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Nehemiah Chapter Five


Nehemiah 5 Outlines

Nehemiah Deals with Oppression (v. 1~13)

The Generosity of Nehemiah (v. 14~19)

New King James Version (NKJV)


Nehemiah 5:1. And there was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren.

   YLT And there is a great cry of the people and their wives, concerning their brethren the Jews,

And there was a great cry of the people, and of their wives,....

Those of the poorer sort:

against their brethren the Jews;

the rich that oppressed them; and this cry or complaint was made to Nehemiah for redress.


Nehemiah 5:2. For there were those who said, “We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live.”

   YLT yea, there are who are saying, `Our sons, and our daughters, we -- are many, and we receive corn, and eat, and live.'

For there were that said, we, our sons, and our daughters, are many,....

Not that they complained of the number of their children, for a numerous offspring was always reckoned a blessing with the Jews; but this they observed to show that their families, being large, required a considerable quantity of food to support them:

therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat and live;

that is, they were obliged to take it at an exorbitant price, which is the thing complained of; or otherwise they must starve, the rich taking the advantage of their poverty and present dearth.


Nehemiah 5:3. There were also some who said, “We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine.”

   YLT And there are who are saying, `Our fields, and our vineyards, and our houses, we are pledging, and we receive corn for the famine.'

Some also there were that said, we have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses,....

Made them over to others, put them into their hands as pledges for money received of them:

that we may buy corn;

for the support of their families:

because of the dearth;

or famine; which might be occasioned by their enemies lying in wait and intercepting all provisions that might be brought to them; for this seems not to be the famine spoken of in Haggai 1:10 for that was some years before this, and for a reason which now was not.


Nehemiah 5:4. There were also those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our lands and vineyards.

   YLT And there are who are saying, `We have borrowed money for the tribute of the king, [on] our fields, and our vineyards;

There were also that said,....

Who though they were able to buy corn for their families without mortgaging their estates: yet, say they:

we have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards;

for though the priests, Levites, and Nethinims, were exempted from it, yet not the people in common; and some of these were so poor, that they could not pay it without borrowing upon their estates, and paying large usury for it, see Ezra 6:8


Nehemiah 5:5. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards.”

   YLT and now, as the flesh of our brethren [is] our flesh, as their sons [are] our sons, and lo, we are subduing our sons and our daughters for servants, and there are of our daughters subdued, and our hand hath no might, and our fields and our vineyards [are] to others.'

Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren,....

We are of the same nature, nation, stock, and religion: our children as their children; are circumcised as they, and have a right to the same privileges in church and state:

and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and daughters to be servants;

shall be obliged to it, unless relieved:

and some of our daughters are brought into bondage already;

sold to be servants, as they might in case of the poverty of parents, Exodus 21:7, and some were sometimes taken to be bondmen in payment of their parents' debts, 2 Kings 4:1

neither is it in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards;

as pledges for money borrowed.


Nehemiah 5:6. And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.

   YLT And it is very displeasing to me when I have heard their cry and these words,

And I was very angry when I heard their cry, and these words.

Their complaint expressed in this manner; it not only raised pity and compassion in his breast towards these poor distressed people, but indignation at the rich that oppressed them.


Nehemiah 5:7. After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, “Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.” So I called a great assembly against them.

   YLT and my heart reigneth over me, and I strive with the freemen, and with the prefects, and say to them, `Usury one upon another ye are exacting;' and I set against them a great assembly,

Then I consulted with myself,....

What was to be done, what method to be taken to redress such grievances:

and I rebuked the nobles and the rulers;

who were the men that monopolized the corn in this dear season, and sold it at an extravagant price, and had got the lands, vineyards, and houses of the poor mortgaged to them, and to whom they had lent money on usury:

and said unto them, you exact usury everyone of his brother;

which was contrary to the express law of God, Exodus 22:25 and which even the IndiansF8Aelian. Var. Hist. l. 4. c. 1. strictly observed, who neither let out money, nor took any upon usury:

and I set a great assembly against them;

either of the poor that were oppressed, who brought in their accusations and complaints against them, or a large body of the people, who were not guilty, to hear them, that the delinquents might be put to public shame; or he called a large court of judicature, and set them to examine these allegations, and to do justice.


Nehemiah 5:8. And I said to them, “According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?” Then they were silenced and found nothing to say.

   YLT and say to them, `We have acquired our brethren the Jews, those sold to the nations, according to the ability that [is] in us, and ye also sell your brethren, and they have been sold to us!' and they are silent, and have not found a word.

And I said unto them,....

The nobles, and rulers, and other rich persons that exacted usury of the poor:

we after our ability;

speaking of himself in the plural number, which now obtained in the court of Persia; or of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and others, who, according as their worldly circumstances, having been captives, would admit of:

have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the Heathen;

not that they had given a ransom for them to Cyrus, or any other king of Persia, which would be contrary to the prophecies concerning their redemption, Isaiah 45:13 but such who had sold themselves to particular persons in Babylon, who, without being redeemed, could not take the advantage of the liberty granted by Cyrus, and his successors; and it may be there were others also in the like circumstances, in other neighbouring nations, that had been redeemed this way. The Jewish canonF9Misn. Gittin, c. 4. sect. 9. now is, he that sells himself, and his children, to Gentiles, they do not redeem; but they redeem the children after their father's death; which the commentatorsF11Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. explain of the third time that he sells himself:

and will you even sell your brethren?

their lands and vineyards mortgaged to them, and even their persons:

or shall they be sold unto us?

must we be obliged to buy them, and to redeem them:

then they held their peace, and found nothing to answer;

being convinced they had done wrong, by the arguments used, to which they could make no reply.


Nehemiah 5:9. Then I said, “What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?

   YLT And I say, `Not good [is] the thing that ye are doing; in the fear of our God do ye not walk, because of the reproach of the nations our enemies?

Also I said, it is not good that ye do,....

The meaning is, that it was very bad; it is a "meiosis", by which more is intended than is expressed:

ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God;

in reverence of him and his law, and according to that:

because of the reproach of the Heathen our enemies?

whose mouths will be open to reproach the true religion, and the good ways of God; and say, these are the men that pretend to fear God, and serve him, and yet break his law, and use their brethren ill, see Romans 2:24.


Nehemiah 5:10. I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury!

   YLT And also, I, my brethren, and my servants, are exacting of them silver and corn; let us leave off, I pray you, this usury.

I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn,....

For our maintenance, in consideration of the services done by us, which would appear but reasonable, but this we decline for the sake of easing our poor brethren:

I pray you let us leave off this usury;

and not exact it, as has been too much and too long used.


Nehemiah 5:11. Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them.”

   YLT Give back, I pray you, to them, as to-day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive-yards, and their houses, and the hundredth [part] of the money, and of the corn, of the new wine, and of the oil, that ye are exacting of them.'

Restore, I pray you, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses,....

Which they had made over to them for corn they had had, or money they borrowed of them; it is entreated that an immediate restitution be made, and the rather, if what Aben Ezra observes is true, that this was the year of release, when debts were not to be exacted, but forgiven, Deuteronomy 15:1,

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 might be what they took for usury, as the Romans did in later times, even so much a month; so that if the loan was one hundred pounds, a pound was given every month for it, and so one hundred and twelve pounds in the year; and the hundredth part of the corn, wine, and oil, might be the hundredth part of those fruits of the earth which the rulers demanded for their salary, see Nehemiah 5:15.


Nehemiah 5:12. So they said, “We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say.” Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.

   YLT And they say, `We give back, and of them we seek nothing; so we do as thou art saying.' And I call the priests, and cause them to swear to do according to this thing;

Then said they, we will restore them,....

The lands, vineyards, oliveyards, and houses:

and will require nothing of them;

not the hundredth part of the fruits of the earth by way of salary:

so will we do as thou sayest;

they approved of his proposal, and readily agreed to it:

then I called the priests, and took an oath of them that they should do according to this promise;

not that the priests were delinquents, they were not charged with anything of this kind, nor were they the men that promised restitution; but the priests were called to administer the oath to the nobles, and rulers, and rich men, to oblige them the more to keep their word; an oath being sacred, priests in an holy office were made use of to give it, that it might be the more solemn, and the more strictly regarded.


Nehemiah 5:13. Then I shook out the fold of my garment[a] and said, “So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” and praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.

   YLT also, my lap I have shaken, and I say, `Thus doth God shake out every man, who doth not perform this thing, from his house, and from his labour; yea, thus is he shaken out and empty;' and all the assembly say, `Amen,' and praise Jehovah; and the people do according to this thing.

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 outF12Florus, l. 2. c. 6. Liv. l. 21. c. l8. :

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.


Nehemiah 5:14. Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions.

   YLT Also, from the day that he appointed me to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the thirty and second year of Artaxerxes the king -- twelve years -- I, and my brethren, the bread of the governor have not eaten:

Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah,....

That is, by the king of Persia, which was not done when he was first sent into Judea; but very probably when he had finished the wall in fifty two days, he returned to Persia, and gave the king an account of his success, and how things stood in those parts, when he judged it necessary to send him again in the character of a governor, and which was still within the same year, as follows: from the twentieth year, even unto the thirty second year of Artaxerxes, that is, twelve years; see Nehemiah 13:6.

I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor;

which was fit and proper for him, and used to be given him; neither he, nor those that assisted him in the government, the principal men he brought along with him, and put into posts and places under him.


Nehemiah 5:15. But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.

   YLT the former governors who [are] before me have made themselves heavy on the people, and take of them in bread and wine, besides in silver forty shekels; also, their servants have ruled over the people -- and I have not done so, because of the fear of God.

But the former governors, that had been before me, were chargeable to the people,....

Between him and Zerubbabel, for Ezra was no governor; according to the Jewish chronologyF13Seder Olam Zuta, p. 108,109. , when Ezra came to Jerusalem, Zerubbabel returned to Babylon, and there died, and his son Methullam was in his stead, and after him succeeded Hananiah his son:

and had taken of them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver;

which amounted to between four and five pounds, and this they had every day:

yea, even their servants bare rule over the people; required a salary, or at least perquisites of them, which the governors connived at:

but so did not I, because of the fear of God;

neither took anything himself of the people, nor suffered his servants; because the fear of God was upon his heart, and before his eyes, and therefore could not allow himself to oppress the poor.


Nehemiah 5:16. Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we[b] did not buy any land. All my servants were gathered there for the work.

   YLT And also, in the work of this wall I have done mightily, even a field we have not bought, and all my servants are gathered there for the work;

Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall,....

Of building the wall of Jerusalem; here he gave his constant attendance to direct and encourage the workmen, and see that they kept to their work, and did it well:

neither bought we any land;

neither he nor the principal men with him, though they could have bought it cheap, but they chose not to take the advantage of the poverty of the people:

and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work:

all were employed in it, taking no wages for their work, being maintained at his expense.


Nehemiah 5:17. And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us.

   YLT and of the Jews, and of the prefects, a hundred and fifty men, and those coming in unto us of the nations that [are] round about us, [are] at my table;

Moreover, there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers,....

Every day at his own cost, which must be considerable to provide for such a number, and of such rank:

besides those that came unto us from among the Heathen that are about us;

who were proselytes, and came thither to worship, or on a civil account, to give intelligence, and take directions.


Nehemiah 5:18. Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people.

   YLT and that which hath been prepared for one day [is] one ox, six fat sheep, also fowls have been prepared for me, and once in ten days of all wines abundantly, and with this, the bread of the governor I have not sought, for heavy is the service on this people.

Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep,....

Or fat ones; of beef and mutton a considerable quantity, abundantly sufficient for his guests and servants, and shows what a good table he kept:

also fowls were prepared for me;

what number is not said:

and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine;

the country afforded; that is, either once in ten days his stock of wine was renewed, or a more liberal entertainment was made, a banquet of wine, Esther 5:6,

yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor;

the salary that used to be given him, but did this at his own expense, out of his own estate in Judea; or what he had got by his office as cupbearer to the king of Persia, the salary of which perhaps was continued:

because the bondage was heavy upon the people;

the tribute of the king of Persia, and their labour and expense in building the walls of the city.


Nehemiah 5:19. Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

   YLT Remember for me, O my God, for good, all that I have done for this people.

Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

He expected not any recompence from the people, but from the Lord; and from him not in a way of merit, but of grace and good will, who forgets not what is done for his name's sake, Hebrews 6:10.


──John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible


New King James Version (NKJV)


a.    Nehemiah 5:13 Literally my lap

b.    Nehemiah 5:16 Following Masoretic Text; Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate read I.