#5  “Book of Nehemiah” Series




TEXT:         Neh. 5:1-19


INTRO:       Nehemiah and the people were half way to their goal, the outside enemies were already fading as a threat, they had successfully fought off the outside enemies and their attempts to destroy the goal God had given them to build.


But, now without the threat of outside sources a new and potentially worse enemy was rising to threaten them ... this enemy really could destroy the work of God in their midst: Who Was this great enemy?




While outside enemies tend to cause the saints of God to rally together against a mutual threat these inside enemies tend to do just the opposite; they tend to divide the people of God and turn brother against brother!


ILLUS:      Jay E. Adams writes that under the roof in his back yard hangs a hummingbird feeder that he keeps filled with sugar water.  There are four openings in it from which birds may suck the nectar.  Yet, day after day, from early morning until after dusk, the feeder is the source of their own private version of star wars.  One bird chases all the others away.

"As I said," Adams writes, "there is room for four birds at a time, and fully that number attempt to feed.  But the top dog (excuse my use of this metaphor for a hummingbird!), who now 'owns' the feeder, will not let them.  All day long he sits on the branch of a nearby apricot tree guarding 'his' feeder and defying others to transgress on what he has established as 'his' territory.

"This ongoing slice of life confronts us throughout the day as green and red Annas hummers streak across the yard, the king hummer in hot pursuit of an intruder.  While the chase is on, others sneak a sip or two, only to be driven off when he returns.

"The whole business has become a sort of parable for our family.  Here is an example of grace: I bought the feeder; I supply the sugar water.  The birds do not earn it; they receive it all gratis.  Yet, day after day, they fight over who may enjoy it.

"How like the people of God!  All we have or are that is worthwhile is the gift of God's pure grace.  And yet we are proud, self-centered, envious, and quarrelsome.  Often we fight over God's good gifts rather than expressing our gratitude in humility and sharing what we have been given with others.  Just as I am confronted daily with rivalry in my yard, even so God is confronted daily with rivalry in His." – Source Unknown


The end result of tiredness and selfishness is division among the people of God ... and the work of God is left unfinished!  Selfishness robs the saints of their joy ... and thus their motivation and drive diminishes.  This lower drive increases the sense of tiredness ... which causes loss of vision and laziness to settle in.


THE SOLUTION: True repentance and everyone working for the shared goal!


PROP.SENT:   The Word of God teaches us that WE ALL are called to minister in the Kingdom of God ... that our mission is one that is shared by ALL, and that Satan's most effective weapon against the church is turning brother against brother.


I.   PROFITS OF MISERY!    5:1-5


A.   Exceptions    5:1-5a

1.   “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers.”  (Caps mine for emphasis)

a.   The interesting statement here reflects just how much the majority had sacrificed thus far for this project.

b.   Their time had been greatly given to the project.

c.   They had mortgaged their land to give financial support to their families while building, instead of raising crops!

d.   They had determined the greater need FOR NOW was the walls ... normal concerns would return later and they would return back to a balanced lifestyle.

e.   Each was involved so all could finish sooner and return to a normal life.

f.    The wives joining in at this point reflect the degree of sacrifice involved by the vast majority so far!

(1.    They had run out of groceries ... and had no more money or borrowing power to purchase necessities any longer!

(2.    Between taxes, buying food, and sacrificially giving towards the “wall project” they had exhausted all their supplies!

2.   Here was the foundation to a very serious problem ... a the few of the Jews who had not participated in building now brought up the mortgages of the people, they had lent money to their own but at high interest rates ... and they had even taken in some cases people's children as pledges for further loans!

3.   These few rich nobles and brothers decided profiting from the sacrifices of others was a great opportunity to get rich while everyone else got poor!

a.   They felt they were the exceptions to the work rule ... though they would benefit from the wall also!

b.   They felt they were too powerful to get down on hands and knees and work like the rest of Israel on the wall, and they saw a way of getting rich off the sacrifices of the others during the process.

c.   Instead of giving they had found ways of taking ... TAKING EVERYTHING from those who willing gave them sacrificially!



ILLUS:      Over coffee: "All I'm trying to say is that certain people might think that 12:15 is a little late to be getting out of church, that a pastor doesn't need three weeks of vacation, that your office is offensive, that a guy my age doesn't need a guy your age telling me how to raise my kids, and that if it weren't for your crazy Third World projects we could have repaved our parking lot by now.  I'm not saying those are MY opinions, or course.  I just thought you should know what others might be thinking." -- Cartoonists David B. McGinnis and Scott Becker in Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 3.


5.   Their attitudes of "I don't have to help unless there is something in it for me" demonstrated their selfishness, it wasn't just a matter of laziness; they robbed their own people unfairly!

6.   There is no excuse for this kind of behavior in the kingdom of God ... selfishness is highly destructive to the body of Christ ... for it goes against the very nature of God and is in fact the very nature of SIN!

7.   These few had the attitude of "I don't want to help, but I do want to benefit from the sacrifice of others" was about to undermine the entire project and society of Israel!

8.   While Sanballat and the army of Samaria and the other leaders in the area against Israel couldn't stop the project or the joy of the people this inside selfishness and ungodly behavior by a few poised a very serious threat to the entire success of the community!


B.   Exhaustion!     5:5b

1.   "WE ARE POWERLESS" ... note the sense of helplessness!

a.   This is the cry of the victims of selfishness or for that matter the cry of all sinners!

b.   Sin holds one in a grip that cannot be broken without Jesus Christ!

2.   They had no way of helping themselves, all was lost because of a few selfish and uncooperative brethren!

3.   Hopelessness settles in when selfishness takes over ... there is nothing more draining than trying to deal with a selfish person ... no matter what you say they turn it around to their advantage!

a.   It is a heart problem ... a SIN PROBLEM!

b.   The actual concept of sin IS SELFISHNESS!


ILLUS:      The cuckoo is a common bird in England.  The first sign of spring is that bird's call.  The cuckoo never builds its own nest.  When it feels an egg coming on, it finds another nest with eggs and no parent bird.  The cuckoo lands, hurriedly lays its egg, and takes off again.  That's all the cuckoo does in terms of parenting.  (We have a lot of cuckoos in our society today!)

   The thrush, whose nest has now been invaded, comes back, circles, and comes into the wind to land.  Not being very good at arithmetic, it can't imagine why it immediately begins to list to starboard.  It gets to work hatching the eggs.  Four little thrushes and one large cuckoo eventually hatch.  The cuckoo is two or three times the size of the thrushes.

   Mrs. Thrush, having hatched the five little birds, goes off early in the morning to get the worm.  She comes back, circles the nest to see four petite thrush mouths and one cavernous cuckoo mouth.  Who gets the worm?  The cuckoo.

   Guess what happens.  The cuckoo gets bigger and bigger; the little thrushes get smaller and smaller.

   To find a baby cuckoo in a nest, simply walk along a hedge row until you find little dead thrushes.  The cuckoo throws them out one at a time.  Here's an adult thrush feeding a baby cuckoo that is three times as big as the thrush.

   And the moral of the story is this: you have two natures in one nest and the nature you go on feeding will grow, and the nature you go on starving will diminish.  If there's going to be anything resembling that which God has in mind for us, it is going to come not through an annual attempt at the spirit of Christmas but a perpetual recognition of the Spirit of Christ. -- Stuart Briscoe, "Christmas 365 Days a Year," Preaching Today, Tape 135.


4.   There is a sense of powerlessness when trying to deal with a selfish person!

5.   What could they do... they had nothing left to bargain with or to buy food with!

6.   A few held the entire community hostage to their own selfishness and cold hearts!

7.   While the majority had given of themselves so freely these other few had taken so much, it was so obvious that they had no way to provide otherwise!




A.   Example    5:6-7a

1.   Nehemiah steps into the scene once he discovers the reason for the people's crying ... and the actual charges against the few corrupt brothers.

2.   A holy anger grips Nehemiah's heart when he discovers the whole rotten situation, but then he sets an example on how to deal with such selfish individuals!

a.   "I was angry" 5:6b

b.   "I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials."  NOTE: The NEB translates this line: "I MASTERED MY FEELINGS AND REASONED WITH THE NOBLES."

(1.    It is important that in dealing with this kind of person you don't just act like them by having your own feelings dictate your actions and responses; selfish people are already ruled by their passions.  Another example is needed!

(2.    Nehemiah must have examined his own heart before responding, it was important that he looked at himself before accusing them ... and also so that he was sure of the evidence!


ILLUS:     You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "I."

You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "My."

Nor can you pray the Lord's Prayer and not pray for one another.

And when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother.

For others are included ... in each and every plea,

From the beginning to the end of it, it doesn't once say "Me." -- Unknown, Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 3.


3.   Mastering our emotions is a sign of genuine maturity, a quality that is absolutely necessary in leaders!

4.   Nehemiah was able to separate his own feelings or master them from the actual evidence ... and so could be as objective as possible in dealing with them.

a.   He wanted to be sure they were confronted with REAL details of guilt.

b.   He didn't want them to use the excuse of Nehemiah’s own emotions out of control to dismiss their guilt!

5.   His example is one for us to follow still!


B.   Exhortation!    5:7b-8

1.   It became necessary to call off the work and get the whole community together!

2.   Some issues cannot be ignored or they can poison the whole group!

3.   God's work, these walls, were in jeopardy of not being completed because of a few lazy, selfish individuals whose motives were only to get rich at the expense of the whole group!

4.   It was time for a Word from God! ... So Nehemiah steps in the shoes of a PROPHET and proclaims the error of the profiteers!

a.   He is clearly in control as he presents the evidence, and those being accused will have a chance to speak in response to the charges!

b.   When he is finished the evidence is SO CLEAR that they choose not to try and defend themselves ... their guilt was obvious!


ILLUS:     Lloyd H. Steffen wrote in The Christian Century how when King Frederick II, an eighteenth-century King of Prussia, was visiting a prison in Berlin, the inmates tried to prove to him how they had been unjustly imprisoned.  All except one.

   That one sat quietly in a corner, while all the rest protested their innocence.  Seeing him sitting there oblivious to the commotion, the king asked him what he was there for.  "Armed robbery, Your Honor."  The king asked, "Were you guilty?"  "Yes, Sir," he answered. "I entirely deserve my punishment."  The king then gave an order to the guard: "Release this guilty man.  I don't want him corrupting all these innocent people." -- Donal W. Brenneman APO, Miami, Florida.  Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 2.


c.   Their selfishness and lack of help was an OPEN AND SHUT CASE!

5.   This exhortation from Nehemiah was WHAT WAS NEEDED or the community of the saints would have dissolved into a divided failing body of people!


C.   Explanation!      5:9-11

1.   With no word of response from those accused Nehemiah continues the explanation and definition of just how damaging circumstances these few selfish individuals had created!

2.   He explains how their selfish needs and wants would impact the witness of the whole community before the ungodly nations around them!

a.   They would become a laughing stock to the other Gentile nations!

b.   Their enemies would mock their God ... by seeing that they destroyed themselves without outside help!

c.   Nehemiah explains how being fair in business was ok, but to take advantage of their own brothers while they worked hard to benefit the whole nation was the worst of motives!


ILLUS:      The quest for freedom is becoming personal rather than political.  It is a quest of self-hood, and its outcome is no better.  When self-denial goes out of fashion, self-fulfillment takes its place. -- Kitty Muggeridge in Gazing on Truth. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 9.


3.   Nehemiah explains that the only solution for this problem was IMMEDIATE repentance!  TO BE FAIR AND NOT SELFISH ... to confess their selfishness and poor motives and return the unfair appropriations!

a.   Nehemiah could ask them to do this since he himself had practiced IT!

b.   This is an important aspect to his being able to minister this correction; he was practicing what he was preaching!




A.   Earnest    5:12a

1.   The response seemed genuine and earnest: "We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say."


ILLUS:      Repentance has a double aspect; it looks upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful eye. -- Robert South -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 440.


2.   Genuine repentance is reflected here … which means they acknowledged their guilt and restored what they had taken wrongfully!

a.   There can be no forgiveness for sins if they are not acknowledged as sin!

b.   Repentance occurs only when we admit our guilt before God!

c.   True repentance leads to restoration whenever possible.


B.   Evidence     5:12b-13

1.   Nehemiah understood that confession with the mouth is good ... but that there must be action or evidence to back up genuine repentance!

2.   So the priests were called in to create an oath that they would accept as PROOF of what they said was genuine sorrow!

3.   Action must follow confession of the mouth ... evidence of change is necessary when real forgiveness is accepted!


ILLUS:      Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.  Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack's wares.  Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship.  Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 3.


4.   The evidence included entering into a spiritual contract with God that would demonstrate itself by change of actions!

5.   The forgiven sinner is a changed saint!  Your actions demonstrate your heart!


C.   Expectations      5:14-19

1.   Nehemiah therefore sets the tone of the moral high ground expected of leaders and God's people.

a.   These included fairness.

b.   Leading by example ... and not by lording over them.

c.   Demonstrating an unselfish lifestyle by not taking even what he could have as governor.

d.   In fact, instead of receiving what was rightfully his he gave it back by sharing it with others; he was not a taker but a giver!

2.   Nehemiah's closing words in this chapter reveal the 2 reasons he was involved with the people in the first place!

a.   Reverence for God #1 -- 5:15b

b.   Love for God's people #2 -- 5:16a, 18b-19


ILLUS:       There is a story from the Middle Ages about a young woman who was expelled from heaven and told that she would be readmitted if she would bring back the one gift God valued the most.  She brought back drops of blood from a dying patriot.  She collected coins given by a destitute widow for the poor.  She brought back a remnant of a Bible used by an eminent preacher.  She even brought back the dust from the shoes of missionaries who served many years in a distant land.  Although she brought back these things and more, she was turned back repeatedly.

   One day as she watched a small boy playing by a fountain, she saw a man ride up on horseback and dismount to take a drink.  When he saw the boy playing, he thought of his own childhood innocence.  But he looked into the water of the fountain and saw a reflection of his hardened face.  He was overcome by the sin in his life, and in that moment, he wept tears of repentance.  The young woman took one of those tears back to heaven, where she was received with joy. -- Don McCullough, "Jesus the Judge," Preaching Today, Tape No. 129.


3.   In this way Nehemiah really fulfilled the Law of Christ; “to love the Lord with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself!”

a.   Selfishness is not becoming as a saint of God, it is more the characteristic of our worst enemy!

b.   Nehemiah understood well how a little sin in the camp can affect the greater group and rob God's people of the joy we are suppose to have in serving our God while being used by Him to build His kingdom!

c.   All were needed to minister if the walls were going to get finished on time ... their greatest threat wasn't from the outside ... but from within!

4.   Nehemiah's overall GOAL: 5:19 “Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.”

a.   The favor of God!

b.   Not the earthly rewards!  He asks nothing from the people except the opportunity to serve.


CONCLUSION:   As the Jews discovered; when our enemies are beaten there is still an even greater danger to the body of Christ ... division within!  While most sacrificially worked, a few took advantage of the majority, motivated by selfish gain; they robbed the joy from the hearts of the workers.  Only genuine repentance restored the joy and fellowship of God's people.  The surrounding enemies hadn't stopped the people of God, but the enemy within could!  Churches are rarely destroyed from outside forces ... they are more likely to succumb to poor motives, selfishness, and disunity!  Let's keep building!