It has been said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This was true of some of the Jewish officials and noblemen at the time of Nehemiah:
All the Jews: 5 Even though we debtors are of the same people as our creditors—the same flesh, the same blood—and even though our children are the same as their children, we are raising this money for taxes by selling our children into slavery. In fact, some of our daughters are slaves already. We are helpless to do anything about it. Why? Because our fields and our vineyards now belong to our creditors! Nehemiah 5:5 (The Voice)
As hard as Nehemiah and his fellow workers were trying to bring the Jews back from their captivity in foreign lands and restore unto them their homes, there were fellow Jews who held their property in lieu of taxes not being paid. The returning Jews had to sell their children into slavery to bay these debts, and were often left with little food and personal resources as well. When these Jews came to Nehemiah with their complaint, he was enraged:
6 When I heard this outcry, these charges filled me with anger. 7 After reflecting over what to do, I determined to confront those responsible directly: the Jewishnobles and the officials who represented Araxerxes’ interests in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah: You are exploiting your own people by charging them interest!
And a great many people assembled to witness my sentencing of the leaders.
Nehemiah: 8 At great expense we have been laboring to buy back our brothers and sisters, fellow Jews who have been enslaved to pagan nations. Now we discover that you are the ones selling them away in the first place—we are buying them from you!
There was nothing they could say; their silence confirmed their guilt. Nehemiah 5:6-8 (The Voice)
Nehemiah approached these Jewish leaders with this issue at hand and demanded that they cease from these wicked practices:
Nehemiah: 9 This thing you are doing is not good. Is it not good to walk and live our lives in fear of the awesomeness of our True God? Your actions cause our enemies, those pagan nations, to mock us. 10 It is true that my brothers and I—even my followers—are lending money and grain to our poor brothers and sisters so that they can feed themselves and their families. But from this point forward we must stop charging interest. 11 In fact, we must immediately return their collateral—fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses—and any interest of money, grain, new wine, and olive oil. Nehemiah 5:11 (The Voice)
This was not the extent of what Nehemiah did however. Daily he took from his own personal resources and fulfilled all the duties of a governor, including feeding about 150 people, but he also gave to the poor to enable them to survive and continue the work of rebuilding Jerusalem:
6 (All my attention and resources were devoted to rebuilding the wall. Land acquisition was not the goal of my followers or me.) 17 I went beyond that, however. I also supplied food for 150 Jews and officials—in addition to diplomats from the surrounding pagan nations. 18 All were fed at my table at my expense: each day an ox, 6 of my best sheep, and some birds were prepared and served alongside a variety of wines that were resupplied every 10 days. Even with all of this expense and effort,I never demanded the food tax which would have been mine to claim as governor because I could see how hard life was for the people and what these demands would cost them. Nehemiah 5:16-18 (The Voice)
If only we had rulers like Nehemiah today, who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk of bringing people out of darkness, out of poverty, out of despair, into the marvelous light of freedom and liberty.