v1 At this time, some men and their wives became angry. They complained about some other *Jews. v2 They said, ‘We have many sons and daughters. We need grain so that we can eat. Otherwise we shall die.’
v3 Other men said, ‘We have to sell our fields, our *vineyards and our houses to buy grain during the *famine.’
v4 And other men said, ‘We have to ask people to lend us money. Otherwise we would be unable to pay the king’s tax on our fields and *vineyards. v5 We have to sell our sons and daughters to other *Jews as slaves. But we are *Jews, even as they are. Our sons and their sons are alike. But some of our daughters are already slaves. We can do nothing about this because our fields and our *vineyards already belong to other people.’
Nehemiah had organised the work well. He had selected guards to protect the people from their enemies. But there were other problems too. The wealthy *Jews thought that they saw an opportunity to make a good profit. But they were doing this in a way that was unfair to the poorer *Jews. In fact, the effect was often rather cruel.
So the poor people began to complain. There was a *famine in the country and some of the people were hungry. They could not afford to buy the food that they needed for their families. They could not afford to pay their taxes either. Also, because they were building the city wall, they were not able to do other work. So probably, they were not able to grow their own food. And they had no money to buy food. They had to ask the richer people to lend them money.
Some of the poor people even had to sell their property. If they still did not have enough money, they would have to sell their sons and daughters as slaves. They did not think that this was right. And they could see that the rich people were making profits from this situation. So the poor people became angry and they complained.
This was an opportunity for the rich people to become even richer. They knew that the poor people were desperate. So the rich people were forcing the poor people to pay too much money for their loans.
v6 I heard them complain about these things. Then I was very angry. v7 I thought deeply about what I should do. Then I accused the chief men and the officials. I told them, ‘These people are your own relatives. But you are making unfair profits from them.’ I arranged a big meeting to deal with them. v8 I said to them, ‘We have tried to buy back those *Jews who had to sell themselves as slaves. They were slaves to the people who were not *Jews. But now you are selling other *Jews, so that we will have to buy them back!’ They were silent, because they had no excuse. v9 I also said, ‘What you are doing is not right. You should always respect and obey God. Then our enemies in other countries will not make us ashamed.’
When Nehemiah heard about these troubles, he was very angry. He did not want to stop the work on the walls, but he did feel sorry for the poor people. He was very careful. He stopped and he thought about what to do. Then he arranged a big meeting to deal with the problem.
The rich people were the chief men and the officials. Nehemiah told them that they were doing the wrong thing. And the result was that their own people were suffering. So Nehemiah reminded the rich people that some *Jews had been slaves before. When Nehemiah had returned to *Judah, he and his companions had tried to buy these slaves back. Now their own people were making them slaves again. Nehemiah told the rich people that they had not obeyed God’s commands (Deuteronomy 23:19-20; 24:10-13; Leviticus 25:35-46). God had sent the *Jews into *exile because they did not obey his commands like this. If the rich leaders respected God, they would not do these things. But otherwise, the *Jews would be ashamed. And their enemies would laugh at them.
The rich people could not answer Nehemiah. They knew that their actions were wrong. They knew that they had no excuse.
This passage shows us an important fact about Nehemiah’s character. Nehemiah was a very sincere man. And he did the right things whether or not anyone noticed. He used his own money to free *Jews who had been slaves. But he has not mentioned this matter previously in this book. Nehemiah did not care whether he impressed other people. But he always wanted to please God.
v10 ‘I and my companions and my helpers are also lending money and grain to the people. But you should not charge them money for such loans! v11 Give back to them their fields, their *vineyards, their *orchards, and their houses immediately. Also, give back to them the money that you charged them. You charged them a certain per cent on the money, grain, wine and oil.’
v12 The chief men and officials replied, ‘We will give it all back. We will not continue to charge them for the loans. We will do as you say.’
Then I called the priests. I ordered the rich *Jews to make a promise. They must do all that they had said. v13 I also shook my coat that I was wearing. I said, ‘Every man must do what he has promised. Otherwise, I pray that God will shake that man. In other words, I pray that God will disturb that man. And I pray that God will separate that man from his house and his possessions. I pray that God will take everything away from that man. I pray that God will leave that man with nothing.’
Everyone said, ‘We agree!’ And they praised the *Lord. And the people did what they had promised to do.
Nehemiah and his companions had also lent money and grain to the poor people. But Nehemiah and his companions had not charged the people money for the loans. Nehemiah had obeyed God’s command and he was a good model to the other leaders of the people.
Nehemiah ordered the rich leaders to give back to the poor people their property. He also told the leaders to give back the money that they had charged the poor people for the loans. The leaders agreed to do what Nehemiah had ordered. They promised to give all the property and money back to the poor people.
Nehemiah called the priests. He wanted them to hear the leaders’ promise. Then the leaders would realise that God knew about these promises. And they would be afraid not to do the things that they promised.
But the leaders did do what they had promised to do. And all the people were happy with what their leaders had done.
v14 I was the ruler of the country called *Judah for 12 years. (This was between the 20th and the 32nd years of the rule of King Artaxerxes.) For all this time, my relatives and I refused to accept the special food that the king provided for the ruler. v15 But the previous rulers made heavy demands on the people. They took food and wine. They also took about half a kilo of silver from them. Even the rulers’ assistants made the people feel not important. But, because I respected God, I did not do this. v16 Instead, I continued to work hard on the wall. All my assistants gathered by the wall for the work as well. Neither my assistants nor I bought any fields. v17 In addition, 150 of the *Jews and their officers ate with me. Leaders from the nations round us also ate with me. v18 Each day, the cooks prepared one cow, 6 of the best sheep and some chickens for us to eat. Every 10 days, we received plenty of all kinds of wine. However, I never demanded the food that people usually had to give to the ruler. This was because the people already had to work very hard.
v19 I prayed, ‘Please, God, show your kindness. You know all that I have done for these people.’
Here we find out more about Nehemiah. He was a good leader and a good model to the people in different ways.
Nehemiah became the ruler, so he was an important man. But he still had a humble attitude. And he really cared about the people.
The king allowed the ruler to have special food. This probably means that the ruler could tax the people. But Nehemiah did not want to do this, because he respected God. Nehemiah knew that many of the people were poor. They had to pay tax to the king also. Nehemiah was probably already rich because the king had appointed him as the ruler. The previous rulers of *Judah had not been such good leaders. They had taken silver as well as food and wine from the people.
Nehemiah did not even want to obtain his own property. His job was to lead the people and to build the city walls. Also Nehemiah invited many people to eat with him every day. He paid for this food himself. He was ruler for 12 years and all that time he invited other people to eat his food. He did not ask the people to give him food.
Nehemiah wanted God to be pleased. And because Nehemiah respected God, Nehemiah was a good leader. He was generous to the people that he ruled.