Today’s Bible reading is Nehemiah 5 and Hebrews 9.
Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. (Nehemiah 5:1)
The book of Nehemiah is full of 2-steps-forward, 1-step-back scenarios. Rebuilding, opposition, encouragement, taunting, rededication, intimidation–it’s all there. Just as soon as we read, “So we built the wall” in Nehemiah 4, a “great outcry” arises in Nehemiah 5.
For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.” (Neh 5:2-5)
In short, the weak were being exploited by the powerful. Add the labor-intensive rebuilding project and a famine to the mix and it’s no wonder that “a great outcry” arose among the people. How would Nehemiah respond?
I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials… “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?” (Neh 5:6-7, 9)
By the time Nehemiah 5 wraps up, all the assembly says, “Amen” and the people course-correct away from the oppression of the weak and the poor. But linger long enough to appreciate: It took someone being willing to stand up and say, “The thing that you are doing is not good.”
Does anyone have permission to do that in my life? Your life? Especially as it relates to walking “in the fear of our God”? Husbands, do we love the Lord and our wives enough to calmly hear and humbly process, “The thing that you are doing is not good”? If a parent, a shepherd, a brother or sister in Christ loves the Lord and me enough to remind me, “Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God,” how will I respond?
Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice destroy things much bigger and eternally-more-weighty than the walls around a city. They destroy relationships. Marriages. Friendships. Fellowship. Souls.
So here’s a worthy goal for 2020. If someone loves you enough to say, “The thing that you are doing is not good; ought you not to walk in the fear of our God?” … be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Each one of us has blind spots, weak spots, and room for improvement. Take the time to thank God today for the people who love you enough to tell you the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.