Contact: David Parham 940-613-3494

Website: Internet Bible Studies

Nehemiah Menu

















Ball23A0.gif (3556 bytes)


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 14-19.

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 dearth.

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 words.

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 our enemies?

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 usury.

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.

      Exo 22:25 If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.

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 reproof.

      I rarely include two comments on the same verse, but I thought J. Vernon McGee made a great point on the anger issue also.

      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 by uninterested.

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 this promise.

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 the work.

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 people.

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 Persian governors.

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!


Internet Bible Studies are prepared and distributed free of charge. The lessons may not be sold without consent. If you have questions or wish to discuss the lessons, or possibly need help in finding Jesus Christ as your Personal Lord and Savior, contact David Parham at 940-613-3494.

Prov 4:18 But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.

e-mail at:


Practice Random Acts of Kindness. Each act spreads, and many will be blessed.