This passage shows us that Nehemiah, though angry, was committed to dealing with the issues in God-honoring and Biblical manner. Jesus laid out this process for us in the Nw Testament.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. - Matthew 18:5-7
It’s easy to get angry but then to cool off and do nothing. After all, it is difficult and uncomfortable to confront those who are causing a problem. It is especially difficult to confront those who happen to be rich and powerful, as these men were. What if they got defensive and withdrew their support of the project? What if they began to view Nehemiah as an enemy? They could use their clout to cause a lot more damage. Maybe Nehemiah should stall for time until the wall was finished. But he didn’t do that.
First, he privately confronted those guilty of mistreating the poor (5:7). We do not know whether this involved a single meeting or a series of meetings, and whether Nehemiah was alone or whether he took some trusted leaders with him. But the biblical pattern for resolving conflict is, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you” (Matt. 18:15-16a). While Nehemiah did not have our Lord’s teaching on this, he seems to have followed this pattern of private confrontation before any public confrontation.
Did Nehemiah succeed in private? We don’t know for sure, but probably not. There is no recorded response from the nobles at this point. So Nehemiah moved to public confrontation.
He called a great assembly and spelled out the problem. He rebuked the leaders (5:8) by pointing out how he and others had redeemed their Jewish brothers who had been sold to the nations, but now it was Jews themselves who were selling their brothers into slavery. They could not find a word to answer. He further stated that their behavior was not good in that their enemies would mock the Jews for their mistreatment of their own people (5:9).
Some think that Nehemiah (5:10) is admitting his own past failure in lending money at interest to his fellow Jews (based on the plural “let us leave off the usury”), but I think that he is just using the plural to identify with these men. Nehemiah had loaned money in accordance with the Law, without charging interest. He is appealing to these wealthy men to join him in doing the same. He asks them to give back to the poor their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses, along with the interest that they had charged.
There are many Christian leaders who are afraid to confront sinners with their sin, whether in private or in public. This fear in-creases when the person in sin is rich and powerful. But we must follow Nehemiah’s example of confronting those who are in sin. Nehemiah exhibited proper righteous anger under control. His anger gave him the courage to confront those who were wrong.