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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Nehemiah 5

Verses 1-19

3. The strife among the workers ch. 5

This chapter evidently describes a situation that prevailed for more than the 52 days the wall was under construction (cf. Nehemiah 5:14). The writer probably included it in the text here because it was another situation that threatened to block the fulfillment of God’s will.

"Up to this point Nehemiah’s challenges as a spiritual leader focused primarily on those outside of Judah. But before the walls were finally rebuilt, he encountered the most difficult and intense kind of problem almost every spiritual leader has to face sometime-problems within." [Note: Getz, p. 683.]

The underlying problem this chapter chronicles sprang from pride. Instead of putting God’s interests first and seeking the welfare of their brethren, the Jews were putting their own interests first and taking advantage of their brethren (cf. Matthew 22:37-39). The Mosaic Law forbade Israelites from charging interest when they made loans to fellow Jews (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-38). Evidently Nehemiah and some of his fellow Jews had paid money to certain Gentiles in Babylonia who owned Jewish slaves in order to liberate those Israelites so they could return to Judah (Nehemiah 5:8). How inconsistent it was, then, for the Jews in Jerusalem to enslave them again. Evidently the people of the land were criticizing the Jews for enslaving their brethren (Nehemiah 5:9). Nehemiah himself seems to have made loans to the poorer Jews in Judah, though he did not say he charged them interest (Nehemiah 5:10). Now he called for a stop not only to usury (charging exorbitant interest) but also to lending. He believed the "haves" should give, not lend, to the "have nots" out of love for God and their brethren. Nehemiah spoke out against social injustice. The people agreed to do as Nehemiah asked (Nehemiah 5:12). The "hundredth part" (Nehemiah 5:11) was the interest rate that, if calculated on a monthly basis, would amount to 12 percent per year.

Nehemiah’s unselfish example for the welfare of the community should be a challenge to any leader of God’s people (Nehemiah 5:14-19). The plans of God and the welfare of His people were most important to him.

"One cannot be certain that Nehemiah was originally given a twelve-year appointment as governor by Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2:6). Perhaps his original appointment was for a briefer period, but was extended to twelve years." [Note: Laney, p. 92.]

The people the governor ruled would have provided his food allowance (Nehemiah 5:14). Rather than taking advantage of his opportunity to acquire real estate, Nehemiah gave his attention to rebuilding the wall (Nehemiah 5:16). He also provided for the needs of over 150 Jews who worked on the wall out of his own pocket (Nehemiah 5:17-18).

"According to the Persian custom, as governor of Judah Nehemiah had to entertain a number of people at his table." [Note: Fensham, p. 198.]

As Paul later did, Nehemiah gave up what was legitimately his due, in order to provide a good example for those he led (cf. 1 Corinthians 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). [Note: See H. G. M. Williamson, "The Governors of Judah under the Persians," Tyndale Bulletin 39 (1988):77-82.]

"Leadership means going further than those one is leading." [Note: Idem, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 246.]

Nehemiah asked God to reward him for what he had done (Nehemiah 5:19). This is not an improper request since God has promised to bless those who put Him first (Deuteronomy 28:1-14; cf. Matthew 6:33; Mark 10:29-30).

"The invocation of God’s favour is not so much a plea for a reward as an emphatic way of claiming that he [Nehemiah] has acted in good faith and from right motives. It is a statement of confidence that God is judge, and judges favourably those who sincerely seek to do his will." [Note: McConville, p. 102.]

The formula "Remember me, O my God . . ." (also in Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22; Nehemiah 13:31) has some parallels in Egyptian literature of this period. [Note: See Joseph Blenkinsopp, "The Mission of Edjahorresnet and Those of Ezra and Nehemiah," Journal of Biblical Literature 106:3 (1987):414-14.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.