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Nehemiah - Chapter 5
Internal Problems, Verses 1-13
The internal problems which hindered the building of the wall now began to proliferate. It appears that the wives may have been the ones who brought it to an issue. Many times the wives suffer in silence, going along with things for the sake of peace. Great must be the reward of
many, who serve the Lord in quietness. This time their protest was in order and to be respected. While their men were busily engaged in building the wall of Jerusalem it was the wives who stayed at home, trying to maintain the grainfields, vineyards, oliveyards, with the aid of their sons and daughters. While the workmen were maintained in the city these country folk had to find food for themselves and children. There had been an added problem in that they suffered a drought which kept their fields and fruits from producing sufficient food.
These protesting people had also been required to pay the regular king’s tribute, which went largely to pay the nobles and rulers of the land, many of them being fellow Jews. When there had been no money for the tribute they had been compelled to borrow against their fields and fruit orchards. Now they protested that they were as much Jewish, thus of the Lord’s own people, as were the great men who lived from the tribute. The tribute payment was imposing an unbearable burden on the ordinary Jews of the land.
The next step was the demand of their creditors for payment,
which not being forthcoming, they lost their lands, vineyards, oliveyards by foreclosure, leaving them without means of livelihood. Some were going so far as to suggest the bondage of their children to get out the indebtedness. Some of the girls had already been pressed into service as bondmaids, while others, boys and girls, were being threatened with the same fate.
Nehemiah had been unaware of this condition, and when he found it out, he was greatly angered. He "consulted" with himself, which means that he gave thought to the problem and what to do about it. He confronted the nobles and accused them of taking interest from their own brethren, which was contrary to the law (see Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-38). To settle the matter he called a great assembly of all the people. He told this assembly how many of the leaders had used their money to redeem numbers of the Jews from heathen masters and to restore them to the land. Now some of these same people were trafficking in the lives of their own people, buying and selling the boys and girls of their own nation. When they heard this accusation from Nehemiah they said nothing, listening in guilty silence.
Nehemiah continued his rebuke of these men, They were doing a bad thing, which betrayed in them a lack of godly fear and reverence for His ordinances. Furthermore, their conduct was so reprehensible in view of the fact that they were themselves the reproach of the heathen. Nehemiah gave his own conduct as an example for these. He had come to Judah with authority from the Persian king to exact tribute for his welfare, but he had not done so.
Nehemiah proposed that they discontinue the usury they were charging the poor people and to restore their fields, oliveyards, vineyards, and their houses. In reality the rate of usury must not have been exorbitant, since Nehemiah required that they restore to the people at the rate of 1% of what had been taken from them. Yet this meant much to this people who were without means of livelihood.
The proposal of Nehemiah was received by the elders. They
agreed to require nothing from their people who had borrowed from them, or who had been unable to pay the tribute. Calling the priests Nehemiah had them take an oath from the rulers that they would keep their promise. Figuratively Nehemiah stood and shook out the folds of his robe of everything which may have been in it. "Let the Lord so shake out those who did not abide by their oath and leave them without anything," said Nehemiah. The assembly of the congregation, observing these things, said, "Amen!" They praised the Lord for this good outcome, for the rulers kept their promise.
Nehemiah-s Example, verses 14-18
In this passage Nehemiah gives a summary of his fiscal situation in the time he was governor of Judah. This he said covered a twelve year period from the twentieth year of Artaxerxes to his thirty-second year. His "brethren" is an evident reference to his gubernatorial council appointed to assist him in governing. He says they did not eat "the bread of the governor," referring to the regularly appointed tribute money and grain due the governor under the Persian grant. This was contrary to all the governors who preceded him, some or all, of whom were surely Jews also. They had taken from the people the regularly allowed bread and wine plus forty shekels of silver; or about two hundred ninety-one dollars in present-day values. This amounted to a handsome- salary for the times. Even the servants of the former governors had lived from the tribute of the people.
Nehemiah- not only unselfishly refrained from burdening the people while building the wall, living at his own expense, but he honored the Lord by recognizing that he served God’s people. He did so out of respect and reverence for the Lord. Whereas predecessors had acquired grants of land by virtue of their office; Nehemiah had even abstained from his privilege. All this he did even though he was responsible for many servants who worked for him. His table was spread for a hundred fifty of the Jews and rulers beside those who came to him from the heathen nations around him. For one day’s provision he had prepared one ox, six sheep, and numerous fowl. Every ten days it was necessary for him to lay in a new. store of all kinds of wine. The expense was heavy, and it is not known how Nehemiah secured the means to provide it, aside from the "bread of the governor," but the Lord blessed him. and he did not wish to add more burden on the already heavily laden Jews.
Nehemiah closes his statement with a short prayer, of which there are several throughout his book. It is commendatory of himself toward God, and might seem out of place to some, especially in this day. However, it should probably not be thought of as lacking in humility. Actually it was in accord with the Lord’s promises to those who were obedient to His laws and statutes. Though one today might not pray such a prayer he doubtless expects the Lord to honor, or bless, him for his obedience to the Lord’s commandments.
Some lessons from chapter five: 1) many little noted persons will surely have a greater reward than those more prominent; 2) men will answer in judgment for the oppression of the Lord’s people; 3) many will be compelled to acknowledge their hypocritical practices; 4) he who would lead God’s people aright should be unselfish; 5) the Lord will supply what is needed for His faithful servants.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13