About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

Home Page

This Chapter - Chapter 5

Previous Section - Chapter 4

Next Section - Chapter 6

Nehemiah Helps The Poor (ch. 5:1 - 19)               


In verse 1 we see another form of discontent among the Jews.  In the last chapter their discontent was based on weariness of heart, mind and body, but in this chapter there is a more serious problem.  We learn here in verse 1 that there arose "a major outcry" among the Jews. 


In verse 2 we see one complaint was over eating.  They needed grain to eat and they weren't getting it.  With all of the time and effort everyone was placing on building the wall, other things, including proper food, were being neglected.  Apparently they were running into food shortages. 


In verse 3 we see another complaint.  They were "mortgaging their crops and homes during the famine."  So here we learn something else that we haven't seen as yet.  There was some sort of famine going on in the area.  You would think that a famine would be reasonable cause not to build the wall in the first place, but obviously Nehemiah didn't think that.  That tells us that doing God's will comes before everything.   We don't put His will on hold because of a major thing like a famine.  We don't stop giving because we don't have much money either. These people were actually borrowing money to stay alive during the rebuilding of the wall.  They were borrowing against their livelihood and their own homes just to eat.   And if all this failed, that would mean they'd lose what they needed to live from and live in.  They'd then wonder if the building project was really worth it.  What's more important, food on the table, or the will of God?


In verse 4 we see another complaint.  It wasn't just for food that they had to mortgage their livelihood and houses for.  They had to borrow money to pay taxes.  If you and I had to borrow money from the same bank we have our mortgage from just to pay property taxes, some might say that we can't afford to live in the house.


Verse 5 tells us how bad things had actually gotten.  Some people had defaulted on their loans and so some of their daughters were actually sold into slavery for payment.  Now that's pretty bad, especially in light of the fact that the whole project only took 52 days.  Couldn't these creditors hold on a bit longer?  It would make you wonder where God was.  It would make you wonder if the building project really was God's will in the first place. 


We know that it only took 52 days to build the wall.  That's not too long.  So this tells us something.  It tells us that the famine had already been in progress before the wall building began.  It means that they started this major project in a time when the Jews were already facing financial and food problems.  I don't think they would have gotten into such bad shape just during these 52 days.  What a time to try to implement the will of God.  Again, it would make you wonder if this building project really was the will of God.  Why would God tell these people to do such a thing when they were in such a bad economic condition?  Either they heard wrong, or God isn't thinking right, and we know that God always thinks right. God doesn't always ask us to do things that make sense to us.  This was clearly the will of God.


In verse 6 we learn that when Nehemiah heard these things he was very angry.  Why was he angry?  Why wasn't he sad and upset with this poverty?


Verse 7 gives us the answer to the above question.  Nehemiah was very angry at the noble men of Israel, the financial leaders.  It was them who people were mortgaging their homes and livelihood to.  Their fellow Jews were taking advantage of them, to the extent that the children of these poor Jews were becoming slaves of the rich people as payment for their debt.  Such usury was against the Law of Moses, and against any common sense of decency.  Jews were enslaving Jews.


In verses 6 and 7 Nehemiah called a meeting of the people to deal with this problem. He told them that the Jews were once put in slavery to Babylon.  After 70 years of slavery they were released to be free and return to Judah.  And now rich Jews were enslaving their own people who had been set free.  To Nehemiah this made no sense.  How and why would those who had been enslaved by Babylon now be enslaved to their own people.  We do need to realize here that those who were being bought and sold in Nehemiah's day were not the actual ones who were enslaved by the Babylonians.  It would have been their grandchildren or great grandchildren.  Still the idea is right.  The seventy years of Babylonian captivity wasn't that far in the past.  The Jewish nobles should have had more concern for their own poor.  Such is the fate of humanity.


This should also speak to Christians today.  We need to look after each other.  No Christian should go hungry in our world.   The church should look after its own but often can't because of budgetary expenses such as buildings and high salaries.


In verse 9 Nehemiah actually suggests that these nobles, probably the same nobles that weren't helping with the wall, were not reverencing their God by their actions.  They were actually disgracing God and giving Him and His people a bad name.  The Gentiles would see this and shake their heads at the Jews for not practicing what their religion preaches.  In like manner the world shakes its head at the church for the way we treat each other.   Jesus specifically told us that all men would know that we are His disciples if we love one another.  This is one real reason why the world around us doesn't know Jesus.  They don't see a living expression of His love in His people.


We learn something of Nehemiah in verse 10.  We learn that he and his men are also lending money to his poor brothers, but he isn't charging them interest as the nobles are.  He isn't demanding their daughters to be slaves.  Nehemiah had no problem with lending and borrowing.  His problem was with the interest and the excessive demands of the nobles.  He said that this usury had to stop. 


In verse 11 Nehemiah demands that all the money, houses, and livelihood that was lent to the nobles be given back.  They were to keep nothing. 


Surprisingly enough, in verse 12 we see the nobles agreed.  You would have thought that they would put up a fight, but it is clear that Nehemiah spoke the word of the Lord to these men and they understood their sin.  They gave everything back. 


Also in verse 12 we see that Nehemiah called the priests together and made the nobles take an oath.  Nehemiah did not want them to change their mind.  The oath was a type of contract, a covenant.  This binding oath would make their decision to return everything to the borrower a legal contract.


In verse 13 Nehemiah shook the dust from his coat.  This was a symbolic gesture to say that if any of the nobles acted contrary to what they agreed to, God would shake them to such a degree that they would have nothing left.  We often see men of God demonstrating the word of the Lord with such actions.


We learn many things about Nehemiah in what he says in this book.  Another thing we learn is that he was not a prophet so to speak, but he did speak the word of God as prophets do.  The same applies to us today.  We are not all prophets, but we should be anointed by the Holy Spirit that enables us to speak prophetically when the need arises.


Verse 14 tells us something we didn't learn in chapter 1 verse 1.  In Nehemiah 1:1 we learned that it was the twentieth year of Artaxerxes' rule that Nehemiah had permission to leave and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  Well, in verse 14 we learn that at that time Nehemiah was actually given the responsibility of being governor over Judah.  When he arrived in Jerusalem, he did not simply arrive as an ordinary man, but as governor.  This is one reason why people followed his lead.  This would also be another reason why the nobles submitted to his decision to return the houses, children and livelihood back to the poor.  This is also another reason why the leaders in surrounding territories felt threatened by Nehemiah.


Also in verse 14 we learned that Nehemiah and his staff did not eat the food that was due to him as a governor.  He ate as an ordinary man.  Although the governors offices provided special perks, Nehemiah took none of these perks and he did not allow his staff any of them either.  Too often Christian leadership lives in a much higher economic place than the people they are to serve.  I don't believe this should be.  I believe they should live at the same level as those they serve. 


Verse 15 shows us how humble Nehemiah was.  If he had lived in New Testament times, he would have been following the ways of Jesus.  He reminded the people that he was not like previous governors who taxed the people and demanded much from them.  These previous governors and their assistants "lorded it over" the Jews, that is fellow Jews lording it over other fellow Jews.  Jesus clearly stated that the kings of the Gentiles lord it over their people but this was not to be the way leaders in the Kingdom of God should act.  It sad to say, but this has not always been the case over the centuries.  Christian leaders have often lorded it over their people, placing themselves on a pedestal that shouldn't be. 


Nehemiah was a servant leader, just as Jesus Himself was while He was on earth, just as Christian leaders today should be.  This is why Nehemiah has been taught to Christian leaders so much over the years.  He is a prime example of how a leader should be. We will have our time to rule, but that is for the thousand years of Christ's rule on earth and then into eternity.  Until then, we are to serve as Jesus served while He was on earth.


Also in verse 15 Nehemiah said that he did not act as  a dictator over God's people because he reverenced  God.   It was the fear of God that made him be the leader that he was.  This tells me that those Christian leaders today that act in a dictatorial and proud way do not have the fear of God.  It is the fear of God that makes one act humbly before his God. 


In verse 16 we learn that instead of living "high off the hog" so to speak, Nehemiah and his men worked as ordinary men building the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah specifically said that he did not acquire any land during this time period.  While the nobles were taking advantage of the poor by taking their homes and livelihood, their governor acquired no land at all.  He was too busy working at the will of God, something many of these nobles didn't do.   Nehemiah places the will of God over everything, even over economic prosperity.  This is something that those in the Prosperity Movement should understand.


Verses 17 and 18 basically state that all the Jews from Jerusalem and from the surrounding area who ate with him did not eat fancy meals.  They only ate the basics, which included several types of wine.  Note that Nehemiah drank "several types of wine."  He obviously had no problem drinking wine of all kinds.  Of course he would have been used to drinking all kinds of wines as he was the king's cup bearer.  He was most likely an expert of wines. 


The reason why Nehemiah lived so humbly as he did was twofold.  One reason we've already seen, and that was because he feared God.  The other was because he did not want to put a heavy burden on his people.  Those in leadership are not there for themselves or for their own prestige and power.  They are there to serve and care for those God has called them too.  Leaders are to uphold people, not burden them down. We all need to learn this lesson.


Verse 19 is a simple prayer.  Nehemiah closes his talk to the people with a simple prayer.  He says, "remember me with favour, O my God, for all I have done for these people."  I'm sure God would remember Nehemiah for his service to God's people, and God will remember those today who serve in the same way Nehemiah served.  Leadership is all about serving.  It's about nothing else.

Next Section - Chapter 6

Previous Section - Chapter 4

Home Page