Nehemiah was an example among his Jewish brothers. His reliance on God was evident in his frequent prayer. He was also one who worked hard just like everyone else. He persevered through opposition, rallying his people to continue, knowing that their work was good, and it was the right thing to do in God’s sight. He was also their governor, and a wealthy one at that.
14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.—Nehemiah 5:14-19, ESV
Did he acquire his wealth by evil means? I highly doubt it. In fact, he was legally allowed to collect a tax (v. 15) from his people, yet he did not, because of his fear of God. The people were already starving, and to make them pay this tax would have ruined them.
Sadly in our day, people often presume that a wealthy person acquired his wealth through evil means and that it is even a crime for him to be wealthy in the first place. Sometimes wealth is acquired through evil means, but we can’t presume this. God’s command to wealthy people is that they should be generous and help those in need (see 1 Tim. 6:17-18), but it is certainly not for us to judge whether a wealthy a person has been generous.
I do think there is a time to dialogue with fellow Christians about our management of money, among many other complicated issues that do not necessarily have a clearly defined separation between right and wrong. Often these are matters of a person’s heart. Only let’s not make a finite, permanent judgment of a person who we don’t know personally and have not had the opportunity to at least observe how he lives and talk with him about managing money.
Only God, who has all knowledge and understands a wealthy person’s full situation better than the wealthy person, can judge whether someone has been generous. There is no way for a human to measure it which is good. If God set a clear measure for generosity, then it would not be generosity. There would be no love involved in the giving. It would merely be done to fulfill an obligation. Nehemiah, with a clear conscience, used his wealth to bless the people who worked hard on rebuilding the wall, and God wants us to follow his example, being willing give sacrificially to bless people who are truly in need.
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