Summary: The trouble facing the Jews from their enemies is eclipsed now by their internal struggles.
The struggle INSIDE the wall
“The worst threats the church has ever encountered have come more from within than without. External pressures are like water on a grease fire– causing the church to intensify and spread. Internal strife and bickering are like AIDS– sapping the strength and vitality from the Body.”
**Dateline August 1999, Landover, Maryland: Article entitled- “Church Splits Down the Middle Over Issues Regarding Piano Bench.” (www.landoverbaptist.org/news0899/piano.html)
-Some people believe that Christians should never disagree about ANYTHING...we call these people “non-Christians”. They have a completely unrealistic view of what “spiritual unity” means.
-But realistically...there should be an OBVIOUS difference in the way we treat each other. God does expect that the way we LOVE and HONOR and CARE FOR each other would reveal the difference that HE has made in our lives. That’s why I asked our elders to read the passage from John 15 rather than the Nehemiah text we’re covering this morning. “This is my command, Jesus said, LOVE one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Nehemiah 5 deals with strife between the Israelites as they work on the wall...and how it’s solved by determining to honor (fear!) God and obey His word.
1.) Nehemiah hears the people’s COMPLAINTS
- “We’re STARVING” (v.1 & 2) “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. Some were saying, ‘We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
As the work on the wall began– people have left their jobs...their fields...and their vineyards to work on it...but that has created problems. This group complains to Nehemiah- “There are a LOT of us and we’ve run out of food!”
- “We’re going BROKE” (v.3) “Others were saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
This group has a way to get food, but it’s not a good situation. As they participate in the building of the wall, they are borrowing against the value of their farmland, vineyards and homes to survive. WE ALL KNOW how hopeless a position that can be. (living by the credit card!)
- “We’re being ABUSED” (v.4-5) A “large” and very complicated complaint: “Still others were saying, ‘We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
TAXES- Even though we are in desperate circumstances, the king still wants his “cut”…would this be a good time to remind you that April 15 is only a month and a half away? BUT I will tell you right now that Nehemiah’s answer is NOT going to be to ignore the king’s tax. The problem is something else.
SLAVERY- Once the property has been mortgaged for all it’s worth, the only other possibility was for a person to sell themselves or, sometimes their whole family, into slavery. Listen to the frustration in their cry: “We are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen…” We’re all sons of Abraham! We’re of the same nationality! Why do we have to be treated this way?
PROPERTY OWNERSHIP (no way out!) This is one vicious circle: If we sell our land because we are broke, we can’t earn money. If we have no money and no land, we have to sell our children into slavery. If our children are slaves and working for someone else, we’ll never be able to get earn enough money to get our land back. This is HOPELESS
2.) Nehemiah CONFRONTS the problem We know Nehemiah well enough to know that he’s going to DO SOMETHING about this, don’t we??!!
-He is genuinely ANGRY (v.6) “When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.” “Oh!….Nehemiah is angry...that’s bad!!” Where did we get the idea that ALL anger is bad? Anger CAN be bad, that’s for sure, but Ephesians 4:26 says- “In your anger...do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
Jesus was angry and didn’t sin...he chased money changers out of the temple on more than one occasion...but didn’t sin. He was angry that his disciples were telling parents to keep their children away from him...but didn’t sin. He was angry that the Pharisees made it very difficult for people to come to God...but still didn’t sin. KEY? Jesus’ anger was at INJUSTICES done to other people.