Nehemiah 5


The people complain that they are oppressed and enthralled by

their richer brethren, 1-3.

Nehemiah calls them to account; upbraids them for their cruelty;

and obliges them to swear that they will forgive the debts,

restore the mortgaged estates, and free their servants, 4-13.

Nehemiah's generosity and liberality, 14-17.

The daily provision for his table, 18, 19.


Verse 2. We, our sons, and our daughters, are many] Our

families are larger than we can provide for; we are obliged to go

in debt; and our richer brethren take advantage of our necessitous

situation, and oppress us. The details which are given in the

next verse are sufficiently plain.

Verse 3. Because of the dearth.] About the time of

Zerubbabel, God had sent a judicial dearth upon the land, as we

learn from Haggai,

Hag 1:9, &c., for the people it seems were more intent on

building houses for themselves than on rebuilding the house of the

Lord: "Ye looked for much, and, lo, it is come to little; because

of mine house that is waste; and ye run, every man unto his own

house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the

earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon

the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the

new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground brought

forth; and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of

the hands." This dearth might have been continued, or its effects

still felt; but it is more likely that there was a new dearth

owing to the great number of people, for whose support the land

that had been brought into cultivation was not sufficient.

Verse 4. We have borrowed money] This should be read, We have

borrowed money for the king's tribute on our lands and vineyards.

They had a tax to pay to the Persian king in token of their

subjection to him, and though it is not likely it was heavy, yet

they were not able to pay it.

Verse 5. We bring in to bondage our sons] The law permitted

parents to sell their children in times of extreme necessity,

Ex 21:7.

Verse 7. Ye exact usury] This was expressly contrary to the

law of God; and was doubly cruel at this time, when they were just

returning out of the land of their captivity, and were suffering

from the effects of a dearth. Some think that it was about the

time of a Sabbatical year, when their land must have lain at rest

without cultivation, and during which they were expressly

commanded not to exact any debt. De 15:2.

I set a great assembly against them.] Brought all these

delinquents before the rulers of the people.

Verse 9. Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God] If ye

wish to accredit that religion ye profess which comes from the God

of justice and mercy; should you not, in the sight of the heathen,

abstain from injustice and cruelty? Can they credit your

profession, when they see such practices? The inconsistent

conduct of some professors of religion does much harm in the

Church of God.

Verse 11. Also the hundredth part of the money] Houbigant

contends, 1. That the word meath, which we and the Vulgate

translate one hundredth part, never means so anywhere; and 2. That

it would have answered no end to have remitted to people so

distressed merely the one hundredth part of the money which had

been taken from them by usury. He understands meath as

signifying the same as min eth, contracted into

meeth, a preposition and demonstrative particle joined together,

also a part FROM THE money. Neither the Syriac, Septuagint, nor

Arabic acknowledges this hundredth part. Some think that the

hundredth part is that which they obliged the poor debtors to pay

each month, which would amount to what we would call twelve per

cent. interest for the money lent, or the debt contracted. See

the introduction.

Verse 13. Also I shook my lap] This was a significant action

frequent among the Hebrews; and something of the same nature was

practised among other nations. "When the Roman ambassadors

entered the senate of Carthage, they had their toga gathered up in

their bosom. They said, We carry here peace and war; you may have

which you will. The senate answered, You may give which you

please. They then shook their toga, and said, We bring you war.

To which all the senate answered, We cheerfully accept it." See

Livy. lib. xxi., cap. 18; and see Calmet.

Verse 14. I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the

governor.] From what is related here, and in the following verse,

we find that the table of the governor was always supplied by the

people with bread and wine; and, besides, they had forty shekels

per diem for their other expenses. The people were also greatly

oppressed by the servants and officers of the governor; but,

during the twelve years that Nehemiah had been with them, he took

not this salary, and ate none of their bread. Nor were his

servants permitted to take or exact any thing from them. Having

such an example, it was scandalous for their chiefs, priests, and

nobles, thus to oppress an afflicted and distressed people.

Verse 16. Neither bought we any land] Neither he nor his

officers took any advantage of the necessities of the people, to

buy their lands, &c. He even made his own servants to work at the


Verse 17. A hundred and fifty of the Jews] He kept open house,

entertained all comers; besides having one hundred and fifty Jews

who had their food constantly at his table, and at his expense.

To be able to bear all these expenses, no doubt Nehemiah had saved

money while he was cup-bearer to the Persian king in Susa.

Verse 18. One ox, and six choice sheep] This was food

sufficient for more than two hundred men.

Once in ten days store of all sorts of wine] It is supposed

that every tenth day they drank wine; at all other times they

drank water; unless we suppose the meaning of the phrase to be,

that his servants laid in a stock of wine every ten days. Though

the Asiatics drank sparingly of wine, yet it is not very likely

that, in a case such as that above, wine was tasted only thrice in

each month.

Bishop Pococke mentions the manner in which the bey of Tunis

lived. He had daily twelve sheep, with fish, fowls, soups,

oranges, eggs, onions, boiled rice, &c., &c., His nobles dined

with him; after they had done, the servants sat down; and, when

they had finished, the poor took what was left. Here is no

mention of a fat ox; but there were six sheep at the bey's table

more than were at the table of Nehemiah: so the twelve sheep were

equal to six sheep and one ox. Probably the mode of living

between these two was nearly alike.

Verse 19. Think upon me, my God, for good] Nehemiah wishes for

no reward from man; and he only asks mercy at the hand of his God

for what his providence enabled him to do; and which, according to

the good hand of his God upon him, he had done faithfully. He

does not offer his good deeds to God in extenuation of his sins,

or as a compensation for the heaven he expected. Nothing of the

kind: he simply says, what any good man might say, My God, as I

have done good to them, so do good to me; or as the poet has


"Teach me to feel another's wo,

To hide the fault I see:

The mercy I to others show,

That mercy show to me!" POPE.

This is according to the precept of Christ: "Forgive, and ye

shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you."

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