Nehemiah Chapter 5
Introduction: In chapter 4, we studied about how Nehemiah
kept the people focused on building the wall. They set up guards to
watch in case of attack, and the people worked sometimes with a
trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. They were determined to
build the wall, no matter the opposition.
In chapter 5, as the work of the reconstruction continues,
it is a hard time economically and the people have to borrow to
survive. Some unscrupulous Jews were charging exorbitant interest
rates of their brethren who needed funds to buy food. Finally,
Nehemiah set an example of living from his own resources, not
requiring the customary support tax of the people he governed. The
subdivisions of the chapter are: (1) the Jews complain of their
troubles in verses 1-5; (2) Nehemiah addresses their grievances in
verses 6-13; and, (3) Nehemiah’s example of unselfishness in verses
I. The Jews Complain of their Troubles
Neh 5:1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their
wives against their brethren the Jews.
Neh 5:2 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.
Neh 5:3 Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our
lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the
Neh 5:4 There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the
king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards.
Neh 5:5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our
children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons
and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are
brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem
them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.
The threat of the enemy coupled with the backbreaking labor were
not enough, new trouble erupted from within. Greed, selfishness, and
a lack of concern for neighbors going through hard times added to
problems which already were great.
Details are not specified, but clearly the inhabitants of the
land were going through a hard time. It may have been from crop
failure caused by famine. It may have been the war-time conditions
had impressed the available labor force into the defense and
building of the wall rather than tending to crops. In any event, a
crisis had developed.
The poorer of the land could not feed their families. Some had
gone so far as to mortgage their homes to buy food from Jewish
merchants who evidently were charging exorbitant prices. Others had
to choose between using money from mortgaging their homes to either
buy groceries or pay the required tax to the Persian government.
Some had been forced to sell their children as servants to obtain
resources to buy food to live.
It is clear more prosperous Jews were taking advantage of their
less fortunate brethren.
II. Nehemiah Addresses their Grievances
Neh 5:6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these
Neh 5:7 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.
Neh 5:8 And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed
our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye
even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held
they their peace, and found nothing to answer.
Neh 5:9 Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to
walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen
Neh 5:10 I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might
exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this
Upon hearing all that had transpired, Nehemiah was angered. He
rebuked the nobles and rulers who evidently were the guilty parties.
They were charging exorbitant interest of their own Jewish brethren
which was a violation of Jewish law.
In Exodus 22:25, Jews were forbidden from charging usury to their
own brethren who were in distress.
The business of paying interest per se is not unscriptural. What
is at hand is exorbitant interest charged to brethren who are
going through hard times. Nehemiah noted how that he himself as
governor could do the same, but refused to do so. He therefore urged
them to stop the practice.
Matthew Henry pointed out how anger can sometimes be a good thing
when we use it for correction and good.
It should seem the foregoing complaint was made to
Nehemiah at the time when he had his head and hands as full
as possible of the public business about building the wall;
yet, perceiving it to be just, he did not reject it because
it was unseasonable; he did not chide the petitioners, nor
fall into a passion with them, for disturbing him when they
saw how much he had to do, a fault which men of business are
too often guilty of; nor did he so much as adjourn the
hearing of the cause or proceedings upon it till he had more
leisure. The case called for speedy interposition, and
therefore he applied himself immediately to the
consideration of it, knowing that, let him build Jerusalem’s
walls ever so high, so thick, so strong, the city could not
be safe while such abuses as these were tolerated. Now
observe, What method he took for the redress of this
grievance which was so threatening to the public.
I. He was very angry (v. 6); he expressed a great
displeasure at it, as a very bad thing. Note, It well
becomes rulers to show themselves angry at sin, that by the
anger itself they may be excited to their duty, and by the
expressions of it others may be deterred from evil.
II. He consulted with himself, v. 7. By this it
appears that his anger was not excessive, but kept within
bounds, that, though his spirit was provoked, he did not say
or do any thing unadvisedly. Before he rebuked the nobles,
he consulted with himself what to say, and when, and how.
Note, Reproofs must be given with great consideration, that
what is well meant may not come short of its end for want of
being well managed. It is the reproof of instruction
that giveth life. Even wise men lose the benefit of
their wisdom sometimes for want of consulting with
themselves and taking time to deliberate.
III. He rebuked the nobles and rulers, who were
the monied men, and whose power perhaps made them the more
bold to oppress. Note, Even nobles and rulers, if they do
that which is evil, ought to be told of it by proper
persons. Let no man imagine that his dignity sets him above
I rarely include two comments on the same verse, but I
thought J. Vernon McGee made a great point on the anger
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 Ephesians 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
Neh 5:11 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.
Neh 5:12 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
Neh 5:13 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.
In addition, Nehemiah urged those who had taken collateral for
mortgages of lands, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to return
them and release any mortgages they held. Notice in verse 11 the
mention of “the hundredth part of the money.”
They were charging interest in what was one percent per month on
the loans and mortgages they had issued. Nehemiah ordered this
practice stopped and restoration made.
Nehemiah made an oath before the priests of the Temple enjoining
God to shake out even as he had shaken out his robe, any man who
would not fulfill his injunction to release his brethren, the Jews,
from their debts. The entire congregation of Jews of Jerusalem was
assembled before the Temple. Upon hearing Nehemiah’s injunction and
oath of the matter, they said, “Amen, and praised the LORD.” The
problem from within was thus resolved.
III. Nehemiah’s Example of Unselfishness
Neh 5:14 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.
Though the book of Nehemiah is basically chronological, what is
implied here is that Nehemiah, after the completion of the wall,
returned to Artaxerxes with a report of his mission.
At that time, he evidently was sent back again as governor. His
rule was for twelve years. The final verses of chapter five
apparently are written as an epilogue after the fact.
Neh 5:15 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.
Neh 5:16 Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither
bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto
Neh 5:17 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.
Neh 5:18 Now that which was prepared for me daily 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 required not I the
bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this
The point being made is that Nehemiah, as the duly appointed
representative of the king of Persia and then governor of Judah in
deference to the situation, did not receive the tribute customary of
Typically, the people would be taxed a certain rate to support
their governor. Nehemiah did not, but supported himself largely
through his own resources. His focus was upon doing the work of God.
He supported over one-hundred-and-fifty people at his own expense.
Verse 18 indicates he did receive some remuneration for his
expenses amounting to a butchered ox each day, six choice sheep,
various poultry, and wine every ten days. He pointed out that this
was nothing compared to what other governors of the kingdom
extracted from their people and the fact that what was received was
a modest means. It may be that he did so knowing scoffers would
point out the remuneration slanderously
He had a genuine heart for his people and the labor which was
heavy upon them. The word translated as bondage ( hdbe abodah)
has the sense of labor or service.
Because he understood their service in the mission of rebuilding
the city and its walls, he therefore did not receive of them what he
could as a governor.
Neh 5:19 Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I
have done for this people.
Though he did not receive the earthly reward others of his rank
did, Nehemiah therefore besought the Lord to remember how he had
served Him and helped His people. Nehemiah spoke and acted as one
that knew himself to be a sinner.
Nehemiah prays not as if he had merited any favour from God. His
statement reflects rather that he depended upon God.. He did claim a
reward as of debt but rather in the manner that the Lord rewards a
cup of cold water given to a disciple for his sake.
The fear and love of God in the heart, and true love of the
brethren, will result in genuine good works. These are proper
evidences of justifying faith; and our reconciled God will look upon
persons of this character for good, according to all they have done
for his people. God will honor those who honor Him and His work!
J. Vernon McGee pointed out that Nehemiah was great man.
Nehemiah did not demand the governor’s food allowance,
because he had a heart for his hardworking brethren.
Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all
that I have done for this people [Neh. 5:19].
He was a wonderful man. His concern was for his people,
but they would forget him. It is a sad thing, but many a
famous person has learned that the world forgets. People
have short memories. But Nehemiah asked God to remember him.
He said, “Think upon me, my God.” How wonderful to know
that, while God does not remember our sins, He will always
remember our good works. And He even records them in a book!
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Prov 4:18 But the path of the just is as the shining light, that
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