Summary: Nehemiah has to put down his hard hat and turn his attention from the construction of the wall to the walls that were being put up between his workers. While their external enemies helped to rally the people, internal conflict threatened to divide and de
How to Stop Strife
As we continue in our series through the Book of Nehemiah, we’ve learned that Nehemiah confronted a different challenge in each chapter:
• In chapter one, he was faced with a personal challenge. When he heard about what was happening in Jerusalem, he sat down and wept and then broke out into prayer.
• In chapter two, his challenge was political. When the King asked him what he needed, he prayed a “popcorn prayer” and boldly made his requests.
• In chapter three, he confronted an administrative challenge by positioning the right workers in the right place for the right reasons.
• In chapter four, he dealt with the challenge of discouragement. The workers were afraid of the enemies and convinced they couldn’t work anymore. Nehemiah rallied the troops to come together under pressure.
As we come to chapter five, this same community is starting to self-destruct because of some festering grievances. The workers now face a new enemy who is harder to conquer than the previous ones. The timing could not have been worse because the walls are almost done! Nehemiah has to put down his hard hat and turn his attention from the construction of the wall to the walls that were being put up between his workers. While their external enemies helped to rally the people, internal conflict threatened to divide and destroy them.
I’m told that when a group of thoroughbred horses face an enemy attack, they stand in a circle facing each other, and with their back legs, kick out at the foe. Donkeys, on the other hand, do just the opposite. They make a circle and face the threat while using their hind legs to kick at each other!
It’s much easier to conquer and subdue an enemy who attacks us than it is to forgive and restore a friend who hurts us. Psalm 55:12-14 puts it this way: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.”
Complaints Nehemiah Heard (1-5)
There’s a word in verse 1 that sets the tone for chapter 5 it’s the word, “against.” Strife was brewing, tension was mounting, and horns were locked. Let’s look at the complaints Nehemiah heard in verses 1-5.
In the midst of a “great work” in 4:19 for a “great God” in 1:5, in 5:1 “the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers.” This was not just a little disagreement or a minor problem. They weren’t crying out against the Samaritans or the Ammonites, but against their own people!
Do you remember when hurricane Andrew tore through southern Florida several years ago? After the storm we got a glimpse of the greed of some people. While there were many who reached out to help, there were others who saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of those in need by price gouging and stealing. That’s similar to what we see in our text. The city of Jerusalem lies in ruins and people are powerless to help themselves. Taxes are high and because of a long drought there is a bad famine. Most everyone has been working with all their hearts to build the walls but there are others whose alarming acts of greed resulted in widespread poverty and injustice.
There were four different groups of people who were involved in the community crisis:
People who owned no land but needed food (verse 2). The population was increasing, the families were growing, there was a famine, and the people were hungry. They were working so hard on the wall that they didn’t have time to plant or take care of their crops.
Landowners who had mortgaged their property in order to buy food (verse 3). Inflation was on the rise and prices were going higher and many had their homes repossessed by the moneylenders.
Another group complained that taxes were too high (verse 4). Many people were forced to borrow money just to pay their tax bills some of us might have to do the same thing in a couple days!
Those who were exploiting others (verse 5). The wealthy were making loans with exorbitant interest rates and taking land and even children as collateral. Families had to choose between starvation and servitude. When the crops failed because of the famine, the creditors took away their property and sold their children into slavery.
While it was not against God’s law to loan money to one another, they were not to act like pawn shop owners or bankers who charge high interest when lending money to fellow Jews. This is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 23:19-20: “Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.”