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.Nehemiah 8:1. Into the street that was before the water-gate — Probably, in that space which was afterward called the court of the Gentiles. They spake unto Ezra the scribe — This Ezra, without all doubt, is the same person who came from Babylon in the seventh year of Artaxerxes. It is thought he had been at Babylon since his first coming into Judah, and was now returned; beholding, doubtless, with great joy, the wall of Jerusalem built, as before he had seen the temple finished. To bring the book of the law of Moses — They called to mind that place, (Deuteronomy 31:10-11,) where God requires the law to be read publicly every seventh year, in the feast of tabernacles, which was appointed to be kept about the middle of this month. This office, no doubt, Ezra was ready to perform; but such was the forward zeal of the people at this time, that they prevented him by their pious entreaties, requesting that he would read the law before that feast began.
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.Nehemiah 8:2. Upon the first day of the seventh month — This was the feast of trumpets, which is called a sabbath, and on which they were to have a holy convocation, Leviticus 23:24. And it was on this day the altar was set up, after their return from captivity; in remembrance of which they had probably kept it ever since, with more than ordinary solemnity.
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.Nehemiah 8:3. He read therein, from the morning until mid-day — In the Hebrew, the words are, from the light, that is, from the break of day, or the sun-rising, until noon: Then, it is likely, they went to take some refreshment, it being a festival, and a day of great rejoicing.
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.Nehemiah 8:4. Ezra stood upon a pulpit of wood — To raise him higher than the people; that he might be better seen and heard by them all; whence, in the Hebrew, it is called a tower of wood: but it was not like our pulpits, made to contain only one or two persons, but large and long, that many might stand in it at once, as appears from so many as fourteen, here mentioned, standing in it. And beside him stood Mattithiah, &c. — These stood with him, partly to declare their consent and concurrence with what he said and did; and partly that they, or some of them, might bear a part in the work.
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:Nehemiah 8:5-6. When he opened it, all the people stood up — Either in reverence to God’s word, or that they might hear his words more distinctly. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God — He blessed him as the great God, superior to all other powers whatsoever; and gave honour to him by praising his perfections, and praying for his favour. And all the people answered, Amen! Amen! — In token of their concurrence with him, both in the praises and prayers. With lifting up their hands — In token that their desire was toward God, and all their expectation from him. And they bowed their heads — In token of their reverence for him, and subjection to him. Thus must we adore and address ourselves to God, when we are going to read or hear his word, as those that see him in his word very great and very good.
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.Nehemiah 8:7. The Levites caused the people to understand the law — As well the words, which, being Hebrew, needed to be translated into the Chaldee or Syriac language, now the common language of that people; who, together with their religion, had also, in a great part, lost their language; as also the meaning of them: they expounded the mind and will of God in what they read, and applied it to the people’s present condition. The people stood in their place — That is, in their several places and stations, into which the company seems to have been distributed for convenience of hearing; it not being likely that so vast a congregation could distinctly hear one man’s voice. Or, by their stations; that is, by the several stations of the Levites, and persons last named, who seem to have had several scaffolds, by comparing this with Nehemiah 9:4, upon which they stood, as Ezra, and those mentioned Nehemiah 8:4, did upon their pulpit.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.Nehemiah 8:8. So they read in the book of the law — To wit, Ezra and his companions, successively. And gave the sense — The meaning of the Hebrew words, which they expounded in the common language — And caused them to understand the reading — Or that which they read, namely, the Holy Scriptures; the action being put for the object, as hearing for the thing heard, and fearing for the thing feared. So they gave them both a translation of the Hebrew words, into the Chaldee or Syriac, and an exposition of the things contained in them, and of the duty incumbent upon the people by virtue thereof; to declare which things was a great part of the priest’s work, Malachi 2:7.
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 8:9. This day is holy unto the Lord your God — Namely, as a day of feasting and thanksgiving to God, and rejoicing in his mercies; for otherwise even days of fasting were holy to God in general, though not in the sense here meant. Mourn not, nor weep — Be not sorry, Nehemiah 8:10. Hold your peace: neither be ye grieved, Nehemiah 8:11. Every thing is beautiful in its season. As we must not be merry, when God calls to mourning; so we must not afflict ourselves, and be swallowed up in sorrow, when God gives us occasion to rejoice. Even sorrow for sin must not grow so excessive as to hinder our joy in God, and cheerfulness in his service. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law — Out of a deep sense of their great guilt, and extreme danger by reason of it.
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.Nehemiah 8:10. Eat the fat, and drink the sweet — Feast before the Lord, as the duty of the day requires you to do. Send portions, &c. — For the relief of your poor brethren, who otherwise must mourn while you rejoice. Concerning this duty and practice, see Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14; Esther 9:10. For this day is holy — Being the first new moon in the year, and the feast of trumpets, (Leviticus 23:24,) and the beginning of this joyful month, in which so many days of thanksgiving are to be observed. For the joy of the Lord is your strength — That is, rejoicing in God, in the manner prescribed in his word, or serving him with cheerfulness and thankfulness, (which is always your duty, but now especially,) will give you that strength, both of body and mind, which you greatly need, that you may perform all the duties required of you, and oppose the designs of your enemies against you. But dejection of mind, and excessive grief, if you indulge it, will both offend God and damp your spirits, and will even weaken your very bodies, and make you unfit for God’s service, and an easy prey to your enemies.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.Nehemiah 8:11-12. So the Levites stilled the people — Whose passions, being once raised, could not very soon be composed. Saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy — Cease from weeping and mournful cries, and turn your lamentations into thanksgivings. And the people went their way to eat, &c. — Their weeping was stilled, and they complied with the directions that were given them. Because they understood the words that were declared to them — Because they now knew God’s will, and their own duty, which they were resolved to practise. This gave them ground of hope and trust in God’s mercy, and consequently of just and great joy.
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.Nehemiah 8:13. On the second day were gathered to him the chief of the fathers, the priests, &c. — Thus manifesting both humility and serious godliness, in that they chose rather to confess their ignorance, in order that they might be instructed, than vainly to pretend to more knowledge than they had, and were more careful to learn and practise their duty than to preserve their reputation with the people. To understand the words of the law — That they might obtain a more perfect knowledge of some things, which they had heard, and partly knew before, and so might instruct the people in them.
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:Nehemiah 8:14-15. And they found written in the law — Upon Ezra’s information, and through their discourse with him; that the children of Israel should dwell in booths — As a memorial of their dwelling in tents in the wilderness, a representation of the tabernacle state of God’s people in this world, and a type of the holy joy of the gospel church. They that diligently search the Scriptures, will find those things written there which they had forgotten, or not duly considered before. And that they should publish — That is, they also found that written; Saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive-branches — Namely, the mount of Olives, which was next Jerusalem, and stored with olive-trees, and probably with the other trees here mentioned: for these trees seem to have been planted there, and in the neighbouring parts, principally for the use of the city in this very feast, which, though long neglected, ought to have been celebrated every year. And this place seems here to be referred to as being the most eminent, but to be put for any place near to the cities of Judah where these branches could be procured.
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.
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.Nehemiah 8:16. Every one upon the roof of his house — Which, according to the law, was made flat, Deuteronomy 22:8. And in their courts — Those belonging to their houses: for the booths might be made anywhere in the open air. And in the street of the gate of Ephraim — The gate of the city which led to the tribe 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.Nehemiah 8:17. Since the days of Jeshua, had not the children of Israel done so — The meaning here cannot be that this festival had never been observed since Joshua’s time, because we are informed, (Ezra 3:4,) that it was kept at their return from Babylon; but the joy, since that time, had never been so great as it was now, “for which the Jews themselves,” says Dr. Dodd, “assign this reason; that in the days of Joshua they rejoiced, because they had gotten possession of the land of Canaan; and now they equally rejoiced, because they were restored and quietly settled in it, after they had been long cast out of it.” Or, we should rather say, they not only had the same causes for rejoicing which they formerly had, but special causes to increase their joy. To this Poole adds, They never, since Joshua’s time, kept this feast so solemnly and religiously: for whereas, at other times, only the first and last day of that feast were celebrated with a holy convocation, now there was a holy convocation, and the people assembled, and attended upon the reading of the law every day of this feast.
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.Nehemiah 8:18. Day by day he read in the book of the law of God — The law was commanded to be read at this feast, Deuteronomy 31:10-12. But the reading of it was not enjoined to be continued every day, as was now done through their singular and very laudable zeal.