There was a great cry of the people
The Jewish exiles had ridden forth from Babylonia mounted, not on asses only, but on horses, camels, mules (Ezra 2:66-67). They had been rich enough to contribute towards the erection of the temple in Jerusalem, 5,000 pounds of silver and 40,000 drams of gold (Neh. 7:71-72).
But the tide of prosperity began to ebb. To test His people, Yahweh sent famine, drought and want in the land (Hag. 1:9; Zech. 8:10), and though this was subsequently relieved (Hag. 2:19), it left its mark on the community and was reimposed when necessary (Mal. 3:8- 10).
The dedication of the whole of the nation's resources had brought many of the families into poverty, causing them to seek assistance from their more wealthier brethren. The Law permitted a person in need to mortgage home or land, or to offer a daughter as security (Exo. 12:7) in order to obtain financial assistance, and such money was to be offered without interest (usury) by a wealthy brother according to the value of the land, and only until the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:10-17).
But the nobles in Nehemiah's day demanded that the borrower mortgage home, land, or both (Neh. 5:3), or that he offer himself, or his son or daughter, as security (v. 5). Whilst the Law permitted this offer of security in measure (it allowed a man to pledge the person of a daughter: Exo. 21:7, but made no provision for a son), it ensured that such servants were not oppressed physically and go free in the sabbatical year (Exo. 21:2; Deut. 15:12), when, at the time of release, the creditor should "furnish the man liberally" out of his own store with
a supply of necessities (Deut. 15:12-14).
This was now not being done, and a large number of the poorer people had sunk into a state of perpetual servitude to the richer nobles (Neh. 5:15). Some had even been sold into the hands of the heathen (v. 8). The population of the land was seriously diminished by the drain upon it, and that of Jerusalem was especially scanty (7:4). Failure of crops (5:3), heavy tribute (v. 4), oppressive governors (v. 15), had increased the difficulties.
The Law legislated concerning usury (Exo. 22:25; Lev. 25:36), and demanded release at the jubilee (Lev. 25:24-31). But this had been set aside, as the nobles sought to benefit themselves.
...The oppressed rose against their oppressors, and found a worthy champion I
The Christadelphian Expositor
1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews.
There is a great lesson in Nehemiah's patient perseverance in the face of ingrained human fleshliness and evil. What a degraded thing the natural man is! What glorious and beautiful possibilities are held out before him, but how few have any desire to rise out of natural groveling earthiness!
"There was a great cry of the people against their brethren."
Why? Because the more fortunate and more powerful among them were cruelty oppressing the poorer ones, grinding them down into hopeless bondage and debt. This is, and has always been, the way of natural man-greed, selfishness and cruelty, yet with such protestations of piety and self-righteousness and showy charity!
"We have mortgaged our lands, and vineyards, and houses: we bring into bondage our sons and daughters."
Naturally, we too are of the same evil, selfish stuff. We must learn-from these manifestations of evil-the ugliness and viciousness of the inner enemy we all have to contend with. We must, by the light of the Spirit, learn to discern the same basic motives and reactions and self-justifications.
Bro Growcott - Let us rise up and build
6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.
Did the fear and goodness of God mean nothing to them at all? Doubtless they justified their conduct as "prudence" and "industry" and "wisdom" and "good business" and dismissed the plight of their brethren as the result of foolishness or laziness or carelessness (as doubtless it may have been in some cases).
"The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9)
--and we can justify and glorify anything, if we want to do so. See how the nations of the earth, both East and West, present every selfish, greedy action as a pious labour for human good!
"Let a man examine 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.
Nehemiah was "very angry." Then he says-
"I consulted with myself" (Neh. 5:6).
Here is wisdom. Paul says-
"Be ye angry-and SIN NOT" (Eph. 4:26).
"I consulted with myself."
He did not speak or act impetuously in anger-this is the almost irresistible temptation.
Nehemiah had been given supreme authority in Judea. His word was law. But he pleaded with them-
"Restore, I pray you, to them this day" (v. 11).
He sought to persuade them, to teach them a more excellent way, to make them ashamed of their wickedness, in the presence of all the congregation. Instead of commanding them, he asked them to enter into a solemn and public oath that they would do what he asked.
In this way he made it as easy as he could for them to do what Was right, and as difficult as he could for them to go back to doing what was wrong.
"And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord" [v. 13)
Bro Growcott - Let us rise up and build
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.
Nehemiah Stands for the Oppressed
Becoming aware of the disastrous financial state of many of the poorer brethren - a condition made far worse by the ruthless greed of unprincipled brethren - Nehemiah was "angry." The word is rendered "earnestly" in ch. 3:20, and is indicative of fervent zeal for the principles of the Truth. Therefore, Nehemiah was a man of justice and mercy, and intense integrity.
Seeing the havoc which resulted from these circumstances (vv. 1-5), he "consulted" with himself (v. 7). With a man of Nehemiah's character this could only mean that he thought deeply about the matter, upon the basis of the Spirit-Word. As his prayer in the first chapter shows, he was a diligent student of the Word, and turned to it constantly for guidance and direction.
Like the Psalmist, he "communed with his own heart" and "made diligent search" within the Word of God (Psa. 77:6). Having done this, and having established clearly in his mind what the Word required, he "contended" (RV) for the faith, against the wrongdoers. In dealing with the problem in the way he did, he upheld without compromise the requirements of Lev. 19:15,
"Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour."
He argued the question from the Word with such conviction that the brethren who needed to be rebuked could not answer him. They "held their peace, and found nothing to answer" (v. 8). These brethren not only found Nehemiah's case to be unanswerable; they could not help but be impressed by his wisdom and knowledge, and his personal integrity. Like the One he typified,
"he taught them as one having authority" (Mat. 7:29).
This incident provides a further example of Nehemiah - not only as a strong leader and a man of action, but as a deeply spiritually-minded man, and an earnest student of the Word of God.
Bro John Ullman
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.
The dynamic advent of Nehemiah
By the time of Nehemiah, the situation was dire indeed, for the people were in great affliction, and the walls of the city were broken down. Economic hardship had caused many families to mortgage their lands and houses, and even children, but their indebtedness was to Jewish brethren who were exacting usury of them. 8
When Jerusalem lay without walls and gates, there was no sense of spiritual community, and the remnant of the captivity suffered from the same discouragement which afflicted those in the days of Zerubbabel. Dramatic change was needed, and it came with the dynamic advent of Nehemiah.
His arrival, some ninety years after Zerubbabel, immediately inspired a sense of unity and a desire for action. Positive and focused, determined and organised, inspirational and indefatigable, he provided the spiritual leadership that people yearned for and responded to.
Sharing the same spirit as the great reforming kings, he showed a similar determination to revitalise the spiritual aspect of the nation, and had a very clear plan for its accomplishment. He saw the rebuilding of the city and the restoring of the worship as related events, but he also knew that the one must precede the other.
For that reason, he first gave his entire attention to the building of the wall, and from the outset his plan was amazingly successful. He knew what was needed before ever leaving Persia, and he had the royal warrant which Ezra lacked, for Artaxerxes had given him specific approval to rebuild the city and its walls, to set up its gates, and to receive supplies from the king's forest. 9
In no time, he had the nation hard at work on every section of the wall, to the dismay of his adversaries and the rejoicing of the faithful. It was nothing short of a miracle that the entire wall, which had been incomplete for ninety years, was finished, with its gates, in less than two months. 10
Nehemiah was an astute judge of character. Awake to the compromise of Eliashib, alert to the duplicity of Sanballat and Tobiah, and aware of the apathy of the rulers of the Tekoites, it was not surprising that, when it came to restoring the spirit of true worship, he had already observed the House of Asaph, and decided to put them in charge.
After an epoch of discouragement, longer than the captivity itself, the family were only too ready to support Nehemiah in all his undertakings. Despite the general affliction of the people, they had never lost their focus, and never ceased their song. Theirs was an astonishing example, and Nehemiah saw it. He needed the best, and he chose this family.
8 Nehemiah 5:1-8.
9 Nehemiah 2:6-8.
10 Nehemiah 6:15,16.
Bro Roger Lewis - The House of Asaph Ch 11
19 Think upon me, my Elohim, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.
He accepted no payment or contribution for his support. His servants, instead of ruling over the people as those of former governors had done, all labored in the common work, and
furthermore he personally supported a continuous assembly of one hundred and fifty people attached to his administration.
Like Paul, he desired to "spend and be spent" for them. His reward and pleasure was in helping and serving his people and putting on record an example for the guidance and inspiration of others.
"Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all I have done for this people "
He desired nothing from man. He wanted to give all he could, of himself and of his substance. All he desired was the remembrance and mercy of God. He is not boasting.
It was necessary, in the wisdom of the Spirit, that this be recorded for our edification. Here the secret thoughts of his heart are laid bare for our comfort and guidance.
*Bro Growcott - Let us rise up and build