You don’t have to look very far to see examples of injustice in the world, do you? Just the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen car dealerships being arbitrarily shut down. When you hear the stories of what’s happening, one thing comes to mind—it’s not fair. When you read of the Spencer Auto Group in Roane County and others, you see exactly how unfair it is. The Spencer Auto Group is the largest employer in Roane County. They have employed families for generations. And now all those people are going to be out of work within just a few weeks. That one arbitrary act has the potential to put Roane County in an economic tailspin. I don’t care what you think about the current economic policies—that’s just not fair. But do you know what? Life isn’t fair. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It’s all part of living in a fallen world. And it’s not just a recent thing. It’s been that way forever. Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible. He saw how unfair life was. In Job 21:7 he said, “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?” Later on during the heights of Jerusalem’s power and glory, the Psalmist saw that things still weren’t fair. In the 73rd Psalm, he wrote, “Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.” Later on, he wrote, “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me.” Right before the exile, Jeremiah saw the problem of injustice in the world. He wrote, “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” Later, the prophet Habakkuk saw the problem too. He wrote, “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.” Injustice abounds. It has always abounded. It will always abound until the Lord returns. We might as well get used to the idea that life isn’t fair. So what do we do? Do we just throw up our hands in helplessness? Do we just give up? We could. But then we wouldn’t be doing what God calls us to do in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, would we? In those verses, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ. We are called to a ministry of reconciliation. Just as Jesus provided a way for us to be reconciled to God, we are to be reconcilers. Part of being reconcilers is that we have to deal with injustice in the right way. Now there are all kinds of ways people try to deal with injustice. People protest. They riot. They rebel. That’s not what we’re called to do. On a broad national level, we’re called to submit—even to injustice. And at the same time we’re submitting, we preach the Gospel. But injustice doesn’t just happen on a national level, does it? Injustice happens right in front of us. It happens with the people we work with. It happens with the people we live next to. It happens in our families and in our neighborhoods. Sometimes, it even happens with the people we are called to lead. In almost all cases of injustice, the best thing we can do is humbly evangelize with a submissive heart. But when the Lord puts us in a place of leadership, it requires much more than that. Just like it did for Nehemiah in our passage tonight. God had called Nehemiah to lead the remnant to rebuild the wall. So anything that got in the way of them accomplishing their mission was disobeying God. When forces outside the walls tried to get in the way, Nehemiah defended against them. But he wasn’t really too worried about them. Because he knew that as long as the remnant was obedient in working toward accomplishing the mission, God would fight their battles. Nehemiah’s biggest concern was always with what was going on inside the walls. He had dealt with discouragement and got it squashed. But now came a different kind of enemy. Now he had to deal with the universal problem of injustice. The problem was that the injustice was happening among the people he was called to lead. Injustice in the world is frustrating. And focusing on our mission is the best thing we can do to deal with it. Jesus will take care of the injustice in the world when He comes back. The problem is, what do you do when injustice hits closer to home? What do you do when those you are called to lead are cheating others? What do you do when they are taking advantage of others? What do you do when they are using their positions to intimidate and curry favors from others on your team? Do you just have to live with it? If you do, then you’re part of the problem. But as a leader, you’re called to be part of the solution. That’s what Nehemiah was.
We like to think of the remnant under Nehemiah as having it all together. Nehemiah was a great leader because he had great people working for him. Well, that’s true on some level. They accomplished a tremendous feat. But in reality, they were just as dysfunctional as any group of people. There were saints on the team and there were sinners on the team. And Nehemiah had to deal with all of them. But not only did he have to deal with them, he had to get them to work together. He had to fight through all of the difficulties in order to get the mission accomplished. He couldn’t allow himself to become distracted from what they were supposed to be doing. And what was going on here could have easily become a huge distraction. It could have become a huge distraction, because we’re talking about money and food. Here’s the scenario that’s laid out in verses 1-5. Most of the people had large families. And anyone who has had kids knows that they like to eat. When moms with lots of kids go to Kroger, they’re the ones you see pushing a cart and pulling another one. And these people were facing the same problem that that mom does when she gets to the checkout line. It costs a lot of money to feed kids. Now, here’s what added to the problem. The whole family had been working on the wall for a few weeks. Because of the outside threat, Nehemiah had called all of them to live inside the wall until it was finished. What did these people do for a living? They were farmers. What happens if you leave the farm unattended for a few weeks during growing season? Weeds come up. Things don’t get watered. Things that get ripe, don’t get picked and begin to rot on the vine. It doesn’t get tended the way it needs to. Here’s what made it even worse. This was all happening around the August-September timeframe. What happens during that time of the year? It’s the harvest. So fields were ripe, but the families weren’t able to harvest the grain. That meant that they didn’t have enough food for themselves. Plus it meant that they didn’t have money to pay off the loans they had taken out to get them through the planting season. Now, it was crunch time. The creditors were demanding payment, but the people couldn’t pay. So what did the creditors do? They took payment in the form of taking their children as slaves. Now the people were crying out to Nehemiah because their children were being taken as slaves. Everything had been repossessed and they still couldn’t afford to eat. But here’s the kicker. The ones who were acting like loan sharks were part of the remnant. Verse 7 calls them “nobles and rulers.” We’ve seen those titles before. Remember back in chapter 2, that long list of people who were listed as building the wall? Do you remember how everybody was listed as working on a part of the wall? Everybody except one group of folks. Verse 5 talked about the Tekoite nobles who refused to do any work. Do you suppose this is the same group of people? I can’t say for sure, but I think so. They were too important to do any of the work. But they had no problem with extorting money from the ones who were doing the work. As a matter of fact, the people who were giving up everything to do the work had to make up for the fact that the nobles wouldn’t do any. And then the nobles took advantage of them. That’s not fair, is it? That is injustice in the extreme. And it’s no different than some of the attitudes of injustice that can creep into teams that you are called to lead. The question is, how do you deal with it when it happens? Verses 6-13 show us how Nehemiah dealt with it. His response consisted of eight steps.
First, verse 6 says that he was angry. Nehemiah was no wimp. He reacted to injustice the same way that we should. When we see people being mistreated and abused and taken advantage of, we should be angry. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and sin not.” Injustice is sin. And sin should make us angry. As a leader, when you see injustice, it’s not just okay to be angry. If it doesn’t make you angry, then something’s wrong with you. If you are placed in leadership over a person and they are cheating and taking advantage of people, it better make you mad. That’s one of the reasons Jesus was so furious when he assaulted the moneychangers in the temple. They were extorting money from poor people in the name of religion. But notice that Nehemiah took time to deal with his anger. Look at the first part of verse 7.
That shows us the second response. When everything was brought to Nehemiah’s attention, it made him furious. But he didn’t go off half-cocked in his anger. The first part of verse 7 says that he consulted with himself. Some of us might call that “taking a deep breath.” He stopped for a second. You see, when something like an act of injustice truly makes you angry, that’s okay. The problem comes with what we do with that anger. If we fly off in a fit of rage, that’s a bad thing. That’s where the sin part comes into “Be angry and sin not.” So, as a leader… when something blows your top… it’s best to take a deep breath. Ask yourself: “Why does this make me so angry?” “Is my reaction personal, or is it because of my love for my people?” “How can I best respond in a godly manner?” It’s also a good idea to breathe one of those “arrow” prayers like we’ve seen Nehemiah pray in the past. Be angry against injustice, but don’t allow your reaction to compound the problem. A third response is tied up in the second one.
Notice that Nehemiah didn’t form a committee. He didn’t pass the buck. When he “consulted with himself”, he did just that. He formed a committee of one. Leadership can be lonely. When making decisions, it’s always good to have others involved. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” In planning, it’s important to include the council of others. But, as President Harry Truman knew, the buck stops with leadership. Sometimes it is necessary for you as a leader to “consult with yourself.” When you know the mission God has called you to, and when you see a direct and overt threat to that mission, deal with it. Don’t wait for an opinion poll. Don’t wait for people to choose up sides. Don’t allow the ones who are causing the injustice time to martial their forces. Deal with it. The question is, how? What do you do when it’s time to go into action? That’s the fourth response in the middle part of verse 7.
Nehemiah said, “I rebuked the nobles. I rebuked the rulers. I said to them—you are extorting money from your own people.” Nehemiah didn’t mince words with them. He didn’t talk about them behind their back to try and undermine them. He went straight to the source of the problem. He directly confronted them. When someone on your team is unjustly treating people, you have to confront them. You can’t just hope it goes away. And when you confront them, you can’t just dance around the subject. You have to hit the issue head on. That’s when that anger can come into play. You are allowed to show them how angry you are. You are allowed to raise your voice. Or you can lower it—real low—Clint Eastwood low. Either way, as a leader, you have to confront injustice head on. Which leads us to the fifth response in the last part of verse 7-9.
As he was confronting them, Nehemiah didn’t just vent on them. He was very specific in his accusation. He told them what they were doing wrong. But not only did he tell them what they were doing wrong, he told them why it was wrong in the first place. Nehemiah was a great leader. And like all great leaders, he took every opportunity he could find as a teaching moment. He explained why what they were doing was an offense to the team. It was damaging the team and their reputation among the heathen nations. Anytime someone inside the church commits and act of injustice, people are watching. And lost people like nothing more than to justify themselves by saying that we’re no better than they are. That is the damage that is done by injustice. But it’s not the only damage done. As a matter of fact, it’s not the greatest damage that’s done. Because in verse 9, Nehemiah points out the damage that injustice does to the name of God. Whether we like it or not, when we call ourselves Christians, we carry the name of Christ. So if someone who is not a Christian sees us lying or cheating or stealing or taking advantage of people, we are dragging the name of Christ through the mud. That’s why when God calls you to lead someone like that, you have to directly confront them about it. After Nehemiah confronted the nobles and the rulers, the next response he had was to remind them of the example he had set before them.
Verse 10 is worded awkwardly in the King James, but what he is saying is, “You didn’t have to do what you did. You could have followed the example my brothers and I set. We loaned people money and food. We loaned it which meant that we expected to be repaid. But we didn’t exploit the situation for our own personal benefit. We didn’t take advantage of our own people.” As a good leader, Nehemiah set a good example before them. He wasn’t telling them to do as I say and not as I do. He wasn’t perfect. No leader can be. But when God calls you to lead His people, you need to lead by example. Every day was a teaching moment for Nehemiah. He reminded them of that teaching as he responded to their injustice.
Then he responded by giving them a command in verse 11. He told them to immediately fix the problem. Notice that there was no ambiguity in what he said. He got very detailed in what he expected of them. He didn’t just say, “I don’t want you to act like that anymore.” He told them that they had to fix the problem. And they had to do it in two directions. They had to fix the problem from here on out by leaving off this usury. They could still loan to the people. But they couldn’t charge them interest. They couldn’t profit off of it. But not only did they have to fix the problem from here on out… they had to make up for the damage they had already done. They had to restore all the things that they had repossessed. Plus, they had to pay back all of the interest that they had charged. Now, that could not have made the nobles and rulers very happy. They were going to have to lose a huge chunk of change. But in verse 12 they agreed to everything Nehemiah told them to do.
So, everything’s back the way it should be, right? The people are happy, Nehemiah’s happy. Everything’s right with the remnant, right? Not quite. Because Nehemiah was smart. He understood how people are. Especially people who have shown a tendency to be unjust. He knew that unjust people will never do what you expect—they will only do what you inspect. So he didn’t allow himself to be too confident in their words. His final response was that he got it in writing. In verse 12, he sealed it with an oath before the priests. But also, verse 13 says that he did this in front of the whole congregation. There was going to be no misunderstanding. If the rulers and nobles reneged on their agreement, there would be no excuses. So, the agreement and promise had teeth.
Each of us in here is called to lead in some form or fashion. Whether it’s leading at home or school or work, we all are called to lead something. We can’t do a whole lot about the injustice we see in the world, except pray and spread the Gospel. But we can do a whole lot about injustice we see in the places we’re called to lead. We can see the injustice for what it is and we can respond to it the way that Nehemiah did.
We all get frustrated by injustice. But the greatest injustice never seems to bother us too much. That is the injustice of disregarding the blood of Christ. What a horrible injustice is done to our Savior when we refuse to turn to Him as our Lord. What a horrible injustice is done to Jesus when we take our salvation for granted. What a horrible injustice is done to Christ when we refuse to do the mission that He’s called us to do. What a horrible injustice is done to Jesus when we refuse to make disciples for Him and baptize them and teach them. Why doesn’t that injustice make us angry? Why doesn’t that injustice make us confront people? Why doesn’t that injustice make us immediately fix the problem? Why don’t we hold each other accountable to correct that injustice? Why don’t we start doing that tonight?