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The Scriptorium

Captive Still

The corrupting power of self-love. Nehemiah 5

Return from Exile: Nehemiah 1-5 (6)

Pray Psalm 132.13-18.
For the LORD has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His dwelling place:
“This is My resting place forever;
Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless her provision;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
I will also clothe her priests with salvation,
And her saints shall shout aloud for joy.
There I will make the horn of David grow;
I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed.
His enemies I will clothe with shame,
But upon Himself His crown shall flourish.”

Sing Psalm 132.13-18.
(Finlandia: Be Still, My Soul)
God dwells among us, and He will forever,
to meet our needs and clothe us with His grace.
He has to us sent Jesus Christ, our Savior—
beloved eternal light and resting-place.
His foes are banished from His Presence ever,
but we shall reign with Him before His face.

Read Nehemiah 5.1-19; meditate on verses 6-11.

1. What was happening among the people?

2. How did Nehemiah respond?

New temple. Solid wall going up. Enemies backed down. Everything seemed to be going so well. But then it became apparent that self-love ruled in all the wrong places.

The onset of famine meant that certain people, who lived off the land, needed help. The “nobles and rulers” stepped up to the opportunity and laded the people with loans at exorbitant interest rates, precisely contrary to the Law of God. When the people could not meet their payments, the “nobles and rulers” began confiscating their farms (v. 5). That, on top of the burdensome taxes imposed by former governors (v. 15), was crushing the people. The Venerable Bede explains what should have happened: “…we should take care whenever a general time of famine and destitution has afflicted the people, not only to give poor people what we can but also to forgive that tribute that we have been accustomed to exact from our subjects as though by right, in order that the Father might forgive us our debts too.” People captive to self-love don’t think this way.

But that’s how Nehemiah thought, and it’s what he and his brothers did (vv. 14-19). He also rebuked the usurers, ordered them to restore the people’s properties, and called an assembly to further rebuke the nobles and rulers publicly (vv. 6-13). The guilty parties obeyed (v. 13), but we can imagine only grudgingly. The bonds of self-love are not easily broken.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162.
A quick review of the returned captives: on the plus side they have rebuilt the temple and are in the process of rebuilding the wall surrounding Jerusalem. Good for them.
On the negative side: previously, they had left God’s house in a state of destruction; the walls surrounding Jerusalem remained broken down; they inter-married with the heathen; and they extracted usury from their brethren.
OK. I’d have to say, if forced to, that the negatives outweighed the positives by a decisive margin.
These folks’ hearts were just rotten.

What a relief! The people God chose to work with and through, in the Bible, are just like we are. And in His marvelous grace and mercy, His will was, and is, done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6.10).

But let’s work through what they, and we, know from God’s Word:

“What 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?” (Neh. 5.9)
“He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just,
both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD” (Prov. 17.15).
“It is not good to show partiality to the wicked, or
to overthrow the righteous in judgment” (Prov. 18.5).
“It is not good to show partiality in judgment.
He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’
him the people will curse; nations will abhor him.
But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and
a good blessing will come upon them” (Prov. 24.23-25; Neh. 5.19).
“Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but
such as keep the law contend with them” (Prov. 28.4).
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar;
for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen,
how can he love God whom he has not seen?
And this commandment we have from Him:
that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4.20, 21).

The Israelite people were blessed to have a man of courage and conviction like Nehemiah to lead and guide them. He was just the right blend of righteous indignation and gentle concern for his fellowman.

The captive church today needs people, just like Ezra and Nehemiah, who will courageously call Christians to repentance and renewal in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ: To turn from sin; and give ourselves completely to being captivated in the Kingdom work of God. Then we can pray with Nehemiah and the psalmist: “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh. 5.19).
“Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation, that I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation,
that I may glory with Your inheritance” (Ps. 106.4, 5).

This is how Jesus sees us—potentially productive, powerful, doing works of goodness and mercy—“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (Jn. 14.12). He envisions all believers, working together, doing the works that the Helper (Jn. 14.16, 17) empowers us to do. Not grumbly, rotten folks, caught up in self-love; but authentic, righteous, Ezras and Nehemiahs. “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3.13, 14).

For reflection
1. To what Kingdom work has God called you? Is there anything in your soul keeping you from doing this work?

2. How can believers encourage one another in the work we’ve been given to do?

3. Whom will you encourage today to seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God?

As the most excellent leader of the heavenly militia and “wise architect” of God’s city, he first of all declared that he himself had done what he wished the nobles and magistrates of the people to do, namely, to give alms to the poor and seek nothing from them except faithfulness to God’s law and the building of his city.
The Venerable Bede (672-735), On Ezra and Nehemiah 2.31

Pray Psalm 132.8-12.
Thank God that Jesus has fulfilled the promise of His covenant, and that He rules in glory and power to help us in seeking His Kingdom. Commit your day to serving others and showing them the love of the Lord.

Sing Psalm 132.8-12
(Finlandia: Be Still, My Soul)
Arise, O Lord, come to Your resting place.
Your holy Presence meet with us in might.
Clothe us with righteousness in Jesus’ grace,
and we will shout to Your divine delight!
For David’s sake, turn not away Your face,
but look upon us in Your holy light.

Remember, Lord, the oath You swore to David.
Do not turn back, do not deny Your Word:
“One of your sons, with your throne I will favor,
if he shall keep My cov’nant evermore,
and walk within My testimonies ever.
Thus he shall ever rule by Israel’s Lord.”

T. M. and Susie Moore

Two books can help us understand our own captivity and lead us to seek revival and renewal in the Lord. The Church Captive asks us to consider the ways the Church today has become captive to the world. And Revived! can help us find the way to renewal. Learn more and order your free copies by clicking here and here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available free by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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