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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Nehemiah 8

 

 

Verses 1-12

PART IV (Nehemiah 7:73 b - Nehemiah 10:39). Ezra and the Law.

Nehemiah 7:73 b - Nehemiah 8:12. The Reading of the Law.

Nehemiah 7:73 b. These words are repeated by mistake from Ezra 3:1.

Nehemiah 8:1. Cf. Ezra 7:6-10. It is clear that we have here only part of the original narrative. It is difficult to understand, knowing what we do about Ezra from other parts of the book, how the initiative regarding the reading of the Law should have been taken by the people as is here implied. Something must originally have preceded this section, which probably recorded how Ezra first impressed upon the people the need of studying and observing the Law. This would explain why the people gathered together and requested Ezra to read the Law to them.

Nehemiah 8:2. all that could hear with understanding: as men and women are mentioned immediately before, presumably children are to be understood and referred to by these words, though see Nehemiah 7:7.—upon the first day of the seventh month: see note on Ezra 3:1, and cf. Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6.

Nehemiah 8:4. a pulpit of wood: read "a wooden platform" (lit. "tower"); "pulpit" does not convey quite the right idea, as a number of men in addition to Ezra stood on it.

Nehemiah 8:6. Cf. Deuteronomy 7:15, 1 Chronicles 16:36

Nehemiah 8:7 f. None of those here mentioned are among those who stood on the platform with Ezra; they were all Levites (see Nehemiah 9:5, Nehemiah 10:9-14. so that the word "and" before "the Levites" should be deleted. But the whole of Nehemiah 8:7, with the exception of "and the people stood in their place," seems to be an interpolation, for the procedure as now described in the text is illogical because the understanding of the Law is made to precede the reading of it (see Nehemiah 8:8). In Nehemiah 8:6 it is said that the people "worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground," i.e. they were prostrate; so that the words at the end of Nehemiah 8:7, "and the people stood in their place," evidently mean that they rose up from their prostrate position. In Nehemiah 8:8 it then goes on to say that they read in the book, etc.; but "they" should be "he," i.e. Ezra; the second "they" ("they gave the sense") refers to the Levites; while the third "they" refers to the people. The text in both verses is confused, and differs from the LXX as well as from the Greek Ezra (9:48-50). The word "distinctly" (RVm. "with an interpretation"; Heb. mĕphârash) comes from a root meaning "to explain" or "expound"; in Aramaic the root means "to translate" (cf. Ezra 4:18); and in rabbinical Heb. it came to be used as a technical term for expounding Scripture, and especially the Law; hence the name Pharisee, since the Pharisees were par excellence the expounders of the Law. Taking Nehemiah 8:8 with the emendation suggested above (though the whole text as it stands must be regarded with suspicion) the meaning seems to be that Ezra read the Law, presumably sentence by sentence, and briefly expounded it, whereupon the Levites made his explanation clear to the people. It must be confessed that it is not easy to picture the exact procedure: whether the Levites spoke to small groups of the people after each passage read by Ezra; or whether, after Ezra had finally concluded, the Levites began their explanation on the basis of his words. But though our text fails to give a satisfactory account of the details of what actually took place, the really important point is clear enough, viz. that by Ezra's inspiration and under his guidance the Law was now for the first time put before the Jews in such a way as to convince them that it was the most important thing in the world that their lives should be conducted wholly in accordance with its precepts.

Nehemiah 8:9. And Nehemiah . . . the Tirshatha: these words do not belong here, they have been interpolated by the Chronicler.—your God: one would rather expect "our"; this is, moreover, what the LXX reads.—For all the people wept: the Jews having learned the great demands which the Law made upon them now realised in how many ways they had fallen short of its requirements; hence their consternation and sorrow; cf. the action of king Josiah on hearing the book of the Law read for the first time (2 Kings 22:11).

Nehemiah 8:12. because they had understood . . .: this had been the very cause (see end of Nehemiah 8:9) of the people's weeping; here it is said to be the cause of great mirth"; the words were probably added by the Chronicler in forgetfulness of what had been written above.


Verses 13-18

Nehemiah 8:13-18. Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.—The further reading of the Law and its more minute study show that this is just the time at which the Feast of Tabernacles ought to be celebrated; the people, who are apparently quite ignorant of this feast, forthwith proceed to celebrate it.

Nehemiah 8:14. they found written in the law: see Exodus 23:26, Leviticus 23:39-43, Numbers 29:12-38, Deuteronomy 16:13-15.

Nehemiah 8:17. for since . . . done so: these words are not in accordance with other passages of Scripture, for this feast had been observed by Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:8; 2 Chronicles 8:13) and by Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:4). It is an oversight of the Chronicler's.

Nehemiah 8:18. he read: i.e. "one read."—the eighth day: see Leviticus 23:36; Leviticus 23:39, 2 Chronicles 7:8 f., 2 Maccabees 10:6; in earlier days the eighth day was not kept as part of the feast.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/nehemiah-8.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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