Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.Ezra bringeth and expoundeth the law of Moses, and blesseth God with the people, Nehemiah 8:1-8. Nehemiah and Ezra comfort the people, Nehemiah 8:9-12. The people’s forwardness to hear and to be instructed in the law, Nehemiah 8:13-15. They make themselves booths, Nehemiah 8:16,17; and keep the feast seven days, Nehemiah 8:18.
The street that was before the water-gate; of which See Poole "Nehemiah 3:26".
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.Ezra the priest came twelve or thirteen years before Nehemiah to Jerusalem; and either tarried there, or went back to Babylon, being forced to do so by the king’s command, or indispensable occasions, and then returned again with Nehemiah.
All that could hear with understanding, i.e. and such children as were come to years of understanding.
And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the 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.Partly to declare their consent and concurrence with Ezra in what-he said and did; and partly that they, or some of them, might bear a part in the work.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:Either in reverence to God’s word, of which see Numbers 11:32 Judges 3:20; or that they might hear his words the more distinctly: or rather, because they observed that Ezra composed himself to prayer or thanksgiving; which is here generally declared, but doubtless was more particularly and largely expressed in that assembly, as appears by their answering
Amen, Amen, to his prayer.
And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.No text from Poole on this verse.
Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.Caused the people to understand the law; as well the words, which being Hebrew, now needed to be translated into the Chaldee or Syriac language, which was now and henceforth the common language of that people, who together with their religion had also in a great part lost their language; as also the sense and meaning of them; they expounded the mind and will of God in what they read, and applied it to the people’s present condition, as they saw fit, as the manner of the prophets generally was. And hence the people were so deeply affected with it.
The people stood in their place, i.e. in their several places and stations into which the company seems to have been distributed for conveniency of hearing; it not being likely that so vast a congregation could distinctly hear one man’s voice. Or, by their stations, i.e. by the several stations of the Levites and persons last named; who seem to have had several scaffolds, by comparing this with Nehemiah 9:4, upon which they stood, as Ezra did upon his pulpit, Nehemiah 8:4.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.They read, to wit, Ezra and his companions successively or severally.
Gave the sense; i.e. the meaning of the Hebrew words, which they expounded in the common language.
Caused them to understand the reading, i.e. that which they read, to wit, the Holy Scripture; the action being put for the object, as vision is oft put for the thing seen, and hearing for the thing heard, and fear for the thing feared. So they gave them both a translation of the Hebrew words into the Chaldee, and an exposition of the things contained in them, and of the duty incumbent upon the people by virtue of them, the declaration whereof was a great part of the priest’s work, Malachi 2:7.
And 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 wept, when they heard the words of the law.This day is holy unto the Lord your God, to wit, as a day of feasting and thanksgiving to God, and rejoicing in his mercies; for otherwise even fasting days were holy to God in the general, though not in the sense here meant.
All the people wept, out of a deep sense of their great guilt, and of their extreme danger by reason of it.
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.Eat the fat, and drink the sweet; feast before the Lord, as the duty of the day obligeth you to do.
Send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for the relief of your poor brethren, who else must mourn whilst you rejoice. See of this duty and practice Deu 16:11,14 Es 9:19.
This day is holy unto our Lord; being the feast of trumpets, Leviticus 23:24, and the beginning of this joyful month, wherein so many days of feasting and thanksgiving were to be observed.
The joy of the Lord is your strength, i.e. rejoicing in God in the manner prescribed in his word, or serving him with cheerfulness and thankfulness, which is your duty always, but now especially, will give you that strength both of mind and body which you greatly need, both to perform all the duties required of you, and to endure and oppose all the crafty counsels and malicious designs of your enemies against you; whereas this dejection of mind, and excessive grief, if you indulge it, will both offend God, and damp your spirits, and weaken your very bodies, and make you unfit for God’s service, or for your own necessary occasions, and so an easy prey to your enemies.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.The Levites stilled all the people; whose passions being once raised, could not suddenly be composed.
Hold your peace; cease from weeping and mournful cries, and turn your lamentations into thanksgivings.
And 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.Because they now knew God’s mind, and their own duty, which they were resolved to practise; which gave them ground of hope and trust in God’s mercy, and consequently of great and just joy.
And 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 the words of the law.Choosing rather to confess their ignorance for their edification, than vainly to pretend to more knowledge than they had; wherein they show both true humility and serious godliness, that they were more careful to learn and practise their duty, than to preserve their reputation with the people.
Even to understand the words of the law; that they might more exactly understand the meaning of some things which they had heard before, and so instruct the people in them.
And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:They found, upon Ezra’s information, and their discourse with him.
And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.And that they should publish, i.e. and they found this also written, which is to be supplied out of the former verse, that they should, &c., which, though it be not particularly required, so as is expressed in the words here following, yet in the general is required by virtue of that precept, Leviticus 23:4 Numbers 10:10. And according to this translation, it must be understood in the close of this verse, that they did accordingly publish and proclaim, &c. But these words may be rendered, which (as this Hebrew word is rendered here, Nehemiah 8:14, and most commonly) also (so the particle vau is used, Isaiah 6:1 Jeremiah 1:3) they did publish, &c. For so they did, as is evident and acknowledged; and it seems fit that so much should be expressed; and these words being particular and proper to this special occasion, seem to intimate that this is rather an historical relation of what they now did, than a declaration of that which the law required them to do, which was but in very general terms, and not so exact and particular as this following precept is said to be. Unto the mount; the Mount of Olives, which was next Jerusalem, and stored with olive branches, and probably with the rest here mentioned; for these trees may seem to have been planted hereabouts principally for the use of this capital city in this very feast, which, though long neglected, should have been celebrated once every year. And therefore this place seems to be here designed as the most eminent place, but with a usual synecdoche, this place being put for any place nearest to the several cities of Judah, where these branches were to be procured.
Branches of thick trees; of which See Poole "Leviticus 23:34"; See Poole "Deu 16:13".
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.Booths upon the roof of his house; for the houses there were made flat; of which See Poole "Deu 22:8".
In their courts, belonging to their own houses; for these might be any where in the open air.
In the street of the gate of Ephraim; that gate of the city which led to the tribe of Ephraim.
And 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 very great gladness.For since the days of Jeshua, or, surely since the days, as the Hebrew chi is oft used, as hath been noted before. For the following words seem not so much to give a reason of what was last said or done concerning their dwelling in booths, as to contain the holy writer’s reflection upon the present celebration of this feast.
Had not the children of Israel done so; either,
1. So as to the matter or substance of the thing. So it implies that all this while the feast of tabernacles was not observed; which seems altogether improbable, considering how expressly this was commanded to be celebrated, Le 23, &c, and what excellent kings, and priests, and prophets there had been within that time, such as were persons of great understanding, and most expert and studious in God’s word, and therefore could not be ignorant of so plain a duty; and withal so thoroughly pious, and careful, and zealous for God, and the observation of his law and worship, and some of them commended for their universal obedience to all God’s commands; and therefore would not be guilty of so gross a neglect. Besides, that this feast was observed is sufficiently implied in 1 Kings 8:2,65 2 Chronicles 7:9, and is particularly expressed Ezra 3:4. Or rather,
2. So, as to the manner and circumstances. They never kept this feast so joyfully, as the next words declare, having not only the same causes of rejoicing which they formerly had, but some special causes to increase their joy, to wit, the remembrance of their stupendous deliverance, both out of the land of their captivity, and out of the hands of their wicked and malicious neighbours ever since their return, and especially now when they were new building the walls of Jerusalem: they never kept it so solemnly and religiously; for whereas at other times only the first and last day of that feast were celebrated with a holy convocation, Leviticus 23:35,36 Joh 7:37, now there was a holy convocation, and the people assembled, and attended upon the reading of the law, every day of this feast, as is noted in the next verse.
Also 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.He read in the book of the law of God; which was commanded to be done at this feast, Deu 31:10-12, though not enjoined to be done every day, as now out of a singular zeal they did.