Nehemiah is starting to grow on me a bit. I’m still not keen on the tone of his prayer in 5:19 – it sounds a bit like he’s boasting before God about his humility and hard work. But he gets important things done, and does it well.
In 5:1-13 it starts with his rebuke to those who are profiting from their fellow Jews. Like his prayers, it’s clear that this comes from a deep grasp of the Scriptures, and especially the books of Moses. He’s clear that injustice has no place among God’s people, and that the enslavement of some Jews by others is a tragic failure of love and solidarity. He convinces the people to give up their profiteering and exploitation, and leads the way in renouncing money-lending for profit.
Further, he doesn’t take all his rights and privileges as governor, but lives simply as one of the people. His opponents accuse him of wanting to be a king, but he has learned from all the dire warnings about kings in Deuteronomy and Samuel, and avoids their mistakes by not wanting to be one in the first place.
So we see today a good side of Nehemiah’s character. Informed by God’s Word, and strengthened in his courage by his conversation with the LORD in prayer (6:12), he seeks justice and equity. He knows that there is no point building a wall around a city where justice is not to be found, and acts to put things right.
In times when our own leaders have to make difficult decisions about big issues, may they find Nehemiah’s balanced perspective, and make sure that big projects don’t lead to even further inequalities. If a city is built on the exploitation of poor, it’s not worth the building.