Today, we’re picking the story of Nehemiah up where we left off yesterday. A whole group of people who were hurting and experiencing troubles came up to Nehemiah and explained exactly what was going on. They laid out, in no uncertain terms, the unjust practices of the nobles and rulers. Nehemiah listened to their problems and empathized with their situation. He wasn’t cold or harsh to them, but he felt what they were feeling—something that is all too rare today.
Honestly, most of the times when I’ve read this chapter, I’ve raced to the part where Nehemiah lays down the law. He calls out the officials in public and gets them to agree to change their practices for the good of the entire community. There’s a celebration, God is glorified, and the people follow through with their promise—talk about a really good day!
But, while reading through this chapter again, I realized that I had skipped over something important: how each of these groups saw themselves.
Lately, I’ve been studying the Enneagram, which is more than just a personality test, but an invitation to look at ourselves and our motivations. It’s easy to go through life on auto-pilot and adopt a false identity instead of truly walking in the truth that we are completely loved and forgiven children of God. So I’m probably filtering this chapter through that lens just a little bit and, I must say, I’m not mad at it. So please indulge me for a moment as we try to put ourselves in this story and see what it reveals about ourselves, God, and the world as a whole.
“Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.” Nehemiah 5:1 (ESV)
I wonder how long the people had been in the dire situations that they found themselves in. They had mortgaged their farms and vineyards, sold their land, and even, in some tragic cases, sold their children into slavery in order to make ends meet. I would imagine that, as things got worse, they sunk deep and deeper into a victim mentality. Given their situation, having a “woe is me” attitude wouldn’t be an overreaction.
We don’t know how long they were stuck in that dark place, we just know that they had enough by this point in time. They didn’t revolt against the people whose unjust practices had landed them in this bad spot. They weren’t concerned with exacting revenge on anyone, they wanted justice. And they had the courage and humility to come to someone with more power than them.
How often do our attempts to manage or fix a situation land us into worse trouble? And how long does it take us to come to God with our problems?
“I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them…” Nehemiah 5:7 (ESV)
One of the many things that I appreciate about Nehemiah is his humility: he knew his God-given authority and wasn’t afraid to operate in that. He didn’t bully the nobles and the officials, but he came to them with truth. He wasn’t about to let this group of people continue to take advantage of God’s people, but he wasn’t going to confront them in an improper way.
It’s so easy to repay a wrong with a wrong, especially if it’s in the defense of someone else. But that’s not what Nehemiah did. He didn’t jump to conclusions, he didn’t call them names, he didn’t pile on; Nehemiah spoke truth to these people who had wronged others and gave them an opportunity to repent.
I wonder how our relationships would change if we were willing to speak truth and leave the rest up to God. How can we embrace our God-given space in the world, taking up no more and no less?
The Nobles and Officials
“Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.” Nehemiah 5:12 (ESV)
After Nehemiah confronts them, they don’t meet him with excuses or protestations, instead, they are repentant when confronted with the truth. They had been incredibly greedy, but their hearts were softened in that moment. Their focus shifted from their own influence and opulence to the needs of the people around them.
They were willing to admit that they were wrong, that they had hurt another, and chose to change their ways. How incredible is that?! They weren’t the villains in this story, they were a group of people who got caught up in the love of money and repented almost immediately.
How do you respond when confronted with the truth? How quick are we to repent when we’re in the wrong?
Our behaviors are always a result of our beliefs and the actions of each of the groups in this story reveal what they believed about themselves and about God. I am, once again, taking the time to think about my behaviors and dig into the motivations behind them. And, anything that doesn’t measure up with the Word I can submit to God and ask Him to heal and restore.
What about you?