Nehemiah 5

Nehemiah Helps the Poor

1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews.
2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards.
5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.
7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them
8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?
10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest!
11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”
12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised.
13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor.
15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels[a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.
16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we[b] did not acquire any land.
17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations.
18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
19 Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these 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 21

  • 1. Psalms 109:11
  • 2. Genesis 47:23
  • 3. S Ezra 4:13
  • 4. S Genesis 29:14
  • 5. Lev 25:39-43,47; S 2 Kings 4:1; Isaiah 50:1
  • 6. Deuteronomy 15:7-11; S 2 Kings 4:1
  • 7. Exodus 22:25-27; S Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Deuteronomy 24:10-13
  • 8. Leviticus 25:47
  • 9. Jeremiah 34:8
  • 10. Isaiah 52:5
  • 11. S Exodus 22:25
  • 12. Isaiah 58:6
  • 13. S Ezra 10:5
  • 14. S Matthew 10:14; Acts 18:6
  • 15. Deuteronomy 27:15-26
  • 16. S Nehemiah 2:6; Nehemiah 13:6
  • 17. Genesis 42:6; Ezra 6:7; Jeremiah 40:7; Haggai 1:1
  • 18. S Genesis 20:11
  • 19. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10
  • 20. 1 Kings 4:23
  • 21. S Genesis 8:1; S 2 Kings 20:3; S Nehemiah 1:8; Nehemiah 13:14,22,31

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. That is, about 1 pound or about 460 grams
  • [b]. Most Hebrew manuscripts; some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate and Syriac "I"

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO EZRA 5

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