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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Nehemiah 5

Verse 1

And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.

There was a great cry of the people ... against their brethren. Such a crisis in the condition of the Jews in Jerusalem-fatigued with hard labour, and harassed by the machinations of restless enemies, the majority of them poor, and the bright visions which hope had painted, of pure happiness on their return to the land of their fathers, being unrealized-must have been very trying to their faith and patience. But, in addition to these vexatious oppressions, many began to sink under a new and more grievous evil. The poor made loud complaints against the rich for taking advantage of their necessities, and grinding them by usurious exactions. Numbers of them had, in consequence of these oppressions, been driven to such extremities that they had to mortgage their lands and houses to enable them to pay the taxes to the Persian government, and, ultimately, even to sell their children for slaves to procure the means of subsistence. The condition of the poorer inhabitants was indeed deplorable; because, besides the deficient harvests caused by the great rains (Ezra 10:9; also Haggai 1:6-11), a dearth was now threatened by the enemy keeping such a multitude pent up in the city and preventing the country people bringing in provisions.

Verses 2-5

For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.

I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. When such disorders came to the knowledge of the governor, his honest indignation was roused against the perpetrators of the evil; and, having summoned a public assembly, he denounced their conduct in terms of just severity (cf. Amos 2:8), contrasted it with his own in redeeming with his money some of the Jewish exiles who, through debt or otherwise, had lost their personal liberty in Babylon-urged the rich creditors not only to abandon their illegal and oppressive system of usury, but to restore the fields and vineyards of the poor, so that a remedy might be put to an evil, the introduction of which had led to so much actual disorder, and the continuance of which would inevitably prove ruinous to the newly restored colony, by violating the fundamental principles of the Hebrew constitution.

Verses 7-10

Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them.

Restore, I pray you, to them ... their lands, their vineyards ... also the hundredth part of the money ... the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them. In the ancient Oriental kingdoms the hundredth was the rate of interest exigible; and, as this rate was paid not annually, but monthly, the debtor had to pay in the course of a year the eighth part of the principal. This was oppressive enough; but it was nothing to what was done for things lent during smaller periods, such as a week or a day. The lender, as Salmasius declares, was allowed to demand any rate of interest, however exorbitant, he could get. No wonder that Nehemiah inveighed against such excessive usury, especially in the circumstances of the returned exiles. The remonstrance was effectual. The conscience of the usurious oppressors could not resist the touching and powerful appeal; and, with mingled emotions of shame, contrition, and fear, they with one voice expressed their readiness to comply with the governor's recommendation. The proceedings were closed by the parties binding themselves by a solemn oath, administered by the priests, that they would redeem their pledge, as well as by the governor invoking, by the solemn and significant gesture of shaking a corner of his garment, a malediction on those who should violate it. The historian has taken care to record that the people did according to this promise.

Verse 12

Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 13

Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise.

Also I shook my lap, and said, so God shake out every man ... Since the people often sit upon the ground, the dust or sand accumulates around and upon them, because it is continually blowing around. Every now and then, therefore, they rise, shake the dust out of their laps, and then sit down again. Nehemiah's metaphorical reference to this practice is obvious.

Verse 14

Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor. Moreover from the time that I was appointed ... We have a remarkable proof both of the opulence and disinterestedness of Nehemiah. Since he declined, on conscientious grounds, to accept the lawful emoluments attached to his government, and yet maintained a style of princely hospitality, for twelve years, out of his own resources, it is evident that his office of cup-bearer at the court of Shushan must have been very lucrative.

Verse 15

But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.

The former governors ... had taken of them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. The income of Eastern governors is paid partly in produce, partly in money. "Bread" means all sorts of provisions. The forty shekels of silver per day would amount to a yearly salary of 1,800 British pounds sterling. More than two or three governors are evidently intended. Zerubbabel was still Tirshatha in the second year of Darius Hystaspes, and there is reason to believe that he was holding this office in the sixth of that monarch's reign. How long he survived the building of the temple is not known. But more than one governor intervened between him and Nehemiah.

Verse 16

Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 17

Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us.

Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews. In the East it has been always customary to calculate the expense of a king's or grandee's establishment, not by the amount of money disbursed, but by the quantity of provisions consumed (see 1 Kings 6:22; 1 Kings 18:19; Ecclesiastes 5:11).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.