Lord's Day Evening Meditations April 27, 2003

Nehemiah 5

Internal Troubles

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 not loveable.

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.