Keeping The Water Out Of The Boat

Photo by David Dibert:

Please turn with me in your Bibles to Nehemiah chapter 5. There is trouble in the camp, and Nehemiah must deal with it. Troubles will come to us all. Jesus said:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world … (John 16:33, NIV)

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. … (John 15:18)

The Kingdom of God is to be God’s “lighthouse”. You are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). The darkness has no use for the light. It had no use for Jesus, and has no use for us.

It is not water outside the ship that sinks the “Good Old Gospel Ship”. It is water IN the ship – trouble from within – that can destroy God’s earthly Kingdom. The problem that is most destructive to God’s People is when trouble comes – not from the outside – but from the inside.

Let’s take a look at how Nehemiah and the people dealt with this problem so they could get back to the business of rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah 5:1-6 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. 2 For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. 3 Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. 4 There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. 5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards. 6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.

The Water In The Boat Is When We Make Ourselves The Mission

Our mission as God’s Kingdom – people redeemed by the Lord Jesus – is to glorify God and advance the Gospel throughout our society. We are to be light in the midst of this current darkness. When we put ourselves first, and God’s mission second, there is a breach in the wall. How do we fix the breach? Nehemiah shows us how.

Among those who volunteered to help rebuild the wall, there were a number of poor and middle class people. But there were also nobles, people who had money and had food in plenty. We saw these “nobles” back in chapter 3:

Nehemiah 3:5 (ESV) … the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.

These nobles felt that they were too good to “stoop to serve their Lord”. This was not their greatest sin.

The nobles were doing something even worst. The bulk of the people who voluntarily worked with Nehemiah were lower to lower middle class. They had large families to care for. We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live” (verse 2). Parents who love their children will feed their children. Some people had access to small plots of land where they raised corn and other crop for their sustenance. But what of those who had no land, or who were poor farmers? They went to the nobles – those who had much – and borrowed money from them.

Nehemiah 5:3 … We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.

Word Study: The word translated “dearth” is the Hebrew רָעָב râʻâb, {pronounced raw-awb’}, which means “a famine”. This word was used in Genesis 41:27 when God gave the Pharaoh a vision that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of râʻâb. When King Solomon dedicated the now destroyed Temple to God, at that dedication ceremony he prayed:

1 Kings 8:23, 37-40 LORD God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart: … 37 If there be in the land famine {râʻâb}, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpillar; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; 38 What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: {the Temple} 39 Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;) 40 That they may fear thee all the days that they live in the land which thou gavest unto our fathers.

As Solomon prayed over the newly built Temple, he knew that there are times when God allows famine {{râʻâb}} and suffering to come upon His people. Solomon prayed and asked God that – when God’s people were in trouble – if they UNITED prayed facing the Temple in honor of God – that God would bless them. It is Solomon’s prayer that causes many Orthodox Jews to pray – even today – facing Jerusalem, where the Temple used to be.

Trials are sent by God to His Kingdom People to grow them, and to teach them to have faith in God’s Resources, not in their own resources. Trials are sent to God’s Kingdom People to learn how to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ {which is love – my paraphrase}” (Galatians 6:2).

God Allows Suffering To Grow Us.
We Are HIS Workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)

Suffering is an opportunity to try out and exercise your faith in God. Faith is so very important to the Christian walk. “Without faith it is impossible to please {God}. Faith is to come to God believing that He IS, that is, He exists. Faith is to come to God believing that the God Who exists is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, my paraphrase). The Bible says:

1 Peter 1:6-7 Wherein {suffering} ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

Those who are helping Nehemiah rebuild the wall are fully committed to the work. They have mortgaged {their} lands, vineyards, and houses. Not only this, they

Nehemiah 5:4 … borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards.

Word Study: The word rendered “tribute” is the Hebrew מִדָּה middâh, {pronounced mid-daw’}, which means “a measure, a portion”. This is a reference to their taxes. Though King Artaxerxes had allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem with supplies to rebuild the walls, the King did NOT rescind the taxes that the residents of that land had to pay. Israel was a conquered nation, and had to pay tax to Artaxerxes. The famine had made it hard to raise enough food for their people, much less to pay taxes. Guess what? Artaxerxes didn’t care. They would pay their taxes, or suffer the consequences. So the people had to “borrow money” to both pay their taxes as well as feed their families.

Nehemiah 5:5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.

Who was “bringing Jews into bondage”? Other Jews. Who was taking advantage of God’s people? God’s Kingdom people!

This was not something the conquerors were doing, but the rich Jews who remained in the land. It was not Biblically wrong for Jews to lend money to Jews. It was, however, wrong to lend money so as to MAKE MONEY off of the suffering of your fellow Jew. The Lord said:

Exodus 22:25 (ESV) If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.

Leviticus 25:35-36 (ESV) 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. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

The rich Jews – the Nobles – were not only NOT working, but they were taking advantage of their suffering Jewish neighbors.

Since the poor Jews had only lands and children to call their own, the rich Nobles were requiring that they give them their children and their lands as “surety” – what we today call “collateral” on the loans. We read:

Nehemiah 5:5 … we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already

Their children were brought into bondage, that is, were made slaves to the nobles. The Law of God allowed a person to sell themselves as servants (Bondservants, see Exodus 21:2-6), but NOT AS A SLAVE. A servant was to be treated with respect, and was only required to stay in servitude for a fixed period of SIX YEARS. God told Israel:

Leviticus 25:39-43 (ESV) If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

Every person saved and brought into the Family of God belongs to God. No person can therefore belong to another person within the Kingdom of God. At most, a person can “rent” themselves out as a servant for a set period of time. But once that time was over, that person was given a choice. They could remain as a servant indefinitely, or they could be returned to their lands.

The nobles were not only enslaving Israelis, but were taking their homeland so they could not repay – a clear violation of God’s Law!

Deuteronomy 15:12-15 (ESV) If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

Israel was saved from slavery by the love and mercy of Almighty God. The Church Age Christian is saved by the love and mercy of Almighty God. Thus God’s people – saved by grace – are not in any way to enslave or bind their fellow believer. The Jews knew this, but were taking advantage of the situation to line their pockets. This offended God, and infuriated Nehemiah!

Nehemiah 5:6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.

Unity against the enemy is so important for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said:

Matthew 18:20 (HCSB) For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

God the Son does not come to indwell our services unless we are in harmony with one another and with God. God’s people are to be together in His Name. What does this mean? It means that we unite under the authority of God, following His agenda, His Word, and His direction.

Illustrate: The number “3” is a very important number in the Bible. One online source notes:

Many numbers in the Hebrew language tend to have a deeper meaning. Three, shelosh [f.], sheloshah [m.] means harmony, new life, and completeness. The number three appears in the Bible 467 times, fewer than the number seven, but more than most of the other symbolically important numbers. Sometimes three is used as an emphatic Semitic triplet to describe the intensity of something. It’s not just holy. It’s holy, holy, holy.”

Before Jesus went to the Cross of Calvary, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. THREE times Jesus prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39). Our Lord Jesus rose from the grave on the THIRD day (1 Corinthians 15:4). There are THREE Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 22:32). Also very important, our God is TRIUNE or THREE PERSONS.

If you hold three fingers HEAVENWARD for the number THREE, you will see that it forms the letter “W”, which is the beginning of WE. Where WE are in one accord with God and one another, God is with us. If you hold three fingers EARTHWARD for the number THREE, you will see that it forms the letter “M” for “Me”.

God will not bless selfishness nor self centeredness. The Kingdom of God is the KINGDOM of GOD. It does not belong to me or you. His Kingdom exists to glorify God, and to spread His influence throughout the earth. Because the nobles are disobeying the Scripture and putting themselves first, the work of rebuilding the walls – which had been going wonderfully – has come to a halt.

Nehemiah Gave Us A Pattern For Dealing With Problems

Nehemiah 5:6-7 I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words 7 Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them.

Dr. Warren Wiersbe notes that …

Nehemiah was not a politician who asked, ‘What is popular?’ or a diplomat who asked, ‘What is safe?’ but a true leader who asked, ‘What is right?”

Though Nehemiah was “very angry” when he first heard of what the nobles were doing, he was not controlled by his anger.

Before Nehemiah spoke out, he consulted with himself. The worst thing a leader can do is to speak hastily. The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Nehemiah can add to the problem, or cause the problem to de-escalate. Solomon rightly said, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble”. (Proverbs 21:23). Here’s a few more texts I’ll give you at no extra charge:

Proverbs 12:18 (ESV) There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Psalm 34:13 (ESV) Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.

1 Peter 3:10 (ESV) For Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;

Nehemiah carefully and prayerfully considered what he should do, based upon what he knew of God’s Scripture. Once he gleaned God’s direction, Nehemiah spoke the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Challenging the nobles, Nehemiah set a great assembly against them. He brought God’s Kingdom together on one place to judge if what the nobles was doing was right or wrong.

Nehemiah 5:8-10 I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. 9 Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? 10 I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury.

Nehemiah reminded the nobles that it was the Grace of God that redeemed Israel from bondage to unbelievers. Now the nobles are doing the same thing that Babylon and Medo-Persia did: they are enslaving their brothers in the Lord. Nehemiah reminded them that they needed to stand TOGETHER against the enemy:

Nehemiah 5:9 ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?

Every person was needed, no matter who they were, to stand with Israel and resist the devil. Nehemiah charged the nobles, saying:

Nehemiah 5:11 Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them.

Word Study: The hundredth part of the money was an interest rate that would amount to around 12% annually. Nehemiah demanded that the nobles not only return their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, but also the interest that they had been charging their brethren. Verse 11 starts with the word Restore, the Hebrew שׁוּב shûwb, {pronounced shoob}, meaning “put things right”. As believers together in the Kingdom of God we are in the restoration business. We are not to be “making merchandise” of our brethren. In the New Testament our Lord Jesus chased the moneychangers and sellers out of the Temple, telling them:

John 2:16 Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

The Apostle Peter spoke of …

2 Peter 2:1, 3 … false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. … {who} 3 through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

God’s people are to be about Kingdom Business, winning souls, and glorifying the Lord Who saved us.

After Repentance And Restoration
The Wall Repair Continues

Nehemiah 5:12-13 Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. 13 Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labor, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise.

To those who are outside the Kingdom of God because of faithlessness, we are to treat them as we would be treated (Matthew 22:37-40). But to those inside the Kingdom, Children of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26), we are called to love them as Jesus loves us:

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. {35} By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

The nobles were to forgive the debt that the poorer people incurred, whereas the poorer people were to forgive the indignity that the nobles placed on them. The power of God’s Kingdom is in the presence of God – and God will only be present when we are in one accord. Jesus told us:

Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV) 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. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Oh that God’s Kingdom would grow! Lord, I pray, use us for Your glory. Use us to spread Christ’s Gospel and to build Your Kingdom. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen and Amen!

About bibleteacherorg

A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
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