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(1-13) Internal difficulties, springing from usury and oppression.
(1) Their brethren the Jews.—Nehemiah’s other troubles had come from the enemies without: he begins this account by laying emphasis on the hard treatment of Jews by Jews.
(2) We take up.—Let us receive. This is a general appeal for the governor’s help.
(3) Because of the dearth.—Not any particular famine, strictly speaking, but their present hunger. The past mortgages had straitened their resources.
(4) We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute.—Literally, we have made our fields and vineyards answerable for the payment of the Persian tribute. They had pledged the coming produce.
(5) We bring into bondage.—But the climax of the cry was the bondage of their children, especially of the daughters, whom they had been obliged to sell until the Jubile for money: children as precious to their parents as were the children of the rulers to them.
(6) And I was very angry.—Nehemiah, recently arrived, had not known this state of things. The common wailing and the three complaints in which it found expression are distinct.
(7) I consulted.—But he mastered himself, and studied his plan of operation. The matter was complicated, as the transgressors had violated rather the spirit than the letter of the law. Hence the rebuke, that they exacted usury each of his brother, failed in its object; and the governor called a general assembly, not “against them,” but “concerning them.”
(8) Will ye even sell your brethren?—The appeal is a strong one. Nehemiah and his friends had redeemed Jews from the heathen with money; these men had caused Jews to be sold to Jews.
Nothing to answer.—They might have replied had the letter of the law been urged; but this argument puts them to shame.
(9) Because of the reproach.—The text of another strong argument used in the assembly. We learn in Nehemiah 6:0 how watchful the heathen were: all matters were reported to them, and every act of oppression would become a reproach against the God of the Jews.
(10) Might exact.—We have lent them money and corn. By his own example the governor pleads with them: not “let us leave off this usury,” but let us all and together “remit the loans.”
(11) Also the hundredth part of the money.—The monthly payment of one per cent. per month, twelve per cent. in the year, they were required to give up for the future.
(12) We will restore.—The promise was given to restore the mortgaged property and to require no more interest. But Nehemiah required an oath to give legal validity to the procedure, and the priests’ presence gave it the highest religious sanction.
(13) Shook my lap.—This symbolical act imprecated on every man who broke this covenant an appropriate penalty: that he be emptied of all his possessions, even as the fold of Nehemiah’s garment was emptied. And it is observable that the iniquity thus stopped is not referred to in the subsequent covenant (Nehemiah 10:0), nor is it one of the offences which the governor found on his second return (Nehemiah 13:0).
(14) I was appointed.—That he appointed me, viz., Artaxerxes.
Twelve years.—The whole narrative, thus far, was written after his return from Jerusalem, and on a review of his governorship; hence, “their governor in the land of Judah.” Of his second appointment the same thing might have been said: but that, at the time of writing, was in the future.
I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor.—At the close of the twelve years’ term, Nehemiah could say that he and his official attendants had not drawn the customary allowances from the people.
(14-19) Nehemiah’s vindication of his own conduct.
(15) Besides forty shekels of silver.—Either in bread and wine over forty shekels, or, received in bread and wine, and beyond that, forty shekels. The latter, on the whole, is to be preferred; it would amount to about four pounds from the entire people daily.
So did not I, because of the tear of God.—Nehemiah contrasts his forbearance with the conduct of former governors; we cannot suppose him to mean Zorubbabel, but some of his successors. The practice he condemns was common among the satraps of the Persian princes. Note that usury and rigour were interdicted, in Leviticus 25:36; Leviticus 25:43, with the express sanction, “Fear thy God.”
(16) I continued.—I repaired: that is, as superintendent. His servants and himself did not take advantage of the people’s poverty to acquire their land by mortgage; they were, on the contrary, absorbed in the common work.
(17) At my table.—The charge on the governor’s free hospitality was heavy: “of the Jews a hundred and fifty rulers, besides those that came” occasionally from the country.
Because the bondage.—Rather, because the service of building was heavy.
The bondage.—Rather, the service was heavy.
(19) Think upon me, my God.—Inserting the present prayer far from this people, Nehemiah humbly asks his recompense not from them, but from God. Nothing was more distant from his thoughts than the fame of his good deeds.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30