Nehemiah (Ch 5-6)

The Jewish community were surrounded on all sides: Sanballat and the Samaritans on the north, the Ammonites on the east, the Arabians on the south, and the Philistines (Ashdodites) on the west.

Our God shall fight for us; the Jews reminded themselves, against foes superior in numbers and strength. Their God shall fight for them. See also Exodus 15:3-6, ‘The Lord is a man of war … Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy;’ Exodus 14:14, ‘The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace …’

Nehemiah 5

1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. — there was a great cry of the people; 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, 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.

For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore we take up corn for them, that we may 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.

There were some also who said, “We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn because of the dearth.” — because of the dearth; not long before this, there had been a great scarcity of corn through want of rain, which God had withheld as a punishment for the people’s taking more care to build their own houses than his temple, as in Haggai 1:9-11

— and in this time of scarcity the rich had no compassion on their poor brethren, who were forced to part with all they had for bread. And this dearth was now increased, from the multitude of the people in and near Jerusalem; from their work, which wholly took them up, and kept them from taking care of their families; and from the expectation of their enemies’ invasion.

There were also those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. — we have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards; for though the priests, Levites, and Nethinims (temple assistants in ancient Jerusalem), 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.

Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already; neither is it in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards.” — yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren; we are of the same nature, nation and religion: our children as their children; are circumcised as they, and have a right to the same privileges in church and state:

— 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 bond in payment of their parents’ debts, 2 Kings 4:1

And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. — Nehemiah was very angry; his indignation was excited at the excessive usury, which his own brethren and servants required.

Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles and the rulers and said unto them, “Ye exact usury, every one from his brother.” And I set a great assembly against them. — and Nehemiah seek his own counsel; and rebuked the nobles, and the rulers: you exact usury, every one of his brothers where the Deuteronomic law forbids interest upon loans advanced to fellow Israelites, but permits them only with foreigners, Deuteronomy 23:19-20.

— this law treats only of dealing with Israelites and prohibits all idea of making gain out of assistance rendered to brethren in distress. Leviticus 25:35-37.

And I said unto them, “We, according to our ability, have redeemed our brethren the Jews who were sold unto the heathen. And will ye even sell your brethren? Or shall they be sold unto us?” Then they held their peace, and found nothing to answer. — in this assembly Nehemiah reproached them with the injustice of their behaviour.

— “We” (said he) “have, after our ability, redeemed our brethren the Jews which were sold unto the heathen; yet ye would sell your brethren.” We (that is, Nehemiah and the Jews living in exile, who were like-minded with him) have bought, in contrast to ye sell. God had redeemed their Jewish brethren from the Persians yet they were later sold to the heathen.

Also I said, “It is not good what ye do. Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen, our enemies? — It is not good that ye do; though you get money by it, you contract guilt, and expose yourselves to the displeasure of God; ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God?

— Certainly you ought, for you profess religion and relation to him; and if you do walk in his fear, you will neither be covetous of worldly gain, nor cruel toward your brethren. They that live in the fear of God will not dare to do an ill thing, because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies;

— who are round about you and are enemies to us, our God and our religion. They observe all your actions and will reproach both you for such barbarous usage of your brethren and religion for your sakes.

10 I likewise, and my brethren and my servants, might exact from them money and corn; I pray you, let us leave off this usury. — let us leave off this usury; Nehemiah invites his hearers to join with him in abandoning a custom which had been productive of such evil results. ‘This usury,’ that is, requiring of interest or of pledges.

11 Restore, I pray you, to them even this day their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the corn, the wine, and the oil that ye exact from them.” — Restore, I pray you; Nehemiah demands immediate redress for the wrongs done to fellow-countrymen. He demands restoration of property and remission of interest on loans.

12 Then said they, “We will restore them, and will require nothing of them. So will we do as thou sayest.” Then I called the priests and took an oath from them, that they should do according to this promise. — so will we do as thou sayest; they approved of his proposal, and readily agreed to it:

— then Nehemiah called the priests, and took an oath of them that they should do according to this promise; both in that the priests were delinquents, they were charged with issues of this kind; and second, that 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 to give solemn pledge to keep them.

13 Also I shook my 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.” And all the congregation said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise. — 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;

— 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 this oath.

14 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. — have not eaten the bread of the governor; have not taken that allowance which, by the laws of God and nations, and of the king of Persia, the governors might require; that is, noy living at the expense of the people under him.

15 But the former governors who had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yea, even their servants ruled over the people, but so did I not, because of the fear of God. — the former governors that had been before me. Of these, two only are known to us, Zerubbabel and Ezra; were chargeable unto the people; the words should be rendered “had oppressed the people (ἐβάρυναν, LXX.), “had been heavy upon them;

— had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels. Rather, “had taken from them, for bread and wine, above forty shekels.” It could be forty shekels a day from the whole people, or forty shekels a year from each person as some explain;

— even their servants bare rule; the oppression exercised by the domestics and other servants of rulers is often worse than their own. This is especially the case in ancient times where eunuchs and other domestics have been the most fearful tyrants. Haman under Xerxes, Sejanus under Tiberius, Narcissus under Nero, are examples;

— so did not Nehemiah; he neither exacted money, nor allowed his servants to bear rule. Because of the fear of God. Because Nehemiah felt that it would be wrong, either absolutely or under the circumstances.

16 Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land; and all my servants were gathered thither for the work. — yea, also Nehemiah continued in the work: overseeing, directing, and encouraging the workmen, which was his whole business; and this at his own cost;

— neither bought we any land; of his poor brethren, whose necessities gave abundant opportunities of enriching himself by good bargains. And all his servants were gathered unto the work and received no pay for their labour.

17 Moreover there were at my table a hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, besides those who came unto us from among the heathen who are about us. — a hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers; the “hundred and fifty” were all “rulers.” Nehemiah means to say that he entertained continually at his table 150 of the Jewish chief men or “rulers” and also an indefinite number of foreign Jews, who came on short visits to Jerusalem.

18 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, a store of all sorts of wine; yet for all this I required not the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people. — once in ten clays store of all sorts of wine. Literally “all sorts of wine in abundance.” Wine was probably drunk every day, but laid in every ten days.

— yet for all this. Or “with all this”- notwithstanding this great expenditure, Nehemiah took no allowance as governor. Because the bondage was heavy upon this people. The bondage intended must be that under the Persian crown, since neither the labour at the wall nor the oppression of the creditors lasted during the twelve years that Nehemiah was governor.

19 Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people. — think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that Nehemiah had 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.

Nehemiah 6

1 Now it came to pass, when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arabian and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left therein (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates), — as established in Nehemiah 2-4,” for their adversaries were surrounding the Jewish community on all sides: Sanballat and the Samaritans on the north, Tobiah and the Ammonites on the east, Geshem the chief among the Arabians on the south, and the Philistines (Ashdodites) on the west;”

— though at that time Nehemiah had not set up the doors upon the gates; not upon all of them, though some might by the particular builders of them; and they all of them might be ready made, though not as yet put upon the hinges.

that Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me mischief. — the wall-building was quite finished, but doors to the gates were as yet wanting to the complete fortification of the city. The enemies sent to Nehemiah, saying, Come, let us meet together (for a discussion) in the villages in the valley of Ono.

— in the plain of Ono; which was in the same tribe, see 1 Chronicles 8:12, they might pretend a friendly meeting, to accommodate differences between them, or to converse together about the general interest of the king of Persia in those parts: but they thought to do me mischief; to kill him, or at least to confine him; this he either conjectured from their general character and behaviour, or he had intelligence of their design.

And I sent messengers unto them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, whilst I leave it and come down to you?” — I am doing a great work: he tells them one, but not the only, nor the principal, reason of his refusal, because his coming might cause the work to cease, not only by the neglect of it during his absence, but by his death, which they by this means might compass, though he thought it not fit to express so much to them.

Yet they sent unto me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same manner. — and Nehemiah answered them after the same manner; every time as before, he being as much bent on finishing the work as they were to divert him from it.

Then Sanballat sent his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand, — an open letter in his hand, ‘open,’ not sealed. The object of this was intended that the contents of the letter should become public property. The servant himself and the adherents of Sanballat within the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 6:17) would possess themselves of its contents long before it reached the hands of Nehemiah.

wherein was written: “It is reported among the heathen, and Geshem saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel; for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king according to these words. — that thou and the Jews think to rebel; that they had formed a scheme and were taking measures to raise a rebellion against the king of Persia and revolt from him:

— for which cause thou buildest the wall; the wall of Jerusalem for their security against any force that might be sent to quell them: that thou mayest be their king, according to these words; written in this epistle and reported among the heathens.

And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, ‘There is a king in Judah!’ And now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.” — and thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem; this he said to cover what he and Tobiah had been doing, tampering with, corrupting, and hiring the prophets to discourage him, and put him upon methods, whereby the work would cease:

— come now, therefore, and let us take counsel together; contrive the best method to put a stop to this report, if a false one, and to wipe off the reproach that is upon thee and may affect us; and thus partly terrifying him and partly pretending friendship to him, hoped to get him into his hands.

Then I sent unto him, saying, “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.” — Nehemiah, however, saw through his stratagem and sent word to him by a messenger: “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart,” – to invent, to feign, especially evil things.

For they all made us afraid, saying, “Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. — now, therefore, O God, strengthen my hands; and let them not have what they will, and hope for;

— these words are directed to Sanballat, that if he was a friend, as he pretended, that instead of weakening, he would strengthen his hands by a sincere reconciliation.

10 Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple; for they will come to slay thee, yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.” — afterward Nehemiah came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up;

— either in his own house, or in a chamber in the temple, as if he had given himself up to meditation, fasting and prayer; or, as he might suggest to Nehemiah, for his safety; however he was a person Nehemiah had a good opinion of and came to him on the letters sent to him by his enemies to consult with him and the rest since they had suggested that he had appointed prophets to speak of him as a king;

— for they will come to slay thee; meaning his enemies, Sanballat and his companions: yea, in the night they will come to slay thee; that very night and therefore no time should be lost in providing for his safety.

11 And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” — Nehemiah was not to be alarmed, but exclaimed: Should such a man as I flee? and what man like me could go into the holy place and live?

— I will not go in. This word is ambiguous; it may mean to save his life, or and save his life; probably Nehemiah used it in the latter sense, having in mind the command, Numbers 18:7, that the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

12 And lo, I perceived that God had not sent him, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me; for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. — the existence of a party among the Jews, a betrayal, who sided with Sanballat and lent themselves to his schemes, is here for the first time indicated;

— the house of Shemaiah; this man was the son of a priest (Shemaiah, the son of Shechaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, Neh 3:29), who was an intimate and confidential friend of Nehemiah. The young man claimed to be endowed with the gift of prophecy. Having been secretly bribed by Sanballat, he, in his pretended capacity of prophet, told Nehemiah that his enemies were that night to make an attempt upon his life.

13 Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me. — an evil report; Nehemiah perceived that not God, but Shemaiah himself, had uttered the prophecy “against me,” and that he was hired to bring the governor into discredit as a violator of law.

14 My God, think Thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have put me in fear. — my God, think thou on Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works; their wicked counsels and schemes, and not only confound and disappoint them, but reward them as they deserve:

— the prophetess Noadiah; one that falsely pretended to have the Spirit of prophecy, to deceive and destroy Nehemiah. She has been supposed to have succumbed to a bribe, like Shemaiah; we only know that together with other prophets, she endeavoured to “put Nehemiah in fear.” It is clear that she was unsuccessful.

15 So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month of Elul, in fifty and two days. —Nehemiah built the wall, but earlier, Zerubbabel built the house of the Lord, the temple (Ezra 3:8, 5:2).

16 And it came to pass that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen who were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was wrought by our God. — our enemies; the Samaritans, the Ammonites, the Ashdodites and the Arabians under Geshem are the special “enemies” here spoken of.

— the Phoenicians, Syrians, Moabites, etc are the other “heathen round about” the Jews. Even these last were unfriendly and disliked any increase of Jewish power and prosperity; they perceived that this work was wrought of our God. They could not but recognise a special Providence as befriending and protecting the Jews, who, after having been utterly crushed and rooted out by Nebuchadnezzar, were now reestablished in a commanding position in Palestine, and allowed to make their city once more an almost impregnable fortress.

17 Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came unto them. — the nobles of Judah sent many letters unto Tobiah; corresponding with him against Nehemiah, and against their own city and nation. So that, added to all the other wickedness of this people, there were false brethren among their great men, who favoured, aided, and abetted the designs of their enemies.

18 For there were many in Judah sworn unto him, because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. — for there were many in Judah sworn unto him; to Tobiah, who not only in a private manner corresponded with him by letters, but bound themselves by an oath to him to be true to his interest, and do as he should advise them:

— because he was the son in law of Shechaniah, the son of Arah; of a family that came up with Zerubbabel from the captivity, Ezra 2:5 and very probably of considerable note:

19 Also they reported his good deeds before me, and uttered my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear. — also they reported his good deeds before me; recommended him as a very worthy man, deserving of respect and notice by Nehemiah, and to be taken into his friendship, and admitted to conversation with him, whose counsel and advice might be of service:

— and uttered my words to him; reported both what he said and did; for the word used signifies both words and actions: and Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear; perceiving, by the intelligence of his friends, that Nehemiah would have nothing to say to him, nor to do with him, he threatened him.

~ by Joel Huan on May 26, 2022.

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