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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Nehemiah 5

 

 

Verses 1-19

Nehemiah 5:3. Because of the dearth, specially inflicted by reason of the people’s wickedness, after their return from Babylon. See more on Haggai 1:9.

Nehemiah 5:5. We bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants. The law allowed parents to sell their children for six years. Exodus 21:7. 2 Kings 4:2. And surely nothing but hunger would compel them to do this.

Nehemiah 5:11. Also the hundredth part of the money. This text clears up a difficulty in explaining the term usury: it is unlawful interest. The poor who borrowed money paid a hundredth part every month, which was twelve per cent, a most unreasonable exaction. The Romans often exacted the same usury. Complaints have also been made, that our English gentlemen in India have borrowed money of the Nabobs at ten, twelve, and eighteen per cent. This they made no scruple to do, because they never intended to pay either the interest or the principal. Life of Burke.

Nehemiah 5:18. One ox, six choice sheep, and fowls; flesh sufficient for four hundred persons.—Once in ten days, store of all sorts of wine. The decades among the heathen were feast days.

REFLECTIONS.

While Nehemiah was engaged in the great and impetuous work of raising the walls of Jerusalem, his ears were assailed by a great cry from the poor: and it was happy for them that they had a governor in the spirit of Moses and of Samuel to redress their wrongs. There had been a short harvest, and general failure of the crops; and the poor, to pay the king’s taxes, and buy bread for their families, had been compelled to mortgage their lands; and mortgage was with them a surrender of possession. But what is worse, their own rulers, taking advantage of circumstances, had advanced them money at an interest which they could never pay. This calamity would doubtless be augmented by the monopoly and speculation of the dealers in corn. Trade has its vices, and vices which are difficult for the legislature to punish, for the offenders most readily make virtues of all their crimes. These men place themselves at the eye of commerce, and whatever is likely to be scarce and dear they buy up, and augment the affliction of the public by monopoly. Thus they enrich themselves, and literally feast in famine, by withholding bread from the poor. They realize estates, build villas, and roll in carriages; but at the same time they encumber themselves with the curse of the poor, and lay up for themselves treasures of wrath against the day of wrath, when God shall advocate the cause of the oppressed.

In redressing these wrongs the character of Nehemiah rises parallel to that of Samuel. Pity and indignation moved his breast. He convened the elders, many of whom were the offenders, and moved their hearts by painting the hopeless situation of their insolvent brethren; and joining a high personal example to the weight of words, he prevailed upon them, by arguments rather than by force, to restore the lands, and forgive the interest, as the law required in cases of distress, till better times should enable them to pay the principal. And lest the good impressions of his admirable speech should vanish away, he took an oath of the priests to carry it into effect, and shook his raiment, as a predictive malediction, that God would so shake off the miser who should dare to transgress the law. How grand and noble is the character of this venerable and well-instructed man! His virtues far eclipsed his dignity. How happy for the poor, that they found in him an advocate and a friend. But how much more happy for the sinner, that he finds a greater advocate in Christ: otherwise his soul would be insolvent and oppressed for ever.

While the rich remitted the lands, Nehemiah remitted the allowance of the governor for the maintenance of his household. To maintain the sovereign with a dignity suited to the empire, was the custom of Israel from the days of Solomon, 1 Kings 4:7; and it has, for ought appears, been the custom of all nations. Zerubbabel and Ezra received the allowance: but both these governors did much towards the redemption of the captive Jews. Nehemiah kept a royal table, and wholly at his own expense. So the Lord sent his people a governor, wise and rich and good. So also Christ serves his people solely for the delight he has in doing good, and thereby teaches us that we ought to do good to the poor, and to the public, on the most disinterested principles, according as we are called and have opportunity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Nehemiah 5:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/nehemiah-5.html. 1835.

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