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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 8

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-8

Neh 8:1-8

READING OF THE LAW OF MOSES;

THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES

Nehemiah 7:73 b: "And when the seventh month was come, the children of Israel were in their cities."

Our version (ASV) includes this line with Nehemiah 8, because it identifies the time of the great reading of the Law discussed herein. The seventh month was Tishri, corresponding to our September-October.

The Nehemiah 8; Nehemiah 9 and Nehemiah 10 are a unit, incorporated, we believe, by the author Nehemiah as an explanation of the great celebration that followed the completion of the wall.

Keil wrote that the mention of the seventh month (Tishri) here should be understood as a reference to the very next month after the completion of the wall in the sixth month (Elul), "There is nothing against the inference that the seventh month of the same year is intended." Short also agreed that the events of this chapter, "Came only a few days after the completion of the wall, which occurred on the 25th day of the month Elul (Nehemiah 6:15), the sixth month."

Throughout this whole century, from the times of James Moffatt until the present day, critical scholars have been advocating all kinds of rearrangements of the sacred text, some of them even attempting to place these chapters in the Book of Ezra.

All such speculations, rearrangements, and allegations of all kinds of confusion, interpolations and mistakes on the part of their mythical `chronicler’ are, in the view of this writer, without any value. The Book of Nehemiah still stands in the sacred text, as it has stood for ages, a unit, composed of "The Words of Nehemiah," and of course, including things that Nehemiah himself incorporated into his narrative. Williamson gives us the name of a current great scholar, "Y. Kaufmann, whose work, History of the Religion of Israel, Volume IV, carries a defense of the unity of these three chapters, and also maintains at the same time that they are in their correct historical setting." It only remains to be said that there is absolutely no agreement whatever among the critics on any other viable alternative.

Nehemiah 8:1-8

GATHERING OF A GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO HEAR THE LAW READ

"And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which Jehovah had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the book of the law before the assembly, both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the broad place that was before the water gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Uriah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullum. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (For he was above all the people); and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed Jehovah, the great God; and all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with the lifting up of their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped Jehovah with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethaih, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozebad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading."

"They spake unto Ezra the scribe" (Nehemiah 8:1). Where was Ezra during the rebuilding of the wall? We do not know. He might have been recalled to Persia years earlier, or he might have been temporarily absent from Jerusalem. "The most probable explanation is that he had been recalled to Persia in 456 B.C., and that now, eleven years later in 444 B.C., he was allowed to return to Jerusalem." It is not unreasonable at all to suppose that Nehemiah had sent for him to come and celebrate the dedication of the completed wall.

Some scholars have expressed amazement that the people requested Ezra to read to them from the Law of Moses; but Ezra was a popular leader, and the will of the people in that matter became manifest. "It was quite natural for the people to request Ezra to resume his work of exposition of the law of Moses, to which he had accustomed them on his former visit."

We appreciate Bowman’s admission that the author of Nehemiah, "Regarded it as the whole Pentateuch," which it most certainly was. We regard Nehemiah as the author; and his clear statement here that the law of Moses is that which was read is conclusive.

The dedication of the wall is not related until Nehemiah 12; and, as Keil stated it, "All of the facts related in Nehemiah 8-11 might easily have occurred in the interval between the completion of the wall and its dedication." This understanding overwhelmingly supports the unity of the Book of Nehemiah, the focus of which, first and last, is centered in the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.

"From early morning until midday" (Nehemiah 8:3). "Early morning, daylight. He began as soon as it was daylight, and continued on, he and his assistants (Nehemiah 8:8), till noon." Many details of this great gathering are not revealed. The general assembly - was it of people from the surrounding area, or merely all the people in the city? If the surrounding people were included, did they travel in darkness before daylight; and did they open the gates before the sun was hot? The absence of any detailed answers to such questions suggests caution in the acceptance of such quotations as that we just cited.

"And Ezra stood upon a pulpit of wood" (Nehemiah 8:4). Here we find the word pulpit used in the sense of a podium, or platform; because thirteen men are named as the persons standing side by side with Ezra. It is amazing to this writer that scholars have trouble accepting the number of those men as thirteen. `It must have been fourteen, seven on each side, because the Jews thought the number seven was a perfect number? `Maybe, it was twelve men, six on each side, the twelve being symbolical of the twelve tribes of Israel? In that case, perhaps one of the names was dropped out by mistake. Such comments are ludicrous. What a shame that God did not employ some of those critics to revise the Bible! As a matter of fact, there were six of them on Ezra’s right hand, and seven on his left. Cook identified them as, "The chief priests of the course at that time performing the Temple service."

"Ezra opened the book ... and when he opened it, all the people stood up" (Nehemiah 8:5). Frequently, even today, Christians stand when the word of God is read. However, there is no record that such a custom was observed from the times of Moses and afterward. Furthermore, these words may not be tortured to mean that all of the people stood during the entire morning. "The people listened to Ezra and his fellow priests as they read from various scrolls of the Pentateuch, no doubt including Leviticus 23:23-25 regarding the Feast of Trumpets, and the portions describing the Feast of Tabernacles; but much moral instruction from various parts of the Pentateuch must also have been read."

"The Levites caused the people to understand the law, and the people stood in their place" (Nehemiah 8:7). It is not known exactly what is meant by the Levites causing the people to understand the law. Hamrick thought that they did so, "By translating the words out of the Hebrew into the Aramaic vernacular of the people." Cook believed that they might also have merely explained, "Obscure words or passages."

Of particular interest is the word stood, which we have underlined in Nehemiah 8:5, above. It is italicized in the ASV, indicating that the word is not in the Hebrew text but has been added by the translators. The RSV reads, `the people remaining in their place.’

Regarding this chapter, Oesterley has a very excellent comment. While admitting that the text fails to give us any complete account of all the details of what happened, he wrote, "The really important point is clear enough, viz., that by Ezra’s inspiration and under his guidance the Law (of Moses) was now for the first time put before the Jews in such a way as to convince them that it was the most important thing in the world that their lives should be conducted wholly in accordance with its precepts." That being indeed true for ancient Israel, how much more is it important for Christians so to honor, trust and obey the word of inspiration in the New Testament!

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 8:1. The people responded to the call of Nehemiah when he wished to investigate their "registration number." Now they have assembled again and are seeking information. They met in the street that was near a very important gate. It was the one opening out near the water supply of the city. That was why it was called the water gate. The information sought this time was different from that wanted when Nehemiah called them together. They wanted to hear from the book of the law. What a wonderful motive for coming together! Also, we are told that all of the people were in this gathering, and that they had met as one man. Ezra was the man called for and it was for a good reason. All of the copies of the law were made by hand, and the men who did that were called scribes, in which occupation Ezra was engaged. He was also a priest (Ezra 7:11), but his position as a scribe also was what caused him to be called this time. As his work was to reproduce the law, he certainly would have a cops of it, and also would know how to read it. The reader should note that the law of Moses was what the Lord had commanded to Israel. This is another rebuke for those who try to make a difference between the authority of Moses and that of the Lord.

Nehemiah 8:2. While Ezra as a scribe would be expected to have a copy of law at hand, there was a reason also for calling on him as a priest. Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:9 and Malachi 2:7 shows that they were counted on to be ready to teach the people the knowledge of God’s Word. Hear with understanding is rendered "listen intelligently" by Moffatt’s translation. The word for hear is from SHAMA, and Strong’s definition is, "a primitive root; to hear intelligently (often with implication of attention, obedience, etc.; causatively to tell, etc.)." Understanding is from BIYN and Strong’s definition is, "a primitive root; to separate mentally (or distinguish), i. e., (generally) understand." This information will show us that it was no supernatural gift that was meant in the description of the ones expected to receive the law. The Word of God is a plain book, and was intended to be grasped by any person with intelligence enough to be responsible. But even such minds will be expected to give earnest attention and exert some effort in order to comprehend the meaning. In other words, they are supposed to "consider," which Isaiah 1:3 says certain ones did not.

Nehemiah 8:3. The reading of the law lasted from daylight until noon. That was a sufficient length of time for one session, for it was then necessary to look after the needs for physical food. But after stating to begin with how long the reading lasted, the writer described the manner of the forenoon’s procedure in the course.

Nehemiah 8:4. Pulpit of wood was the same as a platform or rostrum. It was necessary to stand in such a place, because the audience was great and it is always better for the hearers to be in view of the speaker and vice versa. No reason is given why the men named stood on the right and left hands of Ezra while he read the law. Some of them were priests, and their presence In that attitude would show great respect.

Nehemiah 8:5. The writer connects the fact of the book’s being opened in the sight of all the people with the other fact that Ezra was above all the people. That agrees with the remarks about a pulpit in the preceding verse. We should be impressed with the action of the people at the opening of the book; they all stood up. There could not have been seats for that vast throng, hence they were sitting on the ground. But their reverence for the divine document brought them to their feet. They continued in that posture from daylight until noon. It is remarkable what people will endure if their interest in the subject is great enough.

Nehemiah 8:6. To bless the Lord means to acknowledge him as the source of all blessings or benefits. The people endorsed the words of Nehemiah by saying amen, amen. In the Hebrew lexicon the word is defined "truly." The lifting up hands while bowing the heads would form a position of great respect. Worshipped is from SHACHAH and Strong defines it, "a primitive root; to depress, i. e. prostrate (especially reflexively in homage to royalty or to God)." The word is used in this place with regard to the posture of the body, that it was one with the face to the ground. That could not mean that the face was in contact with the ground, for the people were standing. It means their faces were toward the ground in a pose of respect.

Nehemiah 8:7. The men named were Levites, therefore the words following, and the Levites, means "who were Levites." Being of that tribe it is clear that they would be the ones to cause the people to understand the law. The explanation of the law intensified the attention of the people so that they stood in their place.

Nehemiah 8:8. The preceding verse states generally that the Levites caused the people to understand the law; this gives the details. Distinctly is from PARASH and is defined, "a primitive root; to separate, literally (to depress) or figuratively to specify)."--Strong. Sense is from an original that means "knowledge or understanding." We know that more than one man would not be speaking at one time. Ezra was holding the book and doing the first reading. These other Levites would then "separate" the words one from another, and give what we would call a lexical definition of them. There is an interesting paragraph in a work of secular writing which I shall quote: "During the 70 years captivity, though it does not appear that the Hebrews entirely lost their native tongue, yet it underwent so considerable change from their adoption of the vernacular languages of the countries where they had resided, that afterwards, on their return from exile, they spoke a dialect of Chaldee mixed with Hebrew words. On this account it was that, when the Hebrew scriptures were read, it was found necessary to interpret them to the people in the Chaldean language; as, when Ezra the scribe brought the book of the law of Moses before the congregation, the Levites were said to have caused the people to understand the law, because they read in the book, in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." Horne, Introduction, Vol. 1, p. 190.

Verses 1-18

Neh 8

Nehemiah Chapter 8

Nehemiah 8:1 "And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that [was] before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel."

This was an awareness of the people that the answers to their problems would be found in God’s Word. Oh! if we could come to that conclusion in our land today. Notice the word "all". This means that the entire group, that came back to their homeland, gathered here. The people who came back were those who wanted to be in better relationship with their God. We may remember that those that came, came of their own free will. They had gathered to hear the Word of the LORD from His law.

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."

"All that could hear with understanding" was, probably, speaking of children being in the group, if they were old enough to understand. Ezra was a true priest of God. He restricted no one from hearing the law read.

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."

He read from the first light of morning until noon. This had to be at least 6 hours of reading without a stop. We may safely assume that some of those on the platform with him, read part of it to spare his voice. It is interesting, to me, that the reading would last this long. It is even more interesting, to me, that the people would listen for this extended time.

Nehemiah 8:4 "And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, [and] Meshullam."

Notice, in this, Ezra was spoken of as scribe, as if he was reading a document, instead of acting as priest. This pulpit of wood was an elevated platform where all the people could plainly see him reading the Word. The people on his right and left could have been priests, but it would not have been necessary for them to be. They were, probably, chosen for their reading ability. The idea was, they must be able to accurately read the law.

Nehemiah 8:5 "And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:"

The fact that they stood up, showed great respect for Ezra and for the law he was holding in his hand.

Nehemiah 8:6 "And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with [their] faces to the ground."

Ezra blessing the LORD had to be speaking of high praise coming from the lips of Ezra. The people were in agreement with the praise and said, Amen. The lifting up of the hands was a sign of praise lifted to heaven to God. The bowing of the head showed they were humbled before almighty God. They worshipped and praised God in unison with Ezra.

Nehemiah 8:7 "Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people [stood] in their place."

It appeared, these Levites were familiar with the law. When there was a pause in the reading, they expounded the meaning to those who did not understand.

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." Notice, the word "distinctly" which means clearly understood.

Nehemiah 8:9 "And Nehemiah, which [is] the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day [is] holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law."

Nehemiah was the civil leader. He was the governor. Ezra was the spiritual leader. The people were weeping, probably, because they were understanding where they had failed God. It was not suitable on any holy day to weep, so the Levites made them stop weeping. This day was holy unto the LORD.

Nehemiah 8:10 "Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto 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."

This was, probably, Ezra giving them instructions in spiritual things. Everyone was to eat and be merry on this day. They were to share their food with those who did not have to eat, as well. The joy, spoken of here, was in the spirit. This joy was a gift from God, who gave them, and all who dare to believe, His strength.

Nehemiah 8:11 "So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day [is] holy; neither be ye grieved."

The weeping stopped. They were to rejoice in their LORD.

Nehemiah 8:12 "And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them."

The Word of God will set you free. They were joyful, because they had heard and understood the law presented to them by Ezra and his helpers. There is a real joy in being able to understand the meaning of the Scriptures we read, as well. The Bible {God’s Word} is a guide to each of us to know God’s will for our life.

Nehemiah 8:13 "And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law."

The reading of the law the day before was a sample of better things to come. Now, those who had authority in their homes, or in the temple, gathered, and Ezra taught them the law even more fully than before. Those who hear the Word and begin to study cannot, it seems, get enough. The more you study, the more you desire to study and it goes on and on. Humans cannot fully understand the Word of God. Each time we study, God reveals more and more of His Word to us.

Nehemiah 8:14 "And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:"

This was speaking of the Feast of Tabernacles, which took place in October on our calendar. It appears, that Zerubbabel had started the Feast of Tabernacles again, but they had not dwelt in booths during that time. There were three feasts that all male Hebrews were commanded to attend each year. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were the three.

Nehemiah 8:15 "And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as [it is] written."

Myrtlewood grows two places in the world. One of those places is in Israel. They went out from the city to the mount and cut branches to make the booths. These were temporary structures to live in during the week of Tabernacles.

Nehemiah 8:16 "So the people went forth, and brought [them], and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim."

Those, who lived in the city, would make the booths on the top of their flat-roofed houses. The people who lived elsewhere would put their booths near the gates.

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."

The time, spoken of here, was approximately hundreds of years before the time of Joshua, who is, probably, intended by Jeshua, above. Their gladness was that they knew what they were to do. They all built their little booths, and stayed in them during the Feast of Tabernacles.

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."

This was speaking of Ezra reading in the book of the law of God. This was a time of not only returning to their homeland, but attempting to return to their God, as well. The solemn assembly, kept on the eighth day, is described in the following Scriptures. Leviticus 23:34 "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month [shall be] the feast of tabernacles [for] seven days unto the LORD." Leviticus 23:35 "On the first day [shall be] an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work [therein]." Leviticus 23:36 "Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: it [is] a solemn assembly; [and] ye shall do no servile work [therein]."

Nehemiah 8 Questions

1. Where did the people gather themselves together?

2. What did they ask Ezra to do?

3. What was Ezra called in Nehemiah 8:1?

4. What conclusion does the author wish the people of our country would come to?

5. The people, who came out of captivity, wanted to be in __________ relationship with their _______.

6. The congregation was made up of whom?

7. When did he bring the law before the people?

8. "All that could hear with understanding", probably, meant whom?

9. How long did he read the law before them?

10. Who were some of the men on the platform with Ezra, that we can safely assume read part of the time for him?

11. What two words describe the condition of the ears of those who heard the law?

12. What did Ezra stand on to read?

13. Ezra opened the book in the sight of ______ the people.

14. Why did the people stand, when the book was opened?

15. In verse 6, Ezra did what?

16. How did the people respond?

17. The lifting of their hands was in _________.

18. Their bowed heads showed their ______________.

19. What did the Levites standing by do, when there was a pause in the reading of the law?

20. Nehemiah was their ________ leader.

21. Ezra was their ____________ leader.

22. Why were they weeping?

23. What did Ezra say to them about their weeping?

24. The joy of the LORD is your ___________.

25. Quote Nehemiah 8:12.

26. The Word of God will set you ________.

27. The Bible is ________ ________.

28. What Feast is Nehemiah 8:14 speaking of?

29. What had they failed to do in recent years, when celebrating Feast of Tabernacles?

30. Where did they get the material for the booths?

31. Myrtlewood grows in 2 places in the world, where is one?

32. Where would they build the booths?

33. How many days did they kept the feast?

34. Where do we find the law on this?

Verses 9-12

Neh 8:9-12

Nehemiah 8:9-12

THE WEEPING OF THE PEOPLE TURNED INTO JOY

"And Nehemiah who was the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto Jehovah your God; mourn not nor weep. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye grieved; for the joy of Jehovah is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way, to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them."

"Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe" (Nehemiah 8:9). In the light of this verse, we find it impossible to accept the declaration that, "Nehemiah’s name in Nehemiah 8:9 is most certainly intrusive; and, apart from the strong evidence that Nehemiah and Ezra were not contemporaries, there are reasons to believe his name is not original in this context." How could it be that Ezra and Nehemiah were not contemporary, since both of them were officials in the reign of Artaxerxes? That alone means that they were contemporaries, unless one of them died; and where is there any statement about that?

"For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law" (Nehemiah 8:9). Who is he who, upon careful meditation upon all that the Law of God requires, can restrain emotions of grief and mournful feelings of sinful shortcomings and failures? Only those who close their eyes and stop their ears against what God says can refrain from similar grief. God’s Law does not, however, leave the human heart depressed in sorrow. Ezra (and his helpers the Levites) quickly moved to turn the people’s weeping into joy.

"Send portions unto him for whom nothing is prepared" (Nehemiah 8:10). Cook pointed out that this custom of sending portions on festive occasions grew out of the words in Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14. The poor, the sojourner, the servant, the neglected, and the dispossessed are not to be forgotten by God-fearing people.

"And all the people went their way ... to make great mirth" (Nehemiah 8:12). The reason for this great joy is stated in the words, "Because they had understood the words that were declared unto them." What a glimpse of the New Covenant there is in this! The great and eternal principle of holy religion is this, as Jesus stated it, "That my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). From one end to the other, the New Testament is a shout of joy. The angelic chorus sang it the night the Christ was born; and an angel of God declared to the shepherds; "Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy that shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10).

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 8:9. Tirshatha is another word for governor. Nehemiah had been put into that office over Judah (Judea) by the king of Persia. In one sentence the dual position of Ezra, priest and scribe, is stated. It would be well for those marking their Bibles to make note of this subject. The effect of hearing the law was to cause the people to weep. There is little difference between mourn and weep. There is a slight distinction, however, when used in one sentence. The first has special reference to the state of the mind, the second to the facial and voice expressions. Nehemiah and Ezra meant that so much had occurred for which to be thankful that they should neither mourn or weep, but be joyful instead.

Nehemiah 8:10. Instead of giving way to mourning, the people were bidden to take enjoyment in the blessings of God. The Jews were forbidden to eat fat, yet they were here told to eat it. The word is from an entirely different Hebrew original, with an entirely different meaning, from the one in the case of the restriction. It is from MASHMAN, and Strong defines it, "fatness; but usually (figuratively and concretely) a rich dish, a fertile field, a robust man." It can thus be seen not to have any relation to the fat of animals that the Jews were forbidden to eat. The people were encouraged to enjoy these good products of the land. They were told also to send portions (rations) to the poor people of the country. It is significant that the exhortation to send rations to others was based on the fact that the day was holy unto our Lord. We here have an approved example of celebrating a day as holy unto the Lord, by making gifts of things for the enjoyment of the body.

Nehemiah 8:11-12. The people carried out the instructions of Nehemiah and Ezra. They recognized the day as holy by making gifts of the good things of life. The reason for their response to the words that had been spoken to them was the fact that they understood them, an important consideration.

Verses 13-18

Neh 8:13-18

Nehemiah 8:13-18

REGARDING THE SECOND DAY OF THE SEVENTH MONTH

"And on the second day were gathered together the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, the priests, and the Levites unto Ezra the scribe, even to give attention to the words of the law. And they found written in the law, how that Jehovah had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month; and that they should publish and proclaim it in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth into the mount, and fetch olive branches, and branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the broad place of the water gate, and in the broad place of the gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of them that had come again out of the captivity made booths, and dwelt in 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. 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 ordinance."

The prominent thing in this paragraph is the thirst of the people to hear the word of God. "Once let the sweetness of the Divine Word be tasted, and there springs up in the heart instantly a desire for more, like that feeling of the Psalmist who wrote, `Oh how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day’ (Psalms 119:97)." Not only did the people come to hear Ezra read the law on that following day, but also on every day throughout the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:18).

Leviticus 23:42 had commanded the children of Israel to dwell in booths during this celebration. However, some scholars seem to be perturbed over the fact that some of the instructions mentioned here "are not found in any existing Scripture,"[18] but that is no problem whatever. The words, "As it is written," and the statement that all was done, "According to the ordinance" (Nehemiah 8:18) leave no room to doubt that at that time such instructions were available. The fact that imperfections in the text, or even the loss of portions of God’s Word in that period, might indeed have left us ignorant of some things should neither surprise nor distress us. We can trust what Nehemiah wrote here.

"Since the days of Jeshua (Joshua) the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so" (Nehemiah 8:17). This statement may be an interrogative; and if so, it is a declaration that the children of Israel had observed the Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) from the days of Joshua till the occasion in this chapter, the Scriptural citings of celebrations in the days of both Solomon and Zerubbabel being proof enough of the truth of the sentence read as an interrogative; but, the critics find it much more delightful to read it as a dogmatic declaration to be cited at once as `a contradiction,’ `an error,’ `an oversight’ or some other euphemism for a falsehood. Oesterley, for example, noted that, "These words are not in accordance with other passages of Scripture; for this feast had been observed by Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:8; 2 Chronicles 8:13) and by Zerubabel (Ezra 3:4). It is an `oversight’ of the chronicler’s."

Even if the sentence is accurately understood as declarative, the meaning then would be as stated by Rawlinson: "This cannot mean that there had been no celebration of this feast since the days of Joshua, nor even that there had been no occasion of it marked by their dwelling in booths, but only that there had not been so joyous and general a celebration of it. A similar statement is made of Josiah’s celebration of the Passover."

A number of other very able scholars are in full agreement with Rawlinson. "It is not the intention of the writer to state that the Feast of Tabernacles had not been kept since the days of Joshua until this occasion, but that there had been no such celebration as this since the times of Joshua." Likewise, Keil wrote that, "The text only states that since the days of Joshua, the whole community had not so celebrated it."

E.M. Zerr:

Nehemiah 8:13. Having been informed about part of the law, the people came together the next day to get more details.

Nehemiah 8:14. The next thing they learned was about the feast of tabernacles instituted in the law of Moses. That is found in Leviticus 23:40-43, where the purpose of the feast is given. It was to commemorate the fact that Israel had to dwell in tents while going through the wilderness, due to their irregular times for traveling.

Nehemiah 8:15. The period was observed by cutting branches from several kinds of trees and setting them up into booths. The original for this word is defined in the lexicon of Strong, "a hut or lair." The branches were stood up in something like the form of an Indian tepee, thus making a sort of rude and temporary shelter. It was their dwelling for 7 days of the feast, the entire length of that institution. This practice would make them appreciate the permanent homes they had in Palestine, through contrast with the tents they had had to depend on exclusively for 40 years.

Nehemiah 8:16. There was a general movement of the people to celebrate the great occasion. The different places mentioned were those of convenience for the putting up of such shelters. The houses had fiat roofs which would make suitable places for them. The courts were the spaces surrounding them, similar to the "yards" or lawns of modern homes. Some selected the streets near the various gates of the city. After getting these booths or brushy tepees set up, the devout Jews lived in them 7 days.

Nehemiah 8:17. The writer goes back to the days of Joshua for his comparison. Since his time the Jews had not done as complete a job of keeping the feast as they did this time under the influence of Nehemiah and Ezra. The experiences of the long captivity had taught them many lessons, and among them was that of appreciation for the blessing of being at liberty in their own land. That appreciation put them in the frame of mind to be "hungry and thirsty for righteousness," and to dig further into the divine law to see what duties were there required that they had been missing.

Nehemiah 8:18. The feast lasted 7 days according to the law. During that time they had the law read to them. The day following the feast was a special one. Solemn assembly means a holy or sabbath day. Keeping it according to the manner means according to the ordinances in Leviticus 23:36. It will be well for the student to read carefully the entire 23rd chapter of Leviticus and see the connection with regard to what constituted a holy or sabbath day. In that chapter it can be clearly seen that holy days and sabbath days are the same.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Nehemiah 8". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/nehemiah-8.html.
 
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