Summary: This is a part of a series I preached on Nehemiah’s one holy passion, the glory of God.
One Holy Passion
March 25, 2001
¡§An Inside Job¡¨
The challenges for Nehemiah seemed to fly fast and furious. After hearing the report of the reproach that Jerusalem had become and in prayer determining that God had laid it on his heart to do something about it, Nehemiah faced an immediate obstacle: he had to convince the king to allow him to act! And as we saw, this king, Artaxerxes, was one who, as recently as a few years earlier, had forbidden the rebuilding of Jerusalem¡¦s wall, using force to stop the project. After God miraculously changes the king¡¦s mind, Nehemiah faces the challenge of garnering support from the beleaguered citizens of Jerusalem who would have to do the actual rebuilding. He negotiates that obstacle quite well and immediately finds himself face-to-face with opposition from a couple of turkeys named Sanballat and Tobiah, later joined by Geshem and others. These guys attempted, in a variety of ways, to stop the rebuilding project. But Nehemiah deals with them in an effective manner.
Now we come to chapter 5 and the pressure on Nehemiah¡¦s leadership doesn¡¦t let up at all. In fact, in some ways, the situation in chapter 5 poses the biggest threat yet. Sometimes that which threatens us most is internal problems rather than external pressure! Nehemiah had to undertake an inside job. And that is exactly what we find in Nehemiah 5. Let¡¦s read it together!
(READ SCRIPTURE AND PRAY).
Working with other people¡Xeven those closest to you¡Xcan sometimes be a challenge. On some projects, my wife and I work very well together; at other times, not so well at all! We come at things from different angles, with different ways of wanting to approach jobs. For instance, when we paint, we have an agreement: she does the meticulous trim work, while I do the wall painting. See, my philosophy of painting is quite simple: whomever gets the most paint on the wall, wins! And so we mesh pretty well, now that we have this understanding. Other times, though, we don¡¦t mesh that well¡Xand the project suffers for it. Sometimes, partners and teammates start fighting, even, in the middle of a project, and when that happens, they become ineffective.
Such is the threat now in Jerusalem. Let¡¦s set the stage:
Crops have not produced as they should, and so the people have been low on food for some time.
„h Inflation due to greedy merchants
Taking ruthless advantage of the situation, the ¡§haves¡¨ raise prices so that the ¡§have-nots¡¨ have to pay more to get food.
„h Time off work to rebuild walls
Nehemiah comes to town to organize a work crew to get the walls rebuilt, and the people rally to the project, but this costs them productive time from work, further exacerbating the situation.
„h Heavy taxation
Add to this the fact that Persian monarchs were known for imposing heavy burdens upon the people, often for the personal enrichment of the king or for the building of lavish palaces and the enrichment of the state.
This is what these folks have been dealing with, and so midway though the building project, we can imagine what happened. Jacob, who is bone-weary from hard work, whose muscles are sore and who is in an irritable mood because of exhaustion, looks down the wall and sees one of these greedy merchants working on the wall. He looks the other direction and sees another rich guy who has taken advantage of his family. And here is old Jacob, dirt poor but willing to work hard, sweating and straining to build the walls. He remembers the things that these guys have done, and how the rich have taken advantage of their position to make things miserable on their fellow Jews. And the flames of resentment begin to smolder. Old Jacob shares his gripes with his co-worker Jeshua, who immediately reports the frustration he feels with the situation too. Pretty soon the discontentment spreads like wildfire; eventually the women join in. And before you know it, class warfare is breaking out in Jerusalem, threatening the team effort. Notice what happens:
1. Nehemiah hears the problem - :1-5
It is altogether likely that Nehemiah had no knowledge that this problem existed. He was certainly intent on the problem at hand; the walls were broken down and the name of God was being held in reproach. Broken-down walls can be seen; this problem was not nearly so tangible, but it was every bit as real.
A. Land-less people were short of food
In verse 2, we see that people were hungry!
B. Landowners were compelled to mortgage their property
Some had already sold their property just to be able to eat; in verse 3 we see that others were about to have to resort to this radical tactic.