Oppression of the Poor
1Some time later many of the people, both men and women, began to complain against their fellow-Jews. 2Some said, “We have large families, we need corn to keep us alive.”
3Others said, “We have had to mortgage our fields and vineyards and houses to get enough corn to keep us from starving.”
4Still others said, “We had to borrow money to pay the royal tax on our fields and vineyards. 5We are of the same race as our fellow-Jews. Aren't our children just as good as theirs? But we have to make slaves of our children. Some of our daughters have already been sold as slaves. We are helpless because our fields and vineyards have been taken away from us.”
6When I heard their complaints, I was angry 7#Ex 22.25; Lev 25.35–37; Deut 23.19–20and decided to act. I denounced the leaders and officials of the people and told them, “You are oppressing your fellow-Jews!”
I called a public assembly to deal with the problem 8and said, “As far as we have been able, we have been buying back our Jewish relatives who had to sell themselves to foreigners. Now you are forcing your own relatives to sell themselves to you, their own people!” The leaders were silent and could find nothing to say.
9Then I said, “What you are doing is wrong! You ought to obey God and do what's right. Then you would not give our enemies, the Gentiles, any reason to ridicule us. 10I have let the people borrow money and corn from me, and so have my companions and the people who work for me. Now let's give up all our claims to repayment. 11Cancel all the debts#5.11 One ancient translation debts; Hebrew unclear. they owe you — money or corn or wine or olive oil. And give them back their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses at once!”
12The leaders replied, “We'll do as you say. We'll give the property back and not try to collect the debts.”
I called in the priests and made the leaders swear in front of them to keep the promise they had just made. 13Then I took off the sash#5.13 sash: Clothing in those days had no pockets, so small items were tucked into the sash that was worn like a belt around the waist. Shaking it out was a symbol of losing everything. I was wearing round my waist and shook it out. “This is how God will shake any of you who don't keep your promise,” I said. “God will take away your houses and everything you own, and will leave you with nothing.”
Everyone who was present said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD. And the leaders kept their promise.
14During all the twelve years that I was governor of the land of Judah, from the twentieth year that Artaxerxes was emperor until his 32nd year, neither my relatives nor I ate the food I was entitled to have as governor. 15Every governor who had been in office before me had been a burden to the people and had demanded forty silver coins a day#5.15 One ancient translation a day; Hebrew unclear. for food and wine. Even their servants had oppressed the people. But I acted differently, because I honoured God. 16I put all my energy into rebuilding the wall and did not acquire any property. Everyone who worked for me joined in the rebuilding. 17I regularly fed at my table 150 of the Jewish people and their leaders, besides all the people who came to me from the surrounding nations. 18Every day I served one ox, six of the best sheep, and many chickens, and every ten days I provided a fresh supply of wine. But I knew what heavy burdens the people had to bear, so I did not claim the allowance that the governor is entitled to.
19I pray you, O God, remember to my credit everything that I have done for this people.