5 As time went on a different kind of conflict arose—common men and their wives cried out against some of their fellow Jews.
Jews Without Land: 2 Our families are large, and we need food so that along with our children, we will not starve. Let us have grain!
Jewish Landowners: 3 As a result of the famine, we are pledging livelihood, even our fields, our vineyards, and our homes as a mortgage.
Other Jewish Landowners: 4 We are borrowing money so that we can pay King Artaxerxes’ tax on our fields and vineyards because of the famine.
All the Jews: 5 Even though we debtors are of the same people as our creditors—the same flesh, the same blood—and even though our children are the same as their children, we are raising this money for taxes by selling our children into slavery. In fact, some of our daughters are slaves already. We are helpless to do anything about it. Why? Because our fields and our vineyards now belong to our creditors!
Nehemiah is the picture of a benevolent ruler. As a Persian-appointed official, he has the right to exact a sizable tax on the people of Jerusalem. Previous governors have had special jars made for collecting grain and oil and fruit from the people. This food went to support the governor and all of his formal dinners. But Nehemiah does not exact this special tax because he realizes his people are already burdened by the Persians’ heavy taxes.
As Artaxerxes’ cupbearer, certainly Nehemiah is a wealthy man; therefore he has no need for additional resources from Jerusalem’s people. On his own, Nehemiah is able to regularly host all 150 of Jerusalem’s officials and frequent diplomats from other provinces, and the abundant meat and wine served at those functions proves that Nehemiah spares no personal expense. He manages to fulfill every duty assigned to him—those required of a Persian governor, and those required of a man of God.
6 When I heard this outcry, these charges filled me with anger. 7 After reflecting over what to do, I determined to confront those responsible directly: the Jewish nobles and the officials who represented Araxerxes’ interests in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah: You are exploiting your own people by charging them interest!
And a great many people assembled to witness my sentencing of the leaders.
Nehemiah: 8 At great expense we have been laboring to buy back our brothers and sisters, fellow Jews who have been enslaved to pagan nations. Now we discover that you are the ones selling them away in the first place—we are buying them from you!
There was nothing they could say; their silence confirmed their guilt.
Nehemiah: 9 This thing you are doing is not good. Is it not good to walk and live our lives in fear of the awesomeness of our True God? Your actions cause our enemies, those pagan nations, to mock us. 10 It is true that my brothers and I—even my followers—are lending money and grain to our poor brothers and sisters so that they can feed themselves and their families. But from this point forward we must stop charging interest. 11 In fact, we must immediately return their collateral—fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses—and any interest of money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.
Jewish Nobles and Officials: 12 We will give everything back. And in the future, nothing more will be demanded from them. We will do everything you have said.
I called the priests to join us and had these men make oaths before the gathering so that they would be held accountable to do what they promised. 13 I shook out my robe.
Nehemiah: May the True God likewise shake out from his house and his property anyone who fails to keep his word. May he then be shaken out also, until he, too, is emptied.
Everyone who had gathered in our assembly to witness this praised the Eternal and gave their benediction saying, “So may it be.”
All the people did as they promised. 14 As long as I had been appointed governor in Judah—for the 12 years from the 20th to the 32nd year of King Artaxerxes’ reign over the Persian Empire—no one in my family took a salary from the food tax the empire levied. 15 Every governor who had come before me had exploited his authority and levied a stiff tax—a pound of silver a day—and taken food and wine to supply his own table, often using unmerciful servants to extract this payment. But my fear of the True God kept me from ever acting in the same way. 16 (All my attention and resources were devoted to rebuilding the wall. Land acquisition was not the goal of my followers or me.) 17 I went beyond that, however. I also supplied food for 150 Jews and officials—in addition to diplomats from the surrounding pagan nations. 18 All were fed at my table at my expense: each day an ox, 6 of my best sheep, and some birds were prepared and served alongside a variety of wines that were resupplied every 10 days. Even with all of this expense and effort, I never demanded the food tax which would have been mine to claim as governor because I could see how hard life was for the people and what these demands would cost them.
Nehemiah: 19 Remember me for the good I have done, my True God, for how I have served Your people.