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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Nehemiah 5

Verses 1-13

Nehemiah 5:1-13 . Distress among the Jews.— Neither this nor the next section, Nehemiah 5:14-19 (the two belong closely together) can be in their right place. Nehemiah 5:1-13 deals with the economic straits to which the Jews had been reduced through want of food; yet the text nowhere hints that their evil plight was in any way the result of the building of the walls; besides, this building did not take long enough (see Nehemiah 6:15) to occasion such widespread suffering as the narrative seems to indicate, even supposing the entire population to have ceased their ordinary work in order to give themselves to the work of building, a thing which Nehemiah 4:12 apparently precludes. Moreover, it is evident from Nehemiah 5:14 that the building had been finished for years, and that Nehemiah was writing after he had been governor for twelve years.

Nehemiah 5:1 . their brethren the Jews: i.e. the returned exiles, as distinct from those who had not gone into captivity but had remained in the land.

Nehemiah 5:3 . This shows that the complainants were the country folk, and that the cause of their distress was famine. The word rendered “ dearth” is the usual one for famine ( cf. Genesis 12:10 and very often elsewhere); it was owing to famine that they had to mortgage their lands and sell their children into bondage.

Nehemiah 5:5 . The text is in part corrupt, but the general sense is that some had been forced to sell their children into slavery ( cf. Exodus 21:7).

Nehemiah 5:6-13 . The description of how Nehemiah was able to put things right again illustrates his dominating and powerful personality.

Nehemiah 5:11 . the hundredth part of: read, by a slight emendation of the text, “ the interest on” ; the text, as it stands, gives no sense, since the remission of the hundredth part could have given no appreciable relief.

Nehemiah 5:13 . lap: read “ sleeve.”

Verses 14-19

Nehemiah 5:14-19 . Nehemiah Enumerates the Outstanding Features of his Beneficent Rule.— The main points here are that Nehemiah and his subordinate officials had not taken advantage of their undoubted right of exacting provisions from the people (“ I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor,” i.e. the sustenance which he, as the governor, had a right to claim); secondly, he recalls how tenaciously he clung to his purpose of the rebuilding of the walls ( Nehemiah 5:16); and thirdly, he reminds the people of the way in which he had supported the poor ( Nehemiah 5:17 f.).

Nehemiah 5:14 . from the twentieth . . . the king: i.e. 445– 433 B.C.; in the latter year he went back to Babylon for a short visit ( Nehemiah 13:6 f.). It is said in Nehemiah 2:6 that Nehemiah gave the king a set time for leave of absence, and in view of the king’ s words (“ For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return?” ) a prolonged period of absence cannot have been comtemplated. Yet, according to the verse before us, Nehemiah was away for about twelve years! No doubt if more fragments of his memoirs had been preserved this difficulty would have been explained. Some new arrangement must have been made between Nehemiah and the king, according to which the former was granted an indefinite leave of absence owing to the serious condition of affairs in Judah, the full extent of which he realised only when he arrived there.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.