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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 9

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.

Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month - i:e., on the second day after the close of the Feast of Tabernacles, which commenced on the 14th day and terminated on the 22nd day of Tisri, (Leviticus 23:1-44.) The day immediately after that feast, the 23rd, had been occupied in separating the delinquents from their unlawful wives, as well, perhaps, as in taking steps for keeping aloof in future from unnecessary contact with the pagan around them. For although this necessary measure of reformation had been begun formerly by Ezra (Ezra 10:1-44), and satisfactorily accomplished at that time-so far as he had information of the existing abuses, or possessed the power of correcting them-yet it appears that this reformatory work of Ezra had been only partial and imperfect; many cases of delinquency had escaped, or new defaulters had appeared who had contracted those forbidden alliances; and there was an urgent necessity for Nehemiah again to take vigorous measures for the removal of a social evil which threatened the most disastrous consequences to the character and prosperity of the chosen people.

A solemn fast was now observed for the expression of those penitential and sorrowful feelings which the reading of the law had produced, but which had been suppressed during the celebration of the feast; and the sincerity of their repentance was evinced by the decisive steps taken for the correction of existing abuses in the matter of marriage.

Verse 2

And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.

Confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. Not only did they read in their recent sufferings a punishment of the national apostasy and guilt; but they had made themselves partakers of their fathers' sins by following the same evil ways.

Verse 3

And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.

Read in the book of the law. Their extraordinary zeal led them to continue this as before.

One fourth part of the day - i:e., for three hours, twelve hours being the acknowledged length of the Jewish day (John 11:9), so that this solemn diet of worship, which probably commenced at the morning sacrifice, was continued for six hours - i:e., until the time of the evening sacrifice. The worship which they gave to the Lord their God, at this season of solemn national humiliation, consisted in acknowledging and adoring His great mercy in the forgiveness of their great and multiplied offences, in delivering them from the merited judgments which they had already experienced or which they had reason to apprehend, in continuing among them the light and blessings of His word and worship, and in supplicating the extension of His grace and protection.

Verse 4

Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God.

Then stood up upon the stairs. The scaffolds or pulpits, whence the Levites usually addressed the people. There were probably several placed at convenient distances, to prevent confusion, and the voice of one drowning those of the others.

Cried with a loud voice. Such an exertion, of course, was indispensably necessary, in order that the speakers might be heard by a vast multitude congregated in the open air. But these speakers were then engaged in expressing their deep sense of sin, as well as fervently imploring the forgiving mercy of God, and 'crying with a loud voice' was a natural accompaniment of this extraordinary prayer meeting, as violent gestures and vehement tones are always the way in which the Jews, and other people in the East, have been accustomed to give utterance to deep and earnest feelings.

Verse 5

Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

Said, Stand up and bless the Lord your God. If this prayer was uttered by all these Levites in common, it must have been prepared and adopted beforehand, perhaps by Ezra; and it may only embody the substance of the confession and thanksgiving.

Verse 6

Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.

Thou, even thou, art Lord alone ... In this solemn and impressive prayer, in which they made public confession of their sins, and deprecated the judgments due to the transgressions of their fathers, they begin with a profound adoration of God, whose supreme majesty and omnipotence is acknowledged in the creation, preservation, and government of all, and then they proceed to enumerate His mercies and distinguished favours to them as a nation, from the period of the call of their great ancestor, and the gracious promise intimated to him in the divinely bestowed name of Abraham-a premise which implied that he was to be the Father of the faithful, the ancestor of the Messiah, and the honoured individual in whose seed all the families of the earth should be blessed.

Tracing in full and minute detail the signal instances of divine interposition for their deliverance and their interest; in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage; their miraculous passage through the Red Sea; the promulgation of His law (for the whole form of national government, civil, or ecclesiastical, with all its ordinances, proceeded directly from God) in His, 'making known to them His holy Sabbaths,' which, from the usage of Scripture writers, does not mean a first announcement (cf. 1 Chronicles), but the formal republication of the Sabbatic law, which, to the degraded serfs from the house of bondage, would be absolutely necessary [ wª'et (H853) shabat (H7676) qaadªshekaa (H6944) howda`taa (H3045) laahem (H3807a), and madest them, attend to, observe thy holy Sabbaths, Gesenius]; in the forbearance and long-suffering shown them amid their frequent rebellions; the signal triumphs given them over their enemies; their happy settlement in the promised land-and all the extraordinary blessings, both in the form of temporal prosperity and of religious privilege, with which His paternal goodness had favoured them above all other people-they charge themselves with making a miserable requital; confess their numerous and determined acts of disobedience; read in the loss of their national independence and their long captivity the severe punishment of their sins; acknowledge that, in all the heavy and continued judgments upon their nation, God had done rightly (Neh. 16:8; Psalms 145:12; Ephesians 6:19), but they had done wickedly; and in throwing themselves on His mercy, express their purpose of entering into a national covenant, by which they pledge themselves to dutiful obedience in future.

Verses 7-17

Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 18

Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations;

They had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt. The English translation of Exodus 32:4 is, "These be thy gods." [In both passages, the Septuagint has: houtoi hoi theoi sou, and so also the Peshito version, 'Hi sunt dii tui, Israel.'] 'Elohiym (H430), though plural, when applied to the Supreme Being, is rendered in the singular, and we give a preference to this translation in Exodus 32:4, because the offence of the Israelites in the matter of the molten calf was not a breach of the first commandment, the multiplication of deities, but a breach of the second, the worshipping of God by a material image.

Verses 19-21

Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 22

Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan.

Moreover them gavest them kingdoms and nations - i:e., put them in possession of a rich country, of an extensive territory, which had been once occupied by a variety of princes and people.

And didst divide them into corners, [ watachlªqeem (H2505) lªpee'aah (H6285)] - and didst distribute them into various quarters or districts of the promised land. The propriety of the expression arose from the various districts touching at points or angles on each other.

The land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon. Heshbon being the capital city, the passage should run thus: 'the land of Sihon or the land of the king of Heshbon.'

Verses 23-31

Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 32

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day.

Now therefore, our God ... who keepest covenant and mercy. God's fidelity to His covenant is prominently acknowledged; and well it might, because their whole national history bore testimony to it. But as this could afford them little ground of comfort or of hope, while they were so painfully conscious of having violated it, they were driven to seek refuge in the riches of divine grace; and hence, the special style of invocation here adopted, "Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy."

Verses 33-35

Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 36

Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it:

Behold, we are servants this day. Notwithstanding their happy restoration to their native land, they were still tributaries of a foreign prince, whose officers ruled them, and were not like their fathers, free tenants of the land which God gave them.

Verse 37

And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.

It yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins - our agricultural labours have been resumed in the land-we plow, and sow, and till, and thou blessest the work of our hands with a plentiful return; but this increase is not for ourselves, as once it was, but for our foreign masters, to whom we have to pay large and oppressive tribute.

They have dominion over our bodies. Their persons were liable to be pressed, at the mandate of their Assyrian conqueror, into the service of his empire, either in war or in public works (whence we may see how groundless the boast of their descendants, John 8:33); and 'our beasts are taken to do their pleasure.'

Verse 38

And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.

We make a sure covenant, and write - i:e., subscribe or sign it. This written document would exercise a wholesome influence in restraining their backslidings or in animating them to duty, by being a witness against them if in future they were unfaithful to their engagements. Every deed in Israel was so arranged as to be voluntary, and so was their entering into a national covenant, by which they bound themselves to be faithful to the service of Yahweh. The people did it by their representatives (cf. Exodus 24:3-8; Deuteronomy 27:17-18; Joshua 24:1-25; cf. Joshua 8:30-35), as on this occasion under Nehemiah.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/nehemiah-9.html. 1871-8.
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