Soap Opera’s are a daily routine in some homes. Their story line usually goes something like this: “Grandpa was shot by his best friend, Joe. Aunt Lucy was hit by a train, Cousin Mary, who is pregnant with her 15th child is divorcing her tenth husband. Brother Bob, the family drug addict is in a care facility trying to dry out, and poor Uncle Jack has two broken legs and a fractured skull from a fall when he was robbing a liquor store. Grandma got run over by a reindeer, then tragedy struck! If they didn’t have bad luck they would have no luck at all!
I know that sounds a bit exaggerated, but sometimes it seems that our lives are just one big crisis!
Well, with Nehemiah and his band of builders, it’s just one crisis after another, and these are real! Up until now all of his challenges have come from those outside of Israel. Now he encounters one of the most difficult and intense problems every spiritual leader must face, problems from within.
In the first six chapters of the book we find an interesting distribution of the material. One chapter is given to Nehemiah’s reaction to the crisis. One chapter is given to his audience with the king, his trip to Jerusalem, and his inspection of the wall. One chapter is dedicated to the plans for the rebuilding of the wall. Then three entire chapters are given to the opposition he encountered while he was building and how he dealt with them. That may give some indication of the importance of dealing with opposition.
It requires very little effort to accomplish a task with no opposition. It takes a real leader to succeed when faced with resistance.
“No test of leadership is more revealing than the test of opposition. Christian leaders can go to pieces under such pressure. Some are too discouraged to continue. Others build walls around them and shoot murderously from behind them. They become embattled, embittered and vindictive, (This has been my modus operandi). Not so with Nehemiah! Nowhere does his leadership shine more brilliantly than in his handling of opposition.” –John White, Excellence in Leadership, Reaching Goals with Prayer, Courage and Determination.”
In chapter 4, Nehemiah faced two common forms of opposition: ridicule and the threat of violence. Now a new form of resistance erupts from an unexpected source…The first two forms had been from the enemies of God, now he is faced with the misconduct of his own people.
It never fails that when everything in the church is going well, when we have fought to hold off the enemy from without, those unbelievers who do not share our faith or our vision, when somebody in the church gets out of sorts, and causes trouble.
Who is to blame for much of the opposition in Christian work today?
•It is not the Federal Government passing laws unfavorable to God’s work.
•it is not local city counsel’s, and city attorney’s who treat the church like a cancerous growth on their city, with their opposition to manger scenes, crosses, building projects, et al.
•It is not the ACLU with its radical policies regarding the separation of church and state.
•The greatest opposition comes from uncommitted, backslidden, disgruntled church members who do not understand the work of God or the Word of God. Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and it is us.”
I. A loud complaint (5:1-5).
•Some had large families and couldn’t afford to feed them (Verse 2).
•Some owned property and had to mortgage their homes just to get enough money on which to live (Verse 3).
•Others were heavily in debt, paying taxes and unable to pay their bills (Verses 4,5).
And there were legitimate reasons for their complaints:
•There was a famine in the land (Verse 3).
•There were excessive taxes extorted by King Artaxerxes.
•The high interest rates charged by their own Jewish brethren, caused them to be forced to sell their children and themselves into slavery as payment for exorbitant interest rates. Their Jewish creditors were taking land for payment, and when they ran out of land they took their children.
This project came closer to shutting down the project than all of the threats and criticism from outside.
II. Nehemiah’s response (5:6-11).
It’s interesting to note that he doesn’t pray about this problem! There are some things about which we Christians do not pray. If God’s word commands us, we obey God! There is no need to ask God if we are to do something He commands us to do. We don’t pray, we obey God! When God’s word tells the believer to do anything, he just does it! We could pray, “God give me the strength to obey your Word.”
Nehemiah gets angry! “And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words” (Verse 6).
When his brother brings him the distressing news from Jerusalem: “The wall is broken down and the people are in reproach,” he doesn’t get mad. When he goes before the king, he is very sad, but he’s not mad. When he travels to Jerusalem and then inspects the wall, he weeps, but he is not angry. When he is ridiculed by Sanballat and Tobiah, he prays so he won’t get angry! When they were attacked, he arms the workers, prays and holds a weapon in one hand while he works.
nehemaih shows us that there is a time for anger! Some commentaries dance around Nehemiah’s anger. I guess they feel that anger is wrong. Is it really wrong? No! It’s not wrong, but there are rules for anger. Ephesians 4:26,27 MSG, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.”
Thee words for anger in the New Testament are: 1) Theumos, boiling fury, going up in smoke. “I just blow up, then it’s over!” Just like a shotgun, not realizing the havoc you leave after the blast. 2) Paragasmos, resentment, inside fuming, seething, a root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15), hidden hostility. 3) Orge,’ A settled, conviction kind of anger. This can be good or bad depending on the motive.
Three rules for anger in Ephesians 4:2,27: 1) Do not sin. When you can be angry and be free of injured pride. Spite, malice, animosity and a spirit of revenge, it’s okay to be angry. 2) Keep short accounts, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” Do not hold a grudge. Do not allow smoldering embers to explode into a flame. Settle it quickly. Keep short accounts. 3) Don’t give Satan a foothold in your life.
5:6, Nehemiah says, “And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.” It’s interesting to note that Nehemiah became “very angry.” But he didn’t take immediate action, he thought it through (a good lesson for all of us).
5:7, says, “After serious thought…” I like the way the KJV puts it: “Then I consulted with myself…” The New English Bible puts it this way: “I mastered my feelings.” The Hebrew literally means, “My heart consulted within me.” Instead of just “going off” on the people in the heat of the moment, Nehemiah paused, took a deep breath and thought about it for a while. He did what Proverbs 16:32 challenges us to do: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
When those who profess to know God, to live according to His Word and by His standards compromise those standards by their actions, other believers have a right to be righteously indignant!
What action did Nehemiah take? (Verses 7-11)
“After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them” (Verse 7). He undoubtedly reminded them of the four principles found in Leviticus 25:35-40: 1) It is not wrong to lend money to a non-Jew and charge interest. 2) I is not wrong to lend money to a Jew. 3) It is wrong to demand interest from a Jew. And 4) It is wrong to enslave another Jew.
So you do not have speculate as to why Nehemiah got angry. The nobles and rulers knowingly ignored or disobeyed God’s Word. “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest” (Exodus 22:25).
He rebuked them. “so after thinking about it I spoke out against these rich government officials. ‘What is this you are doing?’ I demanded. ‘How dare you demand a mortgage as a condition for helping another Israelite!
He called an assembly. “Then I called a public trial to deal with them.’” (Verse 7 TLB). “At the trial I shouted at them, ‘The rest of us are doing all we can to help our Jewish brothers who have returned from exile as slaves in distant lands, but you are forcing them right back into slavery again. How often must we redeem them?’ And they had nothing to say in their own defense. Then I pressed further. ‘What you are doing is very evil,’ I exclaimed. ‘Should you not walk in the fear of our God? Don’t we have enough enemies among the nations around us who are trying to destroy us? The rest of us are lending money and grain to our fellow Jews without any interest. I beg you, gentlemen, stop this business of usury. Restore their fields, vineyards, olive yards, and homes to them this very day and drop your claims against them.’ So they agreed to do it” (Verse 8,9 TLB).
Do you think this issue was important to Nehemiah? He stopped the work to deal with it. Why? God is not going to continue to bless a people who are disobedient to Him. It was affecting the whole project.
Here’s are the principles: What good is it to build a wall, if people inside the wall are exploiting each other? What good is it seek God’s blessings on rebuilding His city if the people refuse to live according to His Word?
What good is it to build great Evangelical institutions, constructing our walls against the evil of the opposing secular world, if within the walls the so-called people of God are indistinguishable from those on the outside? What good is it to preserve a separate Christian identity, if other Christians behave like unbelievers. Perhaps the church should stop asking the world to repent until the church repents. “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God…”(1 Peter 4:17).
III. Nehemiah succeeded (5:12-19)
What were the ingredients of his success?
•He had his priorities right. He set the example. He had more regard for God’s work than for his own comfort, “Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions” (Verse 14).
•He had more interest in God’s work than in traditions. “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. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God” (Verse 15).
•He feared God, “Because of the fear of God” (Verse 15).
•He did not let up in the work God had called him to do, “I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land” (Verse 16). There was no place to stop until the job was finished.
•He would not allow the few to oppress the many.
•He sacrificed his own ability to prosper. He did not purchase land. “Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land” (Verse 16).
•He used his own money to help people (Verses 16-18).
•He regarded God’s favor more than the praise of men, “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Verse 19).
Who among us can offer a prayer like Nehemiah? Those who have served God and God’s people unselfishly, with considerable sacrifice of time, effort, money, ease and strength
When may we offer such a prayer? When we expect no reward from men. When we feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and bring hope to people without hope. “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Verse 19).
Listen to Jesus: “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” Then these righteous ones will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:35-40).
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also the New Living Translation (NLT); The Message (MSG); The Amplified Bible (AMP); and The Living Bible (TLB).