Nehemiah 13:22
And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of your mercy.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(22) Cleanse themselves.—As for a sacred duty, not without reference to their past neglect, which required to be forgiven. This was a high tribute to the Sabbath ordinance, and as such in harmony with all the details of this episode.

Remember me.—In this prayer also Nehemiah commits his fidelity to the merciful estimate of God. But something in connection with the Sabbath, or with his retrospect of his own conduct, gives the passing prayer a peculiar pathos of humility.

Nehemiah 13:22. I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves — Because the work they now were set upon, though common in its nature, yet was holy in the design of it, and had respect unto the sabbath: and, because the day in which they were to do this was the sabbath day, for the observation whereof they were obliged to purify themselves; that they should come and keep the gates — The gates of the city: not daring to trust the common porters, and thinking that the Levites, by virtue of their character, would be more reverenced, and meet with more deference and respect than his domestic servants, he therefore appointed them to this office of keeping the gates on the sabbath, that all traffic might be prevented, and the day not fail to be sanctified, as it ought to be. O my God, spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy — By this he intimates, that though he mentioned his good works as things wherewith God was well pleased, and which he had promised to reward, yet he neither did, nor durst, trust to their merit, or his own worthiness, but, when he had done all, he judged himself an unprofitable servant, and one that needed God’s infinite mercy to pardon all his sins, and particularly those infirmities and corruptions which adhered to his good deeds.13:15-22 The keeping holy the Lord's day forms an important object for their attention who would promote true godliness. Religion never prospers while sabbaths are trodden under foot. No wonder there was a general decay of religion, and corruption of manners among the Jews, when they forsook the sanctuary and profaned the sabbath. Those little consider what an evil they do, who profane the sabbath. We must answer for the sins others are led to commit by our example. Nehemiah charges it on them as an evil thing, for so it is, proceeding from contempt of God and our own souls. He shows that sabbath-breaking was one of the sins for which God had brought judgments upon them; and if they did not take warning, but returned to the same sins again, they had to expect further judgments. The courage, zeal, and prudence of Nehemiah in this matter, are recorded for us to do likewise; and we have reason to think, that the cure he wrought was lasting. He felt and confessed himself a sinner, who could demand nothing from God as justice, when he thus cried unto him for mercy.I commanded the Levites - At first Nehemiah had employed his own retinue Nehemiah 13:19 in the work of keeping the gates. He now assigned the duty to the Levites, as one which properly belonged to them, since the object of the regulation was the due observance of the Sabbath. Ne 13:15-31. The Violation of the Sabbath.

15-22. In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses on the sabbath—The cessation of the temple services had been necessarily followed by a public profanation of the Sabbath, and this had gone so far that labor was carried on in the fields, and fish brought to the markets on the sacred day. Nehemiah took the decisive step of ordering the city gates to be shut, and not to be opened, till the Sabbath was past; and in order to ensure the faithful execution of this order, he stationed some of his own servants as guards, to prevent the introduction of any commodities on that day. On the merchants and various dealers finding admission denied them, they set up booths outside the walls, in hopes of still driving a traffic with the peasantry; but the governor threatened, if they continued, to adopt violent measures for their removal. For this purpose a body of Levites was stationed as sentinels at the gate, with discretionary powers to protect the sanctification of the Sabbath.

That they should cleanse themselves; partly because the work they were now set upon, though common in its nature, yet was holy in design of it, and had respect unto the sabbath; and partly because the day in which they were to do this was the sabbath day, for the observation whereof they were obliged to prepare and purify themselves.

Keep the gates; either,

1. The gates of the temple. But a particular command was superfluous in that case, because it was their constant work and charge to do this, both sabbath days and every day. Or rather,

2. The gates of the city; for of them he spake last, Nehemiah 13:19; and not daring to trust the common porters of these gates, not being able always to employ his men in that work, he committeth the charge of them for the present season, and upon the sabbath days, to the Levites, to whom the care of sanctifying the sabbath did properly belong.

According to the greatness of thy mercy; whereby he intimates, that though he mentioned his good works as things wherewith God was well pleased, and which he had promised to reward, yet he neither did nor durst trust to their merit or his own worthiness; but when he had done all, he judged himself an unprofitable servant, and one that needed God’s infinite mercy and indulgence to pardon all his sins, and particularly those infirmities and corruptions which adhered to his good deeds. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves,.... From all ceremonial uncleanness, that they might be fit in a ceremonial sense to perform the duties of the office on the sabbath day:

and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day; not the gates of the city, his servants were placed there, nor was this the work of the Levites, and much less did this require a particular purification to fit for it; but the gates of the temple, that no impure person might enter there; and on that day it required the greater diligence, because of the number of people that came to worship:

remember me, O my God, concerning this also; with respect to his care to have the sabbath kept holy, as well as his concern for the honour of the house of God, and the maintenance of his ministers, Nehemiah 13:14,

and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy; he desired to be dealt with, not according to any merits of his own, but according to the abundant mercy of God; that he would kindly and graciously vouchsafe to accept any good that he had done for his mercy sake, and forgive whatever was amiss in him.

And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and {k} keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

(k) Meaning, of the temple that none that was unclean should enter.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
22. And I commanded the Levites] The verse contains an additional precaution taken by Nehemiah to secure the observance of the Sabbath. Its exact character however is somewhat obscure.

Nehemiah delivers to the Levites a special commission to take over the watch of the city gates on the Sabbaths. For this purpose they are to cleanse themselves; the duty was a sacred one, since upon it depended the nation’s fidelity to the Sabbath. We are not told whether these Levites were appointed to serve in addition to, or as substitutes for, the regular watchmen; or whether they were intended to continue the duties temporarily entrusted by Nehemiah to his servants (Nehemiah 13:19).

come and keep the gates] The copula is wanting in the Hebrew; and thus has given occasion to a proposal for the rendering, ‘And that they should come to the keepers of the gates’ &c. i.e. that the Levites should on the Sabbath eve go the rounds to the various gates for the purpose of solemnly announcing the advent of the holy day. Even if the grammatical construction, which this translation supposes, be admissible, the sense does not carry with it the ring of probability.

The versions supply the copula. LXX. εἶπα τοῖς Λευίταις οἳ ἦσαν καθαριζόμενοι καὶ ἐρχόμενοι φυλάσσοντες τὰς πύλας ἁγιάζειν τὴν ἡμέραν. Vulg. ‘ut mundarentur et venirent ad custodiendas portas.’

Remember me … concerning this also] R.V. Remember unto me … this also. Cf. Nehemiah 13:15.Verse 22. - And I commanded the Levites... that they should come and keep the gates. Assigning the duty to his servants was probably a temporary arrangement. The permanent charge was committed to the Levites, who had been intrusted with the duty when the gates were first set up (Nehemiah 7:1). They were to "cleanse," or purify, themselves, because the charge was considered a sacred one. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also. Compare ver. 14. And spare me. It is worthy of notice that Nehemiah does not regard his good deeds as sufficient for his justification, but throws himself unreservedly on God's mercy. Tyrians also were staying therein, bringing fish and all kind of ware (מכר), and sold it on the Sabbath to the sons of Judah and in Jerusalem. ישׁב is by most expositors translated, to dwell; but it is improbable that Tyrians would at that time dwell or settle at Jerusalem: hence ישׁב here means to sit, i.e., to stay awhile undisturbed, to tarry.
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