But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable to the people, and had taken of them bread and wine…
The religion of the Bible is not a sickly plant which requires the forcing-house to keep it alive. It is a hardy tree which flourishes best in the open field. The servant of God anywhere is the servant of God everywhere. Few notions have done more mischief than the imagination that godliness belongs to the closet and sanctuary, the cloister and the cell, and that it is too ethereal to be interfused into the occupations of secular life. To refute such fallacies nothing is more effectual than holy example. Example shows what can be done, and at the came time points out the way in which it may be accomplished. For those occupied in the busy pursuits of the world there is no more appropriate example in the Scriptures than that of Nehemiah.
I. HIS RULING MOTIVE. The whole tenor of his conversation bespoke the supremacy of the fear of God in his soul. This chapter contains an impressive exercise of this principle. Of those returned from the captivity, many were destitute and distressed; their poverty made them a prey to their richer brethren. Nehemiah's predecessors were most rigorous in their exactions, and failed to let mercy temper justice. Nehemiah, on the contrary, not only refrained from oppression, but did not even require his dues. Had he not disclosed the principle which actuated him, we might have filled up the blank in this way: Because of the promptings of generosity; or because of my high sense of honour; or because of the patriotism that fired my breast; or because of the compassion which melted my heart. Thus, however, spake not Nehemiah, but he said, "So did not I, because of the fear of God." This gave the character of godliness to his conduct; this transmuted what would otherwise have been no better than fair tinsel into the fine gold of the sanctuary.
II. THE NATURE OF THE FEAR OF GOD. The fear of God in the Old Testament is equivalent to the love of God in the New. The former indicates the severer aspect of the one economy as compared with the more gracious aspect of the other. What viewed in one light is love viewed in another is godly fear. They are but different aspects of the same principle. If there be genuine love of God, there cannot fail to be s holy fear of offending Him. This fear is therefore the beginning of wisdom; the guardian of holiness; the seal of adoption. What need there is for this principle to pervade the mercantile world! Examined in the light of Scripture, the morals of that world, even in our own favoured land, would be found to be fearfully faulty. Along with much that is honourable and of good report among our merchant princes, if you penetrate into the recesses of commerce, you will frequently detect a low and shifting standard of equity — you will discover that a thousand practices are connived at and pass current in business which when in the balances of the sanctuary are found utterly wanting.
III. THE SALUTARY EFFECTS OF THE FEAR OF GOD. It gives to mercantile morality —
1. Intrinsic worth.
(1) Taking the morality of the commercial world at the highest, how much of it is genuine? If men are upright in their dealings merely because they have a conviction that honesty is the best policy, and that fairness will answer better than fraud, or if they act justly simply from a sense of honour or from a pride which raises them above being guilty of a low and disgraceful transaction; or if they do right because they instinctively recoil from all that is base and equivocal, from whatever would degrade and disturb their mind, then all their imposing array of mercantile virtues are after all of the earth earthy, hollow at the core and unprofitable in the sight of God. It is the fear of God alone which can impart to mercantile morality its intrinsic worth.
(2) Even the virtuous qualities which exalt men in the commercial world must lack reality and consistency when they rest on a lower ground. Hence it is no uncommon thing to find a man who was at one period distinguished for honour and integrity at another period making utter shipwreck of character; whilst his barque glided along in smooth water and his sails were filled with prosperous gales, he steered an undeviating course, but when storms arose and his vessel drifted among quicksands and shallows, he soon abandoned the compass of honesty and yielded himself to the force of the current. His rectitude was the creature of circumstance: sustained by success, with success it fell. Fragile at best are the virtues which spring from the unregenerated heart.
(3) The energy of this principle will exert strength and universality of influence which nothing else can command. God, being everywhere, the man who fears Him will fear Him everywhere. It is impossible to delineate fully the breadth and expansiveness of this principle of action. It will go with a man into the little as well as the great, into the hidden as well as the open; it will tell upon him with equal force whether others dissent from or concur in his course of conduct. It will elevate him to freedom and independence of character. He will not be like the sundial, useless save in the light; but he will be like the timepiece, which keeps the tenor of its way alike in the shade as in the sunshine. The saint, like the sunflower, owns the centre of attraction when clouded as well as when clear.
(a) It will keep a man undefiled amid the defilements of public life like the pure stream that is said to pass through the salt lake and yet retain its freshness. It is a safeguard against the tone, the spirit, and the practices of business, and it will prevent compliance with the expedients, manoeuvres, and subterfuges of trade.
(b) A trying ordeal for a godly tradesman is to be reputed soft and behind the age because he will not overreach his neighbour. When he sees competitors prospering by doubtful expedients, or hears them glorying in their equivocal gains, his reflection and joy will be, "So did not I, because of the fear of God."(c) It will restrain from the unhallowed indulgences of worldlings,
(d) It will guard against the desecration and profanation of the ordinances of the Lord's Day.
(Hugh Stowell, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.
WEB: But the former governors who were before me were supported by the people, and took bread and wine from them, besides forty shekels of silver; yes, even their servants ruled over the people: but I didn't do so, because of the fear of God.