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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Nehemiah 8

 

 

Verse 1

THE READING AND EXPOUNDING OF THE LAW, Nehemiah 8:1-8.

1. The people gathered — By command of the governor.

The street… before the water gate — The broad open place in front of one of the gates of one of the inner walls of the city. The exact locality of the water gate is unknown, but it seems to have been somewhere near the bridge across the Tyropoeon at the western wall of the temple area. See note on Nehemiah 3:26.

They spake unto Ezra — That is, the assembled people spake by their rulers or representatives. They knew for what purpose they had been assembled, and were all anxious to become acquainted with the law.

Ezra the scribe — Here again, after an absence of twelve years, this distinguished scribe appears among the Jews at Jerusalem. He had probably spent the intervening time at Babylon. See remarks at the end of the Book of Ezra.


Verse 2

2. Ezra the priest — He was descended from Aaron, and was therefore a priest, as well as a most distinguished scribe. See note on Ezra 7:1.

All that could hear with understanding — More literally, all having understanding to hear; that is, all children and young persons old enough to listen intelligently to the reading and exposition of the law.

The first day of the seventh month — The day for the feast of trumpets.

Leviticus 23:24. This month bore the names Ethanim and Tisri, and corresponded nearly with our October. It was also the first month of the civil year, so that its first was new year’s day. The tenth of this month was the day of atonement, and on the fifteenth began the feast of tabernacles.

Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 23:34.


Verse 3

3. He read… from the morning until midday — Relieved and assisted at times by the priests and Levites beside him.


Verse 4

4. A pulpit of wood — Septuagint, a wooden platform. Some elevated stage or platform, from which a speaker could easily be seen and heard by the people.

Mattathiah… Shema… Anaiah — The persons named in this verse, who stood beside Ezra and assisted him, were priests; those named in Nehemiah 8:7 were Levites.


Verse 5

5. Opened the book — That is, unrolled it, as a scroll.

He was above all the people — Because he occupied the elevated pulpit or platform mentioned in the previous verse.

The people stood up — Out of respect for the sacred book and the solemn service about to commence.


Verse 6

6. Ezra blessed the Lord — After the manner of David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20.

People answered, Amen — Such responses characterized the ancient worship, and ought ever to be retained. They show that not one but all are interested.

Lifting up their hands — An ancient custom in worship, (compare Psalms 27:2; Psalms 63:4; Lamentations 3:41; 1 Timothy 2:8,) as was also the bowing of the head. Comp. marginal references. This latter sign of reverence and respect is the least that can be expected of any attendant upon Divine worship. An irreverent looking around over an assembly engaged in prayer is a mark of ill-breeding, to say nothing of the respectful reverence which all true worship demands.


Verse 7

7. And the Levites — Or, even the Levites. We understand that the persons named in this verse were all Levites, in distinction from the priests named in Nehemiah 8:4.

Caused the people to understand the law — This was a part of the regular work of the priests and Levites. See marginal references. On this occasion it was probably necessary for them to translate and explain the law in the vulgar tongue for the benefit of a large part of the people. See note on next verse.

The people… in their place — That is, around the platform, and in sight and hearing of the priests and Levites.


Verse 8

8. In the book in the law — An emphatic intimation that the book from which they read was no other than the law of God. From the form of words here used we may infer that there were then extant other sacred books besides the book of the law.

Distinctly מפרשׁ, the word thus rendered is the Pual participle of פרשׁ, to spread out, and by most interpreters is understood to designate the clear and distinct manner — the audible voice — in which the law was read. Bertheau explains it as a distinct recitation which followed certain appointed rules, and accordingly required very special discipline. This thought may be partly involved, since to read intelligibly before so large and uncultivated an audience would require peculiar care and tact; but the reference is rather to the open, easily-apprehended style of the reading, “opposite (says Furst) to quick, hasty, indistinct, unintelligible.” Others (Pfeiffer, Keil) understand a running exposition or paraphrase of the reading, made by the readers themselves in the Hebrew language. But this would make what immediately follows superfluous and tautological. The Rabbins and some others understand a translation of the law into Aramaean, or the vulgar tongue. But the word פרשׁseems not to be used in Hebrew in this sense, and were this the meaning, we should certainly have had the thought more clearly and fully expressed. Comp. Ezra 4:7. It is very probable that some of the auditors needed the law translated for them in order to comprehend its import, and this is implied in the next words, and gave the sense, which words would, as urged against the preceding exposition of Pfeiffer and Keil, be superfluous, if מפרשׁhere meant to translate or interpret. We accordingly adopt the rendering of the English version, which follows the Vulgate and Syriac.

Gave the sense — Set forth the meaning; made it intelligible to all the people. To do this it might often have been necessary to explain the Hebrew Scriptures in the Chaldee language, which had so far come into use among the Jews at Babylon as to make it difficult for many of the people to understand the Hebrew.

Caused them to understand the reading — This is but another way of expressing again what has been said in the previous sentence, and it is, therefore, better, with the Vulgate, Septuagint, Bertheau, Keil, and others, to render, and they (the people, the hearers) gave heed to the reading. They paid careful and reverent attention and understood the reading.


Verse 9

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MOON, Nehemiah 8:9-12.

The reading of the law made a profound impression on the minds of the people, and they were moved to weeping. It brought also to their attention the duty of observing the feasts of the seventh month, and having spent the first half of the day in hearing the law. (Nehemiah 8:3,) they were dismissed with words of comfort to observe the feast of the new moon, the feast of trumpets.

9. The Tirshatha — See on Ezra 2:63. We note that Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites, said unto all the people the words that follow. The direction to observe the feast probably originated with Ezra, and was then proclaimed by the Tirshatha, and communicated to all the people by the Levites.

This day is holy — According to the law the first day of the seventh month was to be observed as “a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation,” during which no servile work should be done. Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1. It was a day of gladness and festivity, and the people were exhorted to comfort themselves by appropriately observing it.


Verse 10

10. He said — That is, Nehemiah, the governor. He issued the order, being the public executive.

Eat the fat — Literally, fatnesses; that is, the fat pieces of flesh; the fat things.

Drink the sweet — Hebrew, sweetnesses; the sweet drinks, especially the new wine of that season.

Send portions — That the poor and destitute, for whom nothing is prepared, but what is freely given by those who have abundance, may rejoice and feast with the rest of the people. Comp. Esther 9:19; Esther 9:22; Deuteronomy 16:14.

The joy of the Lord is your strength — The joy of Jehovah is the delight and comfort which Jehovah imparts to his faithful servants; a consciousness of God’s favour, mercy, and long-suffering. The word rendered strength commonly means a fortress, a fortified citadel, or stronghold. They surely should not be sorry who abide in the joy of Jehovah as in a strong fortress.


Verse 11

11. Stilled all the people — Hushed their loud lamentation. The call to observe the feast of trumpets, and the comforting words that accompanied it, cheered and strengthened the hearts of the people, and they went forth to enjoy the rest of the day with becoming festivity.


Verse 13

THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES, Nehemiah 8:13-18.

13. The second day — The second day of the month, the next day after the feast of the new moon. So interested had the people become in the reading of the law, that on the very next day after the feast the chief of the fathers, the principal elders and representatives of the nation, met again to continue the study of the law. There were manifest inconveniences in assembling the entire population, men, women, and children, as on the previous day, (Nehemiah 8:2,) and so only the chief representatives came together on the second day. Along with the principal fathers came also the priests and the Levites, for it was important that all of these should know the law. Bertheau and Keil construe the words the priests and the Levites with all the people, as genitive, (with ל,) after chief of the fathers; that is, chief fathers of the priests and of the Levites, as well as of all the people. According to this construction, not all the priests and Levites came, but only their chief elders or representatives. We prefer, however, to construe the words priests and Levites as subjects to the verb were gathered, and to understand that the priests and Levites assembled with the rest, not merely by their principal leaders, but in a body. It need not follow that all the priests and Levites were present, but rather the principal part of them.

Unto Ezra the scribe — Who was profoundly versed in the law, and so capable of instructing all classes of the people.

Even to understand — This states the purpose for which they came to Ezra. The vav, ( ו,) translated even, denotes that what follows is an additional and explanatory clause. Its force may be given thus: and (their coming to Ezra was) for the purpose of giving thoughtful attention ( השׂכיל) to the words of the law.


Verse 14

14. They found written — That is, in the course of their reading and study they came to the passage treating of the feast of tabernacles. The passage was not found as a new discovery — a law and custom of whose existence they were not aware — for the feast had been celebrated in the time of Zerubbabel, (Ezra 3:4,) and, doubtless, often afterwards. The law on the feast of tabernacles is found at Leviticus 23:34-43, and Deuteronomy 16:13-15.

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Verse 15

15. Unto the mount — Where the branches of trees would be naturally sought.

Olive… pine… myrtle… palm… thick trees — Leviticus xxiii, 40, mentions only palms, thick trees, and willows. No special stress seems to have been laid on the kind of trees, but any and all kinds of trees, whose boughs would serve for making booths, might be sought. The word for pine is literally tree of fatness, and is usually understood of the wild olive, or oleaster, but this is far from certain. The Hebrew word occurs but twice elsewhere; in 1 Kings 6:23, where it is rendered olive tree, and in Isaiah 41:19, where it is rendered oil tree. The myrtle is here first mentioned in the Bible. Royle (in Kitto’s Cyclopaedia) speaks of its ancient and modern celebrity as “justly due to the rich colouring of its dark green and shining leaves, contrasted with the white starlike clusters of its flowers, affording in hot countries a pleasant shade under its branches, and diffusing an agreeable odour from its flowers or bruised leaves.” Thick trees denote any trees of thick foliage.


Verse 16

16. Upon the roof of his house — Nearly every available place would be used, and those who occupied houses in Jerusalem would find it most convenient to build their booths either on the flat roofs of their houses, or in their courts, the inclosed yards in the rear of their houses.

The courts of the house of God — Here the priests and Levites would naturally build their booths, while those persons who were not residents of Jerusalem would make theirs in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. The open space before the water gate was where all the people assembled to hear the public reading of the law. See on Nehemiah 8:1 and Nehemiah 3:26. The gate of Ephraim was doubtless in the northern wall, opening towards the territory of Ephraim. See on 2 Kings 14:13.


Verse 17

17. Since the days of Joshua… had not the children of Israel done so — The emphasis is on so. The feast of tabernacles had often been observed since the time of Joshua, but not in such a way as on this occasion, when all the congregation… made booths, and sat under the booths. “The words do not imply,” says Keil, “that since the days of Joshua to that time no booths at all had been made at the celebration of the feast of tabernacles, but only that this had not been done by the whole congregation. On former occasions, those who came up to Jerusalem may have regarded this precept as non-essential, and contented themselves by keeping the feast with solemn assemblies, sacrifices, and sacrificial feasts, without making booths and dwelling in them for seven days.”


Verse 18

18. Day by day… he read — The people needed instruction, and the feast of tabernacles afforded a most suitable occasion for the public reading of the law. The law also enjoined such a public reading once in seven years at the feast of tabernacles. Deuteronomy 31:10-11.

He read — That is, Ezra read, or caused to be read. He was, doubtless, assisted during the seven days by the priests and the Levites, as he had been on the first day of the month. Nehemiah 8:1-8.

A solemn assembly — The same as the holy convocation mentioned in Leviticus 23:36.

According unto the manner — Or, according to custom. Aside from the extensive reading of the law and the whole community dwelling in booths, which specially distinguished this particular feast, the other observances followed general usage.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/nehemiah-8.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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