“Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?”
Notes to the Leader: Nehemiah could be called forceful, goal-oriented; a man with a temper; all business; capable of out planning and outfighting his enemies; fair but hard to please. These are the attributes in modern society that are most admired. Great leaders often are described with many of the same characteristics as those found in Nehemiah.
In this study, we will see the softer, more compassionate side of Nehemiah. You will also cover the importance of mission and generosity. Yet, the lesson goes further to show that the divisions among believers must also be overcome so that God’s work is not compromised.
Using your whiteboard or easel, make a list of your group’s responses to the following question:
What are the personality traits, the characteristics of the successful people you most admire?
Now look over the list you have built and ask your group to place a checkmark next to those characteristics that you would consider to be those of compassion, caring or gentleness. These would be attributes such as transparency (easy to understand and lives with an open door policy; generous, helps others; cares and is active to help the disadvantaged; evangelistic, willing to pass on the foundations of their faith.
If you have no check marks: This is typical of the world’s view of success and leadership. Rarely do we ever know about or care about the gentler side of great people. Your emphasis with this study will be to open their minds to Godly leadership.
If you have a group with marks: Your group is advanced in their thinking. Your emphasis with this study will be to reassure and affirm their opinions.
Section One: The Poor Always Seem To Get Poorer
Read Nehemiah 5:1-5 to your group. Nehemiah’s strategy to build the wall and defend the construction was brilliant. However, his plan required every able-bodied man and some of the women and children to work twice as long as normal (Nehemiah 3:12).
Now , compare the impact of this type of work schedule on the priests, merchants, craftsmen, and wealthy landowners to that of the peasant farmers living in the Judean hillsides.
For the professional and wealthy, it was possible to neglect their duties for several weeks at a time.
For the poor (peasants), neglecting their fields for even a day was very difficult. As a result, the peasants were drawn into debt.
The driving nature of Nehemiah and the difficult work schedule finally drove the poor of the land to cry out and complain.
Who were complaining about the work and what was so unique about their complaints?
- Four groups of poor complained:
- Those with many children could not feed them.
- Those with fields, vineyards and homes found themselves compelled by famine to mortgage their assets.
- Some borrowed money to pay taxes.
- Some had sold their children into slavery because of their poverty.
- The uniqueness of their complaint was that it was their brothers, fellow Jews, who were ignoring the poor, loaning the money and allowing the slavery to take place.
Have someone in your group read Deuteronomy 24:10-13.
Were the Israelites upholding the principles of borrowing and pledging as instructed by God?
- We interpret the “waiting outside one’s home” to mean that the lender is to be respectful of the borrower. The cloak was considered the last possession of a person because they used it to keep warm when they slept. One was never to take away one’s ability to survive. In Deuteronomy, we see that God’s concept is love and concern for one’s neighbor was a moral act. The concept of pledging had only involved items of token value. However, over time, the Israelites had modified it to the concept of collateralizing a loan.
Can you think of how this concept of collateralizing entered the Jewish culture?
- The idea was prevalent in the societies around them. It crept in as the Jewish people adopted the ways of other cultures. This was especially true of indenturing a son or daughter. (see Deuteronomy 28:43-44 for God’s warning,
- Read Deuteronomy 15:1-6 (for matters of debt)
Section Two: The Rich Always Seem To Get Richer
Have someone in your group read Nehemiah 5:6-8.
What was Nehemiah’s reaction to all of this?
- He recognized this as wrong and sinful, he stopped all work and began to take corrective steps.
Why do you think that Nehemiah had let things get so bad?
- He very well could have been too focused on his goal of rebuilding the wall.
What characteristics of Nehemiah allowed him to respond so quickly to correct this matter?
- He was a man of God and knew the Law;
- He was not reactive but gave the matter careful thought (v. 7) immediately;
- He maintained a compassion and love for his fellow man (v. 6).
Why do you think that Nehemiah responded so quickly to the issue?
- This was a matter concerning the well-being of his people. It was a problem from within that he was moved to solve.
How did Nehemiah get the Jewish leaders to respond to call against usury and slavery?
- Nehemiah had been purchasing Jewish slaves back from the Gentiles so that he could set them free. Nehemiah shamed them by his own actions.
Why should we all be so concerned over the actions of all Christians or church members when we see them taking advantage of others?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 All Christians are given a place in the body of Christ through which they contribute to the spiritual life and growth of every member of the body and receive instruction for their own improvement from all members. Every member is of equal importance and in the right place as assigned by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7). We insult Christ if we plead ignorance or show indifference.
Section Three: Who Is My Brother’s Keeper?
Have someone in your group read Nehemiah 5:9-11.
Do you think that Nehemiah cared about what impact his response would have on the rebuilding of the wall?
- Nehemiah did not care what impact his command had on the attitude of the “rich and famous.” He knew that his command was the will of God and that was his only concern. Right the wrong. No politics here.
Note: The reference to “fearing God,” the Shema (first words of Deuteronomy/the Jewish confessions of faith) begins with an instruction to fear the Lord. Keeping the covenant with God (obeying His laws) was therefore, considered equivalent to fearing God.
Who would have a harder time adhering to Nehemiah’s request and to God’s laws: those in bondage or slavery; those in debt; those who had nothing; or those who were wealthy and held positions of nobility?
- The wealthy and nobility.
Do you consider your walk with Christ, and the adherence to His laws an easy or hard task?
- This is just open discussion for your group. There is no right or wrong answer. It is an excellent time for you to give your group practice in sharing. Sharing is one of the key skills necessary to spread the Gospel’s message effectively.
What group do you think God places you in with regard to wealth and position?
- A straw vote here is fine.
- Wealthy/Position of Nobility
- In the Middle
What response or set of actions placed the wealth and nobility back into God’s favor?
- Recognition and adherence to God’s laws, including: compassion for those in need and a love for their fellowmen.
Section Four: Loaning Money
Have someone in your group read Nehemiah 5:12-13.
Was Nehemiah asking that no one should borrow or lend money or that all debts be canceled?
- No. Nehemiah had taken a position that it was wrong to take collateral, charge exorbitant interest and to foreclose by taking people into bondage and slavery. He wanted compassion to rule the principles of lending. While the debts stood, Nehemiah wanted the abuses introduced by men to stop.
What was Nehemiah trying to do with the nobles and officials with regard to their oath and the shaking out of his robe?
- Nehemiah was focusing in on the real issues that reside with repentance. He was not satisfied that the nobility and officials understood that they were wrong. Nehemiah wanted them to understand that they had to change their lives and the way that they did business. He made them sign an oath and presented them the knowledge that God would respond should they not uphold their commitments.
Section Five: Nehemiah’s Example
Have someone in your group read Nehemiah 5:14-19.
What was Nehemiah doing through the example he was setting?
- Nehemiah knew that written oaths aside, people could easily slip back to their old ways. Through his example of unselfishness, he chose not to abuse his position of power as others had done in the past. Instead, he set a daily example of generosity.
What do you think Nehemiah’s daily dinners for 150 accomplished?
- Besides the continued demonstration of a loving and sharing attitude, his ability to communicate his faith was no doubt spread among his followers faster. Openness and sharing with others is all part of God’s wonderful plan.
Why is it so important for church leadership to resolve internal problems such as Nehemiah ran into quickly? What could happen to the church itself if they are left unresolved?
- Not to do so risks the well-being of the Church itself. Division among church members is Satan’s way of disrupting the good work of the Church.
Bible Truth Being Taught
When God’s people become divided and harm one another, only their commitment to His Word can reunite them.
To look to God’s Word for eternal truths that transcend and heal divisions in the body of Christ.