Nehemiah 5 Addressing conflict in community.



We continue on in our text to chapter 5 of Nehemiah.
There have been a number of amazing things accomplished already thus far.
God has cleared the way for the project to even begin.
The king not only allowed Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem, but sent him with a royal escort, with letters of protection, and letters to gather the materials he needed to do the work.
The people had a heart to work and began rebuilding the gates, the towers, and the walls.
It has not all been smooth sailing though, as we saw last week, opposition against Nehemiah and the people took shape.
First with ridicule, and growing to plots of murder.
Chapter 5 moves on to show us that the struggle was not only external though.
There were problems right at home within the city, among the people doing the building.
Chapter 5 opens with a dramatic change of scene.
We move from the wall, to economic needs.
Nehemiah 5:1 ESV
1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.
This was a cry for help.
They were not crying out against the Samaritans, the Ammonites, or the Arabs, but against their own people!
Jew was exploiting Jew, and the economic situation had become so desperate that even the wives (who usually kept silent) were joining in the protest.
Four different groups of people were involved in this crisis. First, there were the people who owned no land but who needed food (v. 2).
The population was increasing; there was a famine (v. 3); and the people were hungry.
These people could not help themselves so they cried out to Nehemiah for help.
The second group was composed of landowners who had mortgaged their property in order to buy food (v. 3).
Apparently inflation was on the rise, and prices were going higher.
The combination of debt and inflation is enough to wipe out a person’s equity very quickly.
The third group complained because the taxes were too high, and they were forced to borrow money to pay them (v. 4).
In order to borrow the money, they had to give security; and this meant eventually losing their property.
The Persian king received a fortune in annual tribute, very little of which ever benefited the local provinces.
The taxes did not support local services; they only supported the king and his projects.
The fourth group was made up of wealthy Jews
These Jews were exploiting their own brothers and sisters by loaning them money and taking their lands and their children for collateral (Lev. 25:39–40).
Jewish boys and girls had to choose between starvation or servitude!
It was not unlawful for Jews to loan money to one another, but they were not to act like money lenders and charge interest
Deuteronomy 23:19–20 ESV
19 “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
God allowed the Jews to charge interest to other people, but they were not allowed to charge interest to each other. 
They could loan to each other but they could not charge any interest on it. 
They were to treat one another with love even in the matter of taking security (24:10–13; Ex. 22:25–27) or making a brother a servant.
Leviticus 25:35 ESV
35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.
The Bible also said that the Jew was not to enslave another Jew. 
If someone was poor he could come and work for you but you were not to make him your slave. 
They were clearly violating God's will.  The rich were blatantly violating these laws: profiteering, exploiting, and capitalizing on the famine.
Both the people and the land belonged to the Lord, and He would not have anybody using either one for personal gain.
You may have heard of the Year of Jubilee.
A special year in Jewish law for resetting some economic standings, especially related to returning property to ancestral owners.
The Year of Jubilee is the Sabbath rest at the end of seven sabbatical annual cycles—every 50th year.
During this year, economic debts were to be forgiven, land restored to families who sold in order to repay debt, and slaves sold to repay debt were to be liberated.
One reason for the “Year of Jubilee” (Lev. 25) was to balance the economic system in Israel so that the rich could not get richer as the poor became poorer.
All debts had to be forgiven in the fiftieth year, all land restored to its original owners, and all servants set free.
An interesting side note on the year of Jubilee.
While clearly specified in the biblical text, there is no biblical or extrabiblical evidence that the practice of a Year of Jubilee was ever celebrated.
Just another part of the reason as to why the Jewish people were in the state they were in - disobedience.
Jubilee was not held in large part because of the peoples selfishness.
All of this was not solely because of taking the time to rebuild the wall.
The region had been through a period of famine and food supplies had become scarce.
The needs though were more clearly seen when people were away from their normal work in order to rebuild the wall.
As we look around us today, there are many needs.
Our culture is very different that Israel in Nehemiah’s day.
We don’t have slavery.
But we do lend and borrow money, normally through banks.
Occasionally we may do that with family or close friends.
We live in one of the most affluent nations on the planet, and yet there are people here who go hungry.
We don’t ask for help easily.
To do so is often a direct assault on our pride.
We don’t share when things are tough (often even in the church), when we could use a little help.
There are numerous reasons we might be in a difficult situation.
Some may be self inflicted through irresponsibility, mismanagement,
At other times though, unexpected things happen.
There are times where we may need to cry out for help.
The problem we see in our passage is the people were crying for help, but those who were in a position to help, were not doing their biblical duty to help.
When we look at this situation, the root cause of internal conflict is always selfishness.
Whether you have conflict in your family, with your spouse, in our church, in your office, at school -- the bottom line in conflict is always selfishness.
On one persons part or the other, but in my experience there is most often some on both sides of the conflict.
Selfishness is always at work.
James 4:1 ESV
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
When my wants (passions) conflict with your wants, we have a problem! 
We are going to have conflict, division.
The most fulfilling part of leadership is working with people. 
But the most frustrating part of leadership is working with people. 
People tend to be selfish, including me. 
We want our own way. 
We want to do our own thing. 
As a result we do not always want what is best. 
We think of ourselves and that causes conflict. 
It is always selfishness.
In these first 5 verses of Neh 5.
It is difficult to determine if this is a general groaning, or a specific call for help.
We don’t see it expressly directed to Nehemiah.
Either way, we see Nehemiah hears of it.
Think of Nehemiah, it is one thing to confront foreign enemies and quite something else to deal with your own people when they fight one another.
It is important to note that the building of the wall did not create these problems; it revealed them.
Another principle we can take from this chapter, outside stressors often reveal internal strife.
Internal conflict.
How do we resolve conflict? 
Nehemiah knew this whole thing could blow up in his face and the wall never be rebuilt. 
They were exploiting each other. 
We see Jews fighting against Jews, families fighting against families. 
In verse 1, the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their own people. 
This kind of conflict is much worse than fighting an enemy out there. 
An external enemy will often cause the troops to rally, it builds unity. 
When you are fighting each other, it is dividing you apart.
The people had to be united to finish the wall.
As I said earlier, we don’t know the full story of how this conflict has taken shape.
We do not know whether the people who were being wronged had first gone to those exploiting them without getting things resolved.
That is always the first step when you think that someone has wronged you, to go directly to the person and try to get things resolved (Matt. 18:15).
The conflict though has reached Nehemiah.
There is a basic and yet often overlooked principle: a leader cannot deal with problems that he is not aware of.
Sometimes he cannot deal with problems even when he is aware of them, of course.
But without exception, it is impossible to deal with problems when you do not know about them.
I cannot help to deal with problems that I am not aware of.
Having been in management before, and I have seen this in churches as well.
I am amazed at how often people air their complaints to everyone except the leaders who could perhaps do something to help.
They always have an excuse: “I just wanted to see if anyone else felt the same way that I feel.”
Or, “I just need to air my feelings.”
Or, “The pastor is too busy and he won’t listen to you anyway!”
But to talk to everyone except those who can do something about the problem just stirs up dissension and spreads gossip.
To resolve conflicts or problems biblically, go directly to the person responsible and talk about the problem.
If someone comes to you with a complaint, ask if he has talked to whoever is in charge.
In the case of the church, one of the pastors or elders.
If not, direct him to do so before he talks to anyone else.
Many misunderstandings can be resolved at this level without causing larger problems at work, in the community, at church, and even in our families.
Going to the person rather than talking about them to anyone else.
As we are going about building God’s kingdom together, we need to be united together.
In order to resolve conflicts biblically, we must deal with complaints in a biblical manner.
Nehemiah is an example of godly leadership here.
He could have told these people, “I’m busy on this wall. Come back in six weeks and we’ll talk.”
But Nehemiah realized that the problems were significant and the people were upset.
So he interrupted his attention on the wall to listen and help resolve this matter.
His initial response was anger.
Nehemiah 5:6 ESV
6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.
Anger is a difficult subject.
The Bible clearly teaches that most anger is sinful, but that some anger is righteous
Ephesians 4:26 ESV
26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Ephesians 4:31 ESV
31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Jesus got angry at the hardness of heart of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5), but He did not sin.
He also expressed anger in the temple, throwing out the money changers and people who had turned it into nothing more than a market.
If our anger is directed against the sinful treatment of others
and if we allow it to move us toward constructive means to try to resolve the problem,
it may be righteous anger.
If it involves some wrong committed against us, it may be righteous,
but probably sinful selfishness and pride are mixed in with it,
so we should be very careful to examine our motives before God.
We need to check ourselves to make sure that we direct our righteous anger righteously.
That’s what Nehemiah did.
Nehemiah also took time to compose himself and think through the situation for himself.
Nehemiah 5:7 (ESV)
7 I took counsel with myself,
He didn’t go off in a rage to blast those who were wrong.
He stopped, cooled off, thought and prayed things through, and only then took action.
Proverbs 16:32 ESV
32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
We all, but especially leaders, need to exercise self-control when we get angry.
He didn’t cool off and do nothing though,
Nehemiah 5:7 ESV
7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them
In this verse we see that he first went to the nobles and officials.
Nehemiah uses a process that Jesus spells out for us as well.
Matthew 18:15–17 ESV
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
A little rabbit trail, this is also the section where we see the verse.
Matthew 18:20 ESV
20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
That verse is in the context of conflict.
That verse is not verse about gathering in prayer, God is always with us. But that verse reminds us that God is with us specifically in conflict.
While Nehemiah did not have our Lord’s teaching on this, he seems to have followed this pattern of private confrontation before any public confrontation.
Based upon what we have recorded, it appears that Nehemiah’s private confrontation did not gain a successful response, so he moved on to holding a great assembly.
Nehemiah spelled out the problem.
He rebuked the leaders (5:8) by pointing out how he and others had redeemed their Jewish brothers who had been sold to the nations,
but now it was Jews themselves who were selling their brothers into slavery.
They could not find a word to answer.
He further stated that their behavior was not good in that their enemies would mock the Jews for their mistreatment of their own people (5:9).
Some think that Nehemiah (5:10) is admitting his own past failure in lending money at interest to his fellow Jews
based on the plural Let us abandon this exacting of interest.
but I think that he is just using the plural to identify with these men.
I think we can safely make that distinction because of his righteous anger and the example he gives in the rest of this chapter.
By including himself, Nehemiah is appealing to these wealthy men to join him in lending without requiring interest.
He asks them to give back to the poor their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses, along with the interest that they had charged.
It is hard to confront sinners with their sin, whether in private or in public.
None of us wants to be called out for our sin.
Sometimes though, that is exactly what we need to grow in godliness.
But we must follow Nehemiah’s example of confronting those who are in sin.
While no one lives a perfect life, one of the reasons Nehemiah could confront these wealthy individuals was because of the example he provided.
Nehemiah shows us that leaders must be above reproach, proving to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
He had spent his own money to redeem fellow Jews from slavery (5:8).
He had loaned them money without interest (5:10).
And in 5:14-19, Nehemiah adds his own example as governor over a 12-year period, not out of pride, but to give an example to other leaders to follow.
He did not collect the food allowance for the governor.
He did not take the daily ration.
But instead he fed 150 men at his own table, out of his own pocket.
Nehemiah did not take advantage of his position as many had before.
As Christians, we can fall into the trap of thinking that our position gives us certain rights and power.
We should follow the example of the Lord Jesus, who laid aside His rights to take on the form of a servant and be obedient even to death on a cross.
The reason Nehemiah acted the way he did was because he feared God (15), and he did not want to burden the people (18).
As pastor, I try very hard to keep in mind that this is Christ’s church, and I am just His under-shepherd.
Seeking to follow the Lord for His guidance, His direction.
In all situations.
To try to lead by example, and I know I am not perfect by any means.
The people Nehemiah confronted repented.
Nehemiah 5:12 (ESV)
12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.”
To which Nehemiah responded with
And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.
Nehemiah 5:13 ESV
13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
Nehemiah knew that it is easy to say these things but hard to follow up on.
So he made these rich men take a public oath before the priests, that they would follow through.
Then, in the tradition of the prophets, he dramatically shook out his robe in front of them and said,
So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.
That’s making them sign on the dotted line!
Another of the big things I believe this passage shows us is the demands of community life.
The laws given in the OT were for the purpose of building a healthy, thriving, flourishing community.
There are demands placed upon each of us when we submit to Christ and determine live a Christian life.
Jesus sums those demands up in two basic laws in a conversation he had with a lawyer.
Matthew 22:37–39 ESV
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The kingdom life that Jesus initiated—summarized in these two commandments—fulfills the deepest longings of human beings created in the image of God to display his glory.

As we are building the kingdom, this must epitomize our relationships with one another.
Whenever God wants to build, Satan wants to battle. 
I can guarantee you that just as surely as the devil tried to stop the building on the wall,
that the devil will try to stop the building of our church. 
Count on it. 
It is absolutely essential that we be united. 
There will be enough circumstances, problems, and difficulties from the outside.
If we think about it, winter is around the corner.
For some I know snow is a four letter word.
But consider a snowflake.
One single snowflake does not do much.
But together, enough snowflakes can stop traffic.
Individually, we cannot do much, but together, united, we can accomplish much.
Together, we represent and display Christ to the world around us.
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