Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.CHAPTER 5
1. The complaint of oppression (Nehemiah 5:1-5)
2. Nehemiah’s rebuke and demands (Nehemiah 5:6-13)
3. Nehemiah’s generosity (Nehemiah 5:14-19)
Nehemiah 5:1-5. The internal conditions among the toiling people were serious. The work which was done in rebuilding the walls was a labor of love; no wages were paid. As the people were thus engaged their other occupations, including agriculture, had to be neglected. As a result the poor had been driven to mortgage their lands, vineyards and houses in order to buy corn, because of the dearth. The rich had taken advantage of this and had enslaved their sons and daughters, and there seemed to be no prospect of redeeming them. The rich Jews by usury oppressed the poor, who had lost their lands and houses. There was therefore a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. It was a sad condition; the enemy was doing his work in the camp (Acts 6:1). Oppression of the poor is especially displeasing to God and His Spirit condemns and warns against it (Amos 2:6; Amos 5:12; Amos 8:4-8; Proverbs 14:31; Proverbs 22:16; Proverbs 28:3; and James 5:1-6).
Nehemiah 5:6-13. Righteous Nehemiah, when he heard all this, was moved with indignation and righteous anger took hold on him. Nehemiah, the Governor, writes, “I consulted with myself.” No doubt much prayer was connected with this self consultation. He then rebuked the nobles and rulers for having done what the law of God forbids and condemns (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-37; Deuteronomy 23:19; Psalm 15:5) to exact usury. A great assembly was called in which their conduct was denounced unsparingly. “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?” When Nehemiah came to Jerusalem he had freed those Jews who were in bondage to the heathen on account of some debt, and these rich usurers were selling their own brethren. They had no answer to give but were convicted of their evil deeds. He then demanded full restitution, “Restore, I pray you, to them even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive yards, 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 appeal was effectual. They were at once ready to restore, to require nothing more of them, and to do all Nehemiah had demanded. It was a great victory. Had the oppression continued and the internal strife, it would have resulted in disaster. How often these internal strifes and acts of injustice have brought reproach upon the people of God, and dishonor to that worthy Name! (Galatians 5:15; James 3:16.) They had to give an oath to do this, and solemnly Nehemiah shook his lap and said, “So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labor, who performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out and emptied.” An “Amen” from the great congregation followed, and they acted upon the promise.
Nehemiah 5:14-19. The closing verses show the generosity and self-denying character of this man of God. It reminds us somewhat of the apostle Paul and his testimony concerning himself (1Corinthians 4:12; 2Corinthians 12:15-16; 1Thessalonians 2:9-10). In all he had done as a servant of God he had the comfort that God knew and would be his Rewarder. “Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.” He will have his reward, and so will all His people, who serve in behalf of God’s people as Nehemiah did.