When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. Nehemiah 5:6
Let’s review where we have been in our journey through the first four chapters of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to build a wall. It had been 140 years since the Babylonians tore it down, 90 years since the Jewish exiles began returning, and 70 years since the temple had been rebuilt. Yet the city of Jerusalem was still empty, unprotected, and at the mercy of surrounding hostile nations.
Inspired by God, moved to tears, and fueled by a dislocated heart, Nehemiah headed to Jerusalem. Natural leader that he was, and despite many threats from the hostile neighbors, he and the other Jews quickly built the wall to half its height. (Nehemiah 4:6)
Then Israel’s biggest threat arose – not from outside the city but from within. Disobedience had ravaged people’s hearts and was eroding Israel’s impact. The people cried out to Nehemiah that their own countrymen were taking advantage of the current food shortage to charge them exorbitant interest, to take over their fields and homes through mortgages they could not repay, and to enslave their children to satisfy their debts. The injustice threatened to end the wall-building project. It made Nehemiah angry, but wisely he waited until his anger had cooled and until he considered what should be done. Then he went to the nobles who were responsible for the injustice.
“What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations? I myself, as well as my brothers and my workers, have been lending the people money and grain, but now let us stop this business of charging interest. You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.” Nehemiah 5:9-11
The nobles listened and pledged to make restoration for the damage they had done. The work on the wall resumed. God blessed the work and soon Jerusalem was once again the chief city of the Jews.
The people labored on a stone wall of protection, but the real wall that surrounded them was God. He saw what they did not see: the wall which they were raising, which they wanted God to bless, was surrounding hearts living in disobedience. God would not have allowed it to proceed if they had not confessed the sin and eliminated the injustice. God would not allow himself, the true wall, to surround and protect such an unholy assembly. Friends, God is not mocked and never blesses disobedience.
You and I cry out in prayer for God to protect us and be that hedge around us, our families, our church. But what are we asking God to protect?
May I ask a pointed question to prep us all for Sunday? What’s inside the walls of our hearts?
God always blesses obedience. May we be a people who look inward, personally and corporately, and prioritize wholehearted devotion to Jesus. Today, be a Nehemiah and react with passion against the injustices in your own life. Then God will once again build up the wall of protection we long for and use us to bless our cities.
I look forward to unpacking the front end of Nehemiah 5 with you this Sunday.
I love being your pastor!