Nehemiah 5

Listen to Nehemiah 5

Nehemiah Stops Oppression of the Poor

1 Now there arose 1a great outcry of the people and of their wives 2against their Jewish brothers.
2 For there were those who said, "With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive."
3 There were also those who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine."
4 And there were those who said, "We have borrowed money for 3the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards.
5 Now 4our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet 5we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards."
6 I was very angry when I heard 6their outcry and these words.
7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, 7"You are exacting interest, each from his brother." And I held a great assembly against them
8 and said to them, "We, as far as we are able, 8have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!" They were silent and could not find a word to say.
9 So I said, "The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk 9in the fear of our God 10to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?
10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest.
11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them."
12 Then they said, "We will restore these and 11require nothing from them. We will do as you say." And I called the priests and 12made them swear 13to do as they had promised.
13 14I also shook out the fold[a] of my garment and said, "So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied."15And all the assembly said "Amen" and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.

Nehemiah's Generosity

14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from 16the twentieth year to 17the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, 18neither 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[b] forty shekels[c] of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, 19because 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 20at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us.
18 21Now what was prepared at my expense[d] 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 22I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people.
19 23Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Nehemiah 5 Commentary

Chapter 5

The Jews complain of grievances. (1-5) Nehemiah redresses the grievances. (6-13) Nehemiah's forbearance. (14-19)

Verses 1-5 Men prey upon their fellow-creatures: by despising the poor they reproach their Maker. Such conduct is a disgrace to any, but who can sufficiently abhor it when adopted by professing Christians? With compassion for the oppressed, we should lament the hardships which many in the world are groaning under; putting our souls into their souls' stead, and remembering in our prayers and succours those who are burdened. But let those who show no mercy, expect judgment without mercy.

Verses 6-13 Nehemiah knew that, if he built Jerusalem's walls ever so high, so thick, or so strong, the city could not be safe while there were abuses. The right way to reform men's lives, is to convince their consciences. If you walk in the fear of God, you will not be either covetous of worldly gain, or cruel toward your brethren. Nothing exposes religion more to reproach, than the worldliness and hard-heartedness of the professors of it. Those that rigorously insist upon their right, with a very ill grace try to persuade others to give up theirs. In reasoning with selfish people, it is good to contrast their conduct with that of others who are liberal; but it is best to point to His example, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, ( 2 Corinthians 8:9) according to promise. Good promises are good things, but good performances are better.

Verses 14-19 Those who truly fear God, will not dare to do any thing cruel or unjust. Let all who are in public places remember that they are so placed to do good, not to enrich themselves. Nehemiah mentions it to God in prayer, not as if he had merited any favour from God, but to show that he depended upon God only, to make up to him what he had lost and laid out for his honour. Nehemiah evidently spake and acted as one that knew himself to be a sinner. He did not mean to claim a reward as of debt, but in the manner that the Lord rewards a cup of cold water given to a disciple for his sake. The fear and love of God in the heart, and true love of the brethren, will lead to every good work. These are proper evidences of justifying faith; and our reconciled God will look upon persons of this character for good, according to all they have done for his people.

Cross References 23

  • 1. [Exodus 3:9; Isaiah 5:7]
  • 2. Leviticus 25:35, 37; Deuteronomy 15:7
  • 3. Ezra 4:13, 20; Ezra 7:24
  • 4. Isaiah 58:7; [Genesis 29:14]
  • 5. [Exodus 21:7; Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1]
  • 6. [See ver. 1 above]
  • 7. [Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Psalms 15:5; Ezekiel 22:12]
  • 8. Leviticus 25:48, 49
  • 9. Leviticus 25:36
  • 10. Nehemiah 4:4; [2 Samuel 12:14]
  • 11. [Nehemiah 10:31]
  • 12. Ezra 10:5
  • 13. [Jeremiah 34:8, 9]
  • 14. [Acts 18:6]
  • 15. Nehemiah 8:6; [Deuteronomy 27:15]; 1 Chronicles 16:36; Psalms 106:48
  • 16. Nehemiah 2:1
  • 17. Nehemiah 13:6
  • 18. [2 Thessalonians 3:8]
  • 19. ver. 9
  • 20. [2 Samuel 9:7, 10]; 1 Kings 18:19
  • 21. [1 Kings 4:22, 23]
  • 22. [See ver. 14 above]
  • 23. Nehemiah 13:14, 22, 31

Footnotes 4

  • [a]. Hebrew bosom
  • [b]. Compare Vulgate; Hebrew took from them with food and wine afterward
  • [c]. A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams
  • [d]. Or prepared for me

Chapter Summary


In this chapter is a complaint of the poor against the rich for oppression of them, Ne 5:1-5 for which Nehemiah being angry, reproved them, and made them promise, and swear to it, to make restitution, Ne 5:6-13 and set them an example himself, taking nothing of them during his twelve years' government, supporting himself and his at his own expenses, Ne 5:14-19.

Nehemiah 5 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.