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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 13

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3559. B.C. 445.

The Israelites are separated from the mixed multitude, Nehemiah 13:1-3 . Nehemiah cleanses the chambers of the temple, Nehemiah 13:4-9 . He recovers and secures the portion of the priests and Levites, Nehemiah 13:10-14 . Contends with the nobles concerning the sabbath, and takes care for the due observance of it, Nehemiah 13:15-22 . Restrains them from marrying strange wives, Nehemiah 13:23-31 .

Verse 1

Nehemiah 13:1. On that day they read in the book of Moses Not upon the day of the dedication of the wall and city, but upon a certain day, when Nehemiah was returned from the Persian court to Jerusalem, from which he had been absent for some considerable time, during which some errors and abuses had crept in. After his return, it seems, he continued the public reading of the law at stated times, probably on the great festivals, when all the people met together, (such as those mentioned chap. 8.,) upon some day of which that portion of Scripture was read ( Deu 23:3 ) which forbids the admission of the Ammonites and Moabites into the congregation of the Lord. The meaning of which phrase is, not that they were prohibited from attending divine worship in the court of the Gentiles, and in their synagogues, but from being admitted to the privileges of Jews, and becoming one body with them by intermarriages. “None of the house of Israel, of either sex, were to enter into marriage with any Gentile, of what nation soever, unless they were first converted to their religion; and even in that case, some were debarred from it for ever, others only in part, and others again only for a limited time. Of the first sort, were all of the seven nations of the Canaanites. Of the second sort, were the Moabites and the Ammonites, whose males were excluded for ever, but not their females. And of the third sort, were the Edomites and Egyptians, with whom the Jews might not marry till the third generation. But with all others who were not of these three excepted sorts, they might freely make intermarriages, whenever they became thorough proselytes to their religion. At present, however, because, through the confusions which have since happened in all nations, it is not to be known who is an Ammonite, an Edomite, a Moabite, or an Egyptian, they hold this prohibition to have been long out of date, and that now any Gentile, as soon as proselyted to their religion, may immediately be admitted to make intermarriages with them.” See Dodd, and Prid. Con., Ann. 428.

Verse 3

Nehemiah 13:3. They separated from Israel all the mixed multitude All the Ammonites, Moabites, and other heathenish people, with whom they had contracted alliances. All these were cast out from the congregation of Israel, together with the children born of them; that is, they would not look upon them as Israelites, or as entitled to the same privileges with themselves.

Verse 4

Nehemiah 13:4. And before this That is, before this separation was made; Eliashib the priest The high-priest, (Nehemiah 3:1,) or some other priest so called, there being divers persons of this name in or about this time, though the first seems most probable; having the oversight of the chamber Of the chambers, (Nehemiah 13:9,) the high-priest having the chief power over the house of God, and all the chambers belonging to it; was allied unto Tobiah The Ammonite, and a violent enemy to God’s people. He had suffered his grandson to marry Sanballat’s daughter, who was the fast friend of Tobiah, and the great enemy of the Jews. This is mentioned as a great blot on Eliashib’s character, and the cause of his other miscarriages, noticed Nehemiah 13:5. We read also in Ezra 10:18, that several of the priests had married strange wives; and, among the rest, some of the sons of the high-priest.

Verse 5

Nehemiah 13:5. He had prepared for him a great chamber By breaking down the partitions, it is probable, between several little chambers, where holy things were laid, and by removing the things which were in them, he had prepared one large room for Tobiah’s reception, when he came to Jerusalem. This, no doubt, he had furnished for his use, and here Tobiah lodged, in order that he and the high-priest might have more free and secret communication with each other, this being a place where the people might not come.

Verse 6

Nehemiah 13:6. But in all this time was I not at Jerusalem Which gave Eliashib the opportunity of doing these things; for unless Nehemiah had been absent, he durst not have done them. For in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes, came I unto the king Namely, from Jerusalem, where he had been once and again; and after certain days obtained I leave of the king To return to Jerusalem. In the Hebrew it is, At the end of days; that is, at the year’s end: for so the word ימים , jamim, (days,) often signifies in Scripture.

Verse 7

Nehemiah 13:7. The evil Eliashib did in preparing him a chamber “Tobiah had insinuated himself into the good opinion of many of the people, and especially those of note, by his making two alliances with families of this sort: for Johanan his son had married the daughter of Meshullam, the son of Berechiah, (Nehemiah 6:18; Nehemiah 3:4,) who was one of the chief managers of the building of the wall of Jerusalem, and he himself had married the daughter of Shechaniah, another great man among the Jews. By these means he had formed an interest, and was looked upon as a worthy man, though, being an Ammonite, he could not but bear a national hatred to all that were of the race of Israel.” See Prideaux, An. 425.

Verse 8

Nehemiah 13:8. It grieved me sore That so sacred a place should be polluted by one who, on many accounts, ought not to have come there, being no priest, a stranger, an Ammonite, and one of the worst of that people; and that all this should be done by the permission and order of the high-priest.

Verse 9

Nehemiah 13:9. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers Which had been thus profaned, and restored them to their former sanctity, by the water of purification, and such other means and rites as were then usual in such cases. And thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God Which had been cast out to make room for Tobiah. Thus when sin is cast out of the heart by repentance, and faith in the blood of Christ, let it be furnished with the graces of God’s Spirit, and such holy gifts and blessings as will thoroughly fit it for every good work.

Verse 10

Nehemiah 13:10. The portion of the Levites had not been given them Which might be, either, 1st, Through this corrupt high-priest, Eliashib, who took their portions, as he did the sacred chambers, to his own use, or employed them for the entertainment of Tobiah, and his other great allies: or, 2d, Through the people, who either out of covetousness reserved them to themselves, contrary to their own solemn agreement, or were so offended at Eliashib’s horrid abuse of sacred things, that they abhorred the offering and service of God, and therefore neglected to bring in their tithes, which they knew would be perverted to bad uses. For the Levites, &c., were fled To their possessions in the country, being forced to do so for a livelihood.

Verse 11

Nehemiah 13:11 . Then contended I with the rulers I sharply reproved those priests to whom the management of those things was committed, for the neglect of their duty, and breach of their late solemn promise. Why is the house of God forsaken? So that there are few or no Levites or priests to attend there. You have not only injured men, in withholding their dues, but you have occasioned the neglect of God’s house and service, insomuch that little or no public worship is maintained. And I gathered them together To Jerusalem, from their several country possessions. And set them in their place Restored them to the exercise of their office. “A Levite in his field,” says Henry, “is out of his station: God’s house is his place, and there let him be found. Say to Archippus, Take heed to thy ministry.”

Verse 12

Nehemiah 13:12. Then brought all Judah the tithe, &c. Out of the respect which they had to Nehemiah, and because they saw these tithes would now be applied to their proper uses. The people (as Conradus Pellicanus here observes) readily obey, if the magistrates and the priests be not remiss in their duty. As soon as the people saw the Levites at their work, they could not, for shame, withhold their wages any longer, but honestly and cheerfully brought them in. “The better church-work is done, the better will church-dues be paid.” Henry.

Verse 13

Nehemiah 13:13. For they were counted faithful By the consent of those who knew them. They had approved themselves faithful in other trusts committed to them, and so had purchased to themselves this good degree, 1 Timothy 3:13. Men should be tried first, and then trusted; tried in the less, and then trusted with more. The office of these treasurers was to receive and pay; to distribute to their brethren in due season, and due proportions. And Nehemiah sought out for faithful men the more diligently, because he had had experience of the perfidiousness of the former trustees.

Verse 14

Nehemiah 13:14. Remember me, O my God, concerning this What I have done with an upright heart for thy house and service, be pleased graciously to accept, and remember for my good, according to thy promise. Nehemiah receiving no recompense, perhaps not even thanks, from those for whose benefit he did these things, he looks up to God as his paymaster, and refers himself and his actions to his consideration; not in pride, or as boasting of what he had done, much less depending upon it as his righteousness, or as if he thought he had made God his debtor, but in an humble appeal to him concerning his integrity and pure intention in all this service, and a believing expectation that God would not be unrighteous to forget his work and labour of love. And wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, &c. Deeds done for the house of God, and the offices thereof, for the support of religion, and the encouragement of it, are good deeds; there is both righteousness and godliness in them; both mercy to men, and piety toward God; and God will certainly remember them, and not wipe them out. They shall in nowise lose their reward. Here again we find, (see Nehemiah 5:19,) that Nehemiah was employed much in pious ejaculations; and on every occasion looked up to God, and committed himself and his affairs to him. He here reflects with comfort upon what he had done for the house and service of God, and it afforded him much satisfaction to think that he had been any way instrumental to revive and support religion in his country, and to reform what was amiss. In like manner the kindness which any show to God’s ministers and people, and the care and labour they take to aid his cause, shall be returned into their own bosoms, in the secret joy they shall have there, not only through a consciousness of having done well, but of having glorified God, and done good of the best kind, spiritual good, to the souls of men.

Verses 15-16

Nehemiah 13:15-16. I testified against them I protested against the action, and admonished them to forbear it. Men of Tyre brought fish, and sold on the sabbath in Jerusalem The holy city, where God’s house was; and where the great judicatories of the nation were. So this is added as an aggravation of their sin, that it was done with manifest contempt of God and men.

Verse 17

Nehemiah 13:17. Then I contended with the nobles Their chief men and rulers; whom he charges with this sin, because, though others committed it, it was done by their countenance or connivance, probably by their example: and if these nobles had exercised their authority, the people durst not have done as they did. If magistrates, nobles, and people in the higher ranks of life, allow themselves in recreations, in idle visits and idle talk on the sabbath day, men of business will profane it by their worldly employments, as the more justifiable practice of the two.

Verses 18-19

Nehemiah 13:18-19. Did not your fathers thus? He bids them reflect, and consider that this was one of the crimes of which their fathers were guilty; and for which God had suffered them to be carried captive out of their land, and their city to be destroyed. Did not God bring all this evil upon us? Which you so well and sadly remember, that I need not tell you the particulars. When the gates began to be dark Which was about sun- setting, by reason of the mountains which were round about and near Jerusalem: at which time they who sat at the gates could no longer see to do any thing. I commanded that the gates should be shut In order that none who came to sell goods might enter in, and that no burden might be brought in on the sabbath day, or late in the evening before it, or early in the morning after. And some of my servants set I at the gates Out of a diffidence in those to whom the keeping of the gates had been committed.

Verses 20-21

Nehemiah 13:20-21. The merchants, &c., lodged without Jerusalem In the open field, (as appears by the next verse,) where, perhaps, they pitched their tents, and opened their packs, hoping to sell their wares on the sabbath day to the country people, though they could not get admittance into Jerusalem. Then I testified against them, and said, I will lay hands on you I will punish you and seize your goods. For this was a temptation to covetous or needy Jews, that lived in or near the city, to steal opportunities of buying their commodities, which then they might do with more advantage. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath

Such power have good magistrates; especially when they are resolute. And it is very observable, that these traffickers, being men of other nations, were not bound by the law of the sabbath enjoined to the Jews, and did not transgress in breaking it; yet he would not permit them to make the Jews, who were under the obligation of it, to break it; and thereby trouble the commonwealth of Israel, by drawing the people into sin. It is also observable, that though buying and selling was not a servile work, yet he thought this to be comprehended in those words, Thou shalt do no manner of work.

Verse 22

Nehemiah 13:22. I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves Because the work they now were set upon, though common in its nature, yet was holy in the design of it, and had respect unto the sabbath: and, because the day in which they were to do this was the sabbath day, for the observation whereof they were obliged to purify themselves; that they should come and keep the gates The gates of the city: not daring to trust the common porters, and thinking that the Levites, by virtue of their character, would be more reverenced, and meet with more deference and respect than his domestic servants, he therefore appointed them to this office of keeping the gates on the sabbath, that all traffic might be prevented, and the day not fail to be sanctified, as it ought to be. O my God, spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy By this he intimates, that though he mentioned his good works as things wherewith God was well pleased, and which he had promised to reward, yet he neither did, nor durst, trust to their merit, or his own worthiness, but, when he had done all, he judged himself an unprofitable servant, and one that needed God’s infinite mercy to pardon all his sins, and particularly those infirmities and corruptions which adhered to his good deeds.

Verse 23

Nehemiah 13:23. Also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod A city of the Philistines; of Ammon and of Moab They had married strangers, though not long before they had most solemnly promised not to do so, Nehemiah 10:30. So hard a thing it is perfectly to root out tares, which will be continually springing up again.

Verse 24

Nehemiah 13:24. And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, &c. What the natural language of the Jews at this time was, whether Hebrew or Chaldee, is matter of some inquiry among the learned. Those who suppose it was Hebrew, produce the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, and Esther, besides the prophecies of Daniel, which, for the most part, were written in Hebrew, and which they suppose the authors of them would not have composed in that language, if at that time it had not been the vulgar language. But to this it is replied, that the Jewish authors might make use of the Hebrew language in what they wrote, not only because the things which they recorded concerned the Jewish nation only, among whom there were learned men enough to explain them; but, chiefly, because they were inclined to conceal what they wrote from the Chaldeans, who at that time were their lords and masters, and, considering all circumstances, might not, perhaps, have been so well pleased with them, had they understood the contents of their writings. Since it appears then, say they, by several words recurring in the book of Maccabees, the New Testament, and Josephus, that the language which the Jews then spoke was Chaldee, that this language they learned in their captivity, and after their return never assumed their ancient Hebrew tongue so as to speak it vulgarly; it must hence follow, that what is here termed the language of the Jews, was at that time no other than the Chaldee, for the ancient Hebrew was only preserved among the learned. See Le Clerc and Dodd.

Verse 25

Nehemiah 13:25. And I contended with them, &c. These words, it must be acknowledged as proceeding from Nehemiah’s own mouth, sound somewhat harshly in our translation; but the meaning of them seems to be only as follows: I contended with them That is, I expostulated the matter with them; I cursed them That is, excommunicated them, and cast them out of the society of God’s people; in the doing of which, I denounced God’s judgments against them; I smote certain of them That is, I ordered the officers to beat some of the most notorious offenders with rods or scourges, according to the law, Deuteronomy 25:2; and I plucked off their hair That is, I commanded them to be shaved, thereby to put them to shame, and to make them look like vile slaves; for as the hair was esteemed a great ornament among the eastern nations, so baldness was accounted a great disgrace. And Nehemiah had a sufficient provocation to inflict these several punishments upon them, because, in their marrying with heathen nations, they had acted contrary, not only to the express law of God, but to their own late solemn covenant and promise. See Poole and Dodd.

Verse 26

Nehemiah 13:26. Did not Solomon sin by these things? He quotes a precedent to show the pernicious consequences of their conduct, which were such as rendered it necessary that their sin should be animadverted upon by the government. The falls of great and good men are therefore recorded, that we may take warning by them to shun the temptations by which they were overcome. Solomon was famous for wisdom; yet, when he married strange wives, his wisdom could not secure him from the snares of such connections: nay, it departed from him, and he acted very foolishly as well as wickedly. He was beloved of God, but his conduct, in that particular, threw him out of God’s favour, and went near entirely to extinguish the grace of God in his soul. He was king over Israel, but that lost his house ten of the twelve tribes. You plead that you can marry strange wives, and yet retain the purity of Israelites; but Solomon himself could not; even him did outlandish women cause to sin Therefore let him that assuredly standeth, take heed lest he fall, when he runs upon such a precipice.

Verses 27-28

Nehemiah 13:27-28. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil? That is, would you have me to connive at this wickedness, and so bring guilt upon myself, and ruin upon you? And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib, &c. It is supposed Eliashib died before Nehemiah returned from Persia, and that Joiada his son succeeded him as high-priest, one of whose sons had offended in this matter. Was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horaonite He is said by Josephus to have been that Manasseh who, by Sanballat’s interest, procured liberty to build the Samaritan temple on mount Gerizim; to which those priests who had married strange wives, or been otherwise criminal, betook themselves: and, with or after them, others of the people in the same or like circumstances. Therefore I chased him from me From my presence and court, from the city and temple, and from the congregation and church of Israel.

Verse 29

Nehemiah 13:29. Remember them, O my God Convince them of sin, and bring them to repentance; put them in mind of what they should be and do, that they may come to themselves. Or, remember them to reckon with them for it, and punish them according to their deserts. If we consider the words in this light, the prayer is a prediction that God would remember it against them. Because they have defiled the priesthood God required greater purity in the priests than in other Israelites, and in the high-priest especially, who might marry none but a virgin of his own people, Leviticus 21:6-14; and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites There was a covenant with Phinehas (Numbers 25:0.) of an everlasting priesthood, which they had violated, because the covenant was mutual, binding them to observe the laws of the priesthood, as God engaged himself to preserve them in their office. What covenant was made with the Levites does not appear, but it is likely the meaning is, they dishonoured the whole tribe of Levi, who were set apart for divine ministries.

Verse 30

Nehemiah 13:30. Thus cleansed I them from all strangers That is, both priests and Levites were separated from their strange wives: and appointed the wards of the priests, &c. To observe their courses of attendance at the house of God, and every one to perform there that business which was proper to him.

Verse 31

Nehemiah 13:31. Remember me, O my God, for good The best services done to the public, have sometimes been forgotten by those for whom they were done, Ecclesiastes 9:15; therefore Nehemiah refers himself to God to be recompensed by him, and then doubts not but he shall be well paid. This may well be the summary of our petitions: we need no more to make us happy but this, Remember me, O my God, for good.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/nehemiah-13.html. 1857.
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