The circumstances in Nehemiah 5 are somewhat akin to problems during the American Revolution. The Continental Army suffered horribly that winter at Valley Forge.
Clothes were threadbare and blankets were so rare that soldiers sometimes sat up all night rather than go to sleep and freeze to death. Lafayette saw soldiers there whose legs had frozen black — subjects for amputations.
The trouble was not the severe winter, for it was mild by Pennsylvania standards. But soldiers went hungry because nearby farmers preferred to sell to the British in Philadelphia for hard cash.
The army had no clothes because merchants in Boston refused to move government clothing off their shelves at anything less than profits ranging from 1,000-1,800 percent. They did this to their own people for greed.
Nehemiah had certain rights by virtue of his position as appointed governor — a food allowance, a stipend – but he voluntarily relinquished them.
Apparently, Nehemiah paid for his stock and supply of food (vv. 17-18). What motivated this kind of self-sacrificing, non-oppressive leadership?
Why was Nehemiah different from his predecessors? “Because of the fear of God” (v. 15b). Here is the true basis for biblical ethics: the fear of God.
The awe of God controls your treatment of men. The fear of God (v. 15b) leads to compassion for people (v. 18b).
Nehemiah not only demanded the scoundrels of vv. 1-13 change, but he himself had consistently set an example of proper servant leadership.
Where then does one look for reward?
You don’t expect it from people — you seek it from the approval of God, as the prayer of verse 19 shows (cf. 1 Thess. 2:4-6a).
Lessons for little Saints…
1. Why was Nehemiah angry?
2. Why were the people starving?
3. Who had been treating them harshly?
4. How was Nehemiah different? What did he do?