Friday, April 26, 2013

Nehemiah 5

[1] And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.
·         The work on the wall is not mentioned, neither is the army, so likely the work had stopped and the army was gone.
·         There was no outcry recorded against the army, but there was an outcry against the Jews. Likewise when the world does something worldly, like attack Chic-fil-A for not falling into line with their values it’s not surprising. But when the ministers and preachers fall into the same behavior, it’s very discouraging.

[2] For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live.
·         Some of the people were very poor and numerous, and were literally going to starve. They are not wanting to seize it by force, but they are interested in staying alive.
·         The wall was an expensive undertaking and Nehemiah had to provide food to the people to keep them going.

[3] Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.
·         Some of the others were a little better off, but only a little bit. They had previously pledged their fields and houses in exchange for food, and now had nothing else to pledge and needed to eat.
·         Food was already expensive because of the famine. This was a huge blow to them.
·         God is sovereign over the foods and the winds and the rains. He had engineered this scarcity of food to both test the people, and to move them to repent of their evil behavior.

[4] There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards.
·         The third group already had to borrow money to pay the kings taxes. Having worked on the wall now meant they had no ability to work their land.
·         The famine would have come anyway, but without the project in Jerusalem to collect everyone, to bring them together, the issue could have gone on unresolved.

[5] 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.
·         They could not work to pay off the debt since they didn’t own their fields, they were forced to sell their own children in exchange for food. This could be done only if the 7th year allowed them to go free. A practice that had not been followed for hundreds of years.
·         Their complaint is that they are flesh and blood with the rich people, who are still so stony hearted as to not care.
·         Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:14 expressly prohibited this.
·         As did Moses explain the rule in Deuteronomy 15:7-12.
·         See James 2:1-7 and James 5:1-6
·         This is something the people should have known better, see Isaiah 3:14-15, 24-26

[6] And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.
·         This was a severe injustice. The nobles were taking money from everyone poorer than they to get fat and rich, something they had been doing for some time.
·         The Godly are to be generous, using their money to glorify God. The wicked are greedy, and use the money to dishonor God and oppress their fellow man.
·         Slavery impressed upon them when they were free of captivity was not that long ago discussed, Jeremiah 34. The people should have remembered Egypt and it’s brutal treatment of them, but instead they invited Gods wrath.
·         Nehemiah rightly responds with wrath himself.

[7] Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them.
·         This is the first time we are told Nehemiah really sits down and thinks things through. That’s a noticeable change from previously, where he is not recorded as needing time to council.
·         He rebukes them, then he calls a very great assembly where he is going to make them come clean. The people had needed the food to survive, and it was the job of the people with money to be decent when asked for things to borrow.
·         If they insist on justice for others then they will get justice for themselves. This is like the parable of the ungrateful debtor.
·         They are acting in an evil and oppressive fashion because they themselves have evil hearts. That’s the key thing to understand when reading these OT passages that include social justice, it’s not the works that are as important as it is the heart from which the works flow.
·         The only thing they care about is threat of force, so if the assembly comes against them they will be more likely to cave in.

[8] And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer.
·         When the city fell the foreign nations carried off many Jewish slaves. The people pooled their money as best they could to buy those people out of slavery where they were scattered. It did not make sense to do this while subjecting the entire people to poverty.
·         There was nothing they could answer. What answer could the nobles give in front of the crowd to justify their behavior?

[9] Also I said, 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?
·         This gets to the heart of the matter: they had no fear of God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but they had no concern for Him in the least.
·         Nehemiah is no fool, he knows that they are on the side of the enemy, but they are pretending to be on the side of the people. He has therefore maneuvered them into making a profession of solidarity against Sandballat.

[10] I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury.
·         Nehemiah was making loans for grain and money, but he was not charging them fees. He and his retinue that was with him did not make loans at a high rate.
·         All these acts of cruelty will find their punishment in the next life. They were abusing their fellow neighbor because they were poor and vulnerable. God, being just, will treat them as they have treated others.

[11] Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them.
·         They are to surrender all the money taken by force or greed. Repentance demanded action in this case, it’s not enough to feel bad and keep the property. In the Christian life it’s not enough we say we surrender to Christ, we must actually surrender to Christ.

[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 of them, that they should do according to this promise.
·         Nehemiah cements the promise by having them make it in front of the priests.
·         They were going to write off the debt as if it had never happened, and not do it in the future.
·         In luke 19 we have the account of Zacchaeus who stole from people by collecting too much taxes. He himself gave back the money plus the interest, here they under duress agree to give back what was borrowed.

[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.
·         The imagery is striking. In the end the people who agreed and did not give God what was due in their oath would have everything taken away. This is similar to the parable of the three stewards Jesus told.
·         It seemed to have a lasting impression on the people, because they follow through.

[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.
·         For all the years Nehemiah was in Judea he did not take from the people taxes or burdens, he supplied for himself. This is like the apostle Paul who could have taken offerings, but did not, instead working as a tent maker.
·         Nehemiah then recounts what he offered to the people, which likely indicates that he brought a great fortune from Babylon with which to do the work

[15] But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.
·         Nehemiah knew that he would be accountable to God, so he did not oppress them, or starve them. This shows that generosity is a fruit of belief, and is not the root of it. You can get non-believers to participate in a great work and in the end you will still have non-believers.
·         Forty shekels of silver was about 1 pound of silver.
·         The Gentiles lord it over them, but it is not to be so with you. He who is to be your leader must be least of all.
·         The former governors are only interested in what they can take from the people, they have no fear of the Lord, no understanding that they will face him when they are judged.

[16] Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work.
·         If Nehemiah wanted to there was not a better time to take all the land and subjugate the people to slavery. As the ruler he could order everyone to build until they had nothing, at which point he could have bought it, but he did not. Neither did he take interest from his brothers.

[17] Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us.
·         This is a record of Nehemiahs treasury. In those days you would count money for the goods it would buy, and in a time of drought or starvation that meant food.
·         If foreign dignitaries or other people necessary for the government to function came to him he provided for them too

[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 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.
·         The meaning is a lot of wine. An ox and six sheep plus bird per day is a considerable amount of food. Nehemiah was using it to be generous to God’s people and to make friends with the people who came to him.

[19] Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.
·         Nehemiah asks God to remember his commitment to His people. Jesus said that if you give even a cup of water to these little ones you will by no means lose your reward.
·         I wonder what Ezra thought as he copied this out of the journal.
·         This prayer occurs three more times

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