In chapters 3 and 4, the problems concerned external enemies. In chapter 5, the problems Nehemiah and the Israelites encounter are inflicted from within the community itself. In Chapter 6 Nehemiah is tested. Is he the kind of leader who fears God? Or is he the kind of leader who thinks too highly of himself and had been seduced by the power of leadership?
- Chapter 1: Nehemiah is caught in the tension of two worlds: cup bearer to the king and brother to the exiles.
- Chapter 2: Nehemiah faces three moments where he must rely on the word of God and speak out boldly.
- Chapter 3: records the list of the workers who rebuilt the wall. It paints a picture of community, including the main point that we should begin serving the body by working on “the broken wall in front of our own house.”
- Chapter 4: details the opposition the builders faced, including primarily their own internal ridicule, defeat and shattered faith. Nehemiah provides an example of a godly leader by speaking God about the people and to the people about God. He taught both to trust and to fight.
The problem we encounter in 5:1-8 is that the wealthy were taking advantage of the poor. Not only were they refusing to take the positive steps outlined in the law, they were taking the negative steps prohibited by the law.
Laws Concerning Interest
35 If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident so he can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countrymen may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. – Leviticus 25:35-43
7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of that land that the Lord your God is giving you , do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near.” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart: then because of this the Lord you God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. – Deuteronomy 15:7-11
19 Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess. – Deuteronomy 23:19-20:
25 If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender, charge him no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset , 27 because his cloak is the only covering he had for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear for I am compassionate. – Exodus 22:25-26
Laws Concerning Slavery
39 If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. 40 He is to be treated as hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the year of Jubilee. 41 Then he and his children are to be released and he will go back to his fathers. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, who I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God. – Leviticus 25:39-43
12 If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. 13 And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. 14 Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today. – Deuteronomy 15:12-15
- Nehemiah first goes to the nobles and officials in private.
- Then Nehemiah makes his charges public.
- Nehemiah got angry, but thought through his anger.
- Nehemiah was very specific in his charges.
- Nehemiah called them back to fear of the Lord.
- Nehemiah did not exact a tax that was his right as governor. Nor did he gain economically from others’ hard times.
- Nehemiah did what he advocated for others
- The first test (6:1-4) appeals to Nehemiah’s pride and seeking the approval of men.
- The second test (g:5-7) appeals to Nehemiah’s ambitions or desire for power.
- The third test (6:10) was sending him a false prophet.
- Nehemiah was saved in each of these cases by what he knew to be true: God is fighting for him
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