“But because I feared God, I did not act that way.” (Nehemiah 5:15, NLT).
Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes (465-424 BC). The cup-bearer was a trusted confidant of the king.
When Nehemiah heard about setbacks in the reconstruction of Jerusalem, he requested the king’s permission to return to Judea. Artaxerxes made Nehemiah governor of the province of Judea for twelve years.
Nehemiah organized an effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Although he encountered both external and internal opposition, this major construction project was promptly completed.
Severe financial distress for some people threatened progress on the wall’s completion. Some farmers were diverting their efforts from growing crops to building the wall and required assistance in feeding their families. Some small landowners had mortgaged everything to survive and a famine in the land added to their hardship. And they were burdened by the tribute (taxes) they had to pay to the Persians.
But to make matters worse, wealthy Jews were charging interest when they made loans to fellow Jews. Nehemiah was angry that the wealthy would charge their countrymen interest despite provisions in the Mosaic law that discouraged oppressing the poor and encouraged helping the less fortunate.
Nehemiah himself was making loans of money and food to people without burdening them with interest and so he considered the actions of these wealthy Jews as counterproductive to their identity as God’s chosen people. Nehemiah demanded these wealthy oppressors restore the property that had been mortgaged to them and repay the interest they had charged.
This verse is the conclusion to Nehemiah’s declaration that during his tenure as governor of Judea, he and the officials of his administration never exercised their authority to draw a food allowance from the local population because he feared God.
In other words, Nehemiah respected people and helped the poor and oppressed because he feared God.
The fear of God places certain demands on our behavior that restrains us from acting out our worst human inclinations. Respect for God and His truth develops your conscience; it gives you compassion for people; it promotes peace among human beings.
A little more of the “fear of God” among people, especially people in power, would go a long way toward solving society’s problems!
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10, NLT)