Satan wasn’t having any success trying to stop the Jews’ work on Jerusalem’s walls through outside attacks. So he tried another tactic. He brought division between the Jews themselves, namely between the rich and the poor.
Essentially, the poor among the Jews were suffering because they didn’t have enough money to buy food, particularly with a famine going on at that time, and also because of taxes they had to pay. As a result, they were selling off their fields and homes just to be able to have something to eat. When they no longer had any land to sell, they started to sell their own sons and daughters into slavery.
As Nehemiah considered the situation, he realized that the real reason things were so bad was the attitude of the nobles and officials. They were taking advantage of the problems with the poor in order to enrich themselves. They were taking the pledges people had made for the loans they were giving, which was forbidden by God’s law. God had commanded them,
When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. (Deuteronomy 24:10)
(The word translated “interest” in the NIV is completely different from the Hebrew word used in Leviticus 25:36, and is probably better translated collateral, although the NIV translation is also possible, and just as forbidden by God in the Leviticus passage if the two words are actually used as synonyms.)
Yet despite God’s commands, these nobles and officials had no qualms about taking their neighbor’s land and children when these people couldn’t pay off the debt.
As a result, Nehemiah gave them a major tongue lashing, to which they had no answer. To their credit, however, they repented, and gave back everything they had taken from their fellow Jews.
Nehemiah himself, though he had a right to have a lot more food as governor in Jerusalem, refused to take it because it would’ve been a burden on the people. Instead, he daily invited 150 people to dine with him.
He also never lorded over the people as their governor. Rather, he worked beside them to help rebuild the walls around Jerusalem.
What can we learn from this? If Satan can’t stop us from doing God’s work by directly attacking us, he’ll try to get us to attack each other. He’ll divide us and get us so busy fighting each other that we don’t have time to do the things that God has asked.
How do we prevent that from happening? By having the kind of heart that Nehemiah had. A servant’s heart.
So let us not be looking out only for our own interests. That kind of attitude leads to division. Rather let us look to serve one another in love.
Paul put it this way,
Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)