V The poor complain of being oppressed by the rich, ver. 1-5. Nehemiah removes the oppression, ver. 6-13. He sets an example of compassion on the poor, ver. 14-19.
Verse 2. Many - Which is in itself a blessing, but to us is turned into a curse. Take up - We are forced to take up corn, upon unreasonable terms.
Verse 3. The dearth - Which might happen, both from the multitude of the people in and near Jerusalem, from their work, which wholly took them up, and kept them from taking care of their families, and from the expectation of their enemies invasion, which hindered them from going abroad to fetch provision, and the people round about from bringing it to them.
Verse 5. Our flesh - We are of the same nature, and religion with them, though they treat us as if we were beasts or Heathens. Bondage - We are compelled to sell them for our subsistence. Daughters - Which was an evidence of their great necessity, because their daughters were more tender, and weak, and unfit for bond-service, and more exposed to injuries than their sons. Redeem - Which we are allowed to do, Exod. xxi, 7-11, but have not wherewith to do it.
Verse 7. Exact - Which was against the plain and positive law of God, Deut. xxiii, 19, 20, especially in this time of publick calamity. I set - I called a publick congregation, both of the rulers and people, the greatest part whereof were free from this guilt, and therefore more impartial Judges of the matter, and represented it to them, that the offenders might be convinced, and reformed; if not for fear of God, or love of their brethren, yet at least for the publick shame and the cries of the poor. Ezra, and Nehemiah were both good and useful men; but of how different tempers? Ezra was a man of a mild tender spirit, and when told of the sin of the rulers, rent his clothes and wept: Nehemiah forced them to reform, being of a warm and eager spirit. So God's work may be done, and yet different methods taken in doing it; which is a good reason why we should not arraign the management of others, nor make our own standard.
Verse 8. We - I, and my brethren, and predecessors, have used our utmost interest and power, both with the kings of Persia, that our brethren might be redeemed from bondage, and with particular persons in Babylon, and Persia, whose bond-slaves the Jews were, and who would not part with them without a price. Be sold - Do you expect that we should pay you a price for them, as we did to the Babylonians?. Or, must we use as much importunity to solicit you for their redemption, as we did to their enemies?
Verse 9. Reproach - Who are round about you, and observe all your actions, and will reproach both you for such barbarous usage of your brethren, and religion for your sakes.
Verse 10. Brethren - In office; these who are employed with me in the government of this people. Servants - In my name, and for my use. Exact - As a just recompense for our pains and care for the publick good, to which we wholly devote ourselves, even to the neglect of all our private concerns. But I freely remit my own right, and therefore you also ought to do so, seeing I lay no burden upon you, but what I am willing to bear a part of upon my own shoulders.
Verse 11. Also - Also require not: which is to be supplied out of the next verse, where it is expressed in their grant of this desire. Hundredth part - Which they required every month for the use of their monies or goods, according to the custom then used.
Verse 12. Require - For the hundredth part. Priests - As witnesses; that the oath being taken before the priests, who acted in God's name, the oath might make the more deep and durable impression upon their consciences.
Verse 13. My lap - The extreme parts of my garment, which I first folded together, and then shook it and scattered it asunder. This was a form of swearing then in use.
Verse 14. Twelve years - Not that he continued so long together at Jerusalem, but he so long governed Jerusalem by himself when present, and in his absence, by a deputy. The bread - That allowance which by the laws of God and nations, and of the king of Persia, the governors might require.
Verse 15. The former - Not Ezra, who was no governor, nor Zerubbabel, but others between him and Nehemiah, whom he forbears to name. Beside, &c. - Which they required of the people every day to defray their other expenses. Their servants - Ruled them with rigor and cruelty; which fault of the servants is charged upon their masters, because they did not restrain them. He had an awe of God's mercy, and a fear of offending him. Those that truly fear God, will not dare to do any thing cruel or unjust. And this is not only a powerful, but an acceptable principle both of justice and charity.
Verse 16. I continued - Overseeing, directing, and encouraging the workmen, which was my wholebusiness; and this at my own cost. Bought - Of our poor brethren, whose necessities gave abundant opportunity of enriching myself with good bargains.
Verse 17. Rulers - Not only Jews of the inferior sort, for whom meaner provisions might suffice, but also their rulers, for whom better provision was fit; who resorted to him upon all occasions, to give him notice of the enemies designs; or to receive his orders.
Verse 18. Required not - But bore it out of my own estate: which was very considerable, his office in the Persian court being a place of great profit.
Verse 19. According - As I have done thy people good for thy sake, so do me good for thine own sake; for thou art pleased, and hast promised graciously to reward us according to our works, and to mete to men the same measure which they meet to others.