And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.
The street - Rather, "the square" or "court." So in Nehemiah 8:16 (compare Ezra 10:9). The court seems to have been one between the eastern gate of the temple and the watergate in the city-wall. It would thus lie within the modern Haram area.
Ezra the scribe - This is the first mention of Ezra in the present book, and the first proof we have had that he was contemporary with Nehemiah. Probably he returned to the court of Artaxerxes soon after effecting the reforms which he relates in Ezra 10, and did not revisit Jerusalem until about the time when the walls were completed, or after an absence of more than ten years. It was natural for the people to request him to resume the work of exposition of the Law to which he had accustomed them on his former visit Ezra 7:10, Ezra 7:25.
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.
Upon the first day of the seventh month - The day of the "Feast of Trumpets" (see the margin reference note). The gathering together of the people, spoken of in Nehemiah 8:1, was probably to observe this feast.
And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.
And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
The 13 persons mentioned were probably the chief priests of the course (shift) which was at the time performing the temple service.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:
Stood up - The attitude of attention and respect. Compare the existing practice of the Christian Church at the reading of the Gospel for the day.
And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.
The names here (and in Nehemiah 9:4, Nehemiah 9:5; Nehemiah 10:9) seem not to be the personal appellations of individuals, but rather designations of Levitical families, the descendants respectively of Jeshua, etc., who lived not later than the time of Zerubbabel Nehemiah 7:43; Nehemiah 12:8.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
Gave the sense - Either by rendering the Hebrew into the Aramaic dialect, or perhaps simply by explaining obscure words or passages.
Caused them to understand - Either "they (the people) understood what was read;" or, "they (the Levites) expounded as they read."
And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.
Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha - Hereto, Nehemiah has called himself פחה pechâh Nehemiah 5:14-15, Nehemiah 5:18, which is the ordinary word for "governor." Now for the first time he is called 'the Tirshatha'" (see Ezra 2:63 note.)
The people wept ... - Because the Law brought vividly before them their sins of omission and commission. In Nehemiah 8:10 the Jews were not forbidden to be sorry for their sins, but they were only prohibited from marring a festive occasion with the expression of their sorrow.
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
The "sending of portions" to the poor is not distinctly mentioned in any but the later historical Scriptures (compare the margin reference). The practice naturally grew out of this injunction of the Law Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.
And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.
And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law.
To understand - Rather, "to consider."
And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:
The Feast of tabernacles had fallen into abeyance either entirely, or as regarded the dwelling in booths Nehemiah 8:17, since the time when it was kept by Zerubbabel Ezra 3:4. It is evident that the observance of the Law, impossible during the captivity, was restored slowly and with difficulty after the return.
And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
The mount - The "mount of Olives" is probably intended.
Pine branches - Rather, "branches of the wild olive." The actual trees named by the Law may have become scarce. It was probably considered that the spirit of the command was kept if branches of trees similar in general character to those named in Leviticus were employed.
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
It is not the intention of the writer to state that the Feast of tabernacles had not been kept from the time of Joshua until this occasion (see 1 Kings 8:2, 1 Kings 8:65; Ezra 3:4); but that there had been no such celebration as this since Joshua's time. Compare 2 Kings 23:22; 2 Chronicles 35:18.
Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.