Daily Bible Reading Reflections

When Someone Tells Me, “The Thing That You Are Doing Is Not Good”

Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. (Neh 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.” (5:2-5)

In short, the weak were being exploited by the powerful. Add a famine on top of the labor-intensive rebuilding project 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… And I held a great assembly… and said to them… “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?” (5:6-7, 9)

By the time Nehemiah 5 wraps up, all the assembly says, “Amen” and praises the LORD. The powerful course-correct away from their oppression of the poor. Promises to return and restore are made, “and the people did as they had promised” (5:13). A cancer within that could have undermined the entire rebuilding project is cut out. But linger long enough to appreciate: it took someone willing to courageously stand up and thoughtfully say, “The thing that you are doing is not good.”

That’s not a popular message in our live-and-let-live twenty-first century. In the eyes of many, the most egregious “sin” you can possibly commit is to say something negative about the life choices of another. Does anyone have permission to say such a thing about 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”? When 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 do I respond?

Bitterness, fits of anger, wrath, jealousy, rivalries, strife, dissensions, slander, and malice destroy things much bigger and eternally-more-weighty than the walls around a city.

A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Prov 25:28)

Such a lack of self-control destroys relationships. Marriages. Friendships. Fellowship. Souls.

So here’s something worth thinking about today. If someone cares enough about you 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 (James 1:19-20). Each one of us has blind spots, weak spots, and room for improvement. Let’s take the time to thank God today for the people who care enough to tell us the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.