Have you ever been in a position where you have individually had to challenge some wrong-doing by a large group? How did you feel at the time: nervous or confident? Most of the time, we might feel nervous about doing so, but Nehemiah faces this latest challenge with unruffled confidence and authority. V.3 tells us that there was – not unusually – a famine going on. Although most people had their own small patch of land, they had been forced to sell or mortgage them in order to buy grain in the short term. Others had resorted to borrowing money. With a famine underway, they had no other way to feed themselves and their families, or to pay taxes. Thus began a spiral of despair, with families sinking deeper into debt. It’s a horrible situation which is still perpetuated in our country today.

 

To make this worse, the money lenders, nobles of Jerusalem who were their fellow Jews, were charging interest as well. This practice was forbidden under Jewish law (Exodus 22.25). Nehemiah was unafraid to tackle these money lenders head on. Verses 7–13 give an account of him doing this in a calm but assured and authoritative manner: note the confidence and authority coming from his relationship with God, his understanding of the law and the situation, and his thought-out response.

 

Nehemiah continues, and expands on his own previous experiences as a regional governor for King Ataxerxes. Each governor had a food allowance. He indicates that those before him took their allowance plus more. However, Nehemiah refused any opportunities to abuse his position and went further, not taking the allowance which he was due. Whilst this passage may appear a little boastful on the part of Nehemiah, he is demonstrating that with a relationship with God it is possible to avoid such temptations and abuses of power, and to go even further. He was not prepared to compromise his principles for personal gain. He led by personal example and in modern terms we would say he “walked the talk”.

 

Nehemiah’s authority and integrity meant that he was able to direct the completion of the wall project. The physical works complete, he then moved on to restoring the people. Fairness towards the poor, oppressed and marginalised is central to following God. Nehemiah recognised this, and it is something which we sometimes need to reawaken in parts of the Christian church today.

 

 

 

 

 

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What is our own reaction to the alien, the fatherless and the widow? Spend some time praying about justice for the poor and oppressed. Pray that we (both individually and corporately) will be part of the solution, and not the cause.

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