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Nehemiah Responds to the Internal Opposition - Nehemiah 5:1-13

Posted on February 24, 2019

Nehemiah’s Response to Internal Opposition

Nehemiah 5:1-13

Scripture Reading

Nehemiah 5:1-6

Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And 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 as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.” 6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.

Introduction: LIFE IN OPPOSITION - When I was young, we used to go camping up at the Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park. I think it was the campground at the highest altitude, and we liked it because it wasn’t always as crowded as the lower campgrounds. Now, I always thought the campground was named after some Native American tent pole. It was much later that I discovered it was named after a type of pine tree.

Now, the lodgepole pine is specifically created by God for opposition. Its pine cones are not easy to break to let animals and birds gather the seeds as with some of the other pine cones. Do you know when its seeds come out? They come out under extreme heat. My cousin Don and I used to love to sneak pine cones into the fire so they would pop and make people jump.

But notice the real significance here. Lodgepole pines are designed by God, the intelligent designer, to reseed the forest after a fire. The seeds are dormant until they are needed after a crisis. The OPPOSITION of the extreme heat brings about the release of the life-giving seeds so that the reforesting can begin.

Conflict as we have said before is inevitable and can be used for good.

  • Resistance on a bike
  • Resistance bands
  • Training for an athletic event
  • Relational difficulties can draw people closer with good communication and good conflict resolution

Purpose: Every Christ follower must learn to deal with the constant discouragement of close friends opposing God’s work.

Transition: This morning we see the toughest type of opposition to face. Conflict and complaints from those you are serving and attempting to improve their lives. Always puzzling to me.

Nehemiah Listens to the Injustices of his People – Nehemiah 5:1-6

  • Grievance #1 – Food Shortage

Nehemiah 5:1-2

Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.”

  • In the last chapter, Nehemiah encourages them for the great job they are doing
  • He reminds them of the great God they serve
  • Now he hears a great outcry from his people
    • It was so desperate and oppressive a situation, the wives even spoke up when normally they would be silent and let the men do the talking
  • The hardest criticism for me comes from those you love the most
    • Why is it we tend to be the hardest on the ones we are closest to?
    • It’s true with our spouses and kids, it is true with teachers and the kids in the classroom, employers and employees and sadly even in the church.
  • There are times churches need to have some hard discussions no doubt.
    • We need though to be reminded that the mission field is to be outside of the church and not inside with God’s people
  • Nehemiah is hearing about a food shortage among the people
    • Because the people were building the walls, they did not have time to take care of their crops but yet they needed the food from the crops to stay alive
    • Grievance #2 – Unfair Mortgages

Nehemiah 5:3

 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.”

  • While the people of Israel faced a famine, others had grain and to buy it for families to survive they were forced to mortgage their property
  • If it wasn’t bad enough that they had to go to the rich Jewish people to mortgage their property out of desperation, they were being charged an exorbitant rate.
  • Grievance #3 – Usury

Nehemiah 5:4

4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards.

  • Usury – the practice of lending money at an exorbitant rate
  • They also borrowed money from their Jewish brothers to pay the high rate of the King’s tax
  • The taxes we pay in our country is designed to serve the people with military defense, infrastructure, other governmental services
  • The taxes back then went straight to the king for his use and provision for himself. It was for the benefit of himself and not for the people
  • God commanded that the Jews would not charge interest on their fellow Jew

Deuteronomy 23:19-20

19 “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

  • God also commanded that every fifty years be the year of Jubilee in Leviticus.
    • At the year of Jubilee, all debts were forgiven, slaves were freed and given resources and all land restored to the original owners
      • One of the purposes was the opportunity to balance the economic system.
      • Second, this helped bridge the equity gap between the poor and the rich. It was to even the playing field and give opportunity for those who were down and out
      • Grievance #4 – Enslavement of the Jewish people
        • To repay their creditors the Jews had to sell their children into slavery

Nehemiah 5:5-6

5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.” 6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.

  • Exodus and Deuteronomy both talk about slaves and how they are to be treated. Six years they serve, then on the seventh year they are released and if they choose to stay with their master, his ear is pierced to symbolize that he is a “free slave”.
  • Notice in verse 6, Nehemiah’s personal response
    • He is experiencing two different kinds of trouble on two different fronts.
      • External and Internal opposition
      • The work also is hard and tedious. They are exhausted
      • The morale of the people is low as evidenced by this outcry for help
      • Nehemiah is fed up and frustrated. He is filled with righteous anger
        • The nobles and officials of Jerusalem who should have been the most compassionate of people toward their own people were selfishly taking advantage of them on many levels.
        • There is something about raw power that corrupts.
        • But remember, Nehemiah is not a politician
          • He did not ask his leaders what was the popular thing to do?
          • He did not ask what is politically correct
          • He did not ask what was safe?
          • Instead, he always came back to what did God want? What was the righteous thing to do?
            • Moses’ – Exodus 32 – broke the Ten Commandments
            • Jesus – temple cleansing
            • There are times it is right for us to be angry and upset
              • Abortion
              • Injustices in our society
                • Racism
                • Unfair sentencing / Two – tier justice system
                • Child abuse
                • Domestic Violence
                • Sex Trafficking
            • Do we take the time to think of the needs of those who cannot speak for themselves? What are we doing to prevent injustices or correct injustices?

Illustration: Incredible perseverance paid off for a team from the International Justice Mission in Cebu, Philippines. After an eight-year legal struggle, two traffickers were finally brought to justice.

The difficult case began in 2008, when a teenage girl and two young women were recruited and ferried to work at a brothel on an island far from their home. When they arrived and realized they had been trapped and would be forced to provide sexual services to customers, they escaped.

 

International Justice Mission, a Christian organization founded on God's Word and the power of prayer, offered aftercare services to help the two girls settle back into the rhythms of life in freedom, and took up what would turn out to be nearly a decade-long battle for justice. As the case moved to trial, it highlighted what was broken in the justice system. Hearings were frequently cancelled when a key party—the judge, the defense counsel, a witness—failed to show up. The courts were backlogged, and hearings would be rescheduled three or four months apart.

The trial was painstakingly slow, but IJM social workers were encouraged by the progress they saw in the lives of the two young women. After spending time in aftercare homes for sex trafficking survivors, both young women moved back into supportive communities where they are now thriving. Finally, in November 2016, IJM announced: "On November 14, 2016 two traffickers were sentenced to 20 years in prison. This conviction brings closure and affirms these survivors of their worth. It also sends a message to other brothel owners and traffickers across the Philippines—justice will be served, no matter how long it takes."

  • The question for you and I is;

Application: Do we have ears to hear and eyes to see ungodly injustices around us?

Transition: Nehemiah controlled his anger and used the energy and the adrenaline rush from being anger to good use.

Nehemiah’s Godly Response to the Injustices of the Offending Jews – Nehemiah 5:7-11

  • Nehemiah processed the grievances

Nehemiah 5:7a

7 I took counsel with myself

  • Nehemiah took stock and processed the situation before responding
  • He wanted to get the facts straight, to calm down and make sure he responded in a godly way.

Illustration: When we are mad or made angry, our human response is to respond in an ungodly way. To push people’s buttons that you know are going to set them off. We have to make sure we don’t use those opportunities but it is oh so tempting isn’t it. From a human perspective, sometimes we like to make people mad or anger just to see what they do. We also push people’s buttons because we think they deserve it. If they made us mad, then we want to make them mad in return. These are wrong reasons for enticing people into anger.

  • Took counsel with myself – my heart consulted me, I put my head and heart together. I did not just respond out of emotion

Proverbs 16:32

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city

  • Nehemiah confronted grievances with wisdom

Nehemiah 5:7b-8

And I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say

  • Nehemiah confronted the problem head on and in most cases that is the best approach.
  • For some leaders, this is very difficult to do but it is what a leader must do for the best of the company, school, non-profit, or church
  • Nehemiah rebuked them for charging interest on land and money loaned to the brothers

Deuteronomy 32:19-20

19 “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

  • Nehemiah calls for an assembly of the people, especially the officials of Jerusalem who were indicted by the people for their selfish extortion.
  • Notice in verse 8, Nehemiah shares how he and others with a concerted effort were buying back Jewish people who were enslaved by the Gentiles and then released them into Jerusalem. This is described about how it is done in Leviticus 25
  • All the while and at the same time, the Jews were enslaving their own people!!
  • In verse 8, the nobles and officials were silent because they were guilty as charged.
  • Then Nehemiah nails them with the ultimate zinger about their bad behavior. God’s reputation is on the line.

Nehemiah 5:9-10

9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest.

  • He calls out their immoral, unethical, and unjust behavior that is bringing reproach upon their God as the Gentiles and the Jews see what is going on.
  • The one who delivered you from the Egyptians and the Babylonians is the same God you are shaming by your behavior. What do the Gentiles think about your hypocrisy?
  • Live in fear of God

Quote: “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” – Oswald Chambers

  • Nehemiah did not fear man but only feared God. – fear – honored, respected, glorified, pleased
  • The nobles and officials were in bondage along with those they enslaved, they did not have true freedom
    • Freedom is a life governed by truth and motived by love.
    • The nobles and officials didn’t have any of that.
    • It is one thing to be called out for our sin and another to be persecuted for righteousness sake.

I Peter 4:12 – 19

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Philippians 1:20- 21

20 As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

  • Paul talks about not taking your brother to court but going before the spiritual leadership of the church to decide issues. Paul even goes so far to say;

I Corinthians 6:7-8

7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

  • It’s just money!! Where your treasure is there will your heart be also
  • Isn’t a relationship and harmony among the other brothers and sisters most important to pleasing and glorifying God
    • On the other hand, we are not to be doormats and let people walk all over us.
    • Prayerfully seek God for the balance in making those decisions.
    • I always tend to err on the side of grace just to be safe!
    • Nehemiah demanded reconciliation of the grievances

Nehemiah 5:11

11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.”

  • Nehemiah wasn’t fooling around or mincing words. In love he was telling them exactly what they were to do.
  • Return immediately the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and homes back to their rightful owner. He even says give back to them what you have charged them and the profit you have made from their money!!
    • If they had a smart phone, they would have all caps on a text I am sure
    • Nehemiah was a servant leader who walked the talk. He did not want them to do something he wasn’t already doing. He was redeeming slaves from the Gentiles and returning them home with no strings attached.
      • What I love about the book of Nehemiah is that we see the heart and actions of a leader. He cared for the people he was serving. He was right there with them doing the work
      • Jesus talked about this in Matthew 23:11

Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you shall be your servant

  • Jesus did not just say it but He displayed it at the washing of the disciple’s feet.

Quote: “Self-surrender is the greatest emancipation that ever comes to a human being. Seek first the kingdom of God and all things will be added to you – including yourself.” – Stanley Jones

  • You and I, we must walk the talk blamelessly doing our best to do what is right to set an example to others and to glorify our heavenly Father.
  • Are we willing to confront and deal with injustices when they are presented to us in a biblical manner?

Application: Are you and I willing to confront ungodly injustices in a godly way when we see them?

Transition: Telling them wasn’t enough for Nehemiah. He demanded a commitment to keep their word in carrying out what they were agreeing to.

Nehemiah Elicits a Just Promise from the Offending Jews – Nehemiah 5:12 – 13

Nehemiah 5:12a

12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.”

  • The askby Nehemiah for a commitment to restore justice
    • We will do as you say
    • Nehemiah makes them promise before the assembled crowd
    • The commitment to restore justice

Nehemiah 5:12b – 13

And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

  • Then he involved the priests in their solemn commitment
  • Shaking out the folds of your garment are like today, pulling your pockets out of your pants symbolizing you will be punished or you will be rejected by God for blessings

Acts 18:6

6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

  • It is the same idea that Jesus told His disciples in the prayer of peace in Matthew 10:14. Shake the dust off your feet if they reject you and move on. It was an act of declaring condemnation on those who rejected the message of the Gospel of Christ
  • The assembled people shouted “Amen” which meant “may the Lord do all that you have said.”
  • Remember this was a solemn assembly, a worship service and not an economic summit
  • You and I must follow Nehemiah’s example in confronting wrongdoing, public sin, and injustices in a godly way
  • We must learn to deal with every problem in the light of God’s will declared in His Word. The Bible is God’s source for reconciliation and conflict resolution.

Application: Are you and I willing to hold one another accountable with a repentant heart?

Transition: We have a responsibility to stand up for the righteousness of God.

Key Thought: What will you and I do in the face of ungodly injustice?

Quote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

  • To speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves
  • To confront and correct injustice
  • To take responsibility when we have been unjust and make it right

Questions to Ponder this Wee

1.    Are our spiritual antennas up in awareness of people’s hurt?

2.    Are we willing to take action against ungodly injustices?

3.    Are we willing to be held and hold others accountable to reconcile injustices?