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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Nehemiah

- Nehemiah

by Daniel Whedon

NEHEMIAH

INTRODUCTION.

THIS book takes its name from the individual whose chief acts it records, and is a continuation, in its subject-matter, of the Book of Ezra. In some of the ancient catalogues it is called Second Ezra. It is probably the latest of the historical books, and is invaluable for the light it sheds on the condition of the returned exiles during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus. Here we see the continued and growing enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans. We are impressed with the exceedingly feeble and dependent state of the entire Jewish community. We observe a growing tendency to break away from strict adherence to Mosaism, and to mix up by intermarriages and trade with heathen nations. Even the high priest gives encouragement to foreign alliances. Thus this book, like the other Scriptures, is true to the design of sacred history, showing the faults and woes of the chosen people, as well as their virtues and triumphs. And the frankness with which the deplorable weakness of the Jews is told, the record of their sins and corruptions, of their humiliation and penitence, together with the absence of miraculous narrative, has so utterly disarmed adverse criticism that the authenticity of the Book of Nehemiah has hardly been questioned at all.

Authorship and Date.

There is no weighty argument against the traditional opinion that this book came in substantially its present form from the hand of Nehemiah himself. No one questions that Nehemiah was the author of Nehemiah 1:1 to Nehemiah 7:6, and Nehemiah 12:31; but the central part of the work, Nehemiah 7:6 to Nehemiah 12:31, is noticeably different in its style. The writer does not here speak in the first person, and Nehemiah does not appear as the principal actor, and there seems to be a different use of the divine names, Jehovah, Adonai, Elohim. But all these differences are no proof that Nehemiah did not compile this part of the work. All the historical writers of the Old Testament make use of documents of which they were not, strictly speaking, the authors; and the books in which such documents are incorporated are not for that reason to be torn apart, and their genuineness denied. Nehemiah 7:6-73 is professedly “a register” which Nehemiah “found,” and while no one would ever suppose that Nehemiah composed it, it is very evident that he inserted it in his narrative. In like manner Nehemiah 8:1 to Nehemiah 11:30 may have been composed in whole or in part by some of Nehemiah’s contemporaries perhaps by Ezra, or some Levite but transferred by Nehemiah into the body of his own work. Nehemiah 9:5-38 is a prayer which was very probably prepared by Ezra, and Nehemiah 10:1-27; Nehemiah 11:3-26, contain lists of names which were doubtless taken from the public annals. Compare chapter Nehemiah 12:23, note. Setting aside, then, these portions, on which there is no room for controversy, there remain only Nehemiah 8:1 to Nehemiah 9:3, and Nehemiah 10:28 to Nehemiah 11:2, whose origin may seem doubtful. These passages may, indeed, have been written by some priest or Levite, or they may have been written by Nehemiah himself. Keil points to a sufficient reason for the change of style and the lack of prominence given to Nehemiah by calling attention to the peculiar contents of these passages. They relate to priestly and Levitical matters, in which the Tirshatha, or civil ruler, could not appear as the most prominent individual, and therefore would not speak of himself in the first person.

It appears from chapt Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 13:6 that Nehemiah compiled this work after the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes. No one would assign an earlier date; but the mention of Jaddua, the great grandson of Eliashib, and Darius the Persian, Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22, has led many critics to date the composition as late as the time of Alexander the Great, when the Persian dominion had ceased. These passages, however, may have been interpolated by a later hand. See notes on Nehemiah 12:22-23. But if, with many expositors, we identify Darius the Persian with Darius Nothus, then we may show that both Nehemiah and Jaddua were living in his reign. Artaxerxes Longimanus reigned forty years, and was succeeded, about a year after his death, by Darius Nothus, who reigned nineteen years. Supposing Nehemiah to have been forty years old when he was made governor at Jerusalem, he would have been but sixty at the time of Artaxerxes’ death; and had he lived through all the reign of Darius Nothus he would then have been eighty, a not improbable age for a man of his habits to attain. And surely Jaddua, the grandson of Joiada, may have been born many years before this date, and have been prospectively high priest when Nehemiah wrote his narrative. The whole book, in substantially its present form, may, therefore, have been compiled by Nehemiah himself, and finished some time in the reign of Darius Nothus, though the principal portions were probably written soon after the thirty-third year of Artaxerxes’ reign.

Contents.

WE may appropriately divide the book into three sections. The first extends through chapters 1-6, and recounts the various facts and incidents of Nehemiah’s commission, and the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. The second embraces chapters Nehemiah 7:1 to Nehemiah 12:43, and gives an account of the more thorough organization and religious discipline of the new community at Jerusalem. It contains various genealogies and lists, shows how the people were instructed in the law and led to observe various religious festivals, and concludes with a description of the dedication of the walls. The third section, Nehemiah 12:44 to the end, gives an account of various reforms effected by Nehemiah after he came to Jerusalem the second time.

SECTION FIRST.

The Rebuilding of the Walls and Gates, Nehemiah 1-6.

The Sad Tidings from Judah Nehemiah 1:1

Nehemiah’s Grief and Prayer Nehemiah 1:4 -

Nehemiah Commissioned to Rebuild the Walls of Jerusalem Nehemiah 2:1

Nehemiah’s Journey to Jerusalem and Night-view of its Walls Nehemiah 2:9 -

Preparations to Build Nehemiah 2:17,

Scorn of the Samaritans Nehemiah 2:19,

Building of the Gates and Walls and Names of the Builders Nehemiah 3:1 -

Troubles from the Samaritans Nehemiah 4:1 -

Reforming of Abuses Nehemiah 5:1 -

Nehemiah’s Self-denial Nehemiah 5:14 -

More Troubles from the Enemy Nehemiah 6:1 -

SECTION SECOND.

Theocratic Organization and Discipline of the New Community, Nehemiah 7:1 to Nehemiah 12:43.

The Guarding of the Gates Nehemiah 7:1

genealogical Registry of the People Nehemiah 7:4 -

The Reading and Expounding of the Law Nehemiah 8:1

The Feast of the New Moon Nehemiah 8:9 -

The Feast of Tabernacles Nehemiah 8:13 -

The Day of Penitence and Prayer Nehemiah 9:1 -

The Sealed Covenant Nehemiah 9:38:

Oath of the People to Keep the Law Nehemiah 10:28 -

Provision for the Temple-service Nehemiah 10:32 -

The Inhabitants of Jerusalem Increased Nehemiah 11:1-2 List of the Chiefs of the Province Nehemiah 11:3 -

Lists of the Priests and Levites Nehemiah 12:1 -

Dedication of the Wall of Jerusalem Nehemiah 12:27-43

SECTION THIRD.

Nehemiah’s Later Reforms, Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:31.

Levitical Appointments Nehemiah 12:44 -

The Separation from Strangers Nehemiah 13:1

Cleansing of the Chamber Occupied by Tobiah Nehemiah 13:4

The Portions of the Levites Restored unto them Nehemiah 13:10 -

Sabbath Desecration Stopped Nehemiah 13:15 -

Foreign Marriages Dissolved Nehemiah 13:23-31

SECTION FIRST.

CHAPTERS 1-6. THE REBUILDING OF THE WALLS AND GATES OF JERUSALEM.