Summary: What to do when we face oppositon from the people who should be helping us.
Intro: Variation on a skit from The Ideas Library: Drama, Skits, and Sketches 3 (Working Parts, 97-99)
The last few weeks we have been looking at opposition that we face in our lives. We talked about verbal ridicule and discouragement two weeks ago and growing opposition last week. Both weeks we touched upon the importance of having a support group. This was a major reason that the Israelites were able to continue their work on rebuilding the wall both when they were facing the verbal ridicule and when the opposition increased and got worse.
What I would like to focus on tonight is when we face opposition that comes from within our support group. Just like in the skit, where a car is supposed to be a help to us, getting us from place to place, sometimes things go wrong and it suddenly isn’t a help and support but instead, becomes a frustration and discouragement. This is what can happen in our support groups from time to time. Instead of being a help, sometimes certain parts, in a sense, break or go bad, and they become an opposition that we didn’t expect.
This is exactly what happened with the Israelites as they continued building the walls of Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 5:1-13, it tells us about the opposition that came from within their support group that threatened the building of the wall once again.
***Read Nehemiah 5:1-13***
Right away in chapter 5 we see that there are a number of issues that the Israelites are facing. In verse 3, there is mention of a famine. Obviously there had been a lack of rain and a failure with crops that led to lower amounts of food than normal. In verse 4, the people are complaining about being able to pay their taxes to the king. As these are both major issues that can cause a lot of stress and frustration, neither is the main issue in these verses. Notice verse one does not say, “The men and their wives raised a cry of protest against” the king and his taxes or against God and the lack of rain. Instead it says that, “The men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews.”
What was happening here was a case of the rich Jews exploiting the poor Jews. In other words, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. Here is the sequence of events that would have likely happened in Jerusalem. Due to the fact of the drought and famine, there was a shortage of food therefore likely driving up prices due to the demand but also leaving farming families crippled due to the fact that they had little food to sell. These problems, along with the issue of taxation from the king, lead these poorer families to mortgage their fields and take out a loan from the richer Jews in order to buy food. When the families then ran into difficulty paying the loan back with interest, their fields and land was taken from them. The families, in turn, then had to sell their sons and/or daughters into slavery just to have money to live and survive. Culturally, this was a very normal process that happened often in nations all over the world.
The problem though, was not in the process itself, but instead in commands that God had given the people earlier. Three times in the Bible, Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36, and Deuteronomy 23:19, the Israelites were told not to charge a fellow Jew, a brother, interest to gain a profit. They were not supposed to take advantage of them. Instead, they were supposed to care for the poor among them.
Even though the practice was normal for other countries, God exclaimed to His people, “I want you to be different!” He didn’t want the people treating one another with greed and selfish reasons on their hearts but rather love, support, and encouragement.
This claim stands for us today. As most of us can not relate with this situation of loans, and losing land, and selling our children to slavery, we can relate to the issue of how to treat people based on God’s Word. In Matthew 22:39, Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to “Love our neighbors.” God exclaims, “I don’t care what the world says are ok and not ok ways to treat someone. I want you to different; I want you to love one another.” It is when people ignore God’s Word and begin to live in greed and selfishness just like the Israelites did, that we face opposition from within our support groups.
One of the biggest forms of opposition that comes from within our support groups is verbal attacks on one another. The book of James claims that the tongue is like a fire that can do a lot of damage. All too often, we have a tendency to cut one another down and make fun of one another. Most of the time, we claim that it is just harmless joking around but I think there are more times where people go away feeling hurt instead of laughing. I know that we do it because we are uncomfortable with a situation so we make fun of someone else to shift the focus but it is a selfish act that causes more harm than harmless laughter.