The Word Made Fresh
1There arose an outcry among the people and their wives against their Jewish kindred. 2Some of them said, “Our families are large. We have sons and daughters. We must have grain, or we won’t survive.” 3Others said, “We are having to mortgage our fields and vineyards and even our houses in order to purchase grain during the famine.” 4Still others said, “We are having to borrow against our fields and vineyards to pay the king’s tax. 5We share your flesh and blood and our children are the same as yours, but we are forced to sell our sons and daughters as slaves, and some of our daughters have been raped, but we are powerless to resist and now our fields and vineyards belong to others.”
6I was very angry when I heard their outcry and their sufferings. 7I thought it over and brought charges against the leaders and officials. “You’re charging interest against your own people!” I told them, and I called a meeting to deal with them. 8I said, “As far as we are able, we have bought back our Jewish relatives who had been sold to other races, but now you are selling your own relatives, making us responsible for buying them back.”
They were silent and said nothing. 9So I told them, “What you are doing is not good. Shouldn’t you fear our God? Do you want other people and our enemies to make fun of us? 10My brothers and I are lending them grain and money. Let’s stop charging interest. 11Give them back their fields and vineyards and olive orchards and houses and the interest you have charged on money and grain and wine and oil. Today!”
12Then they said, “We’ll give everything back to them, and we won’t take anything more from them. We’ll do as you say.”
So, I called the priests and made them swear an oath to do what they said. 13Then I shook out the crease of my robe and said, “So may God shake out everyone from every house and property that does not abide by this promise.” And all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
14During the whole time I was appointed to be their governor in Judah, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes to the thirty-second year, twelve years in all, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance granted the governor. 15The former governors before me taxed the people heavily, taking food and wine from them plus a pound of silver. Even their assistants lorded it over the people, but I did not because I feared God. 16I devoted myself to rebuilding the wall, and I acquired no land, and all my servants worked alongside me. 17There were a hundred fifty people at my table, Jews and other officials, and others who came to us from the nations around. 18An ox and six good sheep were prepared each day, plus foul for me, and full wineskins every ten days. Still, with all that I never demanded the food allowance designated for the governor because it required a heavy burden of labor. 19Remember me, O my God, for the good I have done for this people.
1-5: The common people are being woefully mistreated by the nobility. They are being forced to sell their lands and even their children. The oppression is so wicked that their daughters are even being assaulted and there is no justice for them.
6-13: Nehemiah calls a public assembly and accuses the nobles and officials of violating the covenant Law. He demands that they correct their injustices against the common people, and they quite readily agree to do so. Nehemiah sets the penalty high – loss of home and property – and that may have had something to do with their quick condescension.
14-19: Nehemiah makes an accounting of his own behavior and treatment of the people over the twelve years of his governorship. He behaves admirably, of course (he’s the one writing the account, after all).
In Nehemiah we have a leader who does not think too highly of himself. Here we are in the sixth chapter before we learn that he has been appointed to a twelve-year term as governor of Judah. He has not trumpeted his authority. He does not take advantage of people. He makes other leaders accountable.