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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

Nehemiah 5

Verses 1-19


Nehemiah 5

This chapter forms an important parenthesis in the story of the building of the wall. In Nehemiah 6 the work is continued and the wiles of the enemy frustrated.

In this chapter the story is broken off for a while to face another form of hindrance to the work - the low moral condition of the people themselves. Does not this important consideration warn us that it is possible for an individual, or a company of saints, to be zealously contending for separation from corrupt religious associations, and false doctrine, and yet at the same time to be very careless as to their own state.

Labour and conflict characterise Nehemiah 4 , but in order to be a vessel fit for the Master's use, and to be able to resist the attacks of the foe, there must be the maintenance of righteousness. Thus it is in the Second Epistle to Timothy, while we are exhorted to "depart from iniquity," and "purge" ourselves from vessels to dishonour, we are also immediately warned to "Flee also youthful lusts," and "follow righteousness." Having escaped the corruptions of Christendom it is possible to fall into the corruptions of the flesh. Never are we in greater danger of acting in the flesh, than when we have acted in faithfulness to the Lord. As one has truly said, "We may be beguiled into moral relaxation through satisfaction with our ecclesiastical separation." How seasonable then the exhortation to "flee also youthful lusts," and "follow righteousness" coming immediately after the injunctions to depart from iniquity and separate from vessels to dishonour.

This is the deeply serious lesson of Nehemiah 5 . The opening verses (1-5) expose the corruption of the flesh that existed amongst those who were building the wall. The rich Jews were taking advantage of the poverty and need of their poorer brethren to enrich themselves. The daily necessities of life, the adverse circumstances arising from a dearth, and the incidence of taxation instead of drawing out the sympathy of the richer Jews, became the occasion of ministering to the covetousness of the flesh.

It was no question of the ordinary business transactions of life; but the needs and trials of the poor, (arising from special circumstances, such as a dearth), were used for the aggrandisement of the rich.

The root of the trouble lay in the fact that they were viewing themselves as forming distinct classes of rich and poor, and forgetting that whether rich or poor they were "brethren."

Nehemiah meets this evil by rebuking the nobles and bringing the matter before "a great assembly." He shows that to act thus toward their brethren was inconsistent with the redemption from captivity in which they all shared. Towards God it showed a lack of holy fear, and in regard to the heathen it would bring them into reproach (6-9).

How definitely the rebukes of Nehemiah remind us that in all our conduct to one another, we should act as brethren, in the fear of God, so that in nothing we give occasion for the reproaches of the world. The rebukes of Nehemiah find their counterpart in the exhortation of Paul when he tells Titus that grace teaches us to "live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" ( Tit_2:12 ). Thus we should act with self-restraint and consideration for our brethren (for such is the literal meaning of the word "soberly"), righteously toward those without, and piously toward God.

Moreover the Apostle exhorts us to bear "one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" ( Gal_4:2 ). The law of Christ is that we love one another, and this spirit of holy love is necessary, if we are to take up one another's burdens. Failing this, class is set against class.

Under the rebukes of Nehemiah, the nobles, rulers, and the priests, correct this evil, and all the congregation "praised the Lord" (9-13). Moreover Nehemiah not only rebuked and exhorted others, but in his mode of life he was also a pattern to them. He considered the people (14 and 18); he walked in the fear of God (15); and he showed hospitality to the heathen, to remove all occasion for reproach (17).

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". "Smith's Writings". 1832.