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In this Chapter we are led to behold Nehemiah reforming certain abuses which had crept in among the people. He sets a noble example of liberality.
(1) ¶ And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. (2) For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. (3) Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. (4) There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. (5) Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.
Though in the laws by Moses, every provision was made for the happiness of Israel, in the several situations of poor and rich; yet there were then, as there is now, and from the same cause, the ruined state of our nature by the fall, many whose hearts felt not for the poor, but for the love of gain, and in direct defiance of God's law, cared not but to oppose their brethren. We have here the complaint. The oppressed felt the evil, and cried out under it. What a sweet thought is it, under all the mortgaged state of our spiritual inheritance, our captive state to sin and Satan; we have a Brother, our next of kin, to redeem both our persons and our inheritance. Leviticus 25:25 .
(6) ¶ And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. (7) Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, everyone of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. (8) And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. (9) Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? (10) I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. (11) Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them. (12) Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. (13) Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise.
What a masterly speech doth Nehemiah here make! How unanswerable the arguments he adopted to induce tenderness in the minds of the people! And how successful his reasoning. But how infinitely superior is the lesson the Lord Jesus brought forward, in the days of his flesh, to the question of his servant the apostle, on the subject of offences. Jesus hath ransomed us when under a debt of ten thousand talents, which no human ability could ever pay. And therefore to bear hard upon a brother of poorer circumstances, in the paltry debt of an hundred pence, must imply a cruelty unsuited to a regenerated mind. According to Nehemiah's strong figure of shaking the lap, we may well conclude God will shake off, and shake out, all merciless characters of this description; or to use the higher and better words of our Lord Jesus Christ, every such wretch will be delivered to the tormentors; and so will God our heavenly Father do unto us, if we from our hearts forgive not everyone his brother his trespasses. Matthew 18:34-35 .
(14) ¶ Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor. (15) But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God. (16) Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work. (17) Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us. (18) Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people.
There is much to admire in this liberality of Nehemiah, who would not avail himself of his office, as governor under the king of Persia his master, to take money or goods from the people. He lost sight of his authority in this particular, in his affection as a Jew. He considered himself as a brother, and as such acted the brotherly part. He must have been a noble character. But oh! at what an infinite distance doth Nehemiah stand, in this nobleness of soul, when we look at the Lord Jesus Christ. He who was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich. It was generous for Nehemiah to leave the court of Persia to visit Jerusalem in ruins. But what was this, in point of greatness of love, compared to thine, thou adorable, blessed Jesus, in that thou didst leave the court of heaven, and the bosom of thy Father, and camest not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give thy life a ransom for many! Oh! matchless love! Oh! unequalled, unheard of grace!
(19) Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.
Nehemiah's petition, to be remembered for good, was not offered up as if he looked for a reward from the Lord for his good services; but only implied that he himself might receive from a gracious God the favor of his good will and pleasure. That God who had inclined his heart to love God's people, would remember that his love to the people arose from the love the Lord had put in his heart to the Lord himself, and that God would bless him with the kindness he manifested to Israel, and remember him in his covenant mercy.
WHAT a blessing to every state, and to every people, are faithful governors! placed by a gracious God in the supreme department of magistracy, like the beneficent planets of the earth, they shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. And when the Lord Jesus, who places them where they are, graciously furnishes them with hearts, and heads, and hands, to minister to his glory, and the people's welfare, like Nehemiah, their government becomes a blessing, and their persons sacred and beloved.
But, my soul, while thou art contemplating the happy state of an earthly governor, a faithful magistrate, like Nehemiah, among men, look to thy Jesus, the Almighty supreme Lord of heaven and earth, by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice. All the good that is done upon earth he doeth it himself. Yes, blessed Jesus! it is thou that by the sweet and secret influences of thy Spirit dost order, regulate, appoint, and give blessings to the whole events of justice, truth, and faithfulness found among men. In thee, and from thee every source of blessing must flow. Nay, thou thyself art the everlasting glory, the honor, beauty, and loveliness of all merciful dispensations. And art thou, then, my governor, my Lord, my God, my Holy One? Oh! give me to hail thee, and to acknowledge thee Lord of all. And while I bend the knee before thee, do thou bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Lord, let me dwell under thy shadow; revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; that the smell of fragrancy in thy sweet sacrifice may be as the wine of Lebanon.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter