How bravely Nehemiah, as a wise and faithful governor, stood upon his
guard against the attacks of enemies abroad, we read in the foregoing
chapter. Here we have him no less bold and active to redress grievances
at home, and, having kept them from being destroyed by their enemies,
to keep them from destroying one another. Here is,
I. The complaint which the poor made to him of the great hardships
which the rich (of whom they were forced to borrow money) put upon
II. The effectual course which Nehemiah took both to reform the
oppressors and to relieve the oppressed,
III. The good example which he himself, as governor, set them of
compassion and tenderness,
|The Complaints of the Poor.
||B. C. 445.|
1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives
against their brethren the Jews.
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.
3 Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our
lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of
4 There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the
king's tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards.
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
We have here the tears of the oppressed, which Solomon considered,
Let us consider them as here they are dropped before Nehemiah, whose
office it was, as governor, to deliver the poor and needy, and rid
them out of the hand of the wicked oppressors,
Hard times and hard hearts made the poor miserable.
I. The times they lived in were hard. There was a dearth of corn
probably for want of rain, with which God had chastised their neglect
of his house
and the non-payment of their church-dues,
Thus foolish sinful men bring God's judgments upon themselves, and then
fret and complain of them. When the markets are high, and provisions
scarce and dear, the poor soon feel from it, and are pinched by it.
Blessed be God for the mercy, and God deliver us from the sin, of
fulness of bread,
That which made the scarcity here complained of the more grievous was
that their sons and their daughters were many,
The families that were most necessitous were most numerous; here were
the mouths, but where was the meat? Some have estates and no children
to inherit them; others have children and no estates to leave them.
Those who have both have reason to be thankful; those who have neither
may the more easily be content. Those who have great families and
little substance must learn to live by faith in God's providence and
promise; and those who have little families and great substance must
make their abundance a supply for the wants of others. But this
was not all: as corn was dear, so the taxes were high; the king's
tribute must be paid,
This mark of their captivity still remained upon them. Perhaps it was
a poll-money that was required, and then, their sons and their
daughters being many, it rose the higher. The more they had to maintain
(a hard case!) the more they had to pay. Now, it seems, they had not
wherewithal of their own to buy corn and pay taxes, but were
necessitated to borrow. Their families came poor out of Babylon; they
had been at great expense in building them houses, and had not yet got
up their strength when these new burdens came upon them. The straits of
poor housekeepers who make hard shift to get an honest livelihood, and
sometimes want what is fitting for them and their families, are well
worthy the compassionate consideration of those who either with their
wealth or with their power are in a capacity to help them.
II. The persons they dealt with were hard. Money must be had, but it
must be borrowed; and those that lent them money, taking advantage of
their necessity, were very hard upon them and made a prey of them.
1. They exacted interest from them at twelve per cent, the hundredth
part every month,
If men borrow large sums to trade with, to increase their stocks, or to
purchase land, there is no reason why the lender should not share with
the borrower in his profit; or if to spend upon their lusts, or repair
what they have so spent, why should they not pay for their
extravagances? But if the poor borrow to maintain their families, and
we be able to help them, it is certain we ought either to lend freely
what they have occasion for, or (if they be not likely to repay it) to
give freely something towards it. Nay,
2. They forced them to mortgage to them their lands and houses for the
securing of the money
and not only so, but took the profits of them for interest
that by degrees they might make themselves masters of all they had. Yet
this was not the worst.
3. They took their children for bond-servants, to be enslaved or sold
This they complain of most sensibly, as that which touched them in a
tender part, and they aggravate it with this: "Our children are as
their children, as dear to us as theirs are to them; not only of
the same human nature, and entitled to the honours and liberties of
but of the same holy nation, free-born Israelites, and dignified with
the same privileges. Our flesh carries in it the sacred seal of the
covenant of circumcision, as well as the flesh of our brethren;
yet our heirs must be their slaves, and it is not in our power to
redeem them." This they made a humble remonstrance of to Nehemiah,
not only because they saw he was a great man that could relieve them,
but a good man that would. Whither should the injured poor flee for
succour but to the shields of the earth? Whither but to the
chancery, to the charity, in the royal breast, and those deputed by it
for relief against the summum jus--the extremity of the
Lastly, We will leave Nehemiah hearing the complaint, and enquiring
into the truth of the complainants' allegations (for the clamours of
the poor are not always just), while we sit down and look,
(1.) With a gracious compassion upon the oppressed, and lament the
hardships which many in the world are groaning under; putting our souls
into their souls' stead, and remembering in our prayers and succours
those that are burdened, as burdened with them.
(2.) With a gracious indignation at the oppressors, and abhorrence of
their pride and cruelty, who drink the tears, the blood, of those they
have under their feet. But let those who show no mercy expect
judgment without mercy. It was an aggravation of the sin of
these oppressing Jews that they were themselves so lately delivered out
of the house of bondage, which obliged them in gratitude to undo the
|Grievances of the Poor Redressed.
||B. C. 445.|
6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 of them.
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.
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.
It should seem the foregoing complaint was made to Nehemiah at the time
when he had his head and hands as full as possible of the public
business about building the wall; yet, perceiving it to be just, he did
not reject it because it was unseasonable; he did not chide the
petitioners, nor fall into a passion with them, for disturbing him when
they saw how much he had to do, a fault which men of business are too
often guilty of; nor did he so much as adjourn the hearing of the cause
or proceedings upon it till he had more leisure. The case called for
speedy interposition, and therefore he applied himself immediately to
the consideration of it, knowing that, let him build Jerusalem's walls
ever so high, so thick, so strong, the city could not be safe while
such abuses as these were tolerated. Now observe, What method he took
for the redress of this grievance which was so threatening to the
I. He was very angry
he expressed a great displeasure at it, as a very bad thing. Note, It
well becomes rulers to show themselves angry at sin, that by the anger
itself they may be excited to their duty, and by the expressions of it
others may be deterred from evil.
II. He consulted with himself,
By this it appears that his anger was not excessive, but kept within
bounds, that, though his spirit was provoked, he did not say or do any
thing unadvisedly. Before he rebuked the nobles, he consulted with
himself what to say, and when, and how. Note, Reproofs must be given
with great consideration, that what is well meant may not come short of
its end for want of being well managed. It is the reproof of
instruction that giveth life. Even wise men lose the benefit
of their wisdom sometimes for want of consulting with themselves and
taking time to deliberate.
III. He rebuked the nobles and rulers, who were the monied men,
and whose power perhaps made them the more bold to oppress. Note, Even
nobles and rulers, if they do that which is evil, ought to be told of
it by proper persons. Let no man imagine that his dignity sets him
IV. He set a great assembly against them. He called the people together
to be witnesses of what he said, and to bear their testimony (which the
people will generally be forward to do) against the oppressions and
extortions their rulers were guilty of,
Ezra and Nehemiah were both of them very wise, good, useful men, yet,
in cases not unlike, there was a great deal of difference between their
management: when Ezra was told of the sin of the rulers in marrying
strange wives he rent his clothes, and wept, and prayed, and was hardly
persuaded to attempt a reformation, fearing it to be impracticable, for
he was a man of a mild tender spirit; when Nehemiah was told of as bad
a thing he kindled immediately, reproached the delinquents, incensed
the people against them, and never rested till, by all the rough
methods he could use, he forced them to reform; for he was a man of a
hot and eager spirit. Note,
1. Very holy men may differ much from each other in their natural
temper and in other things that result from it.
2. God's work may be done, well done, and successfully, and yet
different methods taken in the doing of it, which is a good reason why
we should neither arraign the management of others nor make our own a
standard. There are diversities of operation, but the same Spirit.
V. He fairly reasoned the case with them, and showed them the evil of
what they did. The regular way of reforming men's lives is to
endeavour, in the first place, to convince their consciences. Several
things he offered to their consideration, which are so pertinent and
just that it appeared he had consulted with himself. He lays it before
1. That those whom they oppressed were their brethren: You exact
every one of his brother. It was bad enough to oppress strangers,
but much worse to oppress their poor brethren, from whom the divine law
did not allow them to take any usury,
2. That they were but lately redeemed out of the hand of the
heathen. The body of the people were so by the wonderful providence
of God; some particular persons among them were so, who, besides their
share in the general captivity, were in servitude to heathen masters,
and ransomed at the charge of Nehemiah and other pious and
well-disposed persons. "Now," says he, "have we taken all this pains to
get their liberty out of the hands of the heathen, and shall their own
rulers enslave them? What an absurd thing is this! Must we be at the
same trouble and expense to redeem them from you as we were to redeem
them from Babylon?"
Those whom God by his grace has made free ought not to be again brought
under a yoke of bondage,
3. That it was a great sin thus to oppress the poor
"It is not good that you do; though you get money by it, you
contract guilt by it, and ought you not to walk in the fear of
God? Certainly you ought, for you profess religion, and relation to
him; and, if you do walk in the fear of God, you will not be either
covetous of worldly gain or cruel towards your brethren." Those that
walk in the fear of God will not dare to do a wicked thing,
4. That it was a great scandal, and a reproach to their profession.
"Consider the reproach of the heathen our enemies, enemies to
us, to our God, and to our holy religion. They will be glad of any
occasion to speak against us, and this will give them great occasion;
they will say, These Jews, that profess so much devotion to God, see
how barbarous they are one to another." Note,
(1.) All that profess religion should be very careful that they do
nothing to expose themselves to the reproach of those that are without,
lest religion be wounded through their sides.
(2.) Nothing exposes religion more to the reproach of its enemies than
the worldliness and hard-heartedness of the professors of it.
5. That he himself had set them a better example
which he enlarges upon afterwards,
&c. Those that rigorously insist upon their right themselves will with
a very ill grace persuade others to recede from theirs.
VI. He earnestly pressed them not only not to make their poor
neighbours any more such hard bargains, but to restore that which they
had got into their hands,
See how familiarly he speaks to them: Let us leave off this
usury, putting himself in, as becomes reprovers, though far from
being any way guilty of the crime. See how earnestly, and yet humbly,
he persuades them: I pray you leave off; and I pray you
restore. Though he had authority to command, yet, for love's sake,
he rather beseeches. See how particularly he presses them to be
kind to the poor, to give them up their mortgages, put them again in
possession of their estates, remit the interest, and give them time to
pay in the principal. He urged them to their loss, yet, urging them to
their duty, it would be, at length, to their advantage. What we
charitably forgive will be remembered and recompensed, as well as what
we charitably give.
VII. He laid them under all the obligations possible to do what he
pressed them to.
1. He got a promise from them
We will restore them.
2. He sent for the priests to give them their oath that they would
perform this promise; now that their convictions were strong, and they
seemed resolved, he would keep them to it.
3. He bound them by a solemn curse or execration, hoping that would
strike some awe upon them: So let God shake out every man that
performeth not this promise,
This was a threatening that he would certainly do so, to which the
people said Amen, as to those curses at Mount Ebal
that their throats might be cut with their own tongues if they should
falsify their engagement, and that by the dread of that they might be
kept to their promise. With this Amen the people praised the
Lord; so far were they from promising with regret that they
promised with all possible expressions of joy and thankfulness. Thus
David, when he took God's vows upon him, sang and gave praise,
This cheerfulness in promising was well, but that which follows was
better: They did according to this promise, and adhered to what
they had done, not as their ancestors in a like case, who re-enslaved
those whom a little before they had released,
Good promises are good things, but good performances are all in
|The Generosity of Nehemiah.
||B. C. 445.|
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
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
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.
17 Moreover there were at my table a hundred and fifty of
the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among
the heathen that are about us.
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.
19 Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I
have done for this people.
Nehemiah had mentioned his own practice, as an inducement to the nobles
not to burden the poor, no, not with just demands; here he relates more
particularly what his practice was, not inn pride or vain-glory, nor to
pass a compliment upon himself, but as an inducement both to his
successors and to the inferior magistrates to be as tender as might be
of the people's ease.
I. He intimates what had been the way of his predecessors,
He does not name them, because what he had to say of them was not to
their honour, and in such a case it is good to spare names; but the
people knew how chargeable they had been, and how dearly the country
paid for all the benefit of their government. The government allowed
them forty shekels of silver, which was nearly five pounds (so
much a day, it is probable); but, besides that, they obliged the people
to furnish them with bread and wine, which they claimed as
perquisites of their office; and not only so, but they suffered their
servants to squeeze the people, and to get all they could out of them.
1. It is no new thing for those who are in public places to seek
themselves more than the public welfare, any, and to serve themselves
by the public loss.
2. Masters must be accountable for all the acts of fraud and injustice,
violence and oppression, which they connive at in their servants.
II. He tells us what had been his own way.
1. In general, he had not done as the former governors did; he would
not, he durst not, because of the fear of God. He had an awe of
God's majesty and a dread of his wrath. And,
(1.) The fear of God restrained him from oppressing the people. Those
that truly fear God will not dare to do any thing cruel or unjust.
(2.) It was purely that which restrained him. He was thus generous, not
that he might have praise of men, or serve a turn by his interest in
the people, but purely for conscience' sake, because of the fear of
God. This will not only be a powerful, but an acceptable principle both
of justice and charity. What a good hand his predecessors made of their
place appeared by the estates they raised; but Nehemiah, for his part,
got nothing, except the satisfaction of doing good: Neither bought
we any land,
Say not then that he was a bad husband, but that he was a good
governor, who aimed not to feather his own nest. Let us remember the
words of the Lord, how he said, It is more blessed to give than
2. More particularly, observe here,
(1.) How little Nehemiah received of what he might have required. He
did the work of the governor, but he did not eat the bread of the
did not require it,
So far was he from extorting more than his due that he never demanded
that, but lived upon what he had got in the king of Persia's court and
his own estate in Judea: the reason he gives for this piece of
self-denial is, Because the bondage was heavy upon the people.
He might have used the common excuse for rigour in such cases, that it
would be a wrong to his successors not to demand his dues; but let them
look to themselves: he considered the afflicted state of the Jews, and,
while they groaned under so much hardship, he could not find it in his
heart to add to their burden, but would rather lessen his own estate
than ruin them. note, In our demands we must consider not only the
justice of them, but the ability of those on whom we make them; where
there is nothing to be had we know who loses his right.
(2.) How much he gave which he might have withheld.
[1.] His servants' work,
The servants of princes think themselves excused from labour; but
Nehemiah's servants, by his order no doubt, were all gathered to the
work. Those that have many servants should contrive how they may do
good with them and keep them well employed.
[2.] His own meat,
He kept a very good table, not on certain days, but constantly; he had
many honourable guests, at least 150 of his own countrymen, persons of
the first rank, besides strangers that came to him upon business; and
he had plentiful provisions for his guests, beef, and mutton, and fowl,
and all sorts of wine. Let those in public places remember that they
were preferred to do good, not to enrich themselves; and let people in
humbler stations learn to use hospitality one to another without
1 Peter 4:9.
III. He concludes with a prayer
Think upon me, my God, for good.
1. Nehemiah here mentions what he had done for this people, not
in pride, as boasting of himself, nor in passion, as upbraiding them,
nor does it appear that he had occasion to do it in his own
vindication, as Paul had to relate his like self-denying tenderness
towards the Corinthians, but to shame the rulers out of their
oppressions; let them learn of him to be neither greedy in their
demands nor paltry in their expenses, and then they would have the
credit and comfort of their liberality, as he had.
2. He mentions it to God in prayer, not as if he thought he had hereby
merited any favour from God, as a debt, but to show that he looked not
for any recompence of his generosity from men, but depended upon God
only to make up to him what he had lost and laid out for his honour;
and he reckoned the favour of God reward enough. "If God do but
think upon me for good, I have enough." His thoughts to us-ward
are our happiness,
He refers it to God to recompense him in such a manner as he pleased.
"If men forget me, let my God think on me, and I desire no more."