-Social issues become the concern as chapter 5 commences. There was a great outcry from the people against their Jewish brothers as Nehemiah assumed his mantle of leadership. They were in desperate need for basic sustenance like grain so that they would be able to live. They were mortgaging their fields, their vineyards, and their houses to get grain due to a famine in the land. They had to borrow money for the king’s tax, which had been levied on their fields and vineyards. They were kin, but they were being exploited as slaves, even their sons and daughters being placed under bondage. They felt helpless because their fields and vineyards now belonged to others (Nehemiah 5:1-5).
-When Nehemiah, the great leader and savior during this time in Israel, heard about this situation, he was “very angry.” He consulted with himself, which I think is a hilarious but profound comment at this juncture, and then he “contended (riyb- pleaded, debated, strived, chided)” with the nobles and rulers who had power. He said to them plainly, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother.” This was clearly in violation of God’s Law for His people (Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:34-43, Deuteronomy 23:19-20). Nehemiah, and the oppressed people, had every right to be angry and cry out in this situation. As a result, Nehemiah held a great assembly against these who were in sin. He proclaimed, “We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” This silenced the crowd for they had nothing to say in righteous defense of the accusation. He went further to tell them this thing they were doing was “not good” because it rested on the premise of not fearing God, which was the worst mistake a person in this set-apart nation could possibly do. Nehemiah rightly deduced that if this were to continue, they would continue to be a reproach before their enemies from other nations. He pleaded with them to refrain from using usury against their kinsmen and to give them back their fields, vineyards, olive groves, houses, the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine, and the oil, which they were extracting from them. The congregation responded accurately, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” Nehemiah then consecrated this commitment by calling the priests to have them all take an oath to do according to their promise. As a symbol, he shook out the front of his garment and verbalized, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” The assembly heartedly said, “Amen!” in an enthusiastic and positive response. And then they all praised the LORD together as His people. “Then the people did according to this promise (Nehemiah 5:6-13).”
-All of this brought about a time of rejoicing in the land as each neighbor blessed one another. Nehemiah was appointed governor in the land of Judah for his expertise in leadership and devotion to the causes of his LORD. For 12 years, from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes’ reign, he nor his kinsmen ever ate of the governor’s food allowance, a type of welfare system. The former governors before him had laid heavy burdens on the people and took bread and wine from them besides 40 shekels of silver. Even the governors’ servants domineered over the people because of their ego trip, but Nehemiah was different. He did not do these kinds of things because of his fear of God (Nehemiah 5:14-15). Not just this, but he applied himself to the work on the walls of Jerusalem. They did not buy any land, and all his servants were gathered there for the purpose of working on God’s holy city. 150 Jews and officials, and in addition some who visited from time to time from other nations around them, ate at his table every day. They would have ox, sheep, and birds prepared for them to partake. Every 10 days all sorts of wine was furnished in abundance. Yet, Nehemiah never had to demand or make request of the governor’s food allowance, “because the servitude was heavy on this people.” Another way of saying that I believe is that God was pouring out His blessings on a faithful and upright servant. Nehemiah’s final comment in the chapter expresses his utter dependence on his Maker and Sustainer, “Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people (Nehemiah 5:16-19).”
*Application* Benevolence is a big part of God’s program on earth. It brings the love of His Kingdom right to the heart of our needs as a society. The giving spirit is evident when we refuse to use and abuse people. Never kick people when they are down. Give them a hand up and lift them to new heights. A great leader will sacrifice his own good to share with others and bless them abundantly. Not only that, it brings the blessings of the LORD upon a society as we reverence Him and love others with our actions. How much better off would we be as a society in America if we could live out these principles set forth in this enlightening chapter of Scripture.
Verses to Memorize: Nehemiah 5:7, 15