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©Laura Haverkamp

Chapter 5:1-13 (ESV)

Posted on October 31, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 5:1-13 (ESV) - Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

Question to consider: What made Nehemiah angry about this situation?

The book of Ezra ended with a confrontation regarding taking on wives who still held allegiance to the idols of their ancestors rather than having an entire house that served God. Today’s passage dealt with a confrontation Nehemiah had with the people over hospitality toward their fellow Israelites. Thankfully, in both cases, the people had ears to hear what was good and repented of their evil actions.

Despite the fact that there were a great number of trials and tribulations in being a vassal state to Persia and in rebuilding the city and temple in the midst of enemies who wished them to fail, this was a honeymoon period of sorts. The people had spent their whole lives alienated from their homeland in exile and from having God dwell in their midst in the temple because the generations which came before them chose to spurn God’s commands and worshiped the gods of the surrounding nations. Now that they were restored to the land and were in the process of rebuilding the city and temple, the people desired to turn from the sins of the past.

In this case, there appeared to be a famine which caused undue hardship on some. When mixed with the fact that they still needed to pay tribute to Persia to maintain the favor of king Artaxerxes, it caused some to have to put their lands into mortgage just to get money for food. 

Those in Israel who had an abundance were willing to lend money to their brothers and sisters in need, but they used it as an opportunity to profit off of their misfortune by charging large interest rates. I’d say that these could be compared to modern predatory lenders like those who offer title or payday loans, but these days even the average credit card seems to charge an insane interest rate.

The result was that people were having to sell their own families into slavery to work off the debts. Nehemiah was shocked and appalled that these lenders were so willing to enslave their own brothers and sisters in Israel and even sell them to other nations which made the name of God a source of ridicule. When someone who worships another god had to provide for an Israelite, it was giving the message that God was not powerful enough to take care of His people. In truth, God had provided plenty for the people, but the nobles chose to hoard their wealth rather than show love toward their neighbors. Nehemiah led by using every bit of resources he had to buy his people back from slavery to the nations. He then challenged the nobles to take an oath to loan to their fellow Israelites without interest.

We can learn from Nehemiah on how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. Being part of a local church, especially one that is connected to a larger denominational body, allows us to pool resources to care for those in our church who come upon hard times. We should be willing and overjoyed to share resources for a brother or sister in need.


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for caring for our needs and giving us opportunities to be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please help us to be generous in our abundance and to live with gratitude when You have given others the opportunity to bless us. Amen.