Where there is motion, there is friction. Just when the external problems seemed to be resolved, internal conflict emerged. This internal crisis involved spouses, children, families, and the community as a whole. The rich were getting richer, while the poor became poorer. Since everyone was busy building the wall, they had no time to go to the fields. Verse 3 mentions a dearth, or famine, that caused the people to borrow money. Others, who had mortgaged their fields, borrowed money to pay the taxes. Unable to pay, some had to sell their children into slavery.
Even without the involvement of Sanballat and Tobiah, Satan tries to inhibit the building of the walls, this time using internal conflict. Chapter 5 is chaotic and confusion is in the air. Although Nehemiah had successfully cast the vision, motivated, and organized for success, in the midst of their personal emergencies, the people lost sight of the goal. Instead of looking forward in faith, their material needs distracted them from the work.
As in chapter 4, Nehemiah became angry. Spiritual leaders must show righteous indignation when faced with injustice. Anger is not innately sinful. Rather, sinful anger arises out of self-defense, self-centeredness, impatience, wounded pride, resentment, or loss of self-control.
In 5:7, the Hebrew states something akin to, “give myself advice.” Spiritual leaders must calmly think things through, observe as objectively as possible, and then assess a course of action, instead of impetuously reacting with irrational motives. In rectifying this situation, Nehemiah first meets with the nobles in private. He was not intimidated by the richer nobles, not because he used to work in the royal court, but because he received his orders from a higher court! Apparently this private meeting did not suffice, for later he called a great assembly to hold them accountable for their public sins, for public sins must be addressed publicly (as private sins should be addressed privately).
Nehemiah explains to all how the nobles’ actions were wrong. After all, their actions were contrary to the will of God (Exod. 22:22–27; Lev. 25:35–37; Deut. 14:28–29; 15:7–9). Secondly (v.9), the image of God’s people in the sight of the enemies was being tarnished. Thirdly (v.10), usury was being collected. Lastly (v.11), Nehemiah demands full restoration and correction. Like other prophets, he even enacts God’s punishment for those breaking their promise by shaking out the fold of his garment.
Biblical leaders are those who exercise the authority rightfully given to them. Here Nehemiah was not wanting the offenders to answer to him or to merely shame or blame them publically. Rather he holds them accountable for their wrongs against the public. Additionally, he brings the priests out to symbolize the audience of God, even securing a vow in front of them.