The Problem of Greed

Scripture Passage: 
Nehemiah 5:1-19
Attached audio files: 

INTRODUCTION:  Troubles seldom come alone. In fact, they tend to pile up in loads when God’s people determine to move ahead to do a work for God. When the people determined to build the wall under the leadership of Nehemiah, they faced several kinds of problems.

  • Physical – they ran into the unexpected physical hindrance of “rubbish” (Nehemiah 4:10). The ruins of the walls and buildings created more work than they had counted on. This made the job take longer than their estimate and required an extra effort. Poor leadership might have allowed this to divert the attention of the people and discourage them, but Nehemiah pushed on.
  • External – they had to face the outside opposition of Sanballat and others (Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:1-3, 7-8). This forced the Israelites to go into fighting mode. One danger was that they might be defeated by the enemy, but another danger was that they might get so involved in their military readiness that they allowed the original work to go unfinished. Nehemiah made plans for war but also put the people back to work.
  • Internal – in the present chapter (Nehemiah 5), the Jews face another foe—themselves. The wall will not be finished until Nehemiah 6:15. But now it is found that some of the Jews are exploiting other Jews. This problem is too serious to put off and it must be dealt with immediately because inner decay is more dangerous than external foes.

The combination of external and internal foes is found elsewhere in scripture. Paul warned the church at Ephesus when he saw them the last time:

  • Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
  • Acts 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Verse 29 speaks of external wolves that would come into the flock. Verse 30 warns of some of their own who will arise and speak perverse things. God’s people must always be on the guard for both dangers.

  1. THE PROBLEM OF USURY
    1. The Problem Stated
      1. The Bible clearly warns of the evil of using usury for unjust gain (Deuteronomy 23:19; Proverbs 28:8)
      2. The basic definition of usury
        1. Related to the word use ; it is a fee for the use of someone else’s money
        2. Basically, it is interest
      3. So, does the Bible teach against charging or receiving interest?
        1. Modern economies are built on lending and interest
        2. Most Christians borrow on interest and many earn interest from loaning
        3. Most historians credit much of the economic explosion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the relaxation of the Catholic ban on interest of all kinds. This ban on usury for Catholics is what pushed the Jews into banking. It was one of the few things they were allowed to do.
      4. Solution
        1. Some try to solve the problem by defining usury as extravagant interest . They see moderate interest as acceptable. Though there is some merit to this approach, it does not explain the use of the word throughout scripture. Usury, in its most basic form, is interest.
        2. Another approach is to see the exceptions of the law and the times that Jesus mentioned usury as offering ways and times that interest may be used. This approach still allows for many times when usury is not appropriate for believers. This is the approach this lesson takes.
    2. The Biblical Usage of Usury
      1. Found 24 times in the Bible: 22 times in the Old Testament and ten times in the Law of Moses
      2. Found two times in the present lesson (Nehemiah 5:7, 10)
      3. The word “usurer” is found once (Exodus 22:25)
    3. Biblical Restrictions Under the Law
      1. Not to take usury of the poor (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-37)
      2. Not to take usury of other Israelites – the brethren (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)
      3. Allowed to keep a reasonable pledge as collateral (Deuteronomy 24:10-11)
      4. Debt of Israelites to be released every seventh year (Deuteronomy 15:1-5)
      5. The restrictions of the Old Testament were required to keep greedy men from taking advantage of the hard times of others. They were not to use usury for “unjust gain” (Proverbs 28:8).
    4. Biblical Permission for Usury
      1. Even under the law, the Israelites were permitted to charge usury to a stranger (Deuteronomy 23:20). Note: if usury is by definition extravagant interest, then this does not fit. It clearly refers to reasonable interest.
      2. Jesus Christ spoke of charging and earning usury in positive ways (Matthew 25:27; Luke 19:23). He evidently did not see it as evil outside the restrictions of the law.
    5. Biblical Application
      1. Charging of interest or usury
        1. Allowed for most business applications
        2. However, the evil of using it to take unfair advantage of poor people or close relations still exists. Places like check-cashing services where poor people are exploited are ungodly. The act of taking advantage of a brother or sister in Christ for personal gain is also wicked.
      2. Reasons for borrowing
        1. Daily needs (Nehemiah 5:3-4)
          1. Food and shelter
          2. Those who loan should never take advantage of such people
        2. Business opportunities
          1. Corn for growing crops (Nehemiah 5:3)
          2. Not excluded by scripture
        3. Personal desires
          1. Unknown in Bible times and in most of history
          2. Often the act of a selfish pursuit of pleasure (Proverbs 21:17) and laziness (Proverbs 21:25-26)
      3. Principles of borrowing
        1. Recognize your servitude (Proverbs 22:7)
        2. Aim for complete freedom (Romans 13:6-8)
  2. THE PLIGHT OF THE PEOPLE (Nehemiah 5:1-5)
    1. Their Cry (Nehemiah 5:1-2; Isaiah 5:7)
      1. Against their brethren (Nehemiah 5:1)
      2. Concerning their lives (Nehemiah 5:2)
    2. Their Needs (Nehemiah 5:3-4)
      1. For food (Nehemiah 5:3)
        1. In a time of dearth (famine)
        2. They mortgaged their houses and land
      2. For tribute; that is, taxes (Nehemiah 5:4; Ezra 4:13)
    3. Their Bondage (Nehemiah 5:5; Exodus 21:7)
      1. Financial bondage
      2. Actual servitude
      3. Unable to redeem them
  3. THE PROMISE OF THE RULERS (Nehemiah 5:6-13)
    1. Nehemiah’s Accusation (Nehemiah 5:6-8)
      1. His anger (Nehemiah 5:6)
      2. His rebuke (Nehemiah 5:7)
        1. He consulted with himself (Psalm 4:4)
        2. He rebuked the nobles and rulers
        3. He gathered an assembly against them
      3. His effort (Nehemiah 5:8)
        1. In buying the freedom of his people
        2. In accusing those who sold their brethren
    2. Nehemiah’s Challenge (Nehemiah 5:9-11)
      1. To fear God (Nehemiah 5:9)
        1. You do not walk in the fear of God
        2. You bring the reproach of the heathen (Romans 2:24)
      2. To cease usury (Nehemiah 5:10)
      3. To make restoration (Nehemiah 5:11)
        1. Of seized lands
        2. Of collected interest
    3. Their Response (Nehemiah 5:12-13)
      1. The promise of the rulers (Nehemiah 5:12a)
        1. To restore their goods
        2. To cancel their debts
      2. The oath of the priests (Nehemiah 5:12b)
      3. The praise of the people (Nehemiah 5:13)
        1. The shaking of Nehemiah’s lap
        2. The affirmation of the people
        3. The obedience of the people
  4. THE PRAYER OF NEHEMIAH (Nehemiah 5:14-19)
    1. His Concern (Nehemiah 5:14-18)
      1. To avoid being a burden (Nehemiah 5:14-16)
      2. To care for his own (Nehemiah 5:17-18)
    2. His Request (Nehemiah 5:19)
      1. For the thought of the Lord
      2. For the goodness of the Lord
      3. For the remembrance of the Lord

CONCLUSION: We are to care for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. No man is an island (Romans 14:7). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Certainly, we are not to take financial advantage of other in their times of need.

Memory Verses:
Romans 13:8 – Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
Proverbs 22:7 – The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
Proverbs 28:8 – He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.
David Reagan

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 20:2

The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.