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‘So did not I, because of the fear of God.’
I. A new difficulty now presented itself.—This time it arose among the people themselves. The rich among them exacted usury from their poorer brethren to such an extent as to oppress and impoverish them. Perhaps nowhere in the story does the nobility of Nehemiah’s character more clearly manifest itself than here. There is a fine touch in his declaration, ‘I consulted with myself, and contended with the nobles.’ His consultation with himself resulted in his determination to set an example of self-denial, in that he took no usury, nor even the things which were his right as the appointed governor of the people.
II. Such an example produced immediate results, in that all the nobles did the same. Thus the people were relieved, and were filled with joy, and consequently went forward with their work with new enthusiasm. From the position of personal rectitude a man is always strong to deal effectively with wrong in others. Contention with nobles who are violating principles of justice, which is not preceded by consultation with self, is of no avail. When the life is free from all complicity with evil, it is strong to smite it and overcome it in others.
III. There was at the same time great aptness at conciliation displayed in Nehemiah’s address to the nobles.—He pointed out how unreasonable it was that Jews should endeavour to bring back Jews to the slavery in which even heathen monarchs did not hold them. He summoned them before the bar of God. He stood on their level, and said, ‘Let us leave off this usury.’ What wonder that he carried his point!
IV. His service was remarkably free from the charge of personal aggrandisement.—He refused to be chargeable on the people whom he governed. He says, ‘So did not I, because of the fear of God.’ What an example for us all! It was, of course, perfectly legitimate for him to take his maintenance; but he was desirous, for God’s sake and for the sake of the people, to put his service beyond the reach of detractors. In this he reminds us of the great Apostle, who steadfastly maintained his right to receive the personal gifts of his converts, but as steadfastly refused to exercise that right.
(1) ‘A glorious man—the kind of man that has redeemed humanity, the unit that turns us poor ciphers into value. Is there no sacrifice for us to make, no leadership for us to take hold of? If we cannot be Nehemiahs in the splendour of our personal qualifications, in the invincibleness of our persevering energy, we can at all events cheer the men and bless the leaders who do their best to make the country good and strong.’
(2) ‘Let it be part of our life-work to take up the cause of the weak and oppressed. Remember how Cobden aroused John Bright from the anguish caused by bereavement, to work for others. Only see to it that your hands are clean, and that you remember that it is not enough to secure wholesome, pure laws, you must seek the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Men need not only a new order of things, but to become new creatures in Christ Jesus.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent