Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;1–3. Separation from the mixed multitude
1. On that day] See note on Nehemiah 12:44.
they read] Literally ‘it was read,’ without any intimation that the Levites were the readers.
the book of Moses] A short form for that which is found in Nehemiah 8:1, ‘the book of the law of Moses.’
that the Ammonite and the Moabite] The passage which had excited attention was doubtless Deuteronomy 23:3-6, which opens with the following prohibition, ‘An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of the Lord for ever.’
come into the congregation] R.V. enter into the assembly. It is important that the words of Deuteronomy should be adhered to in the quotation: and ‘assembly’ (qahal) not ‘congregation’ (êdah) is the word generally used by the Deuteronomist.
Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing.2. because they met not, &c.] Cf. Deuteronomy 23:4, ‘Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they (Heb. he) hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia to curse thee.’
Balaam is referred to by the Deuteronomist as the prophet whose curse would be fatal; the Deuteronomist writer, like the prophet Micah (Nehemiah 6:5) follows the Jehovist account in Numbers 22-24, and shows no sign of acquaintance with the Elohist’s description of Balaam (Numbers 31:8; Numbers 31:16) as an instigator of the Midianite plot to corrupt the children of Israel.
but hired] The verb in the Hebrew is in the singular ‘he hired’, as in Deuteronomy 23:4, referring possibly to Balak the son of Zippor in Numbers 22:2.
against them] Literally ‘against him’, i.e. Israel, corresponding to the singular ‘against thee’ in Deuteronomy 23:4.
that he should curse them] R.V. to curse them.
howbeit our God] The remainder of the verse gives in general terms the substance of Deuteronomy 23:5-6.
Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.3. Now] R.V. And. The A.V. begins a new paragraph with this verse; which however continues the preceding verses, giving the result of the action taken.
they separated] ‘They,’ impersonal, but evidently the leaders of the people are referred to. It does not appear whether the words ‘they separated from Israel’ denote merely ceremonial exclusion from participation in the worship and festivals of the holy people, or the forcible ejectment from their borders. The practical impossibility of so summary a policy is an objection to the latter interpretation. The parallel in Nehemiah 9:2 gives some support to the former alternative; and the instance recorded by Nehemiah in the following Nehemiah 13:4-14, shows that Nehemiah’s anger was kindled not at the presence of a stranger but at his connexion with the high-priest, and at the fact of his not being ‘separated from’ the Temple.
all the mixed multitude] The use of the Hebrew word ‘’ereb’ here without an article may be illustrated by Exodus 12:38. There, as here, the word denotes the large body of strangers, members of other races, attached by ties of marriage or by commercial interests to the people of Israel. Their proneness to lead the Israelites astray was proverbial, cf. Numbers 11:4.
And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah:4. And before this] R.V. Now before this. Clearly the date referred to is that of Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem after his residence at the court described in Nehemiah 13:6-7. We may assume that Nehemiah’s Memoirs embraced the whole interval of twelve years. The Compiler, however, makes no extract from the intervening portion. The words ‘before this’ have therefore no reference to the events of the preceding verses; their retention only shows the exactness with which the extract is reproduced.
Eliashib the priest] There is scarcely any reason to doubt that this is the same as ‘Eliashib the high-priest’ mentioned in Nehemiah 13:28, and in Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:20, whose name occurs in the priestly lists (Nehemiah 12:10; Nehemiah 12:22). That he is here called ‘the priest,’ and in Nehemiah 13:28, ‘the high-priest,’ constitutes a certain objection against the identification. On the other hand the incident which here connects ‘Eliashib the priest’ with Tobiah is of so similar a character to that which associates ‘Eliashib the high-priest’ in alliance with Sanballat (Nehemiah 13:28), that it is most natural to suppose the same person is denoted.
The full title is not, as some fancifully suggest, withheld out of respect for the office which was so degraded. It is more probable that Nehemiah is recording the fact that ‘the priest who was appointed over the chambers of the house of God’ happened in this instance to be the high-priest himself: perhaps having been appointed to this duty before his succession to the high-priestly office, he still retained the charge. Again, it may be remembered that in old times ‘the priest’ was the customary title of the high-priest.
If the same as the high-priest, it has been remarked that his name does not appear in chap. 10 among those that signed the covenant. It is however somewhat hazardous to conclude, as commentators have generally done, that he must therefore have refused his signature and have openly opposed the policy of Nehemiah. The names in chap. 10 are most of them the names of houses, and the high-priest’s name is probably represented in the mention of ‘Seraiah.’
having the oversight of] R.V. who was appointed over.
the chamber] R.V. the chambers. Marg. ‘Heb. the chamber’. The singular does not give the right meaning. Eliashib in order to dispose of ‘a great chamber’ to Tobiah, must have had all the Temple chambers under his charge. The proposal to read the plural ‘chambers’ (lishkôth) instead of the singular ‘chamber’ (lishkath) is probably right. See Nehemiah 13:9.
The versions give quite an erroneous turn to the passage; LXX. οἰκῶν ἐν γαζοφυλακίῳ, Vulg. ‘præpositus in gazophylacio.’
was allied] R.V. being allied. A relationship by marriage is intended by this expression, which is the same as that rendered in Ruth 2:20, ‘The man is nigh of kin to us.’
In the LXX. ἐγγίων and Vulg. ‘proximus,’ the idea of local vicinity misapprehends the original. We are not told the exact relationship of Tobiah to Eliashib. But in Nehemiah 6:17, it appears that he had married a daughter of Shecaniah; and that his son Jehohanan had married a daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Both Shecaniah and Meshullam are names mentioned in Nehemiah 3:20; Nehemiah 3:30; and the probability is that they were priests of high rank. It is natural to derive Tobiah’s alliance to Eliashib from his connexion with one or both of these families.
Part IV. NEHEMIAH’S SECOND VISIT
Ch. Nehemiah 13:4-9.
His Vindication of the Sanctity of the Temple.
His Provision for the Maintenance of the Levites.
His Measures to uphold the Observance of the Sabbath.
His Action against Mixed Marriages.
His Concluding Words.
4–31. Nehemiah’s memoirs resumed
4–9. An incident twelve years later: Eliashib’s concession of a chamber in the Temple to Tobiah, and its purification by Nehemiah. For Nehemiah’s action and the necessity for it, cf. Malachi 2:1-9.
And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.5. and he had prepared] R.V. had prepared. Literally, ‘had made.’ It is possible that we are to understand by this expression that Eliashib had made a large chamber for Tobiah by knocking together two or three smaller ones. But it is better to understand by it ‘had fitted up’ or ‘furnished.’
chamber] One of the rooms on the side of the Temple or in the buildings connected with the Temple. The suggestion that Tobiah was a Jew and that the high-priest’s action may have technically been defensible does not agree with the general impression to be gathered from Nehemiah’s narrative, cf. Nehemiah 2:10.
the meat offerings] R.V. the meal offerings. For the law of the meal offering, cf. Leviticus 2:6.
the frankincense] For the use of frankincense in offerings, cf. Exodus 30:34; Leviticus 2:1; Leviticus 2:15; Leviticus 6:15; Leviticus 24:7; 1 Chronicles 9:29.
the vessels] Probably the various instruments for measuring the quantities contributed and for conveying them to the altar, cf. Nehemiah 10:39.
the tithes] The tithe here referred to is of the produce of the field, cf. Nehemiah 10:37.
the new wine] R.V. the wine.
which was commanded to be given] R.V. which were given by commandment. Literally, ‘the commandment of,’ i.e. ‘the statutable right of,’ ‘the due of,’ cf. Deuteronomy 18:3.
Levites … singers … porters]
and the offerings of the priests] R.V. and the heave offerings for the priests. These were the priests’ tithe of the Levites’ tithe as mentioned in Neh. 10:39, 40, Nehemiah 12:47.
But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king:6. was not I] R.V. I was not.
the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes] i.e. b.c. 433, twelve years since his appointment to be governor of Judea (Nehemiah 2:6).
king of Babylon] For this title applied to Artaxerxes king of Persia, cf. Ezra 6:22, ‘the king of Assyria.’ Babylon being by far the largest and most important city in the western portion of the Persian dominion, the expression was a natural one in the lips of a Jew. It hardly affords sufficient foundation for the assumption that king Artaxerxes happened to be residing at Babylon at the time of Nehemiah’s application for leave of absence.
came I] R.V. I went. We are left to suppose that Nehemiah had some time previously returned from Jerusalem to his post at Susa. That his governorship of Judea was only for a limited period is plainly hinted at by the king’s question in Nehemiah 2:6, ‘And when wilt thou return?’ How long it lasted we are not told with any definiteness. From Nehemiah 5:14 we may assume that he was governor for the greater part of 12 years.
after certain days] Literally, ‘at the end of days.’ A general expression, denoting a considerable interval. To restrict its meaning to ‘a year’ on the strength of certain passages (e.g. Exodus 13:10; Leviticus 25:29; Numbers 9:22; Jdg 17:10) gives a very improbable explanation of the phrase, which is often used of a much more considerable period, e.g. ‘in process of time’ Genesis 4:3, ‘after a while’ 1 Kings 17:7.
obtained I leave] R.V. I asked leave. Perhaps in consequence of disquieting information which had reached him.
And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.7. understood of the evil] i.e. ‘gave attention to,’ ‘perceived its significance.’ ‘The evil’ inflicted by the pernicious example of the high-priest lay in the disregard of all the measures recently taken to separate the people from ‘the heathen nations.’
did] R.V. had done, i.e. not so much by continual alliance, but by this notorious instance, combining sacrilege towards the Temple and complaisance towards the idolater.
And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.8. it grieved me sore] Cf. Nehemiah 2:10, ‘it grieved them exceedingly.’
all the household stuff] Literally, ‘all the vessels of the house.’ ‘Stuff’ = the furniture, an old English word. For ‘stuff’ in this sense cf. Genesis 31:37; Genesis 45:20; 1 Samuel 10:22. Aldis Wright (Bible Word-Book, ed, 1, p. 463) cites, in illustration of this word, Hall (Hen. IV. fol. 26 b), ‘Sir Thomas Rampston knight the kynges vice-chamberlain with all his chamber stuffe, And apparell;’ and Shakespeare (Com. of Errors IV. 4), ‘Therefore away to get our stuffe aboard.’
Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.9. they cleansed the chambers] ‘they,’ impersonal. ‘The chambers,’ more than one had been desecrated for the purpose of supplying Tobiah with ‘a great chamber.’
the vessels … meat (R.V. meal-) offering … frankincense] Perhaps the typical items only are mentioned. But a comparison with the list, Nehemiah 13:5, suggests the possibility that the withholding of the tithe from the Levites, which called for the fresh regulations in Nehemiah 13:10-14, will account for the omission of the Levitical and priestly portions in this list.
And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.10–14. The failure of the people to furnish the due supplies to the Levites; and Nehemiah’s reform
10. the portions of the Levites] The portion which the people had covenanted to contribute to the Levites (cf. Nehemiah 10:37 ff.) had not been paid. The Levites to escape starvation had dispersed into the country. The Temple services were therefore crippled. Compare the similar rebuke in Malachi 3:7-12. ‘The Levites’ here used for the whole class.
for] R.V. so that. Their dispersion was the result, not the occasion of non-payment.
the singers] Under this head, the porters (Nehemiah 13:5) would be included.
every one to his field] For mention of the country villages ‘round about Jerusalem,’ to which ‘the Levites and the singers’ resorted, cf. Nehemiah 12:27-29.
Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.11. contended I] Cf. Nehemiah 13:17-25, Nehemiah 5:7.
the rulers] R.V. marg. ‘Or, deputies’.
forsaken] Neglected by the Jews and deserted by the Levites.
I gathered them together] Nehemiah caused a muster of the Levites.
in their place] i.e. in their proper positions. See notes Nehemiah 8:7, Nehemiah 9:3. LXX. ἐπὶ στάσει αὐτῶν. Vulg. ‘in stationibus suis.’
Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.12. Then brought all Judah] Nehemiah’s expostulation produced an immediate result. For the expression ‘all Judah’ = ‘the whole nation,’ cf. Nehemiah 12:34-44.
the tithe … corn … new wine (R.V. wine) … oil] This is the tithe spoken of in Nehemiah 13:5 and in Nehemiah 10:37, the contribution of which was described in Nehemiah 12:44-47.
unto the treasuries] The same word in the Hebrew as that rendered ‘treasures’ in Nehemiah 12:44; and it might here be rendered ‘for (or, as) treasures,’ i.e. to be stored. But the sense in the English version is preferable, so also LXX. εἰς τοὺς θησαυρούς, Vulg. ‘in horrea:’ and it occurs with the same meaning in Malachi 3:10, which aptly illustrates the present passage.
And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren.13. Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe] It is natural to conjecture from the fact that these names are followed by ‘and of the Levites,’ that Shelemiah and Zadok were priests, and that the treasurers consisted of two priests and two Levites.
‘Shelemiah the priest’ is perhaps the same as the Shelemiah of Nehemiah 3:30; and if so, ‘Zadok the scribe’ may be identified with ‘Zadok the son of Immer’ whose name occurs in Nehemiah 3:29, and who was undoubtedly of priestly descent (cf. Immer, Nehemiah 7:40). The title of ‘scribe’ given to him and Ezra, though both of priestly origin, shows that the work of ‘the scribe’ was obtaining increasing importance. Whether it implies that Ezra was dead and that Zadok had succeeded to his office, is an interesting question, but one which we have no means of deciding.
Pedaiah] Possibly the same who is mentioned in Nehemiah 8:4.
next to them] Literally ‘upon their hand,’ i.e. attending and assisting, cf. Nehemiah 11:24, ‘at the king’s hand.
Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah] We have had mention of Mattaniah as a Levitical house representing the sons of Asaph (Nehemiah 11:17, Nehemiah 12:8; Nehemiah 12:25-35).
We may conjecture that Shelemiah represented the Temple priests, Zadok the ‘judicial’ section of the priests; Pedaiah the Levites proper, and Hanan the singers and porters.
their office was] R.V. their duty was. The construction is the same as in Ezra 10:12, but proved too difficult for the versions. The LXX. combines the two clauses, ὅτι πίστοι ἐλογίσθησαν ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς μερίζειν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς αὐτῶν, Vulg. ‘et ipsis creditae sunt partes patrum suorum.’
to distribute unto their brethren] i.e. to distribute fairly among the various houses, and to decide upon the Levites’ tenth paid to the priests.
Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.14. Remember me] For this ejaculation see note on Nehemiah 5:19, and cf. Nehemiah 13:22; Nehemiah 13:31; Psalm 106:4.
wipe not out my good deeds] R.V. marg. ‘Heb. kindnesses’. The actual phrase is not found elsewhere in the O.T. The metaphor, which is that of sponging off from the leathern roll of record, is familiar to us from Exodus 17:14; Exodus 32:32-33.
my good deeds] Literally, ‘my mercies or kindnesses’ (LXX. ἔλεος, Vulg. ‘miserationes’). At first sight the word seems scarcely appropriate. Does it signify Nehemiah’s acts of kindness on behalf of the Levites? or his acts of love and reverence, ‘good deeds,’ towards his God? The word in the Hebrew ‘khesed’ is the one commonly used of God’s mercy towards mankind and of the loving-kindness of man towards man. It occurs however also, though more rarely, of man’s love responding to the Divine mercy. In this sense probably it is found, as here, in the plural in 2 Chronicles 32:32 ‘the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his good deeds,’ 2 Chronicles 35:26 ‘the rest of the acts of Josiah and his good deeds.’ These ‘good deeds’ (the plur. of ‘khesed’) are clearly the efforts of these two kings to live in more thorough compliance with the ceremonial of the Law. We may remember too that the ‘pious’ Israelite was the ‘khasîd,’ and in the 2nd cent. b.c. ‘Asideans’ (khasidim) was the name given to the most fanatical of the forerunners of the Pharisees.
It is not likely that Hosea’s use of the word in the singular (Nehemiah 6:4 ‘your goodness is as a morning cloud,’ 6 ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’) throws any light upon its usage in the present verse beyond showing that it was possibly applied in his time to man’s attitude towards God; but this interpretation is very doubtful. The Rabbinical teaching on the subject of khasadim made ‘the bestowal of kindness’ equivalent to ‘man’s duty to his neighbour.’ Compare the saying of Simon the Just quoted in the note on Nehemiah 10:37, and see Taylor’s note in Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, pp. 26, 27.
the house of my God] See on Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:12. As compared with ‘the house of our God’ in Nehemiah 13:4, the phrase is appropriate to the writer’s change from narrative to soliloquy.
the offices] R.V. the observances. The word means literally ‘that which is or is to be kept,’ cf. Nehemiah 13:30 and Nehemiah 12:9; Nehemiah 12:24 (= ‘ward’). Its meaning here is probably quite general, denoting ‘observances,’ ‘customs,’ and ‘usages,’ and not any particular functions as Vulg. ‘cærimoniis.’ LXX. omit.
In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.15–22. Nehemiah’s vindication of the Sabbath
15. Jewish Labour on the Sabbath.
saw I in Judah] i.e. while Nehemiah was residing in the country.
treading wine presses] For the phrase cf. Isaiah 63:2; Lamentations 1:15.
The word here used for ‘winepress’ (gath) is different from that used e.g. in Isaiah 5:2; Joel 2:24; Joel 3:13 (yeqeb). The ‘winepress’ or gath is the place in which the grapes are trodden; the ‘winefat’ or yeqeb is the receptacle into which the juice is made to flow from the winepress.
sheaves] R.V. marg. ‘Or, heaps of corn’. The time of treading the grapes would be later than that of carrying the corn. Perhaps the corn was being brought in on asses from the country to be threshed in the city: or sheaves of straw are intended.
lading asses] R.V. adds therewith.
on the sabbath day] The observance of the Sabbath was always the stumbling-block in the way of free relations between the pious Jew and the Gentile. The temptation to desecrate the Sabbath in order to maintain amicable relations with Gentile traders was a constant source of religious degeneracy among the Jews. Hence the strictness with which its observance was inculcated during the Exile, Isaiah 56:2; Isaiah 58:13; Jeremiah 17:21; Ezekiel 20:16; Ezekiel 22:26.
in the day wherein they sold victuals] It appears that the wares having been brought into the city on the Sabbath, Nehemiah raised his protest on the next or some following day, when they were being sold.
It can hardly mean that they were sold on the Sabbath; for in that case Nehemiah would have laid the chief emphasis on a Sabbath traffic, as in the next verse, rather than on the act of conveyance.
There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.16. Traffic on the Sabbath.
therein] i.e. in the city.
which brought fish] R.V. which brought in fish. These would be the salted and dried fish from the Mediterranean, cf. Nehemiah 3:3.
ware] i.e. anything offered for sale.
sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah] The fault lay with the buyers, as is shown in the next verse.
and in Jerusalem] The words are added emphatically, as if Nehemiah had said ‘to think of such a thing being possible in the holy city.’
Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?17. Then I contended] cf. Nehemiah 13:11.
the nobles of Judah] A different word (ḥorim) from that used for the rulers in Nehemiah 13:11.
Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.18. did not your fathers thus] Cf. Jeremiah 17:22-23; Jeremiah 17:27, ‘but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers; but they hearkened not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, and might not receive instruction.… But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden and enter in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.’
our God] Note the change from ‘your fathers’ to ‘our God’ and ‘upon us.’
all this evil] i.e. subjection to a foreign power.
ye bring more wrath upon Israel] Cf. Ezra 10:10, ‘have married strange women, to increase the guilt of Israel.’
And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.19. the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark] The rare word for ‘began to be dark’ gives rise to the renderings LXX. ἡνίκα κατέστησαν πύλαι, Vulg. ‘cum quievissent portæ.’ Another suggested rendering is ‘had their bells rung,’ is very ludicrous, deriving the word from the same root as the word for ‘cymbals.’
before the sabbath] From this we should gather that the Sabbath began as soon as it was dark; not absolutely at sunset, but at the termination of the brief twilight.
gates] R.V. doors.
charged] R.V. commanded. Same word as in the previous clause.
servants] Literally ‘youths,’ παῖδες, i.e. personal attendants, cf. Nehemiah 4:10.
at the gates] R.V. over the gates, i.e. to superintend the watch.
that there should no burden, &c.] The object of the watch was not to bar the free passage in and out, but only to prevent the introduction of merchandise on that day.
So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.20. So the merchants, &c.] The device only partially succeeded; and various merchants, who had been compelled for 24 hours to remain without the walls, seem to have carried on their trade with such of the inhabitants as came outside to deal with them. We gather from the verse that the chief market was held on the first day of the week.
lodged] i.e. passed the night, as in Genesis 19:2; Genesis 24:25.
Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.21. Why lodge ye about the wall?] R.V. marg. ‘Heb. before’, LXX. ἀπέναντι, Vulg. ‘ex adverso.’ Nehemiah, in his capacity of governor, was able to put his foot down upon this evasion of his law. He threatened the traders that, if they hung about on the outskirts of the walls on the Sabbath, he would treat them as public enemies.
And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.22. And I commanded the Levites] The verse contains an additional precaution taken by Nehemiah to secure the observance of the Sabbath. Its exact character however is somewhat obscure.
Nehemiah delivers to the Levites a special commission to take over the watch of the city gates on the Sabbaths. For this purpose they are to cleanse themselves; the duty was a sacred one, since upon it depended the nation’s fidelity to the Sabbath. We are not told whether these Levites were appointed to serve in addition to, or as substitutes for, the regular watchmen; or whether they were intended to continue the duties temporarily entrusted by Nehemiah to his servants (Nehemiah 13:19).
come and keep the gates] The copula is wanting in the Hebrew; and thus has given occasion to a proposal for the rendering, ‘And that they should come to the keepers of the gates’ &c. i.e. that the Levites should on the Sabbath eve go the rounds to the various gates for the purpose of solemnly announcing the advent of the holy day. Even if the grammatical construction, which this translation supposes, be admissible, the sense does not carry with it the ring of probability.
The versions supply the copula. LXX. εἶπα τοῖς Λευίταις οἳ ἦσαν καθαριζόμενοι καὶ ἐρχόμενοι φυλάσσοντες τὰς πύλας ἁγιάζειν τὴν ἡμέραν. Vulg. ‘ut mundarentur et venirent ad custodiendas portas.’
Remember me … concerning this also] R.V. Remember unto me … this also. Cf. Nehemiah 13:15.
In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:23. saw I Jews] R.V. saw I the Jews. The article which the R.V. rightly renders shows that Nehemiah is not making a general charge against the Jewish nation, but reports what he had seen in the instance of a certain set of Jews. It has been suggested that Nehemiah came across them in the course of a journey (cf. Nehemiah 13:15) through the southern districts of the Judean territory.
that had married wives (R.V. women)] R.V. marg. ‘Heb. had made to dwell with them ‘. LXX. οἳ ἐκάθισαν γυναῖκας. Cf. Ezra 10:2; Ezra 10:10; Ezra 10:14; Ezra 10:17-18.
23–29. Nehemiah’s protest against mixed marriages, cf. Nehemiah 9:2, Nehemiah 10:28; Nehemiah 10:30; Ezra 9:1 ff; Ezra 10:1 ff.
And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people.24. spake half in the speech of Ashdod] LXX. οἱ υἱοὶ αὐτῶν ἥμισυ λαλοῦσιν Ἀζωτιστί. Vulg. ‘filii eorum ex media parte loquebantur Azotice,’ half their words were framed in the dialect of Philistia. This dialect would be very similar to Hebrew, but from accent and the use of peculiar words almost unintelligible to the Jews.
On the relations of the Jews with Ashdod, see on Nehemiah 4:7, and compare Zechariah 9:6.
in the Jews’ language] i.e. Hebrew (‘Yehudîth’) LXX. Ἰουδαϊστί. Vulg. ‘Judaice’ as in 2 Kings 18:26; 2 Kings 18:28; Isaiah 36:11; Isaiah 36:13; 2 Chronicles 32:18. The language of Hezekiah’s reign was still spoken by the Jews after the Return, as indeed would be abundantly shown by these memorials of Ezra and Nehemiah and by the writings of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
On the mistaken idea that during the Captivity the Jews had exchanged Hebrew for Chaldee, i.e. Aramaic, see Introd. § 8.
but according to the language of each people] Referring to the Ammonites and Moabites, who represented dialectical varieties.
And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.25. I contended] Cf. Nehemiah 13:11; Nehemiah 13:17.
cursed] R.V. marg. ‘Or, reviled’. For the word ‘to curse’ (qalal) cf. Nehemiah 13:2; Malachi 3:9; Malachi 4:6.
smote … pluckt off their hair] Nehemiah’s frantic excitement against these countrymen was accompanied with gestures and blows such as may be witnessed in Syria but are almost incredible to our western ideas.
pluckt off their hair] LXX. ἐμαδάρωσα αὐτούς. Vulg. ‘decalvavi eos.’ Commentators suggest that this was done at Nehemiah’s command, and not by his own hand; further that it was a judicial sentence of ‘depilatio.’ But the context quite supports the idea that he personally ill-treated them; so frantic was his indignation. He did not intend, as some suggest, by pulling out their hair to compel them to assume the appearance of penitents. For the action of pulling out the hair cf. Ezra 9:3.
made them swear by God, saying] i.e. he made them swear an oath in God’s name, the words of the oath being given in the clause following.
This is better than the alternative rendering, ‘I adjured them by God’ (cf. 1 Kings 18:10; Song of Solomon 2:7).
Ye shall not] The oath which Nehemiah administered in the 2nd plur. was repeated by the Jews in the first pers.
unto your sons] R.V. for your sons.
Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.26. Solomon king of Israel] An argument from the greater to the less. If Solomon, the beloved of God, fell through this snare, how much more likely to sin were these ignorant Jews?
by these things] i.e. on account of wives taken from idolatrous people.
among many nations] Cf. Mich. Nehemiah 4:3, ‘he shall judge between many peoples.’
was there no king like him] Cf. 1 Kings 3:12-13; 2 Chronicles 1:12.
who (R.V. and he) was beloved of his God] Perhaps referring especially to the privilege of Solomon to receive the task of building the Temple and ordering the sacred worship; but the expression calls to mind 2 Samuel 12:25, ‘And the Lord loved him; … and he called his name Jedidiah for the Lord’s sake.’
outlandish women] R.V. strange women. See 1 Kings 11:3 ff.
Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?27. Shall we then hearken unto you] The rendering is disputed.
According to the English Version, the sense is, ‘are we to listen to your expostulations and entreaties, and permit this evil to go on unchecked, when even the saintly Solomon fell because of it?’ This is the rendering of the LXX. καὶ ὑμῶν μὴ ἀκουσώμεθα, and is reproduced by the Vulg. ‘Numquid et nos inobedientes faciemus.’ The alternative translation throws greater emphasis on the contrast between Solomon and the Jews. ‘And as for you, should it be heard of (i.e. surely if Solomon thus fell, it should be an unheard of thing), that ye should go on the same fatal course of conduct?’ In favour of this rendering is the prominent position of the 2nd plur. pron. at the head of Nehemiah 13:27.
transgress] R.V. trespass.
wives] R.V. women. Nehemiah apparently renewed the policy of Ezra (Ezra 10) and urged the Jews to put away from them their Gentile wives.
And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.28. one of the sons of Joiada] We should gather that Eliashib the grandfather was still alive, since the emphasis lies on the relationship of the offender to the high-priest. ‘Joiada.’ Cf. Nehemiah 12:10. On Eliashib see note on Nehemiah 13:4.
Song of Solomon in law to Sanballat the Horonite] For Sanballat, cf. Nehemiah 2:10, Neh 3:33, Nehemiah 4:1, Nehemiah 6:1. The marriage of the high-priest’s grandson with Sanballat’s daughter was an offence in every way. (1) It showed treasonable alliance with Israel’s bitterest foe, (2) it violated the rule laid down in Ezra’s time against mixed marriages, (3) it compromised the purity of the high-priestly house (Leviticus 21:6 ff.).
therefore I chased him from me] LXX. ἐξέβρασα. Obviously because he was contumacious, and refused to put away his wife. Rashi’s explanation that Nehemiah chased him away for fear of his playing the spy and reporting the means of entering and leaving the city, is strangely inadequate. Josephus relates a story so similar to this that it should probably be referred to the same events, although he must have obtained it from some other source. According to Josephus (Ant. xi. 7, 8) a certain Manasse, the brother of Jaddua and son of John or Johanan (and therefore grandson not son of Joiada) took to wife Nikaso, the daughter of the Cuthaean Sanballat. Refusing to put her away, he was expelled from Jerusalem by the Jewish nobles, and took refuge with the Samaritans, among whom, as a member of the high-priestly family, he set up upon Mt Gerizim a rival temple and priesthood. It will be seen that Josephus assigns this to the period of Alexander the Great. But there it is probable that Josephus is at fault; for he completely fails to realize the interval of time between the Return from the Exile and the Age of Alexander; and it is to this chronological confusion rather than to a mistake of ‘Jaddua’ for ‘Joiada’ that we should ascribe the cause of his principal variation from the Memoirs of Nehemiah. For (1) in Alexander’s time the organization of the Samaritan worship had long been fully established, (2) it is very improbable that a repetition of such a striking incident should occur just a century after Nehemiah’s time.
Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.29. Remember them] Here in a bad sense.
because they have defiled] R.V. marg. ‘Heb. for the defilings of’. The word so rendered occurs only here. It is from the same root as the word ‘Goel,’ which explains the confusion of the LXX. ἐπὶ ἀγχιστείᾳ τῆς ἱερατείας.
the priesthood … the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites] Joiada’s son, not being high-priest, did not himself fall under the marriage law of the high-priest, Leviticus 21:13-15. But as a possible successor to the office, his marriage with Sanballat’s daughter violated the spirit of the Law. ‘The covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites’ seems to mean the peculiar relation of the priests and the Levites as holy, set apart for the special service of God, and as representatives of the whole people. It is possible that Nehemiah’s words relate not to the offence of an individual, but to the shame accruing to the whole priesthood in the fact that renegade priests had founded a rival Jehovah worship on Mt Gerizim, among the hated Samaritans. The expression is very similar to that in Malachi 2:8, ‘But ye are turned aside out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble in the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts.’ For ‘the covenant of the priesthood,’ cf. Deuteronomy 33:8-11, Malachi 2:1-8 will form an excellent commentary upon Nehemiah’s earnest denunciation.
Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;30. Nehemiah Summarizes his Work under the heads of purification and organization
cleansed I them] i.e. the people of Israel.
all strangers] R.V. marg. ‘Or, every strange thing’. LXX. ἀπὸ πάσης ἀλλοτριώσεως; the foreign element, which threatened to encroach upon the separateness of Israel and become the renewed source of idolatry. Vulg. ‘ab omnibus alienigenis.’
the wards of] R.V. wards for. Nehemiah did not originate the duties of the priests and Levites; he only set on foot a more systematic distribution of their work. The word ‘wards’ may here indicate the successive relays or ‘watches’ of priests and Levites (LXX. ἐφημερίας. Vulg. ‘ordines’); or, in a more general sense, their ‘duties’ and ‘observances,’ as in Nehemiah 13:13, which seems to agree best with the following clause: ‘each one in his work.’
in his business] R.V. in his work, Nehemiah 13:10, Nehemiah 10:33, Nehemiah 11:12. As generally in these books, except Nehemiah 11:16; Nehemiah 11:22, where ‘business’ is retained. Cf. Proverbs 22:29, ‘Seest thou a man diligent in his business?’
And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.31. and for the wood offering] Cf. Nehemiah 10:35.
the firstfruits] Cf. Nehemiah 10:36-39.
The special mention of these practical measures of reorganization perhaps implies that they remedied two principal causes of discontent and points most liable to abuse from negligence.
Remember me, O my God, for good] Cf. Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22, Nehemiah 5:19.
Additional Note on Nehemiah 13:6. Prof. Kirkpatrick suggests that Nehemiah’s first Mission lasted ‘perhaps for not more than a year,’ and that he then returned to Susa. The words ‘I went to the king’ he explains of Nehemiah’s going to serve his turn as cupbearer; and ‘at the end of certain days’ he would refer to the close of his term of office. This explanation has the merit of allowing an interval of 12 years between Nehemiah’s two visits to Jerusalem. The objection arising from the date in Nehemiah 5:14 he meets by the conjecture that the Compiler has inserted it from a misunderstanding of ch. Nehemiah 13:6, or ‘that Nehemiah continued to be nominal governor … though not resident in Judæa.’ (‘Doctrine of the Prophets,’ London, 1892, pp. 508, 509.)