Introduction 1 Discontent Among the People 2 The Need to Stay Alive 3 Mortgaging Properties 4 Money for Tax 5 Children Hired out as Slaves 6 Nehemiah Gets Very Angry 7 The Action of Nehemiah 8 Charge of Nehemiah 9 The Solution 10-11 Nehemiah Calls for Remission 12 The Remission Promised 13 Ratification by Nehemiah and All the People 14-15 What Nehemiah Doesn’t Do 16 What Nehemiah Does 17-18 The Table of Nehemiah 19 Prayer of Nehemiah

In this chapter, the account of the reconstruction of the wall is interrupted for a moment to reflect on the internal situation. It is not the joint action of the people against the enemy from the outside that is the focus of our attention here, but how the people behave among themselves, or rather, misbehave. This chapter warns that it is possible to be diligent in the separation from pernicious teachings and erroneous religious connections, while at the same time allowing abuses within one’s own ranks to continue.

The enemy is tireless in attacking the work of God. If he does not succeed in attacking the people from outside, he seeks other ways. In this chapter, the enemy does not attack from outside. We hear nothing of the enemies who have played such an important role so far. This kind of henchmen does not need to use the great enemy, under whose leadership all attacks on God’s people and God’s work happen, in this case either. He is pleased to see how an internal battle arises. The enemy’s ally here is the feeling of discontent that prevails among the people.

Discontent Among the People

1Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.

The good features present in the previous chapter cannot prevent what lies beneath the surface of injustice from being revealed. Under Nehemiah’s command a powerful attitude has been taken against the enemy from the outside, but at the same time an evil of selfish oppression is raging within. The wall of separation from the world does not prevent the spirit of self-interest from taking possession of those who live within it. Where self-interest is pursued, it always damages and impoverishes others.

These abuses among the people are also an effective means of preventing work. Rulers and nobles place burdens on the poor of the people. While other dignitaries leave the work to others (Neh 3:55Moreover, next to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters.), these rulers and nobles add to that. Not only do they not help themselves, but they also make the work harder for others. The contrast between rich and poor becomes a matter that threatens division among the people.

Social issues can now also paralyze the church. When the church has just come into being, people share everything with each other (Acts 4:32-3632And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one [of them] claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.33And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.34For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales35and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.36Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement),). But soon “a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews” (Acts 6:11Now at this time while the disciples were increasing [in number], a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic [Jews] against the [native] Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving [of food].). The discontent there is taken away by a wise decision of the apostles. They propose that men should come “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task” (Acts 6:33Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.). Such men are also needed now if, for any reason, there is discontent among the people of God.

The root of the evil is that the rich do not think that the poor are their brothers. In brotherly relations there is no longer love for the needy, but rather exploitation (1Jn 3:1717But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?; Jam 2:15-1715If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for [their] body, what use is that?17Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, [being] by itself.).

It is a deeply sad thing that such abuses occur among those who boast of having returned to the Divine foundation. This applies both literally to Israel and spiritually to those who confess to come together as a church.

The Need to Stay Alive

2For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.”

The call of the afflicted is a call to God for righteousness (Jam 5:1-61Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.2Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.3Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!4Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, [and] which has been withheld by you, cries out [against you]; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.5You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.6You have condemned and put to death the righteous [man]; he does not resist you.). God gives them justice through Nehemiah (verse 66Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.), who also heard the cry. God sees “the tears of the oppressed” (Ecc 4:11Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold [I saw] the tears of the oppressed and [that] they had no one to comfort [them]; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort [them].).

In verses 2-52For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.”3There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.”4Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax [on] our fields and our vineyards.5Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage [already], and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” we hear three complaints, expressed by three different groups.
1. The first complaint concerns a lack of food (verse 22For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.”).
2. The second complaint concerns the loss of property by exchanging that for food (verse 33There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.”).
3. The third complaint concerns the loss of property in order to pay taxes (verse 44Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax [on] our fields and our vineyards.). Verse 55Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage [already], and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.” is a summary of the suffering one experiences.

It is a great thing that among the people there are families with many sons and daughters. A people without sons and daughters dies out. But if those sons and daughters are not fed, the people also die out. That is the danger that threatens here. The country has become overcrowded by the returning large families. As a result, there isn’t enough food for everyone. Has the land not yielded enough? Perhaps the fields have not been cared for, partly due to the enthusiastic building on the wall, so that there is no yield.

There is work and fighting to be done, but agriculture also has to be considered. You can only work and fight if you regularly feed yourself with the yield of the land. For us it means that we take the necessary time to feed ourselves with God’s Word and its rich fruit.

Fortunately, there are still Christians who dedicate themselves to the church in addition to their regular daily tasks. They are also often away from home and family in the evenings. The downside is that the wife and children receive less attention than in an ‘ordinary’ family. A lot is invested in other families. That is also necessary, but there are limits. This work for the Lord, this battle that must be fought, must not be at the expense of one’s own family. In such situations there is a danger that those who stay at home will starve to death.

The complaining begins. First, which is to be hoped for, against the so often absent husband and father. If he doesn’t listen, which is not to be hoped for, the wife and children look elsewhere for a listening ear. Lucky if they do that to people like Nehemiah. Unfortunately they are not always there or they are not looked for and they seek salvation with others who abuse the situation. There is a breach between the man and his wife and children, a breach that is not healed lightly.

Mortgaging Properties

3There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.”

Another group has properties such as fields, vineyards and houses, but no corn. In order to stay alive there is nothing else to do but mortgaging these properties to the rich, who do have corn, in order to get corn that way. Everything the rich can earn anything from, they demand as security. What the fields and vineyards yield, will also end up in the pockets of the rich. In this way, the rich will also have access to all the valuables present in the house. In this way, the rich will become richer and the poor will become poorer.

This second group of complainants has possessions, but no food. Driven by hunger, they have to mortgage their property. This means they have lost the real pleasure of it. Someone can become so mentally impoverished that he surrenders what he still possesses in terms of spiritual wealth. In exchange for some spiritual food for the maintenance of his spiritual life he surrenders himself to someone who only wants to enrich himself at his expense.

They own fields, but they have not cultivated them, so that there is no fruit. If they mortgage them, they even lose the opportunity to get fruit from them. They do have vineyards, but they don’t produce enough to buy corn for them. They have lost the joy the wine speaks of. They do have houses, but even the rich demand them in exchange for corn. In this way, their environment will be controlled by those to whom they are indebted.

Whoever becomes dependent on people for (spiritual) food will lose everything: his hope, his joy and his home.

Money for Tax

4Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax [on] our fields and our vineyards.

Yet another group lost the usufruct of their fields and vineyards. They had to borrow money to pay the tax. The king, who let Nehemiah go, still has his grip on the land, it is still under his authority. The people are still subject to a strange ruler. This pressure is especially felt in the high taxes (cf. Ezra 4:13,2013Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings.20that mighty kings have ruled over Jerusalem, governing all [the provinces] beyond the River, and that tribute, custom and toll were paid to them.; 6:88Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of [the provinces] beyond the River, and that without delay.; 7:2424We also inform you that it is not allowed to impose tax, tribute or toll [on] any of the priests, Levites, singers, doorkeepers, Nethinim or servants of this house of God.). Partly because of this there is not enough money left to buy food.

Paying tax to a foreign ruler must make the people realize that this is the result of their unfaithfulness. The fact that money has to be borrowed for this makes them slaves in two ways. They are servants of the king of Persia and now also of the man from whom they have borrowed money.

As members of the church, we are strangers and sojourners on earth. We are reminded to be in subjection to the governing authorities (Tit 3:11Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,; Rom 13:11Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.). In that position we are told: “ Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax” (Rom 13:77Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.). But it is not God’s intention that we make ourselves dependent on others to fulfill our obligations. If we do, we will lose our spiritual freedom and sell ourselves to people from whom we expect salvation.

Children Hired out as Slaves

5Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage [already], and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”

The misery painted in the previous verses led to even greater misery. Earlier Nehemiah addressed the people with encouraging language to fight against the enemy for the freedom of “your sons and your daughters” (Neh 4:1414When I saw [their fear], I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”). Now it appears that those same sons and daughters are made slaves by their own flesh and blood, as it were, behind his back! The people in debt have seen no other way out. And the leeches show their complete insensitivity by simply accepting this extreme means of settling the debt. He who is overcome by greed for money, loses every sense of humanity and will stop at nothing (1Tim 6:9-109But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.).

The mentioned abuses are found among the people of God, among members of the same people. They complain their need to Nehemiah. Surely it should not be the case that one member rules over the other and abuses it. But there are always people who try to take advantage of the misery of others. They use the misery of others to gain for themselves. For such people it means nothing that the other is of the same flesh and blood, so family.

The victims are powerless. They are in a position that makes it impossible for them to do anything to get themselves out of this situation. Yet there is a way out. That is: face the situation honestly, say the cause and bring it to the right person.

In the church it also happens that members try to favor themselves at the expense of others. Favoring oneself can be material, but also spiritual. Someone who seeks recognition and honor also seeks his own benefit. This should not be the case, but our hearts are no better than those of the Israelite of old. The dispensation may have changed, but man by nature has not changed. Lying to each other and stealing from each other occurs even in the church to whom the highest blessings are spoken (Eph 4:25-2825Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one [of you] with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.26Be angry, and [yet] do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,27and do not give the devil an opportunity.28He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have [something] to share with one who has need.).

Nehemiah Gets Very Angry

6Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.

Nehemiah gets very angry because of the great social injustice that is being done. It is a just anger (Eph 4:2626Be angry, and [yet] do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,). He sees the danger that the need among the people may cause a division, and that will do great harm to the work. The call from need, heard by God, leads him to act on God’s behalf.

Nehemiah does not rely on rumors. He also does not rely solely on the cries. The cry can be an emotional expression as a result of experienced injustice, and experienced injustice does not have to be an actual injustice. However, the facts cannot be denied.

We can get angry about things that others tell us about injustice that people think has been done. Still, before we make our judgment, it is good to let the facts convince us, not just the story. We tend to believe the story when it is told to us by someone we trust completely. However, we should only be guided by the facts in our judgment and any subsequent action.

The Action of Nehemiah

7I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them.

When Nehemiah heard the shouts and the facts, he let it all sink in. He does not act directly and he also does not “consult with flesh and blood” (Gal 1:16b16to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,). Here is another lesson we have to learn. Even if we know the facts that compel us to act, our actions must fit with what we know about the injustice. We should not allow ourselves to be tempted to be partial in our actions. We can be partial in favor of the wronged person because we have sympathy for him, or we can come up with a heavier judgment than is justified because we find the culprit unsympathetic.

That is why we must learn from Nehemiah, who first looks at himself and considers everything and only then proceeds to act. We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by these feelings, and in doing so, we will come to a hasty and wrong action. This ‘consulting with oneself’ can also be translated as ‘becoming master of one’s feelings’.

With Nehemiah there is no regard for persons. He does not care whether he is dealing with enemies of God’s people, or with ordinary members of the people, or with the dignitaries of the people. His reproach is firm. He accuses the nobles and rulers of taking usury from their fellowmen. He does not speak of ‘poor’ or ‘subordinates’, but of ‘your brother’. With this he emphasizes that they do injustice to brothers (1Cor 6:88On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. [You do] this even to [your] brethren.). This is an additional evil.

Nehemiah leaves the building for a while to deal with this situation. He sees that the complaint is justified and organizes a large meeting against the nobles and leaders. Without any fear of these distinguished people, he denounces the wrongs they have caused to the gathered people. He appeals to them for the excessive interest they ask for. Asking for interest is even forbidden, let alone asking for usury (Exo 22:2525“If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.; Lev 25:35-3835‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.36Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you.37You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain.38I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan [and] to be your God.; Deu 23:19-2019“You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, [or] anything that may be loaned at interest.20You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.). It is allowed to borrow money in case of poverty (Deu 15:7-87“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;8but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need [in] whatever he lacks.).

Nehemiah knows how to act against external enemies. He also knows what to do with the abuses that reign internally. In both cases he acts with great determination. Nehemiah is a man who has an answer to the impending decline of the work to which he has been called. This confirms his vocation through God. Every work to which the Lord calls will be attacked. The worker called by the Lord may be confident that the Lord will give wisdom and clarity as to how to respond to each attack.

Charge of Nehemiah

8I said to them, “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?” Then they were silent and could not find a word [to say].

Nehemiah testifies to the great assembly how his conduct and that of his brethren was in exile. They bought their brethren loose (Lev 25:47-5547‘Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family,48then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him,49or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself.50He then with his purchaser shall calculate from the year when he sold himself to him up to the year of jubilee; and the price of his sale shall correspond to the number of years. [It is] like the days of a hired man [that] he shall be with him.51If there are still many years, he shall refund part of his purchase price in proportion to them for his own redemption;52and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund [the amount for] his redemption.53Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.54Even if he is not redeemed by these [means], he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with him.55For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.) to the extent that they were able to do so. How great is the evil that, in the very country in which the Jews were bought loose, they are sold again and lose their freedom. And not by enemies, but by their own flesh and blood!

Being ‘on holy ground’ does not mean safekeeping for the most unholy actions. Those who have adopted the right position act more wickedly than those who are still in the foreign land. The Jews of Jerusalem are in the better “church” position, while their brothers who are still in Babylon are in a purer moral state. In assuming the right church position, there is no certainty that there is also a good mind toward one another. Both are important. You cannot do one without the other.

Nehemiah can point to his own example. This gives him moral authority and strength to his words. Paul can point to his own example as a support for what he tells others (1Thes 1:5b5for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.; Acts 20:3434You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my [own] needs and to the men who were with me.; Phil 3:1717Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.). The people can say nothing of Nehemiah’s charge (cf. Acts 15:1212All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.). That points to acknowledgment. As long as there are objections, it is not possible to correct evil. But when God’s thoughts are passed on and the people listen, they bow to the reproof. They seek no excuses. Nehemiah here shows himself to be a “a wise reprover to a listening ear” (Pro 25:1212[Like] an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
). When people bow before the Word of God, the way to blessing is opened.

The Solution

9Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?

It is not just an accusation. Nehemiah also holds out the solution to all. The first condition is to “walk in the fear of our God”. When a person comes to put his trust in God, to obey and serve Him, all wrongs are eliminated. Then the enemy also has nothing left to scorn over. Now the enemy has nothing to do. He can even enjoy what is happening among the people of God. Nehemiah wants to undo this with all his might. It is a false testimony to the world.

As Christians we are that also when we subject our needy fellow brother or sister to us. We can do this by mercilessly imposing the law and preaching precepts to them. But instead of obliging them to us, we are called to serve them “through love” (Gal 5:1313For you were called to freedom, brethren; only [do] not [turn] your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.). Instead of imposing burdens on them, we are called to bear the burdens of others (Gal 6:22Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.).

Nehemiah Calls for Remission

10And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. 11Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth [part] of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.”

After Nehemiah has openly named the evil and given a first clue to the way to recovery, he personally will be the first to remit debts. He will also have given money on loan, which is permitted. In order to persuade others, he now sets an example by voluntarily giving up his right to repayment of the lent money. How selfless this man is again to preserve the unity of his people.

Nehemiah also speaks in the name of “my brothers and my servants”. He has people around him who act like him. Nehemiah’s selflessness has a good effect on the company he has directly around him. A good example tends to be followed.

We must not wait with the restoration of the damage evil has caused. It had to be done immediately, “this very day”. Those who know the human heart know that in case of conviction the deed must follow immediately. There is a danger that, with the passing of time, a conviction will lose its strength and one will no longer be able to act according to that conviction. There are things that cannot be postponed.

Nehemiah also fills in what is at issue. He helps to ‘confess’. Nobody is allowed to hide behind a not knowing exactly what it is all about. When it comes to our own failure, we are very forgetful. It takes a lot of persuasion if we want to make up for something that also involves compensation. God’s Spirit has a lot of work to do on us.

The Remission Promised

12Then they said, “We will give [it] back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.

The transgressors respond to Nehemiah’s preaching of penance by saying that they will do as he has said. They will give everything back. They even say that they will claim nothing of the guilt. Nehemiah wants even more assurance that they will do what they promise. He makes them swear in the presence of priests whom he has called for this occasion. Priests, as representatives of God, give the necessary solemnity to this event. It should make the transgressors aware that they swear their oath before God.

Ratification by Nehemiah and All the People

13I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “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.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise.

As they so stand before God, Nehemiah presents the serious consequences in case of disobedience. Shaking the front of his garment , which also serves as a bag, has the same meaning as shaking off the dust of the feet (Mt 10:1414Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.; Acts 13:5151But they shook off the dust of their feet [in protest] against them and went to Iconium.; 18:66But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood [be] on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”). The speaker who makes this gesture thus symbolizes the rejection of the spoken word by those who have heard it, and that he himself is free from the consequences it has for those who reject it.

God blesses Nehemiah’s approach. Nehemiah has spoken plainly. There is a need for this in a time of woolly, diplomatic language. The people of God deserve a clear message. It must have done Nehemiah good that all agree. That consent does not take place through applause or other enthusiastic expressions. That would be inappropriate given the seriousness of the matter. Consent is given in the expression of an audible “amen” in one voice.

Then the LORD is praised. He has worked this willingness in the hearts and gets the honor for it. Then the people act according to the agreement made. That is better than their ancestors did. At first they released their slaves, but later they enslaved them again (Jer 34:10-11,1810And all the officials and all the people obeyed who had entered into the covenant that each man should set free his male servant and each man his female servant, so that no one should keep them any longer in bondage; they obeyed, and set [them free].11But afterward they turned around and took back the male servants and the female servants whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection for male servants and for female servants.18I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, [when] they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts—). Such a way of doing things resembles that of Pharaoh who first lets the Israelites go, but then chases them to enslave them again. Such a course of action evokes God’s judgment.

What Nehemiah Doesn’t Do

14Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, [for] twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor’s food [allowance]. 15But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God.

Nehemiah renounces what would be lawful in itself. As governor he has the right to demand food from the people. Governor at that time – Nehemiah served as governor of Judah from 444 to 432 BC – is the highest office to be held in the Jewish nation. Instead of demanding food, he distributed food. He makes himself one with his needy people. In doing so, he shows mercy that surpasses the law.

Such acts are the consequence of the fear of God (verse 1515But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God.). It is the fruit that adorns a righteous and holy walk. It has nothing to do with the generosity that sometimes characterizes benefactors in the world. With this he is a picture of the Lord Jesus Who as the Lord and the Master during His life on earth is also the One Who serves (Jn 13:1414If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.; Lk 22:24-2724And there arose also a dispute among them [as to] which one of them was regarded to be greatest.25And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’26But [it is] not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.27For who is greater, the one who reclines [at the table] or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines [at the table]? But I am among you as the one who serves.).

Nehemiah’s behavior is very different from that of the rulers of the people and former governors. He might have thought, which happens a lot: ‘Everybody used to do it and now they do it, why shouldn’t I?’ But he has not eaten the bread of a governor because the fear of God leads him. He is not going to bargain about the difficulties, or organize things, but he is leading a walk of life above all suspicion.

He gives up his personal rights as governor to be simply and completely the servant of God and His people. Likewise, Paul also gives up personal rights towards the Corinthians to serve God and His church (1Cor 9:11-1211If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?12If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.; 2Thes 3:88nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we [kept] working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you;). His example and that of Nehemiah is worth following. They are “examples to the flock” (1Pet 5:1-31Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;3nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.). Such behavior gives moral preponderance, which makes admonitions have results.

Also in the church it happens that families of those who have a prominent place in the it, claim a prominent place for this reason. Because of a certain natural connection one thinks one is entitled to spiritual advantage and demands this. Skills and gifts, however, are granted by God and are not transferable or claimable because a friend or family member possesses them. Even Samuel does not act correctly in this matter (1Sam 8:1-51And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel.2Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; [they] were judging in Beersheba.3His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah;5and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.”).

Much inner discontent and strife stems from a wrong lifestyle, rather than from attacks from outside. Only if we walk in fear of God we can fight this danger. In the first place, we will not participate in adapting to the times in which we live, we will not follow the masses. It is so easy to do what others do. Sometimes we participate because we are cowards, sometimes because we secretly wish to be like others.

Secondly, we will avoid the nature of the world. Many Christians make sure the world doesn’t notice how different they are. They are not out to give the impression that they are different from others in practical life. What used to be a disgrace, everyone now finds normal, for example sex before marriage. But for the Christian it should remain a disgrace. He should be able to say: “But I didn’t act like this.”

Maybe we unconsciously have lowered the standard of our own behavior and thinking. How have we behaved towards the opposite sex in recent years or months? In our premarital lives, have we allowed things to happen that shouldn’t have happened and that we should be ashamed of now?

What Nehemiah Does

16I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.

Just as Nehemiah does not do certain things for fear of God, so love for the Lord Jesus must determine our actions and conduct. But not only does Nehemiah not do things, he is also positively building the wall. In no way does he want to use his position as governor to enrich himself. Instead, he cooperates with the people. He gives himself to work and does not seek earthly possessions. He is in Jerusalem to help his people, not to exploit them. His servants are of the same spirit.

The Table of Nehemiah

17Moreover, [there were] at my table one hundred and fifty Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18Now that which was prepared for each day was one ox [and] six choice sheep, also birds were prepared for me; and once in ten days all sorts of wine [were furnished] in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the governor’s food [allowance], because the servitude was heavy on this people.

Is Nehemiah so wealthy? Does he still receive his possibly generous salary from the king – not unpaid, but paid leave? We don’t read it here. Therefore, it is good to assume that God provides him with what he needs to provide all these people with food and drink. What he gets from God he does not keep for himself, but serves others with it. He would rather pay for everything out of his own pocket than impose a burden on the people.

Nehemiah has a large company to eat every day, but there is enough every day. So may we also know that the Lord gives enough for every day. In addition, every ten days there is wine of all kinds and in abundance. This indicates the abundant joy that is associated with a life of dependence on the Lord.

Prayer of Nehemiah

19Remember me, O my God, for good, [according to] all that I have done for this people.

Nehemiah does not pray this prayer out of self-congratulation. He is not a spiritual relative of the Pharisee who commends his own actions to God (Lk 18:11-1211The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.12I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’). Nehemiah does not thank, he prays, not a proud, but a humble prayer. He is engaged in God’s work and is well aware that God works through him. Therefore, the good that he may do is the good that God does through him. But there is so much more to be done. He asks God to remember him, because it is about the welfare, the good for His people.

Nehemiah can pray in this way because his life is in accordance with the content of his prayer. He prays the “prayer of a righteous man” (Jam 5:16b16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.).

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