by | 13 February, 2023 | 0 comments

Unit: Nehemiah 
Theme: It’s About Courage 
Lesson text: Nehemiah 5:1-19
Supplemental texts: Exodus 22:25-27; 1 Corinthians 9:13-18; Matthew 16:24-26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 
Aim: Courageously surrender your right if it benefits others

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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_February19_2023.

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By Mark Scott

The problem in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve refused to deny themselves and follow God, as Jesus later instructed his followers to do in Matthew 16:24. Seth Wilson used to say, “We have to go back to Eden and put that apple back on the tree.” Adam and Eve failed to trust the goodness of God and in the end did things their way. Only Jesus could reverse the curse. But we can learn the wonderful truth of Matthew 16:24 and be delivered from the cancer of self. 

In chapter 5 of his book, Nehemiah lived out the truth of Matthew 16:24. Post-exilic Israel had returned home. The people had learned their lesson about idolatry following their 70-year spanking in Babylon. But they had fallen prey to other nuances of selfishness and would need to learn again the benefit of self-denial.  

The Problem
Nehemiah 5:1-5 

The precious land flowing with milk and honey had been decimated and needed tender loving care to produce grain and wine. But some of the Jews who had returned in the three waves began taking undue advantage of other Jews. Israel essentially faced four challenges: a famine, mortgages to pay for the food, high interest loans, and repayment of those loans.  

Some of the disadvantaged Jews raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. The sons and daughters outnumbered the food supply. When the reclaimed land did not produce sufficient food, they mortgaged their fields, vineyards, and homes. Others complained that the king’s tax was so high that the people had to borrow money to pay it. They felt that they were again in slavery—not geographical slavery (as was the case in Egypt), but financial slavery in their own land. When their crops failed and they were forced into foreclosure, they had to give up their land. It made them feel powerless. Remember, if the land is not secured, the Messiah is at risk for coming. 

The Rebuke
Nehemiah 5:6-13 

Nehemiah was steamed about this, and he allowed his emotions to show. He gave himself a sanity check (pondered them in my mind), and then acted boldly. He rebuked the nobles and officials for charging their own people interest. Of course, this violated Levitical law (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 23:19-20). Nehemiah reminded the people that they were enslaving their own people much like the Egyptians (Gentiles) had done to them. The people’s silence was indicative of their guilt. They could find nothing to say

Nehemiah called the people back to the fear of God. He reminded them that if they did not stop this terrible practice, they would fall into the reproach (taunting or scorn) of the Gentiles. He admitted that loaning money was not wrong, but that charging usury (especially high interest) was wrong. Then Nehemiah announced what amounted to his own year of Jubilee where fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses would be given back to the people who had owned them.  

The people were persuaded and agreed to submit to the rebuke. To ensure follow-through, Nehemiah had priests, nobles, and officials take an oath to fulfill their promise. Nehemiah gave an object lesson to drive home the point. He shook out the folds of his robe, an action similar to shaking the dust from one’s feet (Matthew 10:14; Acts 13:51). If they did not keep their promise, God would shake and empty them out—and therefore Nehemiah would be guiltless in his rebuke. They affirmed this action with an “Amen,” and they praised the Lord and followed through on their commitment. 

The Example
Nehemiah 5:14-19 

Nehemiah reversed the “show and tell” to “tell and show.” He laid his own life on the line for what he had called the people to do. He led forth with a powerful example of self-denial. For twelve years under the reign of Artaxerxes he did not use his rightful allotment of food. Previous governors did take advantage of their food allowance, which ended up placing a burden on the people. Forty shekels of silver was about one pound. In addition to this was food and wine. And it was not just the governors who were involved in such abuse. It was also their assistants. They lorded it over the people. Nehemiah’s example, and that of his closest men, was reverent and pure. 

Nehemiah did not burden his people, and he also provided for 150 Jews and officials out of his own pocket. This consisted of one ox, six sheep, and some poultry each day (not counting the wine). His only request? To be remembered by God for his self-denial. 

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