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.

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Marriages with foreigners (Ezra 9:1-9:4)

“After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said. ‘The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations. They were intermingling with the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. In this faithlessness the officials and leaders have led the way.’ When I heard this, I tore my garments and my mantle. I pulled hair from my head and beard. I sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered round me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.”

Once they were settled, a new problem arose. The returning Jews from the exile were marrying the locals who had stayed behind, the hated “people of the land.” Not only the Jews in general but also the priests, the Levites, the officials, and the leaders were involved in marriages with non-Jewish people. Some of them were not Jews but the hated list of the usual suspects, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. Now this had not been a problem for Moses or King Solomon since they married non-Jewish wives. The fear as usual was that the female wives would want to worship their gods rather than Yahweh. Thus these wily females would lead astray the poor weak Jewish men into false worship. This had been a problem in the northern area of Israel before the captivity. The new post-exilic group wanted a pure race of Jewish people. They did not want the holy seed mixed with “the people of the land.” When Ezra found out about this, he was really upset. He tore his clothes and pulled his hair out. As he said in the first person singular, “I was appalled.”