Internal Strife
Nehemiah 5

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.
 

One of the great dividers in a church is internal fighting, a fellowship split by differences.
Whether a split is caused by Biblical interpretation, church government style, worship or simply personal differences, the result is not usually good and certainly not good for the work of the Lord.
We see example of this in the early church and we see the Apostle Paul addressing such things in:    

 

1 Cor 11:17 - 19 In the following instructions I have no praise to offer, because your gatherings do more harm than good. 
18 First of all, I hear that when you come together as a church, 
there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 
19 And indeed,
there must be differences among you to show which of you are approved.…

1Corinthians Ch 1 v 12 “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ”.
1 Corinthians Ch 3 v 4 “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal”?


We have also seen this in the divisions throughout church history and the proof is the many different denominations in Christendom. Again, caused by differences in interpretation of doctrine, different idea’s on church government or because groups follow a man.
When a church fellowship comes under stress, it can soon cause aggravation amongst brethren.
We see this not only in the church but also in the home.
Financial pressure causes many arguments and much suffering in the family and even causes divorce.

This is what was happening in our text.
There was a famine in the land,
V3 and there were financial burdens on the people and the people were complaining. Also whilst the people were worrying about how they were going to find the means to live, they would not be able to concentrate on the work of God.

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. 


Lack of money and means to live was taking its toll on the people.
We can understand this because of what is happening in our society today.
Rising service costs, Rising debt. People getting into financial difficulties. Loss of jobs, cuts in wages and benefits. Rise in loan sharks and credit card debt.
The rise of food banks and charity shops.
All this can cause havoc in a family and in Christian families, this can distract from God’s work.
People get bogged down with pressures of family life and concentration on the things of God get pushed to one side.

This was a serious situation in Jerusalem, there was a lack of food and the means to live.
 

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." 
 

The first part of this verse suggests hunger through the lack of food.

Human slavery is a big topic of discussion in the world today. Poverty, that was causing people to either go to drastic measures to find a better life, families even selling their own children. Only last week I heard it on the news, where it was saying that even in a country like the UK, women were being forced by necessity to resort to prostitution to make ends meet.

 

6 And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 
 

Nehemiah became very angry. It is not wrong to get angry at such situations, where suffering is being caused by greed or where people are taking advantage of a situation.
The anger was directed at the wealthy or those that because of riches were not affected by what was happening.
The worst part about it was, that it was against brother and brother.


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. 


This was not allowed according to the Mosaic law.

Exodus 22:25 25 “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact
interest from him.

Deut 23:19 19 “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.

So I called a great assembly against them. 
Nehemiah reminded them of how the children of Israel had been redeemed from the captivity by nations.
Then he challenged them, “Will you do to them as our enemies did”?


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! 


Sometimes it becomes necessary for our leaders to step up and challenge the fellowship.
This is not something that we see much of in our churches today. Church discipline. It is not very popular.
I have experienced this in just a few churches that I have been involved with over the years but generally people do not like to be challenged and so things, usually are let go and in turn this causes bad feeling in a fellowship.

Without respect for leadership, whether it is a pastoral team or Elders and Deacons or Priest and Laity, discipline cannot exist.
Without leadership, Christians are a law unto themselves.

I have seen Christians, rightly chastised by the Elders, for things that they have done or said, which caused problems in the fellowship and instead of it being accepted and dealt with, they just resisted the chastisement, fell out with the leaders, or in some cases just left the church.

To sort these kinds of problems in a church, there would need to be a study into the pattern of the early church.
This leadership and discipline seems to have disappeared from most local churches.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves!”.

It is essential that there is respect for Elders and Leaders and this should be reciprocated to the fellowship. Also,  respect for each other should be a thing that is nurtured.
It seems that this is a subject that is sadly lacking in a lot of local churches.

 

It is essential that the Elders/Leaders respect the flock and teach the Word of God.
 

Acts 20:28 “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood”.

A word to Leaders.
 

2 Timothy 2:24-26 “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” .


It was obvious that Nehemiah was a respected leader. He challenged the other rulers and gave them a talking to. Then he appealed to them with examples and counselled them to stop what they were doing.
 

10 I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury

Notice, he did not just point out what they were doing wrong, but he told them what they should do that was right. This is leadership.
 

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." 


This shows the leadership quality of Nehemiah and how good leadership is rewarded with respect.

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. 
 

Again we can see how God worked with Nehemiah and went before him.
We see here, how Nehemiah was a wise leader, in that he knew the nature of men and that how men can make promises and very soon break them.
So, Nehemiah warned them, do not make a promise to God and then break it.


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. 

God is a God of promises, He keeps His promises. Do not tempt the Lord your God.

Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?
Deuteronomy 23:21-23 “
If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.


Matt 4:7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”
 

God is not for breaking His promises, we should not break ours.
 

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

This applies to us as well.

James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
However, We know from this textual account that the people did in fact keep their promises.

V13 Then the people did according to this promise. 
 

Nehemiah was a man of honour, who lived by example to the people, just like the Apostle Paul was an example, who worked as a tentmaker to support himself in the ministry.
 

Acts 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.

 

Nehemiah 5:15 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.

It is not wrong to support a full time Pastor or church worker, if they are giving up their job to work for the church at home or abroad.
However, there should never be a time when the church should be taken advantage of.


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. 


We must always remember, this is the work of the Lord and it is not for us to profit.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
These are not jobs, they are callings.

God is the one who will reward us for what we do for Him. Whether it is our finances, our time or our talent, we do everything as unto the Lord.

 

Col 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Nehemiah’s prayer was that God would remember him.

19 Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

Nehemiah wasn’t asking for a pat on the back or an award from men, he wasn’t doing this for financial gain, it was the work of the Lord, Nehemiah knew that true service in the name of the Lord would receive the right recognition.


We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ.
 

2 Corinthians 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
 

May God remember each one of us for what we have done in the name of Jesus, for what we gave of ourselves in His service. For how we treated our leaders and our brethren and how we acted in the cause of the Gospel.

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