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—NEHEMIAH 6.—DECEMBER 10.—
"The Lord is the strength of my life; of
whom shall I be afraid?"—Psa. 27:1 .
AFTER many difficulties Nehemiah's work had almost reached success when a great wail of distress went out. The poor Jews had been giving all of their time to the repairing of the walls and had thus cut off their income from other sources. In their zeal they went into debt in mortgages on their property. When the tax collectors came and the interest became due they were unable to meet these and so, destitution staring them in the face, a great wail went up. Disasters spread rapidly and a food riot was barely averted.
Nehemiah looked into the matter and found that the wealthy Jews had advanced money to their poor neighbors on mortgages at exorbitant interest rates, and they were thus profiting by the calamities of their brethren. He called them together and had a plain but kind talk with them respecting the brotherly obligations required by the Law—"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." He gave them a practical exemplification of his good exhortations. The wealthy Jews were abashed. They acknowledged the injustice of their course and rectified matters. Here we see the power of noble character and good example in its influence upon others. As custom and example foster unjust methods and usage makes right in the minds of many, so likewise examples of justice are powerful in opposition to wrong. Thus every Christian owes it to himself and to God and the principles of righteousness which he represents, not only to take the proper stand, but also to let this stand for righteousness be known to others as reproofs of unrighteousness.
No sooner had the prevailing difficulties been successfully combated than a new foe arose. The outside enemies, perceiving that the wall was about finished, and that only the hanging of the gates remained to complete the defenses of Jerusalem, tried new tactics. They professed a desire to reconsider the whole matter—to meet with Nehemiah for discussions of their business and fresh examination of his papers of authority from the King. But he replied that his work was a great one, very important, and that he could not take time for discussion. He had time to discuss with his brethren; he had time to show them as the people of God the right and wrong of each important question, but he had no time to dispute about outside matters while his important mission was unfinished.
There is a lesson in this for Christians. We should always have time to discuss God's Word and His love with the brethren. We should always have time to give to everyone that asks a reason for the hope that is in us. But surely while important interests of God's cause are needing our attention we have no time to give to discussing outside questions which St. Paul denominates "science falsely so called." We are to have the same mind on the subject as St. Paul expressed, saying, "I have determined to know nothing amongst you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Anything relating to Jesus as God's anointed Son, the Messiah, or anything relating to His crucifixion and the hopes built thereon, St. Paul was ready to discuss at any time. The defense of this cause and subject was his special business in life. Although he was well educated and well informed on topics of general interest, he acted as though he were ignorant of those things that he might give all his influence and time to the one paramount matter—to the cause for which he was an ambassador.
Four times the outsiders sought to converse with Nehemiah; [R4921 : page 428] four times he declined, not only because of the importance of the work he was doing, but because additionally he perceived that they were merely urging this as a pretext for the conference which was to be held in a village twenty miles from Jerusalem on neutral ground, and during Nehemiah's absence they might overpower the garrison of Israel and destroy the work already accomplished, or they might do him violence at the conference, or both.
Finally, the enemies resorted to the usual weapons of slander. They did not charge directly that Nehemiah sought to make himself king of the Jews, with Jerusalem its capital, and that he was secretly employing men to speak favorably for him amongst the people, but in an open letter sent declared that these things were commonly reported amongst all the people—they were "common gossip;" and by way of giving personality and force the letter added, "And Gesham saith that thou and the Jews think to [R4922 : page 428] rebel, for which cause thou buildest the wall; and that thou desirest to be their king."
This message was sent by Sanballat in a complimentary way as though he were a friend and hoped to save Nehemiah from trouble with the king, and he still urged him to come to the counsel which was to be held for his interest. Nehemiah's answer was quite to the point: "There are no such things done as thou sayest; thou feignest them out of thine own heart." The object evidently was to alarm the Jews and to thus discourage the completion of their work.
How cruel are the multitudinous methods of slander! How contrary they are to everything that is right, not to mention the highest of all standards, Christian love! Nevertheless, how frequently God's people are ensnared by the spirit of slander. How grievous are the wrongs thus accomplished; how unbearable is the injustice inflicted; how dreadful are the responsibilities incurred! Assuredly those who lend their lips to slander are correspondingly opening their hearts to the Adversary. Not only is evil speaking condemned in the Scriptures but also by all noble men and women, even though heathen. Even when Nehemiah's life was threatened, his consciousness of loyalty to God and of Divine guidance kept him without fear. We close by quoting the poem, "Three Gates of Gold":—