People say that public speaking is the most difficult task for many folks. Yet, I find that the confrontation of others is equally challenging.
“Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers.” (Neh 5:1) A strike occurred amongst the labourers who had been building the Jerusalem wall. Some had large families without enough to eat (5:2). Others mortgaged their fields, vineyards, and homes for food (5:3). Still others were heavily in debt as they struggled to pay for the king’s tax (5:4). Those who were unable to pay back what they owned sold their children and themselves into slavery (5:5).
“When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.” (5:6) Why was Nehemiah angry when he heard their outcry? Nehemiah was angry because the people had forgotten the Mosaic Law. It was not wrong to lend money to a non-Jew for interest. It was not wrong to lend money to a Jew. It was wrong to demand interest on a loan to a Jew. It was wrong to enslave a fellow Jew. Nehemiah got angry because the people knowingly ignored and disobeyed God’s word.
“I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials.” (5:7) Indeed, Nehemiah was mad, but he thought before he spoke. Nehemiah consulted with himself and listened to God’s voice. Then, Nehemiah spoke to the men with money, the ones who were exacting interest from those who didn’t have it. They were responsible for the oppression of the labourers. Although this was difficult conversation, Nehemiah confronted them with the facts of their violation.
Nehemiah made three accusations.
- You charged interest to fellow Jews. This was wrong. (5:7)
- You enforced the permanent slavery of the Jews. This was wrong. (5:8)
- You lost your distinction in the eyes of the surrounding nations. That was tragic. (5:9)
After Nehemiah rebuked the ruling elite, “they kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.” (5:8) Nehemiah did not stop with rebuke but took steps to correct the problem. They must stop the wrongdoings (5:10) and return these properties to their owners (5:11). In the presence of the priests, they took an oath to follow through with their promises (5:12-13). “At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.” (5:13) If we are committed to build our community with Biblical principles, we must uphold Godly expectations.
Meanwhile, Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem gossiped and spread rumours that “it is reported among the nations – and Geshem says it is true – that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem…” (6:6-7) Their intent was to stop the rebuilding (6:9). A rumor is noted for its exaggeration and inaccuracy. The cutting remark is designed to hurt. In a community, gossip is likely to be a major reason for disunity.
Nehemiah was the target of gossip and he confronted the enemies by calmly denying the charge and putting the blame where it belonged (6:8). Finally, he took his hurt to God in prayer (6:9). Nehemiah did not give in but persisted in what he knew to be the will of God. “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (6:15-16)
What I admire about Nehemiah is how he role modelled for others to follow. “When I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year – twelve years – neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.” (5:14-16) From cupbearer, to builder, to governor, Nehemiah never lost sight of the project. Furthermore, he stayed sensitive to the needs of his people. Seeing that the people were overtaxed, Nehemiah “never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.” (5:18)
Nehemiah did not shy away from difficult conversations with his people nor his enemies. He upheld Godly principles and role modelled for others to follow. We need to walk our talk. I cannot ask others to read the Word when I do not spend time in the Word. I cannot ask others to embrace learning when I am not an active learner myself. The same applies to school leaders with teachers, teachers with students, and parents with children.
Community building is never an easy job, but a doable and meaningful task. It begins with one’s desire to be involved and being the solution for the problems (Neh 1:1-11). While waiting for God’s timing, exercise one’s faith with planning (2:1-10). It takes thorough planning and committed collaboration to kick off the good work (2:11-3:32). Along the process, expect distraction, harassment, opposition, discouragement, gossip and rumours. Pray and persist as well as take rest and develop supportive relationships (4:1-23). Confront wrongdoings and uphold Biblical principles. Model Godly behaviours and attitudes (5:1-6:19). May God be honoured and glorified in the midst of the CAIS community.
Grateful Thanksgiving! Have a safe and refreshing October break.
Swindoll, C. R. (1990). Hand me another brick. Nashville, TN: Nelson.