Our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible. Compare Neh_1:5, with the comment. Who keepest covenant and mercy. This phrase, which occurs also in Neh_1:5, has apparently been derived from the Psalmist’s words—”My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him” (Psa_89:28). All the trouble. Literally, “the weariness;” but the word is clearly used here for “suffering” generally. Since the time of the kings of Assyria. The kings of Assyria, in the strictest sense of the word, had been God’s original instrument for punishing his rebellious people. A king not mentioned in Holy Scripture tells us that he defeated Ahab, and forced Jehu to pay him tribute. Another (Pul) took tribute from Menahem (2Ki_15:19, 2Ki_15:20). A third (Tiglath. Pfieser) carried two tribes and a half into captivity (ibid. verse 29; 1Ch_5:26). A fourth (Shalmaneser) laid siege to Samaria (2Ki_17:5), and a fifth (Sargon) took it. A sixth (Sennacherib) took all the fenced cities of Judah from Hezekiah, and forced him to buy the safety of Jerusalem (2Ki_18:13-16). A seventh (Esar-haddon) had Manasseh brought as a prisoner to Babylon (2Ch_33:11). Hence Isaiah calls the Assyrian monarch “the rod of God’s anger” (Isa_10:5).
32–35. Israel’s sufferings in the past a just punishment from God
32. our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God] Cf. note on Neh_1:5. See Deu_10:17, ‘the great God, the mighty and the terrible.’ Dan_9:4.
who keepest covenant and mercy] Cf. Neh_1:5.
trouble] R.V. travail. The Hebrew word (t’lâah) here used is only found in the O. T., Exo_18:8; Num_20:14; Lam_3:5; Mal_1:13 (= ‘weariness’).
seem little before thee] A humble way of entreating for gracious consideration. The construction is like that of Neh_9:19 (see note), ‘As for all the travail, let it not seem little, &c.’
upon us, on our kings, &c.] The nation is here described under a threefold division, (1) the aristocracy, the king and the nobles, (2) the religious castes, the priestly officials and the prophetic schools, (3) the laity generally, the heads of the houses or fathers and the mass of the nation.
since the time of the kings of Assyria] i.e. since the kings of Assyria first made Israel tributary. When this took place is not known. The first recorded instance in Scripture is that of Menahem and Pekah (2Ki_15:19; 2Ki_15:24), who submitted to Pul or Tiglath-Pileser II. (745–727 b.c.). But it is evident from the famous ‘Black obelisk’ that Jehu was among the vassal kings who brought tribute to Shalmaneser II. (842 b.c.). The kings of Babylon, of Egypt and of Persia had exercised the same dominion. Assyria was the typical oppressor; Assyria first carried away Israel into captivity (2Ki_15:19; 2Ki_17:23).
just] The same epithet as that rendered ‘righteous’ (c̣addîq) in Neh_9:8. See also Ezr_9:15.
brought] R.V. come.
done right] R.V. dealt truly. Literally ‘truth’ (LXX. ἀλήθειαν. Vulg. ‘veritatem’), i.e. Thou hast fulfilled thy word both in blessing and punishment: but we have been unfaithful to the covenant. Cf. Dan_9:14, ‘For the Lord our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth, and we have not obeyed his voice.’ The pronoun ‘we’ is emphatic; the speakers pass from reference to their forefathers, in order to accept for themselves the responsibility of association with the nation’s guilt.
neither have our kings] The construction is the same as in Neh_9:19; Neh_9:32, ‘As for our kings, … they have not.’
kept thy law] Literally ‘done thy law,’ i.e. carried into practice the Divine teaching. Cf. Neh_9:14; Neh_9:29.
nor hearkened] Cf. Zec_1:4, ‘But they (your fathers) did not hear nor hearken unto me, saith the Lord.’
didst testify against them] Probably with special reference to Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30.
they] emphatic, i.e. the kings and princes; as distinguished from ‘thou’ and ‘we,’ used emphatically in Neh_9:33.
in their kingdom] Perhaps with a slight touch of irony, since ‘their kingdom’ was itself God’s gift to Israel. The use of the word shows that the ‘kings’ and ‘princes’ of Neh_9:34 are especially referred to.
goodness] Material blessings generally as in Neh_9:25.
fat land] Cf. Neh_9:25.
wicked works] The word so translated is used with especial reference to idolatry. Cf. Jer_35:15, ‘Amend your doings,’ Zec_1:6, ‘According to our doings, so hath he dealt with us.’
36, 37. Israel’s present humiliation: her children slaves, her land subject to foreign kings, who oppress it
36. servants] i.e. subject to Persian supremacy. Cf. Ezra’s very similar words in his confession, Ezr_9:9.
for the land] R.V. as for the land.
behold, we are servants] Repeated for emphasis. Israel who should have been mistress of the promised land is a bondservant in it.
yieldeth much increase] Literally ‘its produce it maketh in abundance.’ The allusion is to the pressure of the tribute exacted for the Persian revenue. Cf. Neh_5:4. See Rawlinson’s Ancient Monarchies, vol. III., pp. 421–423.
‘Besides money payments ‘a payment … had to be made in kind, each province being required to furnish that commodity, or those commodities, for which it was most celebrated.… While the claims of the crown upon its subjects were definite and could not be exceeded, the satrap was at liberty to make any exactions that he pleased beyond them.… Like a Roman proconsul, he was to pay himself out of the pockets of his subjects; and, like that class of persons, he took care to pay himself highly.’
dominion] R.V. authority. Cf. Deu_28:33, ‘The fruit of thy ground, and all thy labours shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up.’ Isa_26:13, ‘O Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us.’
we are in great distress] We must remember that this language of complaint at the severity of the foreign rule and exactions is not the utterance of Nehemiah the king’s minister. This portion of the book is not Nehemiah’s writing. The words are spoken not by Nehemiah but by Ezra, or by the Levites. The contents of chap. 5 show that the effects of the foreign taxation upon the condition of the middle and lower classes were felt very acutely.
It yieldeth much increase unto the kings. “The Persian monarchs derive a large revenue from our territory.” The amount paid by Judaea is not known; but Syria, in which Judaea was included, paid annually in money 350 talents of silver (Herod. 3:91), or about £90,000. There was also a further contribution in kind. They have dominion over our bodies. They can impress us either as soldiers or sailors, and make us fight their battles for them. Jews probably took part in the expedition of Xerxes against Greece. And over our cattle. They can impress our cattle for their baggage-train.