And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brothers the Jews.…
A great practical reformation carried out by a religious ruler on the highest religious principles, and by the strength of religious character. No more difficult task than to deal successfully with such circumstances in which men's selfish interests were involved, and the monied classes would be against reform. Nehemiah, by his wisdom, boldness, and simple-minded appeal to God, achieved a marvellous success. Notice -
I. The direct appeal to great MORAL AND RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES. We cannot do better than bring men face to face with conscience.
2. Patriotism. They are brethren.
3. Fear of God, who is no respecter of persons.
The Jews all professed to be fearers of God. All civil law and common life were based upon the Divine law. That which was manifestly displeasing to God could not be legally right. We acknowledge the same principle. All human law rests on the word of God. We cannot directly appeal to the letter of Scripture in dealing with ungodly men, but we may use it to make the law of nature clearer.
4. The universal conscience. "I set a great assembly against them." No wrong-doers can withstand the appeal to the common sentiment of right. Educate the moral sentiment of society. and it becomes a protection against the self-will of individuals. Vox populi should be vox Dei. In a truly progressive society it will be more and more so. The great leaders of thought and action should not be afraid of making their appeal to great assemblies, in Nehemiah's spirit.
II. AN EXAMPLE OF WISE METHOD. Much depends on method in every successful reformation.
1. The means used were moral. Remonstrance, persuasion, appeal to the heart and conscience. No violence. No craft. No resort to mere worldly expediency. No compromise of religious position. No truckling to rich men.
2. Personal character was brought to bear upon those whose conduct must be changed. Nehemiah's moral indignation had great influence. His bold challenge of the wrongdoing. His appeal to his own example and that of others. His tender interest in the poor, and imploring earnestness in their cause.
3. While acting as a ruler, and with a ruler's authority, the public feeling, is enlisted in support of reform. It is a great matter to enlist the sympathy of the majority.
4. In all practical measures and social reformations we should endeavour to unite the two forces of religious and civil law. "I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise." With solemn appeal to God, and in the presence of all the congregation, who "said Amen, and praised the Lord," Nehemiah bound the wrong-doers to carry out their word.
III. An illustration of the BENEFICIAL EFFECT of decisive and speedy reform when effected on religious principles and by wise methods.
1. Liberation of human energy, both for the Church and for the state. What could the people do when they were so oppressed? How could they work with men who treated them so cruelly? All real reformation is the setting free of power for the future. We must not look at temporary inconveniences, but at permanent benefits.
2. The value of great moral and political precedents. Such an instance of heroic championship in the cause of God and humanity becomes an inestimable treasure for future generations. What power there is in the histories of all great reformations!
3. We cannot doubt that, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, the moral and social work which Nehemiah accomplished was intended to prepare the way for that more directly religious work which followed. All true reformation is a preparation for advancement. John the Baptist heralds the kingdom of God.
4. An immense service to the cause of righteousness when governors and statesmen identify their names with great movements for the lifting up of the people. Their self-sacrifice, their faithfulness, their victory become part of God's word. God thinks upon them for good, and will make the world think of them. The best monument to a great man is "what he has done for the people." - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.