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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Nehemiah 8



The religious manner of reading and hearing the law. The feast of tabernacles is celebrated.

Before Christ 444.

Verse 2

Nehemiah 8:2. Ezra the priest, &c.— This Ezra, without all controversy, was the same who came from Babylon in the seventh year of Artaxerxes. After the death of Zerubbabel, the whole administration devolved upon him; but as his commission lasted but twelve years, upon its expiration Nehemiah succeeded to the government; and we hear no more of Ezra, until he is here called upon to read and expound the law to the people. Whether, as some think, he returned to Babylon, to give the people an account of the affairs of the province of Judea, or whether in this intermediate time he employed himself in some retirement upon the great work of preparing a new and correct edition of the Holy Scriptures, which we are generally supposed to owe to his care, is not certain. The pulpit upon which he was raised, Neh 8:4 must have been large, sufficient to contain fourteen people at once, and from this eminence they read and explained the law, Nehemiah 8:8. For the people, having for some time been accustomed to the Chaldee language, had partly lost the knowledge of the Hebrew; so that there was a necessity for having the law explained to them in the Chaldee tongue. And this was the origin of the institution of the Targums or Chaldee paraphrases, as it is also supposed to have been of the synagogue worship. See Univ. Hist. vol. 10: b. 2 p. 220.

Verse 15

Nehemiah 8:15. And that they should publish and proclaim Which when they heard, they sent preachers into all the cities, and into Jerusalem, saying, Go forth, &c. Houbigant.

Fetch olive-branches, &c.— See Scheuchzer's Physique Sacree, tom. 6: p. 6.

Verse 17

Nehemiah 8:17. Since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun, &c.— It can hardly be thought that this festival had never been observed since Jeshua's time, because we read in the book of Ezra, that it was kept at their return from Babylon; but the meaning is, that the joy since that time had never been so great as it was upon this occasion; for which the Jews themselves assign this reason, that in the days of Jeshua they rejoiced, because they had gotten possession of the land of Canaan; and now they equally rejoiced, because they were restored and quietly settled in it, after they had been long cast out of it.

Verse 18

Nehemiah 8:18. A solemn assembly, according unto the manner It is supposed to have been at this solemnity that the notable discovery happened of the sacred fire, related 2Ma 1:18, &c. The Jews affirm, that Jeremiah, or some other prophet, had caused it to be hidden in a dry well, a little before the taking of Jerusalem; and that the memory of it having been still preserved to that time, Nehemiah caused it to be brought out for the divine service. In memory of this wonderful discovery, the Jews instituted a feast, which they called "the feast of the new fire." See Univ. Hist.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, It was not the restoration of the temple-service, nor the rebuilding of the ruined wall, that was their great protection. Obedience was better than sacrifice, and fidelity to God a stronger barrier than the loftiest towers. The people here seem to be sensible of this.

1. A great congregation assembled at the feast of trumpets, on the first day of the seventh month, when the new year began, the day they had set up and dedicated the altar at their return from captivity. Men, women, and children, who were arrived at years of understanding, came: the place of assembly, for convenience, was the large street which led to the water-gate; and there Ezra, with his assistants, at their desire, ascending a pulpit, or wooden turret, that he might be better heard, brought forth the law of God, to be read and expounded to the congregation. Note; (1.) We have reason to be thankful for commodious places for our religious assemblies; not but that the prayer of faith, and the preaching of the gospel, are acceptable services in every place. (2.) They who serve God themselves, cannot but be solicitous that their families should serve him too. (3.) Nothing is so needful in the education of our children, as early to acquaint them with the word of God. (4.) It is a pleasure to preach the word to those who desire to hear, and who hunger and thirst after it.

2. With great solemnity Ezra opened the awful book, while the eyes of the people were fixed upon him. He began with a devout benediction, adoring the great God for the distinguishing mercy that they enjoyed in these oracles of divine truth; to which the people joined their hearty amen, worshipping with reverential humiliation this glorious Lord. He then proceeded, with his assistants, the priests and Levites, by turns to read and expound the most useful parts of the law, from morning till noon; either commenting upon it, to enforce and explain it; or translating it into the Chaldee tongue, as that was become by their captivity more familiar to them than the Hebrew. Note; (1.) When we address ourselves to prayer on the word, the frame of our minds had need be solemn and reverential, considering that God with whom we have to do. (2.) The reading of the word of God ought never to be omitted in the assembly of God's saints. (3.) When we carry our Bibles into the pulpit, it contains an admonition to us, that we speak according thereunto; and an appeal to the people, as desiring to be judged thereby. (4.) Preaching the word is among the greatest means of grace; and they who zealously seek the salvation of men's souls will not tire of the work. A short sermon is often a mark of a cold heart. (5.) Among all the abominations of the church of Rome, none is more diabolical than the withholding of the Scriptures from the people. (6.) They who are appointed to teach the knowledge of the Scripture, should study rather to speak distinctly and plainly, that they may be understood, than elegantly, to be admired. (7.) Exposition of the Scripture is highly useful, not only to render perspicuous what is abstruse, but to enforce on the conscience what is plain and evident.

3. The people with fixed attention stood up to hear; and, unwearied by the length of the time, hung upon the preacher's lips. Note; (1.) The sermon is likely to be effectual, when the audience is thus solemnly attentive. (2.) They who relish the word of God will never think the time long that is spent in hearing it.

2nd, The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharp as a two-edged sword. We see here,
1. The deep impression that it made upon the hearers' hearts. Conscious of manifold breaches, and trembling before a holy God, they all wept. Their hearts were tender, and they could not but tremble at his awful word, which denounced eternal death on every transgression. Note; The law brings so terrible a message to the conscience, that, if the gospel were not to afford us relief, we should lie down in everlasting mournings.

2. Nehemiah and Ezra observed the deep effect the word had taken; and though, no doubt, they were glad to see them mourn for their sins; yet, it being a day of rejoicing before the Lord, they endeavour to stay the people's sorrows with kind encouragement. They must not grieve inordinately. They enjoin them, therefore, to refrain from tears, and keep a holy feast to the Lord, with liberal and charitable distributions to the poor, and joy in God as their strength; joy which enlivens and encourages the heart to every good word and work, and raises up the soul above fear and despondency. Note; (1.) It is a pleasing part of a minister's duty to comfort those that mourn. (2.) They who sow in tears fail not to reap in joy. (3.) While the Lord is pleased to cover our tables with affluence, let us never forget to draw out our soul to the hungry: the greatest comfort of abundance is to do good with it. (4.) Holy joy will quicken us for every duty, and strengthen us for every conflict.

3. The people hereupon dried up their tears; and, understanding the great and precious promises that were made to repentant Israel, rejoiced in hope of finding favour with their justly-offended God. Note; (1.) Though the Scriptures pierce like a sword the heart of a sinner, they contain that balm which can cure the wound. (2.) A clear knowledge of God's word is the way to sound and abiding consolation.

3rdly, The word, which the preceding day had so much engaged their attention and affected their hearts, is again applied to. The chief of the elders, priests, and Levites, especially solicitous to understand the law, assembled before Ezra, that he might explain what was obscure or difficult. Note; (1.) They who are appointed to instruct others had need use double diligence to understand the mind of God themselves. (2.) Converse with the oracles of God affords a daily delightful entertainment to faithful souls. The consequence of this renewed attendance upon God's word was,

1. A discovery of a long-neglected ordinance, the feast of tabernacles. As the time approached, Ezra probably selected that portion of Scripture to remind them of it, and to direct them in the observance of it. Note; (1.) How good is a word spoken in season! (2.) The careful reading of God's word will convince us of many negligences and ignorances.

2. A proclamation is made for the observance of it, both at Jerusalem and at the other cities.
3. The solemnity is most religiously observed. Never since the days of Joshua had such a feast been kept with such exactness, holy joy, and daily, diligent, and serious attendance on the word of God. Note; (1.) They who have their hearts right with God, will be diligent and serious observers of all his institutions. (2.) Our leisure hours will be ever most comfortably and profitably employed in the oracles of truth. (3.) When we are waiting on God in the way of his ordinances, he will meet us in them, and fill our hearts with joy and gladness.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.