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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 8

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy ScripturesEverett's Study Notes

Verses 1-18

Nehemiah 8:2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.

Nehemiah 8:2 “all that could hear with understanding” - Comments - Note that these Jews had just gathered in Jerusalem from many other nations. Therefore, not all of these Jews spoke and understood the Hebrew language that was being spoken in this assembly. Thus, the phrase, “all that could hear with understanding” is used here.

Nehemiah 8:3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

Nehemiah 8:3 “and those that could understand” - Comments - Many Jews of the Diaspora could not speak Hebrew (Nehemiah 13:24).

Nehemiah 13:24, “And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people.”

Nehemiah 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

Nehemiah 8:8 Word Study on “distinctly” Gesenius says the Hebrew word “plainly” ( פְּרַשׁ ) (H6568) means, “distinctly, accurately, word for word.”

Comments - F. F. Bruce believes the word “plainly” used in Ezra 4:18 and Nehemiah 8:8 indicates the practice of the Law being read aloud in Hebrew, followed by an oral interpretation in Aramaic. He says the Hebrew word ( פְּרַשׁ ) (H6568) is equivalent to the Aramaic “mepharash,” meaning “with an interpretation.” Since Aramaic was the official language used in diplomatic intercourse and documents in the Persian Empire, the word “mepharash” was generally used to denote the procedure of reading the document also in the local vernacular language. Therefore, Ezra 4:18 and Nehemiah 8:8 imply that an Aramaic interpretation followed the oral reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. This was needed because many of the Jews returning from the Captivity no longer understood spoken Hebrew. [48]

[48] F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963), 53.

Ezra 4:18, “The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.”

Some modern translations support this idea.

NET, “The letter you sent has been translated and read to me.”

NIV, “The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence.”

NLT, “The letter you sent has been translated and read to me.”

YLT, “ The letter that ye sent unto us, explained, hath been read before me.”

Comments - E. W. Bullinger tells us the Jewish tradition how that after the Babylonian captivity, Ezra and Nehemiah began the task of setting the Old Testament Scriptures in order. We see this in Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:11 and Nehemiah 8:8. They created an order of scribes called the Sopherim (from the Hebrew word “saphar,” which means, “to count or number”). Their task was to set the original text in order. This means, that they counted each line, each word and each letter of the books of the Old Testament. They devised the way each page of Scripture was to have a certain column of text with the known amount of words and letters on each particular page. These pages could then be copied without error using this counting system because each page would always look the same. This meant that each letter was locked into same place on its designated page in the Scriptures and could never be moved. Only the order of the Sopherim had the authority to revise the original text or to move text to a new place. Jewish tradition tells us that the men of “the Great Synagogue” as they were known, took about 100 years to complete this work, from the time of Nehemiah to Simon the first, 410-300 B.C.

Regarding Nehemiah 8:8, Bullinger tells us the comments of the Talmud on this verse in light of fact that they were preparing to set the text in order. It says that the words “the book” refers to the original Hebrew text. The word “distinctly” means that they explained the original text by giving the Chaldean paraphrase. The phrase “gave the sense” means that they made the division of Hebrew words according to their sense. The phrase “ caused them to understand the reading” meant that they gave the words their traditional pronunciation, which up until then were without vowel points.

After the text was set, the order of the Massorites was established. This title comes from the Hebrew word “masar,” which means, “to deliver something into the hand of another, so as to commit it to his trust.” They became the custodians of the Sacred Scriptures. Their job was to preserve the Scriptures so that no changes took place. A look at an ancient Hebrew manuscript reveals how this was done. In the upper and lower margins of these ancient manuscripts and between and along the outside of the columns of Sacred Text, you can see small writings by these Massorites, which contain a counting system for the text. These side notes are not commentaries, but rather information about the text on that particular page, such as the number of times the several letters occur in the various books of the Bible; the number of words, and the middle word; the number of verses, and the middle verse; the number of expressions and combinations of words, etc. It even listed the 134 passages in which the Hebrew word “Adonai” was substituted for the original “YHWH.” When the Hebrew Bible came into print in the fifteenth century, only the Sacred Text was printed and all of the marginal notes were disregarded. This is why we are not familiar with this ancient Hebrew tradition today. [49]

[49] E. W. Bullinger, “Appendix 30: Massôrah,” in The Companion Bible Being The Authorized Version of 1611 With The Structures And Notes, Critical, Explanatory and Suggestive And With 198 Appendixes (London: Oxford University Press, c1909-22), 31.

Nehemiah 8:10 “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” - Comments - Note these words from Frances J. Roberts regarding the joy of the Lord, which proceeds from God. It is not man’s joy, but a joy that comes from the Spirit of the Lord

“Ye must walk in the Spirit, and in so doing keep thyself from becoming entangled in the things of the flesh. Ye just live in obedience to the Spirit, and thus be kept from being in bondage to the desires of the flesh. Myself cannot keep you except ye first make this choice. It was concerning this matter that Jude write his word of admonition: And ye, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith by praying in the Holy Ghost, keeping yourselves in the love of God (Jude 1:20-21). By setting your soul through deliberate choice of your will to pursue the worship of God by praying in the Spirit, thou shalt find thy faith strengthened and thy life bathed in the love of God. With thy faith laying hold upon God’s promises and power, and thine actions motivated by the love of God, thou wilt find thyself in the path of the activity of God: His blessing shall be upon thee, and He will accomplish His works through thee. Thou needest make no plans nor resort to any clever strategy. Keep yourself in the love of God. Pray in the Spirit. Rejoice evermore. Set your affections upon Christ. God will do through you and for His glory such things as it pleases Him to do, and thou shalt rejoice with Him. For as thine own spirit is aware when His Spirit is grieved within thee, so shalt thou also be aware when His Spirit rejoices within thee. This is His joy. This is the joy He promised. This is the greatest joy that can come to the human heart, for it is the joy of God, and the joy of God transcends the joy of man . Surely thou shalt not only rejoice but be exceeding glad, with a gladness surpassing thy power to tell.” [50]

[50] Frances J. Roberts, Come Away My Beloved (Ojai, California: King’s Farspan, Inc., 1973), 83-4.

Nehemiah 8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.

Nehemiah 8:17 Comments - How quickly people forsake God’s commandments.

Nehemiah 8:18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.

Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/nehemiah-8.html. 2013.
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