While it is important to do the right things in life, it is even more important to do the right things for the right reasons. It is, after all, the spirit in which we act that reveals our deepest values and motives. In this week’s lesson we will look at an episode in Nehemiah’s time in Jerusalem where he sought to correct many evil practices that God’s people were committing against each other. In doing so, they were violating the spirit of God’s law.
Read Jeremiah 30:3. What had God promised to do for His people following their return from captivity in Babylon? (Return them to their land and allow them to possess it.)
Read Jeremiah 31:33. What else did God say He wanted to do for the remnant of Israel? (He wanted to put His laws in their minds and hearts.)
Read Psalm 40:7,8. What does this Messianic promise reveal about what it means to have God’s law in our minds and hearts? (When this happens in our lives, we will delight to do God’s will. This is truly living by the “spirit of the law.”)
Read Psalm 40:4,6,9,10,16. What else will happen in our lives when we are living by the “spirit of the law”? (Answers will vary. We will trust in God’s leading and providence, we will seek for true conversion and not be satisfied with “sacrifices and burnt offerings,” our lives will be lived as a powerful witness to others, and we will seek to glorify God in all we do.)
Certainly, the most painful and difficult grievances to bear are those that are brought on us by those that are closest to us—by those that should be watching out for our best interests. In today’s lesson we look at an episode where some rich and powerful Jews were oppressing and taking advantage of their fellow countrymen. The story is recorded in Nehemiah 5.
Read Nehemiah 5:1. What made the oppression at this time so especially tragic? (Some Jews were doing it to their fellow Jews.)
Read Romans 15:5-6 and 1 Corinthians 1:10. What is God’s ideal for His people, and what are some reasons why achieving, or at least working toward, it is so important? (God wants His people united in heart and action, and God is glorified when believers do this.)
Read Nehemiah 5:2-4. What were some of the specific situations that many of the Jews were struggling with at this time? (Many had mortgaged their property because of a famine, and others had borrowed money to pay the Persian taxes, and others.)
Read Nehemiah 5:5. What was the worst part of this whole situation? (Many of the Jews had sold their children as slaves and now had no money or way to redeem them.)
Read Acts 2:44-47. Compare the community experienced within the early Christian church. What made the difference between what was happening in Nehemiah’s time and in the early church? (The Christians in Acts were filled with the Holy Spirit and thus were empowered to live by the Spirit of the law.)
When we examine the Old Testament guidelines regarding subjects such as slavery and charging interest between Israelites, it becomes clear that in God’s eyes, the Spirit of the law will lead people to do the most they can to help others. This, of course, runs contrary to the world’s attitude of helping others if that will result in greater personal gain. This distinction reveals some of most fundamental issues surrounding the true spirit of keeping God’s law.
Read Exodus 21:2. Did God allow slavery in Israel in the Old Testament? (Yes, but every seventh year slaves were to be freed.)
Read Exodus 22:25-27. Did God allow interest to be charged between Israelites? (No.) Did God allow collateral to be taken for a loan? (Collateral was not to be kept overnight.)
Read Leviticus 25:36,37. Why did God disallow interest between Israelites? (Loans and financial assistance were to be given to help someone else, not to provide increase for the lender.)
Read Deuteronomy 23:20. What did God promise to do for the lender that does not charge usury? (He promises to bless the lender in all that they do.)
True to form, Nehemiah quickly takes action to correct the problems he sees. In today’s lesson we will look at the rebuke and challenge that Nehemiah gives to the Jewish leaders and rulers.
Read Nehemiah 5:7,8. What great injustice does Nehemiah address here? (Many of the Jews had been redeemed from slavery in the land of captivity only to become slaves to other Jews in their homeland.) Spiritually, how might the same danger exist today within Christianity? (If we promise people spiritual freedom if they become Christians, and then burden them with unnecessary requirements, etc., once they join the church, we are committing a similar error.)
Read Nehemiah 5:9. What concern does Nehemiah voice here? (He is concerned that the injustice within Israel will give their enemies reason to blaspheme and mock God.) Is the same danger a possibility spiritually today for the church? (Yes.)
Read Nehemiah 5:10-12. Why do you think Nehemiah’s appeal was so powerful and so effective? (Answers will vary.) What lessons should we learn from this for us today? (Answers will vary.)
Amazingly, Nehemiah’s speech to the Jewish leaders leaves a powerful impression, and they agree to do their part to correct the wrongs that they had been committing against their fellow Jews. Significantly, they also take an oath before the priests affirming that they will do all that they have said they will.
Read Nehemiah 5:12. How do the Jewish leaders and rulers respond to Nehemiah’s speech? (They agree to correct the wrongs.) For what reasons do you think they did this? (It could be because he was persuasive, or simply because Nehemiah had gathered a “great assembly” [v.7] against them and they realized that there was no good way to argue against him in this public forum.) What does Nehemiah do in responce to the possibility that the leaders are only saying what they know to be politically expedient? (He has them swear before the priests that they will correct these wrongs.)
Read Nehemiah 5:13 and Matthew 10:14. In what ways are Nehemiah’s symbolic shaking of his garment similar to Christ’s instruction to His disciples to shake the dust off of their feet if a city refuses to listen to the gospel? (Both are symbolic actions revealing the serious nature of oppressing those that God has called and cares for. Both actions also reveal the seriousness that God attaches to our words, and to those that share His Word.)
Read James 3:3-12. Summarize what James says about the power of the tongue, and the seriousness of the words that we speak. (Answers will vary.)
Nehemiah 5:14-19 records Nehemiah’s account of his selfless and generous 12-year tenure as Jerusalem’s governor. During that time, he paid for his own living expenses and also provided significant financial assistance for many other people. In today’s lesson, we will look at Biblical principles regarding generosity.
Read Proverbs 11:24-26. What spiritual financial principles are brought out in these verses? (In God’s eyes, a principle purpose for getting money is to share it, rather than to hoard it. God promises to bless those that give generously, and to give them even more. A life lived generously results in blessings both for those who receive and those who give.) What is the hardest part about living this way? What is the easiest thing about living this way? (Answers will vary.)
Read Proverbs 19:17. What great investment strategy is revealed here? (God promises to repay those who lend and share with those in need.)
Read Proverbs 23:4-5 and Matthew 6:19-21. What additional financial principles does Jesus reveal here? (Our hearts will follow our investments, either in earthly or in heavenly pursuits. Also, the only one-hundred percent guaranteed investment is in heavenly things—and in helping other people develop a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.)
Revelation 7:1-3 promises that before Christ’s second coming, God will seal His people with the seal of God. In today’s lesson we will investigate the seal of God and its significance for those that would live by the spirit of the law.
Read Ephesians 1:13. Through what heavenly Power does God seal His people? (The Holy Spirit seals people.)
Read 2 Corinthians 3:3 and Hebrews 10:16. How does the Holy Spirit seal people? (By writing God’s law on their minds and hearts.)
Read John 14:15-17. What connection did Jesus reveal between one’s attitude toward God’s law and the promise of receiving the Holy Spirit? (The Holy Spirit is given to help us keep God’s law, and will only be given to those that want to live according to the principles of the law.)
Read Revelation 14:1-5. Describe the spiritual experience of those that live by the Spirit, in harmony with the spirit of God’s law. (They are “without fault before the throne of God.”) What does this mean? (Answers will vary. At a minimum, it means that they delight to do God’s will, just like Jesus lived His life [Psalm 40:7,0].)
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