Upon the reading of the law, separation is made from the mixed multitude. Tobiah is cast out of his chamber in the house of God. The portions of the Levites are restored to them. The profanation of the sabbath-day prevented. Strange wives are put away.
Before Christ 433.
Nehemiah 13:1. On that day they read, &c.— At that time the law of Moses was read in the audience of the people. Houbigant. The phrase of not entering into the congregation of the Lord, in this verse, does not signify an ejection from the public assemblies for divine worship; but must be understood to mean no more than a prohibition of marriage; for this, according to the rabbis, was the case of such prohibitions. 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 now 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not to be known who is an Ammonite, an Edomite, a Moabite, or an Egyptian, they held this prohibition to have been long out of date; and that now, any Gentile, as soon as proselyted to their religion, may immediately be admitted to make intermarriages with them.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 Prideaux.
Nehemiah 13:4. Eliashib the priest, &c.— Some are apt to imagine, that this Eliashib was no more than a common priest, because he is said to have had the oversight of the chambers in the house of God; which was an office, they think, too mean for the high-priest. But we cannot see why the oversight of the chambers of the house of God may not import the whole government of the temple, which certainly belonged to the high-priest only; nor can we conceive how any one, who was less than absolute governor of the temple, could make so great an innovation in it. He was assistant, indeed, in the reparation of the walls of the city; but, except in this one act, where do we read of his doing any thing worthy of memory towards the reforming what was amiss either in church or state, in the times either of Ezra or Nehemiah? And yet we cannot but presume, that, had he joined with them in so good a work, some mention would have been made of it in the books written by them. Since therefore, instead of this, we find it recorded in Ezra, ch. Nehemiah 10:18 that the pontifical house was in his time grown very corrupt, and, not improbably by his connivance, began to marry into heathen families, see Nehemiah 13:28 it seems most likely, that it was Eliashib the high-priest who was the author of this great profanation of the house of God; but, as he might die before Nehemiah returned from Babylon, for this reason we hear nothing of the governor's apprehending him for it.
Nehemiah 13:7. For Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber— Tobiah had insinuated himself into the good opinion of most 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 Barachiah, (ch. Nehemiah 6:18, Nehemiah 3:4.) who was one of the chief managers of the building of the wall of Jerusalem under the direction of the governor; and he himself had married the daughter of Shecaniah, the son of Arab, another great man among the Jews; by which means he had formed an interest; though, being an Ammonite, he bore a national hatred to all that were of the race of Israel.
Nehemiah 13:9. And they cleansed the chambers— See Numbers 19 and Leviticus 13.
Nehemiah 13:19. Some of my servants set I at the gates— It seems as if matters were come to such a pass, that Nehemiah could not trust the common porters of the gates, and therefore appointed some of his own domestics, who he knew would neither be careless nor corrupted, to see that the gates were kept shut, and all traffic prohibited. He, however, appointed the Levites afterwards to this office, Nehemiah 13:22 because he not only thought that by virtue of their character they would meet with more deference and respect than his domestic servants; but also because he resolved, when he and his servants were gone from Jerusalem, to have the watch continued, till the vile custom of admitting dealers into the city on the sabbath-day should be quite abolished. See Bishop Patrick.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Nehemiah's back was scarcely turned, before great abominations crept in, which called for his speedy return, and required all his zeal and authority to redress.
1. The people had joined in affinity with strangers, Ammonites and Moabites, in direct opposition to the divine injunctions, Deuteronomy 23:3-5. This portion, therefore, of God's law he caused to be read to them; and, convinced of their sin and duty, they separated themselves from these sinful connections. Note; (1.) The people of God must keep from evil company, if they would avoid the ways of wickedness. (2.) When God's word convinces us of sin, we cannot be too eager to get rid of the serpent from our bosom.
2. The high-priest himself had led the way to the evil, and been the chief in the transgression, having contracted affinity with Tobiah, an avowed enemy of God's people, and in direct opposition to the express command. Not content with this, he had received him into the temple; fitted up for him a noble apartment, by casting down the partitions of the store-chambers; and he, who ought not to be admitted into the congregation, has his abode in the midst of the very sanctuary. But no sooner did Nehemiah, at his return, gain a knowledge of this vile transaction, than, with holy indignation, he set himself to dispossess the usurper, and restore these hallowed chambers to their proper use; grieved that a priest, a high-priest too, should bring such dishonour upon his high vocation. Tobiah is instantly ejected; his goods, as polluted, cast out of the temple; the chambers cleansed from the pollution which they had contracted from such profane intrusion, by the water of purification; and the vessels and stones, which had been removed, again deposited in their appointed places. Note; (1.) The higher a man's station, and the holier his office, the more scandalous are his sins. (2.) No dignity must plead exemption from rebuke. They who sin before all, should be put to shame before all. (3.) When we would cleanse the temple of our hearts, the world's stuff and the most precious iniquities must be cast out with abhorrence. (4.) Unless our hearts be sprinkled with atoning blood, they never can be prepared for the reception of the sacred treasures of divine grace.
2nd, One corruption generally makes way for another; and the high-priest's ill example could not but have the worst influence on the people.
1. The tithes had not been given to the Levites: either they were embezzled, or the people neglected to bring them in; the consequence of which was, that the Levites were forced to seek a maintenance from their farms, instead of the temple; or, perhaps, their attention to their worldly concerns, and neglect of their divinely-appointed service, occasioned the evil. The people might well judge that they deserved not to eat what they refused to earn.
2. Nehemiah expostulates with the magistrates hereupon, for suffering such abuse, whose care it should have been to see the service observed, and the due provision made for the ministers of the sanctuary. He, therefore, summons the Levites to return to their post; engages the people to pay their just dues; and appoints faithful men to make an equitable distribution of them, that so there might be no want nor interruption in the sacred service. Note; (1.) Negligent pastors should be admonished to take heed to their ministry. (2.) When the workman shews himself worthy of his hire, his maintenance will be no longer counted burdensome.
3. He looks up to God for that reward which he did not expect from man; not claiming it, indeed, as a matter of merit, but begging God's favourable acceptance of his well-meant duty; and God is not unrighteous, to forget our works of faith and labours of love; they shall be remembered to the everlasting comfort of God's people.
3rdly, Another grievous offence is here remarked and remedied.
1. The sabbath had been greatly polluted, in opposition to the most express commands. They trod their wine-presses, gathered in their corn, worked their beasts of burden, trafficked in the markets, bought and sold, and turned the Lord's day into a day of merchandize; the consequence of which conduct could not but be fatal to the manners of the people, and beget a total neglect of God and religion. Note; Irreligious neglect of the Lord's day is the proof of an abandoned temper, and the way to perdition of body and soul.
2. Nehemiah zealously set himself to reform so gross a profanation. He severely rebuked the people who committed the evil, and remonstrated against the rulers who connived at it; admonishing them of the dire effects of such a conduct in their fathers, and warning them of the aggravated guilt that they incurred, and the wrath that they provoked. Note; (1.) Public sins deserve sharp rebukes. (2.) Connivance at sin in others makes us partakers with them in guilt. (3.) The kindest office we can do to our neighbour is, to endeavour to convince him of his danger, and pluck him as a brand from the burning.
3. While he used the arguments of persuasion as a good man, he employed the power with which he was invested as a magistrate, to restrain the open transgression of God's law. On the approach of the sabbath, at evening, he commanded the city gates to be shut, and guarded by his own servants till the next evening, when the sabbath ended; and during this time no burdens might enter, and only those be admitted who came to worship. Note; (1.) Magistrates must not bear the sword in vain. (2.) If the laws were faithfully put in execution, though it could not convert men's hearts, yet open vice must hide its head. (3.) When faithful ministers co-operate with active magistrates, much may be hoped from their united labours.
4. He cries to God for a gracious remembrance in this thing, and for that mercy without which his duty would destroy him. Though we may rejoice in our services, as evidences of our fidelity, we must renounce all self-dependance, casting our souls as sinners on God's free mercy to us in Christ Jesus.
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 that it was Hebrew, produce the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, and Esther, beside the prophesies of Daniel, which for the most part were written in Hebrew, and which they suppose the authors of them would not have done, if Hebrew had not been at that time the vulgar language. But to this it is replied, that these 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 books 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 called 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.
Nehemiah 13:25. And I contended with them, &c.— These words, it must be acknowledged, as proceeding from Nehemiah's own month, sound somewhat harshly in our translation; but the meaning of them is no more than this, "I contended with them, 1:e. I expostulated the matter with them; I cursed them, 1:e. excommunicated them; in the doing of which I denounced God's judgments against them; I smote certain of them, 1:e. ordered the officers to beat some of the most notorious offenders either with rods or scourges, according to Deuteronomy 25:2 and I plucked off their hair. 1:e. 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, Ezra 10:19." See Poole, and the note on Ezra 10:3.
Nehemiah 13:28. Therefore I chased him from me— Ordered him immediately to depart the country, as he refused to quit his wife. Josephus relates the matter as if this expulsion had been effected by the power of the great Sanhedrin; but, whether the Sanhedrin was at this time in being or not, as we have no clear footsteps of it till the time of Judas Maccabeus, there was no occasion for their interposing, since Nehemiah, no doubt, as governor of the province, had authority enough to banish him out of Judaea. See Bertram, de Repub. Jude 1:13.
Nehemiah 13:31. Remember me, O my God, for good— It has appeared extraordinary to some, that Nehemiah should be so lavish of his own praise, so ostentatious of his good works, as frequently to call upon God to remember him for good, and not to wipe out his good deeds which he had done, &c. See Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22, and ch Nehemiah 5:19. Now to this may be replied, that, as Nehemiah appears in the character of the writer of his own administration over Judea, in which it cannot misbecome him to give the world a narrative how himself behaved in that high station; in doing of this he could not avoid the saying of something in his own commendation, unless he had been disposed, out of his excessive modesty, to conceal from posterity (which it had been invidious to do) an excellent example of his extraordinary virtue and love for his country. Compare ch. Nehemiah 5:18 with 2 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Corinthians 11:33. He who made us, and set the springs in our nature, knows very well that we are principally actuated, by hopes and fears; and, for this reason, has proposed rewards and punishments to us; nor do we ever find it accounted a defect in the characters of the worthies of old, or an indication of their mercenary spirit, that, in all their good works or sufferings, they had a respect to the recompence of the reward, which God the righteous judge hath promised to give unto his faithful servants. See Balguy's first Letter to a Deist. How long Nehemiah lived after he had made the reformations mentioned in this chapter; whether he continued in his place of governor, and whether he died in Judea or in Persia, neither the text nor Josephus inform us; only the latter says, that he died in an advanced age; and, indeed, even at the time where his book ends, he must have been at least seventy years of age. It is most probable, however, that he continued in his government till the time of his death, supporting his character by the most exemplary zeal for religion, justice, and the good of his nation, and the dignity of his office by a magnificent hospitality. We just add, that Dean Prideaux concludes the seven first weeks of the seventy of Daniel's prophesy with this last reformation of Nehemiah; which was finished, according to him, in the fifteenth year of Darius Nothus. See also Univ. Hist.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany