We’ve seen over the past four devotions how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around the city of Jerusalem. We looked at how he prayed before starting, then at his initial inspection of the walls, and at how his enemies plotted against him, and how he kept working anyway. Now we will see how he handled his people when they found themselves in another bad situation.
Nehemiah 5 New King James Version (NKJV)
1 And there was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren. 2 For there were those who said, “We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live.”
3 There were also some who said, “We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine.”
4 There were also those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our lands and vineyards. 5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them,for other men have our lands and vineyards.”
6 And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, “Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.” So I called a great assembly against them. 8 And I said to them, “According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?”
Then they were silenced and found nothing to say. 9 Then I said, “What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury! 11 Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them.”
12 So they said, “We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say.”
Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.”
And all the assembly said, “Amen!” and praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.
14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions. 15 But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants were gathered there for the work.
17 And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us. 18 Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people.
19 Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.
During the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra had come back to Judah to start rebuilding the temple, and to set the hearts of the people back to God. For thirteen years he worked and governed with a mind to bring Glory to God. But the walls of the Holy City Jerusalem had not been built back up, and the city lay wide open to attackers at any point. The people were in heavy debt and impoverished. When Artaxerxes’ cupbearer, Nehemiah, heard of this, he wept. After a few days of fasting and prayer, he requested leave to go and help put Jerusalem back in order. God laid it on the king’s heart to allow this.
Nehemiah has been met with resistance from the enemies of Jerusalem from the onset of his arrival. They have conspired against him to attack the city before the wall could be completed, but God revealed the plan to him and he set up watches at all time, and even the laborers carried sword and spear while working in full armor. It even said they slept in the armor, only removing it to clean it. They took their defense very seriously. The walls were being reconstructed in an extremely fast manner because Nehemiah charged each resident with rebuilding the section of wall in front of his house.
The People’s Debts & Forgiveness
The most pressing issue for the city was clearly the wall. Foreign enemies could have easily marched in and destroyed everything they had worked for since Ezra came. The main defense of any city back that was the wall. Without it, they were open to attack at any time. So, that had to be his first priority.
But, when it became clear the wall was nearly finished, and the city wasn’t going to be attacked immediately, he set his attention to another problem. The people came to him and explained how they were in distress. Many were hungry, and many were in great debt because they mortgaged their land so they could eat.
What good would the wall do if the people starved to death or went back into slavery because of these debts? Nehemiah understood that for the city to grow again and to have a stable economy, there needed to be a change. He called for the Hebrews to forgive all each other’s debts. All of them.
They knew a radical change had to happen and did it.
Could you imagine that today? If the governor of your land declared to release all debts? I don’t think that would go over well with those who were owed. But the Hebrews did it. They knew a radical change had to happen and did it. It must have taken a great deal of humility and prayer for many of them, but they did. For the good of the City, and for their own relationship with God, they did. How often do we know we need to do something for God, but resist because it is hard?
What is it that God has been putting on your heart to do that you have been putting off? My challenge today is to hit your knees in prayer about it and ask God for the strength and wisdom to do it. He will provide liberal amounts of wisdom if you only ask for it.
Don’t know what God is wanting you to do? Get in the Word. Don’t let this be the only Word you have today, but dive deeper, and pray for interpretation of the Word through the Holy Spirit. Ask the LORD what it is He would have you do. Then listen to His calling throughout the day. He will let you know.