Defending the Poor

People can only take so much tension. Stress mounting, frustration can build to a crescendo. As a child, my mom was always using a pressure cooker. I can still hear the puffing whistle as I picture that brown enameled steel pot in my childhood kitchen. Not knowing that it was a ticking time bomb, I once retrieved the vent’s whistle. Needless to say, the pot’s profuse eruption was nothing compared to my hug and scold and hug again. Remember this was a day when children actually did wrong. I can still see my dad re-stippling the kitchen ceiling covered the cooking concoction that filled the room. Nehemiah was in such a place. There needed to be an assuaging of tension.

Internal discord is revealed in Nehemiah 5:2-5~…we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive…We are mortgaging our fields, vineyards, houses…because of famine…have borrowed money for the king’s tax…we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves…(ESV) To this point, Nehemiah had been able to rally people against a common foe. Now he finds that friends are merely wolves. The people could not navigate around Artaxerxes annual tribute. Thus facing bankruptcy, many turned to Jewish loan sharks. Under Mosaic Law, it was legal to lend money to fellow Jews, but interest could not be charged. When one fell into hard times and had to sell himself into servitude, it was unlawful to take advantage of him by making him act like a slave. That person had to be treated with love and respect (Leviticus 25: 35-46) Imagine buying a house and not paying for it 3-4 times due to interest. 

Then, every fifty years all debts were to be forgiven, all land restored to the original owners, and all servants set free. It’d reveal once in every person’s life, the freeing nature of God. This is what Jesus does for us spiritually, He removes all debts and restores life in abundance. Greed was one of the sins that had sent the Israelites into Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah said just before Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion, woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor” (NIV).

God has a heart for the poor and expects His people to have the same. Proverbs 14:31~Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (NIV) 

All in this together

Acknowledge social need (Nehemiah  5:1-8). An Outcry has been growing, Nehemiah 5:1~Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. (ESV) Back in Chapter 3, we find is a testament to Nehemiah’s ability to organize the people for work. From the highest to the lowest, even the high priest, Eliashib gets involved. Everyone but the nobles from Tekoa, who were too lazy to help. Sadly, his grandson later married the daughter of Sanballat, creating an unholy alliance that God forbade (you can read that in 13:4-7, 28-29). It reveals that not all who start nobly necessarily finish well. Stick with 21-Days. To which Jesus said in Matthew 10:22~You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (NIV)

Nehemiah 4 is a picture of what vocal intimidation and criticism can do to God’s people if they listen to such talk. Sanballat was an official of some capacity serving Artaxerxes, the same king who authorized Nehemiah. Criticisms are typically more threat than the actual deed. Still, they can weigh heavily on the mission God has us on. Listen to Tobiah hurling insults and criticism in Nehemiah 4:3~“Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” (ESV) Your life’s work is valuable! It is not haphazard, unstable, or meaningless. Words can get us down. Instead of being silent Nehemiah valiantly reminds us that we accepted God’s call to meet social need. Nehemiah 4:4~ Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. (ESV) He says I reject you, may the Lord deal with you, I’m on God’s mission.

How do you respond to the derision of life weighing in on God’s mission for you? Is it by praying for God’s help? Nehemiah’s example places his hurt, his enemies, his obstacles, in the Lord’s hands. This proves to be so wise and advantageous. First, he posted guards at the most vulnerable places on the wall (4:9). Second, families were put together to work as units. People will fight to the death for their own loved ones and homes (13-14). Third, half the people worked at one time, while the other half stood guard (16-18). Fourth, he established an alarm system, trumpeting troubles knock (19-20). Fifth, he mustered workers from the surrounding towns stay in the city at night to help stand guard (22). All of this may have slowed the work, but they were stronger, more confident, together.

Eyes that are open

Have you ever missed what was right in front of you? This is easier to do than we typically let on. Nehemiah reveals the importance of paying attention to the mission God has us on, as we continue our look at Building A New You. God calls each of us to Himself, offering a personal relationship in Jesus Christ. That relationship opens a grand journey through life and faith. Nehemiah has accepted God’s call and begun his mission, which is to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. This is not another episode of Flip or flop, it is truly life or death. Nehemiah must be the leader God’s called him to be. Let’s define Leadership as the art of getting people to do what they ought to do because they want to do it (Warren Wiersbe). 

Undoubtedly, Nehemiah was a godly leader. He challenged the people to do a noble and difficult job, and then he stood up to those who tried to discourage the effort. That is leadership. Did you know God was also calling you to lead? At home, work, here in the community, or at our school. Anytime we set out to do God’s work, there will be opposition. If there were none, the venture probably wouldn’t be of the Lord. Satan always rises to oppose what is godly. There are only two sides in life, choose God.

Nehemiah has piqued the interest and anger of the Neighborhood. As Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem create an alliance to shut down building the wall. Whether ridicule to impede the gentrified Jerusalem, saying this is all too ridiculous. ~(ESV) They try to portray rebellion with vehement threats of treason (alas it was the king who authorized the rebuild). If you have not taken notice, perhaps your eyes were not opened, the enemy will use the same tricks as before, like in Ezra 4 (ESV). The devil has no new tricks. He merely recycles and repackages the same ones often with amazing success. Because humans are prone to believe his lies. Do I have any humans with me today? Thought so.

How many know that you can’t ignore a problem? Nehemiah’s response to these enemies is classic. He does not ignore the three men, who’d just get louder, nor does he negotiate. With Eyes That Are Open: He simply makes three things crystal clear: Acknowledge, Pray and Plan, BE! What stands out most in Nehemiah’s leadership is that this adventure is purely for God’s glory. There was nothing in it for himself. Nehemiah says I got one job, then I’m heading back, where God has me. He simply wanted the reproach removed from God’s people. Centuries earlier, Psalm 48:1-2~Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised In the city of our God, In His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, The joy of the whole earth…The city of the great King. (NKJ) Jerusalem was the dwelling place of God. It had to be restored as a testimony to His greatness! This was the calling and mission Nehemiah felt and answered in his life.