Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people. Nehemiah 5:14-19
This section of Nehemiah 5 can be confusing for some people to understand. Verse 14, says Nehemiah was appointed governor in the land of Judah—twelve years. Scholars tell us these twelve years were 444 to 432 B.C. This indicates verse 14 is retrospective. Based on this conclusion, it is understood that Chapter 5 of Nehemiah was written some twelve years after the building of the wall.” “Many scholars have marveled that the "time" set by Nehemiah for his return to Babylon (Nehemiah 2:6) could have included the entire twelve-year term as governor. Evidently, there had been some other arrangement with the king in Babylon that would have extended the time.” It took only 52 days to build the wall of Jerusalem. The crisis discussed in chapter 5 transpired over a period of twelve years. Why then is Chapter 5, placed between the repair work on the wall (chapter 4) and the completion of that work (chapter 6)? To show the different types of challenges Nehemiah and the Jews faced while repairing the wall of Jerusalem. Clearly, the chapters are not in chronological order. Whereas, chapter 4 and 6 capture the external challenges Nehemiah and the Jews faced while repairing the wall, chapter 5 captures the internal crisis they faced as well. The remaining chapters of Nehemiah do not discuss the problems related to the rebuilding of the wall.
In Chapter 5, we get a clearer picture of the authority of Nehemiah. Based on this section, we now see why the nobles and the officials agreed to take an oath to do as Nehemiah demanded. Nehemiah was not just some envoy from Babylon. He was the duly appointed governor in the land of Judah. As the governor, Nehemiah was entitled to many privileges that include allotments of food and money. However, Nehemiah and his brothers did not eat the food allotted to the governor. Unlike his predecessors, Nehemiah prioritized the wellbeing of his people over his personal comfort. In Verse 15, Nehemiah says that out of reverence for God he did not want to place a heavy burden on the people by accepting the allotment of food and money. Nehemiah knew that many of the poor Jews struggled to buy food to eat and to pay the King’s tax. Some mortgaged their properties and sold their children into slavery for food. Demanding food and money from the people would only exacerbate the financial crisis they faced. Furthermore, Nehemiah did not demand any land, as customary for him to do as the governor of Judah. Instead, he focused his attention on making life better for his people and working to safeguard their future.
In verse 17, we learn that “Nehemiah not only did not take when he could have; he also gave when he didn’t have to. He received a lot of food from the king’s provisions, which he could have sold for his own profit. Instead, he gave them away to be the example of generosity – feeding as many as 150 people regularly.” Nehemiah’s decision not to eat the food allotted to governors (v. 18) taught the nobles to not take personal advantage of their impoverished Jewish brothers and sisters. He remained committed to the needs of the people and lived in a way that clearly shows the welfare of his fellow Jews was his priority. Nehemiah sacrificed much for his people who may not have known how their governor’s compassion for them influenced the decisions that he made and determined the success of the rebuilding project.
In verse 19, asked the Lord to remember him with favor for all he has done for the people. This would suggest that most of the people did not know what Nehemiah was doing in the background to secure their welfare. They did not know the sacrifices he made, and the hardstand he took for their benefit.
Nehemiah was more concerned about receiving the favor of God than getting accolades for his leadership. Every decision made by Nehemiah demonstrated his concern for the people. Their welfare was his priority. Nehemiah stood against outsiders who wanted to terrorize his people, and against insiders who were taking advantage of them. Nehemiah used his own money to buy back the Jews who were sold into slavery to Gentile masters. He did not accept the allotment of food and money to which he was entitled as the governor of Judah because he did not want to put a heaven burden on them.
Effective leaders prioritize the well-being of people they lead over policies, processes, and results. Part of the failure of the communist ideology is that it prioritizes the success of the “party” over the welfare of the masses. An effective leader does not treat those they lead as means to an end. Nehemiah did not want to rebuild the wall at any cost. He wanted to improve the socio-economic condition of the people as well.
Nehemiah fed one hundred fifty people daily from his table. That level of generosity speaks to his concern for his people. He sought to give more than he received. As an effective leader, Nehemiah took on the financial burden to help as many of the people as possible. He was ready to go to war, if necessary, to protect the people.
Jesus prioritized the salvation of humanity over his personal welfare. He came as a humble servant, though he was the King of kings because he wanted to meet people where they were and redeem us from eternal damnation. Philippians 2:3 exhorts us to value others above ourselves. Another way of saying this is to prioritize the wellbeing of others. We do so by forgiving them when they trespass against us, help them in their times of need, encourage them when they are discouraged, and lead them to the light of Christ by living a Spirit-led life.
Blessed Lord, please give us the wisdom and compassion to prioritize the welfare of others as we do your kingdom work.