Nehemiah 5
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics


1. Numbers tend to poverty. "We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live" (ver. 2).

2. Borrowing tends to poverty. "We have mortgaged our lands" (ver. 3).

3. Taxation tends to poverty. "We have borrowed money for the king's tribute" (ver. 4).

4. Poverty may sometimes have cause for protest against injustice.

5. Poverty is experienced by the people of God who are engaged in holy toils.


1. The rich must not take undue advantage of calamitous circumstances. "Because of the dearth" (ver. 3).

2. The rich must not be inconsiderate. "Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren" (ver. 5).

3. The rich must not be cruel. "Our daughters are brought unto bondage" (ver. 5).

4. The rich must not violate the law of God. "Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God?" (ver. 9).


1. Angry. "And I was very angry."

2. Reflective. "I consulted with myself" (ver. 7).

3. Impartial. "The nobles and the rulers."

4. Sustained. "And I set a great assembly against them."

5. Argumentative (ver. 8).

6. Unanswerable. "They held their peace, and found nothing to answer."

7. Successful. "We will restore." - E.

In the very midst of apparent success, when the Church is building its walls and seems likely to be triumphant and secure, there may be an aggravated evil springing up and spreading to its very heart. Such was the case at Jerusalem when the walls of its defence were rising. When priests and people were repairing the defences, there was circulating a deadly mischief within the whole body. We look at -


1. An internal evil, always more dangerous and deadly than an external one. Better a hundred carping or even conspiring Samaritans than ten Jews inside the walls carrying a curse within their breast. Better an army of Canaanites in battle array than one Achan in the camp.

2. The evil of discord. One Jew was complaining of another, one class of another class; seeds of dissension and strife were springing up and bearing bitter fruit. Internal evil in a Christian society may take many forms - error, sloth, pride, etc. - but the worst of all is discord. The Master is never so grieved as when his first commandment is broken, and when they who are specially bound to love one another are indulging' in "bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, malice."

3. Discord springing from oppression. The richer Jews had made use of a time of want, arising from dearth (ver. 3), to compel the necessitous to (a) mortgage their children (ver. 2) and (b) their ancestral property (ver. 3) in order to save themselves and their families from starvation (vers. 2, 3), as well as to pay the tribute to the king of Persia (ver. 4). What naturally afflicted them the most was, that through the cupidity and hardness of the wealthy they had been obliged to sell into servitude their own sons and daughters; said they, in their forcible lament, "Yet our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren: our children as their children" (ver. 5). Nor were they able to redeem them (ver. 5). There is great bitterness of soul when one member of a Christian Church is heedless of the natural human affections of any of his brethren: guilt can hardly go further.


1. Misery (ver. 1). "There was a great cry of the people and of their wives" (ver. 1). When one part of a society is sinning and the other part "sinned against," when the Church is divided into wrong-doers and wrong-sufferers, misery sinks to its depth. There is no gladness of heart so great as when harmony and love prevail; so, there is no wretchedness of soul so complete as when hatred and injury abound.

2. Reproach (ver. 9). "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?"' It is our primary duty, and should be our most earnest desire, so to let our light shine that men may glorify Christ, to "adorn the doctrine" of our Saviour; when we so act as to cause the enemy of God to blaspheme, we are "verily guilty before God."

III. THE WAY OF ESCAPE AND RECOVERY (vers. 6-13). Happily, in this instance, it did not go too far, because it was not allowed to do its work too long. There was -

1. An appreciation of its enormity (ver. 6). Nehemiah was "very angry when he heard their cry and these words." Angry, but certainly not sinful (Ephesians 4:26); angry with a holy wrath, roused by a profound sense of the magnitude of the guilt and the danger.

2. Self-control (ver. 7). He "consulted with himself." Instead of acting with injurious haste, he waited till he had well considered the best course to take. When wrath is roused, it is well indeed to "consult with ourselves" before we speak to others or act on others.

3. Concerted action (ver. 7). "I set a great assembly against them." Nehemiah directed against the evil the full force of public sentiment - the national conscience.

4. Boldness on the part of the leader. There is a time for decided speech and action. "I rebuked the nobles" (ver. 7). "We... have redeemed our brethren; ... and will ye even sell your brethren?" (ver. 8). "Restore their lands, their vineyards," etc. (ver. 11). "I shook my lap," etc. (ver. 13). In times of great defection or oppression, when things are going ill with the cause of God, it is not honied words, but the language of reproach that is wanted. "Reprove, rebuke, exhort," though "with all long-suffering" (2 Timothy 4:2).

5. Repentance on the part of the erring. This includes -

(a) Conviction of sinfulness - having "nothing to answer" (ver. 8), under a sense of guilt.

(b) Acknowledgment and promise of reform (ver. 12). This may well be accompanied by the most solemn vows uttered before God (ver. 12).

(c) Amendment (ver. 13). And the people did according to this promise.

(1) Conviction,

(2) confession,

(3) the solemn vow,

(4) the homeward step - this is to walk in the way of recovery. - C.

A great practical reformation carried out by a religious ruler on the highest religious principles, and by the strength of religious character. No more difficult task than to deal successfully with such circumstances in which men's selfish interests were involved, and the monied classes would be against reform. Nehemiah, by his wisdom, boldness, and simple-minded appeal to God, achieved a marvellous success. Notice -

I. The direct appeal to great MORAL AND RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES. We cannot do better than bring men face to face with conscience.

1. Humanity.

2. Patriotism. They are brethren.

3. Fear of God, who is no respecter of persons.

The Jews all professed to be fearers of God. All civil law and common life were based upon the Divine law. That which was manifestly displeasing to God could not be legally right. We acknowledge the same principle. All human law rests on the word of God. We cannot directly appeal to the letter of Scripture in dealing with ungodly men, but we may use it to make the law of nature clearer.

4. The universal conscience. "I set a great assembly against them." No wrong-doers can withstand the appeal to the common sentiment of right. Educate the moral sentiment of society. and it becomes a protection against the self-will of individuals. Vox populi should be vox Dei. In a truly progressive society it will be more and more so. The great leaders of thought and action should not be afraid of making their appeal to great assemblies, in Nehemiah's spirit.

II. AN EXAMPLE OF WISE METHOD. Much depends on method in every successful reformation.

1. The means used were moral. Remonstrance, persuasion, appeal to the heart and conscience. No violence. No craft. No resort to mere worldly expediency. No compromise of religious position. No truckling to rich men.

2. Personal character was brought to bear upon those whose conduct must be changed. Nehemiah's moral indignation had great influence. His bold challenge of the wrongdoing. His appeal to his own example and that of others. His tender interest in the poor, and imploring earnestness in their cause.

3. While acting as a ruler, and with a ruler's authority, the public feeling, is enlisted in support of reform. It is a great matter to enlist the sympathy of the majority.

4. In all practical measures and social reformations we should endeavour to unite the two forces of religious and civil law. "I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise." With solemn appeal to God, and in the presence of all the congregation, who "said Amen, and praised the Lord," Nehemiah bound the wrong-doers to carry out their word.

III. An illustration of the BENEFICIAL EFFECT of decisive and speedy reform when effected on religious principles and by wise methods.

1. Liberation of human energy, both for the Church and for the state. What could the people do when they were so oppressed? How could they work with men who treated them so cruelly? All real reformation is the setting free of power for the future. We must not look at temporary inconveniences, but at permanent benefits.

2. The value of great moral and political precedents. Such an instance of heroic championship in the cause of God and humanity becomes an inestimable treasure for future generations. What power there is in the histories of all great reformations!

3. We cannot doubt that, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, the moral and social work which Nehemiah accomplished was intended to prepare the way for that more directly religious work which followed. All true reformation is a preparation for advancement. John the Baptist heralds the kingdom of God.

4. An immense service to the cause of righteousness when governors and statesmen identify their names with great movements for the lifting up of the people. Their self-sacrifice, their faithfulness, their victory become part of God's word. God thinks upon them for good, and will make the world think of them. The best monument to a great man is "what he has done for the people." - R.

I. THAT HE HAS MORE REGARD FOR THE PUBLIC WELFARE THAN FOR PERSONAL REMUNERATION. "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" (ver. 14).

II. THAT HE HAS MORE REGARD FOR NECESSARY REFORMS THAN FOR TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS. "But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people" (ver. 15). Men are chargeable to their fellows -

1. In the state.

2. In morals.

3. In society.

4. In the family.

5. In the Church.

Men have often to pay and suffer for their governors.

III. THAT HE HAS MORE REGARD FOR POPULAR LIBERTY THAN FOR OPPRESSIVE EXACTIONS. "Yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God" (vers. 15, 18). Nehemiah would not allow the few to oppress the many; he made his servants work (ver. 16).

IV. THAT HE HAS MORE REGARD FOR EARNEST INDUSTRY THAN FOR LUXURIOUS INDOLENCE. "Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall" (ver. 16).

1. Personal work.

2. Continuous work.

3. Effective work.

4. A good example.

V. THAT HE HAS MORE REGARD FOR WISE BENEFICENCE THAN FOR A MEAN POLICY. "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" (ver. 18).

VI. THAT HE HAS MORE REGARD FOR THE DIVINE BENEDICTION THAN FOR HUMAN PRAISE. "Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people" (ver 19).

1. The Divine contemplation of man.

2. The beneficent regard of God for man.

3. God will reward those who aid his people.

4. The measure of the Divine favour not according to what we have done, but according to what Christ has done in, by, and for us. - E.

In each one of these verses Nehemiah makes a personal reference. He, the writer, is the theme of his narrative. He writes of himself more than is customary with the sacred authors. We consider -

I. THE SELF-REGARD WHICH IS NOT SELFISHNESS. Though Nehemiah writes about himself, there is no painful egotism in his record. He does not obtrude himself. There is a self-regard which is not selfishness. It is right and needful that we should

(a) think much and highly of our spiritual nature. Not to do this is the sin of the thoughtless multitude. Every man's first duty is to consider how he himself stands before God, and whether he is entering in activity and life into all the holy possibility of moral character. It is sometimes right that we should

(b) speak or write about ourselves. Our Divine Master without egotism spake much concerning himself. He could not possibly have wrought his redeeming work with any completeness had he not so done. His great apostle had occasion to write much about himself in order to make clear the truth, and "for the furtherance of the gospel." So Nehemiah writes, using often the first person singular, but in no egotistic vein. We may sometimes aid the cause of Christ and serve our fellow-men by an effective personal narration of motive, experience, and work. Only we must remember that this is an alluring path, and we may easily go too far in it. It is not every one who can be as autobiographic and as unselfish as Nehemiah. Often it is our duty to

(c) pray for ourselves (ver. 19). Often should we utter such a prayer as "Think upon me, my God, for good." Though assured that "the Lord thinketh upon us in our poverty" (Psalm 40:17), and greatly encouraged thereby, we must ask him to have us in his gracious and bountiful remembrance. And it is right that we should

(d) hope for a personal reward for our labours (ver. 19), "according to all that I have done for this people." We cannot be more evangelical than Paul, but with him we may hope that after the "fight is fought" and the "course is finished," the "righteous Judge" will give the "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:7). Like Moses, we may "have respect unto the recompense of the reward" (Hebrews 11:26). But we have our attention called also to -

II. THE MAGNANIMITY WHICH IS CHRISTIAN (vers. 14, 15, 16, 17). Nehemiah was totally unlike those governors who had regarded their office as a means whereby to secure emolument. His thoughts rose high above the line of the mercenary and the perfunctory. There was a large-mindedness, and therefore an openheartedness about him worthy of all admiration and imitation. He not only did his own appointed work faithfully and energetically (ver. 16), but he declined to receive the usual remuneration. For twelve years he "did not eat the bread of the governor" (ver. 14). Beside this, he kept a very hospitable table, entertaining daily "an hundred and fifty of the rulers of the Jews, beside those that came from the heathen" (ver. 17). Generosity may be shown in many ways:

(1) in large and costly gifts,

(2) in free expenditure of time and strength,

(3) in a noble overlooking of injury,

(4) in refusal to claim what is justly due.

It is sometimes

(a) the overflow of natural disposition. We find in some ungodly men this open-heartedness and nobility of conduct. With Nehemiah it was partly, indeed largely,

(b) the outcome of genuine godliness (ver. 15). "So did not I, because of the fear of God." If animated by this motive, we shall not live to ourselves, but shall

(1) give freely, and

(2) forego gladly,

that God may be glorified, and the welfare of his people promoted. - C.

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