Chapter 5 the issue confronting Nehemiah was internal conflict relating to injustice.
Nehemiah is leading the people in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and there’s been an increasing problem from the outside as the threat from surrounding nations intensifies. And this opposition intensifies until the point where:
Nehemiah 4:17a-18a NLT
The labourers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side.
I’d love to let the modern day occupational health and safety officers loose on that work environment and see what their report showed!
The safety & prosperity of the people, the completion of the work, and the name and reputation of their God YAHWEH were all under threat as the outside opposition grew.
This opposition or the problem was coming from the “outside”.
As we come to chapter 5 and the story continues, the threat continues. However this time, the problem is on the inside.
It’s actually what’s taking place within the people of God that is the problem.
Nehemiah 5:1-5 NLT About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. 2 They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.”
3 Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.”
4 And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. 5 We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.”
So there was a problem. There was famine in the land, and so in order to get grain, families were having to mortgage homes and land in order just to get food to survive. And more than that, some families were in such need that they were forced to not only mortgage their fields and land, but to sell their children into slavery.
Now, this isn’t a great situation where people have to mortgage fields or sell family into slavery, but this practice was common enough at the time. We read in the law of Moses regulations about the fair treatment of slaves and appropriate rules for lending and borrowing money.
The problem was, that they were taking advantage of their own people by charging interest when they were already in such financial hardship.
Nehemiah 5:6-7 NLT 6 When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. 7 After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials. I told them, “You are hurting your own relatives by charging interest when they borrow money!” Then I called a public meeting to deal with the problem.