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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

September 2020

Nehemiah 5: A final thought

Before we move on to chapter 6, I wanted to share some words from F.B. Meyer in his ‘Great Verses through the Bible’, p.169:

‘Nehemiah had a perfect right to take this money. Not a word could be said by even his critics, if he did. He was doing a priceless work, and might justly claim his maintenance. On the other hand, the people were very poor, and he would have a larger influence over them if he were prepared to stand on their level, and to share with them. It was just so that the Apostle argued in 1 Cor. 9. And from both we learn that we must forgo our evident rights and liberties in order to influence others for Christ. Do not always stand on your rights; but live for others, making any sacrifice in order to save some – even as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us.’

PRAYER: Again, Lord, we ask for wisdom to make the right choices, and for grace to live sacrificially under your Lordship.

Nehemiah 5:14-19: Integrity

“14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, 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. 15 But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels[a] 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. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we[b] did not acquire any land.17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.19 Remember me with favour, my God, for all I have done for these people.” NIV

A famous contemporary book on leadership, written by Simon Sinek, carries the wonderful title, ‘Leaders eat last.’ I haven’t read the book, but I think the title tells us what it’s essentially about – servant leadership. Thankfully, many people in the world today seem to be cottoning on to the idea that leadership is primarily about servanthood. But the Bible got there long before the rest of the planet started to catch up.

Initially, I thought about entitling this piece ‘generosity’, and that would have been relevant. But in the end I decided ‘integrity’ would be a more appropriate word. All the other good things exhibited in Nehemiah’s life, including his generous spirit, were manifestations of that integrity. He didn’t say one thing and then do another.

Earlier on in the chapter, Nehemiah had ‘preached’ to others about walking in the ‘’fear’’ of God (9). Here, in this section, as he sums up his first 12 years as governor, he says that his own life and leadership came ‘’out of reverence for God’’ (15b). He didn’t stand on his rights. His leadership was not infested with the dangerous pest of egotism. Rather, his tenure was marked by sacrifice and service; by giving rather than getting.

We can now look beyond Nehemiah to Jesus who came not ‘’to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’’ (Mark 10:45). Jesus is our supreme example. He humbled Himself ‘’to serve’’ and ‘’to give’’ (see also Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is so much more than our example, but He is our example. He calls us to ‘’follow’’ Him. If He indwells us, such discipleship becomes gloriously possible.

Nehemiah 5:12-13: Check mate!

“9 So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them – one per cent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.’12 ‘We will give it back,’ they said. ‘And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.’Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, ‘In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!’At this the whole assembly said, ‘Amen,’ and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.” NIV

When Nehemiah issued the instructions in verse 11, backed up with the influence of his own example (10), he put the culprits in ‘check’. In all conscience what could they say other than, ‘’We will give it back’’ (12a). They were caught in the headlights with nowhere to run or hide. But when he built in such a potent accountability structure (12b), they were ‘checkmated.’ Sometimes wise leadership has to show tough love, taking full account of human nature. I think of the words in John 2 about Jesus that: ‘’He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.’’

It seems to me that Nehemiah, knowing human nature – knowing the subtle and powerful pull of greed over the heart – did all he could to help the people not only repent, but then stay on the right path.

PRAYER: Lord, I acknowledge that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.Help me not to be controlled by money, nor by the lust for it, but to steward what I have for your purposes.

Nehemiah 5:9-11: Walking in the fear of God

“9 So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them – one per cent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.’” NIV

Walking in the ‘’fear’’ of God has ethical implications:

In the first place, it teaches you ‘’right’’ from wrong. It makes you clear about what is ‘’right’’ and sensitises your conscience to any deviation from it. It causes you to want to do what is ‘’right’’.

 Secondly, it makes you desire to have a good testimony before men. You become aware that the glory of God, or otherwise, is bound up with how you conduct yourself. You don’t want to bring any kind of ‘’reproach’’ on God or His church. (Nehemiah showed, says Matthew Henry, ‘That it was a great scandal, and a reproach to their profession. “Consider the reproach of the heathen our enemies, enemies to us, to our God, and to our holy religion. They will be glad of any occasion to speak against us, and this will give them great occasion; they will say, These Jews, that profess so much devotion to God, see how barbarous they are one to another.” Note… All that profess religion should be very careful that they do nothing to expose themselves to the reproach of those that are without, lest religion be wounded through their sides.’)

Thirdly, it will not permit you to be a hypocrite. If you are encouraging others to live well, and do the right thing, then you will seek to set a good example yourself. This is something Nehemiah did. It helped make his ‘preaching’ so powerful.

 

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