Where there’s work there are workers. Where there are workers, there are always people who are trying to exploit them, to make their own profit. Nehemiah has to see the harsh realities of this.
Right in the midst of the communal efforts of sweat and toil, Nehemiah becomes aware that things are desperately unfair. There is a shortage of food, and some are having to scavenge for food, others need to mortgage their property to stay alive, and others are taking out loans and even selling their children into slave labour, in order to have enough to eat (vv.2-5). What should have been an exercise in shared work and mutual support has quickly turned into a familiar story of self-interest from the rich, and a survival struggle for the poor.
Nehemiah is angry (v.6). Calling together the wealthy officials, Nehemiah calls them out over this heartless exploitation. There is an uncomfortable silence – “They could find nothing to say” (vv.7-9). The leader’s courageous stand of blunt honesty and clear command works, and they agree to return what they’ve taken, as well as the interest on payments (v.12), and he secures a promise on future dealings (v.13).
The Jerusalem community knows that Nehemiah is the right man to serve as governor (v.14). Eager though he is to lead them, Nehemiah knows that leaders are servants. he gets on with the work in hand, forgoes his allowance of good, and ensures that all are looked after (vv.15-18). His insistence that he must forgo his rights remind us of the Apostle Paul, serving the Gospel at his own expense and inconvenience. Moreover, we remember the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a servant of all, at the cost of His own life. This is service.
Who do you want to lead you? The Bible says that leadership is never a title, it is always a transparently commendable lifestyle. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13.7). Leaders serve, and those who follow them are to dedicate themselves to serving others, too. This is life in the kingdom.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, in a world of self-interest, teach me by Your Spirit to become last, and the servant of all. I confess that I enjoy people’s approval, and having things go my way. Give me integrity, Lord, that I may wish to serve my Saviour and those He died for, fired by His love, and eager to do good for the household of faith. Amen.