Nehemiah 5:1-19





Verse 1-5, 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 the dearth. {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 vineyards.

I.    Verse 1, The nature of the cry.

A.  It was a great cry.

1.   This is not a puny excuse to quit work because they are tired.

2.   This is a cry of the heart for the welfare of their families.

3.   There is a great injustice done to the workers by fellow Jews.

B.   The source of the cry.

1.   It came from the men and the women alike.

2.   It is remarkable that the wives are mentioned separately.

3.   This indicates the righteousness of the cry.

a.   I must state that every cry of a wife is not necessarily righteous.

b.   Some wives raise a big stink over the smallest infringement of their "rights", which is wrong.

4.   This is a matter which is destroying the family, therefore the wives add their voice to the uproar.

5.   Notice today, the "modern wife" doesn't complain about the destroying of her family, but is the cause of the family being destroyed.


II.   The three types of trouble.

A.  Verse 2 - We have been working on the wall so much that we haven't had time to put in our crops, and have run out of food.  These people still have their lands, houses, and vineyards, but have used up all their food supplies.

B.   Verse 3 - Some have run out of food and money, and have mortgaged their houses, lands and vineyards (their source of income) in order to buy food.

1.   They are not in immediate danger of starving, but are losing all their physical possessions because of doing the Lord's work.

2.   Notice they lay the blame on the dearth, not on their own laziness or fault.

3.   The dearth would also affect the other categories of people, but these are the only one who mention it.

4.   If someone else has mentioned my problem, why should I mention it again?

C.   Verse 4,5 - These people have not only mortgaged their houses for food, but have borrowed money to pay their taxes.

1.   Some of their daughters have already been sold into bondage, and it looks like they will be forced to spend their lives in slavery, and all because their parents were diligent to do the work of God!

2.   These daughters are going into bondage to other Jews, not to Gentiles.

3.   They are now unable to help themselves because they have already mortgaged their lands and vineyards so they can work on the wall.


III. The situation:

A.  The Jews were not able to work at their secular jobs because they were working on the wall, thus had borrowed money from other Jews to buy food.

B.   There was a dearth which resulted in fewer crops, thus less money.

C.   The rich Jews were charging usury, thus discouraging the workers.  They could not continue working on the wall and pay usury.

D.  The Jews were greatly discouraged because of these things. If things continued like this, they would have to stop work on the wall, and go back to work so they could earn a living for their families.


IV. Three very serious problems.

A.  These problems are presented in the order of seriousness.

1.   The first isn't very serious, but could become serious.

2.   The second has reached a more serious level.

3.   The third is very serious indeed.

B.   What we find here is three different levels of prosperity and savings in Israel.

1.   First are those people that have enough prosperity and savings that they have been able to use all their savings without affecting their earning capacity.  They could live off their savings while they worked on the wall.

2.   Secondly, are those people who had some savings, and who lived off that savings while they worked on the wall.  Those small savings are now gone and they have mortgaged their lands to continue the work on the wall.

3.   Thirdly, are those people that had no savings so anything they gave to the work would come from their present earning capacity, which was greatly hindered when they couldn't work.

C.   This teaches us a very basic truth.

1.   Savings are a "safety net".

2.   When you can't work, or you must postpone work for some reason or another, you can live on your savings until you can work.

3.   It is very good to have six months wages put back into such a "rainy day account", although I don't know anybody who has one.


V.  Lessons to be learned.

A.  Sometimes those who have least give most.

1.   This has been my experience.

2.   Those poor people I have pastored have generally been most generous with me and my family, while those wealthy people I have pastored (and I have pastored some very wealthy people) have been the least generous with me and my family.

3.   I think some of the difference can be explained because poor people understand what it is like to have a need and be unable to purchase necessities, while people that are better off do not understand what it is like not to have the money to buy what is needed.

4.   In other words, rich people simply don't understand how poor people live.

B.   God expects us to be faithful to Him when it isn't convenient.

C.   The problem goes back to Ex. 21:2-6 (Hebrew servants, not Negro slaves.)

1.   They are losing their power as Jews, because of their faithfulness to the building of the wall.

2.   This is not right, and the afflicted Jews are right to bring up their plight.

D.  Lev. 25:35-38 - The problem of Usury.

1.   Usury has come to mean the charging of exorbitant interest rates, but that is not the original scriptural meaning.

2.   The scripture expressly forbids the charging of interest or gaining increase from the loaning of money, see Leviticus 25:35-38.

3.   Money was to be loaned to fellow Jews without interest, and only on the basis of a compelling need.

4.   The Jews could, however, loan money to Gentiles and charge them interest.

5.   The practice of the Jews charging interest to fellow Jews seems to have arisen during the Babylonian Captivity, and to reach the rate of 12% per annum.

6.   There is no allowance in scripture for a person loaning money to another person for investment or business purposes, and charging usury (interest).


Verse 6-13,  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.

I.    We must notice that every complaint of the poor is not just.

A.  Many poor people do nothing but complain, when they would do well to work, or to train themselves for a better occupation.

B.   Nehemiah takes the time to look into the complaint to see if it is a just complaint, or just the murmurings of discontent.


II.   Nehemiah took time from his very busy schedule to hear and consider the complaint.

A.  Leaders ought always to be careful to do this.

1.   He didn't chide the people because of bothering him.

2.   Reason - regardless of how strong a wall was built, an internal problem like this will destroy the people from within.

B.   Sometimes it is necessary to stop the work in order for the work to continue.

1.   Some problems can be handled while the work continues.

2.   Some problems are too serious for the work to continue.

3.   If the work isn't stopped and the problem corrected now, it will be permanently stopped later.


III. Very angry - at the sin, not at the people.

A.  When Nehemiah understood the utter selfishness of the rich people, their total lack of concern with the future prosperity of Israel, he could hardly contain his wrath.

B.   Here were some wealthy Jews who were more concerned with their personal wealth and power than they were with the will of God, or the prosperity of the nation as a whole.

C.   They were looking, not at the long range effect of their "usury", but at the short term, ill gotten, gain.

D.  It is very important for every person, not just the leaders, to look at the long range effect of all they are doing.

E.   If this policy were implemented in our nation, many things would change for the better.


IV. Consulted with self - His anger wasn't out of control.

A.  Some people might not like this statement, but it is good in this case.

1.   Everyone might not be able to consult with themselves and arrive at the correct conclusion, but Nehemiah can and does.

2.   He talks the problem over with himself and handles matters as he sees fit.

3.   And of course, he arrives at the correct solution.

B.   Some might complain that Nehemiah is being a dictator, and in a sense he is.  He is doing God's biding, God's way, in God's time and needs no man to tell him what he ought to be doing.

C.   Some would properly notice the reason Nehemiah must consult with himself.

1.   There is nobody to turn to.

2.   The Jews have divided themselves into two distinct groups.

3.   The first group is the poor, who are being injured by the second group, the rich.

4.   Every Jew fits into one group or the other, therefore Nehemiah has nobody to turn to for right advice.

D.  This gives us a look into the duty of a leader, whether that leader is a pastor, or an officer of the government.

1.   Their job is not to give in to the desires of the majority, or minority, but to do what God wants them to do.

2.   A very terrible problem in the United States government is the lobbyists who "lobby" our senator and representatives, trying to sway them over to their way of thinking.

3.   Most government officials listen to this kind of rot without understanding they are supposed to do what is right, not to "grease the wheel that squeaks the loudest".

4.   This is why government officials are referred to as "politicians", not "statesmen".


V.  Rebuked nobles and rulers.

A.  Sometimes the rich and powerful must be rebuked.

1.   It is well that they will listen.

2.   I wonder if some of the rulers were also eating at Nehemiah's table as stated in Nehemiah 5:17?

3.   Nehemiah 4:19 states that the nobles and rulers were also working on the wall.

a.   The nobles and rulers are interested in the wall being built; God's will being done.

b.   The problem is that the rulers and nobles simply don't understand the problems faced by the poorer Israelites.

c.   I don't believe they are intentionally harming the poor, but are simply conducting business like the heathen they have been around.

d.   When they are plainly told they are hurting their fellow Jews, they change their mode of operation.

e.   The lesson today is that church members that are better off financially must be very careful to understand that poorer church members just don't have the money available to them that they have.

f.    Poorer church members must also understand that wealthy church members don't think the way they think about money.

4.   I really don't know, but I do know that this sounds just like some rulers I know.

5.   They will gladly get their daily food from somebody else, while cheating others of their daily food!

6.   Some people have a lot of gall, don't they?

B.   This takes a lot of courage from Nehemiah, for he was lately come to Israel.

1.   Part of the reason Nehemiah was able to rebuke them was because he didn't do it for personal reasons, and the nobles and rulers knew this.

a.   Nehemiah didn't come to Israel to gain anything for himself, he came to help Israel.

b.   Nehemiah was doing the Lord's will, and wasn't ashamed to tell Israel so.

c.   Nehemiah stood for God's will and God's way, and the people knew this.

d.   So when Nehemiah spoke, even though he spoke harshly, the people knew he spoke the truth.

2.   Another point is that Nehemiah didn't depend on the rulers and nobles for a living.

a.   He was wealthy without them as stated in verses 14-19.

b.   If Nehemiah made them mad, it wouldn't bother Nehemiah in the least as far as his financial situation was concerned.

c.   He had a place to live (provided by the king) and would continue to eat, and feed the 150 Jews and rulers that ate at his table.

C.   It must be noted that Nehemiah took a stand!

1.   He prayed to God, and consulted with himself, discovered the Lord's will and took a stand right there.

2.   It was after he took his stand that he turned the great assembly against the nobles and rulers.

3.   Nehemiah is no politician!  (A politician finds out what the people want, then stands for that.  When the people change their minds, a politician also changes his mind.  He just "blows which ever way the wind blows".


VI. Great assembly against them - many witnesses.

A.  This is a very emotional issue, as is every issue is that deals with money.

B.   When the rulers and nobles understood that Nehemiah, and a great assembly of common people, were against them, they might have believed they were in danger of not only losing their position and wealth if these many witnesses decide to take back their forfeited collateral, but also their personal possessions.


VII.      Presents a fair case.

A.  Nehemiah could have forced the nobles and rulers to do anything he so desired, but instead convinced them of the truth.

1.   Redeemed from heathen, now enslaved by brothers.

2.   Walk in fear of God - a misunderstanding of the entire issue.

3.   Look what the unbelievers think of us.

4.   Verse 10 - It's okay to expect repayment, but not usury and confiscation of land and servants.

5.   "I pray you" - He had power to command, but besought instead.  (Note word "us" - although he wasn't guilty of usury.)

B.   Verse 12 - He got their vow which was witnessed before the priests (The symbol of God).

C.   Verse 13 - A vow and a curse.  "Amen" by the congregation.




Verse 14-19,  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. {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. {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 an 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.

I.    The things Nehemiah did.

A.  I think it is important to notice right here that Nehemiah doesn't say these things about his deeds for people to brag about him.

1.   It is important for the Jews to understand that Nehemiah isn't like the nobles and rulers.

2.   It is also important for us to understand that Nehemiah, a faithful leader of the Jewish nation, isn't like the former governors.

3.   Nehemiah wouldn't have said anything about what he did, except for the things the nobles and rulers did.

4.   II Cor. 12:11-13 - Paul, like Nehemiah, had to relate to men what he had done.  "I am become a fool in glorying."

B.   Verse 14 - For the 12 years that Nehemiah was governor over Jerusalem, he accepted no wage from the people, but provided for himself and his household.

1.   It also seems that Nehemiah stayed in Jerusalem only long enough to complete the preliminary work on the wall.

2.   He stayed long enough to establish the priesthood, the proper worship of God, then returned to Shushan, Neh. 13:6.

C.   Verse 16 - He continued working on the wall, not buying any land and put all his servants to work on the wall, instead of taking care of Nehemiah.

1.   The purchase of land would supply future income for Nehemiah and his household.

2.   It is likely Nehemiah bought some land after the wall was built.

3.   It is also likely he would try to purchase the land that should have been given to his ancestors as related in the book of Joshua.

D.  Verse 17,18 - He daily fed some 150 people, even supplying extra food every 10 days.

1.   This would keep at least 10 people busy.

2.   I am assuming three meals a day, 7 days a week.

3.   Supplying an ox and 6 sheep, plus fowls every day of the week would be a great financial strain on anybody.


II.   Verse 15 - He did not act like the former governors.

A.  The former governors not only forced the people to supply for their necessities, but more: bread and wine (the luxuries of life).

1.   The former governors even allowed their servants to exercise authority over the people, but Nehemiah didn't do this.

2.   Instead, Nehemiah made his servants work beside the people on the wall.

B.   Because he feared God.

1.   This is his only reason.

2.   Bought no land, nothing for personal gain.

3.   Some might have trouble understanding this, but Nehemiah knew that the burden upon the people was very great, and wouldn't add his own support to them.

C.   Verse 18 - Because the bondage was heavy upon the people - they needed the relief.

1.   It is good that Nehemiah realized the problems faced by the common people he ruled.

2.   This is a real problem for some wealthy people (and some U. S. Government officials) to understand.

3.   Some wealthy people (and some U. S. Government officials) seem to lose contact with reality concerning those that don't have as much as they do.

4.   Nehemiah helped straighten out the problem with the rulers and nobles, so we know he understands what poor people face.


III. The fact that Nehemiah didn't take any pay from Israel raises this question, "Should a church support their pastor?"  Yes.

A.  Nehemiah isn't a Levitical priest, he is a secular ruler.

1.   A more proper question might be, "Should citizens support their government officials?"

2.   Let Bible believers not go as far to the "left" as some radical organizations such as Posse Commentatus, or the "Survivalists".

3.   Jesus paid his taxes even when they weren't due, therefore, there is nothing unscriptural in paying taxes for the support of the government and its officials.

B.   The Bible states, I Tim. 5:17,18 - The pastor that rules well should be counted worthy of double honour, especially those that labor in the word and doctrine.  Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.

1.   The word "honour" actually means value or price, therefore the good pastor is worthy of double price, or value.

2.   I believe a church should support their pastor so he won't have to worry about supporting his family, and can devote his full attention to the work of the ministry.

C.   Some examples of church-pastor financial relations.

1.   The church at Willow Hill, Illinois that I pastored, had a former pastor who wouldn't accept pay from the church, but would give his "pay check" back.

a.   He said that the church couldn't afford to pay him and pay the light bill.

b.   The result was that the church members didn't expect to pay the pastor anything.

c.   They figured he ought to find a secular job, like they had.

d.   That pastor didn't teach them he already had a job - the job of pastoring the church.

e.   The job of pastoring a church is much more difficult than any job held by the church members.

f.    Preaching is one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

g.   If you think preaching is easy, I'll volunteer you to take care of the Sunday services.

h.   Don't squirm out of the assignment, and give me a bunch of excuses, like, "I don't have time to prepare".

i.    If preaching is so easy, it won't take you long to prepare!

2.   The church at Lynn, Arkansas, had some church members that wanted their pastor to get by on much less than they did.

a.   They had a reason for their thinking, because they had a former pastor who worked full time, and received a good offering from the church for his services to them.

b.   Some of the people in the church began complaining that the pastor was making too much money!

c.   Those people were generally the more wealthy members of the church.

d.   One former pastor's wife (a different pastor) of that church told me that if it weren't for her husband holding revival meetings at other churches, they wouldn't have been able to make ends meet.

e.   Then some of the church members (the same ones that didn't want him to be paid very much) complained that he was gone too much!

f.    You just can't please some people.


IV. The right way to pay a pastor.

A.  The church and pastor need to remember, "the love of money is the root of all evil."

1.   The church is responsible for their attitude and the pastor is responsible for his attitude.

2.   If you, as a church, have so much love for money that you don't want your pastor to have more than you have, you are wrong.

3.   If pastor has so much love for money that he wants more than others, then he is wrong. 

B.   Never put limits on God!!

1.   Putting limits on things is what Satan does - Removing limits is what God does.

2.   Satan declares there is a limit to love, service, joy, peace, life, death, etc.

3.   God says there is no limit to these things.

4.   There is no limit to good pleasure in this life because of serving God.

5.   There is no limit to eternal life for the saved, or eternal death for the lost.

6.   Thee is no limit to what a church ought to do for its pastor, for they are not doing this unto their pastor, but unto God.

7.   There is no limit to the work a pastor ought to do for his church, for he really doesn't do this work for the people, but unto God!

C.   From the churches viewpoint.

1.   Pay him as if he is God's man.

2.   You are not really giving him money because he is a man.

3.   You are giving him money because he is God's man!

4.   You are really giving your offerings to God, not to men.

5.   A church should never think they are paying their pastor enough.

6.   They are responsible before God to do what they can.

7.   If they are abused by the pastor, God will take care of him, and bless them!

D.  From the pastor's viewpoint.

1.   The pastor receives money, not from the church, but from God.

2.   Whether he works at a secular job, or is full time pastor, or holds a secular job and pastors.

3.   All of his money comes from God.

4.   The amount of money he receives is exactly what God knows he is able to handle, no more, no less.

5.   The pastor should never think that his church should pay him more, for God has determined that this is the amount he should get.

6.   If there is a pastor who believes his church pays him more than he ought to get, then he can give that money back to them in the form of additional offerings.

7.   If a church abuses their pastor, God will take care of them, and bless him!


V.  Verse 19 - Concluding prayer.

A.  For God, not men, to think upon him.

1.   Nehemiah did these things before God, not men.

2.   He does not need, or encourage, the support of men.

3.   Shouldn't be do all things before God, like Nehemiah?