Strong Leadership for Hard Times

Nehemiah 5:1-19

Times were tough in Jerusalem. That is what prompted Nehemiah to risk his life before the king and eventually to go there in the first place. Physical danger was high – surrounded by enemies, no way to gain protection from them (no police, no army, no wall for safety). Emotional danger high as well – great stress on families and on the church – along with that, high spiritual danger. Temptation to trust in self and personal efforts rather than God, to view themselves in light of present circumstances instead of viewing their circumstances in light of God’s eternal plan.

Yet not all was doom and gloom – some were experiencing prosperity; they were eating well, their land holdings and bank accounts were growing, life was good. But at what expense? In spite of appearances of prosperity, a serious threat present: the three cronies and their allies. That huge profit on the bottom line could just as quickly turn negative, if the real estate market took a serious hit!

Jerusalem needed a leader, one who could legitimately refocus her citizens to what they should be doing and how they should be acting. God had just such a leader in place – Nehemiah; God also had plan in place to work through Nehemiah’s leadership during hard times, changing hard hearts, and prompting hard choices.

A. hard times

no food v.2-3

famine referred to in verse 3:

building wall from mid-July to early-September, hottest part of the year; barley harvest early May, wheat harvest early June; grape harvest August/September

perhaps genuine shortage of grain, perhaps problem manufactured by enemies – restrict supply, drive up prices, take advantage of the situation

no income v.4

unpaid leave

from Chapter 4, work on the wall from dawn to dusk, guard duty overnight; no time for regular job

not possible for those from outlying towns to commute for work on the wall

large majority of workers self-employed – craftsmen or farmers; no work, no income

no future v.5

severe economic stress:

children were sold into slavery

houses and vineyards were mortgaged

money was borrowed at interest

It all adds up to a hopeless future, people powerless to change it.

trapped in circumstances, no resources of their own, at the mercy of others – enslaved in debt

The crushing realization for Nehemiah was that not foreigners but the people themselves were forcing these intolerable measures on each other. New Geneva

B. hard hearts

charging interest v.7

forbidden by God Deut. 23:19-20

“You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest”

not only that, interest charged was excessive for the time: 12% (v.11)

enslavement v.8

allowed in extreme necessity (Ex. 21:7) indentured servitude, only to last for six years maximum

confiscated property v.11

bereft of means to repay the debt – loss of not just income from property but the very source of income (see verse 5b)

reminiscent of debtors prisons immortalized by Charles Dickens

perhaps some from Tekoa who refused to help on the wall (Neh. 3:5)

added to the “smart” of their treatment

taking unfair advantage of brothers AND prolonging the crisis

==> deaf ears v.1

strong and desperate cry for help from those experiencing injustice; one which perhaps only God will hear with intent to respond

C. hard choices

Nehemiah in difficult situation: God’s people had been

infiltrated by harshness v.7

surrounded by enemies v.9

Nehemiah had minimal authority v.14a

commission from Artaxerxes came later

could not mandate a change in economic practice

God’s church and culture in which it existed (Jerusalem) in danger of destruction (from human perspective)

either by oppression from Sanballat and his allies outside

or harsh circumstances made worse by greedy Jews inside

Would Nehemiah dabble around the edges, tinker with a few things to look like he was trying to help, OR, would he take the big risk – put life, reputation & future on the line to do the hard thing?

D. great character

Needed: strong leader with impeccable character, able to handle tough stuff in hard times

Provided by God: Nehemiah

confronted the problem v.7b-9

we already redeemed our brothers from slavery in other nations; what are you thinking???

You’re disobeying God; what are you thinking???

set the example

let us stop v.10

reminding all concerned they are all brothers, all God’s people; successful completion of God’s work required unity of effort

showed generosity v.15, 17-18

leader in labor v.16

prayed with a clear conscience v.19

sincere honesty from heart that loved God and his people

Christ promised to build his church

bought his people out of slavery so they could work as his instruments in building the kingdom

expects his people, especially those in leadership – home, church, community – to be Nehemiahs

tough love when necessary – confronting sin and those who would encourage God’s people back into bondage

exemplary living always, following principles established by God and communicated in his Word, depending on Christ for strength and courage, demonstrating love for brothers and sisters

May none, then, call on me for understanding,
May none, then, turn to me for help in pain,
And drain alone his bitter cup of sorrow,
Or find he knocks upon my heart in vain.


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