Nehemiah 5: Lessons from Nehemiah on Spirit-Led Leadership for the Poor and the Oppressed

Introduction: After Satan’s attempt to use external threats to stop the Jews in their rebuilding efforts failed, he created internal conflict amongst the Jews to stop the rebuilding. No building efforts are mentioned in this chapter. Thus, most believe that the construction came to a brief halt. Nehemiah’s Spirit-led leadership stopped the Jews’ exploitation of the poor through predatory loans and allowed God’s work to resume. Through Nehemiah’s example, God reveals seven lessons on Spirit-led leadership for helping the poor and the oppressed. These include:

(1) love, (2) justice, (3) restitution, (4) accountability, (5) sacrifice, (6) generosity, and (7) faith.

First, Nehemiah became angry at Jewish money lenders who were exploiting the poor through high interest rate loans. He acted out of love for the most vulnerable members of society. Like Nehemiah, Spirit-led leaders show God’s love to the poor and the oppressed. Second, Nehemiah gently rebuked the money lenders and told them to stop their unlawful practices. Like Nehemiah, Spirit-led leaders seek God’s justice for the poor and the oppressed. Third, Nehemiah ordered the money lenders to restore those whom they had harmed. Like Nehemiah, Spirit-led leaders seek restitution for the poor and the oppressed. Fourth, Nehemiah had the money lenders make public vows of obedience and appointed the priests to ensure their accountability. Like Nehemiah, Spirit-led leaders ensure obedience to God’s Word with accountability. Fifth, Nehemiah gave up his right to impose special taxes to support himself as the governor in order to help those in need. Like Nehemiah, Spirit-led leaders make personal sacrifices to help others. Sixth, Nehemiah also gave generously from the food allotment given to him as governor to help those in need. Like Nehemiah, Spirit-led leaders are also generous in helping others in need. Finally, Nehemiah turned in prayer to God for success for his efforts to help others. He depended upon God in faith. Like Nehemiah, Spirit-led leaders depend upon God through prayer for both success and guidance, not their own intellect or good works.

1. Love: Spirit-Led Leaders Show God’s Love for the Poor and the Oppressed. Neh. 5:1-6.

  • Nehemiah led by his care for the poor and those in economic bondage. With God’s intervention and the Jews’ faith, the foreign threats to stop the wall failed. But Satan then succeeded in stopping all work on the wall by turning the Jews against each other: “1 Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, ‘We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let’s get grain so that we may eat and live.’ And there were others who said, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses so that we might get grain because of the famine.’ There also were those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. And now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.’ Then I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.” (Neh. 5:1-6). Various external threats exacerbated long-term financial pressures amongst the Jews. This in turn caused the Jews’ social inequalities to boil over to the surface. Nehemiah showed his Spirit-led leadership through his love for the poor and the oppressed and his desire to help them.

The money lenders took advantage of the crisis and placed the Jews into bondage1

  • God allowed various crises to expose the Jews’ social inequalities. Through God’s providence, the Persians previously gave Nehemiah the resources needed to build the walls (Neh. 1:8). Moreover, it only took only 52 days to complete the building of the walls (Neh. 6:15). Thus, it might seem surprising that all this social unrest would happen during this short time period. But several facts worked together to catalyze this unrest. First, an ongoing famine existed in the areas surrounding Jerusalem (Neh. 5:3). Second, the reduced food from the ongoing famine was compounded by the fact that the rebuilding efforts pulled the Jews from the fields for a time and required them to remain inside Jerusalem when they would have been harvesting their crops (Neh. 4:22). Third, many who did not own land were starving (Neh. 5:2). Fifth, the Jews faced heavy tax requirements as subjects of the Persian empire (Neh. 5:4). According to one historian: “Documents from Babylonia show that many inhabitants of this satrapy too had to mortgage their fields and orchards to get silver for the payment of taxes to the king. In many cases they were unable to redeem their property, and became landless hired labourers; sometimes they were compelled to give away their children into slavery. According to some Egyptian data, the taxation was so heavy that the peasants fled to the cities, but were arrested by the monarchs and brought back by force.” (M. Dandameyev (“Achaemenid Babylonia,” Ancient Mesopotamia, ed. I.M. Diakonoff [Moscow: Nauka, 1969] p. 308). Sixth, the Persians took their subjects’ taxed gold and silver coins out of circulation to melt them down and store them. This in turn caused inflation to become rampant. (Frank Gaebelein, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 1, 2 Kings, 1, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Zondervan Publishing House 1988) p. 707). Finally, to deal with these simultaneous challenges, many Jews had to mortgage their crop lands to pay their bills. But their desperation caused many wealthy money lenders to take advantage of this situation by charging high interest rate loans. When the Jews defaulted on these loans, the money lenders either seized the lands listed as collateral or made the borrowers or the borrowers’ children indentured servants. This all came at a time when the Jews were working into the night to build the wall under constant threat of foreign attack (Neh. 4:15-23). The threatened loss of land and freedom led to a “great outcry” (Neh. 5:1, 5). This meant that the Jews openly turned on each other and fought each other. Nehemiah became angry because many rich money lenders had put their greed and covetousness above the needs of their brothers in a time of need (Neh. 5:6).

  • God’s prohibition against charging interest to believers in need. The usury debts forced some parents to place their children into indentured servitude to pay off their debts “we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already. . . ” (Neh. 5:5). This was a sad practice that parents resorted to when they were trapped into debts that they could not repay (cf., 2 Kgs. 4:1). Although commercial lending and lending to people with money was allowed, God prohibited the Jews from charging the poor interest: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.” (Ex. 22:25). “19 You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. 20 You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.” (Dt. 23:19-20). “You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain.” (Lev. 25:37). In cases not involving the poor, the Jews could charge interest provided they did not charge “usurious interest.” (Lev. 25:36). In this case, the money lenders violated both rules by charging usury interest to the poor. Charging interest to the poor who could not afford a loan or “usury interest” to others was a form of oppression that God abhorred: “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” (Prov. 14:31). “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” (Prov. 22:16). “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern.” (Prov. 29:7). “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). Nehemiah saw what the Jews were doing to each other as evil. Their brethren who remained in Babylon still had their families united. At the same time, the Jewish money lenders were forcing Jewish debtors to sell their sons and daughters into indentured servitude to pay off their parents’ debts.

  • Believers should never place another person into bondage. Because God freed His people from slavery, they were expressly prohibited from selling each other as slaves: “If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. . . . For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale.” (Lev. 25:39, 42). If a person did properly receive a loan, indentured servitude amongst the Jews was available for persons who had nothing else to offer to repay a proper loan. God allowed for this out of the “hardness” of people’s hearts (cf., Matt. 19:8). In these circumstances, He protected servants from cruelty from their masters (Lev. 25:53; Ex. 21:20-21, 26). Also, if a kinsman came to redeem the servant’s debts, God required that the servant to be immediately freed (Lev. 25:26, 48). If no kinsman redeemer came, God still required the master to free the servant at the beginning of the seventh year or during the Jubilee year, whichever came first (Dt. 15:12; Lev. 25:39-42, 54). Here, Nehemiah did not need to wait until either the seventh year or a Jubilee year to free the servants. The loans were void both because they were given to the poor and because they involved usury interest.

  • Nehemiah loved all God’s sheep, including the poor. Nehemiah was angry that the Jews were oppressing their own for economic gain and failing to help those in need (Neh. 5:5). He previously felt “great distress and disgrace” when he learned that the Jews were living in fear without walls to protect them (Neh. 1:3). Ezra also grieved deeply over the Jews’ sins in marrying pagan wives (Ezra 9:3). A true shepherd loves God’s people and grieves when they are in distress. Do you grieve for the poor and those in distress around you?

  • God seeks shepherds who love His sheep. The prophet Jeremiah foresaw that God would send shepherds for His sheep: “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15). Nehemiah and Ezra were among God’s promised shepherds. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (Jo. 10:11). Jesus, however, fulfills this promise today through His leaders. Thus, He told Peter to show his love for Him by being a shepherd to His sheep: “He [Jesus] said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.”’ (Jo. 21:17). “ . . . shepherd the flock of God among you, . . .” (1 Pet. 5:2). “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds;” (Prov. 27:23). Are you a shepherd to Jesus’ lost sheep? Do you pray for those around you trapped in sin, debt, or despair?

2. Justice: Spirit-Led Leaders Seek Justice for the Poor and the Oppressed. Neh. 5:7-10.

  • Nehemiah led by prohibiting usury interest. After careful deliberation, Nehemiah rebuked the Jewish nobles and lenders for violating the letter and spirit of God’s law: “So I thought it over and contended with the nobles and the leading people, and said to them, ‘You are lending at interest, each to his brother!’ Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. And I said to them, ‘We, according to our ability, have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?’ Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, ‘The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the taunting of the nations, our enemies? 10 And likewise I, my brothers, and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let’s do without this interest.” (Neh. 5:7-10). Nehemiah showed that he was a great leader by carefully deliberating before he took any action (Neh. 5:7). Out of a love for the people who were harmed, he then gently rebuked the rich nobles and lenders who violated God’s law (Neh. 5:8-10). A Spirit-led leader must be willing to address wrongs in society.

Nehemiah rebuked those who had placed God’s people into economic bondage2

  • Believers who willfully break God’s law blaspheme His holy name. The nobles and money lenders knew God’s law against charging interest to the poor. Thus, to convince them of their wrongs, Nehemiah pointed out the injustice to God from their actions. God redeemed the Jews from their time of bondage in Egypt. He again redeemed them following their bondage in Babylon. God did not free the Jews from foreign bondage merely to allow them to place each other under domestic bondage. As God’s representatives to the gentiles, these Jews had blasphemed God’s holy name. “We, according to our ability, have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?’” (Neh. 5:8) The money lenders were convicted, and they had no response. Today, many assume that it is unnecessary to study God’s law because Jesus paid the price for a believer’s sins. But God warns that a believer who continues to break God’s law with Jesus bearing the penalty blaspheme His holy name: “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you’ just as it is written.” (Ro. 2:23-24). If you are failing to help those in need, you are also blaspheming God by dishonoring His holy name.

  • Believers who take advantage of the poor may also have their prayers “hindered”. As part of his rebuke, Nehemiah also questioned the Jews’ failure to fear God’s wrath at the exact time when they were praying to Him for their protection from their enemies: “should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the taunting of the nations, our enemies?” (Neh. 5:9). In the Old Testament, God warned that He will not hear the prayers of a sinner: “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” (Prov. 21:13; 15:29; 28:9; Ps. 66:18; Isa. 1:15). In the New Testament, He warns that your prayers may be “hindered” when you sin without repenting (1 Pet. 3:7) “We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he does listen to anyone who worships him and does his will.” (Jo. 9:31). To ensure your prayers are not hindered from sin, is there any selfishness or covetousness that you need to repent of?

  • Jesus came to free those trapped in bondage. Jesus was born as a human to be a kinsman redeemer for us all. It is only through faith in His blood that your debts are forgiven (Heb. 9:22; 10:14; Lev. 17:11). On the first day of His public ministry, He entered the synagogue and read from Isaiah 61:1-2. After reading the passage, “He has come to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set free those who are oppressed,” Jesus proclaimed: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:14-21). Although Jesus freed us from the spiritual consequences of sin, the time for the physical captives to be set free will not happen until His Millennial Reign. Slavery and servitude were never not part of God’s plan. It is Satan who places people into bondage.

  • A Spirit led leader seeks God’s justice for the poor and those trapped in bondage. Nehemiah knew that God freed the Jews from bondage and therefore did not want to see them return to bondage: “For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale.” (Lev. 25:42). To keep His people out of bondage, God required His leaders to pursue: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Dt. 16:20). God appointed all leaders to “do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kgs. 10:9). A nation’s leader is also supposed to sit “on the throne of justice.” (Prov. 20:8). This means that a Spirit-led leader must care about addressing wrongs and the plight of those in need: “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” (Ps. 82:3). “[D]o justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). “[L]earn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17). “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” (Dt. 10:18). Nehemiah was willing to confront the rich and the powerful, even though he needed their support. Will you confront those in power when they abuse those under their care?

  • Believers who ignore the plight of those in need do not have the love of God. Because God’s love was within him, Nehemiah could not ignore the poor: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jo. 3:17). “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;” (Dt. 15:7). Are you burdened by the poor and motivated to look for ways to help them?

3. Restitution: Spirit-Led Leaders Seek Restitution For the Poor and Oppressed. Neh. 5:11.

  • Nehemiah led by ordering restoration for the poor debtors. After showing the Jews the errors of their ways, Nehemiah encouraged them to restore those that they had harmed: “11 Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, as well as the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine, and the oil that you are charging as interest from them.’” (Neh. 5:11). Nehemiah told the lenders to act “this very day” in restoring the collateral fields and money that the people had lost through improper usury interest. The reference to a “hundredth part” “would mean 1 percent per month or 12 percent annually . . . It is clear at least that Nehemiah was enjoining property and proceeds (and certainly persons, although they are not mentioned) to be returned. In times of crises or at any time the well-being of the community of faith is more important than the comfort and security of the affluent; they must be willing to sacrifice (cf. Prov 22:16).” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 205).

  • God also calls upon believers to restore those we have wronged. God’s law required the Jews who were able to do so to restore those that they had wronged (Lev. 6:1-4). This included the repayment of monies where the person was able to do so. Although seldom preached in churches today, Jesus did not relieve you of your obligation to restore victims if you receive money under improper pretenses and then fail to give the money back. After Zaccheus accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, he promised to pay restitution four times above the amount that he had defrauded from others in the past: “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”’ (Lk. 19:8; 2 Sam. 12:6). Jesus did not correct him or say that this was unnecessary. Christians correctly teach the need for forgiveness. But saying you are sorry is not enough. To fully comply with God’s Word, churches still need to preach the need to pay restitution. If you fail to restore your victims, what kind of witness are you for Jesus?

  • Don’t place yourself into bondage through high credit card debt. Although God’s Word was meant to free you from bondage and restore you, God wants you to take steps to keep yourself out of bondage. When someone was not poor, God’s law allowed for loans provided a believer did not pay a high interest rate. (Lev. 25:36). The devil, however, will always try to enslave you. High interest debt is one of many ways for him to do that. Jesus wants you to be free from all kinds of bondage. Thus, you should never place yourself in bondage through high credit card debts or mortgage debts beyond what you can afford: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1). “For you were called to freedom, . . .” (Gal. 5:13). “For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.” (2 Cor. 11:2). “For you have not received a spirit of slavery ...” (Rom. 8:15). “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jo. 8:36). God will provide for your needs, not wants (Matt. 6:25-34). If money is tight, high interest credit card debt or excessive mortgage debt is not the means that God provides to supply your needs.

4. Accountability: Spirit-Led Leaders Ensure Obedience with Accountability. Neh. 5:12-13.

  • Nehemiah led by ensuring the restoration of those afflicted with usury loans. After the lenders were guilted into restoring their victims, Nehemiah ensured that they kept their word through public vows, priest accountability, and serious penalties for oath breakers: “12 Then they said, ‘We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.’ So I called the priests and made them take an oath to act in accordance with this promise. 13 I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out every person from his house and from his possessions who does not keep this promise; just so may he be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said, ‘Amen!’ And they praised the Lord. Then the people acted in accordance with this promise.” (Neh. 5:12-13). God’s Word convicted the lenders of their sins. But the temptations of greed and covetousness were too great to assume that all would change. Thus, Nehemiah wisely took steps to ensure that the lenders would keep their promises. The priests normally administered oaths (cf., Nu. 5:19). They would therefore ensure that the lenders kept their word and restored the Jews who were trapped in usury loans.

  • God desires a public confession of faith to obey Him. Throughout the Bible, God’s Spirit-led leaders used public vows to ensure obedience and accountability. For example, after receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses had the 70 elders and the people make public vow to accept them: “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Ex. 24:3). Moses did this to establish a covenant relationship between God and His people (Ex. 24:3-8). Joshua also led the people in a public vow of obedience after they entered the Promised Land (Josh. 8:34-35). After God’s law had been lost for many generations, Josiah also gathered the elders and read God’s law as part of a public vow to renew the covenant (2 Kgs. 23:1-3). Ezra also led the Jews in making a public vow to comply with God’s law and divorce their pagan wives (Ezra 10:12-15). Jesus also wants you to commit to obeying Him. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15). “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (Jo. 14:21). Will you commit to obeying Jesus’ Commandments out of love to Him?

  • God also wants you to publicly confess your faith in His New Covenant. Like the Jews, God also wants you to publicly confess your faith and agreement to the New Covenant: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ -- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (Ro. 10:8-9). If you confess Jesus to be Lord and Savior before others, He in turn will confess you in heaven (Lk. 12:8; Matt. 10:32). Are you sharing the good news of the Gospel with others? (Matt. 28:16-20). When others do, help keep them accountable.

  • God’s appointed priests helped to ensure obedience and accountability. God wants believers to be accountable to each other to ensure that members of the Body of Christ stay strong in the face of temptation. Believers are commanded to “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;” (1 Pet. 5:2). “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28). “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15). “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds;” (Prov. 27:23). “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Eph. 5:21). “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; . . .” (1 Pet. 5:5). Are you accountable for your actions before a small group of believers in your church? Are you helping a new believer to stay accountable to his or her walk?

  • Covetousness causes many to search for ways to get around God’s Word. After Jesus’ resurrection, the rabbis created a “Prozbul” or legal loophole in Jewish law to get around both the prohibition on interest and the cancellation of debts on the Sabbath year. It was a legal document that accompanied any loan. It transferred the loan to a court entity, which was exempt from these rules. For businesses or the wealthy, it also created a partnership for loans to be paid back with profits, not interest. But these legal loopholes were unnecessary. Are you looking for loopholes or exceptions to God’s Word?

  • Believers who openly disobey Jesus will be held to account for their actions. A believer who accepts Jesus Christ is saved from eternal damnation. But believers will still be asked to account for their actions. On the Day of Judgment, believers will he held to account for their actions at the “Bema Seat” before Christ (2 Cor. 5:9). At that time, He will ask what each believer did for the poor and the needy: “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:29-35). Will your time in front of the Judgment Seat of Christ be filled with tough questions?

5. Sacrifice: Spirit-Led Leaders Make Personal Sacrifices To Help Others. Neh. 5:14-16.

  • Nehemiah led by declining to tax the people. To encourage the lenders to sacrifice the good of others, Nehemiah pointed out that he had sacrificed his right to tax the people: “14 Furthermore, since the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, for twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor’s food allowance. 15 But the previous governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of my fear of God. 16 I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.” (Neh. 5:14-16). King Artaxerxes appointed Nehemiah as governor around 453 B.C. (Neh. 5:14). As the appointed governor, Nehemiah could have imposed taxes for himself. These would have been in excess of the taxes owed to the King of Persian. His predecessors had done this. But Nehemiah led by example in sacrificing for the people. He also feared God and did not want God’s wrath by further indebting the people in need.

Nehemiah sought to add the poor and lighten their burdens3

  • Live as a holy example to motivate others to do the same. Nehemiah was motivated to live a holy life out of a “fear of God” (Neh. 5:15; Ps. 33:18-19). This meant sacrificing to be a holy example to others. Paul also sacrificed the financial support that he was entitled to receive to be an example to others: “But I have used none of these things. . . What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:15, 18). “Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, . . .” (2 Cor. 12:14). How are you sacrificing to help others?

  • Until Jesus returns, mankind’s sins will always require personal sacrifice for the poor. It is a common dream of humanists, communists, and socialists to eliminate poverty. It also is the stated goal of many of many government welfare programs. Some Christian organizations even have in the mission statements the goal to eliminate poverty (i.e., Habitat for Humanity). But God tells us that poverty will always exist as long as the Earth is under Satan’s rule: “11 For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’” (Dt. 15:11). In three of the Gospels, Jesus quoted from this same verse: “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” (Matt. 26:11; Mk. 14:7; Jo. 12:8). Thus, the Church cannot look to the government to eliminate poverty. If it could, there would be no need to care for the poor. Everyone could pay their taxes and ignore those in peril. Are you looking to the government to solve poverty? Or, are you willing to personally sacrifice to help those in need?

6. Generosity: Spirit-Led Leaders Are Generous in Helping Those in Need. Neh. 5:17-18.

  • Nehemiah led through his generosity. In addition to declining to use his tax authority for himself, Nehemiah also gave from the King’s food provision to help those in need: “17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now that which was prepared for each day was one ox and six choice sheep; also birds were prepared for me, and every ten days all sorts of wine were provided in abundance. Yet for all this I did not request the governor’s food allowance, because the forced labor was heavy on this people.” (Neh. 5:17-18). As the appointed governor, Nehemiah had the food allowance to feed up to 150 people at a time on a regular basis. He could have sold any unused animal carcasses. Instead, he gave whatever was extra to help those in need during famine and debt crises. He had asked the Jews to be generous with their time and abilities to help build the wall. Nehemiah inspired others by his own example by generously giving to those in need.

  • Jesus calls upon believers to lend to the poor, even if the loan might not be returned. The rules on giving to the poor did not disappear with Jesus’ death. Jesus also commands that you give to those in need, even when you don’t expect to be repaid: “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.” (Lk. 6:34). “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:44). “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” (Lk. 14:13). “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jo. 3:17; see also, Prov. 28:5; Jer. 22:3; Ezek. 18:21; Zech. 7:9; Matt. 23:23; Jam. 1:27). Are you giving freely to those in need without expecting a return? Is your church giving to persons in need?

  • Don’t allow your giving to return a person to a bondage or addiction. Although Jesus calls upon believers to be generous, He also cautions: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matt. 7:6). In the parable of the prodigal son, the wayward son had to hit rock bottom before he realized what he had given up. If someone had enabled him by constantly giving him money to squander, he never would have realized his mistakes (Lk. 15:11-32). As one commentator observes: “The Bible says it is wrong to make money off of someone’s financial need; if someone needs money for the most basic needs of life, they should be given money, not loaned it at interest. Of course, loaning money at interest is permitted for things that are not absolute necessities. Yet God’s people must always use great wisdom and self-control in borrowing money.” (David Guzik on Neh. 5).4 Are you over extending yourself with your borrowing?

  • Be cheerful in your giving. God also does not want you giving to the poor if it is done with sadness or a feeling of obligation. He instead wants you to be a cheerful giver: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Chron. 29:9). Do you give with joy? Or, do you view giving as a burden that you can only afford in good times?

7. Faith: Spirit-Led Leaders Depend Upon God in Faith For Their Success. Neh. 5:19.

  • Nehemiah led through his prayers for the people. As a man of faith, Nehemiah pleaded with God to make him successful as a leader to help the Jews in their many crises: “19 Remember me, my God, for good, in return for all that I have done for this people.” (Neh. 5:19). Nehemiah’s prayer might appear to be boastful or self-centered. But that was not the case. This was not a public prayer to show his piety. If that were the case, God would not have rewarded him (Matt. 6:1-4). Nehemiah instead recorded this prayer in his private journal. He also was not praying for God to reward him personally with wealth or power. Instead, he prayed in faith for God to grant him success as a leader to help God’s people. “Even though Nehemiah knew how to take definite action and exert courageous leadership, his dependence was on God. The Christian leader faces many delicate matters. The internal problems of greed, inequality, and injustice that Nehemiah faced were delicate and serious. But he reacted carefully yet swiftly and decisively, trusting in God’s help and the guidance of His Word.” (Breneman p. 208-209).

  • Depend upon God in faith for success in serving Him. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). If you expect to succeed based upon your own intellect or talents, you are working for your own glory, not His glory. When you step out to serve Jesus, are you praying for guidance and for success to help His people?

  • When you faithfully serve others for Jesus, He will bless your labors for Him. When you serve others in faith as Nehemiah did, you are in effect serving Jesus: “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”’ (Matt. 25:40; 10:42; Mk. 9:41). “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.” (Prov. 19:17). You should never serve out of a motivation to be rewarded. Yet, when you serve with the right motives, God will remember your works for Him: “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” (Heb. 6:10). Are you stepping out in faith to serve the poor so that Jesus can bless you?