And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.
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.Are many - A slight emendation brings this verse into exact parallelism with the next, and gives the sense - "We have pledged our sons and our daughters, that we might get corn, and eat and live." Compare Nehemiah 5:5.
Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.
There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards.The king's tribute - The tax payable to the Persian monarch (compare Ezra 4:13; Esther 10:1). In ancient times, heavy taxation was often productive of debt and distress.
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 power of a father to sell his daughter into slavery is expressly mentioned in the Law Exodus 21:7. The power to sell a son appears from this passage. In either case, the sale held good for only six years, or until the next year of jubilee (see the marginal references).
And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.
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.Ye exact usury - The phrase is unique to Nehemiah, and is best explained by the context, which shows the practice of the rich Jews at the time to have been not so much to lend on usury as to lend on mortgage and pledge.
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.Nehemiah contrasts his own example with that of the rich Jews. He had spent money in redeeming some countrymen in servitude among the pagan; they were causing others to be sold into slavery among the Jews.
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?
I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury.I ... might exact - Nehemiah had lent, but not upon pledge.
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.The hundredth part of the money ... - i. e. the interest. It is conjectured that the 100th part was payable monthly, or, in other words, that interest was taken at the rate of twelve per cent. The Law altogether disallowed the taking of interest from Israelites (see Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36, etc.).
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.
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.I shook my lap - Compare the marginal references. By "lap" is meant a fold in the bosom of the dress, capable of serving as a pocket. Compare Isaiah 49:22 margin.
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.Have not eaten the bread of the governor - i. e. "have not, like other Persian governors, lived at the expense of the people under my government." See Ezra 4:14 note.
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.Forty shekels of silver - A daily sum from the entire province. For such a table as that kept by Nehemiah Neh 5:18, this would be a very moderate payment.
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 ... land - i. e. - "I took my share in the work of the wall, as general superintendent. I did not take advantage of the general poverty to buy poor men's plots of ground."
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.
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.Compare the far grander provision for Solomon's table (see the marginal reference).
Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.