Matthew Poole's Commentary
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;Upon the reading of the law separation is made between Israel and the mixed multitude, Nehemiah 13:1-3. Nehemiah, at his return to Jerusalem, causeth the chambers to be cleansed. Nehemiah 13:4-9. He restoreth and reformeth the offices of the priests and Levites in the house of God, Nehemiah 13:10-14; and seeing the violation of the sabbath, he contendeth with the nobles of Judah, Nehemiah 13:15-18. He shutteth the gates, and setteth a watch at them, Nehemiah 13:19-22. The punishment of marrying with strange wives, Nehemiah 13:23-28. Nehemiah’s prayer, Nehemiah 13:29-31.
On that day; not now presently after the dedication of the wall, and gates, and city, but upon a certain day, as that phrase is very commonly used in Scripture without any relation to the time or things mentioned next before it, to wit, when Nehemiah was returned again from the Persian court to Jerusalem, from which he had been absent for some considerable time, in which some errors and abuses had crept in, which now he endeavours to remove.
In the audience of the people; partly because it was not only the priests’, but also the people’s, duty to study and understand God’s law and their own duty; and partly that the people hearing that this was the express mind and will of the great God, might the more willingly yield to the following duties, some of which were attended with difficulty, and required self-denial.
Should not come into the congregation of God, i.e. not be incorporated into the commonwealth of Israel, nor be joined with any Israelite in marriage relation, as appears from Nehemiah 13:3; that practice being a plain comment upon this law. But of this and the next verse, See Poole "Deu 23:3", See Poole "Deu 23:4".
Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing.No text from Poole on this verse.
Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.i.e. All the heathenish people with whom they had contracted alliances. See Nehemiah 9:2 Ezra 10:3.
And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah:Eliashib the priest; the high priest, Nehemiah 3:1, or some other priest so called, there being divers Eliashibs in or about this time, Ezra 10:6,24,27,36, though the first seems most probable, by comparing this verse with Nehemiah 13:28, and with Nehemiah 12:10,11.
The oversight of the chamber, i.e. of the chambers, as appears from the following verse, and from Nehemiah 13:9, where it is called chambers, and from the nature of the thing, the high priest having the chief power over the house of God, and all the chambers belonging to it. The singular number for the plural.
Allied unto Tobiah, the Ammonite, and a violent enemy to God’s people. So this is noted as a great blemish to Eliashib, and as the cause of his other miscarriage, noted Nehemiah 13:5.
And he had 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 the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.He had prepared for him a great chamber; by removing the things which were in it, and uniting divers small chambers into one, and furnishing it for thee use of Tobiah when he came to Jerusalem; whom he seems to have lodged there that he might have more free and secret communication with him, this being in a place where the people might not come.
But 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 obtained I leave of the king:All this time was not I at Jerusalem; and Eliashib took the occasion of my absence to do these things, supposing that I would no more return thither.
Came I unto the king, to wit, from Jerusalem; where he had been once and again.
After certain days, Heb. in the end of days, or of a year, as that word oft signifies.
And 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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.It grieved me sore, that so sacred a place should be polluted by one who in many respects ought not to have come there, being no priest, a stranger, an Ammonite, and one of the worst of that people; and that all this should be done by the permission and order of the high priest, who by his office should have punished and reformed these things in others.
Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.They cleansed the chambers, by such means and rites as were then usual in such cases. See Numbers 19:9.
And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.The portions of the Levites had not been given them; which might be either,
1. From this corrupt high priest Eliashib, who took their portions, as he did the sacred chambers, to his own use, or employed them for the entertainment of Tobiah, and his other great allies. Or.
2. From the people, who either out of covetousness reserved them to themselves, contrary to their own solemn agreement and covenant, Nehemiah 10:37; or were so offended at Eliashib’s horrid and manifest abuse of sacred things, that they abhorred the offering and service of God, as others did upon a like occasion, 1 Samuel 2:17, and therefore neglected to bring in their tithes, &c., which they knew would be perverted to bad uses.
Were fled every one to his field; to his possession in the country, being forced to do so for a livelihood.
Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.I sharply reproved those priests to whom the management of these things was committed, for neglect of their duty, and breach of their late solemn promise.
Why is the house of God forsaken? you have not only injured men in withholding their dues, but you have occasioned the neglect of God’s house and service.
I gathered them together to Jerusalem, from their several country possessions, in which they were dispersed.
Set them in their place; restored them to the exercise of their office.
Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.Partly out of the respect which they had to Nehemiah, and to his command; and partly because they saw they would be applied to their proper uses, and not abused, as they had been.
And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren.Zadok the scribe; the ecclesiastical scribe, who was to keep the accounts of the receipts and disbursements.
They were counted faithful; by common fame, and the consent of those who knew them. Such he now sought out the more diligently, because he had late experience of the perfidiousness of the former trustees.
To distribute unto their brethren, according to their several families, as the law had prescribed.
Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.Concerning this: what I have done with an upright heart for thy house and service be pleased graciously to accept, and remember for my good, according to thy promise.
In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.I protested against the action, and admonished them to forbear it.
There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.Which brought fish, which they might take in the sea near Joppa, or bring from Tyre to Joppa by sea, and thence to Jerusalem, which was but a small journey.
In Jerusalem, the holy city, where God’s house and presence was, and where the great judicatories of the nation were. So this is added as an aggravation of their sin, that this was done with manifest contempt both to God and men.
Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?The nobles of Judah, i.e. their chief men and rulers; whom he chargeth with this sin, because though others did it, it was by their countenance or connivance, and they should and might have punished and restrained it.
Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.All this evil upon us; which you so well and sadly remember, that I need not tell you the particulars.
And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.When the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark; which was about sun-setting, by reason of the mountains which were round about and near Jerusalem, Psalm 125:2.
Some of my servants set I at the gates, out of a diffidence in those to whom the keeping of the gates was committed.
So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.No text from Poole on this verse.
Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.I will lay hands on you; I will punish you, and seize your goods. For this was a temptation to covetous or needy Jews, that lived in or near the city, to steal opportunities of buying their commodities, which then they might do with more advantage.
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 thy mercy.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.
In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:Ashdod; a city of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 5:1,2, &c.
And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people.Which their mothers instilled into them, together with their principles and manners.
And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off 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.Cursed them, i.e. caused them to be excommunicated and cast out of the society and privileges of God’s people. This and the following punishments were justly inflicted upon them, because this transgression was contrary both to a very plain and express law of God, and also to their own late solemn covenants and promises, of which see Ezra 10 Ne 10:30.
Smote certain of them, i.e. I caused to be beaten with stripes, according to the law, Deu 25:2, those whose faults were most aggravated by their quality or other circumstances; to whom he added this punishment over and besides the former.
Plucked off their hair, or, shaved them. The hair was an ornament and ensign of liberty among the eastern nations; and baldness was a disgrace and token of slavery and sorrow. See Isaiah 3:24 Isaiah 15:2 Jeremiah 48:37 Ezekiel 29:18.
Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.No text from Poole on this verse.
Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?Shall we then hearken unto you? shall we justify our action by permitting or not punishing it? God forbid.
And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.Joiada; said by Josephus to be that Manasses who by Sanballat’s interest procured liberty to build the Samaritan temple in Mount Gerizim; to which those priests who had married strange wives, or been otherwise criminal, betook themselves, and with or after them others of the people in the same or like circumstances.
I chased him from me, i.e. from my presence and court, and from the city and temple, and all the privileges of the priesthood, and from the whole congregation and church of Israel, whereof I am a member.
Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.That covenant made between me and his progenitors for themselves and their posterity, whereby I promised to give them an everlasting priesthood, Numbers 25:12,13, and they covenanted with me that they would faithfully and holily execute that sacred function according to the rules which I gave them, whereby, among other things, they were enjoined to keep themselves pure from all unlawful marriages, and from all other things which might pollute them or the priesthood.
Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;No text from Poole on this verse.
And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.For the wood-offering and the first-fruits; and particularly I took care for these things, because they had been lately neglected.