Nehemiah 10
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Ch. Nehemiah 7:73 b–8:12.

  The Public Reading of the Law.


  The Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Ch. 9.

  The National Confession, preliminary to the Covenant.

Ch. Nehemiah 10:1-29.

  The Sealing of the Covenant.


  Certain Obligations of the Covenant.

Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah,
Nehemiah 10:1-29. The List of ‘those that sealed’: Nehemiah 10:30-39 Special Obligations of the Covenant

1. those that sealed] Literally ‘at the sealings,’ the plur. of the word used in Nehemiah 9:38. As in Jeremiah 32:14, the singular and plural are used apparently of the same documents.

Some commentators are inclined to follow the LXX. ἐπὶ τῶν σφραγιζόντων, as if the words could be rendered ‘among those that sealed or subscribed:’ so apparently the Vulg. ‘signatores.’ But the Hebrew word does not mean the man who affixes his seal, but the thing or document to which it is affixed. Others explain the plur. as indicating the numerous ‘lists’ prepared for signature, as if the different obligations would require different lists. This explanation cannot be pressed. It is sufficient to bear in mind that ‘the sealings’ were very probably ‘parchments’ or ‘tablets,’ and that several would be required for the signature of so large a number.

Nehemiah, the Tirshatha] Cf. Nehemiah 7:65, Nehemiah 8:9. Nehemiah’s name comes first as that of the governor.

Hachaliah] R.V. Hacaliah.

Zidkijah] R.V. Zedekiah. Who this Zedekiah is who receives this honourable place next to the governor we are not told. As his name precedes the priests, we must suppose that he is either an official under the Persian rule ranking next to Nehemiah, or one of royal line (e.g. of the house of Zerubbabel).

The conjecture that he is the same as Zadok ‘the scribe’ in Nehemiah 13:13, and that, having drawn up the document of the Covenant, he therefore signed next after Nehemiah, rests partly on the assumption that ‘Zadok’ and ‘Zedekiah’ are interchangeable names, and partly on the fact that in Ezra 4:8-9; Ezra 4:17 a scribe’s signature follows that of the chief officer. But the identification is not very probable.

Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah,
Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah,
3–8, Priests: 9–13, Levites: 14–28, Chiefs of the people

The 21 names here given are those of the priestly houses. The list of Nehemiah 12:1-3 agrees with it in 16 names. The number 21 is peculiar; in chap. 12 the number is larger by one. In Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7, only four priestly houses are recorded, viz. Jedaiah, Immer, Pashur and Harim, as having returned with Zerubbabel. Pashur is mentioned in Nehemiah 10:3; Harim in Nehemiah 10:5. The other priestly families had either developed themselves out of these first four, or had arrived from time to time from Babylon.

That 21 and not 24 are recorded, is noteworthy. Various conjectures have been hazarded, e.g. that names have dropped out from the text, or that three of the priestly tribes refused to sign the document, or that the complete list of priestly houses has not yet been reorganised.

Seraiah’s name is given first. To his family belonged both Eliashib the high-priest and Ezra the scribe. The absence of their names does not therefore deserve the importance which some commentators have given to it. A single signature for the whole house may have been affixed by Eliashib or by Ezra or by some other distinguished person of the same house. We have no reason to look for the names of individual priests among the names of the priestly houses.

Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch,
Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah,
5. Obadiah] It has been suggested that Iddo’s name has accidentally dropped out after Obadiah’s. (Cf. Nehemiah 12:4; Nehemiah 12:16.) If this were the case, the number of houses mentioned in this passage would agree with that in chap. 12.

Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch,
Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin,
Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these were the priests.
8. these were the priests] The names of Seraiah, Jeremiah, Amariah are found in both lists (a) Nehemiah 12:1-7 and (b) Nehemiah 12:12-22. Shebaniah is found in (b) Nehemiah 12:14 but appears as Shechaniah in (a) Nehemiah 12:3. Malluch is found in (a) Nehemiah 12:2, but appears as Malluchi (Melicu) in (b) Nehemiah 12:14 : Harim is found in (b) Nehemiah 12:15 but appears probably as Rehum in (a) Nehemiah 12:3 : Meremoth is found in (a) Nehemiah 12:3, but appears as Meraioth in (b) Nehemiah 12:15 : Ginnetho is found in (b) Nehemiah 12:16, but appears as Ginnethoi in (a) Nehemiah 12:4 : Mijamin is found in (a) Nehemiah 12:5 but appears as Miniamin in (b) Nehemiah 12:17. Bilgai is clearly the same as Bilgah (a) Nehemiah 12:5 and (b) Nehemiah 12:18. Hattush in found in (a) Nehemiah 12:2 but has dropped out of (b). Azariah has sometimes been identified with the Ezra of (a) Nehemiah 12:1 and (b) Nehemiah 12:13.

It thus appears that, out of the 21 ‘priests’ or ‘priestly houses’ mentioned here, nine (i.e. Pashur, Malchijah, Obadiah, Daniel, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Maaziah, Shemaiah) do not occur in the two lists of chap. 12.

And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel;
9–13. The Levites

9. both Jeshua] R.V. namely, Jeshua. The ‘copula’ is used definitively as in Nehemiah 9:16-22. But some of the best MSS. omit it altogether.

And their brethren, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan,
10. Hodijah] R.V. Hodiah and in Nehemiah 10:13.

Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah,
11. Micha] R.V. Mica.

There are 17 names of ‘Levites’ or ‘Levitical houses’: of these 17, we find four, i.e. Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel and Sherebiah, mentioned in Nehemiah 12:8 among ‘those that went up with Zerubbabel’; and seven (i.e. Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Kelita, Hanan and Pelaiah) in Nehemiah 8:7; and eight (i.e. Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Sherebiah, Chenani = Hanan, Hashabneiah = Hashabiah, Hodiah) in Nehemiah 9:4-5. It is to be observed that (a) besides Binnui, we have also Bani and Beninu (see note on Nehemiah 9:4); (b) the names Hodiah and Shebaniah occur twice in the present list; (c) only four names, i.e. Mica, Rehob, Zaccur and Beninu, fail to appear in the other lists, and of these Mica and Rehob do not occur elsewhere, while Beninu is possibly a wrong reading for Bani or Binnui, and Zaccur’s name may be the same as ‘the son of Asaph’ (Nehemiah 12:35) or ‘the father of Hanan’ (Nehemiah 13:13) or ‘the son of Imri’ (Nehemiah 3:2); (d) as in the case of the priests, the names represent divisions or houses of the Levites, not individuals.

Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah,
Hodijah, Bani, Beninu.
The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani,
14. The chief of the people] R.V. The chiefs of the people. A comparison with Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7. puts it beyond doubt that here again we have to do with the names of houses, not of individuals.

Zatthu] R.V. Zattu.

Bunni, Azgad, Bebai,
Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin,
Ater, Hizkijah, Azzur,
17. Hizkijah] R.V. Hezekiah.

Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai,
18. Hodijah] R.V. Hodiah.

Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai,
19. Nebai] R.V. Nobai. Marg. ‘Another reading is Nebai’.

Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,
Meshezabeel, Zadok, Jaddua,
21. Meshezabeel] R.V. Meshezabel.

Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah,
Hoshea, Hananiah, Hashub,
23. Hashub] R.V. Hasshub.

Hallohesh, Pileha, Shobek,
24. Pileha] R.V. Pilha.

Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah,
And Ahijah, Hanan, Anan,
26. Ahijah] R.V. Ahiah.

We have here 44 names: or, if Bunni (Nehemiah 10:15) be the accidental repetition of Bani, and if ‘Ater, Hezekiah’ stand for ‘Ater, of Hezekiah’ (Ezra 2:16; Ezra 7:21), no more than 42. This figure is considerably in excess of the number of names under the same head in Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7.

(a) 14 names at least (i.e. Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Azgad, Bebai, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hariph (= Jorah Ezra 2), Hashum, Bezai, Anathoth) are found, as they occur here, in the lists of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7.

Adonijah (Nehemiah 10:16) is doubtless the same as Adonikam (Ezra 2:13, Nehemiah 7:18), Magpiash (Nehemiah 10:20), as Magbish (Ezra 2:30).

(b) The names of certain houses mentioned in the lists of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7. e.g. Shephatiah, Arah, Zaccai do not appear here; these houses had either died out, or left the city, or refused to sign.

(c) The addition of names may be explained by the gradual accession of families since the age of Zerubbabel. But the variety of documents employed by the compiler is quite sufficient to account for considerable discrepancy in the names, since the work of compilation must have taken place long after the lists were drawn up.

Malluch, Harim, Baanah.
And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding;
28. And the rest of the people] This may be understood in two different ways: (a) according to some it denotes the mass of the laity, as distinguished from their princes and elders, like ‘the people’ (Nehemiah 10:35), ‘the residue of Israel’ (Nehemiah 11:20), and ‘Israel’ (1 Chronicles 9:2); (b) according to others under this head are included the various classes of the community mentioned in the present verse, but distinct from the representative names which have occupied the previous lists. It is not another group, but stands at the head of the verse in apposition to the groups to be mentioned. ‘The priests’ are the individual members of the great houses whose representatives had taken part ‘in the sealing.’ So also the subordinate religious orders, who are here divided into their classes of (a) Levites proper, (b) porters, (c) singers, (d) Nethinim. With the last name we should also probably associate ‘the servants of Solomon,’ Nehemiah 7:57; Ezra 2:43-54.

Nethinims] R.V. Nethinim.

all they that had separated themselves] See note on Ezra 6:21. By this class are probably intended Jews who had not gone into exile, but, having either in foreign lands or in Palestine been faithless to their religion, had since separated themselves from idolatry. Another explanation, which has some support from the words ‘from the peoples of the lands,’ understands by this expression ‘proselytes who had attached themselves to the Jewish faith.’

from the people (R.V. peoples) of the lands unto the law of God] The antithesis is striking. Not ‘from the peoples of the lands to the people of Israel,’ but ‘from the peoples of the land,’ who were identified with abomination and filthiness (Ezra 6:21), to ‘the law of God,’ which was the one standard of the claim to be a true Israelite.

having knowledge, and having understanding] R.V. that had knowledge and understanding. See note on Nehemiah 8:2-3; i.e. all of age and intelligence to know and understand the law. Vulg. ‘omnes qui poterant sapere.’

their brethren, their nobles] i.e. the representatives of the great families who subscribed to the sealing of the Covenant. The people warmly supported them.

a curse … an oath] The ‘curse’ is the penalty which they invoked if they were faithless to the Covenant; the ‘oath’ is the solemn obligation of a duty which they vowed to perform.

For the phrase ‘enter into an oath,’ cf. Deuteronomy 29:12 ‘that thou shouldest enter into the Covenant of the Lord thy God and into his oath.’

to walk in God’s law, &c.] Compare the similar terms of the Covenant in Josiah’s reign, 2 Kings 23:3.

the Lord our Lord] i.e. Jahveh (= Jehovah) our Lord.

They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;
And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons:
30. Prohibition of Intermarriage with the Heathen

we] Observe the first person plural here introduced and maintained to Nehemiah 10:39 throughout the rest of the Covenant details.

people] R.V. peoples.

This prohibition of intermarriage with the people of the land had been strenuously upheld by Ezra 9:2. (See note.) The difficulty of enforcing it appears from Nehemiah 13:23-28. The words of the prohibition seem to be based on Deuteronomy 7:3 ‘Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.’ Cf. Exodus 34:16; Joshua 23:12; Jdg 3:6.

It is to be noticed that the so-called Priestly Code gives no such prohibition unless it is implied in Genesis 26:35; nor is it found in the central legislative portion of Deut. (12–26).

The Covenant introduces no new enactment, but affirms the Deuteronomic teaching which itself appears to be an expansion of the oldest law in Exodus 23:32-33, ‘Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me.’

And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.
31. Prohibition of Traffic on the Sabbath; and Observance of Sabbatic Year

people] R.V. peoples. ‘The peoples of the land (’ammey haârec̣) are the heathen dwellers in the land. The title ‘the people of the land’ (’am haârec̣) was used in later days of the unlearned multitude ‘which knoweth not the law’ (John 7:49).

ware] The Hebrew word occurs only here in the O.T. (LXX. ἀγορασμούς, Vulg. ‘venalia’).

on the sabbath day] The prohibition is not found in so many words in the Pentateuch. But it represents the natural expansion of the command to keep the Sabbath holy. Pollution would most easily be contracted by the interchange of wares with the heathen.

Complete abstention from such occupation was the only safeguard for the purity of the people, as well as for the observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest, cf. Nehemiah 13:15. This abstention was practised in the kingly period in respect of the sabbath and the new-moon days. Amos 8:5, ‘When will the new moon be gone that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?’

on the holy day] R.V. on a holy day. The days set apart to be observed as ‘holy-days’ are described in Numbers 28, 31.

That these were to be observed as ‘days of rest,’ and were thus on the same footing with the Sabbath-days argues the acquaintance of the writer with the Levitical Law of the Priestly Code.

leave] R.V. forgo. The same word that is used in Exodus 23:11 for ‘let lie fallow.’ LXX. ἀνήσομεν.

the seventh year] See Exodus 23:10-11, ‘And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest (marg. ‘release it’) and lie fallow.’ This observance of the Sabbatic year is not referred to in the Deuteronomic Law which only speaks of it as the year of release from debt (Deuteronomy 15). But the Priestly Law in Leviticus 25:2-7 enters with some minuteness into the agricultural ‘rest’ of the seventh year. This regulation was not, for practical reasons, scrupulously carried out; its neglect is the subject of rebuke, Leviticus 26:34-35; Leviticus 26:43; 2 Chronicles 36:21. It seems to have been observed in later times, cf. 1Ma 6:49; 1Ma 6:53; Jos. Ant. xi. 8. 6, xiii. 8. 1, &c. Tacitus, who is prejudiced against the Jews, attributes the custom to national laziness, Hist. Nehemiah 10:4.

and the exaction of every debt] This is a technical expression taken from Deuteronomy 15:2, and constitutes the expansion, for the requirements of a more developed time, of the principle laid down in the agricultural Law of the Sabbatic Year (Exodus 23). By a common error it has been supposed that debts were on this year altogether remitted. The analogy of the ‘fallow’ land shows that the debts remained, but were not exacted; payment was ‘hung up’ for a whole year. Some render ‘the exaction of every man’s pledge.’ The versions are literal, LXX. ἀπαίτησιν πάσης χειρός. Vulg. ‘exactionem universae manus.’ The remission of ‘the exaction of debt’ on the seventh or Sabbatic year is found in the Deuteronomic, but not in the Levitical Laws. The covenant to which the Israelites were now subscribing did not rest on a Levitical code alone, but recognised the authority of other portions of the Pentateuch.

This is one indication among others that the Law, which Ezra administered, contained substantially all the component parts of our Pentateuch, though not necessarily every item, as we now have it, in each component part.

Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God;
32. A poll-tax of ⅓ of a shekel imposed for the maintenance of the service of the Temple

32. we made ordinances for us] The verse shows that Ezra and his colleagues, although establishing the authority of the written law, were ready to expand or modify it according to the requirements of the time—a significant indication of the way in which the numerous instances of minor variation in the laws of the Pentateuch may reflect changes and qualifications required at different epochs. ‘Ordinances.’ The plural shows that the reference is not to be limited to the Temple tax.

the third part of a shekel] See Exodus 30:11-16; in which passage every Israelite, ‘from twenty years old and upward,’ is required to give ‘the offering of the Lord,’ i.e. ‘half-a-shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary:’ ‘the rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than the half shekel, when they give the offering of the Lord, to make atonement for your souls.’ The sum of ‘half a shekel,’ or two drachmæ, is mentioned as the regulation tax in Matthew 17:24, ‘Doth not your master pay the half-shekel?’ (didrachma). Cf. Josephus B. J. vii. 6. 6, ‘The emperor commanded every Jew to pay the two drachmæ annually to the Capitol which they had before been accustomed to pay to the Temple at Jerusalem.’

A poll-tax of ⅓ shekel for the services of the Temple differs both from the regulation of Exodus 30 and from the later Jewish custom. In Exodus 30:11-16 a tribute of ½ shekel is to be levied, not annually, but on the occasions when the census of the people was taken. From Josephus we learn that the contribution of ½ shekel was annually levied from every Jew. Here the Jews charge themselves with an annual tribute of ⅓ shekel.

In order to explain this apparent discrepancy, some scholars maintain that the tax mentioned in Exodus, being only occasional, has no connexion with the annual poll-tax, and that the ⅓ shekel was in later days raised to ½ shekel when the Jews were wealthier, in order to assimilate the annual tax to the sum of the occasional ransom tax mentioned in the Pentateuch. It is an objection to this view that (1) there is no reference here to the occasional tax, (2) we have no mention anywhere of the coexistence of two taxes, one occasional and the other annual, for the maintenance of the Temple, (3) the reference in 2 Chronicles 24:5-9 to the Mosaic law seems to contemplate a regular and not an occasional tax.

Others have conjectured that the requirement of the ½ shekel in Exodus 30 is an interpolation later than the time of Nehemiah, made in the interest of the priests. To this it may be replied that, if such an interpolation had been made, it would surely also have been directed towards securing an annual tribute, instead of a payment to be made only at the time when the people were numbered.

It is more probable that the discrepancies reflect the gradual growth of the custom. The law in Exodus 30:11-16 goes back to the days when to number the people was associated with human presumption, for which expiation was to be made. Cf. 2 Samuel 24. The necessities of the Temple service caused this occasional tax to become a regular one under kings favourable to the priests (2 Chronicles 24). After the Return the poverty of the Jews made it difficult to maintain the Temple services. The regular contributions promised by the Persian king (Ezra 7:2-23) ceased, or were only for a short period. The imposition of an annual poll-tax of ⅓ shekel would be cheerfully accepted at the time of religious reformation under Ezra. In later times, when the power of the High-priest became more absolute and the prosperity of the Jews grew, the tax was raised from ⅓ to ½ shekel, in imitation of the occasional ‘census’ tax which had become obsolete, but whose memorial existed in Exodus 30.[3]

[3] An interesting explanation has recently been suggested: “In Exodus each male Israelite contributed a bekah, or half a shekel (of the Sanctuary) to defray the cost of the Tabernacle: this half-shekel was a drachm of about 65 grs. Troy.… The Babylonian silver stater of [the age of Nehemiah] weighed about 172.8 grs. This formed the standard of the Empire, and doubtless the Jews of the Captivity employed it like the rest of the subjects of the Great King. The third part of this stater or shekel weighed about 58 grains; so that practically the third part of the Babylonian silver shekel was the same as the half of the ancient light shekel, or shekel of the Sanctuary.” (Ridgeway’s Origin of Currency and Weight Measures, p. 281.)

For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.
33. This verse gives in detail ‘the service of the house of God.’ (Nehemiah 10:31).

the shewbread] See Exodus 25:23-30; Exodus 37:10-16; Leviticus 24:5-9. The shewbread consisted of 12 unleavened cakes of fine meal, which were laid fresh every Sabbath in two rows of six upon the table in the Holy Place. Their preparation fell to the duty of the Kohathite Levites (1 Chronicles 9:32). The antiquity of this rite is shown by the story of David. 1 Samuel 21:2-7. The name by which ‘the shewbread’ is here designated is ‘bread of arrangement,’ ‘lekhem hammaa-reketh’ (Vulg. ‘panes propositionis). The LXX. renders εἰς ἄρτους τοῦ προσώπου, ‘bread of the face,’ which is the translation of the other Hebrew name by which it was known, ‘lekhem happânîm:’ we should have expected εἰς ἄρτους προθέσεως.

for the continual meat (R.V. meal) offering, and for the continual burnt offering] We have mention of ‘the continual meal offering’ or ‘minkhah,’ which was offered every evening, in 1 Kings 18:29; 1 Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 16:15; Ezra 9:4; Daniel 9:21. In 2 Kings 16:15 we find ‘the morning burnt offering (olah),’ as well as ‘the evening meal offering,’ spoken of. Now in the Priestly Laws (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-8) we find the regulations for a burnt offering, with a meal offering, morning and evening. This is what is probably intended in the present passage, in Ezra 3:3; Ezra 3:5, and in the Books of Chronicles, e.g. 2 Chronicles 31:3. We need not expect to find so full a ritual in practice before, as there was after, the influence of Ezra’s work made itself felt: nor can we hope to find in the historical narrative full illustration of all the details of worship required by the ideal of the Priestly Law.

Sacrifices were ‘continual’ (tamidh) in the sense of being regular and at stated times, as distinct from occasional, voluntary, and irregular offerings. Thus the ‘shew-bread’ is ‘continual bread,’ ‘lekhem hattamidh’ (Numbers 4:7).

of the sabbaths, of the new moons] i.e. for the ‘continual offering’ of the sabbath and of the new moon, and for the special offerings required for those days, as recorded in Numbers 28:9-10 (Sabbath), 11–15 (new moon), from which the rule in Ezekiel 46:4; Ezekiel 46:6 differs considerably.

for the set feasts] A description of these ‘days of holy convocation’ is found in Numbers 28:16 to Numbers 29:38.

for the holy things] Such, for instance, as ‘the thankofferings’ of the community. Cf. 2 Chronicles 29:33, ‘And the consecrated things were six hundred oxen and three thousand sheep,’ 2 Chronicles 35:13, ‘the holy offerings.’

the sin offerings] i.e. Those offered for the community, (a) regularly, along with the burnt offerings, Numbers 28, 29, (b) on exceptional occasions of national transgression, Leviticus 4:13.

for all the work, &c.] The preposition ‘for’ is carried on from the beginning of the verse. This general expression ‘all the work’ completes the list of objects upon which the ⅓ shekel tax was expended. LXX. εἰς ἔργα. Vulg. ‘in omnem usum.’

And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law:
34. And we cast the lots] R.V. And we cast lots. The use of the article in the Heb. does not here call attention to the use of any peculiarly sacred ‘lots,’ but generally to the means employed for ascertaining the Divine will. For decision by the casting of lots, cf. the choosing of the goat on the day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:8-10), the distribution of the Promised Land (Joshua 14:2; Joshua 18:10), the selection of the first king (1 Samuel 10:19), the distribution of offices among the 24 priestly houses (1 Chronicles 24:5; 1 Chronicles 25:8; 1 Chronicles 26:13), and of the priestly duties among the individual members (Luke 1:9). Here the lot was to decide the succession of the houses, which took it in turn to supply the wood for the sacrifices of the Temple.

for the wood offering] Cf. Nehemiah 13:31. The supply of wood for the enormous number of sacrifices offered at the Temple of Jerusalem must have represented a large annual sum. The difficulty of procuring wood must have been very great: (1) the area of territory occupied by the Jewish community was small, (2) the trees in the neighbourhood must have suffered during the Chaldean invasion and siege.

after the houses of our fathers] R.V. according to our fathers’ houses. Another translation, ‘even into the house of our fathers,’ i.e. ‘into the Temple’ would certainly be possible according to the Hebrew, but is not to be accepted, as its use occurs nowhere else, and after the mention of ‘the house of our God’ there would be no special appropriateness for the employment of another name.

at times appointed] Cf. Nehemiah 13:31; Ezra 10:14. According to the Talmud on nine days in the year.

as it is written in the law] There is no statute in the Levitical code regulating the supply of firewood for the sacrifices. The only reference to the wood of the offering in ‘the Law’ is contained in Leviticus 6:12-13, ‘And the fire upon the altar shall be kept burning thereon, it shall not go out; and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay the burnt offering in order upon it, and shall burn thereon the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.’ If the words ‘as it is written in the law’ contain a reference to a passage in the Pentateuch, it must be looked for in connexion with ‘the burning on the altar’ (e.g. Leviticus 6:12-13), not with ‘the wood-offering.’ Against this it may fairly be urged that ‘the wood offering,’ being the principal subject of the verse, is also the most probable subject for this quotation from Scripture. But if ‘as it is written in the law’ alludes to ‘the wood offering,’ ‘the law’ must be understood in a general sense of the traditional regulations of the priests, which apparently were not all embodied in our Pentateuch. New circumstances necessitated new regulations; and we have to suppose that among the new written regulations of the priests was one relating to ‘the wood offering.’ We may conjecture that after the return from the exile the scarcity and expensiveness of fuel for the sacrifices made it necessary to draw up special regulations by which ‘the houses’ took it in turn to supply the wood. The burden was thus distributed over the community. The new regulation had been committed to writing; but, as appears from our Pentateuch, it was never incorporated in the canonical ‘Thora,’ perhaps from the reason that its history was known to be recent. Josephus (Bell. Jud. ii. 17. 6) mentions that on the 14th day of the 5th month Loos (Ab) was the Festival of Wood-bringing (Ξυλοφόρια), at which every Jew used to bring wood for the altar of burnt offering, that there never might be wanting a supply of fuel for the sacred fire.

And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD:
35–39. First-fruits and tithe

35. the firstfruits of our ground] Cf. Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26. ‘The first of the firstfruits of the ground thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God;’ so also in greater detail Deuteronomy 26:2-10. Cf. Proverbs 3:9; Ezekiel 44:30.

of all trees] R.V. of all manner of trees. See Numbers 18:12-13, ‘all the best of the oil and all the best of the vintage, and of the corn, the firstfruits of them which they give unto the Lord, to thee have I given them. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring unto the Lord shall be thine,’ cf. 2 Chronicles 31:5, Leviticus 19:23.

Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God:
36. the firstborn of our sons] The firstborn of the children of Israel ‘from a month old’ were redeemed ‘for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary.’ Numbers 18:16; cf. Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20.

of our cattle, as it is written in the law] The firstlings of oxen, sheep and goats were not redeemed; they were holy; their fat was offered as a burnt offering; the flesh was the portion of the priests. See Numbers 18:17-19. But the firstborn of all unclean beasts were redeemed for a price. Cf. Exodus 23:19; Numbers 18:15.

herds … flocks] i.e. the goats and sheep mentioned in Numbers 18:17.

And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.
37. and that we should bring] The change of construction (cf. the infinitive ‘to bring’ in Nehemiah 10:35-36) somewhat favours the suggestion that this and the next two verses are a later insertion, introduced for the purpose of recording in detail the Jewish practice of paying firstfruits and tithes.

the firstfruits of our dough] R.V. marg. ‘Or, coarse meal.’ See Numbers 15:21, ‘Of the first of your dough (marg. Or, coarse meal) ye shall offer up a cake for an heave offering.’ The firstfruits or ‘the first’ (rêshith) is equivalent to ‘the best.’ Cf. Leviticus 23:17.

and our offerings] R.V. and our heave offerings. Before this expression we have also to understand ‘the firstfruits of.’ The priests did not receive the whole ‘heave offerings’ (terumoth), but ‘the firstfruits’ or ‘first’ of them. This is also the teaching of Ezekiel 44:30, ‘And the first of all the firstfruits of everything, and every oblation (marg. Or, heave offering) of everything, of all your oblations, shall be for the priests.’ The portion thus assigned to the priests was called ‘the heave offering for the priests’ (Nehemiah 13:5). The word rendered ‘heave offering’ was used in a general sense to denote ‘a gift’ (Proverbs 29:4), but was applied in a special sense to gifts or offerings for a sacred purpose, e.g. contributions to the tabernacle, Exodus 25:2 sq., or the portions of sacrifices set apart for the priests, Leviticus 7:32. In 2 Samuel 1:21, ‘fields of offerings’ are fields from whose rich pasture the firstlings of the flock would be taken.

and the fruit of all manner of trees] See on Nehemiah 10:35. We should understand these words to depend upon ‘the firstfruits of.’ The structure of the verse is certainly in favour of this interpretation. ‘The first-fruits,’ devoted to the priests, are distinguished from the ‘tithes’ which are given to the Levites.

wine] R.V. marg. ‘Or, the vintage.’ ‘The wine and the oil,’ not in apposition to ‘the fruit of all manner of trees,’ but separately mentioned on account of their peculiar value. Cf. Numbers 18:12.

to the chambers of the house of our God] See on Nehemiah 10:39, Nehemiah 12:44, Nehemiah 13:4; LXX. εἰς τὸ γαζοφυλάκιον οἴκου τοῦ θεοῦ.

the tithes of our ground] According to Leviticus 27:30. On the omission of reference to tithe of ‘herd and flock’ mentioned in Leviticus 27:32, see note at end of chapter. Passages in the O.T. dealing with tithe are Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22; Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-32; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:12-15; Amos 4:4; Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Chronicles 31:5-6, and Nehemiah 10:37-39; Nehemiah 12:44; Nehemiah 13:5.

that the same Levites might have the tithes] R.V. for they, the Levites, take the tithes. LXX. δεκατοῦντες. Vulg. ‘accipient decimas.’ The word in the Hebrew which generally denotes ‘to pay tithe of something,’ is here used in a special sense of collecting tithe, in which it is found in the later Hebrew of the Mishnah. It occurs here in the sense of ἀποδεκατόω in Hebrews 7:5 ‘to take tithes of the people.’

in all the cities of our tillage] LXX. ἐν πάσαις πόλεσιν δουλείας ἡμῶν. Vulg. ‘ex omnibus civitatibus operum nostrorum.’ Cf. 1 Chronicles 27:26, ‘over them that did the work of the field for tillage of the ground.’ The translation of ‘abodah’ by ‘tillage’ gives the only probable sense. The alternative, ‘cities of our service’ would be meaningless. The words are important as determining the agricultural character of the area from which this tithe was collected. It is implied, though not stated, that the tithe thus collected by the Levites was of ‘the fruits of the field’ (cf. Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:12-15) and did not include the tithe of ‘the herd or the flock.’ See note on Nehemiah 10:39. The word ‘Abodah’ was in later times technically used for ‘worship.’ Cf. the saying of Simon the Just in the Pirqe Aboth, ‘On three things the world is stayed; on the Thorah, and on the Worship (Abodah), and on the bestowal of kindnesses’ (Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, Taylor, p. 26).

And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.
38. the priest the son of Aaron] This is not the high-priest; but in every ‘city of their tillage’ one of priestly descent was to superintend the paying in of the tithe which had been collected by the Levites, so that the interests of the priesthood should not suffer.

the tithe of the tithes] This was paid by the Levites to the priests, according to Numbers 18:25-28. The law of ‘tithe’ in Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:12-15 differs very widely from that in Numbers, except in the point that it was to be derived from the produce of the soil. The characteristic features of the Deuteronomic law of tithe are (1) the annual social feast (Deuteronomy 14:22-26), (2) charity to the Levite (Deuteronomy 14:27), and (3) a special tithing every third year on behalf of the Levite Deuteronomy 14:28, Deuteronomy 26:12-15). But of these regulations we find no trace in the present passage.

to the chambers, into the treasure house] i.e. those chambers which were set apart as a treasure house for contributions paid in kind. Cf. Nehemiah 13:5. Other chambers were employed for other purposes. The LXX. for ‘into the treasure house’ has εἰς οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ by an accidental repetition.

For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.
39. For] Explaining the mention of ‘the chambers’ as the receptacles of all these offerings.

the children of Israel] i.e. the laity as distinguished from the priests and the Levites.

the offering] R.V. heave offering. This ‘heave offering’ includes both ‘the firstfruits’ of the children of Israel (Nehemiah 10:36-37) and ‘the tithe of the tithe’ paid by the Levite to the priests (37). It is the special designation of the tithe paid both by Israel and by the house of Levi in Numbers 18:24-28.

the new wine] R.V. the wine. Marg. ‘Or, the vintage.’ the word in the Hebrew is the same as that used in Nehemiah 10:37.

and the oil] R.V. and of the oil.

On ‘the chambers’ see especially Nehemiah 13:4-12.

the vessels of the sanctuary] In Nehemiah 13:9 it is again mentioned that ‘the vessels of the sanctuary’ were stored in these chambers. What they were, we are not told; but that they comprised instruments for sacrifice, vessels for libations and lustrations, and plate for sacred feasts, would appear from the short inventory in Ezra 1:9-10.

priests … porters … singers] i.e. the Aaronic house and those of the Levites whose work was especially connected with the maintenance of the Temple and the Temple worship. From this combination we might conclude (1) that the Levitical community, with the exception of the ‘porters’ and ‘singers,’ were for the most part in Nehemiah’s time not resident at Jerusalem, but quartered in the country districts, cf. Nehemiah 11:20, Nehemiah 12:27; (2) that the porters and singers participated with the priests in the offerings of the people.

we will not forsake] The object of the new regulations is to maintain the efficiency of the Temple worship and to provide for the welfare of those that ministered in it; ‘we will not forsake’ is equivalent to ‘we will not neglect or diminish the contributions to the Temple, which we have publicly undertaken.’

Note on ‘the Tithe.’ It must be noticed that ‘the tithe’ spoken of in this context is described as ‘tithes of our ground,’ ‘tithes in all the cities of our tillage,’ and is probably here (Nehemiah 10:39) represented along with ‘the heave offering,’ as consisting of corn, wine and oil, as indeed it is spoken of in Nehemiah 13:5; Nehemiah 13:12. In other words ‘the tithe’ is a vegetable one; and this is also the impression which we gather from the description of ‘tithe’ in Numbers 18 and Malachi 3:8-11.

Now in Leviticus 27:32-33 ‘a tithe of the herd or the flock’ is called ‘holy to the Lord,’ and with this agrees the mention of ‘the tithe of oxen and sheep’ in 2 Chronicles 31:6. It is needless to point out what an enormous addition this ‘tithe of the herd or the flock’ would make to the wealth of the Priesthood and the treasury of the Temple. How then does it come to pass that neither in the regulations contained in Numbers 18 and Deuteronomy 14, nor in Nehemiah 10, 12, 13 is any allusion made to the tithe of herd and flock? Two explanations are forthcoming:

(1) It is possible that Leviticus 27:32 embodies a primitive pastoral law of tithing, which having fallen into desuetude was omitted at the time of the codification of the laws in Numbers 18 and Deuteronomy 14. In support of this view it should be remembered that Jacob’s vow to dedicate a tenth (Genesis 28:22) certainly referred to the tithe of property in herds and flocks, while the possibility of exacting a ‘tenth’ of the flocks even for civil purposes is contemplated in 1 Samuel 8:17. According to this view, Hezekiah would have revived a religious custom, which was inherited from the time when the nation was more pastoral than agricultural. It is natural to suppose that the Jewish community at Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s days was too poor to maintain this additional burden. The objection to this explanation is that the appearance of Leviticus 27:32 in relation to its immediate context is not that of a survival from an earlier legislation; while the children of Israel could never have so far abandoned the pastoral in favour of agricultural life as to make it worth while to surrender the claim to so important a source of revenue for the service of the Temple.

(2) It is possible, as is maintained in some quarters, that ‘the animal tithe-law’ of Leviticus 27:32 may be an interpolation later than Nehemiah’s time, made in the interest of the Priesthood. There is more to be said for this startling supposition than might perhaps be expected. A close inspection of Leviticus 27:30-33 shows that Nehemiah 10:32 is strangely and abruptly introduced between Nehemiah 10:31 and Nehemiah 10:33, which deal with the subject of the redemption of the vegetable-tithe mentioned in Nehemiah 10:30. Again, in 2 Chronicles 31 we find that, after the mention in Nehemiah 10:5 of ‘tithe of all things’ being given by ‘the children of Israel’, another sentence (Nehemiah 10:6) tells us that ‘the children of Israel and Judah that dwelt in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep and the tithe of consecrated things, &c.’ which is not improbably a later expansion of the previous words. It is obviously an objection to this view that the insertion of a clause making so large a claim upon the property of the Jews could rarely at any time have been secretly foisted into the text of the Pentateuch; and that, supposing it to have been possible, such an interpolation made in the interest of the Priestly families would have had the smallest chance of success at a time when the Scribes controlled the transcription of the text.

The solution of the problem has not yet been reached. The difficulty illustrates the variations in Israelite law, in which are reflected the altered circumstances of different centuries. It must be admitted that Leviticus 27:32 wears an appearance not altogether free from suspicion; and an interpolation in an age, when, as we know from the LXX. version, the text of the Pentateuch was not yet fully settled, is not outside the range of probability.

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