Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
The congregation is like a body. Any deformity or malfunction must be set right and not left to grow more serious.
Nehemiah is keen to restore the spiritual health of the community. His speech makes a powerful impact, for the people immediately agree to set things right in their community, giving the poor an opportunity to recover (Nehemiah 5:12). Making the priests, nobles, and leaders take an oath before the living God, Nehemiah warns those who are not intending to take their promises seriously that they will suffer adverse consequences (vv. 12-13). When everyone (″the whole assembly″) says ″Amen″ (which means ″so shall it be″) and praises the Lord (v. 13), this is a sweet moment of unity and obedience. The encouraging thing is that ″the people did as they had promised″ (v. 13). Their promises are not superficial.
In the rest of the passage, we get a better picture of Nehemiah's generosity and his relationship to God and his fellow Jews. Nehemiah testifies that during his 12 years as governor, ″neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor″ (v. 14). The previous governors of Judah had taxed their subjects excessively, but Nehemiah is different, for he has ″the fear of God″ (v. 15 ESV). He does not abuse his position, and refuses to tax the people because he knows how much they are suffering because of the building project (v. 18). Instead, he pays for his personal needs out of his own pocket (see Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:1-15).
As governor, Nehemiah is expected to provide food for his staff and diplomatic visitors. At his table, 150 staff and visiting diplomats are fed (Nehemiah 5:17). In all of his personal needs and the official exercise of his governorship, Nehemiah acts with personal sacrifice (v. 18).
Nehemiah reveals one more fact about himself. His focus is the building of the wall, and everything is subsumed under that primary goal (v. 16). He does not do business or acquire land-something he could have easily done as governor-to build up his personal wealth. He knows that God has not sent him to acquire land but to build the wall. He is thus able to pray for God to remember him and his actions (v. 19), reiterating that all he does is for God, and that any reward he receives, he would expect from heaven rather than earth.
There are some lessons to learn here. First, there must be a sincere and strong desire to set things right when they are wrong, whether it is in our own walk with God, our family life, or what we do in church. Spiritual neglect has serious consequences. Second, we must act on our desire to set things right, whether it means avoiding sin, carrying out loving deeds, or forgiving others. Third, we must remain focused on our relationship with God and others, and in serving Him for His glory. We have to learn to live with an ″undivided heart″ (Psalm 86:11).
How do you think Nehemiah inspired the people through his personal example? Think of people you know who exude generosity, self-sacrifice, and compassion. Pray about how you can do the same.
Nehemiah lived a focused life. Read Psalm 86:11 and 2 Timothy 2:4. Why is an ″undivided heart″ (Psalm 86:11) necessary if we are to walk closely with God and serve Him faithfully?