“Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. Also I shook my lap (shook out the folds of my garment), and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise.“Nehemiah 5:12-13
We used to live in a world where a man’s handshake was worth more than his signature on a piece of paper. I took a contract law course in my master’s program and we went through the ins and out of contract law and how it is applied and serves to bind two or more parties to an agreement. A contract ensures both parties adhere to the terms and conditions outlined in the agreement and holds them accountable to that agreement by outlining penalties if the contract is broken or not adhered to by the agreeing parties. Things were not always this way and it only came about because people did not keep their word and a handshake just became just that – a handshake and nothing more. Most of us have been burned, and sadly, we have burned someone one else due to us not keeping our word.
I remember as a young boy making deals with others at the lunch table where we traded anything from baseball and basketball cards to the forbidden Garbage Pail Kids that were not allowed in our school. We hid them in our book and someone kept a lookout while our “dealer” bought them and sold them for money or trade. It seemed we treated everyone with respect and trust but this waned as the school year went on and some became more trustworthy than others. It was an honor system amongst ourselves due to the fact that we could not get the teachers involved. No one wanted to snitch and our trades were sometimes “illegal”.
I think back to those who traded with trickery and how distrust grew amongst my group of friends. It would get so bad that we would refuse to trade with these “friends” and it even led to hard feelings and fisticuffs. Some of those friends grew up and continued in their treacherous ways and became utterly untrustworthy. I would not trust them for anything even now, and if they borrowed money from me I would give it knowing I would never get it back. As Christians, we should not be this way with those we have dealings with in this world, but we should be honest and forthright will all mankind. Our handshake should be stronger than a contractual bond, and we should always be on the up and up with our dealings. God’s people should never be accused of breaking promises in our commitments we make, even when it comes to paying our bills and taxes.
Nehemiah was calling out those who had taken advantage of their fellow Jews and possessed their land. He advised that this ought not to be, and the people had agreed to restore the land back to their brothers and sisters. He brought the priest in to confirm their promise, and he held them to what they had committed. There was a positive peer pressure to do the right thing and it was said that the people did according to all that they had promised. The point of keeping our promise is to please our God who can never break a promise and his promises are always fulfilled. When we make a promise we ought to keep it and asked God to help us fulfill what we have committed.
Where are you today? Is there a promise you have made that you have defaulted on? Have you made promises with no intention to keep them? Do you seek to take advantage of other people? God forbid that we would intentionally take advantage of another and be dishonest in our dealings. May we be honest in our communication and actions, and may it be said of us that we did all that we had promised. Amen and amen!