Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
1AND 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. 2And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding [that understood in hearing] upon the first day of the seventh month. 3And he read therein before the street that was before the water-gate from the morning until midday [from the light until half of the day], before the men and the women, and those that could understand [and the understanding]; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. 4And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit [tower] of wood, which they had made for that 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. 5And Ezra opened the book in the sight [to the eyes] of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, 7and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also [and] Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand 8the law: and the people stood in their place. So [And] they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. 9And 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 10wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then [And] he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat [fat things], and drink the sweet [sweet things], and send portions unto them [him] for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto 11our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. So [And] the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. 12And 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. 13And 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 [consider] the words of the law. 14And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by [by the hand of] Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month; 15and that they should publish and proclaim [cause the voice to be heard and to pass] in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine [oil-tree] branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick [thick-leaved] trees, to make booths, as it is 16written. So [And] the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house [upon his roof], and in their courts, and in the street [square] of the water-gate, and in the street [square] of the gate of Ephraim. 17And 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 18very great gladness. Also [And] 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 [statute].
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Nehemiah 8:6. וַיִּקְדוּ וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ. This frequent combination, the former verb being never without the latter, indicates the two steps of the movement: “they stooped and bowed down.” The verbs שָׁהַח ,שָׁחָה and שׁוּחַ are stronger than קָדַד.
2 Nehemiah 8:7. The Hiphil of בִּין is used in Nehemiah 8:7, 8, 9, with the true Hiphil force; but in Nehemiah 8:2, 3, 12, it has the Kal sense.
3 Nehemiah 8:10. לְאֵיין נָכוֹן לוֹ for לַאֲשֶׁר אֵין נָכוֹן לוֹ, by suppression of the relative, which is far harsher than the Eng suppression of the antecedent, e.g. “Honor to whom honor is due.” Comp. 1 Chron. 15:12.
4 Nehemiah 8:17. Notice the alliterative use of the three roots יָשַׁב ,שָׁבָה and שׁוּב.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
The Instruction of the People
Nehemiah 8:1. Street.—Rather “square” or plaza.The water-gate, according to our view (see on Nehemiah 3:26 and 12:37), was an inner gate connected both with the temple and with the subterranean water galleries of Ophel, by which there seems to have been a large open square for public assemblies. (See Excursus). Ezra the scribe,Ezra hassopher. In the next verse it is Ezra the priest,Ezra hakkohen. This is the first mention of Ezra in the book of Nehemiah. He had come to Jerusalem thirteen years previously, with about three thousand returning Jews (1754 males), holding a commission from Artaxerxes to appoint magistrates in Judæa. He had forced the Jews to separate from their heathen wives, and had then probably returned to Persia, as we find the Jews had relapsed into their former condition. As we do not meet with his name in Nehemiah till now, it is probable he followed Nehemiah to Judea to assist him in another movement of reform.
Nehemiah 8:2. All that could hear with understanding—Lit., All that understood in hearing, i.e., those old enough to understand. The first day of the seventh month.—This was a special “Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.” (Lev. 23:24). A specific offering was appointed for that day, beside the burnt-offering of the month. (Numb. 29:1–6).
Nehemiah 8:3. From morning.—Lit., from the light, i.e., from daylight or an hour as early as was available. The reading must have occupied at least six hours. About one-quarter of the Pentateuch might be read in that time.
Nehemiah 8:4. Pulpit.—Probably the same that is called stairs in Nehemiah 9:4. The word here is strictly tower and there ascent. It was doubtless a very high platform so as to overlook a large crowd. (Comp. Nehemiah 8:5). Anaiah.—See Nehemiah 10:22. Urijah.—See Nehemiah 3:4. Hilkiah.—Not the Hilkiah of 12:7. He lived in Zerubbabel’s day. Maaseiah.—See 12:41. Malchiah.—See 10:3. Zechariah.—See 12:41. Meshullam.—See 10:7. All these named as standing with Ezra may have been priests. If so, the Anaiah of Nehemiah 10:22 must be a different one from this one here named. As far as we can trace the other names, they appear to be priests.
Nehemiah 8:7. Jeshua.—See Nehemiah 10:9. Bani.—See Nehemiah 10:13. Sherebiah.—See Nehemiah 10:12. Jamin.—Perhaps the Benjamin of Nehemiah 3:23. Akkub.—See Nehemiah 12:19. Shabbethai.—See Nehemiah 11:16. Hodijah.—See Nehemiah 10:10. Maaseiah.—Probably not the Maaseiah of Nehemiah 8:4, or of Nehemiah 10:25, or of Nehemiah 11:5, but possibly the Maaseiah of Nehemiah 3:23. Kelita.—See Nehemiah 10:10. Azariah.—Perhaps the priest mentioned Nehemiah 10:2. Jozabad.—See Nehemiah 11:16. Hanan. See Nehemiah 10:10. Pelaiah.—See Nehemiah 10:10. And the Levites,i.e., and other Levites, for the thirteen mentioned were Levites. These Levites seem to have read after Ezra and to have explained it to different parts of the crowd, while the Amens, the lifting up of the hands, the bowing and the worshipping (in Nehemiah 8:6) occurred at intervals during the reading. The explanation may have been principally of archaic Hebrew words.
Nehemiah 8:8. So they read.—That is Ezra read and the Levites re-read and explained where necessary.
Nehemiah 8:9. The Tirshatha.—See on Nehemiah 7:65. The holiness of the day is used as an argument against mourning. Note the fact that the high-priest on whose mitre was written “Holiness to the Lord,” was forbidden to mourn. (See Lev. 21:10. Comp. Lev. 10:6).
Nehemiah 8:10. Send portions.—See the spirit of this enjoined in Deut. 16:11, 12, with regard to the Pentecost season.
The joy of the Lord is your strength,i.e., a mirthfulness which springs from right relations to God is an element and sign of spiritual strength.
Nehemiah 8:13. To understand.—Rather, “to consider.”
Nehemiah 8:14. In the feast of the seventh month,i.e., the feast of tabernacles. See Lev. 23:34–43.
Nehemiah 8:15. This is a pregnant sentence, thus: And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities (Lev. 23:4); so they proclaimed in Jerusalem, etc. The order is given on the 2d of Tisri, and the work is done in readiness for the 15th. The narrative runs the two together, confusing the time to the careless reader. Unto the mount,i.e., mount of Olives. Pine branches,’alé ’etz shemen, branches of the oil-tree (Isa. 41:19). Mr. Houghton (in Smith’s Dict.) thinks it may be the Zackum or Balanites Ægyptiaca. Branches of thick trees,’ale ’etz ’avoth; either specifically “branches of the Avoth tree,” or branches of tangled trees.”
In Lev. 23:40, the command is to use,
1. The fruit of goodly trees.
2. The leaves of palm trees.
3. The boughs of Avoth trees.
4. Willows of the brook.
Here the olive tree, the oil tree, and the myrtle would come under the first head (“fruit” being used for any produce), while the willow-tree is omitted, perhaps because there happened to be none near Jerusalem at that time.
Nehemiah 8:16. Street of the water-gate.—See on Nehemiah 8:1.Street of the gate of Ephraim.—From 2 Kings 14:13 and Neh. Nehemiah 12:39, we see that this gate was near the north-west corner of the city, between “the broad wall” and the “old gate,” the “old gate” and “cornergate” being perhaps the same. According to Keil, the Gate of Ephraim may have been attached to the broad wall and not have been destroyed. Hence it is not mentioned in chap. 3. There was, we may suppose, a large open place in the N. W. part of the city, corresponding to that by the water-gate in the S. E. part.
Nehemiah 8:17. Done so.—That is, kept the feast of Tabernacles with such gladness.
Nehemiah 8:18. He read,i.e., Ezra.
They kept the feast,i.e., of tabernacles. They had been from the second day (Nehemiah 8:13), to this the 15th day of Tisri (Lev. 23:34) preparing for it. The solemn fast-day of the 10th of Tisri had doubtless been excepted. It is passed over without mention in the narrative. A solemn assembly, atzcreth (comp. Lev. 23:36; Num. 29:35; Deut. 16:8; Jer. 9:2; Amos 5:21). It seems to have been something more than the “mikra-kodesh” (holy convocation), and yet what more we cannot say. It is applied to the last day of the feast of tabernacles and to the last day of the passover week. JOSEPHUS (Ant. 3, 10, 5) applies it to Pentecost (in the Greek form Asartha), as especially belonging to that day, which is the use of the word by the later Jews.
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. The constant study of God’s word by the people was always, and is still, a distinguishing characteristic of the Jewish nation. The Levites were originally entrusted with the duty of reading the law before Israel every seventh year (Deut. 31:9–13), and when Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 17:7–9) sent Levites throughout all the cities of Judah to teach the people from the book of the law of the Lord, he was doubtless using the Levites in a way familiar to the nation from the first. God’s people were to keep in mind that they were not to follow the light of nature, but to consult the divine oracles for all their guidance (Rom. 3:2).
Redemption was a plan, and the Church was a scheme, and the soul of the scheme was the written word of God.
2. The tears of penitence naturally lead to joy. When men mourn for sin, the Lord comforts them, saying: “Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet.” The sinful woman who bathed our Saviour’s feet with tears heard him say: “Go in peace” (Luke 7:50). There may have been much that was only mere excitement, without a religious basis, both in the weeping and the merriment of this month of Tisri; yet we cannot but believe that there was a nucleus of true devotion in the movement, a mark of the holy succession that reached down to Simeon and Anna.
3. The booths of the tabernacle-feasts were memorials of the booth life of Israel (on leaving Egypt) that began at Succoth. The memory would encourage humility and gladness, bringing the thoughts of the people back to first principles, and making them to feel the Divine presence and protection (see Lev. 23:43). The roofs of the houses were battlemented so as to preclude danger (Deut. 22:8) and the houses were low. The building of booths on the roofs was therefore a very natural thing. They would not be in the way of the multitude, and would have in each case somewhat of domestic privacy.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Nehemiah 8:1–12. The holiday of the Lord’s congregation. 1) Its cause: the exterior one lies in the time, it is the seventh month, the true one in the proofs God has given, since He has secured the existence of the congregation before the world, fortified their city, etc. 2) Its celebration. The congregation shows a longing for God’s word, uses it in good order, and listens to it with reverence. 3) Its blessing: sadness turned into joy. The ever permanent elements in the true service of God. 1) On the side of the congregation: hunger for the word of God. 2) On the side of the teachers—the right handling of the word of God—commences with the praise of God, which awakens the assenting acknowledgment of the congregation, communication of the divine word, the explanation and application of the same. On both sides resignation to God’s word and being.—BEDE: Rogaverunt ipsi pontificem suum, ut allato libro mandata sibi legis, quæ agere debeant, replicaret, ut cum civitate ædificata, operis quoque placiti Deo structura consurgeret, ne sicut antea propter negligentiam religionis civitatis etiam ruina sequeretur.—STARKE: Even the common people must take care that they shall have the word of God pure and clear. Young people should be made to listen to the divine word from their childhood, that they may learn to fear God. If in the Old Testament all without exception have been obliged to listen to the law, how inexcusable it is if the papacy does not allow this to the people. Hearers should not become tired and impatient even if the sermon is rather long. The principal part of the service of God consists in praise, and in this we resemble the God-praising angels. The singing of Collects, prayers and Thanksgivings should be in an intelligible language, that the hearer may understand and be able to respond Amen. The Amen in a public assembly should be sung by each and all. If we should bow the knees of our hearts in particular before the Lord, it is proper that in outward gestures also we should show our humility before God. Preachers must not forget prayer in the arrangement of divine service. If teachers publicly kneel down and pray to God, it is proper that the hearers also should fall upon their knees with them. Teachers should aim at lucidity in explaining the word of God. If God gives us a joyful day we should not forget the poor.
Rejoice in the Lord always! That is 1) possible, for in communion with the Lord we have consolation, promise, help, refreshment, etc., in spite of all the calamities and difficulties of earth. 2) Necessary; for every day is holy to the Lord, and our conduct must always honor the Lord. 3) Wholesome; for joy in the Lord is our strength, and puts us in the position to wait with patience, makes us skilful, and guards us from all straying. Joy in the Lord is our strength, for 1) in ourselves we are weak and hesitating. 2) In the fulness of the Lord is grace for grace. 3) Precisely the joy in the Lord is fitted to cause us to have all that is comprehended in strength. With the prayer, gladden me with Thy help, and let my joy in Thee be my strength, can one gain anew each day consolation and joy, whatever task be before him.
Nehemiah 8:13–18. The festival of the people. 1) Its foundation—the divine command—God wishes that the congregation should celebrate the holiday. 2) Its form; it exhibits itself also externally; in the Old Testament by booths, which have their signification; in the New Testament through other ceremonies, which are not less full of meaning. 3) Its effect. Resignation to God’s word and will, and from that a glorification of the entire life.—STARKE: Christians have in the world no continuing city, and their life is vain and fleeting. Well for them, then, if they strive to dwell in the eternal tents. Heb. 13:14. As the Jews had their holidays and festivals, so have we Christians, but upon the condition of Christian freedom. Coloss. 2:16. The exercise of true religion gives a tranquil heart and joyful conscience; but false worship gives much annoying trouble, and tortures the conscience.
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.