Study Notes

Nehemiah 5:1-19


Last Thursday, we learned from Nehemiah chapter four that the enemies of the Jews mocked and discouraged them, even planning violent acts to get them to stop the work on the wall around Jerusalem. This gave us opportunity to be instructed on how to deal with enemies who oppose us as we're doing God's work.

This evening, we are in chapter five, where we are introduced to an entirely different problem facing the people of God. This time, the difficulty does not arise from without, but within.

5:1-5 An Outcry Against Brothers

It came to Nehemiah's attention that many of the Jews were crying out against other Jews. You see, some had taken advantage of the difficult financial times caused by the famine. They lent money at interest, which was in violation of the Law of God. The Lord had said,

Exod. 22:25-27 "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. If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear {him,} for I am gracious.

This was no obscure reference, but a theme which ran throughout the books of the Law.

Lev. 25:35-42 ‘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. 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. I 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. And if a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave's service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold {in} a slave sale.

Deut. 23:19-20 "You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, {or} anything that may be loaned at interest. You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countryman 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.

Not only had some of the Jews not supported one another in their poverty as was commanded, but they had taken advantage of their brothers by charging large amounts of interest. Then they seized their land when they couldn't pay, and even violated the Law further by taking their children as slaves in order to have these debts repaid.

5:6-10 Nehemiah Deals With The Problem

This is how Nehemiah responded to the problem being cried out against. And just as we learned about dealing with opposition from enemies in the last chapter, we now have the opportunity to learn about difficulties encountered from our own family, from other believers who are injuring or oppressing us by acting in their flesh.

Notice the four things that Nehemiah does, giving us an example to follow: 1) Consultation with himself; 2) Confrontation of offenders; 3) Correction with godly fear; and 4) Citation of practical examples. Let's look at these in some more detail.

1) Consultation With Yourself

As soon as Nehemiah heard the problem, he was obviously angry. He was outraged at how these Jews were treating each other. He was incensed that the people of God could violate the Law of God so blatantly.

And yet, he did not immediately act in his anger. He says that he first consulted with himself. In Hebrew, these are two words that deserve our attention. "Labe" means "Reign, advise, or counsel" and "Maw-LAK" is the "Heart, mind, or inner man." So Nehemiah is saying, "I advised myself, I took counsel in my mind, I reigned over my heart."

No doubt Nehemiah was familiar with the words of Solomon, who said,

Prov. 29:22 An angry man stirs up strife...

Nehemiah wanted to resolve the problem, not aggravate it. So he took counsel with himself, reigning over his heart.

2) Confrontation Of Offenders

Once his anger was under control, Nehemiah confronted the offenders. It was obvious they were in sin, and Nehemiah didn't try and be politically correct - he pointed it out. The word translated "contended" means "conducted a case against, or complained against" them. In other words, he rebuked those who were in sin.

This is how Jesus instructed us to deal with this kind of thing as well:

Matt. 18:15-17 "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen {to you,} take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.

3) Correction With Godly Fear

When they would not respond to Nehemiah's rebuke, he appealed to the fear of the Lord. Now some say that their God is not to be feared. "It's God's kindness that leads us to repentance," they quote. And it is true that God's kindness leads us to repentance. But when we read that verse in its context, we see that it also points to the fear of the Lord.

Rom. 2:3-4 And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same {yourself,} that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

The kindness that leads us to repentance is the kindness of God postponing His judgment, allowing us time to repent! Nehemiah asked them,

Neh. 5:9 "...should you not walk in the fear of our God...?"

It is often the fear of the Lord that causes us to walk in holiness. As Paul wrote,

2Cor. 7:1 ...let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

When someone is being rebuked for sin, but is hesitant to repent, it is because they do not fear God. The fear of the Lord will give them the wisdom they need to reverse course.

4) Citation Of Examples

Now maybe you've been in a situation like this before, when you should have brought sin to someone's attention, but you didn't. Sometimes it is because we are afraid of confrontation. But more often than not, it is because we are scared of something much worse. We are fearful that our own sin will be brought forth. We are frightened that the response will not be, "I'm sorry for my sin and I repent," but rather, "MY sin? You have the nerve to talk about MY sin? Let's examine YOUR life for a minute, you hypocrite!"

This is why it is vitally important to have two things present in your life: 1) Righteousness which is above reproach, and 2) Honesty when need to repent.

It is just like what Jesus exhorted:

Matt. 7:3-5 "And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

If you are not willing to recognize that you may have a sin problem, you are not qualified to rebuke others. However, if you are repentant and honest, then you are very much qualified to rebuke someone in sin.

These two things were present in Paul's life. He earnestly desired to be above reproach, and lived righteously to the best of his ability. But he was also honest about his failures.

Rom. 7:18-19 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good {is} not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.

Because of this, he was able to say, "Look at my example."

1Cor. 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Nehemiah said, "Guys, I know there's always the temptation to make money. But this is wrong. Follow my example - I'm lending to these poor folks at no interest."

It is important to be able to say, "I'm setting this example. Follow it." That's what Jesus did when He served the disciples by washing their feet.

John 13:12-14 And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined {at the table} again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for {so} I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

Jesus always lived out what He instructed people to do. He said "Love unconditionally," and He showed us. He said, "Serve faithfully," and He showed us. He said, "Pray continually," and He showed us. He always was an example.

5:11-13 The Sign Of Repentance

The people did not repent in word only. They repented in deed. They gave back what they had taken from their brethren. I look for change in action to indicate change of heart. After all, when Zaccheus repented, he said,

Luke 19:8 And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much."

When occultists in Ephesus repented, they...

Acts 19:19 ...brought their books together and {began} burning them in the sight of all...

When the Jews repented during the days of Jephthah,

Judg. 10:16 ...they put away the foreign gods from among them, and served the LORD...

Repentance is not just inward, but outward. It is a reversal, a change of behavior.

5:14-19 Appointed Governor

Nehemiah also lets us know that although he was entitled to certain benefits as the governor, he did not take them. To live in opulence while the common people starved would be truly sinful. That point is obvious at first reading of this passage. However, there is something else that's easy to miss, and yet is so vital a lesson: In verse 14, we find out that Nehemiah's position as governor began in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. This means that when the king sent him to oversee the rebuilding of the wall, he also appointed him as governor over all the land of Judah. But up until this point in the text, Nehemiah has not even mentioned this!

In all transparency and honesty, had I been in the same situation as Nehemiah, I would have undoubtedly mentioned that first, and repeated it often. You see, I like to be "somebody." I like to point out what makes me "important. In our flesh, many of us are name-droppers and glory-seekers. We want to be known for our accomplishments, and are very skilled at bragging while sounding like we're not. We are adept at saying things like, "Oh that... I just got that when the President dropped by the house the other day." Or, "That little thing? I got that when the United Nations named me earth's citizen of the century."

But as Christians, we should be bragging about Jesus, not ourselves.

1Cor. 1:31 ...just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."

Paul said that all of the accomplishments, all the bragging rights were gone.

Phil. 3:7-8 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

The Greek phrase rendered "counted as loss" is "Hayg-EH-om-ahee Dzay-MEE-ah," or "I command it to be damaged, I think of it as wiped out."

As we close tonight, I want to encourage you to stop thinking of yourself as somebody because of your accomplishments, your appearance, your financial position, your ranking in your career field, and all of the other things that people find their value and pride in. Instead, may your position be only, "I am a Christian. Jesus died for me, and that makes me so special - but no more special than anyone else on this earth."

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