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Nehemiah’s Measures in alleviation of Poverty
1. The people] i.e. the commons (as contrasted with the nobles and rulers, Nehemiah 5:7). These had neglected their own interests to labour gratuitously on the fortifications, and now in the time of dearth were feeling the pinch of want.
2. Therefore we take up corn] better, ’we must get corn.’ The language is that of desperate men, compelled by necessity to accept the harsh conditions imposed by those to whom they had recourse for the corn they required.
4. The king’s tribute] The common people were not exempted from paying taxes to the Persian king, like the priests and other ministers of the Temple (Ezra 7:24; Nehemiah 9:37).
5. Our flesh, etc.] i.e. we are as much Jews as the creditors to whom we have sold our children. Bondage] The sale of children to defray a debt was recognised in the Mosaic Law: see Exodus 21:2-7; Deuteronomy 15:12. cp. also 2 Kings 4:1.
7. Ye exact usury] Usury was prohibited by the Law in connexion with loans made to fellow-Israelites (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19); but the Jews doubtless interpreted the prohibition with the same latitude as Christians have done the similar command in the Gospel (Luke 6:35). The Law probably had in view cases where money was borrowed under the pressure of misfortune, not as a help in commercial ventures; and the like considerateness towards the necessitous is incumbent upon Christians.
8. Have redeemed.. heathen] probably during Nehemiah’s residence in Persia.
9. The reproach] the humiliation they had undergone in consequence of their failure to walk in the fear of God.
10. Might exact] RV ’do lend.. on usury.’ Nehemiah, to conciliate those whom he wished to persuade, admitted that he (probably in the persons of his relatives and dependents) had been guilty of the same conduct against which he was protesting.
11. Their lands, etc] These had been given in pledge, and, if unredeemed, were retained by the creditor. The hundredth part] usually regarded as one per cent, a month, and so equivalent to twelve per cent, a year. The expression restore, in connexion with the interest, probably means ’cease to require’: cp. Nehemiah 5:12. Corn, wine, oil] i.e. interest paid in kind.
12. Took an oath of them] i.e. took of the money-lenders an oath which the priests administered to them.
13. Shook my lap] For similar symbolic acts cp. 1 Kings 22:11; Jeremiah 27:2; Jeremiah 28:10.
14. From the twentieth.. unto the two and thirtieth] i.e. from 445-433 b.c. The fact that Artaxerxes seems to have been unwilling to part with his cup-bearer for a long period, and stipulated for a date by which he was to return (Nehemiah 2:6), makes it rather surprising that he should have thus been absent from court for twelve years; but it is to be assumed that his leave of absence was extended by the king.
The bread of the governor] i.e. the supplies due to the Persian governor from the people.
16. Neither bought we] better, ’neither got we’ (by foreclosing mortgages). All my servants] He did not retain them to attend to himself or to his own interests. The whole conduct of Nehemiah was that of a warmhearted, generous man.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13