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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Nehemiah 13

 

 

Verses 1-3

Nehemiah 13:1-3. The Separation of the Mixed Multitude from Israel.—A fragment inserted by way of introduction to the episode which follows.

Nehemiah 13:1 f. Cf. Deuteronomy 23:3-6.

Nehemiah 13:3. The fact that this separation is not undertaken by Nehemiah himself shows that this passage is not part of his memoirs.


Verses 4-31

Nehemiah 13:4-31. Some Details of Nehemiah's Rule.—This section, taken for the most part from Nehemiah's memoirs, deals with his zeal for the sanctity of the Temple (Nehemiah 13:4-9), his organisation for the maintenance of the Levites (Nehemiah 13:10-14), his reform regarding Sabbath observance (Nehemiah 13:15-22), and his measures against those who had contracted marriages with aliens (Nehemiah 13:23-29). Nehemiah 13:28 f. contains some concluding words of Nehemiah. When it is remembered that for twelve years he had been working among the people, enforcing the observance of the Law, and introducing reforms, so that he had got the people as a whole to follow his guidance willingly, it must strike one as very extraordinary that after a few months' absence the abuses, as described in this chapter, should have become rampant. It is, indeed, incredible. The fact is that, with the exception of the Tobiah episode, the sections of this chapter (Nehemiah 13:10-14, Nehemiah 13:15-22, Nehemiah 13:23-29) are fragments from Nehemiah's memoirs referring to the earlier periods of his administration. They have, like other excerpts from the same source, been jumbled together in a hopeless manner; so much so that an orderly arrangement of them now is impossible, especially as so many of the connecting links are wanting. Eliashib's action, recorded in this chapter, needed stern repression from Nehemiah's point of view; the episode is one among others which witnessed to the beginning of a great contest within Judaism, lasting for centuries, between the champions of universalistic and particularist tendencies; in later days this resulted in the formation of clearly defined parties with opposing tenets. Nehemiah, like Ezra, the champion of the Law and of Jewish exclusiveness, could not do otherwise than strain every nerve to try and eradicate the vicious growth, as it appeared to him, of foreign influences which, as he rightly foresaw, were bound to result in loosening the people's devotion to the Law, or, in other words, to Judaism. Hence his hurried return from Babylon for a purpose which at the first glance might not appear to be of serious import.

Nehemiah 13:4-9. The episode here recounted happened while Nehemiah was away in Babylon; no indication is here given as to the length of his absence (see, however, the note on Nehemiah 13:6 below).

Nehemiah 13:4. Now before this: the reference is not to what is said in Nehemiah 13:1-3, which are a later addition, but to something in Nehemiah's memoirs which preceded this extract.—Eliashib the priest: cf. Nehemiah 13:31; Nehemiah 13:20, and Nehemiah 13:28 of this chapter.—being allied: the Heb. word is used in Ruth 2:20; a better rendering would be "being related."

Nehemiah 13:5. Cf. Nehemiah 12:44; but the offerings here enumerated differ from those named in Nehemiah 12:44.

Nehemiah 13:6. in all this time: there is no mention of "time" in the Heb., the reference is to what has been said in Nehemiah 13:4 f.—in the two and thirtieth year: 433 B.C. It is said in Nehemiah 5:14 that Nehemiah returned to Babylon in this year after twelve years' sojourn in Jerusalem, so that as it was in this same year that he returned again to Jerusalem, he could have been in Babylon only quite a short time, not more than a few months probably. The disquieting news regarding affairs in Jerusalem, which had evidently come to his ears, was the cause of his return here; we are not told how long he remained in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 13:7. the evil that Eliashib had done: to the rigid legalistic mind of Nehemiah it seemed to be a profanation of the Temple for anyone not a strict Jew to dwell in one of "the courts of the house of God."

Nehemiah 13:9. they cleansed the chambers: viz. from the impurity which clung to them from the presence of a non-Jew. Yet Nehemiah's action must not be harshly judged, for the circumstances of the times demanded, from his point of view, drastic measures.

Nehemiah 13:10-14. The Levites, according to these verses, had not been properly supported; this must necessarily have resulted in the Temple worship being inadequately attended to, for in order to find support they had to go and work in the fields. Nehemiah rectifies this by appointing officers to see to the collection and proper distribution of tithe.

Nehemiah 13:15-22. The specific charges of Sabbath-breaking which Nehemiah brings are that Jews trod out the winepress, brought in corn, wine, grapes, and figs into Jerusalem and sold them there on the Sabbath day; also, that they bought fish and other wares from the men of Tyre. He recalls the fact that their fathers had done such things and had thereby brought evil upon succeeding generations (cf. Jeremiah 17:19-23). The method he adopts to prevent this lawlessness is to cause the city gates to be closed before dark on the eve of the Sabbath and not to be opened again until the Sabbath was over. The merchants try to circumvent this by remaining close to the walls with their wares and—as one is led to surmise—selling them to the people on the walls; Nehemiah threatens further coercive measures if this continues, so the merchants desist.

Nehemiah 13:23-29. Another abuse which Nehemiah sets himself to rectify, viz. mixed marriages (cf. Nehemiah 9:2, Nehemiah 10:28; Nehemiah 10:30, Ezra 9:10).

Nehemiah 13:24. half: it is uncertain whether this refers to the children or to the language.—the speech of Ashdod: a dialect of Hebrew.—the Jews' language: i.e. Hebrew (cf. 2 Kings 18:26; 2 Kings 18:28, Isaiah 36:11; Isaiah 36:13, 2 Chronicles 32:18).

Nehemiah 13:26 f. This argumentative strain after Nehemiah's violence described in Nehemiah 13:25 sounds strange; these verses can hardly have come from the memoirs, but are more likely to have been added by the Chronicler.

Nehemiah 13:28. The most grievous part of this offence was that the family of the high priest had become contaminated by a foreign alliance (cf. Nehemiah 13:29).

Nehemiah 13:30 f. A brief summary of what has preceded; it is, however, incomplete, as there is no mention of what had been recounted in Nehemiah 13:15-22 about enforcing the observance of the Sabbath.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/nehemiah-13.html. 1919.

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