The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Nehemiah 5

Neh 5:1

Vv 1-13: Exploitation of the poor by the wealthy nobles. Cp Jam 5:1-4: "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty."

Neh 5:3

WE ARE MORTGAGING OUR FIELDS, OUR VINEYARDS AND OUR HOMES TO GET GRAIN DURING THE FAMINE: "You are under a curse -- the whole nation of you -- because you are robbing me" (Mal 3:9).

Neh 5:7

I PONDERED THEM IN MY MIND: Notice that Nehemiah consults no other counselors.

ACCUSED: KJV has "rebuked", but the word sig "to bring FORMAL charges against" (cp RSV). "Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning" (1Ti 5:20).

THE NOBLES AND OFFICIALS: "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly" (Lev 19:15).

YOU ARE EXACTING USURY FROM YOUR OWN COUNTRYMEN: Expecting repayment with usury of the people of the Lord was against the law of Moses (Exo 22:25; Lev 25:36, Deu 15:2,3; 23:19,20; 24:10-13, Psa 15:1,5, Eze 22:12; 45:9). It was also contrary to Christ's law (Luke 6:35).

Neh 5:8

WE HAVE BOUGHT BACK OUR JEWISH BROTHERS WHO WERE SOLD TO THE GENTILES. NOW YOU ARE SELLING YOUR BROTHERS...: The Mosaic Law forbade Israelites from charging interest when they made loans to fellow Jews (Exo 22:25; Lev 25:35-38). Evidently Nehemiah and some of his fellow Jews had paid money to certain Gentiles in Babylonia who owned Jewish slaves to liberate those Israelites so they could return to Judah. How inconsistent it was then for the Jews in Jerusalem to "enslave" them again!

Do we save men from the Gentiles, only to so mistreat and abuse them, that they are lost to us again? "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are" (Mat 23:15).

Neh 5:10

I AN MY BROTHERS AND MY MEN ARE ALSO LENDING THE PEOPLE MONEY AND GRAIN. BUT LET THE EXACTING OF USURY STOP!: Nehemiah himself seems to have made loans to the poorer Jews in Judah, though he did not say he charged them interest. Now he called for a stop not only to usury (exorbitant interest) but also -- apparently -- to any interest whatsoever. He believed the "haves" should give, not lend, to the "have nots" out of love for God and their brethren.

Neh 5:11

THE HUNDREDTH PART OF THE MONEY...: An interest rate of 1% per month, or 12% per year.

Neh 5:12

THEN I SUMMONED THE PRIESTS: Witnesses to oversee the agreement.

Neh 5:13

THE FOLDS OF MY ROBE: The "bosom" (cp Isa 49:22), where a parent carries a small child.

Neh 5:14

NEITHER I NOR MY BROTHERS ATE THE FOOD ALLOTTED TO THE GOVERNOR: This provision would have been Nehemiah's by right and law, since he was the royally-appointed governor of the land. Note the comparison between Nehemiah and Paul (1Co 9): both had the right to be supported by their brethren, but neither exercised that right. It was Paul who wrote, "And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so" (2Co 11:9). Notice that Paul, like Nehemiah, had personal enemies who sought to harm him.

Neh 5:16

WE DID NOT ACQUIRE ANY LAND: The wealthy nobles were probably "speculating", that is, buying up land cheap because of the famine conditions.

Neh 5:17

A HUNDRED AND FIFTY JEWS AND OFFICIALS ATE AT MY TABLE, AS WELL AS THOSE WHO CAME TO US FROM THE SURROUNDING NATIONS: Nehemiah kept an "open house", at his own personal expense. In all his work, and his generosity, and his support of others, Nehemiah showed beforehand the work and attitude of the apostle Paul. Consider the following passages: (a) "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality" (Rom 12:13). (b) "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches" (2Co 11:28). (c) "I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive' " (Acts 20:33-35). (d) "Nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you" (2Th 3:8).

Neh 5:19

REMEMBER ME WITH FAVOR, O MY GOD, FOR ALL I HAVE DONE FOR THESE PEOPLE: "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them" (Heb 6:10). God has promised to bless those who put Him first (Deu 28:1-14; cf Mat 6:33; Mar 10:29,30). Nehemiah's asking of God's favor is not so much a plea for a reward as an emphatic way of claiming that he has acted in good faith and from right motives. It is a statement of confidence that God is judge, and will judges favorably those who sincerely seek to do His will.

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