Nehemiah 5:13
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.
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(13) Shook my lap.—This symbolical act imprecated on every man who broke this covenant an appropriate penalty: that he be emptied of all his possessions, even as the fold of Nehemiah’s garment was emptied. And it is observable that the iniquity thus stopped is not referred to in the subsequent covenant (Nehemiah 10), nor is it one of the offences which the governor found on his second return (Nehemiah 13).

Nehemiah 5:13. Also I shook my lap — The extreme parts of my garment, which I first folded together, and then shook it and scattered it asunder. This was one form of swearing then in use. So God shake every man from his house, &c. — Thus he represented, by an external sign, as the manner of the prophets often was, how God would cast them out of their possessions, and of the fruit of their labours, who did not observe this oath. And all the congregation said, Amen! — God so influenced the people’s hearts, that even they who had been guilty of taking usury consented to this imprecation, and wished this mischief to themselves, if they did not do as he required. And praised the Lord — So far were they from promising with regret, that they promised and even took an oath to do as he desired, with all possible expressions of joy and gladness, and with thankfulness to God for giving them such a good governor, and inclining them to submit to him.

5:6-13 Nehemiah knew that, if he built Jerusalem's walls ever so high, so thick, or so strong, the city could not be safe while there were abuses. The right way to reform men's lives, is to convince their consciences. If you walk in the fear of God, you will not be either covetous of worldly gain, or cruel toward your brethren. Nothing exposes religion more to reproach, than the worldliness and hard-heartedness of the professors of it. Those that rigorously insist upon their right, with a very ill grace try to persuade others to give up theirs. In reasoning with selfish people, it is good to contrast their conduct with that of others who are liberal; but it is best to point to His example, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich, 2Co 8:9. They did according to promise. Good promises are good things, but good performances are better.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. Ne 5:6-19. The Usurers Rebuked.

6-12. I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words—When such disorders came to the knowledge of the governor, his honest indignation was roused against the perpetrators of the evil. Having summoned a public assembly, he denounced their conduct in terms of just severity. He contrasted it with his own in redeeming with his money some of the Jewish exiles who, through debt or otherwise, had lost their personal liberty in Babylon. He urged the rich creditors not only to abandon their illegal and oppressive system of usury, but to restore the fields and vineyards of the poor, so that a remedy might be put to an evil the introduction of which had led to much actual disorder, and the continuance of which would inevitably prove ruinous to the newly restored colony, by violating the fundamental principles of the Hebrew constitution. The remonstrance was effectual. The conscience of the usurious oppressors could not resist the touching and powerful appeal. With mingled emotions of shame, contrition, and fear, they with one voice expressed their readiness to comply with the governor's recommendation. The proceedings were closed by the parties binding themselves by a solemn oath, administered by the priests, that they would redeem their pledge, as well as by the governor invoking, by the solemn and significant gesture of shaking a corner of his garment, a malediction on those who should violate it. The historian has taken care to record that the people did according to this promise.

I shook my lap, i.e. the lap or extreme parts of my garment, which I first folded together, and then shook it, and scattered it asunder. This was a form of swearing then in use.

From his labour, i.e. from enjoying what he hath got by his labour.

Also I shook my lap,.... The fore skirts of his garment, shaking the dust out of them, as a symbol of what follows; a like rite was used in the case of peace and war, the choice of either, by the Romans, as proposed by their ambassadors to the Carthaginians, as having either in their bosom to shake out (l):

and said, so God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour; what he has got by his labour:

that performeth not his promise; confirmed by an oath:

even thus be he shaken out, and emptied; of all that he has in the world, and out of the world too, as Jarchi adds:

and all the congregation said, Amen; so let it be, even those that had taken pledges and usury, as well as others:

and praised the Lord; that had given them such a governor to direct, advise, and exhort them to their duty, and had inclined their hearts to attend thereunto:

and the people did according to this promise; they punctually kept it, and the oath they had sworn.

(l) Florus, l. 2. c. 6. Liv. l. 21. c. l8.

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.
13. Also I shook my lap] R.V. Also I shook out my lap. (LXX. ἀναβολήν. Vulg. ‘sinum’.) The word here rendered ‘lap’ only occurs elsewhere in the O. T. in Isaiah 49:22, R.V. ‘bosom,’ A.V. ‘arms.’ Nehemiah here employs a symbolical gesture, suiting his action to his metaphor. He pressed tightly to his body the loose fold of his mantle, so that it hung like a bag or wallet against him; then with a vehement motion of both hands he suddenly stretched it out and shook it in the sight of all the people, so that anything which it might have before concealed would have been jerked violently from him. Even so, he says, may God cast forth from His protection and love, in home and work, the man who fails to abide by the compact. Cf. Job 38:13, ‘That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it.’ Isaiah 24:1. The gesture was rhetorical. It would impress itself upon the audience, and emphasize the speaker’s words. For instances of symbolical action comp. 1 Kings 11:30; 1 Kings 20:35-43; 1 Kings 22:11; Jeremiah 13:1-14; Jeremiah 18:1-12; Jeremiah 19:1-13; Matthew 27:24; Acts 18:6.

that performeth not this promise] Lit. ‘that fulfilleth or establisheth not this word.’ The same phrase in the original as Deuteronomy 27:26, ‘Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them.’

from his house, and from his labour] This conjunction of words sounds proverbial, but does not occur elsewhere in the O. T. ‘His labour’ does not mean so much ‘his means of occupation’—the modern idea—as ‘the exercise and even the fruits of his industry.’ The word used is that found in the expression ‘the labour of the hands,’ Genesis 31:42; Job 10:3; Psalm 128:2; Haggai 1:11. Cf. Deuteronomy 28:33, ‘The fruit of thy ground, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up.’

promise, even thus] R.V. promise; even thus.

all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord] The people said ‘Amen,’ ratifying the curse of Nehemiah and the condition of the contract: they praised the Lord, because the poor had been succoured and the division of the people healed. The ‘Amen,’ as the people’s assent to the ruler’s proposition, occurs again Nehemiah 8:6. Cf. 1 Kings 1:36; 1 Chronicles 16:36, and Deuteronomy 27:15.

And the people did, &c.] If we may press the distinction between the two words employed, ‘the people’ in the mass carried into execution the resolutions of ‘the congregation,’ that had approved Nehemiah’s measures.

Verse 13. - Also I shook my lap. Even the taking of the oath did not seem sufficient to the prudent governor. He would strengthen the oath by a malediction, and a malediction accompanied by a symbolical act, to render it the more impressive. Among the nations of antiquity few things were so much dreaded as falling under a curse. The maledictions of Deuteronomy 28:16-44 were the supreme sanction which Moses devised for the Law, whereof he was the promulgator. Curses protected the tombs and inscriptions of the Assyrian and Persian kings, the contracts of the Babylonians, and the treaties of most nations. Nehemiah's curse is an unusual one, but very clear and intelligible. He prays that whosoever departs from his promise given may be cast forth a homeless wanderer, emptied of all his possessions, as empty as the fold in his own dress, which he first gathers into a sort of bag or pocket, and then throws from him and so empties out. To this the assembly responded by a hearty "Amen," and then praised the Lord for the happy ending of the whole affair; in which they piously traced the directing and over-ruling hand of God, "restraining the fierceness of men," and "turning it to his praise" (Psalm 76:10 - Prayer-Book version).

CHAPTER 5:14-19 GENERAL ACCOUNT OF NEHEMIAH'S GOVERNMENT (vers. 14-19). Having given this account of the internal difficulties which threatened to put a stop to the building of the wall before it was well begun, and been led in the course of it to speak of the poverty and sufferings of the common people, Nehemiah not unnaturally goes on to inform us of the methods by which in his general government he endeavoured to alleviate the distress, or at any rate to avoid adding to the burthens which pressed upon the poorer classes. From the time that he entered upon his office, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, B.C. 444, to the time of his writing this portion of his Book, in the thirty-second year of the same king, B.C. 432, he had lived entirely at his own expense, requiring no contributions from the people, either in provisions or money, for the support of himself or his court (ver. 14). This was quite contrary to the previous practice of Jewish governors (ver. 15), and indeed of Oriental governors generally, whether under the Persian system or any other, such persons almost universally taxing their provinces, sometimes very heavily, for their current expenses, and often accumulating princely fortunes by their exactions. Nehemiah had also maintained a noble hospitality, of which he may be excused for being a little proud, during these twelve years of his governorship, entertaining daily at his table 150 of the chief inhabitants of Jerusalem, besides many foreign Jews who from time to time came on visits to the Judaean capital (vers. 17, 18). It is conjectured that he was able to take this course, and spend so largely without receiving any income from his province, because he retained his place of cupbearer, and as such drew a large salary from the Persian court (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' vol. 5. p. 150, E. Tr.). However this may have been, he certainly disbursed large sums of money in Jerusalem, and must have done something to alleviate the general poverty by his lavish expenditure. He takes credit, further, for giving the services of his private attendants to the work of the wall during the whole time that it was in building (ver. 16), and for having abstained from the purchase of any land, when, through the general poverty, it might have been bought at a low price from those who were anxious to part with it (ibid.). HIS conduct beyond a doubt stood in the strongest contrast with that of the ordinary Persian satrap, or other governor, and we cannot be surprised that he looked on it with some complacency. He felt that he had done much for his people. He looked, however, for his reward not to them, not to man, but to God; and desired that his reward should be not present gratitude and thanks, not even posthumous fame, but God's approval and remembrance only (ver. 19). "Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people." Nehemiah 5:13To make the agreement thus sworn to still more binding, Nehemiah confirmed the proceeding by a symbolical action: Also I shook my lap, and said, So may God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth (fulfilleth) not this promise, and thus may he be shaken out and emptied. חצן means the lap of the garment, in which things are carried (Isaiah 49:22), where alone the word is again found. The symbolical action consisted in Nehemiah's gathering up his garment as if for the purpose of carrying something, and then shaking it out with the words above stated, which declared the meaning of the act. The whole congregation said Amen, and praised the Lord, sc. for the success with which God had blessed his efforts to help the poor. And the people did according to this promise, i.e., the community acted in accordance with the agreement entered into.
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