COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 5:17 Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us. 18 Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people. 19 Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.” (Neh 5:17-19)
In Nehemiah we see what a man with faith can do. In our time, and especially among certain religious groups, little stress is placed upon faith itself. However, faith is the Divine enablement for those who work for the Lord. Not only did this man of God devote himself to a work that was staggering for extent and complexity, simultaneously he also was the governor of Judea. He managed the wall-building project in most meticulous detail, exhorted the people whenever it was necessary, adequately prepared them to face their enemies, and corrected injustices among them. We never find him stymied by circumstances, or cast down by opposition. His faith made him adequate for every challenge that threatened the work God had given him to do. Now we will see that he also maintained a household of remarkable size – doing so by supplying abundant provisions, and without relying upon the normal allotment for governors. His heart was large as well as devoted, and tender as well as set to throw down the attempts of his enemies to stop the work. Such qualities are rarely combined in a single individual.
THOSE FOR WHOM NEHEMIAH CARED
“ 5:17 Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us.” Nehemiah is continuing to compare his own care for the people with the abuses of the present nobles and rulers, and the governors before him. This was not vain boasting, but was often the manner of godly men. Although the leader of the people, on one occasion Moses, angered by the hardheartedness of the people, said to the Lord, “I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them” (Num 16:15). Samuel also spoke similarly. “Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you” (1 Sam 12:3). Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, “I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me” (Acts 20:33). To the Corinthians he said, “Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man” (2 Cor 7:2). And again, “I seek not yours but you . . . I did not burden you” (2 Cor 12:14-17).
One of the marks of godly leaders is that they do not exploit or take advantage of the people of God. In Scripture, no man of God is portrayed as living in opulence and luxury at the expense of the people. That simply is not the manner of God’s Kingdom.
150 JEWS AND RULERS. Every day, this gathering of Jews and rulers were fed by Nehemiah, sitting at his table. Perhaps some of these very rulers had been guilty of exploiting the people (5:7). If so, it must have been a humbling and convicting experience to realize the kindness of a thoughtful ruler.
In distinction to our covetous society, as well as the abusing rulers of Nehemiah’s time, he took care of the people rather than taking advantage of them. He had come to seek “the welfare of the children of Israel” (2:10). He joined the people in laboring tirelessly, putting off his clothes only for washing (4:23). According to his ability, he had redeemed his brethren who had been sold (5:8). He had lent money to needy brethren without taking any usury or pledges from them (5:10). Now he regularly feeds one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, bringing them under his own roof, and seating them at his own table.
He has shown by his life that he has a heart for the people of God. For him, being the governor of Judah was not merely a job, or a step in a career path. The commission of Almighty God was not an occasion for him to be served, but rather for him to serve others. This is one of the sure evidences of a person who is working for the Lord.
David also made a practice of including others at his table. On one occasion he brought the son of Jonathan into his house, sitting him regularly at his own table (2 Sam 9:7-10). Although a wicked woman, even Jezebel made a practice of having others eat at her table. We are told as many as 850 false prophets ate at her table, 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of the groves(1 Kgs 18:19).
The most noble and stirring example of all is found in our Lord Jesus. He refers to those who will eat at His table. “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom . . . ” (Lk 22:30). He also alludes to this in Luke 12:37. “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them” (Luke 12:37). Thus, centuries before Christ Jesus, Nehemiah was granted the same spirit that dominates our Lord’s Kingdom.
FROM AMONG THE HEATHEN. Not only did Nehemiah regularly feed 150 Jews and rulers, he also entertained “those who came to us from the nations that were around us.” NASB These probably included visiting Jews, and Gentile proselytes who came to worship. It may even have included those who came on business matters. At any rate, they were hospitably entertained and fed by Nehemiah, governor of Judah, and servant of God.
TRUE HOSPITALITY. Examples of hospitality are woven throughout the Scriptures, and we do well to take note of them. Melchisedec was hospitable toward Abraham (Gen 14:118), Abraham toward angels (Gen 18:1-8), Lot toward angels (Gen 19:1-11), Isaac to Abimelech (Gen 26:26-30), Rahab to the spies (Josh 2:1-16), the widow of Zarephath to Elijah (1 Kgs 17:10-24), Martha to Jesus (Lk 10:36), Zaccheus to Jesus (Lk 19:1-10), Lydia to Paul and Silas (Acts 16:15), and Gaius toward both brethren and strangers (3 John 1:5). This is a spiritual grace that should be revived among the churches and individual brethren. It is something we are admonished to do (Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:9; Heb 13:2).
THE DAILY PROVISIONS OF NEHEMIAH
“ 18 Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people.” Nehemiah did not set meager provisions before those at his table. He obviously fed the people until they were filled, like our Lord Jesus also did (Matt 14;20; 15:37). The amount of food he served is staggering to consider. It is no doubt much more than the average commercial restaurant serves.
THE PROVISIONS. Daily provisions consisted of one “ox” or bull, six “choice” or fat sheep, and all manner of fowls or poultry. One version reads, “one ox, six fat sheep, and a large number of domestic fowl.” NLT This was the daily provision. Each week the provisions included seven bulls, forty-two fattened sheep, and many fowls. Each month’s provisions required at least thirty bulls, one hundred and eighty fattened sheep, and multitudes of fowls. Annual provisions would be 360 bulls, 2,160 fattened sheep, and very many fowls. As this continued for about twelve years, the totals would be over 4,320 bulls, 25,920 fattened sheep, and countless fowls.
In addition, every ten days “a large supply of all kinds of wine” NLT was brought in. This occurred three times a month thirty-six times a year, and 432 times during Nehemiah’s twelve year governorship. Here is another index to the character of this man. He was liberal and consistent in his care for others. In him the proverb is fulfilled, “The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself” (Prov 11:25).
WEALTH MEASURED BY PROVISIONS CONSUMED. Of old time, a person’s wealth was often measured by the provisions that were consumed in his house. Thus we read of Solomon, “Solomon's daily provisions were thirty cors (185 bushels) of fine flour and sixty cors (375 bushels) of meal, ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl” NIV (1 Ki 4:23). That would make Solomon’s weekly provisions 1,295 bushels of flour, 2,625 bushels of meal, 210 cattle, and 700 sheep and goats, in addition to many deer, gazelles, roebucks, and choice fowl. Monthly provisions were 5,180 bushels of flour, 10,500 bushels of meal, 840 cattle, 2,800 sheep and goats, and countless deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fowl.
I give these figures to confirm that those who are blessed of God should reciprocate by blessing others. From one point of view, such conduct will be costly to the blessed individual. From another view, such have been entrusted with things owned by God, and are therefore to use them profitably. When you read Paul’s instruction to the wealthy with these things in mind, the impact of his words come home to the heart. “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim 6:17-19).
I DID NOT REQUIRE THE BREAD OF THE GOVERNOR. In all of this liberality, extended over a lengthy period of time, Nehemiah “did not demand the governor's food allowance.” NASB While previous governors exacted much from the people, Nehemiah exacted nothing from them. He even fed 150 Jew and rulers regularly, together with those from other nations who came to Jerusalem. He did not receive a salary, but did this at his own expense. We do not know precisely how he received these resources. Perhaps they were his continued wages as cupbearer. But how he received them is not the point. Rather, we are to see that the Lord provided what Nehemiah needed for the welfare of His people. The avenue the Lord chose to accomplish this is incidental. The circumstances of Nehemiah required that much be given to him – that is why the Lord blessed him so bountifully. Nehemiah responded by being a good steward of the manifold grace of God (1 Pet 4:10).
THE BONDAGE WAS HEAVY. The man of God confesses why he spread such an abundant table at his own expense: “because the bondage was heavy upon this people.” Their burdens were already heavy, and thus Nehemiah “relieved the afflicted” (1 Tim 5:10), as also taught in the Law (Lev 25:35). As Isaiah admonished, the man of God “relieved the oppressed” (Isa 1:17). He did this by not exacting of them what was technically and rightfully his due. Hew denied himself. He also relieved them by personally caring for their rulers, so they were not required to make demands of the people.
It is good to be able to assess the level of burden that is upon the people of God, and then determine to lighten their load, bare their burdens, and be their ministers.
A BRIEF BUT POWERFUL PRAYER
“ 19 Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.” Here is another example of the many spontaneous prayers Nehemiah raised up to God. Others are found in 2:4; 4:4-5,9; 6:9,14; 13:14,29,31. Such spontaneity is the result of a strong faith – a life that is lived toward God, with an acute consciousness of His Person and will. These examples confirm that Nehemiah always resorted first to the Lord.
THINK UPON ME. Other versions read “Remember me.” Only a godly man can pray this! In fact, only a godly man desires for God to think upon him, or remember him. The Lord does not always react favorably toward those He remembers. When the Lord thought upon the world of Noah’s day, He destroyed it. When He thought upon the building project in a plain in the land of Shinar, He scattered the people. When He remembered Sodom and Gomorrah, they “suffered the vengeance of eternal fire.”
However, when the righteous are remembered by God, good things happen. Blessings came when “God remembered Noah” (Gen 8:1), “God remembered Abraham” (Gen 19:29), “God remembered Rachel” (Gen 30:22), “God remembered” Hannah (1 Sam 1:19), and “God remembered His covenant with Abraham” (Ex 2:24).
Knowing he has lived by faith, and with a keen interest in the work and people of God, Nehemiah asks the Lord to think upon him. Even the Ninevites reasoned if they called upon the Lord. He would “think upon us, that we perish not” (Jonah 1:6).
Think of the people who asked God to remember them, or think upon them. They include Samson (Judges 16:28), Hannah (1 Sam 1:11), Nehemiah (5:19; 13:14,22,31), Job (Job 14:13), David (Psa 106:4), Jeremiah (Jer 15:15), and the penitent thief to Jesus (Lk 23:42). The people of God must be encouraged to solicit the attention of the Lord.
FOR GOOD. That is, “think upon me with a mind to show favor toward me.” Another version read, “Remember me with favor.” NIV This is a plea to experience “the goodness of the Lord” (Psa 27:13), or “the goodness of God” (Rom 2:4). In Christ the same thought is expressed this way, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).
MY GOD. The petition is not to a God, or even the God, by “MY God.” That is, the God whom I serve, and whose interests I seek. Men who have confessed God to be “My God” include Jacob (Gen 28:21), Moses (Deut 4:5), Joshua (Josh 9:23), Ruth (Ruth 1:16), David (2 Sam 22:7), Solomon (1 Kgs 3:7), Ezra (Ezra 9:6), Isaiah (Isa 44:17), Daniel (Dan 6:22), Joel (Joel 1:13), Micah (Mic 7:7), Habakkuk (Hab 1:12), and Paul (Rom 1:8). There is devotion and unwavering commitment in this expression, reliance and trust. “My God” is the One that is loved, obeyed, feared, honored, and served. It is even difficult to speak of God in this way if these things are not true.
ACCORDING TO ALL THAT I HAVE DONE. The basis for Nehemiah’s request is most arresting. He asks the Lord to determine to do good to him “according to,” or for, “all that I have done for this people.” For some, such language might not be acceptable. However, Nehemiah’s mind is saturated with God’s Word, and He is speaking in strict accord with it. He no doubt recalled the Lord’s promise to Abraham. “I will bless them that bless thee” (Gen 12:3). Again, the Lord said to Israel, “blessed is he that blesseth thee” (Num 24:9). The Lord said through David, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee” (Psa 122:6). The disciples recommended a certain centurion to Jesus who sought the healing of his servant. They said, “For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:5). Speaking of the priority of God’s people, the Spirit admonishes, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). Jesus said the eternal destiny of men hinged on how they responded to the needs of His brethren (Matt 25:34-46).
When Nehemiah referred to the “good” that he had done, it was not good deeds in general to which he referred. Rather, he had sought the welfare of the people whom God had chosen, and with whom He was in covenant. He had extended and inconvenienced himself to benefit the people who wore God’s name, the city where He had placed His name, and the only land in history He called “My land.”
Although the following text had not yet been written, Nehemiah seemed to sense the truth of it when he prayed these words. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb 6:10). It is good to live in such a manner as allows you to pray this way. Believe me, it will strengthen your heart to be able to do so.