Nehemiah Five

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.” 3 There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” 4 Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”

6 Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words. 7 I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. 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?” Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 Again I said, “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? 10 And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. 11 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.” 12 Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.

Nehemiah’s Example

14 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. 15 But the 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. 16 I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table one hundred and fifty Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 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. Yet for all this I did not demand the governor’s food allowance, because the servitude was heavy on this people. 19 Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

The Setting:  
             In the middle of attempting to complete God’s work, Nehemiah is confronted with opposition.  In the previous chapter, there were external influences that attempted to create fear within the ranks.  This chapter continues the story but from a different direction, his fellow Jews.  There are several conflicts from within the nation and the city, where certain members are pursuing their own profit at the cost of others.   Google defines Selfishness as:  adjective – (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.  I found a phrase that I kind of like – it was that certain things are “Like hemlock in the furrows”.  (Hosea 10:4closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'b)   Here are a few stories along that theme:

  • One would not expect to find poison in the furrows of the field. One would expect something edible such as green vegetables. Yet, God says that for His people, that which is poisonous is intermingled with that which is good.
  • Picture the child of the farmer playing in the field, thinking that he has found something to make a whistle with, cutting the stalk, placing it in his mouth, feeling horribly sick to his stomach and then dying. Hemlock in the furrows of the field!
  • Imagine a wife seeing what appears to be parsley growing amidst the corn and the wheat, deciding to garnish a salad. See her bringing it into the house, washing it, taking a leafy stalk to eat as she prepares the meal, bending over in pain, agony, and horror, crying in anguish. Hemlock in the furrows of the field!

Selfishness is that poison within a family or a church that can kill.  In this chapter we have an illustration of some of the work of poison and how to remove it from where it doesn’t belong.  There is a place for hemlock, and the roots have been used to make medicine, mainly for breathing problems such as bronchitis, whooping cough and asthma.  But obviously in very low doses and under the care of knowledgeable pharmacists.

Note the three problems that arose in Jerusalem, they were

  1. Hunger – verse 2
  2. Debt – verse 3
  3. Taxes – verse 4-5

Not many things have changed.  Along with those three problems, almost as if these are three different groups of problems for people, there is a fourth problem, but this is not those who have a problem, but those who are causing problems.  Wealthy Jewish leaders who are loaning out their money and demanding steep payments in return.  This is probably best called exploitation:  the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work, most often the rich over the poor.

So Nehemiah, who is attempting to both accomplish a task (build the wall) and keep the Jewish people united, does what a leader must do – He confronts the troublemakers.  Look at his process.

  1. First, he admits how he really feels about the situation.  I was very angry when I had heard their outcry.  Do you know that many people almost refuse to admit they are dealing with trouble to themselves?  Seems a no-brainer.  But if there is something that touches us deep down, we first must acknowledge that we are troubled by this.  Otherwise, how will we admit that there needs to be a change? 
  2. He consults with himself.  I consulted with myself.  This is another thing we don’t seem to do well.  To think things out and determine the best path.  For me, I react probably too quickly.  Others perhaps not at all, but Nehemiah discussing this, consults with himself.  How many times have we wished that we had “thought things through”?   Well, Nehemiah takes the time to do this.  It doesn’t say how he does this, and it would be great to know how he does this, but let me recommend this: consult with James 1:5closeJames 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (ESV) closeJames 1:5closeJames 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (ESV) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (ESV) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God,
  3. Then he contends with the source of this problem.  Nehemiah contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them.   He calls out the issue clearly so that other can see the destructive actions that are taking place.  He tells the nobles and the rulers.  Remember that during this time, Nehemiah was surrounded by people who wanted to kill him, to stop the progress on the rebuilding of the wall – do you think some of these nobles and rulers didn’t perhaps entertain the idea of handing Nehemiah over to the bad people from around the city who wanted him killed?  The next chapter tells us a little about that.
  4. He challenges the leaders to confront the truth of what they are doing – He states it clearly:  “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?”  We have liberated out brethren once from slavery, would we enslave them again to ourselves?  And their response was – well miraculous.  If what I know about Jews is true, this is a miracle:  Then they were silent and could not find a word to say.  Can I tell you something that still amazing me, and the fear is that I can guilty of the same thing – we tend to find offense with what others do and don’t see when we do the same thing.
  5. Nehemiah doesn’t say to stop loaning, but to stop the usury.  (Usury – is, as defined today, the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans that unfairly enrich the lender. Originally, usury meant interest of any kind. A loan may be considered usurious because of excessive or abusive interest rates or other factors.) Wikipedia.  I think in some cases, credit card interest could fall into this.  In the days of the Jews, what they used to do (and I remember this from Bible College days) was they put the interest up front but never on an annual basis.  So if you wanted to borrow $100, you owed $112 from the beginning and there was no accrued interest. 

The nobles and the rulers repented of their selfishness.  See their responses in Verse 12.  Seems to me to be a revival in the city of Jerusalem.  They said they would give it all back and they praised the Lord, and they followed through.

The last part of this passage is there to remind us that Nehemiah wasn’t working to improve the Jerusalem and improve his own personal riches.  He asked God to remember him for his sacrifices, and didn’t look to man to be reimbursed.  I think this is a very interesting lesson to put into perspective.  It is a lesson in the contrast between those who looked to get rich off the situation, and his refusal to have questionable motives. Worship seeks the pleasure of God over all else. Selfish people want to be noticed by people. Nehemiah wanted to be noticed only by God.

Illustrations this week

Quote from Davey:

I believe that frequently the worst enemy of the church is the church. The thing that often keeps the church from moving forward is the church. The thing that keeps the church from reaching the world is the world inside the church. The thing that keeps believers from growing in Christ is other believers who have not matured spiritually.

Absence of Selfishness: 

The story of Tim Forneris, the twenty-two year old computer analyst who works part time as groundskeeper for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was the one who retrieved Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run ball. Then, to the shock of the American culture, gave Mark McGwire the ball, instead of selling it to one collector who had offered one million dollars for the record setting home run baseball. It was mind boggling that someone would do that, instead of cashing in on his good fortune. In fact, one well known columnist called him, “honorable but rather foolish.”

Time magazine ran Tim’s response, which shed light on his perspective, According to the columnist, my first sin was the impulse decision to give the ball back to Mr. McGwire immediately. But my decision was, by no means, made on an impulse. I had thought over what I would do, if I got the home run ball, and discussed it with my family and friends. What influenced my actions were my family and my background. I have always been taught to respect others and their accomplishments. In my opinion, Mr. McGwire deserved not only the home run record for his work, but also the ball. Life is about more than just money. It is about family and friends. I believe some possessions are priceless. To put an economic value on Mr. McGwire’s hard work and dedication is absurd. And being able to return it to Mr. McGwire was an honor. I would not have traded that experience for one million dollars.

The origins of the Alaskan Dog Sled Race

Every year in Alaska a 1,000-mile dogsled race, run for prize money and prestige, commemorates an original “race” run to save lives. In January of 1925, a six-year-old boy showed symptoms of diphtheria, signaling the possibility of an outbreak in the small town of Nome. When the boy passed away a day later, Dr. Curtis Welch began immunizing children and adults with an experimental but effective anti-diphtheria serum. It wasn’t long before Dr. Welch’s supply ran out, and the nearest serum was in Nenana, Alaska—674 miles of frozen wilderness away. A group of trappers and prospectors volunteered to cover the distance with their dog teams. Operating in relays from trading post to trapping station and beyond, one sled started out from Nome while another, carrying the serum, started from Nenana. Oblivious to frostbite, fatigue, and exhaustion, the teamsters mushed relentlessly until, after 127 hours in minus 50-degree winds, the serum was delivered to Nome. As a result, only one other life was lost to the potential epidemic. Their sacrifice had given an entire town the gift of life and birthed a race to commemorate the sacrifice of those original dog sledders. 

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