Nehemiah is best remembered for returning to Israel from exile in Persia (in the third wave of Jews to return) and leading the effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  But he was also a political leader who held two separate terms as governor in Jerusalem (about 445 – 433 B.C. and around 424 – 410 B.C.).  Chapter 5 of Nehemiah gives a clear glimpse into his heart as a ruler, how he viewed the people and most importantly, why.  What an amazing passage:

15The 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. . . 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 5:15, 18, 19

Here is a leader who stopped to consider taxes and how much was too much.  His predecessors didn’t care, only seeing the people as a limitless ATM to fund their lavish lifestyle.  Nehemiah refused to overtax because he could see how it negatively impacted the population, many of whom had mortgaged farmland and had deep credit problems, to the point of slavery (Nehemiah 5:3 -5).  But that wasn’t the most profound reason for Nehemiah’s compassion and wisdom. 

I did not do so, because of the fear of God” (v. 15)

A heart of a governmental official can have a major impact on tax policy.  The Bible doesn’t deny that taxes must be paid.  Jesus said so (Luke 20:25, et al) and Paul makes it clear that is a responsibility of citizens (Romans 13:6, 7).  But at some point a line is crossed when more is taken than can be afforded, resulting in high government spending as well as waste.  There is a tipping point when taxation becomes theft.  A leader who fears the Lord will not be as quick to oppress through taxes and will take and spend wisely.

Nehemiah shows his true motivation in his prayer in verse nineteen when he asks for the Lord to remember his treatment of his district.  He knows he is answerable to God first, not his constituency.  An official’s heart, when changed by God and His truth, will not seek power or riches at the expense of the people.  He cannot.  God give us more leaders who fear You.

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
      But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”
  Proverbs 29:2