Nehemiah had mentioned his own practice, as an inducement to the nobles not to burden the poor, no, not with just demands; here he relates more particularly what his practice was, not inn pride or vain-glory, nor to pass a compliment upon himself, but as an inducement both to his successors and to the inferior magistrates to be as tender as might be of the people’s ease.
I. He intimates what had been the way of his predecessors, Neh. 5:15. He does not name them, because what he had to say of them was not to their honour, and in such a case it is good to spare names; but the people knew how chargeable they had been, and how dearly the country paid for all the benefit of their government. The government allowed them forty shekels of silver, which was nearly five pounds (so much a day, it is probable); but, besides that, they obliged the people to furnish them with bread and wine, which they claimed as perquisites of their office; and not only so, but they suffered their servants to squeeze the people, and to get all they could out of them. Note, 1. It is no new thing for those who are in public places to seek themselves more than the public welfare, any, and to serve themselves by the public loss. 2. Masters must be accountable for all the acts of fraud and injustice, violence and oppression, which they connive at in their servants.
II. He tells us what had been his own way.
1. In general, he had not done as the former governors did; he would not, he durst not, because of the fear of God. He had an awe of God’s majesty and a dread of his wrath. And, (1.) The fear of God restrained him from oppressing the people. Those that truly fear God will not dare to do any thing cruel or unjust. (2.) It was purely that which restrained him. He was thus generous, not that he might have praise of men, or serve a turn by his interest in the people, but purely for conscience’ sake, because of the fear of God. This will not only be a powerful, but an acceptable principle both of justice and charity. What a good hand his predecessors made of their place appeared by the estates they raised; but Nehemiah, for his part, got nothing, except the satisfaction of doing good: Neither bought we any land, Neh. 5:16. Say not then that he was a bad husband, but that he was a good governor, who aimed not to feather his own nest. Let us remember the words of the Lord, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts 20:35.
2. More particularly, observe here, (1.) How little Nehemiah received of what he might have required. He did the work of the governor, but he did not eat the bread of the governor (Neh. 5:14), did not require it, Neh. 5:18. So far was he from extorting more than his due that he never demanded that, but lived upon what he had got in the king of Persia’s court and his own estate in Judea: the reason he gives for this piece of self-denial is, Because the bondage was heavy upon the people. He might have used the common excuse for rigour in such cases, that it would be a wrong to his successors not to demand his dues; but let them look to themselves: he considered the afflicted state of the Jews, and, while they groaned under so much hardship, he could not find it in his heart to add to their burden, but would rather lessen his own estate than ruin them. note, In our demands we must consider not only the justice of them, but the ability of those on whom we make them; where there is nothing to be had we know who loses his right. (2.) How much he gave which he might have withheld. [1.] His servants’ work, Neh. 5:16. The servants of princes think themselves excused from labour; but Nehemiah’s servants, by his order no doubt, were all gathered to the work. Those that have many servants should contrive how they may do good with them and keep them well employed. [2.] His own meat, Neh. 5:17, 18. He kept a very good table, not on certain days, but constantly; he had many honourable guests, at least 150 of his own countrymen, persons of the first rank, besides strangers that came to him upon business; and he had plentiful provisions for his guests, beef, and mutton, and fowl, and all sorts of wine. Let those in public places remember that they were preferred to do good, not to enrich themselves; and let people in humbler stations learn to use hospitality one to another without grudging, 1 Pet. 4:9.
III. He concludes with a prayer (Neh. 5:19): Think upon me, my God, for good. 1. Nehemiah here mentions what he had done for this people, not in pride, as boasting of himself, nor in passion, as upbraiding them, nor does it appear that he had occasion to do it in his own vindication, as Paul had to relate his like self-denying tenderness towards the Corinthians, but to shame the rulers out of their oppressions; let them learn of him to be neither greedy in their demands nor paltry in their expenses, and then they would have the credit and comfort of their liberality, as he had. 2. He mentions it to God in prayer, not as if he thought he had hereby merited any favour from God, as a debt, but to show that he looked not for any recompence of his generosity from men, but depended upon God only to make up to him what he had lost and laid out for his honour; and he reckoned the favour of God reward enough. “If God do but think upon me for good, I have enough.” His thoughts to us-ward are our happiness, Ps. 40:5. He refers it to God to recompense him in such a manner as he pleased. “If men forget me, let my God think on me, and I desire no more.”