Summary: Nehemiah had something beyond the authority that went with being a governor. He had something that had taken him over time, actually, and we learn later on about twelve years to fully earn. He had credibility
The Credibility Factor
Around 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians, came into Jerusalem, came into Israel and destroyed the temple and destroyed the walls and took a bunch of guys prisoner, to put an end to Israel as a super power.
Fifty years later, things had changed in the world and the Babylonians were no longer the super power, the Persians were. King Cyrus, looked around and there were all these foreigners that the Babylonians had brought in.
Cyrus declared an edict to release the prisoners and about 50,000 Jewish people left Babylon and went back to Israel to try to rejuvenate that nation and rejuvenate that economy.
If you read the book of Ezra, you can read about that first group that went back under a man named Zerubbabel. And they rebuilt the temple, sort of—it never had the glory of Solomon’s temple. The economy got a little better, but then faltered because there was no wall around the capital city. The nation of Israel was in incredible debt to all the surrounding nations and things were really bad.
Time goes by, and the new King Artaxerxes continued to send people home.
Well, he just happened to have an official that worked with him, he was referred to as a cupbearer, the cupbearer to the king, who was Jewish. And his name was Nehemiah.
The way the story begins is… Nehemiah is with King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah’s brother, who lived in Jerusalem, visited Nehemiah. Nehemiah asked his brother, “How are things going in Jerusalem?”
And so his brother says, “Nehemiah, I don’t know how to tell you this, it’s worse than ever. The gates are burnt, there are no walls, things are disorganized, the economy is terrible, most of the citizens are enslaved outsiders and foreigners, they’ve had to leverage their houses, their businesses, their crops. They’ve even had to use their wives and children as collateral for all the loans they’ve taken out. Things are absolutely chaotic.”
When Nehemiah gets this news, it breaks his heart and he begins to weep. And he begins to pray that God would give him favor in the eyes of King Artaxerxes and King Artaxerxes would allow him to leave his responsibilities in the capital city of Persia and go to Jerusalem and do something for his people. It’s an incredible prayer.
So one day when the King is in a good mood, Nehemiah goes to the king and says, “King Artaxerxes, here’s the news I’ve received. It’s broken my heart. Would you give me an extended leave of absence to go to Jerusalem and see if I can bring some order to the chaos of my homeland?”
King Artaxerxes says, “Yes, and I’m actually going to make you the governor of that province. And I’m going to give you letters to every single king or leader between here and there to support you and to help you and to give you anything you need in order to make your journey successful, as long as you’ll promise me that eventually you’ll come back and serve me.”
So, Nehemiah spends several weeks putting together this large entourage of people and materials and wealth that the king gave him. All along the way, he collected lumber, everything he would need to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and eventually he arrives at the city of Jerusalem.
And when he does, the Jewish people there assumed here comes another governor that’s just going to add more taxes and take more from us as all the previous governors have in the past.
BUT NEHEMIAH DIDN’T DO THAT. He settled into the city, established a residence, and then night after night he would go out and survey the city and survey the broken-down walls. Then Nehemiah gathers the people together and cast this vision that we’re going to rebuild the walls, we’re going to re-establish our credibility with the surrounding nations. And the people said, “Let’s do this.”
As they begin their work, Nehemiah realizes that the biggest impediment, the thing that’s going to hold them back more than anything else is DEBT!!!
The leaders of the households, were so indebted to the surrounding rich people and the surrounding nations and the surrounding merchants that they were so afraid that if they missed a single payment, they were going to lose their land… going to lose their farms… could lose their daughters… could lose their sons. They could even lose their wives. And he realized, “If I’m going to get their undivided attention to get this wall built, I’ve got to do something about our economy.”
So, Nehemiah dips into his own personal resources and the money that the king had given him to get the job done. He goes around and he finds out who owes who what and he begins to pay the debts of the people personally so they can get their homes back in their names, their land back in their names. They can begin to relax a little bit and enjoy the fruits of their own labors without feeling like at any point somebody is going to come in and take what belongs to them. Their children wouldn’t be threatened anymore; their families wouldn’t be threatened.