It took fifty-two days for the workers to complete restoring the wall around Jerusalem, but it wasn’t an easy build – for a variety of reasons. First, there was the opposition from surrounding nations. Despite that fact that Artaxerxes had given his approval and obvious support, leading figures outside of Israel determined to stop the building. Second, surprisingly, there was the opposition of the leaders of Israel. The previous generation had come from Babylon to begin afresh and carve out for themselves success in a new land – at least, new to them. They had succeeded through hard work and careful alliances with non-Jewish neighbors around them. They did not want to risk their positions and fortunes by upsetting the balance of power. Those who succeeded most wanted the least to do with the building (note that the nobles had refused to be involved in chapter three).
Then, there was the sheer difficulty of the work itself. Not only were they trying to do things outside their skill level (note the participation of goldsmiths – jewelers – women and priests), but they built with one hand and carried a weapon against attack with another. Finally, in building, it took people away from their normal jobs when many of them were living “hand to mouth” already.
The complaint comes in chapter five from those working diligently, but who have mortgaged everything they have just to stay in business. And they have mortgaged their assets to the more successful – politicians and businessmen – who have, in turn, seized their assets by loaning money at such high interest rates that the debtors cannot pay.
You can’t say, “it’s just business.” In Israel, no one was allowed to take advantage of another’s misfortune. Not even the land could be sold forever. Every seventh year, it had to be returned to its original owner. We look at this today and note that it violates our ideas of a free-market economy, but this economic way of thinking is not God’s. God is most concerned that the needy are cared for – and that the rich care for them. Nehemiah is a delightful example. As governor, he was not a “taker.” He was a “giver.”