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Nehemiah, Chapter 8
Teaching the Law, Verses 1-12
Chapter 7 evidently anticipates the re peopling of the city of Jerusalem, but the resumption of that subject does not occur in the Book of Nehemiah until chapter 11. The reason for this interruption is unclear. It is also not certain whether this gathering of the people occurred before or after the resettling of the city. As a matter of fact it seems likely that the eighth through the twelfth chapters may not be in chronological order. It would seem that the dedication of the finished wall would have come shortly after its completion, though the account does not occur until chapter 12.
The people gathered in great number to hear the reading of the law before the Water Gate of the city. "As one man" means they came from all places, willingly, and gladly for the purpose for which the meeting was planned. The Water Gate is not clearly located in the Scriptures, nor does it appear as one of the chief gates of the wall. It probably refers to the gate through which water was brought into the temple for the ceremonies of its worship. Rather than being a gate of the outer wall, it may even refer to a gate in the temple enclosure where it joined the city wall.
Ezra re-enters the picture in this chapter. He is called "the scribe" in verse 2, ’The priest and scribe" in verse 9. As a scribe he was learned in the law and copied the Scriptures in scrolls,. thus also an apt teacher. It is thought by many that Ezra arranged and possibly copied down many of the books of the prophets in their inspired form. Of course he was a priest in direct line from Aaron the first high priest of Israel (Ezra 7:1-5). Verse 1 shows he was charged with bringing before the assembly the book of the law of Moses the Lord gave for Israel.
All able men and women were gathered in the assembly to hear the law read and discussed. Also there were those "who could listen with understanding" (verses 2,3), evidently the juveniles and children with mental development enough to hear intelligently and act upon the law’s precepts. This was the first day of the seventh month, one of the chief festival months of the Jewish year (Leviticus 23:23-44). On the first day came the blowing of the trumpets, sounding the year of release each sabbath and jubilee year. Then on the tenth day was the day of atonement, and finally, from the fifteenth day of the seventh month to the twenty-second was the feast of tabernacles. The law also specified that the law should be read to the assembly of the people every seventh year, the sabbath year of release (De 31:9-13). These were the instructions about to be complied with by Ezra and Nehemiah.
There was an open square before the Water Gate, where the people stood to hear the reading and explanation of the law by the scribes and Levites. There they stood and heard each day for a half day at the time, from early morning until noon. The people listened attentively as Ezra and the others read and preached to them. It was well for them to hear and abide by what the law said, for it was because of the transgression by their fathers they had been in exile to Babylon. A wooden pulpit had been erected for Ezra and the other scribes to stand upon while they taught. Thus they were higher than the crowd, and the entire gathering was able to see, as well as hear.
There were fourteen of the teachers in all, including Ezra, who stood with six on his right and seven on his left. None of the other Levitical scribes is remembered as was Ezra, although their names are recorded in verse 4. When the people saw Ezra open the book they all stood in reverence and respect to hear what the Lord had to say to them. Ezra began with a blessing of the Lord, to which the congregation responded with a double "Amen." They lifted up their hands in supplication to God, then bowed in worship with their faces toward the ground.
Twelve more are named in verse 7, with the Levites, teachers of the people. They seem to have taken the words of the law read by the priests and applied them by way of preaching. Verse 8 explains the process. The Scripture was read, then translated, or explained, in a manner which would be understandable to those who heard.
Verse 9 indicates that some of the people were convicted by the law they heard, and began to weep and to mourn. Consequently Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levitical teachers, exhorted them not to do so. They said, "This day is holy to the Lord your God, do not mourn or weep." It was a day to be happy and, to rejoice in the good blessings of the Lord for what He had done for them. They were to partake of the feast with joy, eating and drinking of that God had blessed them with, sending portions to those who were poor and had nothing to enjoy as did they. It was one of those days set apart by God Himself as a holy day. "Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (NASB), they said.
So by these words they were able to calm the people and get them in the proper frame of mind to keep the feast as God intended. They acted on the advice of their teachers and went to the feast. They also blessed those more unfortunate by sending portions from their abundance to minister to them. They were happy in knowing the words which had been explained to them.
Feast of Tabernacles, Verses 13-18
The exposition of the law continued on the second day of the month. The example for the people was set by the readiness with which the chief men and the priests and Levites came together to Ezra’s Bible school. Even they realized there was much they could learn from the pious and learned scribe. In the course of their learning they heard about the directions God had given for the feast of tabernacles, or booths as they are called here.
This was the last festival of the Jewish year and was to be a joyous occasion of thanksgiving in commemoration of the Lord’s preservation of them while in their wilderness journey from Egypt. It also looked forward to the happy time when their Messiah would come and establish the kingdom anew, to rule over it Himself. The law directed them to go into the mountains and take branches of the various trees native to the land and use them to build temporary brush shelters on the flat roofs of their houses in which to live in the week of the festival. Those whose houses might not have been appropriate for building the booths could erect booths for themselves in the courtyard, or even in the courtyard of the temple itself and the streets of the city.
The translation of the tree-names seems to be accurate, except for that translated "pine branches." The real meaning is, unknown. The NASB translates it "wild olive branches;" NKJV "branches of oil trees." The reference to "thick trees" simply means those with leafy foliage.
The people wholeheartedly complied with the directions of the law in gathering the branches and constructing the leaf-houses for the feast of tabernacles. Here they remained for the seven days of the feast It had not been so kept for many centuries, not since the lifetime of Joshua their great leader in the conquest of the land. Every day during this time Ezra read in the law of God to the celebrants. On the eighth day they met in a solemn assembly to worship and praise the Lord for His goodness to them. It was a great time of revival, for when people obey the Lord it brings them near to Him and His blessing (James 4:8).
Lessons from chapter 8: 1) God’s people should willingly gather at stated times to hear His Word; 2) children and youth also need to assemble the hear the Word preached; 3) able teachers are to be employed in explaining the Word; 4) instead of mourning over past failures, it is better to rejoice for continued opportunity; 5) it is good to look back and rejoice in the past blessings of the Lord.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13