Once Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and got started on rebuilding the wall, the people made good progress for a while. Even though Sanballat, Tobiah, and Israel’s other enemies attempted to derail the wall’s reconstruction, Nehemiah was able to organize the people and arm them so that they could defend themselves and keep up the work (Neh. 3–4).
Yet as anyone who has faced persistent opposition understands, it is easy to become wearied and feel like giving up after a long period of suffering. This is apparently what happened during Nehemiah’s wall-building project, as we see in today’s passage. Eventually, the people complained that they were unable to continue their work because of money problems — famine had made food scarce, families had gotten in over their heads mortgaging their farms, and so on (Neh. 5:1–5).
Some of the people did not give because they were trying to amass a fortune in grain for themselves (vv. 1–2), and this is often the reason why so few people give to the church today. Complaints about money often do not reflect a lack of funds but an unwillingness to give up a certain lifestyle in order to give to the work of God. When we think that we do not have money to support kingdom outreach, we should take care that we are not really complaining that the Lord may want us to give up certain non-essentials for the good of His kingdom and its expansion.
Still, there are occasions when resources are scarce because of unemployment, underemployment, and other factors. Exploitation is another problem that can take monies from people who could otherwise give to the church, and that was also happening when the citizens complained to Nehemiah about their poor estate. Gathering together the nobles and other leaders of the Jews, Nehemiah condemned them for charging their brethren exorbitant interest rates on mortgages and other loans (vv. 6–13). This practice was (and is) contrary to Scripture (Deut. 23:19–20).
As we have seen, true reformation always involves turning back to God and His Word. So Nehemiah convinced the people that reformation could not continue unless they followed even the laws they would have rather ignored.