Nehemiah 5:1-4 (NIV) 1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. 2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” 3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” 4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards.
On verses 1-4, 7-10: The richer Jews in Jerusalem were taking advantage of the poorer Jews in Jerusalem, lending them money but charging interest (v7-10) and taking their real estate as security (v1-4). Nehemiah rebukes the nobles and officials harshly for this (v7-10). You might ask, “What’s wrong with that? In a market economy that sounds reasonable.” It’s because God expects us to deal with His children graciously rather than to squeeze them for everything that they can give to us. Since we are brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not use each other simply for business purposes, but we are to see each other as family and “love each other as brothers and sisters” (1 Peter 3:8).
Is there a limit to this? What if someone claims to be a believer but is really bent on abusing the grace that I might give him? That’s why it’s important to ask for wisdom from God on how to love other believers well without putting yourself or your loved ones in jeopardy. May God give you wisdom to know how best to do that in the specific situations you face.
Nehemiah 5:5-6 (NIV) 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” 6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.
On verses 5-6: Some Jews had gone into serious debt to other Jews and sold their children to pay back the debt. Now the parents were powerless to buy, or redeem, their daughters out of slavery (v5). So Nehemiah stepped in and does something about it (v6 and on). This reminds me of how when we were powerless to redeem ourselves or our loved ones from slavery to sin, Jesus came and set us free.With His precious blood Jesus bought us out of slavery. What we were unable to do, Jesus did.
Nehemiah 5:12-13 (NIV) 12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
On verses 12-13: In response to Nehemiah’s rebuke, the nobles and officials who had been taking advantage of the poor promise to give back the excess that they had taken from them (v12). Nehemiah holds them accountable to their decision by having them swear an oath (v12b-13).
What can we learn from this? One, if you make a promise, keep it. Your word is your bond and your reputation is only as good as how well you keep your word.
Two, once a mentor told me, “people don’t remember what you say. They remember what you test.” In other words, it’s one thing to tell people to do something, but as leaders we want to give the people we lead accountability and tools to do what they are called to do. That’s why at Thrive we have spiritual growth campaigns like the GAME challenge, the TDS 2 challenge, church wide fasts and God Loves Vancouver. That’s why we have small groups. All of these are tools to keep us accountable to doing what God has called us to do.
Nehemiah 5:14-16 (NIV) 14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year–twelve years–neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors–those preceding me–placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
On verses 14-19: Here we see that Nehemiah practices what he preaches. Earlier in verses 6-13 Nehemiah was urging the richer Jews to be gracious toward the poorer Jews. Now we see that Nehemiah himself did not eat the food that he as governor was entitled to (v14). He did not tax the people heavily (v15). He did not try to acquire much property for himself (v16). Instead, Nehemiah devoted himself to the work of building the wall (v15) and graciously shared his food regularly with Jews and foreigners (v17). Even while doing so, Nehemiah still had plentiful amounts for himself (v18-19).
What can we learn from this? Nehemiah was both a man of God and a man of the people. He loved God and served Him. He also loved people and served them. That’s what the greatest leaders do: great leaders serve out of great love for God and people. They don’t abuse their power but they use it to help others. May you be that kind of leader.
Lord Jesus, thank You that when I was in a bind, You came to my rescue and showed me grace that I could never pay back. Thank You for being the greatest leader who showed us how to love God and love people. May I be a leader like You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!