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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 8

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

Verses 1-18



1. The reading of the law before the water gate (Nehemiah 8:1-8 )

2. A day of joy and not of mourning (Nehemiah 8:9-12 )

3. The keeping of the feast of tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:13-18 )

Nehemiah 8:1-8 . This interesting chapter gives the record of a gracious revival through the reading of the law. All the people gathered themselves together as one man in the street that was before the water gate, the place which suggests the cleansing and refreshing power of the Word. And as a united people they had but one desire, to hear the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded, to Israel. They gave orders to Ezra that he should bring the book of the law. This the people knew was the Word of the Lord, and for this they hungered. Every true revival must begin with the Word, and in believing submission to what the Lord has said. So, it has been in all the great revivals of the past, and so it will be in the future. The great need today is “back to the Bible”; and to listen to its message as the message of God. How willingly and joyfully Ezra must have responded, and how it must have cheered the aged servant of the Lord! He brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and those that understood in hearing (children of a certain age). Critics say that Ezra’s law of Moses must not be understood as meaning the Pentateuch; they claim that it was a collection of different laws, and part of the so-called “priestly codex,” which even then, according to the critical school, was not completely finished. Inasmuch as the destructive criticism denies that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch, they are obliged to resort to these arguments in order to sustain their theory. There is no valid reason to doubt when the book of the law of Moses was demanded and Ezra brought it before the people, that it was the Pentateuch, which the Jews call Torah, the law.

Then followed under great attention the reading, from the morning until the midday. Ezra stood upon a pulpit of wood, which was a raised platform which had been made for this purpose. Alongside of Ezra were thirteen men; in all, counting in Ezra, fourteen men faced the people. They probably took turns in reading from the law. Their names are interesting if we look at their meaning--Mattithiah (gift of the LORD); Shema (hearing); Anaiah (answer of the LORD); Uriah (the LORD is Light); Hilkiah (portion of the LORD); Maaseiah (work of the LORD); Mishael (who is as God is); Malchijah (King is the LORD); Hashum (wealthy); Hashbaddanah (esteemed by judging); Zechariah (the LORD remembers); Meshullam (reward). These names are suggestive of the Word itself Then Ezra unrolled the parchment seen by all the people. Great reverence was manifested to the Word by all the people standing up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Amen, Amen was the people’s answer, with the lifting up of their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Ezra and the people believed that what they read is the Word of God. Hence this reverence, this praise and the attitude of submission. How little reverence for the Word of God our generation manifests. This too is a fruit of the destructive criticism, which has put the Bible on the same level with common literature. Thirteen others are mentioned who, with the Levites, caused the people to understand the law. Some think it means that the people did not understand Hebrew, and that the Hebrew text had to be translated into Aramaic. This is probably incorrect. Hebrew was not unknown after the captivity, for Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi spoke and wrote in that language. It rather means the interpretation of what had been read, that is, an exposition of it. The names of these thirteen expositors are also of interest. The first is Jeshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation”; this is the great truth which all Bible exposition must emphasize.

Nehemiah 8:9-12 . When the people heard the words of the Law they wept. They were conscience stricken on account of their individual and national sins; they judged themselves. The Word had been believed; their godly sorrow had been expressed by tears, and so they were ready for the words of comfort and cheer the Lord gave through Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites. “This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not nor weep ... go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” And this was done. They were the Lord’s people, separated unto Himself, and as they remembered all His goodness, they rejoiced in Him. Refreshed themselves, they were to remember those “for whom nothing was prepared.”

Nehemiah 8:13-18 . The feast of tabernacles was kept by them. They came in reading the law to the command of Moses that the children of Israel should “dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month.” Olive, pine, myrtle and palm tree branches were to be used to construct booths in commemoration of the wilderness journey. This was done at once by them in obedience to the Word. Thus we have three facts concerning the Word in this chapter; reading the Word, believing the Word, and obeying the Word. Hence there was great gladness in keeping the feast of tabernacles. The words, “for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so,” present a difficulty. We read in Ezra 3:4 that the feast of tabernacles was celebrated immediately after the arrival of Zerubbabel; nor does it seem possible that God-fearing kings in the past overlooked this feast. 1 Kings 8:2 ; 1 Kings 8:65 shows that Solomon kept this feast of the Lord. It therefore cannot mean that the people of Israel had neglected the keeping of the feast of tabernacles for a thousand years. The emphasis must be placed upon the word “so”--it means that never before had the feast of tabernacles been kept in such a manner. The reading of the Word and the revival which followed produced such a joyful and whole-hearted keeping of the feast, as had not been the case since the days of Joshua.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/nehemiah-8.html. 1913-1922.
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