The first curse against their greed (Hab 2:6-2:8)

“Shall not everyone

Taunt such people,

With mocking riddles?

Let them say about them!

‘Woe to you!

You heap up

What is not your own!’

How long will you

Load yourselves

With goods

Taken in pledge?

Will not your own creditors

Suddenly rise up?

Those who make you tremble

Will wake up.

Then you will be booty

For them.

Because you have plundered

Many nations,

All that survive of the peoples

Shall plunder you.

Human bloodshed,

With the violence

To the earth,

Is in the cities,

As well as to all

Who live in them.”

Habakkuk has a series of taunts against the Chaldeans because of their behavior.  These 5 woes or curses were delivered in mocking riddles.  First of all, they have stored up things that were not their own.  How long would they continue to take things as pledges for the future?  Those creditors would rise up against them, and make them tremble and shake.  Then, they would become the booty of the people whom they plundered.  They have plundered so many countries, that the surviving countries would plunder them.  There was so much violence and bloodshed in the cities where people lived.  Does that sound familiar?

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Nehemiah responds (Neh 5:6-5:13)

“I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints. After thinking it over, I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them. ‘You are all taking interest from your own people.’ I called a great assembly to deal with them. I said to them. ‘As far as we are able, we have bought back our Jewish kindred who have been sold to other nations. But now you are selling your own kin that must then be bought back by us!’ They were silent. They could not find a word to say. So I said. ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations who are our enemies? Moreover I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. Return to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on the money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.’ Then they said. ‘We will restore everything. We will demand nothing more from them. We will do as you say.’ I called the priests. I made them take an oath to do as they had promised. I also shook out my garments and said. ‘May God shake out everyone from house and from property who does not perform this promise! Thus may they be shaken out and emptied.’ All the assembly said. ‘Amen.’ They praised Yahweh. The people did as they had promised.”

Nehemiah personally responded to these complaints since he was angry. This was an internal Jewish problem. The rich Jewish people were taking advantage of the poor Jewish people in their own community. Nehemiah was mad at the nobles and officials who were charging this interest on their fellow Jewish inhabitants. Although it was legal to charge interest to non-Jews, it was not legal to charge fellow Jews. He called a big assembly. He reminded them that they had been buying back other Jews from captivity. Now these officials were causing their fellow Jewish people to be put back into slave captivity. In fact, they were going to buy them then back out of captivity. He wanted all the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and houses returned to their owners. He wanted to stop all interest on money, grain, wine, and oil. This was a strong demand to stop interest taking among the rich Jewish people among their own people. They were struck silent. They agreed to restore everything. I am not sure why they agreed so easily. He made the priests take an oath to do this also. Perhaps, it was the rich priests who were taking advantage of their kindred. Anyone who broke this promise would lose their own house and property. They all agreed with a great ‘Amen’ as they praised Yahweh. Apparently they kept this promise after the revolt of the poor Jewish people.

Nehemiah’s prayer (Neh 4:4-4:5)

“Hear, O our God,

We are despised.

Turn their taunt back on their own heads.

Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.

Do not cover their guilt.

Do not let their sin be blotted out from your sight.

They have hurled insults in the face of the builders.”

Nehemiah does not respond with taunts of this own. Instead he prays to God. However, he wanted God to turn their taunts back on their own heads so that they would become captive to him. He wanted God not to cover over or blot out their guilt. They had insulted his fellow builders.