Nehemiah 13
Clarke's Commentary
The law is read, which commands that the Ammonite and Moabite should be separated from the congregation, on which they separate all the mixed multitude, Nehemiah 13:1-3. Eliashib the high priest having not only joined opinion with Sanballat, but being also allied to Tobiah the Ammonite, and having given him some of the chambers in the court of the house of God, Nehemiah 13:4, Nehemiah 13:5; Nehemiah casts out the goods of Tobiah, and purifies the chambers, Nehemiah 13:6-9. He rectifies several evils; and the people bring the tithes of all things to the treasuries, Nehemiah 13:10-12. He appoints treasurers, Nehemiah 13:13, Nehemiah 13:14; finds that the Sabbaths had been greatly profaned by buying and selling, and rectifies this abuse, Nehemiah 13:15-22; finds Jews that had married strange wives; against whom he testifies, and expels one of the priests who had married the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, Nehemiah 13:23-29. He cleanses them from all strangers, makes a final regulation, and prays for God's mercy to himself, Nehemiah 13:30, Nehemiah 13:31.

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;
On that day - I am quite of Calmet's mind that the transaction detailed in this chapter did not immediately succeed the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem. It is most likely that, when this dedication was ended, Nehemiah returned to Babylon, as himself particularly marks, Nehemiah 13:6, for he did return in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes; and then, after certain days, supposed to be about the term of one year, he got leave to return to Jerusalem to see how matters were conducted: and there he found the evils which he mentions in this chapter, and which he redressed in the manner himself describes. See the introduction to this book.

Should not come into the congregation - That is, Ye shall not form any kind of matrimonial alliance with them. This, and this alone, is the meaning of the law.

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.
Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.
They separated from Israel all the mixed multitude - They excluded all strange women, and all persons, young and old, who had been born of these illegal connections.

And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah:
Eliashib the priest - Perhaps this was a different person from Eliashib the high priest; but there is no indubitable evidence that he was not the same. If he was high priest, he was very unfaithful to the high charge which he had received; and a reproach to the priesthood. He had married his grandson to Sanballat's daughter: this produced a connection with Tobiah, the fast friend of Sanballat; in whose favor he polluted the house of God, giving him one of the chambers for his ordinary residence, which were appointed for the reception of the tithes, oblations, etc., that came to the house of God.

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.
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:
Was not I at Jerusalem - Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, and remained there till the thirty-second year, twelve years: then returned to Babylon, and staid one year; got leave to revisit his brethren; and found matters as stated in this chapter.

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.
And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.
I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah - He acted as Jesus Christ did when he found the courts of the Lord's house profaned: He overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of those who sold doves.

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.
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.
The portions of the Levites had not been given - Hence we find they were obliged to abandon the sacred service, and betake themselves to cultivate the land for their support. This was the fault of the rulers, who permitted all these abuses.

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.
Why is the house of God forsaken? - They had all solemnly promised, Nehemiah 10:39, that they would never forsake the house of their God; but, alas, how soon is this forgotten! Nehemiah used their own words here by way of reproof.

Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.
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.
They were counted faithful - They were reported to me as persons in whom I could confide; they had been steady in God's ways and work, while others had been careless and relaxed.

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.
Wipe not out my good deeds - If thou wert strict to mark what is done amiss, even my good deeds must be wiped out; but, Lord, remember me in thy mercy, and let my upright conduct be acceptable to thee!

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.
Treading wine-presses - The Sabbath appears to have been totally disregarded.

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.
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?
I contended with the nobles - These evils took place through their negligence; and this I proved before them.

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.
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.
When the gates - began to be dark - After sunset on Friday evening he caused the gates to be shut, and kept them shut all the Sabbath; and, as he could not trust the ordinary officers, he set some of his own servants to watch the gates, that no person might enter for the purpose of traffic.

So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.
So the merchants - lodged without Jerusalem - They exposed their wares for sale on the outside of the walls.

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.
I will lay hands on you - I will imprison every man of you. This had the desired effect; they came no more.

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.
Spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy - By some Nehemiah has been thought to deal with God too much on the principle of merit. That he wished God to remember him for good, is sufficiently evident; and who does not wish the same? But that he expected heaven because of his good deeds, does not appear. Indeed, the concluding clause of this verse proves the contrary, and shows that he expected nothing from God but through the greatness of his mercy. Shame on those who, with this evidence before them, brand this good man with the epithet of workmonger! a man who, in inward holiness, outward usefulness, and genuine love to God and man, was worth ten score of such self-called believers.

In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:
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.
Half in the speech of Ashdod - There were children in the same family by Jewish and Philistine mothers. As the Jewish mother would always speak to her children in Hebrew or Chaldee, so they learnt to speak these languages; and as the Ashdod mother would always speak to her children in the Ashdod language, so they learnt that tongue. Thus there were, in the same family, children who could not understand each other; half, or one part, speaking one language, and the other part another. Children of different wives did not ordinarily mingle together; and the wives had separate apartments. This is a better explanation than that which intimates that the same child spoke a jargon, half Ashdod and half Hebrew.

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.
I contended with them - Proved the fact against these iniquitous fathers, in a legal assembly.

And cursed them - Denounced the judgments of God and the sentence of the law upon them.

Smote certain of them - Had them punished by whipping.

And plucked off their hair - Had them shaven, as a mark of the greatest ignominy.

And made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give - Caused them to bind themselves by an oath, that they would make no intermarriages with those who were not of the seed of Israel.

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.
Did not Solomon - Have you not had an awful example before you? What a heavy curse did Solomon's conduct bring upon himself and upon the people, for a conduct such as yours?

Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?
Shall we then hearken unto you - If God spared not Solomon, who was so much beloved of Him, shall we spare you, who by your conduct are bringing down God's judgments upon Israel?

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.
One of the sons of Joiada - This was Manasseh, brother of Jaddua, son of Joiada, and grandson of Eliashib the high priest.

I chased him from me - Struck him off the list of the priests, and deemed him utterly unworthy of all connection and intercourse with truly religious people.

Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.
Because they have defiled the priesthood - God, therefore, will remember their iniquities against them, and punish them for their transgressions. These words of Nehemiah are to be understood declaratively.

Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;
And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.
For the wood-offering - This was a most necessary regulation: without it the temple service could not have gone forward; and therefore Nehemiah mentions this as one of the most important services he had rendered to his nation. See Nehemiah 10:34.

Remember me, O my God, for good - This has precisely the same meaning with, O my God, have mercy upon me! and thus alone it should be understood.

Of Nehemiah the Jews speak as one of the greatest men of their nation. His concern for his country, manifested by such unequivocal marks, entitles him to the character of the first patriot that ever lived. In the course of the Divine providence, he was a captive in Babylon; but there his excellences were so apparent, that he was chosen by the Persian king to fill an office the most respectable and the most confidential in the whole court. Here he lived in ease and affluence; he lacked no manner of thing that was good; and here he might have continued to live, in the same affluence and in the same confidence: but he could enjoy neither, so long as his people were distressed, the sepulchres of his fathers trodden under foot, the altars of his God overturned, and his worship either totally neglected or corrupted. He sought the peace of Jerusalem; he prayed to God for it; and was willing to sacrifice wealth, ease, and safety, and even life itself, if he might be the instrument of restoring the desolations of Israel. And God, who saw the desire of his heart, and knew the excellences with which he had endowed him, granted his request, and gave him the high honor of restoring the desolated city of his ancestors, and the pure worship of their God. On this account he has been considered by several as an expressive type of Jesus Christ, and many parallels have been shown in their lives and conduct.

I have already, in several notes, vindicated him from all mercenary and interested views, as well as from all false notions of religion, grounded on human merit. For disinterestedness, philanthropy, patriotism, prudence, courage, zeal, humanity, and every virtue that constitutes a great mind, and proves a soul in deep communion with God, Nehemiah will ever stand conspicuous among the greatest men of the Jewish nation, and an exemplar worthy to be copied by the first patriots in every nation under heaven.

It has already been observed that, in the Jewish canon, Ezra and Nehemiah make but one book; and that both have been attributed, but without reason, to the same author: hence the Syriac version ends with this colophon - The end of the book of Ezra, the scribe, in which are contained two thousand three hundred and sixty-one verses.

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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