But there is another and a most sorrowful state of things which the 5th chapter reveals to us, and that is, the heart was wrong with considerable part of the remnant. And another thing, too, is very sorrowful. It was not only that the nobles of Tekoa failed when the rest were faithful in the work; but here "is a cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews."
"We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards and houses that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters." Nehemiah was very angry, and "rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye, even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God, because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?" (vers. 3-9).
So he pleads with them, and the consequence is that his rebuke was blessed of the Lord. "Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them that they should do according to this promise" (verse 12). But he added a most solemn denunciation of such conduct for the future. "Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised Jehovah. And the people did according to this promise."
There is nothing like example. If you want devotedness, the great thing is to begin with yourself. Be you devoted individually. If you want love, show love. You will very often find that the men who most claim love are those that least manifest it. Now that is not the way of God, and so it is, beloved friends, not merely with love - take lowliness. Who is it that most complains of the pride of others? The proudest men among you. Now, my friends, that has nothing to do with position. You may find a man who is what men would call in a good position after the flesh or the world, and the man who wants to pull him down has a great deal more pride than the man who is in that position, even supposing the richer man may not be all that one could wish. But then we have to take care of our spirit, beloved brethren. We have to take care of what our object is.
Now, I do not say this with regard to a man wanting to maintain his place; but I do say that the spirit that seeks to pull down is as sure pride as can be found in this earth, and that what God looks for is this: no matter in what position we are, we should all seek to be found according to Christ; but to dictate to others, or to wish to deal with others, is a poor way of accomplishing the will of the Lord, or carrying out His glory. Nehemiah did not act thus. "Moreover," says he, "from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor." There was grace, nay, more than that. "But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God. Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work (vers. 14-16).
Nor was this all. "Moreover, there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers besides those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us. Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people. Think upon me, my God, for good; according to all that I have done for this people." He loved them, and there were the fruits of it most manifest.