Lord's Day Evening Meditations April
Nehemiah chapter 5 is a parenthesis between chapters
4 and 6. Chapter 3 described the workers, chapter 4 described
the activity of the enemy and the measures taken to resist them,
and chapter 6 continues with the work of building the wall. Chapter
5 has nothing about wall-building. It shows us a condition that
existed among the Jewish remnant - a state of things that was
not right. The Word of God shows us things as they are, even when
it is His faithful ones. The only perfect example is the Lord
Himself. His people have their weak points and their strong points;
they have their faith and their failures. We can relate to that,
and it is all written for our learning.
The enemies' anger burned as they saw the walls
of Jerusalem being repaired, and they threatened to attack. Inside
the city the people prepared to meet this with swords ready, with
double watchfulness, and ears open to hear the sound of the trumpet.
The danger that threatened them from outside did them good! If
we, likewise, were to be threatened with persecution from the
world, it would draw us closer together, and unite us in stronger
love and faith, realizing how much we need each other. Chapter
5 shows us internal troubles amongst the people building the wall.
It is when trouble starts on the inside that an assembly starts
to fall apart. I remember my father telling me about an assembly
in our area, years ago, that disintegrated and disappeared. The
trouble started with an argument over 25 cents. In the case before
us, Nehemiah's faithfulness and good example served to correct
the situation so that it didn't continue.
So, what was the problem? The company of Jews at
Jerusalem had become divided into two parts: "the nobles
and the rulers," and the poorer, ordinary people. The
first group was wealthy, and the second quite poor. This division
in itself was wrong, but what was worse was that the rich were
taking advantage of their poorer brethren to gain yet more wealth.
The poor Jews were struggling to get enough food to feed their
families. v. 2. There had been a famine which had made things
even more difficult. v. 3. Another burden that weighed on them
was that they had to pay "the king's tribute,"
but they didn't have money for this either. v. 4. The poor were
forced to borrow money from their richer brethren, and these were
taking advantage of them, charging a high rate of interest, holding
the property of the borrower as security, and even buying their
children as slaves!
What behaviour this was, going on even among "brethren"!
This was the sin of covetousness among the rich, but it was also
the sin of disobedience, for God's law to His people said, "If
thou lend money to any of My people that is poor by thee, thou
shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon
him usury (interest)" Exod. 22:25. Small wonder, then,
that Nehemiah says, "I was very angry when I heard their
cry and these words." v. 6. He immediately took up
the matter with the nobles and rulers and rebuked them for their
evil practices. He said, "We after our ability have redeemed
our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will
ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us?"
The Jews who were still in Babylon were doing what they could
to deliver their brethren from slavery, whilst the Jews in Jerusalem
were making slaves of them! The Jewish remnant in Jerusalem had
returned to God's city and center, which was right. They had taken
a right position, but they were doing worse than the Jews who
were still in a wrong one!
Do you remember how Ezra was disappointed when
he found that the remnant which had returned before him was in
a very bad spiritual condition? Likewise here, Nehemiah is very
angry to find such heartless behaviour going on among those who
had taken a right position before God. And the thing has repeated
itself amongst the Lord's people in our time. Someone newly saved,
and in the freshness of first love, comes to an assembly gathered
to the Lord's name. He or she expects to find real growth in all
spiritual virtues in those that have been saved for some time.
The result has often been disappointing. Instead of finding love,
holiness, and spiritual unity, they find much that is the opposite
of this. It is sad to say that, often those who know nothing about
gathering to the Lord's Name with the Lord in the midst, are more
faithful to the light they have, and have more enjoyment of the
Lord, than those who gather around Himself. The reminder of these
things is not to discourage, but rather to encourage us to draw
closer to our Lord and to one another.
Nehemiah took up the matter with the guilty ones,
and exhorted and warned them. What were his motives for wanting
to be right himself, and to have the Lord's people right also?
There are three motives that stand out:
1. The fear of God
2. Love for the Lord's people
3. Concern for the testimony
1."Ought ye not to walk in the fear of
our God?" v. 9. "So did not I, because of
the fear of God." v. 15. The fear of God is a very
healthy thing. Paul wrote of the heathen, "There is no
fear of God before their eyes," and so they can commit
any crime without conscience. Job said, "The fear of
the Lord, that is wisdom." The fear of God for us,
as His children, is not like the fear of a monster waiting to
strike us. No, it is that very high respect that we owe to One
Who loves us with a love that is beyond understanding - the One
Who loves us so much that we are afraid to do anything that might
displease or wound His heart.
2. When the nobles and rulers oppressed their poorer
brethren they were showing only love for themselves. All the way
through we have seen how Nehemiah loved his brethren. How much
more should we love our brethren in this time when it has been
revealed that "God is love." Natural love
needs an object to draw it out, and even with an object, it can
break down. Divine love goes out of its own accord: "For
God so loved the world," when the world was certainly
not loveable. Paul wrote, "The Son of God Who loved me,"
knowing that when the Lord first loved him, he was a hateful persecutor
of believers. It is this divine love that the Lord has put into
our hearts and which should flow from us to others. The test of
divine love in our hearts is to be able to love those who are
3. Nehemiah felt very much "The reproach
of the heathen our enemies." v. 9. Small wonder that
the nations around despised the Jews when they saw them acting
like this amongst themselves! How important it is to consider
our behaviour because of our responsibility to "shine
as lights in the world," both individually and collectively!
The nations despised the Jews because of their inconsistencies,
and in doing this they also despised the God of Israel. When believers
are inconsistent in their walk and testimony, they bring reproach
on themselves; but, what is more serious, they bring reproach
on the Lord as well. We might deserve reproach, but He doesn't!
You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day,
By things that you do, and words that you say.
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true;
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
In the last part of the chapter Nehemiah describes
his behaviour during the 12 years that he was governor in the
land of Judah. Previous governors had depended on the people,
and Nehemiah also had full right to collect "the bread
of the governor," that is, to require the people to
support him. But even though it would not have been wrong to do
so, he denied himself this right "because of the fear
of God," and "because the bondage was heavy
upon this people." This is an admirable example of
faith and of self-denial for the sake of those he loved, all the
time showing generous hospitality to many. v. 17. The last verse
is a prayer, showing how Nehemiah always walked before the Lord.
May He help us to do likewise. S.L.