Reading #1 – Acts 12
Reading #2 – Psalms 119:121-144
Reading #3 – Proverbs 28
Reading #4 – Jeremiah 37
Reading #5 – Nehemiah 5
Nehemiah 5 – Usury Abolished. The practice of usury is the practice of making predatory loans that benefit the lender and take advantage of the person borrowing the funds at an excessive interest rate. There was a famine in the land that the nobles (rich men) took advantage of by holding the people’s lands and homes in exchange for money to feed their families and pay the King of Persia’s excessive taxes (1-4). The people complained to Governor Nehemiah. Now our flesh (skin) is the same as that of our brothers (relatives), and our children are like their children, yet here we are forcing (selling) our sons and our daughters to be slaves; some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are powerless [to redeem them] because our fields and vineyards belong to others (5). The people returned to Jerusalem to get away from squalor conditions they lived in Babylon only to be taken advantage of in their homeland. The rub is the treatment the poor people received could have driven them further from the G_d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had it not been for Nehemiah. Before opening his mouth against the rulers and wealthy people, Nehemiah took the matter to prayer then, he addressed the core of the problem. So I said, “What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunting by the [pagan] nations, our enemies (9)? Nehemiah carefully chose his words when he formed his argument. Because of his compelling argument, the rulers agreed and gave back the people their lands/homes and stopped the practice of usury (11-12). I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not keep this promise; like this may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the LORD. Then the people acted following this promise (13). As Governor of the land, Nehemiah was entitled to some perks that were not afforded to the people paying for it. To remove any charge of hypocrisy, Nehemiah did not take the perks afforded to him, he and his staff worked with the people, ate with the people, and did not exact taxes except for collecting taxes required by the king of Persia (15-18). Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all I have done for these people (19).
Psalms 119:121-144 – We have no authority nor power to force the world to follow the law of the Lord. So, we must set the example by living what we believe whether anybody or nobody listens to us. When we are in a position to change lives for the Kingdom of G_d, it is incumbent on us to genuinely live for the Lord. Sin, by its very nature, destroys lives, and the more the person is known the more that person becomes a “Poster Child” of the church’s hypocrisy. Deal with Your servant according to Your [gracious] lovingkindness, and teach me Your statutes (124). To be taught by the Lord, we need to have a “teachable spirit” (125). The Mosaic law stipulated that the king must write for himself a copy of the law so that he could meditate on it throughout his reign (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) those that did were successful those who didn’t were not successful. Treasuring the Word of the Lord in our heart means to make the maximum room for it so that it is the meditation of our heart be on it and not on our will (Psalms 19:14). Establish my footsteps in [the way of] Your word; Do not let any human weakness have power over me [causing me to be separated from You] (133, 1 John 2:20). Your righteous testimonies are everlasting; Give me the understanding [the ability to learn and a teachable heart] that I may live (144).
Proverbs 28 – Warnings and Instructions. Walking according to the Law of the Lord is a daily commitment. Honoring G_d means that we also honor the laws of man. Being obedient means following the stipulations whether we agree with them or not. Consider the dreaded word “taxes”, many would find legal ways to hide funds only to be found out and we are charged when we stretch those laws to suit our purposes. Those who set aside the law [of God and man] praise the wicked, But those who keep the law [of God and man] struggle with them (4). “Struggling with the wicked” is a battle that is as old as time itself. While it is not a pleasant experience, we have hope because of the people who struggled with it before our time. The Devil is the “Great Orchestrator” whose spewing lies are like “fingernails to the back of a chalkboard”. All of the change in our lives begins and ends with us. Wrestling with sin (Ephesians 6:12), is difficult because, at times, the distinction between the “sinner” and the “sin” is blurred thanks to the Devil’s art of deception. Many people start on the right path but they make mistakes in judgment and discernment and get lost in the mess (7). Those that have the mantle of leadership bear responsibility for those who they lead (10). The rich man [who is conceited and relies on his wealth instead of God] is wise in his own eyes, But the poor man who has understanding [because he relies on God] can see through him (11).
Jeremiah 37 – Jeremiah Warns against Trust in Pharaoh. Judah was in the throws of a siege by the Chaldeans. The false prophet Hananiah prophesied that the exiles would return within two years and the yoke of Babylon will be broken (Jeremiah 28:3-4). The Egyptian army was the nation’s best hope (7-9) and that was crushed at the battle of Carchemish in 605 and again at Hamath per Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 30:6-7). In dire times, people will seek the word of the Lord to help them deal with anxiety. The king sent a delegate to inquire of the Lord from Jeremiah. Thus says the LORD, ‘Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will certainly stay away from us,” for they will not stay away. For even if you had defeated the whole army of the Chaldeans who fight against you, and there remained only the wounded men among them, yet they would rise, every man confined in his tent, and burn down this city with fire (9-10). Jeremiah was put under house arrest for the appearance of “abandoning Judah in favor of the Babylonians” (11-15).
Acts 12 – Peter is put in Prison. Herod the “king of the Jews” after killing James the brother of John put Peter in prison to the delight of his sycophants. While Peter was in prison, the people prayed for him so it was no surprise when the angel of the Lord rescued him (5-12). But motioning to them with his hand to be quiet and listen, he described how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brothers and sisters.” Then he left and went to another place (17). Peter’s escape caused problems for the guards because it would be their lives for Peter’s life (18-19). Herod was a proud and arrogant man and that would be his downfall (Proverbs 16:18).