Nehemiah 5 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Nehemiah 5)

Verse 2

[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.

Many — Which is in itself a blessing, but to us is turned into a curse.

Take up — We are forced to take up corn, upon unreasonable terms.

Verse 3

[3] Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.

The dearth — Which might happen, both from the multitude of the people in and near Jerusalem, from their work, which wholly took them up, and kept them from taking care of their families, and from the expectation of their enemies invasion, which hindered them from going abroad to fetch provision, and the people round about from bringing it to them.

Verse 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.

Our flesh — We are of the same nature, and religion with them, though they treat us as if we were beasts or Heathens.

Bondage — We are compelled to sell them for our subsistence.

Daughters — Which was an evidence of their great necessity, because their daughters were more tender, and weak, and unfit for bond-service, and more exposed to injuries than their sons.

Redeem — Which we are allowed to do, Exodus 21:7-11, but have not wherewith to do it.

Verse 7

[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.

Exact — Which was against the plain and positive law of God, Deuteronomy 23:19,20, especially in this time of publick calamity.

I set — I called a publick congregation, both of the rulers and people, the greatest part whereof were free from this guilt, and therefore more impartial judges of the matter, and represented it to them, that the offenders might be convinced, and reformed; if not for fear of God, or love of their brethren, yet at least for the publick shame and the cries of the poor. Ezra, and Nehemiah were both good and useful men; but of how different tempers? Ezra was a man of a mild tender spirit, and when told of the sin of the rulers, rent his clothes and wept: Nehemiah forced them to reform, being of a warm and eager spirit. So God's work may be done, and yet different methods taken in doing it; which is a good reason why we should not arraign the management of others, nor make our own standard.

Verse 8

[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.

We — I, and my brethren, and predecessors, have used our utmost interest and power, both with the kings of Persia, that our brethren might be redeemed from bondage, and with particular persons in Babylon, and Persia, whose bond-slaves the Jews were, and who would not part with them without a price.

Be sold — Do you expect that we should pay you a price for them, as we did to the Babylonians?. Or, must we use as much importunity to solicit you for their redemption, as we did to their enemies?

Verse 9

[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?

Reproach — Who are round about you, and observe all your actions, and will reproach both you for such barbarous usage of your brethren, and religion for your sakes.

Verse 10

[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.

Brethren — In office; these who are employed with me in the government of this people.

Servants — In my name, and for my use.

Exact — As a just recompense for our pains and care for the publick good, to which we wholly devote ourselves, even to the neglect of all our private concerns. But I freely remit my own right, and therefore you also ought to do so, seeing I lay no burden upon you, but what I am willing to bear a part of upon my own shoulders.

Verse 11

[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.

Also — Also require not: which is to be supplied out of the next verse, where it is expressed in their grant of this desire.

Hundredth part — Which they required every month for the use of their monies or goods, according to the custom then used.

Verse 12

[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.

Require — For the hundredth part.

Priests — As witnesses; that the oath being taken before the priests, who acted in God's name, the oath might make the more deep and durable impression upon their consciences.

Verse 13

[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.

My lap — The extreme parts of my garment, which I first folded together, and then shook it and scattered it asunder. This was a form of swearing then in use.

Verse 14

[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.

Twelve years — Not that he continued so long together at Jerusalem, but he so long governed Jerusalem by himself when present, and in his absence, by a deputy.

The bread — That allowance which by the laws of God and nations, and of the king of Persia, the governors might require.

Verse 15

[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 — Not Ezra, who was no governor, nor Zerubbabel, but others between him and Nehemiah, whom he forbears to name.

Beside, … — Which they required of the people every day to defray their other expenses.

Their servants — Ruled them with rigor and cruelty; which fault of the servants is charged upon their masters, because they did not restrain them. He had an awe of God's mercy, and a fear of offending him. Those that truly fear God, will not dare to do any thing cruel or unjust. And this is not only a powerful, but an acceptable principle both of justice and charity.

Verse 16

[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.

I continued — Overseeing, directing, and encouraging the workmen, which was my whole business; and this at my own cost.

Bought — Of our poor brethren, whose necessities gave abundant opportunity of enriching myself with good bargains.

Verse 17

[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.

Rulers — Not only Jews of the inferior sort, for whom meaner provisions might suffice, but also their rulers, for whom better provision was fit; who resorted to him upon all occasions, to give him notice of the enemies designs; or to receive his orders.

Verse 18

[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.

Required not — But bore it out of my own estate: which was very considerable, his office in the Persian court being a place of great profit.

Verse 19

[19] Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

According — As I have done thy people good for thy sake, so do me good for thine own sake; for thou art pleased, and hast promised graciously to reward us according to our works, and to mete to men the same measure which they meet to others.