Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Nehemiah 7:73.—And when the seventh month came.—Here a new subject begins, as in Ezra, whom Nehemiah copies: adopting a sentence, just as Ezra adopted the last words of the Chronicles, and with similar slight changes.
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) As one man.—The unanimity rather than the number is emphatic here.
And they spake unto Ezra.—Who appears in this book for the first time, having probably been at the court for twelve years.
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) Both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding.—Men, women, and children who had reached years of discretion.
Upon the first day of the seventh month.—As the seventh was the most important month, in a religious sense, so the first day, the Feast of Trumpets, was the most important new moon (Leviticus 23:24).
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) From the morning.—From daylight. The Book of the Law must have been a comprehensive one. Out of it Ezra and his companions read hour after hour, selecting appropriate passages.
And the ears of all the people . . . unto the book.—A general statement; the detail now follows.
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) Pulpit of wood.—Literally, a tower of wood. Fourteen persons, however, were on what is afterwards called a platform, or stair, by his side.
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) And Ezra blessed the Lord.—The book was formally and solemnly opened in the sight of the people. At this request the multitude arose, and, after a doxology offered by Ezra, they all uttered a double Amen, “with lifting up of their hands,” in token of their most fervent assent; and then “with faces bowed to the ground,” in token of adoration.
The great God is Nehemiah’s expression, not Ezra’s; the sentence used is not reported.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.(8) Gave the sense.—They expounded obscurer passages, and in doing so naturally translated into the vernacular Aramaic dialect.
Caused them to understand the reading.—This simply explains the former: they expounded as they read.
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) Mourn not, nor weep.—The days of high festival were unsuitable for public and, as it were, objective sorrow. The Day of Atonement was coming for that; as also the special day of fasting and covenant, which was already in the plan of Nehemiah and Ezra.
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) For the joy of the Lord is your strength This beautiful sentence is, literally, delight in Jehovah is a strong refuge. It is capable of unlimited application in preaching and devotion.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.(11) So the Levites.—As before, what Ezra said was repeated to the people in various directions by the Levites. But there was evidently an almost irrepressible emotion.
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) They had understood.—They had caught the meaning of the command to rejoice.
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 chief of the fathers.—Not the vast multitude now, as the great feast was not yet.
Even to understand.—To consider, or give attention to: that is, to learn the full meaning of the almost forgotten festival. The dwelling in booths had fallen into disuse.
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) Saying.—There is no such command in Leviticus; the Septuagint inserts, “And Ezra spake.” But it is better to adopt Houbigant’s slight emendation of the text, which thus runs: “And when they heard it, they proclaimed,” &c. The command, then, is to go out to the Mount of Olives, and gather, not precisely the branches which the ancient law required, but such as circumstances allowed.
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) And in their courts.—Not only on the roofs, but in the internal courtyards.
Of the house of God.—The ministers of the Temple made these; and strangers to Jerusalem made them in the streets or open spaces near the gates.
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) The children of the captivity.—The pathos of this designation is evident here.
Done so.—Though the feast had been kept (1 Kings 8; Ezra 3), it had never thus been kept with universal dwelling in booths.
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) According unto the manner.—For the Azereth, or supplementary feast day, see Leviticus 23:36.