And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brothers the Jews.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Their brethren the Jews.—Nehemiah’s other troubles had come from the enemies without: he begins this account by laying emphasis on the hard treatment of Jews by Jews.Nehemiah 5:1. There was a great cry of the people, &c. — Of the poor against their rich brethren, who had oppressed them; for though the people in general were cured of their idolatry by their captivity, yet they were not cured of their other sins, but loved strange women, as we read before in the book of Ezra; and were so covetous that they oppressed the poor and needy; and this at a time when their enemies threatened the destruction of them all. This crime was the more heinous, because the twentieth of Artaxerxes, when this was done, began about the end of a sabbatic year, (as Dr. Alix observes,) which raised the cry of the poor to a greater height against their creditors, who exacted their debts of them contrary to the law, Deuteronomy 15:2; which was read to them publicly in such a year, Deuteronomy 31:12.
Ne 5:1-5. The People Complain of Their Debt, Mortgage, and Bondage.
1-5. there was a great cry of the people … against their brethren—Such a crisis in the condition of the Jews in Jerusalem—fatigued with hard labor and harassed by the machinations of restless enemies, the majority of them poor, and the bright visions which hope had painted of pure happiness on their return to the land of their fathers being unrealized—must have been very trying to their faith and patience. But, in addition to these vexatious oppressions, many began to sink under a new and more grievous evil. The poor made loud complaints against the rich for taking advantage of their necessities, and grinding them by usurious exactions. Many of them had, in consequence of these oppressions, been driven to such extremities that they had to mortgage their lands and houses to enable them to pay the taxes to the Persian government, and ultimately even to sell their children for slaves to procure the means of subsistence. The condition of the poorer inhabitants was indeed deplorable; for, besides the deficient harvests caused by the great rains (Ezr 10:9; also Hag 1:6-11), a dearth was now threatened by the enemy keeping such a multitude pent up in the city, and preventing the country people bringing in provisions.The people complain of their brethren, by reason of their debts, mortgages, and bondage, Nehemiah 5:1-5. Nehemiah rebuketh the usurers, and causeth them to make a covenant of restitution, Nehemiah 5:6-13. He forbeareth his own allowance, and keepeth hospitality, Nehemiah 5:14-17. The quantity of his preparations, and his prayer, Nehemiah 5:18,19.
(a) Against the rich who oppressed them.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1. And there was a great cry, &c.] R.V. Then there arose a great cry, &c. The R.V. rightly shows that the outbreak of the discontentment described in these verses was connected with the rebuilding of the walls. A general stoppage of trade must have resulted from the national undertaking. The presence of the enemy in the neighbourhood prevented free agricultural labour.
the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews] By ‘the people and their wives’ are denoted the poorer classes, the great bulk of the nation as distinguished from the nobles and the priests. ‘Their brethren the Jews,’ seem here to denote ‘the nobles and the rulers’ whom Nehemiah rebukes in Nehemiah 5:7. At any rate the cry proceeds from the poor, the multitudes who were driven in their need to borrow, against the few who could afford to lend. The actual expression ‘their brethren the Jews,’ as in Nehemiah 5:8, does not imply any particular section of the people, but is employed to contrast the true fraternal relation of fellow-citizens with the existing selfishness and oppression.Verse 1. - A great cry. Compare ver. 6, where the "cry" is distinguished from the "words." The Oriental habit of shrill lamentation must be borne in mind it is always shrillest when the women have a part in it, as on this occasion. Their wives. Mothers, whose children had been sold into slavery, or who anticipated losing them in this sad way speedily (ver. 5). Their brethren the Jews. i.e. the richer Jews, who had adopted the practice of lending upon pledge. Nehemiah 4:17, Nehemiah 5:10, Nehemiah 5:16, namely, Jews placed at his disposal as Pechah for official purposes. The ו before הרמחים was probably placed before this word, instead of before the המּגנּים following, by a clerical error; for if it stood before the latter also, it might be taken in the sense of et - et. מצזיקים, instead of being construed with בּ, is in the accusative, as also in Nehemiah 4:11, and even in Jeremiah 6:23 and Isaiah 41:9, Isaiah 41:13. Unnecessary and unsuitable is the conjecture of Bertheau, that the word בּרמחים originally stood after מצזיקים, and that a fresh sentence begins with והרמחים: and the other half held the spears; and the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the armour, and the rulers, were behind the whole house of Judah, - a strange combination, which places the weapons and rulers behind the house of Judah. Besides, of the circumstance of the weapons being placed behind the builders, so that they might at any moment seize them, we not only read nothing in the text; but in Nehemiah 4:11 and Nehemiah 4:12 just the contrary, viz., that the builders wrought with one hand, and with the other held a weapon. "The rulers were behind all the house of Judah," i.e., each was behind his own people who were employed on the work, to encourage them in their labour, and, in case of attack, to lead them against the enemy. - In Nehemiah 4:11 בּחומה הבּונים is prefixed after the manner of a title. With respect to those who built the wall, both the bearers of burdens were lading with the one hand of each workman, and holding a weapon with the other, and the builders were building each with his sword girt on his side. The ו prefixed to הנּשׂאים and הבּנים means both; and בסּבל נשׂא, bearers of burdens, who cleared away the rubbish, and worked as labourers. These, at all events, could do their work with one hand, which would suffice for emptying rubbish into baskets, and for carrying material in handle baskets. ידו בּעחת, literally, with the one (namely) of his hands that was doing the work. The suffix of ידו points to the genitive following. ואחת אחת, the one and the other hand. השּׁלח, not a missile, but a weapon that was stretched out, held forth, usually a sword or some defensive weapon: see rem. on Joshua 2:8; 2 Chronicles 32:5. The builders, on the contrary, needed both hands for their work: hence they had swords girt to their sides. "And he that sounded the trumpet was beside me." Nehemiah, as superintendent of the work, stood at the head of his servants, ready to ward off any attack; hence the trumpeter was beside him, to be able to give to those employed on the wall the signal for speedy muster in case danger should threaten.
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