Nehemiah 4:1 - 5:13

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Nehemiah 4

In Nehemiah 3 you have the start of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. There were big gaps in the walls and the gates had been burned. Nehemiah’s account of the repairs begins with the Sheep Gate at the northeast of the wall, and proceeds counterclockwise. Many of the builders’ names are listed along with the sections of the walls where they labored. For your own benefit you should read chapter 3, but I am not going to teach it verse-by-verse in this series. Rather than read through it and mispronounce half of the names, I am going to skip ahead to chapter 4.


Nehemiah 4:1 But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded [i.e. that we were rebuilding] the wall, he was wroth [i.e. furious], and took great indignation [i.e. and very indignant], and mocked [i.e. ridiculed] the Jews.


(RSB note on 2:10) Sanballat. Also mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri as governor of Samaria, he assessed Nehemiah’s arrival as a threat to Samaria’s control of Judea.


Nehemiah 4:2 And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? [i.e. what are these feeble Jews doing?] will they fortify themselves? [i.e. will they make themselves strong?, will they restore the wall?] will they sacrifice? [i.e. will they offer sacrifices?] will they make an end in a day [i.e. will they finish (or complete) it in a day]? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?


4:2 – (RSB) burned. Fire would weaken and crack the limestone.


Nehemiah 4:3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him [i.e. near Sanballat, beside Sanballat], and he said, Even that which they build [i.e. whatever they build], if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.


An adult red fox would weigh about 24 pounds.


4:3 – (RSB) Tobiah taunted the Jews by insinuating that a lightweight fox could destroy their inept efforts. He was governor of Ammon.

So Nehemiah prayed –

Nehemiah 4:4 Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach [i.e. the insults of Sanballat and Tobiah and their followers] upon their own head, and give them for a prey [i.e. for plunder, as plunder] in the land [i.e. in a land] of captivity:


Nehemiah 4:5 And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.


4:4-5 – (RSB) The fact that God was being challenged explains the harsh tone of Nehemiah’s prayer.


4:6-9 – (RSB) With the walls half-built (v. 6), mere jeering was insufficient and an open attack was now planned (v. 8), necessitating both prayer and constant vigil (v. 9).


Nehemiah 4:6 So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof [i.e. up to half its (height)]: for the people had a mind to work.


Nehemiah 4:7 But it came to pass [i.e. it happened], that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up [i.e. were being restored], and that the breaches began to be stopped [i.e. and that the gaps in the walls were beginning to be closed], then they were very wroth [i.e. angry],


Nehemiah 4:8 And conspired all of them [i.e. they all plotted] together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.


Nehemiah 4:9 Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch [i.e. a guard] against them day and night, because of them.


4:10-12 – (RSB) The persistent rumor of imminent attack discouraged the workers. . . .


Nehemiah 4:10 And Judah [i.e. (the people in) Judah] said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed [i.e. the strength of the laborers is failing (i.e. giving out)], and there is much rubbish [i.e. there is so much rubble]; so that we are not able to build [i.e. rebuild] the wall.


Nehemiah 4:11 And our adversaries [i.e. our enemies] said, They [i.e. these Jews who are building the wall] shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them [i.e. till we come into their midst], and slay them [i.e. and kill them], and cause the work to cease.


Nehemiah 4:12 And it came to pass [i.e. it came about], that when the Jews which dwelt by them [i.e. our adversaries, our enemies] came, they said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us [i.e. from all directions] they [i.e. our adversaries, our enemies] will be upon you [i.e. wherever you turn, they will attack us].


(RSB) Neighboring Jews repeatedly urged those who were building to leave their work and return home to protect their families.


Nehemiah 4:13 Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall [i.e. therefore, I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall], and on the higher places [i.e. at the openings, at the exposed places], I even set the people after their families [i.e. I stationed the people in their families] with their swords, their spears, and their bows.


4:13 – (RSB) Apparently the families outside Jerusalem were brought into the city and given protection.


Nehemiah 4:14 And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them [i.e. be not afraid of our adversaries, of our enemies]: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible [i.e. Who is great and awesome], and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.


Nehemiah 4:15 And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it [i.e. their plan or their intention] was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought [i.e. frustrated their plan, brought their plot to nothing], that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.


Nehemiah 4:16 And it came to pass from that time forth [i.e. it came about that from that day on], that the half of my servants wrought in the work [i.e. did the work], and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons [i.e. armor]; and the rulers [i.e. leaders, officers, captains] were behind [i.e. posted themselves behind, stationed themselves behind] all the house of Judah [i.e. all the people of Judah].


4:16-23 – (RSB) Measures Nehemiah took included seeing that half of his own bodyguard was always armed (v. 16, habergeons were leather coats covered with thin metal plates), alerting each ruler to be ready to lead his group in case of attack (v. 16), arming the laborers (v. 17), seeing that each builder had a sword at his side (v. 18), having a trumpeter always ready to sound the alarm (v. 18), and urging all who could possibly do so to remain in Jerusalem at night (v. 22).


Nehemiah 4:17 They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens [i.e. those who carried burdens], with those that laded [i.e. loaded themselves so that], every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.


Nehemiah 4:18 For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded [i.e. each one wore his sword at his side as he built, as he worked]. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.


Nehemiah 4:19 And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers [i.e. officials], and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large [i.e. extensive], and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another [i.e. we are widely separated from each other on the wall].


Nehemiah 4:20 In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us [i.e. rally to us there, join us there]: our God shall fight for us.


Nehemiah 4:21 So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning [i.e. daybreak] till the stars appeared.


Nehemiah 4:22 Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem [i.e. stay at night in Jerusalem], that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day [i.e. that they may be a guard to us by night and a laborer by day].


Nehemiah 4:23 So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that [i.e. except that] every one put them off for washing.

Nehemiah 5


5:1-5 – (RSB) It is uncertain whether the events of this chapter happened during the time the walls were being built (when normal means of gaining income would have been interrupted) or later (which v. 7, the calling of a great assembly, and v. 14 may indicate – although v. 16 seems to suggest otherwise). The landless were short of food (v. 2); the landowners were forced to mortgage their land because of a famine (v. 3); and borrowing was necessary to pay a property tax imposed by the Persians. These existing problems were aggravated and erupted because of the economic pressures of rebuilding. . . .


5:1-5. (BKC) Up to this point Nehemiah’s challenges as a spiritual leader focused primarily on those outside of Judah. But before the walls were finally rebuilt, he encountered the most difficult and intense kind of problem almost every spiritual leader has to face sometime – problems within. For Nehemiah, those problems centered not on Sanballat, Tobiah, and Gershem but on his own people, the Jews. There were four such difficulties. First, the people face a food shortage. They said they needed to get grain for food to keep themselves and their families alive (v. 2). The work on the wall hindered their tending their crops. And this crop failure was called a famine. Second, others had grain (buying it from others), but to get it they had to mortgage their fields . . . vineyards, and homes (v. 3). Third, others, not wanting to mortgage their property, had to borrow money from their Jewish brothers to pay property taxes to King Artaxerxes (v. 4). This problem was compounded by the fact that they were charged exorbitant interest rates by their own Jewish brothers.

This led to a fourth problem. To repay their creditors they had to sell their children into slavery (v. 5. . .). This of course left them in a hopeless state.

All these difficulties created an internal crisis in Judah. And they meant “double trouble” for Nehemiah. Not only were their enemies a constant threat to their security and state of well-being, but now many Jews were actually taking advantage of other Jews. Morale, which was already low (Neh. 4:10-12) because of external pressures, physical exhaustion, and fear, now took another plunge because of these internal problems.


Nehemiah 5:1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews [i.e. against their fellow Jews].


Nehemiah 5:2 For there were that said [i.e. there were some who said], We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live [i.e. therefore, let us get grain that we may live].


Some of the people were short of food.


Nehemiah 5:3 Some also there were that said [i.e. there were others who said], We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn [i.e. grain], because of the dearth [i.e. because of the famine].


Some of the people had mortgaged their land to buy food because of the famine.


Nehemiah 5:4 There were also that said [i.e. there were still others who said], We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards [i.e. We have borrowed money for the king’s taxes on our lands and vineyards].


Some of the people had borrowed money to pay their taxes to the king of Persia. On the money they borrowed, they were paying interest rates of 1 percent per month or 12 percent per year and had been forced to sell their children into slavery to pay off their debts.


Nehemiah 5:5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren [i.e. our flesh is like the flesh of our fellow Jews], our children as their children [i.e. our children are like their children]: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants [i.e. yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves], and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already [i.e. and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery (already)]: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.


Nehemiah 5:6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry [i.e. when I heard their outcry] and these words.


Nehemiah 5:7 Then I consulted with myself [i.e. I thought it over], and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother [i.e. every one of you is charging interest of his fellow Jew]. And I set a great assembly against them [i.e. I called a public meeting to deal with them].


(BKC) Though Nehemiah’s anger was certainly righteous indignation, he did not take immediate action. Spending time reflecting on the problem enabled him to cool down, to see the facts in proper perspective, and to decide on a course of action. . . .


(BKC) After regaining his emotional equilibrium, Nehemiah confronted the situation head on. First, he rebuked those who were violating God’s command not to charge their own people interest. . . . Money could be loaned . . . but not to gain interest from another person’s distresses.


Exodus 22:25 If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.


Leviticus 25:35-3835 And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. 36 Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. 37 Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase. 38 I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.


Deuteronomy 23:19-2019 Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: 20 Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.


Deuteronomy 15:7-87 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: 8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth [i.e. what he is lacking].


Nehemiah 5:8 And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen [i.e. according to our ability, we have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations]; and will ye even sell your brethren [i.e. your fellow Jews]? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer [i.e. they kept quiet because they could find nothing to say].


5:8 – (RSB) Nehemiah himself had bought back Jews sold into slavery to heathens.


(BKC) Nehemiah pointed out the inconsistencies of their behavior compared with what he and others in exile had done personally to help their brothers. He and others had already purchased (redeemed) some indentured Jews who were sold to foreigners. . . . But now the opposite was happening; Jews were selling their fellow Jews into slavery.


Nehemiah 5:9 Also I said [i.e. so I continued], It is not good that ye do [i.e. what you are doing is not right]: ought ye not to walk [i.e. should you not walk] in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen [i.e. because of the reproach of the nations] our enemies?


Nehemiah 5:10 I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them [i.e. we are lending them] money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury [i.e. let’s stop charging interest].


Nehemiah 5:11 Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day [i.e. give back to them this very day], their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money [i.e. a hundredth of the money = the interest], and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them [i.e. that you have charged them].


5:10-11 – (RSB) Nehemiah urged the return of property held in pledge and the forgiveness of interest payments so that those in debt could begin to pay off the principal. the hundredth part of the money. Interest at the rate of 1 percent per month or 12 percent per year.


Nehemiah 5:12 Then said they, We will restore them [i.e. we will give it back], and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest [i.e. we will do exactly what you are saying]. Then I called the priests, and took [i.e. required] an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise.


Nehemiah 5:13 Also I shook my lap [i.e. I shook out the fold of my garment], and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour [i.e. So in this way may God shake out every man from his property, and from his possessions], that performeth not this promise [i.e. who does not keep this promise], even thus be he [i.e. even so may he be] shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation [i.e. assembly] said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise [i.e. as they had promised].


5:13 – (RSB) [Nehemiah’s shaking out his garment was] a gesture symbolizing complete rejection of any who might violate this agreement.


This sermon is the 2nd part of the series, Study of Nehemiah. Other sermons in this series are: