February 19, 2003

Nehemiah 5

In this chapter is a complaint of the poor against the rich for oppression of them, #Ne 5:1-5 for which Nehemiah being angry, reproved them, and made them promise, and swear to it, to make restitution, #Ne 5:6-13 and set them an example himself, taking nothing of them during his twelve years' government, supporting himself and his at his own expenses, #Ne 5:14-19. (Gill)

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. (MH)

Vv. 1-7

The destroyers from without were open enemies, but the destroyers from within were of their own people, and they were doing more damage than the outside enemies. These enemies were the rich who had money to loan (bankers).

The problem is found in v. 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.

It appears that the rich who returned with the people came to make money by loaning money, and collecting usury, which was contrary to the law.

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. (See also, Lev. 25:36, 37, Deut. 23, 19, 20, Ez. 18:8, 13, 17.)


Information on the subject of lending and borrowing will be found under Loan. It need only be remarked here that the practice of mortgaging land, sometimes at exorbitant interest, grew up among the Jews during the Captivity, in direct violation of the Law (#Le xxv:36, 37; Eze xviii:8, 13, 17). We find the rate reaching 1 in 100 per month, corresponding to the Roman centesimae usurae, or 12 per cent. per annum—a rate which Niebuhr considers to have been borrowed from abroad, and which is, or has been till quite lately, a very usual or even a minimum rate in the East (Nieb. Hist. of Rome, iii. 57, Engl. Tr.; Volney, Trav. ii. 254, note; Chardin, Voy. vi. 122). Yet the law of the Kur n, like the Jewish, forbids all usury (Lane, M. E. i. 132; Sale, Kur n, c. 30). The laws of Menu allow 18 and even 24 per cent, as an interest rate; but, as was the law in Egypt, accumulated interest was not to exceed twice the original sum lent (Laws of Menu, c. viii. 140, 141, 151; Sir W. Jones, Works, vol. iii. p. 295; Diod. i. 9, 79). This Jewish practice was annulled by Nehemiah, and an oath exacted to insure its discontinuance (#Ne v:3-13); Selden, De Jur. Nat. vi. 10; Hofmann, Lex. "Usura". H. W. P.

* The word usury has come in modern English to mean excessive interest upon money loaned, either formally illegal, or at least oppressive. At the time of the Anglican version, however, the word did not bear this sense, but meant simply interest of any kind upon money, thus strictly corresponding to the Hebrew Kvm and also avm which is used in (#Ne v:7). It is to be remembered that the Jewish law prohibiting usury, forbade the taking of any interest whatever for money lent, without regard to the rate of interest; but this prohibition related only to the Jews, their brethren, and there was no command regulating either the taking of interest, or its amount, from foreigners. F. G (OLB)

Deuteronomy 23:19 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.

Nehemiah's people were even having to pay usury on food to eat, clearly violating Leviticus 25:37.

V. 4, they were having to borrow money to pay the taxes.

V. 5, their children were being brought into debt bondage. This is where America is today. Our children, though not born yet, are already in terrible debt bondage, owing multiplied thousands of dollars for the "national debt".

For other men have our lands and vineyards, which they gained by usury. The other men were not the surrounding enemies of God's work, but they were of their own people.

The implication is that those who make their living from debt among the Christian community are enemies of the Kingdom of God.

Rushdoony points out that when Babylon desired to conquer a country, it sent in money merchants to loan money. People who are in debt bandage are in bondage already, and their will to withstand other types of bondage is compromised.

I have done several studies concerning debt, so no need to replow the ground here.

Vv. 6-13.

I consulted with myself... The man of God must be careful who he consults with. All the leaders here, evidently, were involved in the evil reported to Nehemiah, so who can he consult with other than the Lord?

Nehemiah was very angry when he heard what was being done, yet he did not act rashly. Rather, he thought it over before he acted, and then he called an assembly against the lenders. The lenders were the nobles and rulers of the people. They sound like the leaders Jeremiah so strongly rebuked, chapters 23, 25, and the ones Ezekiel spoke against, chapter 34.

Nehemiah points out that he, with his own money, redeemed his brethren who were sold to the heathen, yet their own brethren were selling them into debt bondage. The lenders had no answer for him.

V. 10, the problem was the usury. The problem was not the principle, implying that the borrower still had to pay the principle.

V. 11, the hundredth part of the money is 1% per mo, or 12% per year.

Vv. 14, 15, he was the highest ruler in the land, appointed by the king of Babylon, yet he did not live like a governors before him, who were very oppressive against the people.

V. 16, he depended upon the Lord for everything. His failure to purchase land allowed him to devote all of his efforts to the work at hand. As Paul Ostheimer said about his swimming pool: "Who owns whom? Do I own the pool or does the pool own me?"

Vv. 17, 18, his supply seems huge, but consider how many he had to feed, including the heathens among them – visitors, proselytes, &c. However, Nehemiah refused to live like a governor, because he did not want to burden the people more than what was already upon them.

V. 19, he did not expect compensation from the people; rather, he looked to the Lord to remember his faithfulness, and for the Lord to reward him.