Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
1On that day [of dedication] they read [it was read] in the book of Moses in the audience [ears] of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; 2because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but [and] hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit [and] our God turned the 3curse into a blessing. Now [And] it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.
[events of 12 years’ later date]
4And before this, [in the face of this], Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of [being set over] the chamber [chambers] of the house of our God was allied unto Tobiah: 5And he had prepared [and he 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 6the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. But [and] 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 [at the end of days] obtained I leave of the king: 7And 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. 8And it grieved me sore: therefore [and] I cast forth 9all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then [and] I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat-offerings and the frankincense. 10And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for [and] the Levites and the 11singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then [and] contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them [i. e, the Levites and singers] together, and set them in their place. 12Then brought all Judah [And all Judah brought] the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. 13And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them [at their hand] was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was [and it was upon them] to distribute unto their brethren. 14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds [kindnesses] that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof. 15In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also [and besides] wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought [and bringing them] into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. 16There dwelt men of Tyre also therein [And the Tyrians dwelt therein], which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto 17the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then [And] I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet [and] ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. 19And it came to pass that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark [were shaded] before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut [and the gates were shut], and charged [commanded] that they should not be opened till after the sabbath, and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there 20should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So [and] the merchants and 21sellers of all kinds of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or [and] twice. Then [and] I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about [before] the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. 22And 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 [pity] me according to the greatness [abundance] of thy mercy.
23In those days saw I also [the] Jews that had married [carried to dwell with them] wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: 24and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod (and could not speak [were not acquainted with speaking] in the Jews’ language), but [and] according to the language [tongue] of each people [of people and people]. 25And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain [men] of them, and plucked off [tore out] 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. 26Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin by these things? yet [and] among many nations was there no king like him, who [and he] was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish [foreign] women cause to sin. 27Shall we then [and shall we] hearken unto you to do [hear that ye do] all this great evil, to transgress 28against our God in marrying [carrying to dwell with us] strange wives? And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high-priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite; therefore [and] I chased him from me. 29Remember them, O God, because they have defiled [on account of the defilings of] the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. 30Thus cleansed I [And I cleansed] 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 first-fruits. Remember me, O God, for good.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 [Nehemiah 13:6. נִשְׁאַלְתִּי. The lexicographers interpret this Niphal as Kal. But both here and in 1 Sam. 20:6, 28 (the only places where the Niph. occurs), the meaning “to receive permission” seems to be necessary. It would be a quasi passive of the Kal meaning.
2 Nehemiah 13:19. אֲשֶׁר omitted before לֹא־יָבוֹא.
3 Nehemiah 13:22. שֹׁמְרִים. Wav omitted. Yet we may read “come as keepers of the gates.”
4 Nehemiah 13:24. וּבְנֵיהֶם stands absolutely, for מְדַבֵּר being singular takes חֲצִי as its nominative.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Nehemiah 13:1. On that day,i.e. the day of dedication of the walls, as in 12:43, 44.
The part of the law which forbade mingling with the other nations was specially read on the dedication-day. Deut. 23:3 would naturally be read, as also Deut. 7:1–6. The reference to the former passage here uses the words adh olam (forever), which are not found alone in Deuteronomy. There it reads: “Even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever,“ where the “forever” seems to signify the perpetuity of this ordinance, and not the perpetuity of their exclusion. It is quoted here in brief, without any design to change the meaning. No Moabite or Ammonite family could be admitted to the privileges of Jewry until in the tenth generation after quitting heathenism and formally allying itself with Israel.
Nehemiah 13:2. The reference to Deut. 23:3–5 continues through this verse, the passage being condensed throughout. In the Heb. we have the singular, he hired (i.e. Balak) as in Deut. 23:4.
Nehemiah 13:3. The result of this reading was a careful exclusion of the mixed multitude (erev) from Israel. This was a different act from that of the 24th of Tisri. Then Israel separated itself from the strangers. Now they separate the erev from Israel. The former was a withdrawal; this an expulsion. For erev, see Ex. 12:38.
Nehemiah’s Reform Movement on his Return to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 13:4. Before this.—This should be “in the presence of this” (in conspectu ejus), with the circumstantial and not the temporal signification of liphne mizzeh. For Eliashib’s evil conduct occurred while Nehemiah was away on his visit to Susa in Artaxerxes’ thirty-second year, and not before the dedication-day. The meaning is, that Eliashib, the high-priest, notwithstanding all this reform wrought by Nehemiah in Artaxerxes’ twentieth year, in the face of it all, dared, twelve years after, when Nehemiah was far away, to introduce Tobiah into the courts of the temple.
Nehemiah closes his record with a brief sketch of a new reform movement which he had to make twelve years later, owing to a long absence from Jerusalem at the Persian Court, in which time evil men had sought to undo his former work.
Between Nehemiah 13:3 and Nehemiah 13:4 we have therefore a gap of twelve years in the chronology.
We have no reason to suppose that Eliashib allied himself with Tobiah or (through his grandson) with Sanballat until this season of Nehemiah’s absence, when Eliashib may have supposed that he would never return.
Nehemiah in all probability did not write this book of his doings at Jerusalem till late in life, when his second visit to Jerusalem was a thing of the past, as well as his first visit.
Eliashib, the priest (i.e. the high-priest), having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God.—The participle is being set over (as in the margin). The “chamber” (lishcah) is used collectively for the “chambers.” As high-priest, he would have control of all the various buildings in the temple-courts where the treasures of corn, oil and wine were preserved.
Was allied to Tobiah.—In what way we know not. Karov letoviyyah. A predicate adjective after so long a sentence, not in apposition (“being allied”), but as in E. V. a distinct assertion (“was allied”). A new fact is stated, and we are led to believe that this alliance marked a fearful period of falling away, after Nehemiah had turned his back. If it had existed before, we should have had mention made of it.
Nehemiah 13:5. A second fact in the miserable business. The high-priest prepared for Tobiah a great chamber, probably by knocking many into one (see Nehemiah 13:9), in which Tobiah resided when at Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 13:8). This desecration Eliashib may have defended on the score of Tobiah being by blood a Jew (see on Nehemiah 2:10), and the necessity of keeping on good terms with the influential men of the surrounding provinces.
These chambers had held all the unbloody sacrificial offerings and the tithes.
The Levites are distinguished from the singers and porters, although the singers and porters were Levites. So, on the other hand, the Levites are distinguished from the priests, although the priests were Levites. The Levites, as here designated, were those engaged in the more immediate sacrificial services, in attendance on the priests.
Nehemiah 13:6. In the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes, king of Babylon,i.e. in B. C. 434–3. Probably the “time set” by Nehemiah and approved by the king (Nehemiah 2:6) was twelve years. At the expiration of this term he was obliged to leave the superintendence of affairs at Jerusalem and return to the court. Artaxerxes is called “king of Babylon,” instead of “king of Persia,” probably because at this time of Nehemiah’s return the court was removed to Babylon for some special state reason.
After certain days.—Lit. at the end of days, a very general expression, and may here mean several years.
Obtained I leave, to wit, to return to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 13:8. This decided action shows that Nehemiah returned with full powers from the Court.
Nehemiah 13:9. The chambers. See on Nehemiah 13:5. The tithes are omitted in the enumeration, because, as we see by the next verse, the people had ceased paying tithes, and hence there were none to put in the store-chambers.
Nehemiah 13:10. For the Levites,etc.,were fled. Rather: and the Levites, etc., were fled. They fled to their own fields to work for their living, because their tithes were withheld. Their own fields were those belonging to the Levitical cities.—The singers, that did the work, is a pregnant phrase for “the singers and porters who performed service.”
Nehemiah 13:11. The rulers (seganim). The Pers. word does not necessarily refer to rulers set over the people by the Persians, although it may include such, but extends to all who might exercise authority by birth, election or otherwise. The Pers. word is used as a familiar term for magistrates.
Set them in their place.—That is, put the Levites back into their positions.
Nehemiah 13:12. Unto the treasuries (or storehouses). Or for stores.
Nehemiah 13:13. I made treasurers.—The Hiphil of Atzar, “to store.” Lit.: “I caused to store over the store-houses.” That is: “I placed men over the store-houses, whom I caused to store the stores in them.”
Shelemiah.—See Nehemiah 3:30.
Zadok.—See Nehemiah 3:29.
Pedaiah.—See Nehemiah 3:26 and Nehemiah 8:4.
Next to them.—Lit. at their hand, as their assistant.
Nehemiah 13:14. This prayer is not one of self-glorification, but of faith in God’s truth. A man who knows he is doing right in the sight of God can say so to God without presumption. It is a testimony of God’s grace, and he can rejoice in it.
Nehemiah 13:15. In those days of my return to Jerusalem. The Sabbath had become desecrated in Nehemiah’s absence, so that in some cases the works of the farm were wrought on that day, and produce brought to Jerusalem, and there sold on the Sabbath.
Nehemiah 13:16. Tyrian traders in fish and other products were plying their trade in the city on the Sabbath.
Nehemiah 13:17. The nobles (horim), not the “rulers” of Nehemiah 13:11, but the higher classes generally.
Nehemiah 13:18. See Jer. 17:20–27.
Nehemiah 13:19. When the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath.—This seems to show that the day among the Jews did not begin at sunset. For here after sunset when it began to be dark, it was before the Sabbath. Only a special Sabbath was counted from the evening before. See Lev. 23:32.
Nehemiah 13:20. The merchants, or traffickers.—On arriving with their wares, according to their wont, they find the gates shut, and are obliged to pass the night outside the walls until the Sabbath is over.
Nehemiah 13:21. When this hint was not enough, Nehemiah sends them word that if they make their appearance again before the gates on the Sabbath to lodge there, they will be arrested. This broke up the evil.
Nehemiah 13:22. Cleanse themselves, as for a holy service, and so guard the Sabbath by guarding the gates. For the prayer, see on Nehemiah 13:14.
Nehemiah 13:23. In those days of my return from Jerusalem. As at Nehemiah 13:15.
Jews that had married.—With the article, the Jews that had married. As the children’s speech was affected, these Jews must have lived on the outskirts of the Jewish province near the Philistines, Ammonites and Moabites. For children will always know the prevailing language of a district. Ashdod seems to stand for all Philistia, at this time probably the most conspicuous Philistine town.
Nehemiah 13:24. And could not speak in the Jews’ language.—A parenthetical phrase.—The succeeding “but” should be “and.”—Of each people,i.e. Ammon and Moab.
Nehemiah 13:25. Here is described the action not of a private man in his ungovernable rage, but of a public officer in the faithful use of his power. Notice the word contended. In Nehemiah 13:11 Nehemiah contends with the rulers regarding the neglect of the tithes; in Nehemiah 13:17, he contends with the nobles regarding the profanation of the Sabbath, and here he contends with the Jews who had married heathen wives for this open disregard of the law.
Nehemiah 13:26. Beloved of his God.—Comp. 2 Sam. 12:24. This does not imply saving grace on God’s part or holiness on Solomon’s part. It only denotes special favor and privilege. Compare Mark 10:21.
Outlandish,i. e foreign.
Nehemiah 13:27. Shall we then hearken unto you to do,etc. (welakhem hanishma laasoth).—Lit.: And for you is it heard to do, etc., i.e. “do we hear that you do all this great evil?”
Although it is not stated expressly, it is implied in Nehemiah 13:30, that Nehemiah insisted on a separation from the “outlandish” wives, as did Ezra many years before (Ezra 10:3).
Nehemiah 13:28. Finding that Eliashib’s grandson had married Sanballat’s daughter, Nehemiah makes a public example of so glaring a case of defiance to the law, for here the special sanctity of the priesthood was desecrated (Lev. 21:6–8).
I chased him from me (abrihehu me alai). Lit.: “I made him flee from off me.” Nehemiah forced him to leave Jerusalem, and be no longer a burden to his government.
Nehemiah 13:29. The covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites was, first, the general covenant with the tribes as Israel’s teachers and God’s special servants (Deut. 33:8–11), and, second the special covenant of priesthood (Lev. 21:6–8).
Nehemiah 13:30. Thus cleansed I them from all strangers—The irregularities regarding tithes, the Sabbath, and the marriages were all attributable to connection with strangers. When this was stopped, the careful ordering of the priestly and Levitical work was made easy, which had all been disarranged and much neglected in Nehemiah’s absence.
Nehemiah 13:31. The wood-offering (see on Nehemiah 10:34) and the first-fruits are mentioned for all the offerings, as those most apt to be neglected.
Remember me, O my God, for good.—See on Nehemiah 13:14.
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. The severe exclusion of the Moabite and Ammonite was an enacted token against sin. Even these blood relations of Israel were to be kept away as polluted, because they showed no sympathy with Israel, and made a deliberate and vile attempt to plunge Israel into sin. A permanent horror was to be erected between Israel and these monsters of iniquity. The key to many of the stern Mosaic statutes is to be found in the necessity of holding up the heinousness of sin, which men are ever ready to make light of. (See the exegetical commentary for an explanation of this statute.)
2. The lapse of Israel on Nehemiah’s return to Persia throws into clear light the immense work which Nehemiah had wrought, and the remarkable power of the man. His influence had worked the reform and had upheld it, and when his presence was removed the structure at once began to crack and crumble. A generation later Malachi lamented over the spiritual waste that Judah presented. Great as Nehemiah was, he could not make healthy the diseased body of Jewry. He could only, by the force of his character, rouse the people to a decent semblance of righteousness. And yet, while he was powerless to renew the nation, we may believe that his influence ran down private channels in families and humble houses to the very time of the Messiah; making green lines of spiritual growth amid the arid desert of Judaism.
3. Ezra had effected a reform a dozen years before Nehemiah came to Judah. He had separated the Jews from the heathen people, and in this reform had forced the highest in the land to dissolve their wicked matrimonial alliances. The book of Ezra concludes with this statement. When Nehemiah arrived there was a new separation from strangers effected. (Nehemiah 9:2.) Whether the mingling with the heathen had again amounted to marriage alliances we may not say. It may have only involved mercantile partnerships. A dozen years later again on Nehemiah’s second visit, there is a necessity for a most stern application of Nehemiah’s personal and official power to cure the same old evil, which seems to have been bolder than ever.
4. There are times when good men must assume great severity of manner and allow a holy indignation to fire their souls. Gentleness of style before barefaced villany is weakness and inefficiency. Had Nehemiah acted with a soft and effeminate method, the offenders would have laughed at him. God loves to guide with His eye, but sometimes He uses the thunderbolt.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Nehemiah 13:1–3. The duty of the church to purify itself constantly anew. 1. In regard to those with whom they assimilate themselves; in the Old Testament, in regard to the Ammonites, etc., not on account of their nationality, but on account of their ways; in the church, in regard to those who not only go astray, but also who will not allow themselves to be bettered, and who thus exclude themselves. 2. Whereon it grounds itself; not only on the right of self-preservation, but also upon God’s word. 3. What it aims at; namely, that the church set forth more and more what it should be as Christ’s spotless bride.
STARKE: One cannot read or preach God’s Word too often, for one always finds something which one had not noticed or known before.
What God has commanded one must perform, even though it may seem hard to us, and we may draw upon us the enmity of others in its performance.
Nehemiah 13:4–9. The sanctity of holy places. 1. That upon which it is grounded; in the Old Testament, upon the fact that God had connected His peculiar presence with the temple; in the Christian dispensation, upon the fact that God’s honor dwells in the churches, that is, is cherished there. 2. What it binds us to; to uphold the churches in a condition corresponding to their aim, or where they are lacking to restore them in a worthy manner. 3. What blessing it has for us; it reminds us of the holiness, the majesty and the glory of our God, and fosters our regard therefor; it works frequently by elevating and edifying, whereas an unworthy desecration of churches only promotes the crudity from which it has sprung. BEDE: Et tu quidquid inter fideles infidelitatis et immunditiœ reperis continuo projice foras, ut immundatis credentium cordibus, quœ sunt gazophylacia Domini, cum virtutum fuerint plena divitiis, vasa Domini inferantur; hoc est, illa ipsa corda quœ paullo ante vasa erroris fuerant per culpam denuo vasa Domini fiant per correctionem; ibiqua sacrificium bonœ operationis et thus purœ orationis, ubi pridem spelunca erat latronum, inveniatur.
Nehemiah 13:30, 31. The retrospect of a servant of God upon his life and his usefulness. 1. It elevates him, because God’s grace was with him, and made him worthy to engage in the cause of God and the salvation of mankind. 2. It humbles him, because he was so unworthy of this grace, and moreover because he has fallen so far short of what he might have been able to accomplish through its means. 3. It drives him to prayer, that God would also be merciful to him at the last for Christ’s sake, whose righteousness is also his.
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;