Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The Book of Nehemiah
1. Contents, Division, and Object of the Book of Nehemia
This book, according to its title, contains נחמיה דּברי, and in it Nehemiah relates, almost always in the first person, his journey to Jerusalem, and the work which he there effected. נחמיה דּברי, used as the title of a work, signifies not narratives, but deeds and experiences, and consequently here the history of Nehemiah. Apart from the contents of the book, this title might, in conformity with the twofold meaning of דברים, verba and res, designate both the words or discourses and the acts or undertakings of Nehemiah. But דּברי means words, discourses, only in the titles of prophetical or didactic books, i.e., writings of men whose vocation was the announcement of the word: comp. e.g., Jeremiah 1:1; Hosea 1:1, and others. In historical writings, on the contrary, the דּברי of the men whose lives and acts are described, are their deeds and experiences: thus דויד דּברי, 1 Chronicles 29:29; שׁלמה דּברי, written שׁלמה דּברי ספר על 1 Kings 11:41, comp. 2 Chronicles 9:29, - the history of David, of Solomon; ירבעם דּברי, 1 Kings 14:19, the acts of Jeroboam, which are more exactly defined by the addition אשׁר נלחם ועשׁר מלך. So, too, in the case of the other kings, when reference is made to historical works concerning their reigns. It is in this sense that the title of the present book must be understood; and hence both Luther and de Wette have correctly translated it: the history of Nehemiah. Hence the title only testifies to the fact, that the work at the head of which it stands treats of the things, i.e., of the acts, of Nehemiah, and the events that happened to him, without stating anything concerning its author. That Nehemiah was himself the historian of his own deeds, appears only from the circumstance that the narrative is written in the first person.
The contents of the book are as follows: Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah, a Jew, of whom nothing further is known, and cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus, is plunged into deep affliction by the account he receives from his brother Hanani, and certain other men from Judah, of the sad condition of those who had returned from Babylon, and especially of the state of the ruined walls and gates of Jerusalem. He entreats with fervent supplications the mercy of God (Nehemiah 1:1-11), and shortly after seizes a favourable opportunity to request the king to send him to Judah to build the city of his fathers' sepulchres, and to give him letters to the governors on the other side of Euphrates, that they may provide him with wood for building from the royal forests. This petition being graciously acceded to by the monarch, he travels, accompanied by captains of forces and horsemen, to Jerusalem, and soon after his arrival rides by night round the city, accompanied by some few companions, to ascertain the state of the walls. He then communicates to the rulers of the people his resolution to build and restore the walls, and invites them to undertake this work with him (Nehemiah 2). Then follows in Nehemiah 3 a list of the individuals and families who built the several portions of the wall with their gates; and in Nehemiah 4:1-6:19, an account of the difficulties Nehemiah had to overcome in the prosecution of the work, viz.: (1) the attempts of the enemies of the Jews forcibly to oppose and hinder the building, by reason of which the builders were obliged to work with weapons in their hands (4:1-4:17); (2) the oppression of the poorer members of the community by wealthy usurers, which Nehemiah put a stop to by seriously reproving their injustice, and by his own great unselfishness (Nehemiah 5); and (3) the plots made against his life by his enemies, which he frustrated by the courageous faith with which he encountered them. Thus the building of the wall was, notwithstanding all these difficulties, brought to a successful termination (Nehemiah 6). - This work accomplished, Nehemiah directed his efforts towards securing the city against hostile attacks by appointing watches at the gates (Nehemiah 7:1-3, and increasing the numbers of the dwellers in Jerusalem; in pursuance of which design, he assembled the nobles and people for the purpose of enrolling their names according to their genealogy (Nehemiah 7:4-5). While occupied with this matter, he found a list of those houses of Judah that had returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua; and this he gives, Nehemiah 7:6-73. Then, on the approach of the seventh month of the year, the people assembled at Jerusalem to hear the public reading of the law by Ezra, to keep the new moon and the feast of this month, and, after the celebration of the feast of tabernacles, to observe a day of prayer and fasting, on which occasion the Levites making confession of sin in the name of the congregation, they renewed their covenant with God by entering into an oath to keep the law. This covenant being committed to writing, was sealed by Nehemiah as governor, by the chiefs of the priests, of the Levites, and of the houses of the people, and the contributions for the support of the worship of God and its ministers arranged (Nehemiah 8-10). The decision arrived at concerning the increase of the inhabitants of Jerusalem was next carried into execution, one of every ten dwellers in the provinces being chosen by lot to go to Jerusalem and dwell there (Nehemiah 11:1-2). Then follow lists, (1) of the houses and races who dwelt in Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah and Benjamin (11:3-36); (2) of the priestly and Levitical families who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua, and of the heads of priestly and Levitical families in the days of Joiakim the high priest, Nehemiah, and Ezra (Nehemiah 12:1-26). These are succeeded by an account of the solemn dedication of the walls (Nehemiah 12:27-43). Then, finally, after some general remarks on certain institutions of divine worship, and an account of a public reading of the law (Nehemiah 12:44-13:3), the book concludes with a brief narration of what Nehemiah effected during his second sojourn there, after his journey to the court in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, and his return for the purpose of putting a stop to certain illegal acts which had prevailed during his absence, such as marriages with heathen women, non-payment of tithes and dues to Levites, desecration of the Sabbath by field-labour, and by buying and selling (Nehemiah 13:4-31).
According to what has been stated, this book may be divided into three sections. The first, chs. 1-6, treats of the building of the walls and gates of Jerusalem through the instrumentality of Nehemiah; the narrative concerning the occasion of his journey, and the account of the journey itself (Nehemiah 1:1-2:10), forming the introduction. The second, chs. 7-12:43, furnishes a description of the further efforts of Nehemiah to increase and ensure the prosperity of the community in Judah and Jerusalem, first, by securing Jerusalem from hostile attacks; then, by seeking to increase the population of the city; and, lastly, by endeavouring to bring the domestic and civil life of the people into conformity with the precepts of the law, and thus to furnish the necessary moral and religious basis for the due development of the covenant people. The third, Nehemiah 12:44-13:31, states how Nehemiah, during his second sojourn at Jerusalem, continued these efforts for the purpose of ensuring the permanence of the reform which had been undertaken.
The aim of Nehemiah's proceedings was to place the civil prosperity of the Israelites, now returned from exile to the land of their fathers, on a firm basis. Briefly to describe what he effected, at one time by direct personal effort, at another in conjunction with his contemporary Ezra the priest and scribe, is the object of his record. As Nehemiah's efforts for the civil welfare of his people as the congregation of the Lord were but a continuation of those by which Zerubbabel the prince, Joshua the high priest, and Ezra the scribe had effected the foundation of the community of returned exiles, so too does his book form the continuation and completion of that of Ezra, and may in this respect be regarded as its second part. It is, moreover, not merely similar in kind, to the book of Ezra, especially with regard to the insertion of historical and statistical lists and genealogical registries, but has also the same historical object, viz., to show how the people of Israel, after their return from the Babylonian captivity, were by the instrumentality of Nehemiah fully re-established in the land of promise as the congregation of the Lord.
2. Integrity of the Book of Nehemiah, and Date of Its Composition
Nehemiah gives his account of the greater part of his labours for the good of his fellow-countrymen in the first person; and this form of narrative is not only uniformly maintained throughout the first six chapters (from Nehemiah 1:1-7:5), but also recurs in Nehemiah 12:27-43, and from Nehemiah 13:6 to the end. The formula too: Think upon me, my God, etc., peculiar to Nehemiah, is repeated Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 6:14; Nehemiah 13:14, Nehemiah 13:22, Nehemiah 13:29, Nehemiah 13:31. Hence not only has the composition of the larger portion of this book been universally admitted to be the work of Nehemiah, but the integrity of its first section (Nehemiah 1-6) has been generally acknowledged. On the composition and authorship of the second section, 7:73b-12:26, on the contrary, the verdict of modern criticism is almost unanimous in pronouncing it not to have been the work of Nehemiah, but composed from various older documents and records by the compiler of the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah - the so-called chronicler who lived a hundred years later - and by him interpolated in "the record of Nehemiah." This view has been chiefly based upon the facts, that in chs. 8-10 the style is different; that Nehemiah himself is not the prominent person, Ezra occupying the foreground, and Nehemiah being merely the subject of a passing remark (Nehemiah 8:9 and Nehemiah 10:2); that there is in Nehemiah 8:14 no reference to Ezra 3:4 with respect to the feast of tabernacles; and that Ezra 3:1 is in verbal accordance with Nehemiah 8:1 (Bertheau, Comm. p. 11, and de Wette-Schrader, Einl. in das A. T. 236). Of these reasons, the first (the dissimilarity of style) is an assertion arising from a superficial examination of these chapters, and in support of which nothing further is adduced than that, instead of Elohim, and especially the God of heaven, elsewhere current with Nehemiah when speaking of God, the names Jehovah, Adonai, and Elohim are in this section used promiscuously. In fact, however, the name Elohim is chiefly used even in these chapters, and Jahve but seldom; while in the prayer Nehemiah 9 especially, such other appellations of God occur as Nehemiah, with the solemnity befitting the language of supplication, uses also in the prayer in Nehemiah 1:1-11.
(Note: Compare the exact statement of the case in my Lehrbuch, 149, note 4, which opponents have ignored, because nothing in the way of facts can be brought against it.)
The other three reasons are indeed correct, in so far as they are actual facts, but they prove nothing. It is true that in Nehemiah 8-10 Nehemiah personally occupies a less prominent position than Ezra, but this is because the actions therein related, viz., the public reading of the law, and the direction of the sacred festivals, belonged not to the office of Nehemiah the Tirshatha and royal governor, but to that, of Ezra the scribe, and to the priests and Levites. Even here, however, Nehemiah, as the royal Tirshatha, stands at the head of the assembled people, encourages them in conjunction with Ezra and the priests, and is the first, as praecipuum membrum ecclesiae (Nehemiah 10:2), to seal the document of the covenant just concluded. Again, though it is certain that in the description of the feast of tabernacles, Ezra 8:14., there is no express allusion to its former celebration under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Ezra 3:4, yet such allusions are unusual with biblical writers in general. This is shown, e.g., by a comparison of 2 Chronicles 35:1, 2 Chronicles 35:18 with 2 Chronicles 30:1, 2 Chronicles 30:13-26; and yet it has never struck any critic that an argument against the single authorship of 2 Chr. ight be found in the fact that no allusion to the earlier passover held under Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 30, is made in the description of the passover under Josiah, 2 Chronicles 35. Finally, the verbal coincidence of Nehemiah 8:1 (properly Nehemiah 7:73 and Nehemiah 8:1) with Ezra 3:1 amounts to the statement that "when the seventh month was come, all Israel gathered out of their cities as one man to Jerusalem." All else is totally different; the assembly in Nehemiah 8 pursues entirely different objects and undertakes entirely different matters from that in Ezra 3:1-13. The peculiarities, moreover, of Nehemiah's style could as little appear in what is narrated, chs. 8-10, as in his description of the building of the wall, Nehemiah 3, or in the list of the families who returned from captivity with Zerubbabel and Joshua, Nehemiah 7 - portions which no one has yet seriously objected to as integral parts of the book of Nehemiah. The same remark applies to the list of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the province, 11:3-36, which even Bertheau and Schrader admit to have originated from the record of Nehemiah, or to have been composed by Nehemiah. If, however, Nehemiah composed these lists, or incorporated them in his record, why should it not also be himself, and not the "subsequent chronicler," who inserted in his work the lists of priests and Levites, 12:1-26, when the description of the dedication of the wall which immediately follows them is evidently his own composition?
One reason for maintaining that these lists of priests and Levites are of later origin than the times of Nehemiah is said to be, that they extend to Jaddua the high priest, who was contemporary with Alexander the Great. If this assertion were as certain as it is confidently brought forward, then indeed these lists might well be regarded as a subsequent interpolation in the book of Nehemiah. For Nehemiah, who was at least thirty years of age when he first came to Jerusalem, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, i.e., b.c. 445, could hardly have lived to witness the overthrow of the Persian monarchy by Alexander, b.c. 330; or, even if he did attain the age of 145, would not have postponed the writing of his book to the last years of his life. When, however, we consider somewhat more closely the priests and Levites in question, we shall perceive that Nehemiah 12:1-9 contains a list of the chiefs of the priests and Levites who returned from captivity with Zerubbabel and Joshua, which consequently descends from the times before Nehemiah; Nehemiah 12:12-21, a list of the heads of the priestly houses in the days of the high priest Joiakim, the son of Joshua; and Nehemiah 12:24, Nehemiah 12:25, a list of the heads of chiefs of Levi (of the Levites), with the closing remark, Nehemiah 12:26 : "These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Joshua, and in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra," Now the high priest Joiakim, the son of Joshua, the contemporary of Zerubbabel, was the predecessor and father of the high priest Eliashib, the contemporary of Nehemiah. Consequently both these lists descend from the time previous to Nehemiah's arrival at Jerusalem; and the mention of Ezra and Nehemiah along with Joiakim proves nothing more than that the chiefs of the Levites mentioned in the last list were still living in the days of Nehemiah. Thus these three lists contain absolutely nothing which reaches to a period subsequent to Nehemiah. Between the first and second, however, there stands (Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:11) the genealogical notice: Joshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim begat Eliashib, Eliashib begat Jonathan (correct reading, Johanan), and Jonathan begat Jaddua; and between the second and third it is said, Nehemiah 12:22 : With respect to the Levites, in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, the heads of houses are recorded, and the priests under the reign of Darius the Persian; and Nehemiah 12:23 : With respect to the sons of Levi, the heads of houses are recorded in the book of the Chronicles even to the days of Johanan. From these verses (Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:11, and Nehemiah 12:22, Nehemiah 12:23) it is inferred that the lists descend to the time of the high-priesthood of Jaddua, the contemporary of Alexander the Great. To this we reply, that viewing the circumstance that Eliashib was high priest in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 13:4, Nehemiah 13:7), it cannot be an absolute objection that Jaddua was still living in the days of Alexander the Great, since from the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, i.e., from b.c. 433, to the destruction of the Persian empire b.c. 330, there are only 103 years, a period for which three high priests, each exercising his office thirty-five years, would suffice. But on the other hand, it is very questionable whether in Nehemiah 12:11 and Nehemiah 12:12 Jaddua is mentioned as the officiating high priest, or only as the son of Johanan, and grandson of Joiada the high priest. The former of these views receives no corroboration from Nehemiah 12:11, for there nothing else is given but the genealogy of the high-priestly line. Nor can it any more be proved from Nehemiah 12:22 that the words, "in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, were the Levites recorded or enrolled," are to be understood of four different lists made under four successive high priests. The most natural sense of the words, on the contrary, is that one enrollment took place in the days of these four individuals of the high-priestly house. If Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua were all alive at the same time, this, the most natural view, must also be the correct one, because in each of the other lists of the same chapter, the times of only one high priest are mentioned, and at the close of the list, Nehemiah 12:26, it is expressly stated that the (previously enrolled) Levites were chiefs in the days of Joiakim, Ezra, and Nehemiah. It is not, moreover, difficult to prove that Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua were living contemporaneously. For Eliashib, whom Nehemiah found high priest at his arrival at Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:1), being the grandson of Joshua, who returned from Babylon in the year 536 with Zerubbabel, would in 445 be anything but a young man. Indeed, he must then have been about seventy-five years old. Moreover, it appears from Joshua 13:4 and Joshua 13:7, that in 433, when Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes, he was still in office, though on Nehemiah's return he was no longer alive, and that he therefore died soon after 433, at the age of about ninety. If, however, this was his age when he died, his son Joiada might then be already sixty-three, his grandson Johanan thirty-six, his great-grandson Jaddua nine, if each were respectively born in the twenty-seventh year of his father's lifetime.
(Note: If Jaddua were on the death of his great-great-grandfather (between 433 and 430 b.c.) about ten years old, he might also live to witness the appearance of Alexander the Great before Jerusalem, 330 b.c. (mentioned by Josephus, Ant. xi. 8. 4), since he would then have attained the age of 110, which does not seem incredible, when it is considered that Jehoiada, the high priest in the reign of Joash, was 130 when he died (2 Chronicles 24:15).)
The view (of Nehemiah 12:11, Nehemiah 12:12, and Nehemiah 12:22) just stated, is confirmed both by Nehemiah 12:22 and Nehemiah 12:23, and by Nehemiah 13:28. According to Nehemiah 13:22, the chiefs or heads of the priestly houses were enrolled under the government of Darius the Persian. Now there is no doubt that this Darius is Darius Nothus, the successor of Artaxerxes Longimanus, who reigned from 424 to 404. The notion that Darius Codomanus is intended, rests upon the mistaken view that in Nehemiah 13:11 Jaddua is mentioned as the high priest already in office. According to Nehemiah 13:23, the heads of the houses of the Levites were enrolled in the book of the Chronicles even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. The days of Johanan - that is, the period of his high-priesthood - are here named as the latest date to which the author of this book extends the genealogical lists of the Levites. And this well agrees with the information, Nehemiah 13:18, that during Nehemiah's absence at Jerusalem, one of the sons of Joiada the high priest allied himself by marriage with Sanballat the Horonite, i.e., married one of his daughters, and was driven away by Nehemiah. If Joiada had even in the days of Nehemiah a married son, Johanan the first-born son of Joiada, the presumptive successor to the high-priesthood, might well have been at that time so long a married man as to have already witnessed the birth of his son Jaddua.
To complete our proof that the contents of Nehemiah 12 do not extend to a period subsequent to Nehemiah, we have still to discuss the question, how long he held office in Judaea, and when he wrote the book in which he relates what he there effected. Both these questions can be answered with sufficient accuracy for our purpose, though the exact year cannot be named. Concerning the time he held office in Jerusalem, he only remarks in his book that he was governor from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, and that in the thirty-second year of that monarch he again returned to the court, and afterwards, ימים לקץ, came back to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 5:14, and Nehemiah 13:6). The term ימים לקץ is very indefinite; but the interpretation, "at the end of the year," is incorrect and unsupported. It is quite evident, from the irregularities and transgressions of the law which occurred in the community during his absence from Jerusalem, that Nehemiah must have remained longer than a year at the court, and, indeed, that he did not return for some years. Besides the withholding of the dues to the Levites (Nehemiah 13:10.) and the desecration of the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15.), - transgressions of the law which might have occurred soon after Nehemiah's departure, - Eliashib had not only the priest fitted up a chamber in the fore-court of the temple as a dwelling for his connection Tobiah (Nehemiah 13:4), but Jews had also married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab, and had children by them who spake not the Jews' language, but only that of Ashdod, in the interval (Nehemiah 13:23). These facts presuppose an absence of several years on the part of Nehemiah, even if many of these unlawful marriages had been previously contracted, and only came to his knowledge after his return. - Neither are there adequate grounds for the notion that Nehemiah 54ed but a short time after his return to Jerusalem. The suppression of these infringements of the law, which is narrated Nehemiah 13:7-31, might, indeed, have been accomplished in a few months; but we are by no means justified in inferring that this was the last of his labours for the welfare of his fellow-countrymen, and that his own life terminated soon after, because he relates nothing more than his procedure against these transgressions. After the removal of these irregularities, and the re-establishment of legal order in divine worship and social life, he might have lived for a long period at Jerusalem without effecting anything, the record of which it might be important to hand down to posterity. If we suppose him to have been from thirty-five to forty years of age when, being cupbearer to Artaxerxes, he was sent at his own request, in the twentieth year of that monarch's reign (445 b.c.), as governor to Judah, he might well have exercised his office in Judah and Jerusalem from thirty-five to forty years, including his journey back to the court in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, i.e., till 405 b.c. This would make him live till the nineteenth year of Darius Nothus, and not die till he was from seventy-five to eighty years of age. If we further suppose that he composed this book some ten years before his death, i.e., thirty years after his first arrival at Jerusalem, when he had, as far as lay in his power, arranged the affairs of Judah, it would then be possible for him to relate and describe all that is contained in the canonical book of Nehemiah. For in the year 415 b.c., i.e., in the ninth year of Darius Nothus, genealogical lists of priests and Levites of the time of Joiakim the high priest, reaching down to the days of Johanan the son (grandson) of Eliashib, and of the time of the reign of Darius Nothus, might already be written in the book of the Chronicles, as mentioned Nehemiah 12:23, compared with Nehemiah 12:22 and Nehemiah 12:26. Then, too, the high priest Joiada might already have been dead, his son Johanan have succeeded to the office, and Jaddua, the son of the latter, have already attained the age of twenty-five. - This book would consequently contain no historical information and no single remark which Nehemiah might not himself have written. Hence the contents of the book itself furnish not the slightest opposition to the view that the whole was the work of Nehemiah.
When, however, we turn our attention to its form, that unity of character to which modern criticism attaches so much importance seems to be wanting in the second half. We have, however, already remarked that neither the lack of prominence given to the person of Nehemiah, nor the circumstance that he is in these chapters spoken of in the third person, furnish incontestable arguments against the integrity of this book. For in the section concerning the dedication of the wall, Nehemiah 12:27-43, Nehemiah's authorship of which no critic has as yet impugned, he only brings himself forward (Nehemiah 12:31 and Nehemiah 12:38) when mentioning what he had himself appointed and done, while the rest of the narrative is not in the communicative form of speech: we sought the Levites, we offered, etc., which he employs in the account of the making of a covenant, but in the objective form: they sought the Levites, they offered, etc. (Nehemiah 12:27 and Nehemiah 12:43). The want of connection between the several sections seems to us far more striking. Chs. 8-10 form, indeed, a connected section, the commencement of which (Nehemiah 7:73) by the circumstantial clause, "when the children of Israel dwelt in their cities," combines it, even by a repetition of the very form of words, which the preceding list; but the commencement of Nehemiah 11 is somewhat abrupt, while between Nehemiah 12:11 and Nehemiah 12:12 and between Nehemiah 12:26 and Nehemiah 12:27 of Nehemiah 12 there is nothing to mark the connection. This gives the sections, chs. 8-10 and 12:1-26, the appearance of being subsequent interpolations or insertions in Nehemiah's record; and there is thus much of real foundation for this appearance, that this book is not a continuous narrative or description of Nehemiah's proceedings in Judah, - historical, topographical, and genealogical lists, which interrupt the thread of the history, being inserted in it. But it by no means follows, that because such is the nature of the book, the inserted portions must therefore have been the subsequent interpolations of another hand, in the record composed by Nehemiah. This inference of modern criticism is based upon an erroneous conception of the nature and intention of this book, which is first of all regarded, if not as a biography or diary of Nehemiah, yet as a "record," in which is noted down only the most important facts concerning his journey to Jerusalem and his proceedings there. For this preconception, neither the canonical book of Nehemiah, nor a comparison of those sections which are universally admitted to be his, furnish any adequate support. For with regard, first, to these sections, it is obvious from Nehemiah 5:14, where Nehemiah during the building of the wall reproaches the usurers, saying, "From the time that I was appointed to be governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth to the two-and-thirtieth year of Artaxerxes, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor," that Nehemiah wrote the account of his labours in Judah from memory after the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes. When we compare with this the manner in which he speaks quite incidentally (Nehemiah 13:6.) of his absence from Jerusalem and his journey to the court, in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, and connects the account of the chamber vacated for Tobiah in the fore-court of the temple (Nehemiah 13:4) with the previous narrative of the public reading of the law and the severance of the strangers from Israel by the formula מזּה ולפני, "and before this," making it appear as though this public reading of the law and severance of strangers had followed his return from the court; and further, consider that the public reading of the law mentioned, Nehemiah 13:1, is combined with the section, Nehemiah 12:44, and this section again (Nehemiah 12:44) with the account of the dedication of the wall by the formula, "at that time;" it is undoubtedly obvious that Nehemiah did not write his whole work till the evening of his days, and after he had accomplished all that was most important in the labours he undertook for Jerusalem and his fellow-countrymen, and that he makes no decided distinction between his labours during his second sojourn at Jerusalem and those of his former stay of twelve years.
If, then, these circumstances indisputably show that the work composed by Nehemiah himself did not bear the form of a diary, the admission into it of the list of those who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua (Nehemiah 7:6-73) makes it manifest that it was not his intention to give an unbroken narrative, of his efforts and their results in Jerusalem. This list, moreover, which he found when occupied with his plan for increasing the population of Jerusalem, is shown by the words, "I found therein written," to have been admitted by himself into his work, and inserted in his account of what God had put it into his heart to do with respect to the peopling of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 7:5), and of the manner in which he had carried out his resolution (Nehemiah 11:1-2), as a valuable document with respect to the history of the community, although the continuous thread of the narrative was broken by the interpolation. From his admission of this list, we may infer that he also incorporated other not less important documents, such as the lists of the priests and Levites, Nehemiah 12:1-26, in his book, without troubling himself about the continuous progress of the historical narrative, because it was his purpose not merely to portray his own labours in Jerusalem, but to describe the development and circumstances of the reinstated community under his own and Ezra's leadership.
(Note: "Nehmie," remarks Ed. Barde in his Etude critique et exegetique, p. 48, "n'crit pas sa biographie: son but est l'histoire de la restauration de Jrusalem et du culte, pour montrer l'accomplissement des promesses de Dieu.")
This being the case, there can be no reason whatever for denying Nehemiah's authorship of the account of the religious solemnities in chs. 8-10, especially as the communicative form in which the narrative is written, bears witness that one of the leaders of that assembly of the people composed this account of it, and the expression, "we will not forsake the house of our God," with which it closes (Nehemiah 10:39), is a form of speech peculiar to Nehemiah, and repeated by him Nehemiah 13:11. Such considerations seem to us to do away with any doubts which may have been raised as to the integrity of the whole book, and the authorship of Nehemiah.
For the exegetical literature, see my Lehrb. p. 460. Comp. also Ed. Barde, Nhmie tude critique et exegetique, Tbing. 1861, and Bertheau's Commentary already quoted, p. 18.
I. Nehemiah's Journey to Jerusalem, and the Restoration of the Walls of Jerusalem - Nehemiah 1:1
Nehemiah, cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, is plunged into deep affliction by the account which he receives from certain individuals from Judah of the sad condition of his countrymen who had returned to Jerusalem and Judah. He prays with fasting to the Lord for mercy (Nehemiah 1:1-11), and on a favourable opportunity entreats the king and queen for permission to make a journey to Jerusalem, and for the necessary authority to repair its ruined walls. His request being granted, he travels as governor to Jerusalem, provided with letters from the king, and escorted by captains of the army and horsemen (Nehemiah 2:1-10). Soon after his arrival, he surveys the condition of the walls and gates, summons the rulers of the people and the priests to set about building the wall, and in spite of the obstacles he encounters from the enemies of the Jews, accomplishes this work (2:11-6:19). In describing the manner in which the building of the walls was carried on, he first enumerates in succession (3) the individuals and companies engaged in restoring the walls surrounding the city (3), and then relates the obstacles and difficulties encountered (4:1-6:19).
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,In the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah, being then at Susa, received from one of his brethren, and other individuals from Judah, information which deeply grieved him, concerning the sad condition of the captive who had returned to the land of their fathers, and the state of Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1:1 contains the title of the whole book: the History of Nehemiah. By the addition "son of Hachaliah," Nehemiah is distinguished from others of the same name (e.g., from Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, Nehemiah 3:16). Another Nehemiah, too, returned from captivity with Zerubbabel, Ezra 2:2. Of Hachaliah we know nothing further, his name occurring but once more, Nehemiah 10:2, in conjunction, as here, with that of Nehemiah. Eusebius and Jerome assert that Nehemiah was of the tribe of Judah, - a statement which may be correct, but is unsupported by any evidence from the Old Testament. According to Nehemiah 1:11, he was cup-bearer to the Persian king, and was, at his own request, appointed for some time Pecha, i.e., governor, of Judah. Comp. Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 12:26, and Nehemiah 8:9; Nehemiah 10:2. "In the month Chisleu of the twentieth year I was in the citadel of Susa" - such is the manner in which Nehemiah commences the narrative of his labours for Jerusalem. Chisleu is the ninth month of the year, answering to our December. Comp. Zechariah 7:1, 1 Macc. 4:52. The twentieth year is, according to Nehemiah 2:1, the twentieth year of Artaxerxes Longimanus. On the citadel of Susa, see further details in the remarks on Daniel 8:2. Susa was the capital of the province Susiana, and its citadel, called by the Greeks Memnoneion, was strongly fortified. The kings of Persia were accustomed to reside here during some months of the year.
That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.There came to Nehemiah Hanani, one of his brethren, and certain men from Judah. מאחי אחד, one of my brethren, might mean merely a relation of Nehemiah, אחים being often used of more distant relations; but since Nehemiah calls Hanani אחי in Nehemiah 7:10, it is evident that his own brother is meant. "And I asked them concerning the Jews, and concerning Jerusalem." היּהוּדים is further defined by וגו הפּליטה, who had escaped, who were left from the captivity; those who had returned to Judah are intended, as contrasted with those who still remained in heathen, lands. In the answer, Nehemiah 1:3, they are more precisely designated as being "there in the province (of Judah)." With respect to המּדינה, see remarks on Ezra 2:1. They are said to be "in great affliction (רעה) and in reproach." Their affliction is more nearly defined by the accessory clause which follows: and the wall equals because the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates burned with fire. מפרצת, Pual (the intensive form), broken down, does not necessarily mean that the whole wall was destroyed, but only portions, as appears from the subsequent description of the building of the wall, Nehemiah 3.
And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,This description of the state of the returned captives plunged Nehemiah into such deep affliction, that he passed some days in mourning, fasting, and prayer. Opinions are divided with respect to the historical relation of the facts mentioned Nehemiah 1:3. Some older expositors thought that Hanani could not have spoken of the destruction of the walls and gates of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, because this was already sufficiently known to Nehemiah, but of some recent demolition on the part of Samaritans and other hostile neighbours of the Jews; in opposition to which, Rambach simply replies that we are told nothing of a restoration of the wall of Jerusalem by Zerubbabel and Ezra. More recently Ewald (Geschichte, iv. p. 137f.) has endeavoured to show, from certain psalms which he transposes to post-Babylonian times, the probability of a destruction of the rebuilt wall, but gives a decided negative to the question, whether this took place during the thirteen years between the arrivals of Ezra and Nehemiah. "For," says he, "there is not in the whole of Nehemiah's record the most distant hint that the walls had been destroyed only a short time since; but, on the contrary, this destruction was already so remote an event, that its occasion and authors were no longer spoken of." Vaihinger (Theol. Stud. und Krit., 1857, p. 88, comp. 1854, p. 124f.) and Bertheau are of opinion that it indisputably follows from Nehemiah 1:3-4, as appearances show, that the walls of Jerusalem were actually rebuilt and the gates set up before the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, and that the destruction of this laborious work, which occasioned the sending of an embassy to the Persian court, was of quite recent occurrence, since otherwise Nehemiah would not have been so painfully affected by it. But even the very opposite opinion held concerning the impression made upon the reader by these verses, shows that appearances are deceitful, and the view that the destruction of the walls and gates was of quite recent occurrence is not implied by the words themselves, but only inserted in them by expositors. There is no kind of historical evidence that the walls of Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Chaldeans were once more rebuilt before Nehemiah's arrival.
The documents given by Ezra 4:8-22, which are in this instance appealed to, so far from proving the fact, rather bear testimony against it. The counsellor Rehum and the scribe Shimshai, in their letter to Artaxerxes, accuse indeed the Jews of building a rebellious and bad city, of restoring its walls and digging its foundations (Ezra 4:12); but they only give the king to understand that if this city be built and its walls restored, the king will no longer have a portion on this side the river (Ezra 4:16), and hasten to Jerusalem, as soon as they receive the king's decision, to hinder the Jews by force and power (Ezra 4:23). Now, even if this accusation were quite well founded, nothing further can be inferred from it than that the Jews had begun to restore the walls, but were hindered in the midst of their undertaking. Nothing is said in these documents either of a rebuilding, i.e., a complete restoration, of the walls and setting up of the gates, or of breaking down the walls and burning the gates. It cannot be said that to build a wall means the same as pulling down a wall already built. Nor is anything said in Nehemiah 1:3 and Nehemiah 1:4 of a recent demolition. The assertion, too, that the destruction of this laborious work was the occasion of the mission of Hanani and certain men of Judah to the Persian court (Vaihinger), is entirely without scriptural support. In Nehemiah 1:2 and Nehemiah 1:3 it is merely said that Hanani and his companions came from Judah to Nehemiah, and that Nehemiah questioned them concerning the condition of the Jews in the province of Judah, and concerning Jerusalem, and that they answered: The Jews there are in great affliction and reproach, for the wall of Jerusalem is broken down (מפרצת is a participle expressing the state, not the praeter. or perfect, which would be found here if a destruction recently effected were spoken of). Nehemiah, too, in Nehemiah 2:3 and Nehemiah 2:17, only says: The city of my fathers' sepulchres (Jerusalem) lieth desolate (חרבה is an adjective), not: has been desolated. Nor can a visit on the part of Jews from Judah to their compatriot and relative, the king's cup-bearer, be called a mission to the Persian court. - With respect also to the deep affliction of Nehemiah, upon which Bertheau lays so much stress, it by no means proves that he had received a terrible account of some fresh calamity which had but just befallen the community at Jerusalem, and whose whole extent was as yet unknown to him. Nehemiah had not as yet been to Jerusalem, and could not from his own experience know the state of affairs in Judah and Jerusalem; hence he questioned the newly arrived visitors, not concerning the latest occurrences, but as to the general condition of the returned captives. The fact of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldees could not, of course, be unknown to him; but neither could he be ignorant that now ninety years since a great number of captives had returned to their homes with Zerubbabel and settled in Judah and Jerusalem, and that seventy years since the temple at Jerusalem had been rebuilt. Judging from these facts, he might not have imagined that the state of affairs in Judah and Jerusalem was so bad as it really was. When, then, he now learnt that those who had returned to Judah were in great affliction, that the walls of the town were still lying in ruins and its gates burned, and that it was therefore exposed defenceless to all the insults of hostile neighbours, even this information might well grieve him. It is also probable that it was through Hanani and his companions that he first learnt of the inimical epistle of the royal officials Rehum and Shimshai to Artaxerxes, and of the answer sent thereto by that monarch and thus became for the first time aware of the magnitude of his fellow-countrymen's difficulties. Such intelligence might well be such a shock to him as to cause the amount of distress described Nehemiah 1:4. For even if he indulged the hope that the king might repeal the decree by which the rebuilding of the wall had been prohibited till further orders, he could not but perceive how difficult it would be effectually to remedy the grievous state in which his countrymen who had returned to the land of their fathers found themselves, while the disposition of their neighbours towards them was thus hostile. This state was indeed sufficiently distressing to cause deep pain to one who had a heart alive to the welfare of his nation, and there is no need for inventing new "calamities," of which history knows nothing, to account for the sorrow of Nehemiah. Finally, the circumstance that the destruction of the walls and burning of the gates are alone mentioned as proofs of the affliction and reproach which the returned exiles were suffering, arises simply from an intention to hint at the remedy about to be described in the narrative which follows, by bringing this special kind of reproach prominently forward.
And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:Nehemiah's prayer, as given in these verses, comprises the prayers which he prayed day and night, during the period of his mourning and fasting (Nehemiah 1:4 comp. Nehemiah 1:6), to his faithful and covenant God, to obtain mercy for his people, and the divine blessing upon his project for their assistance.
The invocation of Jahve as: Thou God of heaven, alludes to God's almighty government of the world, and the further predicates of God, to His covenant faithfulness. "Thou great and terrible God" recalls Deuteronomy 7:21, and "who keepest covenant and mercy," etc., Deuteronomy 7:9 and Exodus 20:5-6.
Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned."Let Thine ear be attentive, and Thine eyes open," like 2 Chronicles 6:40; 2 Chronicles 7:15 - לשׁמע, that Thou mayest hearken to the prayer of Thy servant, which I pray, and how I confess concerning ... מתדּה still depends upon אשׁר in the sense of: and what I confess concerning the sins. היּום does not here mean to-day, but now, at this time, as the addition "day and night" compared with ימים in Nehemiah 1:4 shows. To strengthen the communicative form לך חטאנוּ, and to acknowledge before God how deeply penetrated he was by the feeling of his own sin and guilt, he adds: and I and my father's house have sinned.
We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.We have dealt very corruptly against Thee. חבל is the inf. constr. instead of the infin. abs., which, before the finite verb, and by reason of its close connection therewith, becomes the infin. constr., like אהיה היות, Psalm 50:21; comp. Ewald, 240, c. The dealing corruptly against God consists in not having kept the commandments, statutes, and judgments of the law.
Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:With his confession of grievous transgression, Nehemiah combines the petition that the Lord would be mindful of His word declared by Moses, that if His people, whom He had scattered among the heathen for their sins, should turn to Him and keep His commandments, He would gather them from all places where He had scattered them, and bring them back to the place which He had chosen to place His name there. This word (הדּבר) he designates, as that which God had commanded to His servant Moses, inasmuch as it formed a part of that covenant law which was prescribed to the Israelites as their rule of life. The matter of this word is introduced by לאמר: ye transgress, I will scatter; i.e., if ye transgress by revolting from me, I will scatter you among the nations, - and ye turn to me and keep my commandments (i.e., if ye turn to me and ... ), if there were of you cast out to the end of heaven (i.e., to the most distant regions where the end of heaven touches the earth), thence will I gather you, etc. נדּח, pat. Niphal, with a collective meaning, cast-out ones, like Deuteronomy 30:4. These words are no verbal quotation, but a free summary, in which Nehemiah had Deuteronomy 30:1-5 chiefly in view, of what God had proclaimed in the law of Moses concerning the dispersion of His people among the heathen if they sinned against Him, and of their return to the land of their fathers if they repented and turned to Him. The clause: if the cast-out ones were at the end of heaven, etc., stands verbally in Nehemiah 1:4. The last words, Nehemiah 1:9, "(I will bring them) to the place which I have chosen, that my name may dwell there," are a special application of the general promise of the law to the present case. Jerusalem is meant, where the Lord caused His name to dwell in the temple; comp. Deuteronomy 12:11. The entreaty to remember this word and to fulfil it, seems ill adapted to existing circumstances, for a portion of the people were already brought back to Jerusalem; and Nehemiah's immediate purpose was to pray, not for the return of those still sojourning among the heathen, but for the removal of the affliction and reproach resting on those who were now at Jerusalem. Still less appropriate seems the citation of the words: If ye transgress, I will scatter you among the nations. It must, however, be remembered that Nehemiah is not so much invoking the divine compassion as the righteousness and faithfulness of a covenant God, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy (Nehemiah 1:5). Now this, God had shown Himself to be, by fulfilling the threats of His law that He would scatter His faithless and transgressing people among the nations. Thus His fulfilment of this one side of the covenant strengthened the hope that God would also keep His other covenant word to His people who turned to Him, viz., that He would bring them again to the land of their fathers, to the place of His gracious presence. Hence the reference to the dispersion of the nation among the heathen, forms the actual substructure for the request that so much of the promise as yet remained unfulfilled might come to pass. Nehemiah, moreover, views this promise in the full depth of its import, as securing to Israel not merely an external return to their native land, but their restoration as a community, in the midst of whom the Lord had His dwelling, and manifested Himself as the defence and refuge of His people. To the re-establishment of this covenant relation very much was still wanting. Those who had returned from captivity had indeed settled in the land of their fathers; and the temple in which they might worship God with sacrifices, according to the law, was rebuilt at Jerusalem. But notwithstanding all this, Jerusalem, with its ruined walls and burned gates, was still like a city lying waste, and exposed to attacks of all kinds; while the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were loaded with shame and contempt by their heathen neighbours. In this sense, Jerusalem was not yet restored, and the community dwelling therein not yet brought to the place where the name of the Lord dwelt. In this respect, the promise that Jahve would again manifest Himself to His repentant people as the God of the covenant was still unfulfilled, and the petition that He would gather His people to the place which He had chosen to put His name there, i.e., to manifest Himself according to His nature, as testified in His covenant (Exodus 34:6-7), quite justifiable. In Nehemiah 1:10 Nehemiah supports his petition by the words: And these (now dwelling in Judah and Jerusalem) are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou hast redeemed, etc. His servants who worship Him in His temple, His people whom He has redeemed from Egypt by His great power and by His strong arm, God cannot leave in affliction and reproach. The words: "redeemed with great power" ... are reminiscences from Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26, Deuteronomy 9:29, and other passages in the Pentateuch, and refer to the deliverance from Egypt.
But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.The prayer closes with the reiterated entreaty that God would hearken to the prayer of His servant (i.e., Nehemiah), and to the prayer of His servants who delight to fear His name (יראה, infin. like Deuteronomy 4:10 and elsewhere), i.e., of all Israelites who, like Nehemiah, prayed to God to redeem Israel from all his troubles. For himself in particular, Nehemiah also request: "Prosper Thy servant to-day (היּום like Nehemiah 1:6; לעבדּך may be either the accusative of the person, like 2 Chronicles 26:5, or the dative: Prosper his design unto Thy servant, like Nehemiah 2:20), and give him to mercy (i.e., cause him to find mercy; comp. 1 Kings 8:50; Psalm 106:46) before the face of this man." What man he means is explained by the following supplementary remark, "And I was cup-bearer to the king," without whose favour and permission Nehemiah could not have carried his project into execution (as related in Nehemiah 2).