About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. 2 They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.” 3 Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.” 4 And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. 5 We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.”
So far in our series “Building in the Battle” Nehemiah has deal with many different and difficult challenges, in fact we will see that in every chapter Nehemiah confronted a different challenge. Today we get upset when life gets difficult, we complain about the challenges because many of us are trying to pursue a problem free life instead of the provider of life. But the Christian life is a series of challenges, things don’t get easier they get more exciting. When it comes to problems, we need a proper perspective, difficulties are actually a platform from which God’s power can be displayed. Godly leaders don’t cower to the challenges or waste their words complaining about the challenges they confront them.
- In chapter one, Nehemiah was faced with a personal challenge. When he heard about the problems and the pain of what was happening in Jerusalem, he wept and pursued God in prayer. Instead of being calloused and uncaring he confronted the problem with compassion.
- In chapter two, his challenge was political. When the King asked him what he needed, he prayed a “popcorn prayer” and boldly made his requests.
- In chapter three, he confronted an administrative challenge by positioning the right workers in the right place for the right reasons.
- In chapter four, he dealt with both the external and internal challenges of doubt and discouragement. The workers were afraid of the enemies and convinced they couldn’t work anymore but Nehemiah rallied them by reminding them to fight for their families.
Now in chapter five, Nehemiah is faced with a far more deadly and destructive disease, the sickness of strife. This same community that didn’t cower to the external enemy is now crumbling internally, starting to self-destruct because of festering grievances as a result of selfishness. This new internal enemy that the workers face is harder to conquer than the external one. And the timing could not have been worse because the workers had just regained moral and momentum. It took a lot a lot of energy to get the stone rolling again after the last set back so to stop now would have been disastrous. Remember the first attempt to rebuild years before had ended in failure. It’s not just how we start but how we finish and many times we let the challenges of life cause us to quit. It’s here that we see first the:
- RubVs 1-5
Nehemiah had to put down his hard hat and turn his attention from the construction of the wall to the walls that were being put up between his workers. This internal conflict threatened to divide and destroy them. There’s a word in verse 1 that sets the tone for chapter 5 it’s the word, “against.” Strife was brewing, tension was mounting, and God’s people were locking horns with one another. The problem that they faced was something we have seen over and over again in this country after a natural disaster. After the storm is over, we catch a glimpse of the greed inside many people. While there are many who reached out to help, there are also those who see it as an opportunity to take advantage of those in need by price gouging and stealing. That’s really what was going on here, when Nehemiah arrived the city of Jerusalem was in ruins and people are powerless to help themselves. Taxes are high and because of a long drought there was a bad famine and Nehemiah understood that the biggest obstacle to working on the wall was debt. The same is true today money is what keeps many of us from ministry. You see money is a wonderful servant but a lousy master, either it will serve you or we will serve it. Romans 13:8 says, “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.” Nehemiah understood that in order for the people to effectively work for God they had to be free from the distraction of debt. You can’t serve two masters. Those in debt were living with the constant fear of losing their land, their homes and even their children. To confront this problem at great personal cost Nehemiah dipped into his own resources and began paying of peoples debts so they would be free to focus on God’s work and not worry. He spent an enormous amount of personal wealth to buy the people out of slavery and free them up to work on the wall. Jesus did the same thing spiritually, he bought us and brought us out of sin, so that we could serve the Father. Now while many had been working with all their hearts to build the walls there were those who chose to serve self and live for greed instead of God. The wealthy Jews in Jerusalem saw this as a business opportunity for themselves. They thought if we can get our fellow Jews indebted to us then Nehemiah will pay off the debt and we have a guarantee that our loans are going to be paid off. The wealthy were making loans with exorbitant interest rates and taking land and even children as collateral. Families had to choose between starvation and servitude. What about you what are you living for? Are you serving the Savior with the goal of seeing people set free, or trying to take advantage of others as you serve self? Is debt making you a slave to money or are you a servant of the Master?