We’ve moved into the book of Nehemiah now with our Blogging Through The Bible venture.
In Case You Missed It…
The last BTTB post I wrote, for Ezra chapters 7 & 8 can be found HERE.
To see Angela’s latest addition, for Ezra 9 & 10, click HERE.
Tammy did an excellent job with chapters 1 & 2 of Nehemiah, HERE.
Tatiana brought us up to speed HERE, with Nehemiah 3 & 4.
Internal Threats Create Disdain – Chapter 5
As chapter four drew to a close, we saw a people focused on pure victory. With a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other, even in the midst of obstacle after obstacle, they did not give in to enemy pressure.
But as chapter five begins, the wall-work appears to have stopped. Why? Because the people were not at all happy with the way things were going.
Isn’t that the way it happens? If a direct attack happens, especially to a strong bunch of people, it often fails. But the enemy of our souls is not a bit deterred. He moves on to the very next option. A way that he’s used before. A way that has brought him more than one victory.
He worked to rot the internal unification of the many, crumbling the effects of their efforts. And once the crumbling started to happen, the man of God had to stop the presses and deal with it!
Great Debt and Money Problems
Not only were the people fighting against one another, but some were also in debt to others as well. People were starving, so they mortgaged their houses, land, and vineyards just to buy food. Then, when the king’s tax became too much, they had to borrow AGAIN to pay that tax. They had reached a place where they had nothing left to give, mortgage, sell, or bargain with.
It wasn’t that Nehemiah included these financial troubles to take on that problem specifically. The book is about the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Since the money situation had completely stopped the building, it had become a part of the process, and it had to be addressed.
The problem was, they didn’t lack the money they needed to actually build the wall. They lacked the money amongst themselves to live in a way that kept one from being the servant of another. When that happened, everything else around them began to crumble.
Food Costs Rise and More
The famine had created a lot of problems, but the biggest one at this point seemed to be that the food had become so much more expensive. To make matters worse, taxes still had to be paid, and the hardship had driven many into a state that was not possible to maintain. In turn, that led to people watching their children taken away as slaves to repay a debt they couldn’t repay any other way.
When Nehemiah heard the people cry out, he immediately became angry. The greed he saw in direct violation of Moses’ words was clear:
If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.Exodus 22:25
Nehemiah was angry for the greed. He was angry because money had devoured their unity. And he was angry because the work on the walls had come to a screeching halt. How frustrating it must have been, to be able to stand against a flesh and blood enemy, but fall to the internal financial pressure that brother had put on brother!
We find that Nehemiah put some serious thought into the situation before he began to rebuke anyone. This proves what a great leader Nehemiah was. He was angry, but he knew better than to lash out with an immediate response.
He talked about the fact that it was wrong to exact usury (an exorbitant and immoral rate of interest, usually not legal) from a brother. Also, he talked about the fact that, when Judah had been conquered, Jews were sold into slavery and bought back again. Then went on to point out that it was wrong, now, for Jews to be selling their own people into slavery for immoral interest rates that shouldn’t have been put on them in the first place!
Nehemiah didn’t just want the rulers to mourn their actions. He didn’t even want them to simply stop where they were, and never do it again. He went as far as to say that the wrongs they had done must be set right. Anything that had transpired in a manner that was unfair, they had to make it right again.
Finally, after Nehemiah had courageously made his point, the people admitted their wrongdoing and went on to fix their mistakes. It was an impressive gesture that certainly isn’t seen much in this day and age. Especially if the issue is money!
Still, Nehemiah knew that words were sometimes empty, and went on to make them take an oath before God and in public record, that they would DO exactly what they said they would do.
Nehemiah Sets an Example in Leadership
Nehemiah did not tax his people. He had a right to do so, but he knew it would be better for the work set before them to refuse to do so. After all, his real work – the work of building the wall – had nothing to do with personal interest, and everything to do with what God wanted.
Nehemiah didn’t do things the way he did for popularity. He didn’t care what others before him had done, how the people felt about it, or what the rest of the country thought. He held one standard over his actions, and one alone:
…but so did not I, because of the fear of God.Nehemiah 5:15
Nehemiah Sets an Example in Generosity
The king’s provision made it possible for lots of food to be available to Nehemiah. He could easily have sold it for a great deal of money, all to his own profit, but he refused to do that. Instead, he brought more than 150 people to his table and fed them well. He knew the burden they bore was a heavy one, and he refused to add to that by making them purchase what he had, himself, received for free.
Yes, Nehemiah had instructed the rulers and the nobles to stop taking advantage of the needs of the people. But he went a step further in refusing to do that himself.
The short prayer at the end of the fifth chapter of Nehemiah says a great deal:
Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.Nehemiah 5:19
Some will say that Nehemiah was wrong to pray such a prayer. Especially considering that Jesus had said that no one should do their good deeds in such a way that people would see it and praise them. But that wasn’t at all what Nehemiah was doing.
Nehemiah set his sights on GOD’S praise instead. He probably never expected this part of his book, which was written as a kind of diary, to ever be seen by the eyes of another. But we should be thankful that God gave it to us, for it shows some amazing attributes of a true and Godly leader.
The Completion of the Walls – Chapter 6
Chapter 6 opens and we see that the gaps in the walls were closed and the wall was very near completion. The only thing left to do was attach the gates.
Nehemiah’s enemies realized that if they didn’t work fast, the walls would finally be completed. So Sanballat and Geshem cordially invited Nehemiah to the plain of Ono for what seemed like a friendly gesture.
The problem, for Sanballat and Geshem, was that God had equipped Nehemiah with a discernment of spirits that allowed him to see through the facade. Maybe it was a result of the prayer he had just prayed as chapter 5 came to a close. But whatever it was, Nehemiah refused to go.
True discernment seeks to judge things according to what God sees, and not what the outward appearance would have you to believe. What we see on the outside is often deceptive and misleading, and we see this solidified here:
But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his statue; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.1 Samuel 16:7
Some believe that those with the ability to truly discern are being selfish and negative. But discerners are just as capable of seeing good where others might miss it as they are at seeing the bad when outward appearances make it seem otherwise.
Today’s lack of discernment is the root of many problems we see around the country. There are those that follow leaders blindly, just because their words have a good surface ring. What they should be doing, instead, is holding those deeds up against the Word of God to see if they are in line with Jesus’ nature.
In order to understand what God wants, we first have to understand His Word. Even then, there is a level of spiritual maturity that is necessary, because spiritual babies cannot operate on that level:
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not strong meat.
For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their sense exercised to discern both good an evil.Hebrews 5:12-14
Discernment is also given as a free gift by the Holy Ghost:
To another the working of miracles; to another prophesy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:1 Corinthians 12:10
Having some form of discernment is necessary, especially these days. Without it, many things can go wrong…
- We can think an enemy is trying to reconcile when their actual motive is to cause us harm.
- We can assume that we have ample evidence of something and take it as faith when we’re missing the whole forest for the trees.
- Our own desires, which feel right and honorable, can be mistaken as promises from God.
- There’s a chance that we could assume God is saying “now”… when He actually wants us to wait.
No, it pays to remain steadfast in the Word, and to the Doctrine, to make sure that we are never chasing fairy tales that we believe are God’s will for our lives.
The Enemy & Distraction
Not only did Nehemiah decide he wasn’t buying the invitation as a friendly gesture, neither did he allow himself to be distracted from the work at hand. He knew what we all should know: that allowing the enemy to come in and distract us gives our enemy a major win.
Distractions will strip us of our effectiveness in Jesus. But Nehemiah refused to give up. In fact, he became more focused after his discernment helped him see through the fog of the fake invitation. This is exactly the way it SHOULD be when we work for the Lord. More than that, we have to be able to determine whether, even if something looks good or not, we should actually go through with it.
The Enemy Slanders Subtilly
Just like many accusations do, the one against Nehemiah started out with a “he-said-she-said” session. The fact of the matter was that the accusation was FALSE. It didn’t matter how many people were saying it, nothing could make it TRUE. Popular lies can be dangerous, but they don’t become the truth simply because they are popular.
The enemy knows which buttons to push when it comes to our inner emotions. He knows what really gets to you. And can you imagine how it got to Nehemiah? After all of his hard work, after all of his trusting God and his great personal sacrifices? Now, he was being accused of everything he had worked so hard to NOT BE.
Their slander went on with the threat that they were going to take these concerns before the king. But again, Nehemiah’s discernment showed out.
Not once did Nehemiah attempt to become excessively defensive. He didn’t follow a point-by-point bullet list, taking Sanballat’s threat apart at the seams. Instead, he was simple, calm, and straightforward as he called him out for what he was really doing:
Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.Nehemiah 6:8
It was obvious that Sanballat didn’t care that he might be seen as a liar. All he wanted to do was make that work stop so that the walls would never be built. But Nehemiah’s steadfastness in discernment made that impossible.
Apparently, fear-mongering is an age-old tactic that even Sanballat tried his hand at. But Nehemiah wasn’t buying it. And he wasn’t going to let anyone else buy it either if he had anything to do with it!
You see, the enemy is just a glorified salesman. His wares are many, and all of them are spiritual. Emotional. To make us feel something. He can attempt to make us afraid, but whether or not we actually take that emotion upon ourselves is our choice alone. We must CHOOSE fear. It cannot be forced upon us. And in that, we can offer praises again and again, to our God!
We must intentionally decide that we will not allow ourselves to suffer paralyzing fear at the words of another. People are always going to “talk” and there’s nothing we can do about that. We see it here with Nehemiah, and we see it again in one of Benjamin Franklin’s quotes from Poor Richard’s Almanac:
Since I cannot govern my own tongue, tho’ within my own teeth, how can I hope to govern the tongues of others?“Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1738 | Benjamin Franklin | AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History.” 2019. Vlib.Us. 2019. http://www.vlib.us/amdocs/texts/prichard38.html.
An Invitation Out of Fear
Shemaiah, who was presumed to be a prophet, though he wasn’t, suddenly appeared and offered Nehemiah an opportunity to shut himself safely up in the temple. It made sense to look for shelter there, so Nehemiah needed that gift of discernment more than ever!
Nehemiah knew God’s heart, as revealed through the Word. So the fear that Shemaiah attempted to create, backing up Sanballat’s threats, didn’t work. Nehemiah saw it as more fear-mongering, with the added attempt to make him sin as well.
The truth was – and Nehemiah knew it well – that priests were the only ones that were allowed to be inside the temple. He remembered the King Uzziah had attempted the same thing and, not being a priest, came down with leprosy as a direct response to his disobedience.
The other thing that Nehemiah discerned was that if he took Shemaiah up on his proposal (better known here as “a trap”) it would give everyone the ability to find enough fault in him to discredit everything he had previously said. Come to find out, this man was no prophet after all. God had never sent him. He was an employee of Sanballat!
Prayer Instead of Retaliation
The simple act Nehemiah carried out next reiterates a true heart for God. Instead of attempting an “I told you so” moment, he simply prayed, handing these men, in all of their wickedness, over to a just God.
What Have We Learned?
We can take some very grave lessons from these two chapters of Nehemiah today if you want to consider them with me:
- We could admire Nehemiah for the amazing leader that he proved himself to be… or we could admire Jesus, giving Him the love and devotion He is rightfully entitled to.
- Nehemiah was asked to “come down” from the wall… Jesus was asked to “come down” from the cross.
- They slandered Nehemiah even to his face, yet he refused to defend himself… they slandered Jesus as well, who also did not debate nor defend, but rather spoke the Truth.
- A false prophet tried to get Nehemiah to take the “easy way” our, based on fear headed towards disobedience… satan offered Jesus the entire world as an “easy way” out of the cross.
Neither Nehemiah nor Jesus was having ANY of the enemy’s deception!
Nehemiah finally finished the walls, in a mere 52 days, after they had lain in ruins for more than 100 years. Someone could have finished the work a lot earlier, but it took a that would do more than wish them into existence. Nehemiah grieved, he planned, he prayed, he encouraged, he went, he fought, he stood strong, he was bold… and he saw the walls finally completed.
If you look at the difference between Nehemiah 1:1 and Nehemiah 2:1, you’ll see that four months had passed. Nehemiah saw the need, right from the start, and began praying. That prayer went on for those four months. But the work in actually bringing the walls back up to a working state took only two months.
It would do us all well to understand that SOMETIMES it takes twice as much prayer as it takes physical “doing” to accomplish the things that God would have us accomplish. What does that mean? It means the spiritual battle is much harder than the physical battle. We’ve heard it plenty of times, even from Paul himself. Still, when it comes to our own lives, it’s not as easy to believe somehow.
Do you believe that the gift of discernment is a gift still available to us today? I certainly hope you do! God would not leave His people in the mess we currently find ourselves in without giving us a way to know His divine will. Consider doing a word study on discernment to find out more about God’s heart for this most important gift!
Lord Jesus, help us to be sensitive enough to Your Spirit to know when the work at hand is from You. And then, moving on from there, help us to be willing to spend twice as much time in prayer than we spend in actually “doing”. Help us to remember Your Word, hiding it in our heart that we might not sin against You, and help us too, to always be willing to encourage others with Your Word! We ask these things in the mighty and blessed Name, Jesus!