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Nehemiah 5:1-13

Context
Nehemiah Intervenes on behalf of the Oppressed

5:1 Then there was a great outcry from the people and their wives against their fellow Jews. 1  5:2 There were those who said, “With our sons and daughters, we are many. We must obtain 2  grain in order to eat and stay alive.” 5:3 There were others who said, “We are putting up our fields, our vineyards, and our houses as collateral in order to obtain grain during the famine.” 5:4 Then there were those who said, “We have borrowed money to pay our taxes to the king 3  on our fields and our vineyards. 5:5 And now, though we share the same flesh and blood as our fellow countrymen, 4  and our children are just like their children, 5  still we have found it necessary to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. 6  Some of our daughters have been subjected to slavery, while we are powerless to help, 7  since our fields and vineyards now belong to other people.” 8 

5:6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints. 9  5:7 I considered these things carefully 10  and then registered a complaint with the wealthy 11  and the officials. I said to them, “Each one of you is seizing the collateral 12  from your own countrymen!” 13  Because of them I called for 14  a great public assembly. 5:8 I said to them, “To the extent possible we have bought back our fellow Jews 15  who had been sold to the Gentiles. But now you yourselves want to sell your own countrymen, 16  so that we can then buy them back!” They were utterly silent, and could find nothing to say.

5:9 Then I 17  said, “The thing that you are doing is wrong! 18  Should you not conduct yourselves 19  in the fear of our God in order to avoid the reproach of the Gentiles who are our enemies? 5:10 Even I and my relatives 20  and my associates 21  are lending them money and grain. But let us abandon this practice of seizing collateral! 22  5:11 This very day return to them their fields, their vineyards, their olive trees, and their houses, along with the interest 23  that you are exacting from them on the money, the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil.”

5:12 They replied, “We will return these things, 24  and we will no longer demand anything from them. We will do just as you say.” Then I called the priests and made the wealthy and the officials 25  swear to do what had been promised. 26  5:13 I also shook out my garment, 27  and I said, “In this way may God shake out from his house and his property every person who does not carry out 28  this matter. In this way may he be shaken out and emptied!” All the assembly replied, “So be it!” and they praised the LORD. Then the people did as they had promised. 29 

1 tn Heb “their brothers the Jews.”

2 tn Heb “take” (so also in v. 3).

3 tn Heb “for the tax of the king.”

4 tn Heb “according to the flesh of our brothers is our flesh.”

5 tn Heb “like their children, our children.”

6 tn Heb “to become slaves” (also later in this verse).

7 tn Heb “there is not power for our hand.” The Hebrew expression used here is rather difficult.

8 sn The poor among the returned exiles were being exploited by their rich countrymen. Moneylenders were loaning large amounts of money, and not only collecting interest on loans which was illegal (Lev 25:36-37; Deut 23:19-20), but also seizing pledges as collateral (Neh 5:3) which was allowed (Deut 24:10). When the debtors missed a payment, the moneylenders would seize their collateral: their fields, vineyards and homes. With no other means of income, the debtors were forced to sell their children into slavery, a common practice at this time (Neh 5:5). Nehemiah himself was one of the moneylenders (Neh 5:10), but he insisted that seizure of collateral from fellow Jewish countrymen was ethically wrong (Neh 5:9).

9 tn Heb “words.”

10 tn Heb “my heart was advised upon me.”

11 tn Heb “nobles.”

12 tn Heb “taking a creditor’s debt.” The Hebrew noun מַשָּׁא (masha’) means “interest; debt” and probably refers to the collateral (pledge) collected by a creditor (HALOT 641-42 s.v.). This particular noun form appears only in Nehemiah (5:7, 10; 10:32); however, it is related to מַשָּׁאָה (mashaah, “contractual loan; debt; collateral”) which appears elsewhere (Deut 24:10; Prov 22:26; cf. Neh 5:11). See the note on the word “people” at the end of v. 5. The BHS editors suggest emending the MT to מָשָׂא (masa’, “burden”), following several medieval Hebrew MSS; however, the result is not entirely clear: “you are bearing a burden, a man with his brothers.”

13 tn Heb “his brothers.”

14 tn Heb “I gave.”

15 tn Heb “our brothers, the Jews.”

16 tn Heb “your brothers.”

17 tc The translation reads with the Qere and the ancient versions וָאוֹמַר (vaomar, “and I said”) rather than the MT Kethib, וַיֹּאמֶר (vayyomer, “and he said”).

18 tn Heb “not good.” The statement “The thing…is not good” is an example of tapeinosis, a figurative expression which emphasizes the intended point (“The thing…is wrong!”) by negating its opposite.

19 tn Heb “[should you not] walk.”

20 tn Heb “brothers.”

21 tn Heb “lads.”

22 tn Heb “this debt.” This expression is a metonymy of association: “debt” refers to the seizure of the collateral of the debt.

23 tc The MT reads וּמְאַת (umÿat, “and the hundredth”) which is somewhat enigmatic. The BHS editors suggest emending to וּמַשַּׁאת (umashat, “and the debt”) which refers to the interest or collateral (pledge) seized by a creditor (Deut 24:10; Prov 22:26; see HALOT 641-42 s.v. מַשָּׁא). The term מַשַּׁאת (mashat) is related to the noun מָשָּׁא (masha’, “debt”) in 5:7, 10.

24 tn The words “these things” are not included in the Hebrew text, but have been supplied in the translation for clarity.

25 tn Heb “took an oath from them”; the referents (the wealthy and the officials, cf. v. 7) have been specified in the translation for clarity.

26 tn Heb “according to this word.”

27 tn Heb “my bosom.”

28 tn Heb “cause to stand.”

29 tn Heb “according to this word.”



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