Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Part II. RELIGIOUS REFORM
Ch. Nehemiah 7:73 b–8:12.
The Public Reading of the Law.
The Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.
The National Confession, preliminary to the Covenant.
Ch. Nehemiah 10:1-29.
The Sealing of the Covenant.
Certain Obligations of the Covenant.
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.1. into the street] R.V. into the broad place. The open space in front of ‘the water-gate’ is probably the same as that mentioned in Ezra 10:9, ‘and all the people sat in the broad place before the house of God.’ Cf. Nehemiah 3:26, ‘the Nethinim dwelt in Ophel, unto the place over against the water-gate toward the east.’ It is generally supposed that this broad place lay between the S.E. precincts of the Temple and the Eastern wall.
the water gate] Cf. Nehemiah 3:26, Nehemiah 12:37.
they spake unto Ezra the scribe] ‘They spake;’ the impersonal plural implies that the whole community expressed the wish through their representative leaders.
Ezra the scribe] Ezra’s name occurs here for the first time in our book of Nehemiah. It naturally calls for remark (1) that Ezra’s name was not mentioned by Nehemiah among his supporters in the work of rebuilding the walls, (2) that Nehemiah’s description of the condition of the people, the oppression of the poor by the rich (ch. 4) and the intermarriage with the heathen (Nehemiah 6:18; Nehemiah 10:30; Nehemiah 13:23-28) seems to conflict with the idea of the authority which Ezra obtained over the people, Ezra 9, Ezra 10. Two explanations have been put forward,
(a) It is suggested that Ezra, after accomplishing the reforms described in Ezra 9, Ezra 10, returned to Babylon; that after an absence of 12 years, he revisited Jerusalem in time to witness the completion of the city walls by Nehemiah, and was requested by the people to renew his former practice of expounding the Law in public.
(b) It is suggested that Ezra had never after his arrival in Jerusalem left the city for any prolonged period; but that after his protest against mixed marriages, he had failed to carry his religious reformation any further. The enemies of the Jews and their unpatriotic allies in Jerusalem had frustrated his attempts. The arrival of Nehemiah changed the aspect of affairs. The religious policy of Ezra was once more in the ascendant. The popular enthusiasm excited by the completion of the walls gave the wished for opportunity of publishing the Law to the people. The omission of Ezra’s name in Nehemiah 1-7 is still a difficulty. But Nehemiah’s memoirs, so far as they are excerpted, record only the events and people concerned with the rebuilding of the walls. If Ezra had been present while the work was in progress, we might naturally have expected to find his name among the repairers of the breaches in chap. 3. Perhaps Ezra, being devoted to the study and teaching of the Law, was not reckoned among those most influential for practical purposes. Being also of the high-priest’s kindred, he was very probably included among the repairers of the breach identified with the name of Eliashib (Nehemiah 3:1).
to bring the book of the law, &c.] There is nothing in these words to lead us to suppose that Ezra had before been in the habit of reading the Law to the people. The verse does not record an annual custom but an exceptional step, cf. Nehemiah 8:18. The people saw that their national integrity was safeguarded by city walls; their jealousy for their distinctiveness as ‘a peculiar people’ was rekindled. Their request to Ezra marked their adoption of his policy, that of keeping the people of Israel separate from the nations upon the basis of their religious life. His policy was that the religious life of the people should be regulated by the Law as contained in certain recognised writings, and should not be dependent upon the tradition of the Priests. The demand for the production of ‘the book of the law’ is of twofold interest; (1) it testifies to a general knowledge of the existence of a book the contents of which, so far as they are known, agreed substantially with our Pentateuch; (2) the voice of popular acknowledgment set the seal of ‘Canonicity’ upon the first portion of the Jewish Scriptures.
 For a more detailed treatment of this subject I may perhaps be permitted to refer the reader to chap. 4. in my ‘Canon of the Old Testament’ (Macmillan, 1892).
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.2. Ezra the priest] cf. Ezra 7:1; Ezra 7:11.
the law] i.e. the book of the law. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14 ‘the old covenant’ for ‘the book of the old covenant.’ The word ‘Torah’ is here used in the sense, which afterwards became universal, of the written ‘Law.’
all that could hear with understanding] lit. ‘every one of intelligence to hear and understand,’ i.e. all except quite children, cf. Nehemiah 10:28 ‘all …, their wives and their sons and their daughters, every one that had knowledge and understanding.’ The Vulgate ‘sapientium’ gives a wrong idea.
upon the first day of the seventh month] In the Priestly Laws the first day of the month Tisri was ‘the Feast of Trumpets’ (see Leviticus 23:23-25; Numbers 29:1-6), a day of ‘holy convocation,’ cf. Nehemiah 8:9; see Ezra 3:1.
Were the people assembled to celebrate this festival, or were the people summoned on the first day of the month, because the new-moon days were always regarded as sacred in Palestine? Considering that the people were even uninstructed how to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles according to the Law (Nehemiah 8:13-15), it is not likely that they would have been acquainted with the ‘feast of trumpets’ before the time of the reading of the Law. It is therefore most probable that the special holiness of the day lay in its being the new-moon day of the month in which occurred not only the change of year according to the autumn era but also the most popular of the Israelite festivals, ‘the feast of tabernacles.’ The observance of the new-moon seems to have been universal among Oriental nations in ancient times. Among the Israelites, it was at all times strictly maintained, cf. 1 Samuel 20:5; 2 Kings 4:23; Isaiah 1:13; Isaiah 66:23; Ezekiel 26:1; Ezekiel 46:1; Hosea 2:11; Amos 8:5; Haggai 1:1; Jdt 8:6; Colossians 2:16.
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.3. before the street] R.V. before the broad place. The ‘broad place’ was before the water-gate; Ezra read before the broad place. In each case the preposition seems to mean on the W. side, i.e. in front of looking eastward. The Vulgate ‘in plateâ.’ The LXX. omits the reference to the locality in this verse.
from the morning] R.V. from early morning. Marg. Heb. from the light. The process of reading ‘from morn till midday’ is explained in the following verses (4–8). It was not consecutive reading for seven hours. Ezra had others standing by to relieve him: the reading was also interrupted by exposition.
before] R.V. in the presence of. A different preposition from that used earlier in the verse.
attentive unto the book of the law] Vulgate ‘erectæ ad librum.’
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.4. a pulpit of wood] R.V. marg. Heb. tower. Literally ‘upon a tower of wood.’ LXX. ἐπὶ βήματος ξυλίνου, 1 Esdr. ἐπὶ τοῦ ξυλίνου βήματος. Vulg. ‘super gradum ligneum:’ cf. ‘the stairs’ on which the Levites stood in Nehemiah 9:4. The mention of the erection of a platform or tribune which the Jews had erected ‘for the purpose’ shows that the incident was one of exceptional character. This is the first mention of a pulpit or lectern.
for the purpose] Literally ‘for the word,’ which not being understood was omitted by the LXX. The Vulg. ‘quem fecerat ad loquen-dum’ follows a different vocalization, l’dhabbêr for laddâbhâr.
Urijah] R.V. Uriah: possibly the same as is mentioned in Nehemiah 3:4. ‘Hilkiah,’ possibly mentioned also Nehemiah 12:7. ‘Pedaiah’ possibly mentioned Nehemiah 3:25. ‘Meshullam’ possibly mentioned Nehemiah 10:7.
Malchiah … Hashbadana] R.V. Malchijah … Hashbaddanah.
There is a discrepancy respecting the numbers and position of the individuals here mentioned. The Hebrew text and the LXX. mention six names on the right hand, seven on the left: the parallel passage in 1 Esdras gives seven on the right hand, inserting an Azariah between Anaiah and Uriah, but six only on the left, omitting the last name Meshullam. If we retain both Azariah and Meshullam we should have seven on either side; if we reject them both, we should have six on either side. It seems probable that the names are those of Levites. There would be especial appropriateness in the number twelve, symbolizing the union of Israel in obedience to the Law. The conjecture of Rawlinson that they ‘were probably the chief priests of the course which was at the time performing the Temple service’ is improbable. (1) They were clearly men who could leave the Temple precincts for six or seven hours consecutively. (2) On such an impressive occasion Ezra, if he were attended by priests, would probably have selected either those who represented the principal houses or those who especially supported his religious attitude. (3) Ezra’s supporters in this great religious movement seem to have been Laymen and Levites, not Priests. The popularizing of the knowledge of ‘the Law’ struck a blow at a priestly monopoly. The thirteen names are in one respect of especial interest. They seem to be the names of individuals and not as in Nehemiah 8:7 and ch. Nehemiah 9:4, Nehemiah 10:9 the names of houses or clans, which happened to be represented. The reader should take notice that the high-priest’s name is not mentioned on this occasion. If as some critics have supposed, Ezra himself had composed the Priestly Laws, and was now promulgating them for the first time, the high-priest, whose position owed so much of its dignity in later days to those laws, would surely have been mentioned as countenancing Ezra’s action. If however, as seems more probable, Ezra was for the first time publishing to the people laws which had hitherto been kept in the priests’ hands, we have a possible explanation for the absence of the high-priest and his party, who would regard his action as subversive of their authority.
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:5. opened] i.e. unrolled, cf. Luke 4:17.
above all the people] i.e. raised above them in his pulpit.
all the people stood up] We need not conclude from these words that they stood during the whole time that the reading went on. Rather ‘they rose to their feet,’ signifying by this gesture their reverence for ‘the law’ that was to be read. After Ezra’s blessing and the response (Nehemiah 8:6), they probably resumed their seats. ‘Standing’ was sometimes the posture of prayer denoting humility, cf. 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Kings 8:22; Luke 18:11; Luke 18:13. In later times it was the attitude adopted during the reading of ‘the Law’ in the service of the Synagogue.
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.6. the great God] cf. Nehemiah 9:32; Ezra 5:8. In Nehemiah’s own writing it occurs Nehemiah 1:5.
Amen, Amen] The people’s response: see note on Nehemiah 5:13; cf. 1 Chronicles 16:36.
with lifting up their hands] See note on Ezra 9:5. Cf. Psalm 134:2, ‘Lift up your hands to the sanctuary (Marg. Or, in holiness) and bless ye the Lord.’ 2Ma 14:34.
worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground] The phrase ‘with the face to the earth,’ occurs very generally of reverence without the idea of worship; cf. Genesis 19:1; Genesis 42:6; Genesis 48:12; 1 Samuel 20:41; 1 Samuel 24:8; 1 Chronicles 21:21. But it is also used of worship before God, as in Numbers 22:31; 2 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Chronicles 20:18; and compare the expression ‘let us worship and bow down,’ Psalm 95:6; Job 1:20. After this united act of worship they resumed their attitude of attention (Nehemiah 8:3).
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.7. Also Jeshua &c.] Of the 13 names here mentioned we find four, i.e. Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Hodiah, mentioned among the Levites in chap. Nehemiah 9:5, and seven, i.e. Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Kelita, Hanan, Pelaiah, among the Levites in chap. Nehemiah 10:9-14. Perhaps these seven were representative of Levitical houses, whose names they bore; if so, the remaining six mentioned here, whose names do not occur again, possibly represented branches of some other Levitical families mentioned under different collective names in chaps. 10 and 12. The LXX. here only gives the first three names.
Hodijah] R.V. Hodiah.
and the Levites] So the LXX. But 1 Esdr. οἱ Λευῖαι, Vulg. ‘Levitæ,’ omitting the copula which gives the better rendering. The ‘copula’ if the text is correct, must define the list of names just given in the sense of ‘even.’ The writer adds that they were Levites. The rendering ‘And the Levites’ in the sense of ‘And all the rest of the Levites’ would give a scene of confusion. For the use of the copula = ‘even,’ cf. Nehemiah 8:13. But very possibly the words have been interpolated.
caused the people … the law] i.e. they expounded what Ezra read. We must suppose that only short passages were read at a time.
stood in their place] Literally, ‘And the people were upon their standing.’ LXX. καὶ ὁ λαὸς ἐν τῇ στάσει αὐτοῦ. Cf. 2 Chronicles 30:16, ‘And they stood in their place,’ 2 Chronicles 35:10. It will be noticed that in this passage the Levites share with the priests the duty of instructing the people out of the Law; and we are led to infer that this was customary from the Chronicler’s statements in 2 Chronicles 15:3; 2 Chronicles 17:8-9; 2 Chronicles 35:3. In the Levitical law we only find the priests entrusted with this duty (Leviticus 10:10-11).
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.8. So they read] R.V. And they read. The account does not make it clear, whether the Levites were reading at the same time as Ezra, groups being gathered round the different readers, or whether, as we should rather infer, there was one reader who at the first was Ezra himself, and afterward chosen Levites who in succession took his place and relieved him.
distinctly] R.V. marg. ‘Or, with an interpretation’. On the word see note on Ezra 4:18. The rendering of the R.V. marg. is sometimes based on the erroneous supposition that the Jews had returned from Babylon speaking Chaldee or Aramaic, and that in consequence the Hebrew of ‘the Law’ had to be ‘interpreted’ in the sense of ‘translated.’ This would have been necessary in much later times. But in the time of Nehemiah, if we may judge from the writings of Nehemiah and Malachi, the people’s dialect had not yet undergone the change, which may have begun very soon afterwards. The common misapprehension of our verse arises from the erroneous impression that Chaldee was the language of the ‘Chaldeans’ spoken in Babylon and there acquired by the Jews. But in Babylon and Babylonia the spoken language was ‘Assyrian,’ another branch of the Semitic family. The ‘Chaldee’ of the Bible is the Aramaic or North Semitic dialect. See Introduction, and cf. note on Nehemiah 13:24.
The word in the original occurs in Numbers 15:34, ‘it had not been declared (i.e. made clear) what should be done unto him.’ The rendering ‘distinctly’ means with clearness and precision, for which careful study was required. Some understand ‘with an interpretation’ in the sense of ‘with exposition;’ while the possibility of this explanation may be admitted, it is open to the objection that it anticipates the substance of the clause which immediately follows.
distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand] R.V. distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood. Marg. as A.V. and caused, &c. The R.V. gives the right idea of the verse, which consists of two clauses, the one describing the clearness of the public reading, the other the parenthetic comment introduced for the sake of explaining the text.
‘gave the sense:’ a phrase occurring only here in the O.T. The clause ‘so that they understood’ is subordinate to, denoting the result of, the previous words ‘gave the sense.’
‘so that they understood the reading,’ so that they understood what was being read. The word for ‘the reading’ ‘hammiq’ra’ here used of the public reading, became in later times a technical Rabbinic word for ‘Scripture.’
The ancient versions treat the words as an independent clause, ‘And the people understood the reading,’ (LXX. καὶ συνῆκεν ὁ λαὸς ἐν τῇ ἀναγνώσει. Vulg. ‘et intellexerunt cum legeretur,’) which gives a good sense, but misses the interdependence of the two sentences. It is a mistake to suppose that the R.V. rendering of the two clauses is tautological. The Levites ‘gave the sense,’ not mechanically, but so that the people grasped its meaning.
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.9. Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha] R.V. N. which was &c. On the title here used see note on Ezra 2:63. Nehemiah in his own ‘Memoirs’ speaks of himself as ‘Pekhah’ (cf. Nehemiah 5:14-15; Nehemiah 5:18); and in consequence some (e.g. Smend) suggest that the title applied here and in Nehemiah 10:2 to Nehemiah, is a gloss. Others also (see note on Nehemiah 8:1) who refer the events described in this chapter to the year 457, consider Nehemiah’s name to be an interpolation. But the occurrence of the title is only evidence that we are no longer dealing with the writings of Nehemiah, who would have styled himself ‘Pekhah.’ The LXX. omits the title: the Vulg. gives Athersatha. The supposition that Nehemiah purposely eschews the honorific title ‘Tirshatha,’ and prefers a more lowly term ‘pekhah’ is based on an imaginary distinction between the words.
This day is holy] Both as a new-moon day and as the day on which the Law was read. See note on Nehemiah 8:2. It may be doubted whether Ezra could here be referring to ‘the Holy Convocation’ prescribed for the 1st of Tisri in Leviticus 23:24. There is no mention in this context either of the Feast of Trumpets on the 1st, or of the Day of Atonement on the 9th of Tisri.
mourn not, nor weep] The people had broken out into demonstrations of grief. As they listened to the words of the Law, they perceived in how many ways they had violated it. Compare the effect of hearing ‘the words of the book of the law’ upon Josiah, 2 Kings 22:11. It is clear the people generally were ignorant of the requirements of the Law. May we not infer that the priests had kept to themselves the contents of the collections of laws?
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.10. Then he said] Who issued the command, we are not told. Clearly either Nehemiah or Ezra. Some think Nehemiah because as governor he would be the person to issue authoritative directions. But more probably Ezra is intended; for (1) Ezra’s name is most conspicuous throughout this whole episode; cf. Nehemiah 8:5-6; (2) the language used is that of the teacher of the Law rather than that of the practical governor.
eat the fat, and drink the sweet] A proverbial expression, meaning that the occasion was not one of fasting and grief. LXX. φάγετε λιπάσματα καὶ πίετε γλυκάσματα. Vulg. ‘comedite pinguia et bibite mulsum.’
send portions &c.] Doubtless with the thought of remembering the poor and needy more especially, as according to the law of Deuteronomy 16:14, where the Feast of Tabernacles is described, ‘And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless and the widow that are within thy gates.’ But the allusion seems primarily to be to the custom of interchanging ‘portions’ on festal occasions, e.g. Esther 9:19, ‘a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions to one another,’ Esther 9:22, ‘days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor.’ Nabal’s churlishness was the violation of an almost sacred rule, 1 Samuel 25, cf. R. Smith, Relig. of Semites. For this custom of open-handed distribution on the occasion of great sacrificial feasts, cf. 1 Samuel 9:13; 2 Samuel 6:19; Ezekiel 39:17-20.
neither be ye sorry] R.V. grieved. LXX. μὴ διαπέσητε. Vulg. ‘no-lite contristari’. The R.V. gives the same rendering as in Nehemiah 8:11.
for the joy of the Lord is your strength] R.V. marg. ‘Or, stronghold’. This joy of the Lord is not the joy of the Lord over Israel; but Israel’s joy in her Lord. Israel’s joy at her great festivals is based on her confidence that the Lord ever protects her. Gladness in Him is in proportion to the faith in the protection which He gives. The English version is that of the Vulgate, ‘gaudium etenim Domini est fortitudo nostra.’ The LXX. ὅτι ἐστὶ κύριος ἰσχὺς ἡμῶν omitted to render the somewhat unusual word for ‘joy,’ which elsewhere occurs in 1 Chronicles 16:27, Ezra 6:16. The rendering ‘stronghold’ in the R.V. marg. gives the more common meaning, cf. Psalm 37:39, ‘He is their stronghold in the time of trouble.’ He that rejoices in Jehovah has a strong fortress from which he can repel all adversaries.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.11. Hold your peace] This expression has been compared with the Latin ‘Favete linguis.’ It was ill-omened to make use of words or signs of lamentation on a holy day, cf. Habakkuk 2:20, ‘The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him;’ Zephaniah 1:7, ‘Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord God: … for the Lord hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath sanctified his guests;’ Zechariah 2:13.
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.12. send portions] Cf. Nehemiah 8:10.
because they had understood the words that were declared unto them] Literally, ‘the words which they had declared unto them.’ The LXX. ἐγνώρισεν, Vulg. ‘docuerat’ make it probable that there was a reading ‘Which he had declared unto them.’ What are ‘the words’ here referred to? Some think that we should understand by them the command of Ezra and the Levites that the people should be joyful (Nehemiah 8:9-11). But this gives a very limited application, and we should then have expected some other verb like ‘obeyed’ or ‘gave heed to’ rather than ‘understood.’ It will be noticed that the word ‘understood’ is the same as that used in Nehemiah 8:8. This supplies the probable interpretation. The people sorrowed (Nehemiah 8:9) because they had not kept the Law: they now rejoiced because they were able to understand it.
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.13–18. The Feast of Tabernacles
13. the second day] i.e. of the month Tisri, cf. Nehemiah 8:2.
the chief of the fathers] R.V. the heads of the fathers’ houses. The leading men of the nation apply to Ezra for further instruction in ‘the law.’ It will be observed that ‘the priests and the Levites’ join in this application with the laymen. Are we to suppose that they too were ignorant of the full contents of ‘the law’? This is possible, if the contents of ‘the law’ had hitherto been chiefly known by oral tradition or by disconnected writings. If this had been the case and Ezra had made himself master of the complete continuous ‘law,’ we shall be able to understand the action of ‘the priests and Levites.’ From the subsequent verses (Nehemiah 8:14-15) it appears that Ezra supplied them not so much with profound interpretations of the Law as with statements relative to its contents and positive enactments.
even to understand] R.V. even to give attention to. The Hebrew word (l’haskîl) denotes intelligent consideration, as in Psalm 41:1, ‘Blessed is he that considereth the poor;’ Psalm 101:2, ‘I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way’ (marg. ‘give heed unto’); Daniel 9:13, ‘have discernment in thy truth.’ The copula, rendered ‘even,’ with the infinitive defines the action of the main verb, as in Isaiah 44:28, ‘shall perform all my pleasure: even saying (lit. and to say) of Jerusalem, She shall be built.’ This is better than supposing the infinitive to be used for the finite verb = ‘and they gave attention.’
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:14. And they found written] The passages in the Pentateuch relating to the Feast of Tabernacles are Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:39-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13; Deuteronomy 16:15. The reference here is to Leviticus 23 : and Deuteronomy 16. For ‘found,’ cf. Nehemiah 13:1; Luke 4:17.
which the Lord had commanded] R.V. how that the LORD had commanded. The A.V. along with the LXX. (ᾧ ἐνετείλατο) understood this first relative clause to be descriptive of ‘the law,’ as in Nehemiah 9:14, Nehemiah 10:30; and to this there would be no objection, if it were not followed by a second relative clause. The R.V. is probably right in making the second of the two relative clauses dependent upon the first, and the first dependent upon the main verb ‘they found’ (so also the Hebrew accents and the Vulgate).
that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month] Of the four passages in the Pentateuch quoted above, which refer to the Feast of Tabernacles, Exodus 23:16 calls it ‘the feast of ingathering’ and speaks indefinitely of its occurring ‘at the end of the year when thou gatherest in thy labours out of the field;’ Deuteronomy 16:13 calls it ‘the feast of tabernacles’ (Heb. booths) and enjoins its being kept ‘after that thou hast gathered in from thy threshing-floor and from thy winepress,’ but makes no mention of ‘dwelling in booths;’ Leviticus 23. speaks of ‘the feast of tabernacles’ (Heb. booths) being on the 15th day of the 7th month (Leviticus 23:34), ‘when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land’ (Leviticus 23:39), calls it ‘the feast of the Lord’ (Leviticus 23:39) and gives the command ‘ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are homeborn in Israel shall dwell in booths’ (Leviticus 23:42); Numbers 29:12 enjoins the keeping of ‘a feast unto the Lord’ on the 15th day of the 7th month, but does not refer to the dwelling in booths.
The reference therefore here is to Leviticus 23. The ‘feast of tabernacles’ was emphatically the feast of the 7th month: cf. Jdg 21:19; Jdg 21:21; (? 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 1:21); 1 Kings 8:2; 1 Kings 8:65, (Nehemiah 12:32-33); Isaiah 30:29; Hosea 12:9; Zechariah 14:16; Ezra 3:4. In the present passage the literal rendering would be ‘on the feast in the seventh month.’
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.15. and that they should publish and proclaim … saying] In Leviticus 23:1; Leviticus 23:4 the children of Israel are commanded to ‘proclaim the set feasts of the Lord.’ The actual words of this verse are nowhere to be found in the Pentateuch. But there is no reason on that account to suppose a corruption in the text, and to read as Houbigant, whom Rawlinson follows, ‘And when they heard it, they proclaimed &c.,’ a text for which only a slight emendation is necessary. The LXX. puts a full stop at ‘Jerusalem,’ and begins a new sentence, ‘And Ezra said, Go forth.’ The fact is that the writer only refers in a general way to the substance of the passage in Leviticus 23 relating to ‘the feast of tabernacles.’ The mention of ‘Jerusalem’ is alone sufficient to show the spirit of free adaptation in which the reference to ‘the law’ is made. Possibly Jerusalem is mentioned as embodying the Deuteronomic phrase ‘the place which the Lord shall choose’ in Deuteronomy 16:15.
the mount] i.e. the mountain region or hill country of Judah. Not to be restricted to the Mt of Olives.
pine branches] R.V. branches of wild olive. Cf. Isaiah 41:19, ‘the oil tree’ (Marg. Or, oleaster). Both the olive (ἐλαία) and the wild olive (ἀγριέλαιος) were conspicuous for their thick foliage; cf. Romans 11:17. For ‘palms’ near Jerusalem cf. Mark 11:8, and Jericho ‘the city of palms’ (Jdg 1:16; Jdg 3:13; 2 Chronicles 28:15).
as it is written] The reference is evidently to Leviticus 23:40, ‘And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook.’ But the quotation only agrees in the general sense. The only words which are found in both passages are ‘palm’ and ‘thick trees’ (Ezekiel 20:28). The ‘goodly trees’ (‘ec̣ hadar) possibly include ‘the branches of myrtle’ (‘eley hédas). The myrtle (cf. Isaiah 55:13; Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 1:10-11) is mentioned with ‘the wild olive’ in Isaiah 41:19.
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.16. So the people went forth] There were 13 days before the feast, in which to make preparations.
upon the roof of his house] For the use put to the flat roofs of houses in the East cf. Joshua 2:6; 1 Samuel 9:25 (Deuteronomy 22:8).
in their courts] Eastern houses were generally built in the form of a quadrangle.
in the courts of the house of God] This does not refer only to booths erected by priests and Levites; cf. 2 Chronicles 23:5. See Psalm 92:13; Psalm 106:19; Psalm 135:2. A possible allusion to the celebration of this feast ‘in the courts of the house of God’ is to be found in Isaiah 62:9.
the street] R.V. the broad place. In the ‘broad places’ Jews from the country could erect their booths.
the water gate] See note on Nehemiah 8:3.
the gate of Ephraim] Cf. Nehemiah 12:39; 2 Kings 14:13; 2 Chronicles 25:23. The gateway probably took its name from the road passing through it which led to Ephraimite territory. It is not mentioned in ch. 3., but see notes on Nehemiah 3:6-8.
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.17. that were come again out of the captivity] Compare for this expression Ezra 6:21, ‘the children of Israel, which were come again out of the captivity’ (haggôlah). Here the word for ‘captivity’ is sh’bhi with a possible play on the word for ‘that were come again’ (hasshâbim). The fullest description is given in the wording of Ezra 8:35.
since the days of Jeshua … done so] It is quite clear that the writer does not mean that the Feast of Tabernacles had never been celebrated ‘since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun’; but that the strict observance had not been carried out during all that long period. The emphasis therefore rests on ‘done so.’ See notes on Ezra 3:4, &c., where the celebration of this feast by Zerubbabel and Jeshua is described. We gather from Hosea 12:9, ‘I will yet again make thee to dwell in tents, as in the days of the solemn feast,’ that tents had been commonly substituted for booths. The character of this sentence may be illustrated by the very similar description of Josiah’s Passover, 2 Kings 23:22, ‘Surely there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah,’ 2 Chronicles 35:18.
‘Jeshua.’ The only passage in the O.T. where Joshua’s name is so spelt; except in the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua, his name is only mentioned in the O.T. in Jdg 1:1; Jdg 2:6-8; Jdg 2:21; Jdg 2:23; 1 Kings 16:34.
great gladness] This corresponds to the commands in Leviticus 23:40, ‘And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.’ Deuteronomy 16:14, ‘Thou shalt rejoice in thy feast;’ Deuteronomy 16:15, ‘And thou shalt be altogether joyful.’
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.18. he read] i.e. Ezra. This is the usual explanation, so also LXX. ἀνέγνω. Vulg. ‘legit.’ According to another interpretation the 3rd pers. sing. is impersonal = ‘and one read,’ ‘there was reading.’
in the book of the law of God] The command to read at the Feast of Tabernacles only applied to the special usage of the Sabbatic year (Deuteronomy 31:10-11), and it is clear from the context in that passage that Moses in using the words ‘thou shalt read this law’ (Deuteronomy 31:11) is speaking especially of the Deuteronomic law which he is described as having written and committed to the priests in Deuteronomy 31:9 and Deuteronomy 31:26. It is a mistake therefore to connect this reading of ‘the law’ by Ezra with any special obedience to Deuteronomy 31:10-11, unless it be assumed that it was the Sabbatic year, and that the law read was the Deuteronomic law. For neither assumption is there any sufficient warrant. The fact that the reading went on for seven days makes it probable that the whole, or at any rate by far the greater portion, of the Torah was read.
the eighth day] This eighth day was not originally part of the feast, but an extra day commanded by the Priestly Law to be observed as ‘an holy convocation’ (Leviticus 23:36; Leviticus 23:39). Its celebration closed, as it were, the festival calendar of the Jewish sacred year. We do not hear of its observance in early times. As we might expect, it is not mentioned in the brief festival notice of Exodus 23:16. In Deuteronomy 16:13-17 it is not spoken of, it is only said ‘Seven days shalt thou keep a feast.’ In 1 Kings 8:65-66, we are told that after the Feast of Tabernacles Solomon sent the people away on the 8th day. In the Priestly Law, however, the observance of this 8th day is insisted upon as ‘a holy convocation,’ ‘a solemn assembly,’ on which ‘no servile work’ is to be done, ‘the eighth day shall be a solemn rest’ (Leviticus 23:36; Leviticus 23:39). It is interesting, therefore, to take notice that in 2 Chronicles 7:8-9 the observance of this 8th day is recorded, although not mentioned in the parallel passage, 1 Kings 8:65-66. The Chronicler recounts the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in accordance with his knowledge of the Priestly Law. Our passage agrees with the later observance and with the Priestly Law. The complete disappearance of the originally distinct character of ‘the eighth day’ is shown in 2Ma 10:6 ‘eight days … as in the feast of tabernacles.’
a solemn assembly (Heb. a restrain assembly)] R.V. Marg. ‘Or, closing festival’. LXX. ἐξόδιον. Vulg. ‘collectam.’ The Hebrew word e’ câreth is used technically here and in Leviticus 23:36; Numbers 29:35; 2 Chronicles 7:9, for the day after the Feast of Tabernacles, and in Deuteronomy 16:8, for the 7th and last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. With an original sense of ‘shutting,’ ‘packing together,’ it is used of ‘public gatherings’ (Jeremiah 9:2), and sacred festivals (2 Kings 10:20; Isaiah 1:13; Joel 1:14; Amos 5:21), and, in post-Biblical Hebrew, especially of the Feast of Weeks.
the manner] R.V. the ordinance. According to the ordinance (mishpât. LXX. κρίμα. Vulg. ‘ritum’) of the Priestly Law (Leviticus 23:36). The emphasis of this appeal to authority is perhaps to be explained by the fact that in early times the 8th day had not been observed.