I. Nehemiah 5
A. We saw in Chapter 4 some of the tactics of Satan against the work of the Lord. We observed that he will often begin by sending mocks or threats to keep us from even starting the work, followed by discouragement if that won’t work. If we overcome the discouragement and continue Satan will often try to get us with surprise attacks, from without and within in an attempt to overwhelm us. Prayer is our response, followed by setting a watch against the devices of the enemies. More prayer will be required to overcome being overwhelmed with practical steps taken to defend against the enemy (for example, ask for accountability from your brothers and sisters in Christ).
B. In this chapter we see the next device of the enemy, when he cannot defeat us through means of external enemies he will attempt to disrupt unity and divide the people of God from within. The work of God can only continue rightly as long as the people of God are united.
1. “But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” -Matthew 12:25
2. It seems that as a leader of God, we should just come to expect one problem after another. It should be an encouragement to us that if there is trials and conflicts coming against us that we really are doing the work of the Lord. The enemy isn’t going to give ground without a fight.
II. Nehemiah 5:1-5 Division and Public Unrest
A. V1, As they are working on the wall a great outcry occurs. It is likely to have put a stop to the work on the wall. This outcry was not against a foreign enemy, but against their own brethren. The outcry came from the common people against their rich brethren. The main instigators, and understandably so, were the wives. Women care greatly for their children, and will go to great lengths to ensure their families have food to eat.
1. Nehemiah now has a possible riot or insurrection on his hands if he doesn’t deal with correctly. It will put a stop to the work of God if he cannot deal with it.
2. In this section we see three groups of people.
a) Those who said we have no food to feed our big families.
b) Those who said we mortgaged our possesions to pay for food because of the famine.
c) Lastly, there were those who borrowed money for the King’s tax on their lands and vineyards. This group even had sold some of their children as slaves to pay for the interest on their loans.
B. V2, This is the first group. They had large families and it is possible since the main providers had been away working on the wall so much that the larger families, having more mouths to feed, were suffering the most.
1. These women, and perhaps their families, are willing to take the food by force and it is what they are suggesting. The Amplified Version reads “For some said, We, our sons and daughters, are many; therefore allow us to take grain, that we may eat and live! If we are not given grain, let us take it!”
2. Satan doesn’t have to defeat all the armed guards of Jerusalem from outside if he can get the people to fight each other. If they fight each other, the work will stop. Not only that if they fight each other then their outer defenses will also be weakened and Sanballat and his forces can rush in. There is more at stake than just division and the stopping of the work; this division could cost the lives of the people.
C. V3, On top of all the other trials that were happening there was a famine that made food scarce. It seems like when it rains, it pours.
1. This group had come into debt and had to give up the ownership of their houses, lands and vineyards in order to buy food. The greedy nobles had no problem taking advantage of people, despite all the other troubles they had, when there was a natural disaster. Instead of seeing the natural disaster as a reason to help their brethren they saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of their brethren.
D. V4-5, The third group had made it through feeding their families, despite having their main provider otherwise occupied on the wall and despite the famine. It was the king’s tax that had broke their backs financially and forced them to go to the greedy nobles for loans. These guys had lost their vineyards, their land and some of them even had to sell their children as slaves.
1. Leviticus 25:35-46 explicitly forbids all that is going on here. The Jews were not to charge interest on loans to their brethren and were not to buy their brethren as slaves. They could do this legally to foreigners but not to their own people. This was because the land was God’s land and had given it to them free of charge, He had given the land as an inheritance to all Israelites. None of his people would be without land, even if they sold it for a time they would get it back at least ever 50 years if they could not afford to buy it back. None of His people would be slaves to their brethren, because the Lord had paid their ransom to redeem them from Egypt. They did not have the right to own what was the Lord’s to own.
2. This is why in verse 5 they say “our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren”. They are referring to the Law of God, and that what the nobles are doing is against God’s Law.
III. 5:6-8, Nehemiah’s Righteous Rebuke and his Cool Resolve.
A. V6, Here Nehemiah demonstrates righteous anger when he hears this outcry. Righteous anger never has anything to do with you, it is when you are angry because other people are being wronged or taken advantage of. Righteous anger motivates you to do something about that which is wrong for the sake of others.
1. We should especially be defenders of the poor, since to oppress the poor is to oppress God. Proverbs 14:31 “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.”
2. God sees rich and poor as equal (Proverbs 22:2), oppressing the poor for your own gain only ends in poverty (Proverbs 22:16), why? Because God pleads the cause of the poor and plunders those who plunder them (Proverbs 22:22-23).
B. V7, Righteous anger is controllable. Nehemiah gives it some serious thought before he goes and rebukes the nobles. Rebuke should never be done without some serious thought first, even if you are angry about what is being done to others.
1. “After serious thought” One must consider both sides before they rebuke, do the poor have an actual case? When people complain we must not be quick to act on their complaints, since sometimes their complaints are unbiblical (as was the case of the multitudes of people in the wilderness, when they complained against Moses the right thing to do was to continue on despite their complaints). If you are going to rebuke someone your rebuke must be authorized by scripture. After serious thought, Nehemiah sees that the people are in the right and the nobles in the wrong.
2. “I rebuked the nobles and rulers” Nehemiah goes and rebukes the nobles and rulers before he calls the great assembly. As a leader, your correction must work in progression. Start with rebuke in private, and then put public pressure later if you must.
a) Matthew 18:15-20, although a different circumstance, (since it is instructions for when someone sins against you not when you are dealing with people sinning against each other) gives us a principle of progression for correction. Start in private, and then escalate it to have witnesses, lastly bringing it before the leadership of the church to deal with.
3. His rebuke was simple and to the point, he didn’t start out telling by telling them what they were doing was wrong he only pointed out what they were doing and expected them to know already it was wrong. This is a black and white issue of God’s Law and there is no room for debate in it.
C. V8, It seems as though his private rebuke fails since he is forced to call a great assembly against them. Some commentators think he started out with a great assembly, but that is not the opinion of the author, though it may be.
1. He indicts them by informing them they are doing the very thing they have worked so hard to stop their enemies from doing. By building the wall they have redeemed their brethren from captivity on Babylon, giving them a place of security and restoring the reputation of Jews everywhere. Some commentators think it was Nehemiah’s state policy to purchase back Jewish slaves that had been sold to the nations, which is possible. Yet, just the fact that they were rebuilding the wall was redeeming the people of Israel. This was hypocritical on the part of the leaders, they were acting just as their enemies had acted.
2. The nobles and rulers had nothing to say and were silenced, because there was nothing that could be against this…. Nehemiah was right.
IV. 5:9-13, Nehemiah takes action and the nobles repent.
A. V9, When the silence occurs Nehemiah knows he has gained the victory and now is the time to press the advance. The key to the success of his rebuke is that what they were doing “is not good”. This is Nehemiah’s motivation for his anger, Nehemiah loved that which was good and was willing to fight for good.
1. “Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?” This was a reference to Lev. 25, since God had told his people to fear Him and not sell their brethren as slaves nor charger their brethren interest. The fear of God will turn you away from evil (Proverbs 14:27), this is because you revere God and fear that breaking His law will have consequences.
2. The fear of the Lord is what brings us to God, we fear hell and the consequences of sin, but we do not stay at that point. We are perfected in His love. Christ has shown us a better reason to obey God’s commandments, out of love because He first loved us. As Christians we should say “I will obey God because I love God”.
3. “because of the reproach” They had already been a reproach, if they oppress one another they will only be more of a reproach to God. The nations would say, look at those Jews they don’t even look out for one another.
B. V10, Nehemiah was made bolder because of his integrity. He did not ask of others what he himself would not do; this is a mark of a great leader. Nehemiah was loaning people money, but he was not charging them interest.
C. V11, Nehemiah boldly takes actions. He tells them to restore what they have stolen, to give back their lands, vineyards, olive groves, and houses as well as the 1 percent interest fee they had been charging per month. (We see they had been charging 12 percent annually).
1. To be a good leader you must not be greedy. As a leader it is easy to take advantage of circumstances and make money for yourself, Nehemiah was a great leader because he was not interested in better his life, instead he cared only for the interests of others.
D. V12, A miracle occurs and the nobles and rulers repent at Nehemiah’s strong rebuke. Very few times did the people of Israel respond correctly to the rebuke of God’s servants, yet here we see one of the few instances where it goes right.
1. In Nehemiah’s wisdom he doesn’t just take their word for it. Greed is too strong of a temptation, especially for those who are already prone to fall to it, to just take peoples word for it. Sometimes you need to make a contract. He gets them to make an oath before God that they will do it.
2. These men show that although they fell into temptation and failed, they are still wise men because they respond positively to correction.
a) Proverbs 12:1, “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid.”
b) Proverbs 13:18 “Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, But he who regards a rebuke will be honored.”
c) Proverbs 15:31-33 “The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.” The men repent and fear the Lord because they heed the rebuke.
E. V13, Nehemiah declares a curse on those who would go back on this promise to which all the people agree to come upon them should they go back on their word. They are serious about doing what Nehemiah told them to do. The word “amen” in the OT means “so be it” and was a way of saying let what you have said happen should we go back on our word.
1. The people worship God after this, but their real worship is recorded by Nehemiah when he says “Then the people did according to this promise.” True worship is when we obey God, after we have left the church promising to do so.
V. 5:14-19, Nehemiah’s Example
A. V14, here we have a summary of Nehemiah’s service as governor that must have been written after the fact. Chronologically is it out of order, but it is appropriately placed here to draw a stark contrast of the leadership of Nehemiah in comparison to the nobles and rulers and would serve as an example to all the latter governors who would read this. For 12 years, even after the wall had been completed and his purpose for coming completed, Nehemiah set the example and did not burden the people by eating that which was his right to eat.
1. Leadership comes with rights, but a good leader will give up those rights for the good of those whom they lead if necessary. Paul was a great example of this in the NT, he could have taken a wife or asked for support from those whom he served… but he sacrificed his rights for the greater good.
B. V15, In the past the governors had taken advantage of the people, even their servants acted as kings to those below them. Nehemiah refused to be like all the others before him and put those who came before to shame in hopes that those who came after would follow in his stead.
1. Nehemiah was motivated to do the right thing because he feared God. He respected God and revered God more then he revered his reputation or his own personal gains. The fear of God kept him from doing what was wrong. As stated before, the love of God takes it one step further. The fear of God keeps you from doing what is wrong; the love of God motivates you to do what is right. The love of God is only a response to knowing God intimately and personally, since God is love and those who love Him will love others. May Christians be known for saying “I did not do this and instead did this because of the love of God”.
C. V16, Nehemiah was in a better position than anyone to buy up land. He apparently had come from Susa with an enormous amount of wealth since he is able to feed 150 plus people daily out of his own pocket for 12 years, yet he did not take advantage of the poor in Jerusalem to better his own personal empire. He gave sacrificially; possibly until he had nothing left to give and had to return to Susa.
1. Instead he and his servants continued to work on the walls, even after they had been completed he kept them up and make sure the people were always kept safe. Long after a great work of God is done godly leaders will continue to work to safeguard that work and make sure that what was gained through blood and sweat is safeguarded for future generations to enjoy. (An example would be a church plant where a pastor stays decades to make sure the church stays healthy and secure).
D. V17, Nehemiah had an open house policy, all were welcome. He must have been extremely wealthy from his time as a servant in Susa, or perhaps the king allowed his salary to continue, or maybe he had some sort of proceeds coming from back in Susa. We don’t know how he did it, all we know is that he gave up his rights to the governor’s provisions, but more than giving up his rights he gave all that he had to those whom had nothing to give. He would have been a good governor simply for not taking what was his to take; instead he goes above and beyond and gives what he doesn’t have to give. This is mercy and grace, respectively. And it is very Christ-like.
E. V18, Tells us he held a kingly court, and despite of providing so much for the people he did not ask for provisions in compensation. He gave without asking for anything back. All because the bondage was already heavy enough on the people. Nehemiah has true humility, because he values others more then he values himself. This is the very definition of humility.
F. V19, This is the key verse of the chapter. This is why Nehemiah is who he is. He cares more about what God thinks about him then what others think about him. He wanted to please God, and he desired that God would think well of him and that is why he did all this good to the people of Jerusalem.
1. May we be motived in all things to please God instead of men, and then we will be great Christian servants.
a) Proverbs 29:25 “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”