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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


BUILDING OF THE GATES AND WALLS, AND NAMES OF THE BUILDERS, Nehemiah 3:1-32. “In regard to the gates of ancient Jerusalem, there exists so much uncertainty that it would seem to be a vain undertaking to investigate the relative positions of them all. Of the ten or twelve gates enumerated in the Book of Nehemiah and other parts of the Old Testament, Reland remarks with truth, that it is uncertain, first, whether they all were situated in the external walls, or, perhaps, lay partly between the different quarters of the city itself, as is common even now in Oriental cities; secondly, whether some of them were not gates leading to the temple, rather than out of the city; and, again, whether two or more of the names enumerated may not have belonged to the same gate. Indeed, it is certain that there must have been gates forming a passage between the upper and lower city, and we know that there were several on the western side of the area of the temple. There must also have been a gate and way leading, probably, from Akra to the quarter south of the temple, passing perhaps beneath the bridge. But of all those gates who can ascertain the names?

“It must, however, be borne in mind that all the accounts in the Old Testament relate to the city only as bounded on the north by the ‘ second wall’ of Josephus. There can, of course, be no allusion to any of the gates of the subsequent third wall. Hence the suggestion, for example, that the present gate of St. Stephen may correspond to the ancient sheep gate, is wholly untenable, since apparently, until the time of Agrippa, no wall existed in that quarter.

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“The chief passages relating to the gates and walls of the ancient city are found in the Book of Nehemiah, and these are occasionally illustrated by other incidental notices. It is obvious, in the account of the rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah, that the description begins at the sheep gate, and proceeds first northwards, and so towards the left around the city, till it again terminates at the same gate.… The ten gates mentioned Nehemiah chap. iii are the following: the sheep gate, fish gate, old gate, valley gate, dung gate, fountain gate, water gate, horse gate, east gate, and gate Miphkad. Also in chap. Nehemiah 12:39, we find the prison gate, (perhaps the same with Miphkad,) and the gate of Ephraim. Then, again, mention is made of the corner gate, (2 Chronicles 25:23,) and the gate of Benjamin. Jeremiah 37:13. The latter is probably the same as the gate of Ephraim. Josephus mentions further the gate called Gennath, near to the tower of Hippicus, and that of the Essenes, on the south part of the city.” Robinson.

Verse 1

1. Eliashib the high priest He must now have been an old man. Compare Ezra 10:6, note. The priests seem to have built the gates and walls nearest to the temple.

Sheep gate This we understand from John 5:2 (where see note) to have been near the pool of Bethesda, called the “king’s pool” in Nehemiah 2:14, and now known as the “Fountain of the Virgin,” in the Kedron valley, near the southeastern corner of the city. The gate was probably so called because the sheep used in the sacrifices were brought through it into Jerusalem.

They sanctified it By some dedicatory service.

And set up the doors Raised them and hung them on their hinges, or set them in sockets or upon pivots, in which they were to turn. One gate might have several doors.

Even unto Here in thought we may supply the words, they builded the walls. They not only builded the sheep gate, but also the city wall on the eastern side as far as to the towers here mentioned. The tower of Meah and that of Hananeel must have been located in the eastern wall, but their places can only be designated by conjecture. See the plan of Jerusalem on opposite page.

They sanctified it Not only the tower of Meah, but their entire work.

Verse 2

2. Next unto him That is, next adjoining the work of Eliashib and the priests.

Men of Jericho Same as “children of Jericho” in Ezra 2:31. They were the returned exiles whose ancestral homes had been at Jericho, or who now were assigned to Jericho as their place of dwelling. These like the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah in Nehemiah 3:7, seem to have worked on that side of the city which looked towards their places of abode.

Verse 3

3. The fish gate Probably near the northeastern corner of the ancient city, and not far from the present gate of St. Stephen’s. It was, perhaps, so called from there being a fish market near by.

Laid the beams thereof Framed and joined together the posts and beams.

Doors…locks… bars The various parts belonging to a gate. Ancient gates were often fastened by bars, or heavy cross-pieces of wood or iron, which made them more secure than locks.

Verse 5

5. Tekoites Men whose ancestral city and present homes were Tekoah, twelve miles south of Jerusalem. See on 2 Samuel 14:2.

Their nobles The high born and wealthy among them.

Put not their necks to the work They seem to have thought themselves too good for such work, and this their conduct is mentioned to their shame.

Of their Lord Some understand this of Jehovah, others of Nehemiah. The suffix ( their) favours the latter, though we incline to think the former is the writer’s meaning.

Verse 6

6. The old gate Its location can now be fixed only by conjecture. It seems to have been in the northern wall, and probably near the northeastern corner of the city. See plan.

Verse 7

7. Meronothite A native or inhabitant of Meronoth, but no place of this name is now known. Compare 1 Chronicles 27:30.

Unto the throne of the governor The official residence of the Persian governor of Jerusalem. The governor of Jerusalem was one of the several officers of like character and authority on the west of the Euphrates. Comp. Nehemiah 2:7. The throne is to be understood of the seat or tribunal where the governor sat to hear cases and dispense justice, and seems to have been somewhere along or against the northern wall.

Verse 8

8. Goldsmiths… apothecaries Representatives of whose arts seem to have always had a position among the Hebrews. They probably learned them in Egypt. Apothecaries are here to be understood especially of manufacturers and dealers in ointments and perfumes. Comp. Ecclesiastes 10:1.

Fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall Rather, as the margin, left Jerusalem unto the broad wall; that is, they left off, or omitted to build a portion of the northern wall as far as to what was known as the broad wall. This latter was probably the wall that spanned the upper part of the Tyropoeon valley, and so called from its greater breadth or thickness than other parts of the city wall.

Verse 9

9. Ruler of the half part of Jerusalem Rather, prince of half of the circuit of Jerusalem. The district round Jerusalem was apparently divided into two provinces, each having its separate ruler, or prince, who held office under the governor. Some think these two provinces or districts were representative of Judah and Benjamin.

Verse 10

10. Over against his house Or opposite to his house. His house probably stood near to this part of the wall.

Verse 11

11. The other piece Or, as the margin, a second measure; that is, a section of the wall next adjoining the work of Hattush. The words seem to be equivalent to another section.

The tower of the furnaces Situated on the northern wall, some distance west of the “broad wall.” See chap.

Nehemiah 12:38. What gave the tower this name is uncertain; probably a number of furnaces, or ovens, near by.

Verse 12

12. Ruler of the half Compare Nehemiah 3:9, note.

He and his daughters These words may be understood in two ways: 1) of Shallum and his daughters, who assisted their father in the work; or, 2) of the half part of Jerusalem, and its towns, or villages such dependent villages often being called the daughters of more princely cities. Compare the Hebrew of Nehemiah 11:25; Nehemiah 11:27, where the word rendered villages is daughters. This latter view we adopt. The pronoun he refers to part, which is masculine; but in English the sense would be clearer if rendered, it and its villages. That is, Shallum was ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, both it and its dependent villages.

Verse 13

13. The valley gate On the west side of the city, opening into the valley of Gihon. See note on Nehemiah 2:13.

A thousand cubits About 1,820 feet, which is the distance from the present tower of Hippicus to the southwestern corner of Zion. The dung gate, so called, no doubt, from being the place where the filth of the city was carried out, must have stood somewhere near the southwestern corner of Zion, and was probably the same as that which Josephus (v, 4, 2) calls the gate of the Essenes.

Verse 14

14. Part of Beth-haccerem Or, district of Beth-haccerem. Comp. note on Nehemiah 3:9. This city, which, like Jerusalem and some other cities, (comp. Nehemiah 3:15-16,) had its surrounding districts with dependent towns, is mentioned also in Jeremiah 6:1. It seems to have been situated not far from Tekoah, (Nehemiah 3:5,) south of Jerusalem, but its exact site is not determined.

Verse 15

15. The gate of the fountain Situated near the southeastern corner of the city, and near the pool of Siloam, from which, perhaps, it took its name. See note, Nehemiah 2:14.

Covered it An expression used of no other gate. It suggests that this gate had received a more architectural finish or broader covering than others.

Wall of the pool This may mean the wall by which the pool itself was stoned up or inclosed, or it may mean the city wall opposite or nearest to the pool.

Siloah השׁלח , hashelach, the sent; compare John 9:7, note. The pool probably received this name from the fact that its waters are sent down to it through a subterranean aqueduct from another pool higher up in the Kedron valley. Josephus describes the pool of Siloam as situated at the mouth of the Tyropoeon valley, (Nehemiah 5:4) and there can be no doubt of its identity with the Siloah of this text, and the Shiloah of Isaiah 8:6, the Siloam of John 9:7, and the cistern still known by the same name at the southeast of Jerusalem.

By the king’s garden This lay at the mouth of the Tyropoeon, and stretched off in terraces down into the Kedron valley below. The water of Siloam runs off and is lost in this garden. The king’s garden probably extended some distance down the Kedron valley beyond its junction with the valley of Hinnom. Robinson speaks of “the small oblong plain there formed,” as now “covered with an olive grove, and with the traces of former gardens extending down the valley from the present gardens of Siloam. Indeed, this whole spot is the prettiest and most fertile around Jerusalem.”

The stairs that go down from the city of David Tristram identifies these stairs with a series of steps recently discovered at the southwest corner of Zion, but the order followed by the sacred writer should lead us rather to look for them on the eastern side of Zion, leading down towards the pool of Siloam. Their exact locality, however, is doubtful.

Verse 16

16. Over against the sepulchres of David David and most of his sons who reigned after him were buried “in the city of David.” 1 Kings 2:10; 1Ki 14:31 ; 1 Kings 15:8; 1 Kings 1:0 Kings 24:22, 1 Kings 24:50. The site of this royal sepulchre is not known, but an uncertain tradition associates it with an ancient church on Zion, now known as the mosque of the tomb of David. The sepulchres being “in the city of David,” must have been somewhere on Zion, and hence we may infer that the repairs of the Nehemiah of this verse were upon a wall that ran northward along the eastern brow of Zion, and was one of the “two walls” mentioned in 2 Kings 25:4, and Isaiah 22:11.

The pool that was made Not the pool of Hezekiah, (2 Kings 20:20,) for that was near the northwest corner of the city; nor the pool of Siloam, for this could hardly be referred to in this manner after the mention of it in Nehemiah 3:15; nor the king’s pool, for that was not opposite or near to David’s sepulchre; but probably the “ditch [Hebrew, reservoir ] between the two walls” mentioned in Isaiah 22:11.

House of the mighty Probably a tower or small castle built on the wall, and formerly used as the station and headquarters of the king’s mighty men such, for instance, as were David’s pride. Compare 2 Samuel 23:8.

Verse 17

17. Keilah Situated about five miles northwest of Hebron, and some fifteen southwest of Jerusalem. See Jos 15:44 ; 1 Samuel 23:1.

In his part That is, for his district. He represented the part of Keilah which he governed, just as Bavai represented, as mentioned in the next verse, the other half of Keilah.

Verse 18

18. Their brethren Brethren of those mentioned in the previous verse, whom Hashabiah represented.

Verse 19

19. Another piece The next section of the wall adjoining that repaired by the men of Keilah. Comp. note on Nehemiah 3:11.

The going up to the armoury The ascent of ground where the armoury, or arsenal, was situated. The exact localities here mentioned cannot now be even plausibly conjectured. So utterly has Jerusalem been “trodden down of the Gentiles” since the works here described were wrought, that no traces of them now remain. The turning of the wall was probably some angle or curve which it took near the armoury, so that it would bring the place where the arms were kept somewhere near the northeastern corner of Zion.

Verse 20

20. Earnestly repaired Being filled with holy zeal, he strove to emulate and rival his fellow-builders.

House of Eliashib This probably adjoined the temple enclosure, and from the next verse would seem to have been of considerable extent.

Verse 22

22. Men of the plain Men whose residence was in the plains of Jericho or Jordan. ככר , here rendered plain, is frequently applied to the lower end of the Jordan valley. Genesis 13:10-12; Gen 19:17 ; 2 Samuel 18:23; 1 Kings 7:46.

Verse 24

24. The turning… the corner These points seem to have belonged either to the wall of the temple enclosure, or to that which separated the upper from the lower city; but all attempts to locate them precisely must be purely conjectural.

Verse 25

25. The tower… king’s high house… court of the prison These are also unknown. The king’s high house seems most naturally to designate the great palace of Solomon, which stood at the south of the temple area, commanding the slope of Ophel. See note at the beginning of 1 Kings 7:0.

But in the time of Nehemiah, more than a century after that ancient palace had been laid in ruins, the name may have been given to some other royal house. Hence all attempts to designate its exact location are at best conjectural.

Verse 26

26. Dwelt in Ophel Ophel is the name of the sloping ridge that runs down, south of the temple area, between the mouth of the Tyropoeon and the valley of Kedron, and ends in a rocky bluff just above the pool of Siloam. The water gate toward the east is an expression so obscure as to baffle any plausible conjecture as to its locality. According to chap. 8. 1, 3. it faced the street in which the people assembled to hear the law read and expounded, and hence could not well have been a gate in the outer wall of the city, near the present golden gate, as Bertheau thinks. The mention again of the tower that lieth out, leads rather to the opinion that the water gate was also in the vicinity of the bridge over the Tyropoeon, perhaps in the western wall of the temple area.

Verse 27

27. Tekoites repaired another piece In addition to what they had done on the outer wall. Nehemiah 3:5. The great tower that lieth out was apparently a tower noted for its great size, or height, and not identified with the one mentioned in the two preceding verses. It seems to have been connected with the wall of Ophel, which latter was identical with, or a continuation of, that on which Jotham and Manasseh had built. See 2 Chronicles 27:3; 2 Chronicles 33:14, notes.

Verse 28

28. The horse gate So called, probably, from being the entrance to the royal stables. Compare marginal references. Its exact location can now be only a matter of conjecture.

Verse 29

29. Keeper of the east gate This does not imply that the east gate was anywhere near the wall which Shemaiah repaired. The expression naturally designates some gate in the eastern wall of the city.

Verse 31

31. Place of the Nethinim That is, Ophel, the place where they dwelt. Nehemiah 3:26.

And of the merchants Who, probably, kept a sort of bazaar on the western slope of Ophel, near the bridge that crossed the Tyropoeon.

Gate Miphkad Or, gate of numbering; so called, perhaps, because the census of the people was taken here. Or it may mean gate of reviewing, that is, of judgment, because cases were tried here, and the judgment rendered. It was, perhaps, situated in the southern wall of the temple enclosure, and near “the court of the prison,” (Nehemiah 3:25,) an appropriate place for rendering judgment.

The going up of the corner Or the words may mean, as the margin has it, the corner chamber, referring, perhaps, to an upper chamber at the southwest corner of the temple enclosure. We incline to think, however, that the corner referred to is that of the outer city wall, just above the pool of Siloam.

Verse 32

32. The corner unto the sheep gate That is, from the southeast corner of the outer wall northward to the point whence the writer’s description started. Nehemiah 3:1. Thus the description of the rebuilding of the walls has passed entirely round the city, and also noticed the repairing of inner walls which separated one part of the city from the other. The last section was repaired by the goldsmiths and the merchants, probably because they had their dwellings and business in this quarter of the city.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/nehemiah-3.html. 1874-1909.
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