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Bible Commentaries

Brown's Commentary on Selected Book of the Bible

Nehemiah 5

Verses 1-19

John Brown

Nehemiah 5

Liberty or Bondage?


A. Gal_5:1 (NKJV) Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

1. 1Co_6:12 (NKJV) All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

a) We have tremendous freedom in Christ!

b) So much so that we can actually "hang" ourselves.

c) It is so easy to live our Christian walks according to prevailing culture.

(1) "When in Rome. . ."

(2) But, the prevailing culture is always changing!

(3) What is acceptable to society or a particular group may actually cause my fall!

II. Nehemiah faces yet another problem! STEP 2 of the INTERNAL DISSENTION

A. If you will remember correctly, the first of INTERNAL DISSENTION was the complaining from the tribe of Judah!

B. This morning, let's takes a look at the second step of attack from the inside! Neh_5:1-4 (NKJV) And there was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren.

2 For there were those who said, "We, our sons, and our daughters [are] many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live."

3 There were also [some] who said, "We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine."

4 There were also those who said, "We have borrowed money for the king's tax [on] our lands and vineyards.

1. Famine Neh_5:3

a) Large population increases.

(1) People returning to Jerusalem.

b) Large portions of the land had lain dormant and un-tilled for years.

c) More than likely many that was building the wall used to be farmers.

2. Heavy taxation v4 by the Persian government!

a) Added up to a heavy food shortage.

C. "The rich get richer"

1. There are always those ready to take advantage of a bad situation. To get rich or richer at other's expense!

a) In this case it wasn't from the outside. It was from Nehemiah's own people: the Jews. Neh_5:5 (NKJV) "Yet now our flesh [is] as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and [some] of our daughters have been brought into slavery. [It] [is] not in our power [to] [redeem] [them], for other men have our lands and vineyards."

(1) They were granting loans at high interest rates!

(2) Taking the people's sons and daughters into their homes as slaves.

b) They had been so united in the building of the wall.

c) Now, money and greed had divided their love for each other.

(1) Example: (Hold a dollar bill up at arms length. Explain how if we keep material things in perspective they can be OK - Moving the dollar bill closer to the eyes, explain that if money becomes too important, perspective is lost!)

d) REDPATH "One of the things that does most harm in God's work is dissension among His people. If you want a work of God ruined, just let misunderstanding, discouragement, and mistrust arise. Though the people may be united in objective, they will be divided in their affection and the work cannot survive,"

e) How did Nehemiah face the challenge?

III. Neh_5:6-13 (NKJV) And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.

7 After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, "Each of you is exacting usury from his brother." So I called a great assembly against them.

8 And I said to them, "According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?" Then they were silenced and found nothing [to] [say].

9 Then I said, "What you are doing [is] not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?"

10 "I also, [with] my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury!

11 "Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them."

12 So they said, "We will restore [it], and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say." Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.

13 Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said, "So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied." And all the assembly said, "Amen!" and praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.

A. Nehemiah stood up for what was right, not what was acceptable or popular!

1. He rebuked the "BIG SHOTS" v7

2. He begged the lenders in V10 "Please stop exploiting the people!

3. He exhorted the landlords in V11) to "Restore everything they had taken."

B. The result Neh_5:12 a

1. He held them accountable! Neh_5:12-13

2. J. Vernon McGee : Nehemiah openly rebuked the nobles and the rulers for their actions. Nehemiah exposed those who had done wrong in the presence of the group, which is the right thing to do when such a thing occurs. Also, the church congregation should be warned if there are those in it who are not being honest in their dealings and are moving in an underhanded way. Evil should be brought out into the open. Nehemiah exposed the underhanded dealings of his brethren. He was angry. Somebody says, "You should not get angry." Paul says, "Be ye angry, and sin not..." in Eph_4:26 . It depends upon the reason for your anger. If you become angry because of your own personal welfare, it is wrong. If you become angry because God's program, God's glory, and God's name are being hurt, then you can "be angry and sin not." Nehemiah was not quiet about the sin he uncovered. He did not acquiesce. He was not passive. He spoke right out. We ought to be stirred up to a righteous anger when we see something wrong in the church. We should not mollycoddle the wrongdoer and shut our eyes to his sin. Many people say, "We just don't want to disturb things." You don't? My friend, you had better do something because the Devil has moved in on you, and he will divide you. We need courage today. We need conviction. The church no longer has a good name in the world, and the world is passing it by. The spiritual movement that is emerging is largely outside the organized church. Christians have been playing church. The controlling group in the church has been having a good time, but they are not reaching the lost, and the world is passing by uninterested. A preacher in the North said to me, "It makes me angry to think that you cannot reach out and touch the lost today because they know about the hypocrisy, the pious platitudes, and the dishonesty inside the church." But there are those in the world who are longing to know the truth. They want to know if we are being honest in what we have to say. Some of the brethren deal with wrongs in the church by sweeping them under the rug with the excuse that they want to maintain a "Christian" attitude by being sweet and nice. That's not acting like a Christian - it is acting like a coward! Nehemiah brought the sin of his brethren right out into the open and nobody was able to answer him.

C. What made them want to listen to Nehemiah?

1. Why did he have their respect?

IV. Neh_5:14-19 (NKJV) Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor's provisions.

15 But the former governors who [were] before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.

16 Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants [were] gathered there for the work.

17 And at my table [were] one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us.

18 Now [that] which was prepared daily [was] one ox [and] six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor's provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people.

19 Remember me, my God, for good, [according] [to] all that I have done for this people.

A. Previous leaders had made it a practice to profit off the people.

1. The previous governors had always saw to it even though there was great poverty and slavery, that they themselves never suffered.

2. The people expected it of Nehemiah. It would have been the socially acceptable thing to do.

a) Nehemiah said, ". . .but I did not do so." Neh_5:15

B. Current application!

1. #1. Refusal to comply with current custom is what gives us integrity!

a) Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

b) Biblical morality does not change!

c) What the majority says - is usually wrong!

(1) Mat_7:13-14 (NKJV) " Enter by the narrow gate; for wide [is] the gate and broad [is] the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.

14 "Because narrow [is] the gate and difficult [is] the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

(2) The crowd said, "crucify Him!"

d) Bible is the only standard we have to keep us on track.

(1) We must be very careful not to alter it to fit current standard.

(2) The world expects us to be different! They even want us to be!

e) But too many times today Christians are like the blind guides in:

(1) Mat_23:24 (NKJV) "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

(a) On other words, much of the church argues over things that don't matter while missing the things that are important!

(b) Often the world watches this and wonders where the love, acceptance, and forgiveness is.

(c) They so desperately need the Messiah, yet don't see much difference in matters of practice between some Christians and themselves.

C. What was Nehemiah's motive for doing what was right?

1. Neh_5:15 ". . because of the fear of God"

a) A modern translation would be, "I didn't exploit the people even though I could have, because I love Jesus."

(1) 1Jn_4:19 (NKJV) We love Him because He first loved us.

(2) Understanding His love for us makes us love Him enough to say, "No!" to compromise and sin!

(3) My life cost Him too much to cheapen it!

(4) In the shadow of the cross lies the greatest act of love!

(a) In that shadow is also the only way to live holy human lives!

(b) You and I cannot - not sin!

(i) 1Jn_1:8 (NKJV) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

(ii) Rom_3:10 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one;

(c) Sin is only taken care of in that same shadow!

(i) 1Jn_2:1-2 (NKJV) My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

(d) As long as we live on this earth, in these bodies we will sin!

(i) But the love of God and love for God will lessen the frequency.


A. Neh_5:15 (NKJV) But the former governors who [were] before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.

1. Neh_5:16 (NKJV) Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants [were] gathered there for the work.

a) Nehemiah said, "No" to sin, but he also said "yes" to God and His purposes.

b) He went on with the positive as well as refusing the negative!

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Bibliographical Information
Brown, John. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". Brown's Commentary on Selected Books of the Bible.