INTRODUCTION TO NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 5
protest—protest—protest—This great protest by people including women was against fellow Jews because of high interest rates, foreclosures, lack of food—they had sold everything including their daughters. Nehemiah was angry as a shopper arriving too late for the bargains. He called them on the carpet and put the fear of God in them. He made them promise to stop their gouging and give back their homes and farms—details are in the exposition.
EXPOSITION TO NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 5
Nehemiah Helps the Poor
1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers.
The protest grew larger as entire families faced food shortage Nehemiah faced a daunting task of dealing with the real issue and at the same time completing the building of the wall. Nehemiah knew the Scriptures so there is little doubt that he read to them
Lev. 25:35; “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.”
De. 15:7 “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”
2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
The litany of protest continues—they said that they had large families and the grain had been harvested and stored in the storehouse but they didn’t have any. Let us get grain probably means let us get grain from the storehouse.
3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
The next complaint is that they are borrowing money and putting up their homes and vineyards as collateral just to get enough food to live.
4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards.
Others are complaining that they are borrowing money to pay their taxes on mortgaged homes. The leaders were as un-sympathizing as a synthetic breakfast drink.
5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
All the wealth was consecrated into the hands of a few rich and powerful leaders who were taking advantage of the situation. These people were selling their children in order to pay the debt and losing their property to these greedy money grabbing leaders. Nehemiah could have profited from this situation. Instead, he sets and example of self-sacrifice that made a profound impression upon the wealthy land grabbers and remedied the situation.
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.
Nehemiah was as angry as Moses was after the 10th plague in Egypt.
Ex.11:8 “All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.”
Nehemiah was as angry as a seething volcano.
7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them
After thinking the situation over Nehemiah decided to face the nobles and leaders head on. He lit into them like a lynch mob on the loose. Nehemiah takes on the power brokers by accusing them of violating the covenant. He laid the scripture on them and they withered like cut grass before the scorching rays of the sun.
Ex. 22:25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.”
Lev. 25:35-37 “’If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.”
8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
The tone of Nehemiah’s rebuke was stronger than a layers threatening letter. He was like a hothouse in a heat wave. These men were as guilty as a dozen dens of iniquity.
Heb. 4:12-13 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
The word of God is stronger than a thousand arguments. These leaders were stunned—what could they say?
9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?
Nehemiah continued with his filibuster—chiding them for not walking in the fear of God—and in addition to this the nations around them would reproach them for their greed.
10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop!
He tells them that he and his brothers (Nehemiah was from a well-—to-—do—family) and he was lending money without interest. He uses himself as an example—he was a class act. His actions were as exemplary as the courage of a Medal of Honor winner.
11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.”
Nehemiah calls on them to compensate the interest they had charged and transfer back the deed to their farms—to return their new wine—give back their oil—relinquish all claims to their houses.
12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised.
They were as guilty as a man with his hand in the collection basket. They all with one voice agree to give-it-all-back. However, in order to keep someone weaseling out of the commitment Nehemiah requires them to take an oath. He takes a sworn statement that they will carry out their agreement. They had been as hard core as a drop-out with a drug habit.
13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
In a symbolic gesture he shakes out his garment and tells them that if they renege on the oath that God will shake them out and empty them.
The meeting came to a close with praise-a-thon. As a post script to this meeting “the people lived up to their bargain.”
14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor.
Nehemiah is appointed by Artaxerxes to be their governor—he will serve for the next 12 years. Nehemiah remembers their greed and excesses and sets a sterling example before the people by not taking any food allowance.
15 But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels [a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.
Nehemiah is a class act in world history of great leaders. He brought a new—found hope he was a dynamo of great proportions.
16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we [b] did not acquire any land.
He was not afraid of work—this man of God was as large as life and twice the size. He was like a kiss from a guardian Angel.
17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations.
This man feeds 150 people each day—he was a man who could afford the expenses—thousands of years have passed and we are still talking about the example of his unselfishness and generosity. God left this instance on record as a prototype for all ages.
18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
He was not serving them bread and water—his table of meat and vegetables and wine. Officials came from surrounding nations and Nehemiah entertained the guest’s at his table. He could have taken a percentage of the food from the citizens but he declined because they were having it hard enough as it was.
19 Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people
Remember me, O my God…This statement is found again in 13:14, 22, 31. No doubt Nehemiah has the championship belt— he holds the prize ticket to the lottery—he is a blue ribbon candidate—a super-bowl champion—a man who has won the applause of angels.