The scene may be hard to imagine: people in the covenant community pawning their fields, homes, and vineyards in order to put food on the table. Worse still, the people that were fronting the money were other members of the covenant community. However, this was the reality for post-exilic Jews in Nehemiah’s day.
Nehemiah would have none of this. In chapter 5 he gets after his people like a spiritual Orkin man. He diagnosises the infestation of selfishness and calls them to repentance. Thankfully, the people respond. In repentance they restore what was taken.
This is a great story of concern and service by a man of God for the people of God. But it doesn’t end there.
At the end of the chapter we learn that Nehemiah does not make use of his privileges as governor. That is, he doesn’t take the people’s money. He willfully lays aside his privileges and instead serves people. What does he do? Well, in addition to not taking their money, he worked on the wall, acquired no land, and out of his own pocket–he fed 150 people a day at his table (Neh. 5.16-17).
Why did he do this? Well, he tells us as much in verse 19, “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” That is, he had a religious motivation. He was motivated by God to do this. He tells us as much in v.16, “…because of the fear of God”. Moreover, he did not take advantage of the people because he was conscious of the people’s weakness (Neh. 5.18).
If we could summarize: Nehemiah, moved by a genuine love for God and a loving concern for his people, laid aside his privileges and selflessly served those who were hungry and hurting.
Surely you can see how wonderfully this anticipates the greater Nehemiah. After all, it was the Lord Jesus Christ who laid aside his heavenly privileges, put on humanity and served those who were hungry and hurting due to the effects of sin. Nehemiah might have been able to say, “I ordered a daily feast and wrote the check with my own hand.” But Jesus could say, “I ordered an eternal feast and I wrote the check with my own blood!”
As you think about serving others out of love for them and love for God, consider the depths of the Savior’s service to you today in his life, death, and resurrection. Nehemiah serves as faithful shadow in earthly things to show us the surpassing glory of the heavenly.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2.3-11)