NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 5.
The Abuse of Usury Corrected.
THE COMPLAINT OF THE PEOPLE ADJUSTED BY NEHEMIAH. — V. 1. And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives, namely, the poorer ones in the nation, against their brethren, the Jews, the richer members of their own nation, who were taking advantage of their poverty. V. 2. Nor 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. The more exact rendering of this sentence seems to be: We have mortgaged our sons and our daughters that we might buy corn. They had been forced by their creditors to give their very children as security, as hostages, in order to get food for their families. V.3. Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses that we might buy corn because of the dearth. The shortage of food may have been due as well to the excessive rains, Ezra 10, 9; Hag. 1, 6-11, as to the fact that the Samaritan adversaries managed to keep so many of them penned up in the city of Jerusalem, which made it impossible for them to till their lands. V.4. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, the taxes laid upon them by the Persian government, and that upon our lands and vineyards. It was a most deplorable condition of affairs which compelled these poorer members of the congregation to mortgage their children and all their property for the sake of procuring food and the necessary funds to pay their taxes to the Persian government. V. 5. Yet, now, our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children, they rightly felt that they had equal rights with their richer neighbors before the Lord; and, lo, we bring into bondage our Sons and our daughters to be servants, practically forced to sell them as slaves, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already, apparently said of their being used for immoral purposes, Ex. 21, 7-11; neither is it in our power to redeem them, literally, “and not is toward God our hand”; for other men have our lands and vineyards, they were at the mercy of their creditors. V. 6. And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words, since these conditions were strictly against the Law of Jehovah, Ex. 22, 25-27. V.7. Then I consulted with myself, since his heart was filled with pity for his oppressed brethren, and I rebuked the nobles and the rulers, these being the guilty ones in this instance, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, both in taking pledges and in charging interest, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them, calling a mass-meeting in spite of the urgent need of wall-building, in order to have the outrage stopped immediately by the expression of the opinion of the whole congregation. V.8. And I said unto them, with great force and emphasis, We, after our ability, have redeemed our brethren, the Jews, by paying ransom-money to free them from bondage in the land of their captivity, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren, or shall they be sold unto us? That is what the custom then in vogue practically amounted to, an enslaving of the poor. Then held they their peace and found nothing to answer, being overcome by Nehemiah’s remonstrance. V. 9. Also I said, It is not good that ye do, there was a second reason which condemned their action. Ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God, in a wholesome awe of His holy presence, because of the reproach of the heathen, our enemies? If the latter heard of the conditions existing in the midst of the Jews, they would be sure to reproach them, to scoff at them. V. 10. I likewise, and my brethren and my servants, might exact of them money and corn, rather, “And also I, that is, my brethren and my servants, exact of them, by lending them money,” members of his own family had been found guilty. I pray you, let us leave of this usury, which was expressly forbidden in the Law, Ex. 22, 25; Lev. 25, 36; Deut. 23, 19. V. 11. Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive-yards, and their houses, everything that had been taken as security, also the hundredth part of the money and of the corn, the wine and the oil, that ye exact of them, the interest charged them, which amounted to twelve per cent. a year. V. 12. Then said they, overcome by the force of the arguments used by Nehemiah, We will restore them, both the pledges and the interest exacted, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, as the representatives of the Lord, and took an oath of them, the priests administering this solemn oath, that they should do according to this promise, the men involved thus binding themselves before the face of Jehovah Himself. V. 13. Also I shook my lap, the bosom of his outer garment, which was used as a pocket, and said, So God shake out every man from his house and from his labor that performeth not this promise; even thus be he shaken out and emptied. It was a symbolical act, also used by the Apostle Paul at a later time, Acts 18, 6, and similar to that of shaking off the dust from the garments and feet in the time of Jesus. And all the congregation said, Amen, stating their full agreement with the sentiments expressed by Nehemiah, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise, they lived up to their solemn agreement, as Nehemiah carefully notes. If similar conditions are found in a Christian congregation, if richer’ members forget their duties of love and mercy toward their poorer brethren, the Word of God must be applied with the emphasis required by the occasion until the wrong has been righted.
NEHEMIAH’S FINE EXAMPLE. — V. 14. Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, Nehemiah interrupting his narrative in order to make this explanation concerning his entire term of office, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, at the end of which time he wrote this history, I and my brethren, the other men of his family, have not eaten the bread of the governor. V. 15. But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, they accepted the salary allowed them by the Persian king, and had taken of them bread and wine beside forty shekels of silver (amounting to about $360 a year, in cash alone, or, according to others, to some $30 a day); yea, even their servants bare rule over the people; but so did not I because of the fear of God, which caused him to seek the welfare of the people first. V. 16. Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land, namely, for purposes of speculation; and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work, they were not excused from building the wall. V. 17. Moreover, there were at my table, partaking of his hospitality, an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, which made his establishment a very costly one, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us, visitors to whom he freely showed hospitality. V. 18: Now, that which was prepared for me daily, being used up in this great household, 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, which he might have charged to his salary, required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage, both the taxes of the government and the requirements of their national welfare, was heavy upon this people, they had difficulty in meeting all these obligations. V. 19. Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people, rather, “Remember to me, my God, for all the good which I did upon this people,” as a fine example to all Christians whose circumstances permit them to do an unusual amount of good to their fellow-Christians and to all men. If God has blessed men with this world’s goods, they should be glad to share them with those who are less fortunately situated and are truly in need.