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Rebuilding Our Faith Series #12

What Have I Done That Counts?

Nehemiah 5:1-19

A. Distress [Nehemiah 5:1-6) Three Desperate Cries Injustice
B. Action (Nehemiah 5:7-13) One Lonely Voice Confrontation
C. Preservation (Nehemiah 5:14-19) One Big Sacrifice Servant Leadership

Many are content to only go so far in our relationship with God. Once we are out of the extreme dangers, we quickly become content with what we have. We just wish everything would be settled down so that we could get on with our life. Or even worse, once we see that God demands a sacrifice on our part, we quickly get out of our way by busying ourselves and trying to forget God. Let us put a stop to this. It is time that we get serious with what God is serious with and that is His mission to save the lost.

I don't deny that we might find difficulty after difficulty as we learn to prioritize His program over our preferences, but this is what we were called to. The fancy word for it is sanctification, the gradual changing of our lives to be more and more like our holy Father in heaven. How long have you been a Christian? If you have been a Christian for more than a few years, under normal circumstances you should be able to be discipling others. Why do so many believers be as infants still feeding on the milk of the Word rather than going for the meat?

At the end of chapter 4, do you remember what Nehemiah was doing? On his side was a sword while he was working on the wall. They did not even dare to change clothes. They stayed by the wall day and night. All for what? For a wall?! The wall was important. It stood for the protection of God's people. God is concerned about the protection of His people and their worship. So He sent Nehemiah to them. However, we stand at the feet of our Great General Jesus Christ who said that we are to work equally hard and desperate not for our own lives but for the lives of others. This is the grand purpose and theme of Christianity all summarized in that great word love and proven by the blood of Christ.

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If you are focused only on getting, then you had better turn to some other religion, for Christianity is based on giving. The only way people are going to get love is for those who have the love of God to share it with others. And the only way we are going to get it to others is to give up our parties and pleasures. Nehemiah the grand official and defender of Jerusalem stood in the mud with the others, sword by his side, building the wall. But his passion to do all the will of God drove him to deeper and more costly risks. In chapter 5, we find that Nehemiah was regularly and persistently asking the important question, "What have I done that counts?" He was not content to let the evil one knock his brothers down. He was not content to give up the battle of the Lord. You see there was something different that was driving Nehemiah just as it drove Jesus. He had compassion. And his compassion led him to action, and his action was followed up by consistent modeling. We find this pattern here and elsewhere. Let's look closer at this important pattern to building the Kingdom of God.

A. Distress [Nehemiah 5:1-5) Three Desperate Cries Injustice
We start with listening to the cry of the people. There is no doubt to me that what made Jesus so special is not the people He met but the way He perceived their needs. When do you find that Jesus focused on His own needs? He was crowded about; bothered night by night. Never harried about by financial pressures though He had no possessions and no saving accounts. The only time He could find quietness to pray was in the middle of the night! Jesus saw the distress all about. He heard their cries for help. The people are the same. They have great needs. It seems like everytime I take a bus or plane, someone looking for an ear to hear their problems starts telling me their sad story. The problem is that we are not compassionate. We do not really care about people. I am not saying that we do not sense any pain, but that we are not able to really hit our hearts because the needs are so great.

These people all of a sudden errupted in anguish over the willingness of their fellow believers to go against God's Law and make money off their poverty. Last time we covered the three steps into poverty. Step #1 They loaned themselves into poverty. Step #2 They mortgaged themselves into Poverty. Step #3 They buried themselves into poverty. A compromise that seems only mild at first stings us and our children later on. I am not saying that I have fully covered the question of taking loans with interest. In verse 10 Nehemiah himself says that he himself with others are giving loans to the poor for their food. Most commentators think the passage demands the interpretation that Nehemiah loaned money without any interest. This interpretation says that the usury that he was criticizing was a loan with interest. The Golden Rule forbids them or us to make a profit off a brother. In other words, if we are prepared to give a loan without interest to the poor. This is okay. Don't take interest. But you must not use the loan against him. If he cannot pay it back, you need to be prepared to take a lost of money and not the friend. There is the good side to the loan in that you encourage them to work hard. There is the bad side that you undutily put pressure on that relationship. We are told not to put money above a relationship so we must be willing to part with it. Frankly, if we were more willing to give our money away, I think that we would do so much more in terms of gifts rather than loans. God would much more bless you for the gift.

There are many unanswered questions. I only hope that we can take a resolution to get out of debt and not to step into debt. We can not immediately get rid of our debt. God wants to set us free finanically as well as in other areas. If some of you were serious, we could have a forum discussing these issues. Don't think you have a handle on life when you live in slavery to others. We are greatly deceived when we excitedly go out from the loan office upon hearing that we just got that loan we applied for. Don't think great of yourselves when you got a loan or mortgage. We instead should be grieving. We cannot correct many past mistakes in an instance of time. It will take a lot of hard planning and prayer. But this is exactly what the Lord wants to help you with.

But you see, it is not only us who are in financial distress, but many around us. And if it is not financial, then it is one of the many forms of oppression and pain that they are experiencing. Once God opens our eyes to our real situation and the situation of our country, then you will be alarmed. You will begin to cry out not just for yourself but for all those around you. The real problem is that we have no fear of God. We have not connected our pain with our sinful decisions. I was shocked when I heard a recent general share that since 1992 that our military forces have been cut in two. He then mentioned the lack of funding and the forced homosexuality into the services. I would add the moral problem of including women in the active force. Then my eyes were opened and I saw that God ws readying us for military defeat. God permitted this loosened protection so that we could be rightly judged!

The fear of God will only come about when we begin to see that the pain that the people around us are from their sinful choices. It is only then we will not only hear their pain but know that something can be done to stop it. Can we hear the cries of the urban children who have no parents to care for them? Can we hear the distress of the single mother? Can we hear the moaning of the divorcee? Can we sense the pain of those under crushing financial pressures? Can we hear the fighting of couples? Can we feel the pain of a person ripping apart another person? Will we fix this with a government program? No. Is the solution by getting a new stadium when we haven't even paid off our old one?

Application I like you need God to teach me to identify with those hurting around us. For if we are not hearing their cries of distress, we are probably criticizing them so to excuse ourselves or busying ourselves so our lives are not disturbed.

B. Action (Nehemiah 5:6-13) One Lonely Voice Confrontation
Nehemiah himself was awoken with their cry. He was one of those rare leaders that actually heard the cry of the people. He was angry to hear these things happening. He actually got very angry. We remember from chapter 4 how the enemy was angry. On both occassions the enemy anger controlled them. A battle ensued. On this occassion Nehemiah got very angry. Anger has to be handled very carefully. Rarely is righteousness accomplished by anger. But in this case it did. Note what happened when he saw the great anger swell up inside him. He actually stopped the 'merry go round' and inspected the situation. Note in verse 7 how we see that he first verified his feelings. He probably felt like doing and saying a lot of things but at first refused to. On seeing his driving anger, he first took a real honest look at the situation. From this we know that his anger was not controlling him but that Nehemiah was in control of his anger. His anger was rightly being used to conquer a very fierce enemy. Let's note the three action steps he took.

1) The first thing he did was to consult with himself. The word 'consult' is the same as to reign or be king. The idea is that Nehemiah was not out of control through his anger but was allowing his reason to rule. In other words, he controlled himself. He reasoned the situation through. Righteous anger will not just respond but always be led by what is reasonable and proper in the given situation. I can expect that as a leader he was contemplating what he might confront if he exposed this situation. Perhaps he was wondering whether he had the force to impose a change. We don't know what he actually was thinking except that he did not let fears drive him away from confrontation but to honestly face the task that God put before him. Nehemiah is so similar to Jesus. What did Jesus do to plan His day? It seemed that what he did was always in terms of what He met that day. No appointments by schedule but by meeting up with different situations and people. God put this issue before Nehemiah and he was trying to faithfully respond as he should to it.

2) After consulting with himself, he contended with the nobels and rulers. The NIV uses 'accused' but this word does not have this meaning. The word means to contend or stive against. In other words, it seems that Nehemiah was not considering whether this was a legitimate charge. He accepted their guilt and now was beginning to challenge them as to the properness of it. Nehemiah confronted both the nobles and the public officials. We might think of them as the big property holders or investors and politicians of the city. We recognize that when these two groups get together, that often the political decisions made often tend to give advantage to the big businesses. And the big businesses often end up supporting these politicians. The others get squeezed out. Nehemiah no doubt knew who they were. He had access to them. He went right to them and exposed their immoral money making schemes. They were taking usury from their brothers (7). Not only was it illegal but it was immoral. In the O.T. there was no difference between the two. The Israelites were brothers of one another. They descended from Jacob later named Israel. They had a common forefather and therefore were brothers. Loans with interest were wrong between brothers. Psalms 15:4-5 says of the man of integrity,

"But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt, and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, .... He who does these things will never be shaken."
3) This led to the third step. He held a congregational meeting. The scriptures called it a great assembly. The purpose of this assembly was said to be "against them." We know this is not the first time he gathered the people together and reasoned with them. The first time was in chapter 2 when he was acting in secrecy about his plans for the wall. Then in verses 2:16-17 he made his plan public to both the Jews as well as the foreign oppressors. These Jewish leaders were probably silently glad to kick out these foreign bullies. They were thinking if it worked out right they could control the whole market of making money of their brothers.

At this assembly he gave them three fine arguments.
The first one is recorded in verse 8. Neh 5:8 says,

"And I said to them, "We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?" In other words, Nehemiah and others have been using their money to buy back the Jews that were sold into slavery to the extent they could afford it. As slaves on the market, maybe a Jewish person in Babylon cost 30 coins of silver. He would take his own money and buy them and then because they belonged to him, set them free. Now if Nehemiah and others were doing this, then how is it that the Jewish leaders were structuring the society in such a way that these individuals were one by one being sold back into slavery?! This inherent contradiction of purpose caused a big wave of quiet reaction among these rulers and officials. Verse 8 says, "Then they were silent and could not find a word to say." But Nehemiah doesn't stop here.

The second argument is given in verse 9. Nehemiah was given them reason to shame. Shame is a proper response to improper behavior before the presence of others. Israel was to be a light to the nations and not just another smudge on the screen. Hey were to differe themselves fromtheir enemies. If we made enemies with our own people, then we are countering the very reason they existed.

The third argument further deepened the conviction. In verse 10 it says that Nehemiah and others were actually lending them money and grain. We must understand from this that the loans that Nehemiah and others were giving to the brothers were not the same kind of loans that these business men were making. There is no sense of usury being charged. There are some commentators which suggest that this means that Nehemiah was not charging them an usury interest, that is, an interest upon an interest. This would be a situation that they could never practically get out of. There would be no chance of paying back the loan because the interest charge was so high. This is something like the high interest on a credit card. Last time we read numerous commands from the Mosaic Law which prohibited loans with interest. Let me now quote from Psalm 15:4-5 in describing the man with integrity.

"But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt, and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, .... He who does these things will never be shaken."

As long as a famine existed, the people as farmers would never be able to pay off their debt. Only interest free loans would enable them to keep their properties and children.

What is it that Nehemiah demanded? In a general context, he demanded that they leave off the usury. The usury was a financial obligation. One can look at the list in verse 11 as an expansion of the effects of usury or a restoration that went beyond the usury. Either way, all of these things played into the other. It was the usury that caused the loss of their fields, etc.

Perhaps what was so surprising was the response of the leaders. They agreed. Nehemiah, the smart one, got the priests and God into the agreement so they would not go back on their words. Verse 12 says, "So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise." This is probably one of those encounters that the leaders were saying, "Why in the world did we agree to those absolute terms!"

Then Nehemiah in one of those dramatic cultural symbolisms of his day, took the front of his robes and radically shook them and said a curse to those who go back on their words. Theleaders sure would not like this guy, but note the congregation's response. A big "AMEN!" Then they praise the Lord. Just think of the implication this had on the society. Nehemiah could only do it because he had never compromised. Nehemiah could only have suceeded if his anger pushed him to such extreme demands. The whole economy changed from dark to light, from night to day in one day. This is the sign of the year of jubilee when everything was restored.

Application Let me ask you. What is it that you would like restored in your life? Do you have certain tender places in your life because you have abused the Word of God? Secondly, let me ask you whether God has made you sensitive to any situations in which you need to voice your opinion or take action? The Lord has started to move in my life so that I do not just complain to myself or my wife. I begin to do something. I believe He wants you to start making a difference too.

C. Preservation (Nehemiah 5:14-19) One Big Sacrifice Servant Leadership
We must move on to one more important point in verses 14-19. Do you realize the power that Nehemiah exercised in all of this. He was a deliverer, a conqueror, a generous great uncle, a fellow workman, a spy for the right side, a man who believed in the people, a man who loved the people. Not only did he have the emperor's power, but he so rightly played his part that Israel's enemies have fled, the wall is being rebuilt and the economy restored. No wonder he was forced into office (14).

The issue is that Nehemiah in or out of office did not change. He loved the Lord, he kept praying and kept loving the people. The temptation is that after you have suceeded that you get prideful and let up on the zeal one once had. Not Nehemiah. This last section is very important for it gives us a summary of the next decade of Nehemiah's life. The policies are important but not so important as his life. For if his life began to compromise or get soft, then the policies would certainly begin to weaken and corruption set in. Nehemiah models the politicians of early America that were looked upon as servants. They were called ministers in their own right. They were called to serve. Only that this would be given back to our country! Nehemiah did not compromise his beliefs and in fact went beyond his beliefs so that the work God did would not be stained.

Nehemiah knew he had enemies closeby. They were powerful and influencial. He would be watched as a hawk. But every year he could go out in front and tell everyone that he was not collecting his pay but dedicating himself and monies for the service of God in serving the people. He had a right to it. God would not have complained. But do you see the change he was implementing in what the people should expect of a governor. I don't think they would expect the new governor to go without pay, but they would see he must be a governor who cares for the people and put their needs first.

Let me summarize the effects of his sacrificing his pay:
1) He cared for God's people. He did not want to put any more tax on them during this famine.
2) He wanted to model good governship. He was reshaping perspective of politics.
3) He was making sure no one would misunderstood his motives of assuming governor of Judah.
4) He protected himself from any of his strong opponents.

What was his sacrfice? Land was so cheap. He could have bought so much land and become a great landowner in Jerusalem. He refused to buy any land (16). He was not going to take any advantage of the people that he so much loved.

He did not take his or his kinsmen food allowance. It is only right that he would be paid this. But as I mentioned before, he was not only not putting a heavy tax burden on them as the previous governors but didn't take what everyone considered his right. Why? He mentions again this phrase the "fear of God." In verse 15 he clearly states that his relationship with God directed him in his decisions. He did not just do what others did or what was considered fair. He was dealing with the people as God would have him to do - just as God would.

We also find in verse 16 that he was back at the wall. He had a great administrative burden but he was single focused. The wall had to be built.

Lastly, we find in verse 17 that his hospitality was great. It seems that there were 150 leaders and officials that would join him in a meal. What a burden! But he was seeking friendshipwith them. The leaders perhaps were corrupt, but now he was mentoring them personally.

Nehemiah closes with one of his great prayers in verse 19, "Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people." This is the second of many "Remember" prayers that Nehemiah would lift up. This is a true leader's prayer. He could see his sacrifices. His life was dedicated to them. We can expect that his fortune was down greatly. He had more enemies than one could count in and outside the country. He risked his life for the sake of the people. All was given to them. Now his real hope because he would nto compromise getting wealth from them, that God would somehow, someway remember him in his faithfulness. What do you think God would do for Nehemiah? Do you think God would greatly reward Nehemiah? Sure.

Application Now the key is do you want this kind of leader around you? Would you like to turn the tables around on the way people are wrongly using their positions? Would you like this kind of reward? God has called us all as saints. We are the lights in the world. We are His temples of love. Brothers and sisters, if we do not turn our lives around and begin to do what is excellent, then we will be judged in the curse of mediocracy. Let us ask the fear of God to occupy our hearts that we might do the right thing, the excellent thing, the think that will be remembered by those around us.

We can see that he was living for another time. He was investing his skills and life now for the sake of a future kingdom - the kingdom of God. And in Nehemiah we have an excellent model of how we need to be motivated, called, and action oriented. God is not only going to ask us what we professed but our works are going to be tested. What is it that you have done in this life will count in the next? What things will God remember? What will be remembered for eternity?

Galatians 6:4 says, "But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have [reason for] boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another."

I Corinthians 3:12-15 says, "Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.

God would hear Nehemiah's prayer. Will He hear your prayer?

05383 hvn nashah {naw-shaw'} a primitive root [rather identical with 05382, in the sense of 05378]; TWOT - 1427; AV - exact 3, lend 3, lend on usury 2, creditor 2, extortioner 1,
taker of usury 1, usurer 1; 13
1) to lend, be a creditor; 1a) (Qal); 1a1) to lend-------

04855 avvm mashsha' {mash-shaw'} from 05383; TWOT - 1424a; n m
AV - usury 2; 2
1) lending on interest, usury
1a) in Neh. 5:11, the rate of "usury" was only one per cent

Book of Nehemiah Index: Rebuilding Your Faith



Nehemiah Overview and Notes | Nehemiah Outline | Also see notes on Ezra

Nehemiah Historical Introduction | Nehemiah Rebuilding the Walls

Nehemiah 1:1-2:5 | Nehemiah 1:1-4 Love for God

Nehemiah 1:11-2.8 God's will | Nehemiah 2.9-20 Prepare

Prayer: Prayers that Changes the World 1:4-11 | Nehemiah 1:1-11 Prayer | Nehemiah 1:05-11 Prayer

Nehemiah 3:1-32 (1/2) Hope | Nehemiah 3:1-32 (2/2) Gates

Nehemiah 3 Jerusalem Map (pdf)BFF Biblical Digital Library

Nehemiah 4:1-6 Anger & Despair | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Anger & Fears

Nehemiah 4:7-23 Threats | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Overcoming Fear

Nehemiah 5:1-05 Loans | Nehemiah 5:1-19 Counts

Nehemiah 6:1-14 Darkness at the Gates

Nehemiah 6:1-19 Rumors | Nehemiah 7:1-73 Restore

Nehemiah 8:1-12 Revival | Nehemiah 8:13-18 Obedience

Nehemiah 9:1-38| Strength & Direction in Life | Confess

Nehemiah 10-12 Covenant | Nehemiah 13:1-31 Restoration


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Biblical Foundations for Freedom

Nehemiah stood out with others as men who cared. They put their money where their hearts were. They clearly stood out from the oppressors. They were helping the poor and needy. My thinking is that Nehemiah probably was setting up a situation where he didn't want to just give out big handouts so that people would create improper relationships with him. He probably used the recovery of loans (if any) to help set more Israelites in slavery free. However we understand it, we must see that Nehemiah set a clearcut model in the way he generously gave and lent. If he was not acting in a way that everyone would admire, friend and foe, then his rigorous demands would not hold. But the leaders were caught in a bind. They all of a sudden were aware of their responsibility to the people.