Nehemiah 5

Nehemiah 5

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Nehemiah Stops Oppression of the Poor

Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.

Nehemiah’s Generosity

Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

(ESV)


Nehemiah 5 Commentary

by Hank Workman

The work stopped.  On the tail end of such a great victory when the people were motivated, working alongside one another to complete the wall, something happened.  This strange chapter retells how, in essence, the rich were exploiting the poor through loans that were too high to pay back.  Some estimate it would have been up to 12% interest. This was among the Jewish people! Consequently, when the loan could not be paid back, families were torn apart as a child or a wife would be taken into slavery to the Jewish person who loaned the money. It all seems so ridiculous.

Often the case, when the enemy of our souls loses one tactic or battle, he amps up an attack in another area. Once again we see the strong leadership skills of Nehemiah as he confronts the rich and cuts to their heart to the point where the men who were doing this went silent. Nehemiah was not shy about confronting the wrong that was without or within.

Although the men vowed to stop what they were doing, the problem at hand was still the work had stopped. When there are problems among one another, in particular, you think of within the Body of Christ, if problems aren’t resolved and there is fighting between one another, the work of God stops. The enemy of God’s work in all our lives brings attacks from the outside. When those fail, he will use the carnality of our own selfish nature to bring things to a halt.

Nehemiah’s abilities are something to take note of.  Again, he was not shy to confront even his own people. He called a spade a spade. When this issue was addressed and dealt with, he moved on.  That’s an art that only the Holy Spirit can help us to execute. Sometimes people hold things over others’ heads from their sin. We don’t see any of that.  Nehemiah took these men at their word and jumped right back into the mission at hand:  the reconstruction of the wall. He lived by example. Not only was he the project manager, but he also got his hands dirty and lifted brick after brick on the job site.

Those who lead best lead by what they do not by what they say.


Nehemiah 5 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

In Nehemiah 4, we looked at how the enemy engages us when we step out in faith to do the Lord’s work. Satan and the world work externally to derail our progress, however, the most severe damage always takes place from the inside out. It has been said many times that if the devil cannot destroy the church through persecution and suffering, he will simply join it. Nehemiah and his workers had withstood the attacks and persevered. Now, they would be faced with an even greater task; they were about to be sucker punched!

Because the Jews had worked so hard and focused so much of their attention on rebuilding, the daily necessities were lacking. The murmuring and complaining rose up from among their own. We see three different groups of people with three separate issues.

  • The first group of people had families who were not being fed. They simply didn’t have enough food to eat.
  • The second group of people had huge mortgages and could not afford to buy food.
  • The third group of people had massive tax payments and were forced to mortgage their land which, in turn, forced their children into slavery.

As you can see, there were many problems. First, there was a social class issue. The poor were being taken advantage of by their fellow Jews. They were forced to borrow money and mortgage their lands, vineyards, and houses. According to the law, it was strictly prohibited to charge a fellow Jew interest on borrowed money.

“If you lend money to My people, to the poor person among you, you must not be like a moneylender to him; you must not charge him interest.

Exodus 22:25 HCSB

The other issue was a lack of compassion. There was nothing wrong with a Jewish person working for a wage, but bringing additional burdens upon someone who was already struggling was not in step with the heart of God.

“If your brother becomes destitute and cannot sustain himself among you, you are to support him as a foreigner or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you.  36  Do not profit or take interest from him, but fear your God and let your brother live among you.  37  You are not to lend him your silver with interest or sell him your food for profit.

Leviticus 25:35-37 HCSB

So, with all that said, the blame could not be placed squarely on the building project. The people had (once again) disregarded God’s ways! Furthermore, if you remember back in Nehemiah 3, it was the nobles who refused to lift a finger when everyone else pitched in to help rebuild the walls. They are once again the source of trouble here in Nehemiah 5.

After seriously considering the matter, I accused the nobles and officials, saying to them, “Each of you is charging his countrymen interest.” So I called a large assembly against them.

Nehemiah 5:7 HCSB

Nehemiah wasn’t having it! He called a meeting and addressed the issue immediately. His righteous anger burned against the selfishness of these nobles and officials and a call to accountability was in order. Amazingly, these prestigious men accepted the correction and agreed to Nehemiah’s terms. They would give back the land, houses, and vineyards and would no longer charge interest to their fellow countrymen.

But it doesn’t end there. Nehemiah not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk.

  • During his 12-year administration, Nehemiah did not tax the people like others in the past even though it was legally permitted.
  • Governors before him had burdened the people by making life difficult with arbitrary rules and taxes. Nehemiah graciously considered their needs before his own.
  • Nehemiah could have made a huge profit by acquiring land mortgages, but he didn’t. His priority was not to make money but to take care of the people and rebuild Jerusalem with integrity.

What’s the point? Nehemiah was a man of integrity whose motives were pure. He wanted to do what was right in God’s sight. He was granted favor by God as his voice was able to correct the selfish ambition of the arrogant nobles as well as encourage and support the workers during this strenuous rebuilding project. Nehemiah is a prime example of how we should function in leadership roles. He was a shining example of both grace and truth.

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