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Nehemiah 5:1 Then there arose a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brothers the Jews- As in Acts 5:1, there is an intentional anticlimax here. The amazing work of God through the hands of His people in Neh. 4 is now contrasted with the fact of the apostasy and weakness of His people. Ez. 45:9 had commanded: “Let it suffice you, O princes of Israel: remove violence and spoil, and execute judgment and justice, take away your exactions from my people”. Nehemiah 5 records that Judah did the very opposite, and Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi all record social injustice as being the order of the day at the time of the restoration. A "great cry of the people" is the phrase used of the cry of the Egyptians when their families were destroyed by the Passover Angel (Ex. 11:6; 12:30). Israel in their apostasy were acting like the Egyptians. See on :2.

Nehemiah 5:2 For there were some that said, We, our sons and our daughters, are many. Let us get grain, that we may eat and live-
This continues the allusion to the Egyptians noted on :1; for these were the words of the Egyptians during the famine at the time of Joseph. They were being judged like the Egyptians because their hearts were like those of the Egyptians, and they had neglected that great salvation potentially possible.

The withholding of agricultural blessing occurred several times- in Neh. 5:2,3 (as prophesied in Is. 51:19), in Haggai’s time, and later in Malachi 3:10,12; when the restored Zion could have been as the garden of Eden, i.e. paradise restored on earth (Is. 51:3). Here we see frightening similarities with ourselves. We know, but often don’t do. We sense this cycle of failure, crying out for mercy, receiving it, failing again, crying for mercy, receiving it, failing again...we see it in Israel, in our brethren and those around us, and in ourselves. We can expound it, lament it, feel the shame and tragedy of it all...and yet continue to have a part in it. Eventually, the people stayed in this groove so long that they degenerated into how they were at the time of Malachi- self-righteous, with no sense of failure any more, living self-centered lives of petty materialism, earning wages as they did in Haggai’s time, to put into pockets with holes in, life without satisfaction, achieving nothing, passively angry. This is what Malachi clearly portrays. It’s a terrible picture, and one which we can sail dangerously close to identifying with.

Nehemiah 5:3 Some also there were that said, We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses. Let us get grain, because of the famine-
The princes were to give the rest of the land to the people of Israel (Ez. 45:8). But they made their poor brethren mortgage it to them so that effectively they took it for themselves. It was exactly this kind of abuse which had brought about the captivity in the first place (Jer. 34).

Jer.  31:12,13 had promised great fertility at the restoration: “Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all". But the wheat, wine and oil were all withheld by Yahweh as a result of their selfish materialism, according to Haggai and Malachi. And there was a “famine” even in Nehemiah’s time.

Nehemiah 5:4 There were also some who said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute using our fields and our vineyards as collateral-
This money was presumably borrowed from their fellow Jews. Those who lent them the money had totally failed to appreciate the grace of their salvation, and the response thereby expected from them. Jeremiah especially reveals the grace which God was so eager to show to the exiles. Jer. 7:3-7 made it clear that Judah’s return to the land was to be conditional upon them not oppressing the poor- only “then will I cause you to dwell in this place”. Yet in His grace and zeal for His people, it seems God overlooked that condition- for the returned exiles did oppress (Neh. 5:1-5), and yet they returned to the land. And yet they would’ve dwelt in Zion “for ever and ever” (Jer. 7:7) if they had not been abusive to others and truly loved God.

Nehemiah 5:5 Yet our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children as their children-
The idea seems to be that despite all this sacrifice, they looked as emaciated from famine as those who had nothing to mortgage. They were the middle class, who owned fields and vineyards (:4); and they were now as the lowest classes.

Indeed, we have to bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants- I suggested on Neh. 4 that the large number of "servants" of the builders may refer to these people. On one hand the Spirit of God was working with them, and they showed faith. But their spirituality was of a collective rather than personal nature, as can so easily happen in the church today. For they were abusing their brethren in their own personal lives.

Some of our daughters have already been brought into bondage. Neither is it in our power to get out of it; for other men have our fields and our vineyards- Instead of subduing the nations around them with the victory of Israel’s God, they brought their own brethren into subjection / bondage unto them, that they might gain out of them (Zech. 9:15 s.w. Neh. 5:5). It could’ve been the Kingdom, Israel could have become the joy of the whole earth and her people a joy. But instead, they were obsessed with their petty, miserable little kingdoms, and the next few centuries had nothing of the joy which Isaiah had repeatedly prophesied as being possible for them.

The princes in the restored kingdom of God were not to oppress the people (Ez. 45:8); “Moreover the prince shall not take of the people's inheritance by oppression, to thrust them out of their possession” (Ez. 46:18). But they did (Neh.  5:1-5; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5).

Nehemiah 5:6 I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words-
The same words are used of Yahweh being angry with Israel when He heard their cry in Num. 11:1,10. The idea is that this was a very great apostasy, worthy of returning them to captivity, as God's anger likewise considered returning Israel to Egypt. For as noted on :1,2, they were acting as Egypt, oppressing their brethren in slavery and bondage.

Nehemiah 5:7 Then I considered the matter-
AV is more accurate: "consulted with myself". Perhaps the idea is that he first examined himself, as to whether he himself had done anything like this, before contending with his brethren. A necessary example and principle. This is why he can present himself as an example of how the poorer brethren should have been treated (:10). But see on :10.

Then contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, You exact usury, each one from his brother. I held a great assembly against them- This 'contention' with his weak brethren amongst the leadership was how the book ends (s.w. Neh. 13:11,17,25). It was as if circumstances repeated; his experience of contention with his brethren in Neh. 5:7 was to prepare him for the major contentions of Neh. 13:11,17,25. We pass through one experience to prepare us for another.

Nehemiah 5:8 I said to them, We, as much as we could, have redeemed our brothers the Jews that were sold to the nations-
Nehemiah ‘came up’ from Babylon, and was “the servant” who ‘prospered’ Yahweh’s work (Neh. 1:11; 2:20), just as the servant prophecies required (Is. 53:10; 48:15); and he was thereby the redeemer of his brethren. And yet it could be that he paid personally to redeem his brothers who had been sold to local Samaritans ["the nations"].

Would you really sell your brothers, and should they be sold to us? Then they held their peace, and found never a word to answer- Putting our brethren in impossible situations from which they need redemption is to act as the Gentile world; rather than as those who have also been redeemed. The restoration prophets had spoken of all those who left Babylon as being redeemed; but the leadership of the exiles had failed to appreciate this.

There could be the implication in the Hebrew of Neh. 1:3 that the majority of those who initially returned to Judah then returned back to Babylon- for Nehemiah speaks of "The remnant that are left of the captives there in the province" [of Judah]". We shouldn’t underestimate the seriousness of the famine conditions in Judah as described in Neh. 5. The sheer lack of food led the Jews to sell their children and land to their richer brethren just to get something to eat. Mal. 3:5-15 says that this was directly a result of their lack of zeal to rebuild and care for God’s house. What a far cry from the prophecies of plenty and huge harvests which had been made. So much potential was wasted. Neh. 5:8 records Nehemiah’s comment that the wealthy Jews were victimizing the poorer Jews just as Babylon once had, and now Nehemiah needed to redeem them from slavery just as God had redeemed His people from servitude in Babylon. God’s deliverance of His people simply hadn’t been responded to. Tragically, it would appear from Neh. 5:15 that Zerubbabel, the potential Messiah of Israel, had acted in this oppressive way too.

Nehemiah 5:9 Also I said, The thing that you do is not good-
A verbatim quotation of Ex. 18:17, but apparently out of context. But this kind of thing is to be expected in the language of a person whose mind is full of God's word; turns of phrase come to mind from the Bible even in our own language usage, even if not completely in context.

Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God- The allusion is to Dt. 10:12; they were to fear God by walking in His ways. And His ways had been those of redemption by grace, and not of abuse. The fear of God therefore requires us to be just, as He is just and yet also the God of salvation by grace (Gen. 20:11; 2 Sam. 23:3).

Because of the reproach of the nations our enemies?- I suggest this isn't saying that they should fear what others might say about this. Rather is the idea ‘on account of the reproach wherewith our enemies have reproached us'. They should have ever remembered their abuse at the hands of the Gentiles, and so never have done this to their own brethren. They were to break the cycle whereby the abused abuses.

Nehemiah 5:10 For this reason, I my brothers and my servants lend them money and grain-
Again, Nehemiah led by example. He lent money and grain without demanding collateral nor interest. And he presents himself as an example.

Please let us stop this usury- The RV suggests Nehemiah himself had been guilty: "And I likewise, my brethren and my servants do lend them money and corn on usury". This would explain why he pauses to look into his own heart before addressing the issue (:7). Hence the force of "let us stop". But in this case we would rather expect a note in :11 to the effect that Nehemiah personally put this right.

Nehemiah 5:11 Please restore to them, even this day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the grain, the new wine, and the oil, that you are charging them-
The blessings of the restored Kingdom (new wine, grain, oil etc.) were being abused. Hag. 1:8 describes the need to go up onto the mountain and build the temple- as if to recall attention to Ezekiel’s opening vision of the temple as built on a mountain. But Judah would not, and therefore the Kingdom blessings of corn, new wine and oil, as well as fruitfulness on the mountains, were all withheld (Hag. 1:11). These are all aspects of the promised Messianic Kingdom (e.g. Joel 2:19,24; Jer. 31:12). The very same sequence of words occurs in Neh. 5:11; 10:37,39; 13:5- instead of giving those things to Yahweh, the Jews stole them from each other, and jibbed about paying them as tithes to Him. And thereby they precluded the possibility of Yahweh richly blessing all His people with those very same things in a Kingdom setting. As with all those who are rejected from God’s purpose, they effectively rejected themselves from His Kingdom by their behaviour, rather than Him rejecting them Himself. 


Nehemiah 5:12 Then they said, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do, even as you say. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them-
The implication could be that the priests were themselves guilty of this abuse. The corruption of the priesthood at the restoration is a major concern of Malachi and Haggai. The possibilities of the restored Kingdom as spoken of in the restoration prophets, especially Ez. 40-48, were precluded by this corruption of the priesthood. And this was the very reason why they went into captivity in the first place.

That they would do according to this promise- There is no specific word for "promise" in Biblical Hebrew. A man's word was to be his promise, just as God's word is so certain of fulfilment that it is His promise. The Lord reflected this in His teaching that we need not embellish our words with oaths. For we should be absolutely truthful.

Nehemiah 5:13 Also I shook out my lap and said, So may God shake out every man from His house and from His work that doesn’t perform this promise; even thus may he be shaken out, and emptied. All the assembly said, Amen, and praised Yahweh. The people did according to this promise-
The threat to remove such people from "His work" rather confirms my suggestion on Neh. 4:22 that the "servants" involved in the building work were in fact Jews who had been wrongfully made servants by the leadership abusing them. Such workers, significant as they were in the rebuilding work, would not be accepted in the work. For we cannot abuse others in the name of doing God's work. For "promise" see on :12.


Nehemiah 5:14 Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even to the thirty second year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brothers did not eat the bread of the governor-
This is inserted later, as Nehemiah looks back upon his 12 years in Jerusalem. This was presumably a second visit, after the exploratory visit of Neh. 1. All that time, Nehemiah and his immediate family didn't eat the food which he as the governor could have demanded as tax from the local population. He realized they were starving and didn't demand this from them.

Nehemiah 5:15 But the former governors who were before me were supported by the people, and took bread and wine from them, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants ruled over the people: but I didn’t do so, because of the fear of God-
Is. 58:1,2 is a criticism of Judah in exile and also of those who did return to the land- they sought God daily, and yet abused their brethren (Is. 58:6), just as recorded in Neh. 5:15. If they had ceased from their sins, "Then shall your light break forth as the morning", if they had fed the hungry etc., then would've been fulfilled the Messianic Kingdom prophecies of the light of Zion rising above the Gentiles etc. (Is. 58:10,12 cp. Is. 60:1). "The joy of harvest" could have happened at the restoration from Babylon (Ps. 126:5,6). But again it didn't, and we read of the miserable restored exiles suffering famine and poor harvests because they refused to repent and because their brethren abused them.

LXX "But as for the former acts of extortion wherein those who were before me oppressed them, they even took of them their last money, forty didrachms for bread and wine; and the very outcasts of them exercised authority over the people: but I did not so, because of the fear of God". Nehemiah was the governor, and as such could have demanded tax and food from the local population. But he didn't, because he saw their poverty.


Neh. 5:8 records Nehemiah’s comment that the wealthy Jews were victimizing the poorer Jews just as Babylon once had, and now Nehemiah needed to redeem them from slavery just as God had redeemed His people from servitude in Babylon. God’s deliverance of His people simply hadn’t been responded to. Tragically, it would appear from Neh. 5:15 that Zerubbabel, the potential Messiah of Israel, had acted in this oppressive way too.

Nehemiah 5:16 Yes, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land; and all my servants were gathered there to the work-
LXX "Also in the work of the wall I treated them not with rigor, I bought not land: and all that were gathered together came thither to the work". The idea is that the impoverished people were willing to sell their land for food, they were so desperate because of the famine. But Nehemiah didn't buy their land from them. They were not receiving the abundant harvests promised as being part of the restored Kingdom of God; for they had precluded the fulfilment of those prophecies. Instead, Nehemiah put his own servants to the work, presumably implying he himself paid them. The desperation of selling their land for food recalls the situation in Egypt during the famine at the time of Joseph. The people of God had acted like Egyptians and so were being treated like them.

Nehemiah 5:17 Moreover there were at my table, of the Jews and the rulers, one hundred and fifty men, besides those who came to us from among the nations that were around us-
Instead of demanding tax and support from the local population as he could have done, as the governor, Nehemiah did the opposite- he gave food to others, including to Gentiles. To eat at the same table was a sign of religious fellowship, and in this there was a small fulfilment of the prophetic vision of a new, multiethnic people of God in the restored Kingdom. But Nehemiah didn't go far enough in this. 

Perhaps Nehemiah was some kind of potential Messiah- for the surrounding Gentiles ‘came up’ to him and shared in the luxurious temple meals (a common Kingdom prophecy- the same Hebrew words are used for the Gentiles ‘coming up’ to the temple in Is. 60:5,11; Jer. 16:19; Hag. 2:7; Zech. 8:22). Those meals could have been the Messianic banquets.  Is. 56:6,7 had promised that if the Gentiles accepted the God of Israel and kept the Sabbath, "even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples". But the Sabbath was polluted, as Nehemiah recorded, and the Gentiles were mixed with and affirmed in their idolatry, rather than converted and brought to worship in the temple. And so the revelation of Yahweh’s salvation and righteousness in the Kingdom was deferred. The way Jews and Gentiles ate together at Nehemiah’s table pointed forward to what was almost possible. But in the end, they mixed with and adopted the ways of the Gentiles, and their leadership arrogantly developed a theology that said that dirty Gentiles could never be saved; for salvation, they reasoned, was only for Jews. The idea that the temple was to be a place for Gentiles also to worship not only didn't come true; but the very opposite happened. The Jews became intolerant of the Gentiles, nationalistically proud, and rejected the Samaritans from worshipping in the rebuilt Jewish temple. And therefore the Samaritans had to build their own temple on Mount Gerazim. Historical records suggest that the Samaritans dearly wished to worship in the Jews' temple, and only built their own one because the Jews disallowed them. See M. Gaster, The Samaritans (Oxford: O.U.P., 1925) p. 28 ff.


Nehemiah 5:18 Now that which was prepared for one day was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine. Yet for all this I didn’t demand the bread due to the governor, because the bondage was heavy on this people-
LXX has "yet with these I required not the bread of extortion". He was generous; and didn't demand of others what he legitimately could have done, realizing their impoverished situation. The famine, however, was a punishment for their lack of spirituality. But still Nehemiah didn't demand from them what he could have done. And we too need to be sensitive to the situation of others, even if it is partially their own fault.

Nehemiah 5:19 Remember me, my God, for good, for all that I have done for this people
- Again we sense a works based attitude in Nehemiah, considering that good works as it were cancel out sins, and the judgment will be a summary account of the arithmetic. This isn't what judgment day will be about; salvation was to be by grace, as the restoration prophets had taught. And yet for all his faith and good works, it seems Nehemiah failed to appreciate this. And perhaps this was why he failed to be the Messianic ruler figure which he might have been.