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HULK VS. NEHEMIAH!
THE PASSAGE

by Jonathan & Tom McKee

Neh. 5:1-13 (NIV)
       Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. [2] Some were saying, "We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain."
       [3] Others were saying, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine."
       [4] Still others were saying, "We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards. [5] Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others."
       [6] When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. [7] I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them [8] and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
       [9] So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? [10] I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! [11] Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them--the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil."
       [12] "We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say."
       Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. [13] I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, "In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!"
       At this the whole assembly said, "Amen," and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

HULK VS. NEHEMIAH!
A NEHEMIAH 5:1-13 TALK/SERMON


Do you like to shop at Costco? Our family loves Costco. Where else can you buy 320 rolls of toilet paper, 20 pounds of Doritos and an entire pallet of dog food? As fun as the store is, something happens when you finish shopping and walk to the front of the store to the checkout counter. Everything changes. Just minutes ago out in the oversized aisles of the store, everyone was happy with big smiles on their faces. Now, as everyone nears the front ... they change. Their smiles disappear and their grip tightens on their cart as the competition begins: "Which is the shortest line?!!" Old ladies that look like sweet little old grandmothers will run you down, "MOVE IT OR LOSE IT MISTER!"

I don't know about you, but I have the gift of choosing when it comes to standing in line. I have the gift of choosing ... the LONGEST LINE POSSIBLE! And to make matters worse, when I finally do near the front, a smiling Costco employee will go to the people behind me, who just arrived in line, and tell them, "I can help you over here!"

Now all of us have been equipped with an anger meter, a meter that measures how angry we are. And when it gets in the red ... we blow. When that Costco employee comes over and grabs the customers behind me ... I come really close to the red zone on my anger meter.

This doesn't just happen in Costco. This happens in my least favorite stores as well, like the local office supply store. I'll never forget once last year when my morning at this store had already been a terrible experience- the workers sent me to wrong aisles, gave me bad information, etc. I finally got what I needed and went to stand in line ... and there were no checkers. I could only conclude that it was "you don't have to pay for your stuff today" day at this store, but unfortunately I knew better. To make matters worse, an employee that was standing near the front stapling, NOT HELPING ANYONE, looked up at me, connecting with my eyes ... then went right back to her stapling. My anger meter hit the halfway point. But I just stood there doing what we Irish stink at, being patient. Finally she looked up again, looking at me like, "Are you still here?!!" and got on the intercom and said, "customer service up to the front register ... customer service!" An elderly man waltzes up behind me, glances at a blank register next to me and goes up to it and puts his purchases down. The checker arrives and starts to help the man. My anger meter hits three quarters. My Irish side couldn't just stand there, so I spoke up to the man. "I guess you're first then." Pa Kettle looks at me surprised and said, "Oh ...were you first?"

I retorted, "No, I was just comparing the heights of these magazine racks here. I think aisle three is the tallest one!"

I'm finally helped by a lady who had found her true calling at this helpful store. She starts to run my purchases through but somehow had trouble with every step, including emptying her purse to try to find her glasses. I was buying something for two different businesses so I did two transactions. When I gave her my credit card she asked me for my ID. For the second transaction she asked me if I was going to use the same card. I told her yes. Yes. She asked to check my I.D. again. After pausing in disbelief for a few seconds, I told her "thank you ... because I could be someone else this time." She just looked at me. I wonder when that new STAPLES will be open?

The only thing sad about both these stories is that when I finished these transactions and left the store, within three minutes I entered the zone where anger meters go in the red daily ... the California freeway! I'm sure none of you can relate to being frustrated on the road.

Anger is a reality. We all have it. The question is simply, "What do we do with this anger?" Is it wrong?

God, in 3 forms is angry:
  • Psalm 7:11 "God is angry with the wicked every day."
  • Mark 3:5 "Jesus looked around at them with anger."
  • I Samuel 11:6 "The spirit of God came upon Saul ... and he became angry."
Anger itself is not bad/a sin. It's part of being human- part of the emotional structure God put in us when he made us was the capacity for an emotional response. The human body is equipped with an automatic defense system called "fight or flight." When confronted:
  1. Adrenalin is pumped into the bloodstream,
  2. Blood pressure increases,
  3. Heartbeat accelerates,
  4. Eyes dilate for better peripheral vision,
  5. Hands sweat,
  6. Mouth gets dry,
  7. Muscles are supplied with a sudden burst of energy- we are transformed to alarm reaction state.
This is an involuntary response that occurs whether or not we will it- impossible to ignore- like denying a toothache.

SO OUR RESPONSE TO ANGER IS WHAT'S IMPORTANT. How should we respond?

Media gives us the answer: If someone makes us mad, kick their butt!

The movie THE HULK hit theatres and video a year or two ago. I admit, I was curious to see it, because when I was a kid I never missed the Friday night TV program THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Do you remember this show? You gotta love this poor guy David Banner who wanders around from town to town ... getting his butt kicked. This guy was like the kid in class who had the sign "KICK ME" taped to his back. Every place he went, a group of guys would say, "Hey, look at that guy, let's kick his butt!" "Yeah, that would be fun!" And so they would begin to beat him up, the whole time while David would say, "Please ... ." Pow, Kick, Punch, " ... Don't" Bam, Pow ... "Stop It" ... Punch, Smack! Until finally he would receive that one blow that would push him too far and he would look up with those green eyes, his shirt would rip, his pants would rip (except for that one pair of cut offs that would happen to stay on, because this was a family show), he would turn green and muscular and KICK SOME BUTT! And we all loved it. Amish people would secretly scream, "Kill 'em Hulk! You show 'em!" Because it's the way we would love to express our anger. By kicking some tail!

When I was a kid there was also this show called Kung Fu? Poor Chinese guy (played by white boy, David Carradine) Kwai Chang Caine wonders around the country beating up people that tried to fight him. Every episode, those same guys that tried to get David Banner would try to beat up Kwai Chang Caine, who, of course, would kick their butts. And we would love it.

Well that was back then. Now we have Steven Seagal, who not only kicks their butts, but he breaks them in half. That's even better. That makes our anger feel great... . or does it?

Last year our local paper followed a true story of two guys that got in a disagreement on the road. One guy gets out of his car, right in front of his young son, and shoots the other guy. This guy ends up going to jail, and shortly after, kills himself in prison, leaving his son fatherless.

Movies usually leave that part out of the story. Sure, it might feel good to just explode and hurt someone or something, but ... is that the end result we really want?

Eph. 4:26-27 says that "when you're angry, do not sin. Stop being angry before the end of the day. Don't give the Devil a foothold."

We already established that anger isn't wrong. I think the question is, how do we take this natural emotion and NOT give the Devil a foothold? How can we control our anger when we get angry?

Nehemiah shows us a great example of how to do this. He not only gets angry for good reason, but responds in a way where the end result is positive. Let's look at the text. (Read 5:1-13.)

In the book of Nehemiah we see a group of people who were getting attacked not from the front, but from within. The Jewish nation had been conquered by Babylon over a century ago, and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This was devastating to the Jewish people. Their temple, their city and their walls were destroyed and their people were exiled and scattered. But half a century later Cyrus, king of Persia conquered all that Babylon had taken, and let the Jewish people return to their city and worship their own God. Cyrus just thought it was a better political move to let the nations under him have more freedom, a good choice as it turned out, because they stayed in power for two centuries, only to be eventually conquered by Alexander the great.

So the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their temple, and under the leadership of Nehemiah, were rebuilding their walls. During this construction project small local enemies had started causing trouble. They were poking fun at God's people and even threatening harm. Nehemiah actually ended up dividing the workers into two groups, one group standing guard while the other worked with swords at their sides.

In addition to all this, times were tough. So many Jews returned to the city at once that this population explosion had caused famine. Many of the Jews were hungry and were barely scraping a living.

Through all these hardships, God's people pressed on ... until something happened. They got attacked from within. Their own brothers took advantage of them and that made Nehemiah angry.

Nehemiah wasn't a guy whose anger meter was in the red a lot. He was very calm and cool in most situations. That alone was a challenge to me. Nehemiah wasn't just a hot head, but when he saw his people stabbing their brothers in the back, it really ticked him off.

We can follow the example of Nehemiah and apply his three steps of how to handle our anger.

STEP ONE:
The first thing Nehemiah did was admit that he was angry. Look at the text:

Neh. 5:6 (NIV)
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.

Nehemiah was hacked and he didn't hide it. He tells us that he was angry. He didn't try to shove it down or repress it, he acknowledged the fact that he was mad. And that's the place that many of us need to start.

Often, people will try to repress their anger and hide it. There's a huge problem with this. Psychologists call this "gunnysacking." This is when someone gathers every thing that makes them angry and places it in an emotional "gunnysack" that they carry with them. This sack gets heaver and heavier until finally it can't hold anything else and it explodes. And if you've ever been around someone during one of these episodes it's not a pretty picture.

I remember a morning a few years ago when I was making my son some waffles. I was bummed to find only a little bit of syrup, but it seemed enough for the two of us to share on our waffles. I popped it in the microwave as always, because we liked warm syrup. Knowing that it was empty, I only punched 30 seconds, because that would be plenty of time for such a small amount of syrup in the little plastic container. Only I didn't press 30 seconds. My finger must have been a little strong on the zero because I punched it twice.

After about 2 minutes, a small voice in the back of my head said, "Hey Jonathan, don't you think that syrup should have been done long ago?" So I listened to the little voice and looked at the microwave. I first realized my mistake when I saw that I had 45 seconds remaining from my original "30 seconds" and secondly when I saw the small plastic syrup container, now bloated the size of a gallon of milk. Panicking, I opened the microwave and quickly pulled the swollen container out. Before I could even think of what to do with this 230 p.s.i. container with boiling syrup in it ... BLAM! It exploded all over the kitchen. The good news was I only had small burns all over my body. The bad news is the syrup that I spent 2 hours wiping off the microwave, the stove, the refrigerator, the cabinets, the counters, the floor, THE CEILING!!!! ... . I think you get the picture.

This is what happens when people try to hold their anger in. They end up taking an AK 47 and killing someone. Don't repress your anger. Admit it like Nehemiah did.

STEP TWO:
Stop and think. In verse seven Nehemiah says "after thinking through it ..." according to the New Living Translation. The NASB says, "And I consulted with myself ..." Bottom line, Nehemiah took a moment to stop and think.

This wasn't new for Nehemiah. In Chapter 1 when Hanani brought him the first bad news, "the walls are in ruins!" he wept (vs.4) and fasted and prayed. It wasn't until 4 months later (LaSor, 553) that he acted on it. That's some serious time to think it over.

Thomas Jefferson once said that we should count to 10 when we get angry. Some of us might have to be more realistic ... I know I have to count to about 23,000. The point is to allow yourself to cool down and gain perspective.

Some people always stop right here and say, "Jonathan, I can't. I just can't stop and control myself." Well, then I'm probably the only one who ever had this happen. I'm in the middle of a heated argument. Serious yelling going on. "OH YEAH? I DON'T THINK SO ..." All of a sudden the phone rings. "AND ANOTHER THING ... ." It rings again and you finally answer it ... in the smiling voice of an angel. "Hello, McKee residence... . Oh Jennifer ... yep ... . Bible study this week at our house... super... yeah ... see you there ... Bye bye now." You hang up. "NOW WHERE WAS I?!!!!!!"

We can control it, but the problem is, in the privacy of our home, we don't feel that we have to. Some of us just need to leave, go on a walk, go shoot some baskets, whatever it takes to go and "think it over" like Nehemiah did.

STEP THREE:
The last principle we can learn from Nehemiah is also found in the verses following. Nehemiah calls a meeting together and communicates a well thought out proposal. Nehemiah doesn't just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. He doesn't just fly off the handle. He thinks it over. Then acts rationally and thoughtfully.

After thinking it over, Nehemiah makes three accusations. The first is in verse 7:

1. You are charging interest to your brothers, fellow Jews. This is wrong. This would be the way someone should treat a strict business relationship like a harsh pawnbroker. What these guys were doing was not only against the Jewish law (Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35-37, and Deut. 23:19-20), but it was harsh.

But things got worse, and Nehemiah clarifies this in his second accusation:

2. You are putting your brothers into permanent slavery (verse 8). This is also wrong. Leviticus 25:39-43 speaks specifically about this, instructing Jews to release their fellow Jews who had served as slaves after a certain period of serving.

But Nehemiah doesn't just leave it at that. He goes on to make a third accusation that perhaps is the most important:

3. You are looking bad in front of the surrounding nations (verse 9). These people weren't just taking advantage of their brothers, they were being watched. Local enemies like Sanballat and Tobiah might have sat back laughing, watching the Jews destroy themselves from within. It's hard to remove reproach when you can't even get along with your brother.

This concept is one that the church would struggle with for centuries. We see rivalry amongst Jewish brothers in Acts 6:1:
    In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (NIV)
More importantly, we see the need to be careful how we conduct ourselves in front of non-believers. Paul writes about this to the Philipians in chapter 1:27-28:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel [28] without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God. (NIV)

And Peter writes about the fact that our conduct can affect the pagans around us:

1 Peter 2:11-12 (NIV)
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. [12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Nehemiah was a living example of how to act in front of others. An example that we can still learn from today.
    So, "after thinking it over," Nehemiah makes these charges to the Jews. It must have been pretty well presented because in verse eight it says that "They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say." (NIV)
WRAP UP:
We can follow the example of Nehemiah and apply his three steps of how to handle our anger: 1) Admit that we're angry. 2) Stop and think. 3) Communicate a well thought out solution.

My friend Jim is a red-neck. And like all true red-necks, he likes to go shooting on his property. He and his friend were out shooting cans on the edge of his property in the middle of the afternoon when a truck pulled up on the road behind them. One look and both guys recognized the truck. It was the neighbor no one liked, an uptight guy named Bob that complained about everything. Bob had barely exited the truck when he started delivering his speech how Jim and his friend better stop making such a racket and how they had better put their guns away.

Jim told me that his first thought was, "I have a gun. I could just shoot Bob and do the whole neighborhood a favor." But he didn't. He actually started to argue, saying "Bob, this is our property and we're not hurting anyone ... ." But Bob wasn't hearing any of it. He just got madder and continued yelling about the racket they were making.

Jim now stopped, thought, and even threw up a quick prayer of, "Help me to do the right thing here." He knew he was angry and that his instinct while angry wasn't the best. So he just thought for a moment. That's when it changed. Jim stopped Bob mid-sentence and said, "Bob, you're my neighbor, so I respect you. I don't agree with you, but I respect you, so I'm going to put the guns away." He and his buddy cleaned up while Bob got back in his truck and drove away.

Jim's friend didn't say a word until they got in the truck and started toward the house. Then, Jim's friend looked over at him and said, "I couldn't have done that. And I don't know how you did that. But I know I would like to be able to do that."

Jim replied, "You know, it wasn't me. That was Christ in me. If it was me, I would have shot him." And they both laughed. Then Jim shared Christ with his friend.

Three days later Jim was driving down the driveway when he saw Bob's truck coming the opposite way. Bob pulled in front of the road, stopping Jim in his tracks. Bob got out of his truck and came over to Jim's window. Jim rolled it down, wondering "What now?" Bob's head was hanging low and he was fidgeting with his belt buckle. Finally, with his head still hanging he spoke. "Jim, you were right the other day and I was wrong. You can shoot on your property any time you want." Then he looked up and looked Jim right in the eyes. "And Jim, you're the one to be respected. I respect you." And he walked to his truck and drove away.

What end result do you want? Although the Hulk method might look like the temporary answer, it doesn't bring the end result you want.

Learn from Nehemiah. Learn from Christ's influence in Jim. 1) Admit that we're angry. 2) Stop and think. 3) Communicate a well thought out solution.

(For those of you that would like to see the background work put into this sermon, below I have included the background context information and the exegesis of the passage.)

CONTEXT OF NEHEMIAH 5:1-13
The book of Nehemiah was written after the exile, 12 or 13 years after the end of the book of Ezra. The book of Kings ended with Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of Babylon, conquering Jerusalem and exiling God's people. He finally died in 562, and Babylonian power rapidly declined under ineffectual rulers. (La Sor, 555) Just 3 years later, Cyrus, king of Persia came to the throne of Anshan. He conquered everything from the Aegean Sea to India, an empire that would last two centuries until Alexander the Great. (Luck, 13)

Cyrus governed people by permitting local autonomy, allowing people deported by the Babylonians to return to their homelands. He also allowed them to worship their own God. (La Sor, 556) In the book of Ezra, we see this when God's people go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

But life still was not easy. It was difficult to get by facing many of the enemies around them. Nehemiah 1:3 says that the people were "in great trouble and disgrace" (NIV) or as the King James version says, "great affliction and reproach." Much of this was because of the fact that most of the city and it's great walls still lay in ruins.

This bad news finally reached Nehemiah, the cupbearer of king Artaxerxes. When he found out that the walls of Jerusalem still lay in ruins, he wept and prayed.

The state of the city of Jerusalem reflected either God's blessing or His curse on His people. When God's people were obedient, things went well. When they were living for themselves, the city was in jeopardy. Nehemiah wanted the city to reflect the new time of God's blessing. (Hughes, 172) This couldn't happen if the city was lying in ruins. The walls had been in shambles and the gates were burned. Nehemiah knew that God was concerned about his city looking bad to the whole world, because, to a limited degree, that is where God dwelt (PLACE and PRESENCE). His city needs to be protected (10) and populated (11).

Nehemiah's rebuilding of the wall is all about reproach. The temple had been rebuilt for more than 75 years, and God had freed His people, restoring His blessing to them. So the walls of the city needed to reflect this condition. The reproach needed to be removed. Just like with Moses, when things were bad, God raised up a leader. Here that leader was Nehemiah.

Nehemiah desired to rebuild the city, reflecting the repentance of His people and their restored blessing. So he asked Artaxerxes permission to return and rebuild it (2:1-5) and requested royal authority to requisition timber for the walls. With permission he went west to Jerusalem and secretly surveyed the walls at night (11-16). Then he stood before the Jews and convinced them to build the wall with him. They started successfully building sections of the wall, despite the mocking and opposition of the surrounding enemies. Nehemiah armed the workers and divided the labor force in two, half worked while the other half stood guard. It was in the midst of all this that Nehemiah faced the problem of Jews taking advantage of other Jews (Chapter 5). If it wasn't bad enough that the Jews had to watch their backs from enemy mockery and attack, they also had to watch out for their own brothers. Economic hardship plagued many of the Jews, and many of them had to sell off family members just to make ends meet. Building the wall didn't help matters. So they cried out to Nehemiah.

EXEGESIS OF NEHEMIAH 5:1-13
Life wasn't easy. Famine, population explosion, taxes, taunting from foreign enemies, and unending debt. Sounds like something you'd read in Newsweek today. This is what the returning exiles were facing in Nehemiah Chapter 5.

Famine struck the land because the country had become overpopulated with returning Jews and their large families. This created the need for large produce from the land, but the land probably hadn't been tilled for years because of the exile and perhaps the focus of building on the wall. (Redpath, 110)

People weren't just struggling for food, but struggling to pay their taxes. The Jews at the time were use to paying the kings tribute, such as mentioned in Ezra 4:20:
    "Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them." (NIV)
These pressures were indeed barriers to be hurdled. But so far, the work had not ceased. Working with a sword at their side, the Jews pressed on. Until an unexpected enemy attacked. An enemy far worse than they expected. An enemy that snuck up and decided to take advantage of the tough situation ... their brothers- fellow Jews.

    "The sheep of the Lord's flock need to keep close to the Shepherd and to one another if they would be guarded from the prowling wolves who ever seek their destruction. But how sad, and what shame it is when they fall to devouring one another, thus giving place to the devil." (Ironside, 61)
In the midst of Nehemiah's project of rebuilding the walls, the poor Jews went on strike (without the help of the Teamsters). Their complaint was against their brothers (vs. 1). The poorer Jews were being taken advantage of by the richer Jews, and they came to Nehemiah for help.

We see three classes of people that were being mistreated: (Keil and Delitzsch 208)
  1. Workers who had no property, and just wanted corn for their families to eat (that they might live, vs. 2).
  2. Workers who were property owners, but mortgaged property just to eat (vs. 3).
  3. Workers who were property owners, but had to sell their sons and daughters to pay their taxes- the kings tribute (vs. 4).
All three of these groups had one thing in common- they had trouble making ends meet. Whether they were property owners or not, they were distressed because they didn't have enough to eat, pay their taxes, or get out of debt. And this can be very distressing when it means kissing your son or daughter goodbye forever. The big problem here was that the richer Jews who were lending out the money were not obeying the law set forth in Leviticus.
    Leviticus 25:14 (NIV)
    "If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other."
Now lending money might not sound like taking advantage of someone. But they were taking advantage of their brothers in two ways. One was by charging interest. It was okay to charge interest to a foreigner and it was okay to loan to fellow Jews, but, according to Jewish law, an Israelite was prohibited from charging interest on loan to poor fellow Israelites (Hughes, 176).
    Exodus 22:25 (NIV)
    "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest."

    Leviticus 25:35-37 (NIV)
    "If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. [36] Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. [37] You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit."

    Deut. 23:19-20 (NIV)
    "Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. [20] You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess."
So lending the money wasn't the problem, it was the fact that they were charging their brothers, fellow Jews, interest.

The second way they were taking advantage of their brothers was by putting them in a position that they needed to sell their children into slavery. This was also a violation of the law. They put their poorer brothers in a position that they would never be able to get out of debt, so they had to give up their children to slavery forever. Leviticus 25:39-43 speaks specifically against this:
    "If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. [40] He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. [41] Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. [42] Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. [43] Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God." (NIV)
This passage tells us the Jewish law of the day. Those that were sold should not be retained as slaves, but set at liberty without ransom, either after seven years or at the year of jubilee. (Keil and Delitzsch 209) There was grace built into the system.

But regardless of the law, these rich Jews were taking advantage of the situation by trying to make a profit off the disadvantage of their own brothers. In vs. 6 we see what affect this has on Nehemiah- most likely the same affect that it would have on you. He got very, very angry. This wasn't a bad anger. We know from Ephesians 4:26 that there is a good anger. Nehemiah's anger here was the measure of his concern, or love, as was our Lord's. (Kidner, 95) We see Jesus get angry several times in the scripture.
    Mark 3:5 (NIV)
    He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

    John 2:14-16 (NIV)
    In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. [15] So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. [16] To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"
We also see the Apostle Paul get angry.
    2 Cor. 11:28-29 (NIV)
    Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. [29] Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
So Nehemiah gets angry, and in vs. 7 we see what he does about this anger. He consults with himself. The Hebrew word for consult, as used here, means 'to give oneself advice,' 'to counsel oneself.'" (Swindoll, 104) This isn't foreign for Nehemiah, to stop and think about decisions. In the beginning of the book of Nehemiah we see him stop and pray over the distressing news of the state of Jerusalem.
    Neh. 1:4 (NIV)
    When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
It's not until months later that he does something about it.
    Neh. 2:1 (NIV)
    In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes ...
Nehemiah doesn't just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. He doesn't just fly off the handle. He thinks it over. Then acts rationally and thoughtfully.

After thinking it over, Nehemiah makes three accusations. The first is in verse 7:

1. You are charging interest to your brothers, fellow Jews. This is wrong. The KJV, the NAS, and the NIV use the word "usery." Kidner, in his Tyndale Commentary, clarifies that vs. 7 implies a strict business relationship like a harsh pawnbroker. This is to be contrasted with just loaning money without interest like Nehemiah himself does in vs. 10. (Kidner, 96) What these guys were doing was not only against the Jewish law (as we saw earlier in Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35-37, and Deut. 23:19-20), but it was harsh.

But things got worse, and Nehemiah clarifies this in his second accusation:

2. You are putting your brothers into permanent slavery (verse 8). This is also wrong, as we saw in Leviticus 25:39-43.

But Nehemiah doesn't just leave it at that. He goes on to make a third accusation that perhaps is the most important:

3. You are looking bad in front of the surrounding nations (verse 9). These people weren't just taking advantage of their brothers, they were being watched. Local enemies like Sanballat and Tobiah might have sat back laughing, watching the Jews destroy themselves from within. It's hard to remove reproach when you can't even get along with your brother.

This concept is one that the church would struggle with for centuries. We see rivalry amongst Jewish brothers in Acts 6:1:
    In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (NIV)
More importantly, we see the need to be careful how we conduct ourselves in front of non-believers. Paul writes about this to the Philipians in chapter 1:27-28:
    Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel [28] without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God. (NIV)
And Peter writes about the fact that our conduct can affect the pagans around us:
    1 Peter 2:11-12 (NIV)
    Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. [12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Nehemiah was a living example of how to act in front of others. We learn from 5:15 that Nehemiah didn't use his position for his own gain. As a matter of fact, we find out that he provided hospitality for 150 Jews and officials in need. He was an example of how to treat his "brothers."

When Nehemiah confronts this audience, he does it in public (vs. 7). Perhaps he tried talking to them personally and had no luck. Regardless, he calls a meeting. He brings them out into the open where "the smart deals now looked impassibly shabby, even to the dealers themselves." (Kidner, 96)

He starts by reminding them of the fact that they had been redeeming Jews sold in bondage to their heathen neighbors. (Luck, 103) Then Nehemiah asks a question of them, asking if they were going to do just the opposite, selling them back to fellow Jews. This put them on the spot, and they "kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say." (vs. 8, NIV)

Then we see Nehemiah not waste any time resolving the matter. He doesn't put it off, he doesn't assign a date to talk about it again. Nehemiah resolves to do it "immediately." (verse 11, NIV)
    "Nehemiah leaves no room for postponement or for second thoughts, and makes sure that the promises are upgraded into oaths, properly sworn in the presence of the priests. (Kidner, 96)
Nehemiah commanded them to not only repay the property of the people, but any interest they had collected. The King James, the NASB, and the NIV all refer to the interest as "the hundredth part of the money." This probably indicates that they were charging one percent per month on these loans, or 12 percent per year. (Luck, 103) "The hundredth taken as interest is probably, like the centesima of the Romans, to be understood of a monthly payment. One percent per month was a very heavy interest, and one which, in the case of the poor, might be exorbitant." (Keil and Delitzsch, 212)

In verse 12 we see another step that Nehemiah takes to make the decision in cement. Nehemiah made them take an oath, promising that they would stop taking advantage of their brothers. He called the priest to witness this decision. This was to give solemnity to the oath and partly to make the declaration legally valid for judicial decisions. (Keil and Delitzsch, 212) It was one thing to just give a command. But to make them take an oath and call the priest in meant this was serious business, and now there was going to be some accountability to this decision.

But Nehemiah doesn't just stop there. In verse 13 we see him emphasize the point even further. Nehemiah shook his cloak to illustrate that the "heavy wrath of God would fall upon all who should fail to act according to their promise." (Keil and Delitzsch 208) J. Vernon McGee says it well:
    "He actually pronounced a curse on them. What a picturesque scene! What a dramatic scene! Nehemiah shook out his lap. He shook out his long robe in front of the crowd and said, 'This is the way God will shake you out, and I will shake you out, if you don't make your promise good.' That is the way to talk to people like this!" (McGee, 122)
This story in Nehemiah illustrates what James was talking about in James 3:16:
    For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (NIV)
If we can't love our own brothers, we're going to have big problems with everyone else. Greed had infected the rich Jews of the day, and Nehemiah needed to remind them what love was all about. A principle we hear loud and clear in the New Testament as well:
    Galatians 5:14-15 (NIV)
    The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." [15] If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
WORKS CITED

Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Illinois: Tydale House Publishers, Inc., 1990.

Ironside, H.A. The Ironside Collection: Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. New Jersey, Loizeaux Brothers, 1983.

Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament: Volume III. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Ezra & Nehemiah, An introduction and commentary. Ontario, Canada: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979.

LaSor, Willam Sanford, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic William Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, Second Edition. Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982, 1996.

Luck, G. Coleman. Everman's Bible Commentary: Ezra and Nehemiah. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1961.

McGee, J. Vernon. Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther. Pasadena: Thru the Bible Radio Network.

Redpath, Alan. Victorious Christian Service: Studies in the Book of Nehemiah. Fleming H. Revell Company, 1958.

Swindoll, Charles R. Hand Me Another Brick. Nashville: Thomas nelson Inc., Publishers, 1978.


Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaking to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.



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   Neildren C. Gulfan         10/18/2011 8:51:49 PM

This is a great sermon not only for young people but for everyone. I'll take this. Thank you very much.














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