What is an inch? What is a kilogram? That’s easy: An inch is the distance between two notches on a ruler and a kilogram is the weight that makes the needle point to “1” on a kitchen scale. We take such weights and measures for granted, forgetting that they have no meaning and no definition…
When we finished last time we saw Sanballat and Tobiah colluding to lure Nehemiah out of Jerusalem. I want to recapture where we finished last time because it is pertinent to where we pick scripture up in Nehemiah 6:5. Turn with me in your Bibles to Nehemiah 6:5-19.
James 1:14 says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” Let me start by saying that temptation is not sin. Temptation is the mechanism used to lure us into sin. There are three ways in which we are tempted: The first is by Satan, then the world, and the other is by our flesh. Temptation becomes sin when we allow the temptation to move us to act on it. I believe the Greek will help us to understand this truth more deeply. The Greek word for “carried away” is “exelko”. It is a hunting term used in regards to luring an animal out of safety or protective surroundings so as to kill or capture it. Satan is trying to tempt Nehemiah out of safety. His methods of temptation are specific to his prey. The Greek word used for “enticed” (deleazo) is a hunting/fishing term which means “to bait”. It denotes using a specific bait to catch a specific fish or animal. Every bait is not attractive to every animal or fish. In context, some sins are not as attractive to every person. Satan baits a hook with a specific lure catered to the believer’s greatest struggles so as to remove the Christian from the safety of God’s arms. Satan’s end is to destroy you.
The fifth attack starts in Nehemiah 6:5 saying, “Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand.” There are two negative connotations that follow this act. In ancient times letters were rolled into a scroll and sealed with a signet ring. If the messenger brought you a letter where the seal was broken it meant that someone whom the letter was not intended for opened it. Sanballat’s intention was one of disrespect by not even making it private information, but public. Therein lies the second slight against Nehemiah, an open letter was meant for the public to see. Sanballat wanted everyone to read the letter so that the rumor mill in Jerusalem and the surrounding nations would swirl. So, what did this letter say?
“In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.” Nehemiah 6:6-7
Sanballat has just accused Nehemiah and the Jewish people of plotting insurrection against King Artaxerxes. Not only that, but he is claiming that there are prophets who are heralding him as king. The only prophets that would prophecy this lie are those that are “profits”. This is a term I like to use in regards to false teachers and their false prophecies. They are lovers of money, so if there are any prophets testifying that Nehemiah will be king it is only because they were paid by Sanballat. Now, imagine this letter being sent to Nehemiah and the many eyes that would gaze over its contents. Think of the rumors swirling around Jerusalem and the surrounding nations, “Nehemiah is rebelling against Artaxerxes and crowning himself as King over Jerusalem. War is coming back to Jerusalem. The Jews will surely be vanquished!”
This was a serious accusation. In 499 B.C. the city state of Ionia rebelled against Darius the Great. He sent an army to Ionia which eventually squashed the insurrection in 493 B.C. Darius was so angered by this that he invaded Greece because of the support Ionia received from Athens. This was serious. Sanballat’s own words were, “And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports.” Sanballat is literally saying, “Let us meet together or I will inform King Artaxerxes that you want to be king of Jerusalem.” It is manipulation in its highest form. Can you imagine the fear and panic that might have swelled inside the city of Jerusalem? The Jewish people knew that Nehemiah did not intend this. Can you imagine the urging of the Jewish people to Nehemiah to capitulate to Sanballat’s demand and just meet with him to avoid a war? That is what this open letter was meant to do. It was meant to pressure Nehemiah to give into temptation. I was put in one such situation when I worked for an advertising agency. I worked in print production and had a client that wanted to put two ads in two different publications. The media buyer gave me the specifications and they were two completely different sized ads. One was a 7×10 ad and the other was a 16×18 tabloid size ad. The total the client paid for the ad space for both was $65,000. When the ads ran we found out that the wrong sizes were put in the wrong publications making the smaller ad in the 16×18 magazine look horrible and the 16×18 ad in the 7×10 publication looking illegible. When I found the issue I told management that it was our fault because the media buyer had given me the wrong specs on the insertion orders. We would have to pay for it. The Media buying manager told me that the print house I used to create the ads was at fault, which was not true. The print house created the ads to the specifications that we had given them. Because I would not bend on this the media buying manager went to the CFO and my manager. The CFO and my manager told me that our agency would not absorb this loss, but that my vendor would have to pay the cost to re-run these ads. She threatened me by saying that if the print house did not absorb this loss then they will no longer do business with them. Imagine the call I had to make to my vendor telling them about this. My representative on the phone was in tears not just because this was wrong, but because this might get her fired. This also put me on the radar by management as someone who was insubordinate as they worked to get rid of me. The Christian, like Nehemiah cannot compromise their integrity to appease the lusts of others. Sometimes standing up to the lie will not only cost you, but cost those around you. In this case God brought Nehemiah through it unscathed.
Nehemiah responds, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” Nehemiah 6:8b. The Hebrew word for “inventing” is “bada” It was used by the ancients in context as a potter fashioning a pot. Nehemiah is telling them they are fashioning a lie on their potter’s wheel for evil.
In Nehemiah 6:9, Nehemiah knew this was meant to frighten both he and the Jewish people. What does Nehemiah do in light of the threat? He prays, “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” The Hebrew word for “strengthen” (chazaq) means “to fasten” or “to bind”. It denotes fortification or repair. Nehemiah is asking God to keep him from falling apart. The pressure on Nehemiah was intense, but God answered his prayer and kept him together. In times of trial should not the believer cry out for the same strength? Is God not good to us no matter what evil befalls us? We should emulate Nehemiah when we are in God’s crucible. Remember, trials make us more dependent upon God and they remove the sinful dross from our lives that so easily pollute us.
Attack number six starts in Nehemiah 6:10, “When I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, ‘Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.”
Follow me as I break this down. Shemaiah is the son of a priest, was recognized as a prophet, but was a false prophet. Remember in Nehemiah 6:7 where Sanballat proclaimed that Nehemiah had appointed prophets to proclaim him king of Jerusalem? I believe that Shemaiah was one of the prophets that Sanballat would have hired to do this. There is one other thing that I noticed. This is the first time that Nehemiah has met with someone else in their own home. Nehemiah had a target painted on his back, so he did not make it a point to meet in the homes of others. In this case, I believe that his meeting in Shemaiah’s house revealed that he trusted him.
After studying the Hebrew word for “confined” it describes more of a self-restraining. Shemaiah was not sick or handicapped, but willingly chose to stay in his house. This begs the next question: Why would Shemaiah confine himself to his home? I believe that Shemaiah’s sole intention was to make Nehemiah think that he had a prophecy from God which if found out by Sanballat could endanger his (Shemaiah’s) life, so he had to stay confined to his home. It was meant to lend credibility to the lie that he was about to tell Nehemiah. Shemaiah then makes a prophecy in verse 10 that Sanballat is coming to kill Nehemiah and that he should go and hide in the temple within the Holy Place. What Shemaiah told Nehemiah to do through this “prophecy” was forbidden in scripture. It was a serious offense to God for anyone other than a priest to enter the Holy Place. King Uzziah tried this in 2 Chronicles 26 and was stricken with leprosy for this transgression against God. On top of this, Shemaiah is a son of a priest. How can he of all people suggest that Nehemiah go into the Holy Place when he knew it was forbidden by anyone but a priest (Further evidence that he was purchased by Sanballat).
In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, God says that if any prophet or dreamer of dreams predicts the future or shows you an amazing sign, yet tells you something contrary to God’s word, then you must forsake what they have said. Deuteronomy 13:3 says, “You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul.” I believe that Nehemiah knowing scripture compared what Shemaiah said to what God’s word said, and it protected him. There are so many false teachers in the world today preaching a false gospel. They tell you that if you give them money that God will return it to you 10 or 100 times greater than what you gave. Christ died on the cross to save man from the penalty of their sin, not make them healthy and wealthy on earth. These people are charlatans. They are lovers of money that can only defraud people that love money like them. If money is your god, then these people will trick you into giving it to them. If Christ is preeminent, you will see through their lies. You give only to receive something back, while these unscrupulous people take your money and live in luxury. They do no service for God, but are set apart for destruction. False teachers like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and many others perpetuate this false gospel. The reason why so many believers are deceived today is because they do not compare what these false teachers say to scripture. The reason why they don’t compare it to scripture is because they don’t know scripture. Nehemiah knew God’s word, so he knew this was a ruse by Sanballat through Shemaiah. “Your word I have treasured in my heart that I might not sin against you.” from Psalm 119:11 is what protected Nehemiah. He passed God’s test showing that he loved God with all of his heart and soul. Knowing God’s word will protect the believer from the ravenous wolves that seek to destroy you. Knowing scripture will guard your heart, protecting you from falling into sin from temptation.
Nehemiah replied to Shemaiah, “But I said, ‘Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. ‘Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.” Nehemiah 6:11-12.
This attempt by Sanballat and Tobiah was meant to destroy Nehemiah’s credibility with the people and defile Nehemiah’s devotion to God. Alan Redpath said about this verse, “He (Shemaiah) seeks to persuade Nehemiah into an easy-going, compromising religion that will shirk persecution, that will carry no cross, and that is governed by fear of the opinions of other people.” Nehemiah was no coward. His devotion was to God and if his devotion would cost him his good name or his life, he would freely give it. The Christian will be persecuted and will suffer at the hands of others in this life because this is not our home.
So what does Nehemiah do next? He, as the governor has the power to avenge himself of this wrong, but he chooses not to. He turns this over to God and allows God to take vengeance. “Remember, O My God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me.” Nehemiah 6:14
Romans 12:19 exhorts the believer, “Never take your own revenge beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Only God is just. If we seek revenge against those who hurt us, then we are no different than the world. The reason why “an eye for an eye” was instituted by God in Exodus 21:24 was because man in his depravity would seek to payback his offender worse than the offense committed against him. Nehemiah just turns them over to God.
In Verses 15, we see that the wall is completed in 52 days Do you realize that the time Nehemiah spent praying (four months) before the decree was given to rebuild was longer than the actual project? Sometimes unanswered prayer is just deferred for a time. God uses that time to bring us into submission and prepare us for the adversity we are going to face. That four months of prayer had built a habit of constant submission to God that continued during the 52 days of constant danger.
In verse 16, their enemies “lost their confidence” (naphal ayin). “Naphal” means “to fall/to fall prostrate”, while “ayin” means “eye”. Literally, you can say that their “eye fell” symbolizing their loss of strength and courage. When you watch a football game and see a team kick a game winning field goal you will see the eyes and heads of the losing team all fall. The enemies of the Jews were defeated and they fell prostrate in their spirits, not to Nehemiah, but to God, for they realized God was behind this.
In verses 17-19, Tobiah commences with a seventh assault to frighten Nehemiah. It is worthy to note that in Nehemiah 3:5 the nobles in Jerusalem refused to work on the wall. We see the reason in verse 18. It is because they were related to Tobiah as he had taken a Jewish wife, so they gave their allegiance to him. Even the high priest Eliashib was related to Tobiah (See Nehemiah 13:4), which helps me to understand why the nobles got away with charging usury. This part of the remnant had defied God and had intermarried with a pagan. Can you see how this act of disobedience to God ended up turning them against God as they supported Tobiah? I am convinced that these Jews did this for self-preservation because of all the persecution that was happening before Nehemiah came to Jerusalem (Josephus gives a clear account of the persecution). The nobles in verse 19 could not stop saying wonderful things to Nehemiah about Tobiah, this while Tobiah was sending Nehemiah threatening letters. Light and darkness do not mix. Can you see how intentionally marrying an unbelieving spouse will drag you down and will muddy whom you really serve. This marriage pulled a great deal of Jews away from God and made them loyal to the world. This should never be!
I pray that this equips you for battle today.
Soli Deo Gloria!
In my last blog Nehemiah finished his confrontation with the nobles over the usury being charged to their Jewish brethren. In this next blog we will start in verse 14 where we will see Nehemiah’s integrity, and then continue through Nehemiah 6:4 where two more attacks are waged by Sanballat and Tobiah.
“Moreover, 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.” Nehemiah 5:14
Under Persian law the governor of a province could have his food expenses covered by the people he ruled over. The food was more than just for the governor and his family, but it covered all his servants and administrators and their families. We see in verse 17 that Nehemiah had 150 officials in his service. The food exacted from the people would cover the needs of several hundred people, and was primarily meat. This was what Nehemiah was entitled to. As we look at verse 18 we see what Nehemiah’s food allowance would be if he chose to exercise his right. “Now 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.”
This was quite a food allowance, but look at verse 15 where we see what past governors exacted. “But 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. So, not only was the meat allowance exacted from the people by former governors, but they also took bread, wine and 40 shekels of silver (approximately 1 pound of silver) each day. The verse says, “even the servants domineered the people.” This shows that not only did the governor domineer the people, but so did the governor’s officials. The Hebrew word for “domineer” is “shalat”. It means “to lord over”. The Greek word used for “domineer” from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew) is “ἐβάρυναν”. The root word is “bar”. It is where we get our English word “barbarian”. This word means “to oppress with a heavy weight” or “to burden”. Even the officials under the governor extorted money and food from the people. More often than not the officials underneath a governor or king were much more cruel in their demands as they threw their political weight around on the commoners. The human heart is so crooked and deceitfully wicked that it will take more than is even allowed under law. Our hearts yearn for more and more things, or pleasure, but with it comes a diminishing return. The more we try to fulfill our earthy/carnal desires the less satisfied we will become. For the believer it is Christ who should be our desire, only He can fulfill our needs and desires and give us purpose in a crumbling world. The most miserable people in the world today are not unbelievers, but Christians living in disobedience to God, for the Spirit sets itself against the flesh.
Nehemiah saw the famine that had happened in the land and saw how poor and oppressed the Jewish people were by many of their former governors. The Jewish people were under a heavy yolk and Nehemiah being a man of compassion saw this and did not want to burden his people. Instead, he paid for all his officials and their families food out of his pocket. This shows that Nehemiah had accumulated great wealth as cupbearer to the king to be able to provide for all of his officials at his own expense. This should challenge the believer that just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean that you should always exercise it.
In verse 19, Nehemiah says a prayer, “Remember me, O my God, for good, according to what I have done for this people.” There are some commentaries that believe this is an arrogant statement from Nehemiah. I am convinced that they are wrong. Ezra penned the book of Nehemiah, but he did it with Nehemiah’s diaries. This was Nehemiah’s personal journal which I am sure he never imagined would become scripture one day. He doesn’t want repayment or honor for his deeds, rather he just wants more grace from God.
As we move on to chapter 6 we see that the Satanically inspired Sanballat and Tobiah are back on the offensive. The wall has been completed, and all that is left is to hang the doors. This is their last chance to stop Nehemiah. Why is rebuilding the walls and the city so opposed by Satan? I believe the answer is in Daniel 9:24-27. This is where Daniel prophecies about the 70 weeks. The verse that I want to focus on is actually verse 25, “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and 62 weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.”
The decree being spoken of here for the rebuilding of Jerusalem comes from Artaxerxes on March 14, 445 B.C. in Nehemiah chapter two. These seven weeks are equal to seven years apiece, making it 49 years. These 49 years point to Nehemiah’s restoration of Jerusalem. What is interesting is that the verse combines the 62 weeks with the 7 weeks. These 49 years must take place first, and then are followed by these 434 years (These are lunar years, not solar years. Jewish lunar years account as 360 days per year). Without straying too much off the text of Nehemiah, if you count back from the decree in March 445 B.C. you will end up at April 6th 32 A.D. This was marked as Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I say all of this not to get into eschatology, but to point out that Satan intentionally was trying to stop Nehemiah so that the prophecy would not come to pass. If he can prevent any prophecy from God coming true then he will point to God as a fraud. As we all know, God is sovereign and Satan can do nothing to thwart His will.
In Nehemiah 6:1-2, we see that Sanballat and Tobiah invite Nehemiah to Ono which was on the coast and was known for being a luxurious resort area. Nehemiah knew that these men were plotting to harm him so he declined. In fact, they sent four more messages to Nehemiah asking him to come. It is obvious that these men were trying to harm Nehemiah, but it was cleverly covered as a meeting for peace. How bad would it make Nehemiah look to the people that he would decline to treat with his enemies and put this hostility behind him? It would make him look like a bitter man, but this isn’t true. Daniel died somewhere around 530 B.C., which makes me wonder if Nehemiah read his prophecies and was mentally prepared to face the distress spoken of in Daniel 9:25? I am not sure. Regardless, Nehemiah had messengers deliver his response, but I have to imagine that he let these messengers know that they may be harmed before he sent them. The messengers went despite any peril. Christ said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” John 15:18. Very similar to Nehemiah sending out his messengers, we as believers are tasked with taking the message of the Gospel out to the world and we will be hated. We must go willingly no matter what peril awaits us.
These men are trying to lure Nehemiah out from the safety of Jerusalem, and out of the protection of God’s arms. James 1:14 says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” The Greek word for “carried away” is “exelko”. It is a hunting term that means “to draw out”. Satan tries to draw us out from God’s protection just as a hunter tries to draw an animal out from the safety of its surroundings to kill or capture it. Satan’s bait is specific to our weaknesses.
I am going to stop here, but keep this passage about temptation in mind as it will link to where I start in Nehemiah 6:5 next time.
Last week we finished at the beginning of Nehemiah’s confrontation (Nehemiah 5:7) with the rulers and nobles in Jerusalem. They had been violating God’s law by charging usury (interest) on loans to their fellow Jews. This enraged Nehemiah and really gave us an example of how believers should handle righteous indignation.
Nehemiah never let his righteous indignation overcome him, rather, he subdued his heart and brought his emotions under control. In allowing the truth to prevail he was able to contemplate his next steps and allow his emotions to follow suit. Nehemiah, now with clarity of mind can confront the evil that these men had been doing to their own people.
Before we move forward I want to add something that is not obvious in the text. Who failed to call these men to account for charging usury? I believe it was the priests. The job of the Jewish priest was to point the people to God. If your job is to point people to God then you have a responsibility to confront sin. Instead the priests allowed these men to flourish in their sin. How much more of a scathing rebuke to the priests could God give then by bringing a man who was not a priest from the outside to confront the sin of the Jewish nobles? The priests failed, just as many Pastors and Christian leaders have failed in the platforms that God has given them. Charles Spurgeon was prophetic when he said, “A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.” With the foolish antics and self-help being preached from the pulpit today, is it any surprise that believers have been veiled from the sins that are so prevalent in their lives?
Nehemiah was not afraid to tell the truth to the nobles as he said, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Nehemiah confronted their greed head on. A leader must confront issues directly, though there are some circumstances that might require a less direct approach. Our confrontation with others in sin must be direct, but filled with grace, lest we put a stumbling block before them. One of the biggest issues today with Christians confronting other Christians is the fact that it is uncomfortable. We are afraid, and that fear leads to complacency, which ultimately shows that we really don’t care about anyone, but ourselves. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” An enemy lets you continue in your sin because they do not care about its harmful effects upon you.
When I was a class leader for a singles Sunday school class I began to stir division against the singles pastor. I was upset over some of the decisions that he had been making. I began to undermine his authority by attacking his character and spreading vicious gossip because I was angry. One day I was confronted gently by another pastor who said, paraphrasing our conversation, “What good are you going to bring about by turning believers against each other?” That took all the wind out of my sails. I stopped that day, and then eventually went to the singles pastor and asked for his forgiveness. This pastor confronted me because he loved me and did not want to see sin destroy me. He appealed to my conscience. This is what Nehemiah is doing with the nobles. He is appealing to their conscience. As the governor of the province he could use his authority to make them submit to his will, but he didn’t. He could have arrested them and seized all of their wealth from gold and silver to fields and homes, but he didn’t. I believe that Nehemiah realized that he could not legislate morality to invoke change, rather he knew that he must appeal to their consciences, allowing God to do the work of softening their hearts. It is the conscience that separates us from the animal kingdom and makes us like God in knowing the difference between good and evil. It is the law which He has etched on our hearts that activates and convicts us when we transgress against the Most High. I will say that the longer someone violates their conscience, the faster it will become seared from feeling any guilt or shame from sin.
Nehemiah goes onto say in verse 8, “I 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?’ They were silent and could not find a word to say.”
It is worthy to note that when the Jews went into exile they became slaves to the pagans. At some point in their lives they were purchased out of slavery by their own brethren. Should they now put their own brethren back into bondage under their yolk? The silence was deafening as the nobles said nothing in response. They realized all of their sin. These men at some point in their lives were redeemed by a free Jew and even redeemed Jews from the pagans. How could they do this and grieve almighty God?
Then Nehemiah continues to address their consciences by saying in verse 9, “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.” You can render “Should you not walk in the fear of our God” as “Will you not walk in the fear of God?” “Is not the displeasure of God enough to stop you from doing this evil?” His appeal to the nobles goes on to show how they are acting just like the pagan nations around them. Nehemiah is saying, “What a reproach this will be on you before the heathens as you claim to love God and have higher morals than the nations around you. How will this distinguish you from them, and how would any of them see Yahweh in you?”
Nehemiah goes on to use himself as an example of lending without charging interest in verse 10, saying, “And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain.” His kin and his servants even followed his lead. It is a testament to how a godly example influences the people around them.
Nehemiah then makes his petition, “Please, let us leave off this usury. Please, 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.” Nehemiah 5:10b-11.
In Nehemiah 5:12-13, the nobles agreed to Nehemiah’s petition and promised to give everything back that they had taken from their brethren. He showed Christ-like meekness (power under control) when he could have forced them to give the interest back. Nehemiah was not a social justice warrior because he pointed the offenders back to the fear of God (which is the beginning of all wisdom), and the offenders received it. I like how one theologian described social justice, “If the core of Christianity is simply love your neighbor as yourself, that means the core of Christianity is just the law.” With social justice there is no room for grace, only law. SJW’s are the modern day Pharisees. Nehemiah was not a social justice warrior, but a man who sought to unite the people in his care and point them back to God.
In verse 13, Nehemiah then did a symbolic type of dance where he shook all the dust out of his clothing. It was a curse upon anyone that would not honor their word and repay the usury they had taken. The dirt flying out of his garments symbolized God taking away all of their earthly possessions if they reneged. At the end of the verse everyone praised God, including the nobles, and they honored their promise giving evidence of repentance. Good theology always leads to proper doxology.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I believe that Nehemiah was one of the greatest leaders in all of scripture as well as the annals of world history. There are a multitude of reasons that I can highlight to support this statement, but for this post and those that follow I would like to focus on the adversity he overcame in Nehemiah 5.
For those of you not familiar with the situation there were two evil men by the name of Sanballat and Tobiah who were leaders in two of the nations surrounding the Jewish remnant in Jerusalem. They were Satanically inspired men who opposed Nehemiah from the moment he entered Jerusalem. In chapter 5, these evil men had already carried out three attacks meant to discourage the Jews from rebuilding the walls of the city. The scene shifts in chapter five from dealing with these external threats to confronting an internal threat.
Verse one opens with a great outcry by the Jewish people against their own brethren. In the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Old Testament), The Greek word used for “outcry” is “Krauge”. It is an anger, either righteous or unrighteous that means “to scream/cry out aloud”. In the righteous sense this is a cry that comes from the depths of the soul. The best way to imagine this is to picture yourself as a parent who witnesses the death of your child in a horrific car accident. That should put into proper perspective how deep and horrific this anger and sadness were.
What could such a painful and crushing public outcry be about? Nehemiah 5:2-5 reveal what the issues were against their brethren, but I want to hone in on verse three first. “There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” Nehemiah 5:3
Note the word “famine.” Did you know in the Old Testament that God used famines to get the attention of the Israelites as a means of Divine chastening? In Hosea 1:1-11 we see this happening to those who were part of the first exilic return. The Lord has desired these first returning Jews to Jerusalem to build his temple, but they chose not to. In Hosea 1:2 God says, “This people (Note: not His people. This was a slam by God) says, ‘The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.” This was a popular term used amongst the Jews at the time as they made excuses not to rebuild the temple. The Lord goes on to say through those verses, “You have sewn much, but harvest little,” or “he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
In Malachi 3:9-10 we see that God has brought a famine on the land because the Jews are not giving their tithes and offerings. The tithes were meant to take care of the priests and the Levites as they faithfully serve the Lord in their duties. If they had no food to eat because no one gave their offerings then they would have to walk away from their duties and take up a life of farming to survive. As such, there would be no one in Israel to point the people to God, so the people would fall away. In both of these examples God got the attention of the people by bringing a famine. God many times will take away a physical need from us in order to get our attention. He has taken a job away from me in the past because I was living in willful rebellion against Him. Needless to say, He got my attention.
In Nehemiah 5, I believe that God was using this famine as a Divine chastening to get the attention of the Jewish people. So what were these offenses that caused this great outcry? In short, it was the charging of usury. Usury was interest charged on any type of loan, not just currency. Here is how the usury affected so many people:
- Those who had no food to eat. The poor are the first to suffer in times of economic hardship. They are dependent on the generosity of others. The usury kept other Jews from giving and taking care of the poor. V2
- The people had left their fields to come rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, so they cannot tend to their land and make a living. They mortgaged their lands at interest to these wealthy Jews to have money for food. V3
- There were those who borrowed money to pay their taxes to Artaxerxes. When put to the test, if after you pay your bills you only have enough money to eat for the month or pay the government for the month, which would you choose? The people chose to feed their families and borrowed the money at interest to pay their taxes.
- There were those who borrowed money from the wealthy Jews, but the debtor had to gives his children as collateral. These children became slaves (Not chattel) to these men. They were now someone else’s property. V5
After this scandal was revealed to Nehemiah, verse 6 says, “Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.” I believe that Nehemiah took the actions of these wealthy Jews charging usury and compared it against Leviticus 25:36-37 “Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain.”
And probably this verse: Deuteronomy 23:19 “You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food or anything that may be loaned at interest.” In fact the only exception to the rule of usury was that Jews could charge non-Jews interest. Nehemiah knew the word of God and he used it to expose the sin and direct his response. What if believers used the word of God on a personal level to expose the sin in our lives daily? I believe that if we did this we would stop viewing a lot of the TV shows or movies we watch. Those that don’t give to the church would stop giving $10,000 a year to their college alma maters football program and start giving it back to God. Nehemiah’s character reveals a man who examined himself against God’s word as we will see later in the chapter.
Those of us that see the word of God as pure, holy, and true can understand why Nehemiah had a righteous indignation. The problem is how do we handle this righteous indignation? Our sinful hearts are fertile grounds for taking something good and making it evil. Nehemiah was burning with anger over what these men did, but he did not allow it to control him. Notice in verse 7, “Then I consulted myself”. The Hebrew word for “consulted” is “malak”. It literally means “to ascend to the throne/to reign.” If a king ascends to a throne over a nation it means that he is taking control and ruling it. Nehemiah is literally taking control over himself and subduing his desires so that he can carry out God’s desires. The Holy Spirit gives every believer this ability if we submit to Him.
This reigning in of his spirit and contemplating what he would do next led to the eventual confrontation. In light of any wrong or injustice I believe God shows us how to respond. Our righteous indignation must be met next by careful contemplation, which then opens the door to gracious confrontation.
I am going to stop here today and pick it up where I left off next week. Soli Deo Gloria!