The Expository Files

The Thing Which You Are Doing Is Not Good  

Nehemiah 5:7-13

It often happens during times of disaster. A hurricane strikes with full fury, leaving a large area of devastation in its path. There is suddenly a great need for lumber, gasoline, food and fresh water. Relief agencies start gearing up, but the need is desperate. Help will eventually arrive, but there are some needs that will not wait.

Private individuals respond; people of good will drive truckloads of donated materials to the stricken area. But there is so many in need and still, not nearly enough coming in. And then, it begins.

Among the kind souls doing the sacrificing are the greedy. They also drive trucks filled with necessities, but they are for sale. A gallon of gasoline; $30.00; a gallon of drinking water; $15.00. If you are not willing to pay that inexcusable amount, some other needy soul will. Such behavior is contemptible. Obviously, a person willing to take such advantage of those in need knows absolutely nothing about the love of God nor the kindness and compassion of Jesus, the Son. But such calloused activities are not new.

Nehemiah; The Godly Patriot
"And I said, "The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?" (Nehemiah 5:9). Nehemiah lived during the time that the remnant of the captives returned to their destroyed homes in and around Jerusalem to rebuild. The nation had spent many years in captivity, the first of them returning home after seventy years, and followed by others.

While Nehemiah is still serving as the cupbearer in the court of Artaxerxes I of Persia, he hears of the hardships of the remnant as they try to rebuild Jerusalem. The whole restoration process is threatened, so Nehemiah intercedes with the king. The king permits Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding project. Later, Nehemiah is made governor in Jerusalem.Nehemiah had much to deal with as "city manager." He had to face the enemies of the Jews, who would from time to time make surprise attacks on the builders. The governor of Samaria (Sanballat), the governor of Ammon (Tobiah) and the governor of Dedan (Gesham) had formed a secret alliance against the Jews. These governors waged a propaganda campaign against the Jews, including mocking their efforts, threats and false charges that Nehemiah was planning on rebelling against the king.

He also had to deal with inner problems and conflicts among the Jews. Some were very demoralized. Others sought to take advantage of the situation by forcing their own countrymen to sell their property and sometimes even make their children servants of others to raise money to pay the king's taxes. Food was scarce as well; those that had it were willing to take financial advantage of those that didn't. Nehemiah addresses this particular problem in our text (Nehemiah 5:1-13).

Nehemiah's Anger at Unrighteousness
"Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words." (Nehemiah 5:6). The outcry was from the people who had come back to resettle the land. They had faced many hardships and dangers. Their families were hungry and sought food. Because of the scarcity of food, they were having to mortgage their fields, vineyards and homes to pay for something to eat as well as to pay their taxes to Persia. Even their children were becoming indentured servants to help raise needed cash. It was either take these drastic measures, or starve. It seemed like a hopeless situation (vss. 1-5).

Nehemiah became angry, especially when he found that it was the rulers and noblemen of the Jews, those who were the leaders of their communities, that were enriching themselves at the people's expense.

Nehemiah's Call for Unselfish Brotherhood
"And I consulted with myself, and contended with the nobles and rulers and said to them, 'You are exacting usury, each from his brother!' Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. And I said to them, 'We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?' Then they were silent and could not find a word to say." (Nehemiah 5:7,8). Nehemiah appealed to brotherhood as a reason to cease taking such cruel advantage of others in this time of great need. He reminded the leaders of the people of all the difficulties they had endured and the sacrifices they had made to gather these former captives together from foreign lands of bondage so they could return and rebuild their homeland. Now, they were forcing them to become as slaves all over again; had they been freed from foreign masters only to become slaves of one another?

Today, it is the disciple of Jesus Christ that ought to understand better than anyone the nature of brotherhood, compassion and love. In such a selfish world, who more than Christians ought to be the ones showing the way. And what better example is there of unselfish love and goodwill than that of our Redeemer; Jesus of Nazareth? This is precisely the point that John emphasizes in his first epistle. We had best remember it (I John 2:7-11; 3:13-18; 4:16-21; 5:1-3).

Nehemiah's Courage
"Again I said, The thing which you are doing is not good..." (Nehemiah 5:9a). Nehemiah made it clear that this was an evil thing that was being done. Sometimes, it is a dangerous thing to tell powerful men that their source of prosperity is not good. Greed many times overrules a man's sense of morality. Nehemiah is putting it all on the line here. He does not know how it will be with these men; will their morality win over greed in their consciences? Or will it be the other way around?

Whether in Nehemiah's day, or in our own day, with some getting rich in drugs, prostitution, pornography, godless entertainment, and corruption; it is always possible for greed to win in a "let the others be damned" attitude of a cruel and heartless man or woman. WHen everybody is looking out for number one, then nobody will win.

Nehemiah's Concern for Reputation
"...should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?" (Nehemiah 5:9b). What will others say, Nehemiah suggests, if the Jews, God's people, continue to treat one another as badly as their enemies had treated them? How the words of reproach always fly when those who wear God's name lower themselves to live by the typical standards of the world!

"Everybody does it" is not a proper standard of conduct for the Christian! We do not determine our standards of honesty, morality or human relationships based upon what others do, but rather, on the love and example of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30).

Nehemiah's Fix of the Problem
"Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves...and they said, 'We will give it back, and will require nothing from them...' And all the assembly said, 'Amen!' And they praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise." (Nehemiah 5:11-13). It was time for cleansing. Not a lukewarm or partial change, but complete upheaval of the motive of greed. They simply could not afford the consequences of continuing this way. The city and all their work would die. Purity was needed.

So it was time for thoroughness then, as it is today. We seek not to be just a little bit greedy, or a little bit dishonest, or a little bit immoral. To be satisfied with such is to fail. It is God who calls upon us to "be holy as I am holy." (I Peter 1:14-16). Anything less is not enough.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 8.6; June 2001