The “Great Protest”
A great protest was mounted by the people, including the wives, against their fellow Jews. Some said, “We have big families, and we need food just to survive.”
Others said, “We’re having to mortgage our fields and vineyards and homes to get enough grain to keep from starving.”
And others said, “We’re having to borrow money to pay the royal tax on our fields and vineyards. Look: We’re the same flesh and blood as our brothers here; our children are just as good as theirs. Yet here we are having to sell our children off as slaves—some of our daughters have already been sold—and we can’t do anything about it because our fields and vineyards are owned by somebody else.”
I got really angry when I heard their protest and complaints. After thinking it over, I called the nobles and officials on the carpet. I said, “Each one of you is gouging his brother.”
Then I called a big meeting to deal with them. I told them, “We did everything we could to buy back our Jewish brothers who had to sell themselves as slaves to foreigners. And now you’re selling these same brothers back into debt slavery! Does that mean that we have to buy them back again?”
They said nothing. What could they say?
“What you’re doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you? Don’t you care what the nations around here, our enemies, think of you?
“I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money. But this gouging them with interest has to stop. Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”
They said, “We’ll give it all back. We won’t make any more demands on them. We’ll do everything you say.”
Then I called the priests together and made them promise to keep their word. Then I emptied my pockets, turning them inside out, and said, “So may God empty the pockets and house of everyone who doesn’t keep this promise—turned inside out and emptied.”
Everyone gave a wholehearted “Yes, we’ll do it!” and praised God. And the people did what they promised.
“Remember in My Favor, O My God”
From the time King Artaxerxes appointed me as their governor in the land of Judah—from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of his reign, twelve years—neither I nor my brothers used the governor’s food allowance. Governors who had preceded me had oppressed the people by taxing them forty shekels of silver (about a pound) a day for food and wine while their underlings bullied the people unmercifully. But out of fear of God I did none of that. I had work to do; I worked on this wall. All my men were on the job to do the work. We didn’t have time to line our own pockets.
I fed 150 Jews and officials at my table in addition to those who showed up from the surrounding nations. One ox, six choice sheep, and some chickens were prepared for me daily, and every ten days a large supply of wine was delivered. Even so, I didn’t use the food allowance provided for the governor—the people had it hard enough as it was.
Remember in my favor, O my God,
Everything I’ve done for these people.
“I’m Doing a Great Work; I Can’t Come Down”
When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that there were no more breaks in it—even though I hadn’t yet installed the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent this message: “Come and meet with us at Kephirim in the valley of Ono.”
I knew they were scheming to hurt me so I sent messengers back with this: “I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?”
Four times they sent this message and four times I gave them my answer.
The fifth time—same messenger, same message—Sanballat sent an unsealed letter with this message:
“The word is out among the nations—and Geshem says it’s true—that you and the Jews are planning to rebel. That’s why you are rebuilding the wall. The word is that you want to be king and that you have appointed prophets to announce in Jerusalem, ‘There’s a king in Judah!’ The king is going to be told all this—don’t you think we should sit down and have a talk?”
I sent him back this: “There’s nothing to what you’re saying. You’ve made it all up.”
They were trying to intimidate us into quitting. They thought, “They’ll give up; they’ll never finish it.”
I prayed, “Give me strength.”
Then I met secretly with Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, at his house. He said:
Let’s meet at the house of God,
inside The Temple;
Let’s find safety behind locked doors
because they’re coming to kill you,
Yes, coming by night to kill you.
I said, “Why would a man like me run for cover? And why would a man like me use The Temple as a hideout? I won’t do it.”
I sensed that God hadn’t sent this man. The so-called prophecy he spoke to me was the work of Tobiah and Sanballat; they had hired him. He had been hired to scare me off—trick me—a layman, into desecrating The Temple and ruining my good reputation so they could accuse me.
“O my God, don’t let Tobiah and Sanballat get by with all the mischief they’ve done. And the same goes for the prophetess Noadiah and the other prophets who have been trying to undermine my confidence.”
The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul. It had taken fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard the news and all the surrounding nations saw it, our enemies totally lost their nerve. They knew that God was behind this work.
All during this time letters were going back and forth constantly between the nobles of Judah and Tobiah. Many of the nobles had ties to him because he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. They kept telling me all the good things he did and then would report back to him anything I would say. And then Tobiah would send letters to intimidate me.
The Wall Rebuilt: Names and Numbers
After the wall was rebuilt and I had installed the doors, and the security guards, the singers, and the Levites were appointed, I put my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the captain of the citadel, in charge of Jerusalem because he was an honest man and feared God more than most men.
I gave them this order: “Don’t open the gates of Jerusalem until the sun is up. And shut and bar the gates while the guards are still on duty. Appoint the guards from the citizens of Jerusalem and assign them to posts in front of their own homes.”