Summary: When the enemy fails in his attacks from the outside, he then begins to attack from within.
When the enemy fails in his attacks from the outside, he then begins to attack from within; and one of his favorite weapons is selfishness.
If he can get us thinking only about ourselves and what we want, then he will win the victory before we realize that he is even at work.
Selfishness means putting myself at the center of everything and insisting on getting what I want when I want it.
It means exploiting others so I can be happy and taking advantage of them just so I can have my own way.
It is not only wanting my own way but expecting everybody else to want my way too.
Why are selfish people so miserable?
I think Thomas Merton said it best:
"To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell."
This 5th chapter of Nehemiah reveals to us the depths of sin in the human heart and how each of us must learn to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This moving drama has three acts.
Act One: A Great Cry
In the midst of a "great work" (4:19) for a "great God" (1:5), a "great cry" (5:1) was heard among the Jews.
They were not crying out against the Samaritans, the Ammonites, or the Arabs,
but against their own people!
Jew was exploiting Jew, and the economic situation had become so desperate that even the wives (who usually kept silent) were joining in the protest.
Four different groups of people were involved in this crisis.
First, there were the people who owned no land but who needed food (v. 2).
The population was increasing; there was a famine (v. 3); and the people were hungry.
These people could not help themselves so they cried out to Nehemiah for help.
The Second group was composed of landowners who had mortgaged their property in order to buy food (v. 3).
Apparently inflation was on the rise,
and prices were going higher.
The combination of debt and inflation is enough to wipe out a person’s equity very quickly.
The Third group complained because the taxes were too high, and they were forced to borrow money to pay them (v. 4).
In order to borrow the money, they had to give security; and this meant eventually losing their property.
The Persian king received a fortune in annual tribute, very little of which ever benefited the local provinces.
Unlike our situation today, the taxes did not support local services;
they only supported the king.
The Fourth group was made up of wealthy Jews who were exploiting their own brothers and sisters by loaning them money and taking their lands and their children for collateral
Jewish boys and girls had to choose between starvation or servitude!
It was not unlawful for Jews to loan money to one another, but they were not to act like money lenders and charge interest (Deut 23:19-20).
They were to treat one another with love even in the matter of taking security
(Deut. 24:10-13; Ex. 22:25-27)
or making a brother a servant (Lev. 25:35-46).
Both the people and the land belonged to the Lord, and He would not have anyone using either one for personal gain.
One reason for the "Year of Jubilee" (Lev. 25) was to balance the economic system in Israel so that the rich could not get richer as the poor became poorer.
All debts had to be forgiven in the fiftieth year, all land restored to its original owners, and all servants set free.
These wealthy businessmen were selfishly exploiting the poor in order to make themselves rich.
They were using their power to rob some and to put others into bondage.
Greed was one of the sins the prophets had denounced before the Babylonian Captivity (Isa. 56:9-12; Jer. 22:13-19); Amos 2:6-7; 5:11-12).
God has a special concern for the poor and will not hold those guiltless who take advantage of them.
Act 2: A Great Assembly
It is one thing to confront foreign enemies and quite something else to deal with your own people when they fight one another.
Young Moses learned that it was easier to dispose of an Egyptian master than to reconcile two Jewish brothers (Ex. 2:11-15).
Nehemiah showed true leadership in his responses to the problem.
His first response was anger (5:6).
This was not the flaring up of a sinful temper but the expression of righteous indignation at the way the businessmen were oppressing their brothers and sisters.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4.26)
"be angry yet do not sin".
Nehemiah was not a politician who asked, "What is popular?" or a diplomat who asked, "What is safe?" but a true leader who asked,
"What is right?"
His was a holy anger against sin, and he knew he had the Law of God behind him.