Can you imagine…
- Boxing match with two fighters – finish and then have to fight crowd to return locker room, then fight neighbors to return in community.
- Soldiers deploy – facing months of terrors of war then have to return in airports to citizens who want to fight them, then face communities and media who are fighting them.
- Couples going through divorce – then to have fights with their children and extended family.
- Church to have conflict with opposing values of culture – then face conflicts and divisions inside church.
In Nehemiah 5 we see God’s people facing external challenges and internal conflict, with lessons how to respond in life’s difficulties.
EXAMINE Nehemiah 5 Renovate With Compassionate Provision
God’s people were disciplined and exiled into Babylonian slavery for over 70 years. God orchestrated a change in foreign policy for the Persian King Cyrus, who permitted Jews to return to their homeland. The Jews returned in 3 significant waves: Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah. While Ezra’s efforts rebuilt the temple and worship community, Nehemiah’s aim was rebuilding the wall to rebuild the community identity. God’s people were to remain in the world but not of it. Rebuilding the wall helped for physical safety and spiritual safeguard of activity as the people of God.
Last we left chapter 4, the Jews faced conflict and combat from regional officials (Sanballat and Tobiah). However, Nehemiah rallied the people to work together for protection and production, as they were able to rebuild the wall to half its height. There was much satisfaction in their productivity, but they still had to face the totality of reality in their circumstances.
As we examine this chapter, we will discover several lessons for application.
Nehemiah 5 reveals 3 difficulties – “outcry of the people”
- There was overwhelming famine (Neh 5:2)
The once exiled land was unprepared for the amount of people needing resources to live: farming, grocery stores, restaurants, clothing departments, doctors, etc. Also, many of the wall laborers were farmers. They could not tend or harvest their crop for their family or the community. Further, there was war with neighboring nations and there was little opportunity for trade and economy. And so, there was famine throughout the land.
- There were overwhelming taxes (Neh 5:3).
King Artaxerxes controlled the region and required financial payment from all those in his kingdom and under his protection. It is also likely that tax collectors exploited their privilege to demand more payment than was required for their own greed. So, the people were unable to afford food or finances.
- There was overwhelming depravity (Neh 5:5).
While the Jews were strained to purchase food and pay taxes, they were pressured to sell themselves and their children into slavery. Fellow Jews (“flesh of our brothers”) not only expected swift return on loans but also profitable interest (Neh 5:7). When payment could not be made, sons and daughters became slaves, houses were foreclosed, and property was repossessed.
When Nehemiah learned what was going on among the people, he was angry.
- Nehemiah knew OT Law forbade charging interest between the people of God (Ex 22:25; Deut 23:19-20). God’s blessing and provision for His people would be for those who followed this standard of compassion and care for one another. Love for family was to supersede love of money. And when the Jews chose to follow cultural practices rather than God’s principles, then they would sink in the quicksand of depravity.
and God’s blessing would be removed.
- Nehemiah was not only frustrated the people were not following God, but that they were causing unjust and unnecessary stress on its citizens who had a mission to accomplish. It’s difficult to stay on mission when families are being pulled apart.
- Nehemiah outed the wrongdoing and the wrong-doers – the wealthy privileged. He charged them to cease charging interest and to return all that was stolen: children, people, property, etc. Further, he made everyone take a public oath to follow through with the charge and never to repeat depraved practices.
- The Jews should remember and know what it was like to be enslaved (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon). Repeating slavery for your kinsman indicates short-sightedness and spiritual amnesia.
- Spiritual success is working for the Lord AND winning at home.
Yes, every believer has a gift and resources to serve the Lord, and they should do so with all the passion and productivity to the glory of God. But, if succeeding in ministry means losing your family and personal integrity, then you are failing at life.
1 Timothy 4:16 “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Illus: A ball will bounce back – ministry can stop and restart… but glass will break bc they’re fragile, and you can never fully repair the pieces.
Thankfully, Nehemiah cared about both the faith work and the family witness.
à Where are your priorities tempted toward self-promotion to the exclusion of personal and familial welfare?
- Personal spiritual health relates to compassion for others.
The worst part about this issue was the Jews were exploiting their fellow Jews. Their children played together. Their parents worked together. Their families previously struggled and shared life together. But upon returning home, when one group experienced hardship, the offer of help came at a high and disproportionate cost. The privileged Jews saw themselves as superior, which pride is a spiritual sin leading to a downfall.
The Bible reminds us exaltation is through humility and empathy for others, greatness is achieved by serving, and God’s people are to live for God’s cause not worldly applause. We must fix our eyes on what endures for eternity, not on kingdoms that will be merely a footnote an ancient history or on empty prosperity unable to be refined by holy fire. Becoming great means having calloused hands not a callous heart.
Jesus says, “whoever would be first must become servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:44-45).
à Where is your place of service and your person of sharing the gospel??
- Leadership success is confronting essentials and cooperating on non-essentials, but most of all leading by example.
Nehemiah’s anger was not about personal preferences but godly principles. He had righteous indignation and acted in accord with the heart of God. His charge for the people to make a public oath was necessary for accountability before God and others. Good leadership is willing to confront issues that are hindering the will and work of God.
Additionally, Nehemiah’s action permeated with integrity. Though he could have garnished wages for the food allowance of a governor, he did not. Nehemiah feared God and sought a godly legacy not earthly luxury.
“Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations and our enemies?… I [Nehemiah] did not [lord power over people] because of the fear of God… Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” (Neh 5:9; 15, 19)
à What luxuries could you transform into blessing others for an eternal legacy?
Ultimately, Nehemiah points us to see Jesus.
As Nehemiah left the pleasures of the palace in Susa and abstained the comforts of the king’s taxes, so did Jesus leave the throne of Heaven and abstain privilege of the Prince of Heaven to serve the mission of God in saving humanity.
As Nehemiah did not tolerate sinful or uncompassionate choices, nor does Jesus. The Lord’s harshest critique and condemnations were against those prideful and selfish.
As Nehemiah lived with integrity, so Jesus was full of grace and truth.
What hinders you from following a leader like Jesus who is powerful and compassionate?