6 Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words. 7 I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. 8 I said to them, “We according to our ability have [b]redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. 11 Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this [c]promise. 13 I also shook out the [d]front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this [e]promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this [f]promise.
Picture this. You've worked and worked and worked for a very specific purpose. The plans have been outlined. You've prayed and prayed and prayed some more. The dream becomes reality; not without struggles mind you, but it's coming to fruition. You begin your work and you see the LORD a part of it. You see Him confirming the passion you had so long ago. It was only a dream then, but now, you can literally reach out and touch what was only in your dreams. The wall is being built. The people are working together. But then you hear the cries on the inside of these walls. The people's hearts are burdened and broken. They are in need of much wisdom. You begin to see that the LORD, in His providence, was with you the whole way with your dream, but has unearthed something that was surprising, but it wouldn't have come to the surface unless you had the plan to build the wall.
This is Nehemiah's life right now. It is clear that he has seen the labour of both his hands and the many who are helping him to re-build this wall that they are starting to see real progress. But just like anything, there are always stumbling blocks along the way. There's always something more that the LORD desires us to learn. And here, the leadership lesson is this: Be ready to see other needs when you have in mind to fulfill one. Nehemiah becomes for us a beautiful example of some who intercedes on behalf of others.
It is clear that Nehemiah has not known about these concerns of the people because he has been away. His first encounter with his plan was at night. He did not speak with the people - they simply started to show up and become interested in his dream to re-build the wall. But as they worked, there was unearthed a larger concern that was not on Nehemiah's radar. His people were in desperate need of help. They had been in need of help for a while. Re-building the wall would begin to frame for Nehemiah another job he needed to do. He wasn't just re-building a wall - he was re-building a people.
In his passion, he approached the nobles and rulers and says very clearly that this, what they are doing, is not a fair action. It is clear that Nehemiah has a way with words and does not dance around issues that need to be confronted. He 'stands in the gap' for these people and will not give up until the task is done and promises are made. And with his words, they were silent and could not find a word to say (vs. 8).
It's interesting to note, as we follow along in Wiersbe's commentary, that Nehemiah responded in three ways: Anger (vs. 6), Consultation (vs. 7), and Rebuke (vss. 7-11) yet this particular section finishes with four very clear steps, both on Nehemiah's part as well as the nobles' part - Nehemiah shaking his clothes as an object lesson, the collective 'Amen', the people praising the LORD and the nobles doing what they promised. (all found in vs. 13).
I'm struck with the simplicity of these steps. Yet you and I both know that the conflicts we find ourselves in very rarely are ever this 'clean and simple'. Conflicts often draw out over days and months and we never get to resolve anything because the festering is so detrimental to healing. But by way of object-lesson, I think we, too, need to do a little 'shaking of garments'. This was very common in Jewish culture - and is reminiscent of Jesus commanding His disciples to shake the dust off their feet and move on if they were not welcomed into the home (see Matt. 10:14; cf. Acts 13:51; 18:6).
Finishing a conflict with a physical act conveys completion - which we all want. An audible agreement for all involved communicates understanding and a promise to fulfill what you have promised is very important. Above all, praising the LORD for His help is a continual marker for Nehemiah's life and should be for our own as well. These are lessons in leadership, but they are lessons for life.
May we seek to continue to glean all we can through the Holy Spirit's prodding as we walk through the life of Nehemiah.