If you’ve watched shows such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs, you know that in England, the nobility lived in an entirely different world than the serving class. The same wealth gap existed in Nehemiah’s time.
The nobles and officials in Jerusalem were exploiting the poor by charging them exorbitant interest on loans. This was money they needed to cover their basic living expenses. Nehemiah challenged these leaders to live generously. By doing so, they would be showing God’s love.
In addition to not charging interest on his own loans to the poor people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah refused to take what was his by virtue of his position. As the king’s “appointed...governor in the land of Judah” (v. 14), Nehemiah could have demanded that the people provide food for him and his entire court. But unlike the political leaders before him, Nehemiah refused to do this. In addition to refusing to tax the people, he participated in the manual labor required to rebuild the city walls. Nehemiah refused to prey upon those he led, and he was “angry” at those who did so (v. 6). He led by example, giving up the luxury he could have demanded for the good of the people. Even more, in verses 17 and 18 we learn that Nehemiah paid out of his own pocket for “a hundred and fifty Jews and officials...as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations” to eat at his table.
For his generosity, Nehemiah asks God to “remember me with favor” (v. 19). Nehemiah understood that riches in this world will soon pass. Rather than fill his own coffers, he gave generously to the people he led. Rather than demand his rights, Nehemiah served his people.
>> We tend to look at our bank balance and worldly possessions as “mine.” After all, we earned them! How does this passage challenge that belief? How can you give up your “rights” in order to show God’s love to others?
We often place a high value on our rights. As we examine our hearts, show us, Lord, if we have made an idol of them. Help us count others as more important than ourselves so they can see Your love in action.