Scripture reading – Nehemiah 5

The task of rebuilding the walls and setting the gates had been an all-consuming mission for Nehemiah. Unfortunately, his effort to restore the walls of Jerusalem invited immense opposition from enemies who used it as an opportunity to openly mock, ridicule, and oppose him (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:1, 7-8).

In today’s Scripture, Nehemiah encountered a crisis caused by unprincipled men who abused their privilege – men who failed to show compassion, and failed to observe the laws God initiated regarding the poor.

Nehemiah 5

Poverty was prevalent in the land, and many borrowed to make ends meet (5:1-2). It came to Nehemiah’s attention that many had mortgaged their houses and fields to feed their families. Adding to their financial hardships was a tax assessment that was due the king on their lands and vineyards (5:4). Wealthy lenders, giving no regard to their brethren, began to foreclose on their debtors’ properties. Those unscrupulous men went so far as to enslave the sons and daughters of those who could not pay their debts (5:1-5).

Learning of the abuses, Nehemiah became indignant that the wealthy oppressed the poor and were breaking God’s Law (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Leviticus 25:35-37). He publicly rebuked those men, and charged them with exacting “usury” (5:7-13). (The rich had charged exorbitant rates of interest, making it impossible for debtors to repay their creditors.)

Nehemiah reminded the wealthy he had authority to “exact of them money and corn,” yet, he had not exercised his right. He charged them, “leave off this usury” (5:10), and warned God would judge them harshly for oppressing the people. Fortunately, the crisis ended when the elders agreed to release the people of their debts, and restore all they had taken unlawfully (5:11-13).

Closing thoughts (5:14-19) – The concluding verses of today’s Scripture reading record that 12 years were passed since Nehemiah became governor of Judah, and began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (5:14). Unlike the governors before him, Nehemiah had not taken advantage of his office. He refused to burden the people with the needs of his household, lest he sacrifice God’s blessings (5:15). Though he had authority to require the people provide food for his table (5:17), he had not done so “because of the fear of God” (5:15).

Nehemiah knew what it meant to fear, revere, and please God. He was confident the LORD honors those who faithfully labor and do His will. So, Nehemiah prayed, “Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (5:19).

Nehemiah is as a great model of servant leadership for all believers. In a world dominated by self-serving leaders, we would do well to remember God is judge, and we should fear and revere Him.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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