Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.The solemn fast and repentance of the people, Nehemiah 9:1,2; and the manner of it, Nehemiah 9:3. The Levites confess and bless God for his goodness to them and their fathers, Nehemiah 9:4-8, in Egypt, Nehemiah 9:9,10; in their journey out of it, Nehemiah 9:11,12; upon Mount Sinai, Nehemiah 9:13,14; in their journey towards Canaan, Nehemiah 9:15-18; in the wilderness, Nehemiah 9:19-21; in driving out the nations before them, Nehemiah 9:22-26; in hearing their prayer when in trouble, and saving them, Nehemiah 9:27-31. They confess their sins, Nehemiah 9:32-37; and seal a covenant, Nehemiah 9:38.
In the twenty and fourth day of this month; the next day but one after the feast of tabernacles, which begun on the 14th day, and ended on the 22nd day, Le 23; for their consciences having then been fully awakened by the law read to them, and their hearts being full of grief for their great sins, which they were not allowed to express in that time of public joy and triumph; now when that was past, they resume their former thoughts and passions, and recalling their sins to mind, set apart a day for solemn fasting and humiliation.
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.From all strangers; from all familiar and unnecessary society with the heathens, and particularly from those strange women whom some of them had married. For though Ezra had done this formerly, Ezra 10, as far as he had knowledge of the persons faulty, and power to redress their faults, yet, it seems, there were some criminals, who were either without his knowledge, or out of his power; or these were some new delinquents, that since that time had fallen into the same error, and showed the truth of their repentance by the forsaking of their beloved sins and dearest relations. See again Nehemiah 13:3.
The iniquities of their fathers; which they confess partly as one cause of their present sufferings; and partly because they by their practices had justified their fathers’ sins, and made them their own.
And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.Read in the book of the law; so as they did before, giving them the sense of what they read; of which See Poole "Nehemiah 8:7", See Poole "Nehemiah 8:8".
One fourth part of the day, to wit, for three hours; for there were accounted twelve hours in their day, John 11:9. Probably they began after the morning sacrifice, at which divers religious people used to be present, but now they were all assembled together upon this great occasion; and they continued their work from that time till the evening sacrifice, with which they closed the work of the day.
Another fourth part they confessed, both God’s mercies, as appears from the matter of the following prayer, and their own sins, as is expressed Nehemiah 9:2, this day being chiefly set apart for that work.
Worshipped the Lord their God; partly by the acknowledgment and adoration of his wonderful mercy in forgiving their sins, and saving them from the deserved judgments, which they either felt or feared, and giving them his law, and the knowledge thereof; and partly by imploring his further grace and mercy to them.
Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God.Upon the stairs, of the Levites, or, upon the scaffold, &c., i.e. upon such stairs, or rather scaffolds, or pulpits, as the Levites used to stand upon when they taught the people. But you must not think that all the persons here named stood in one place, and uttered the following words together, which would have caused great confusion in their speeches, by which means but few of the people could have distinctly heard or understood them; but that they stood upon several pulpits, each of them either teaching of that part of the congregation which was allotted to him, or praying or blessing God with them.
Cried with a loud voice; thereby testifying their deep sense of their sins and miseries, and their fervent and importunate desire of God’s mercy.
Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.Then the Levites said all the following words. Either therefore they all used the same words, being composed and agreed upon by Ezra and themselves; or they all prayed in the same manner, and to the same purpose, having agreed among themselves concerning the matter of their confessions and prayers. And these are the words which one of them used; and it is implied that the rest of their prayers were of the same nature.
For ever and ever; from day to day, as long as you live, and to all eternity.
Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.The host of heaven; either,
1. The stars, which after their manner worship and praise God, as all the creatures do after their manner, of which see Psalm 148$; or rather,
2. The angels, who are so called, as 1 Kings 22:19 Luke 2:13, who do worship God truly and properly. And it is most usual and reasonable to understand all words properly, where there is no need of a figurative interpretation. And if this were understood of metaphorical and objective worshipping of God, there seems to be no reason to appropriate that to the host of heaven, to wit, the stars, seeing the hosts of sea and earth do in that sense worship God no less than the stars do, namely, in giving angels and men matter and occasion of worshipping and praising of God.
Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham;Didst choose Abram out of the midst of all his nation and family. When thou didst pass by and neglect the rest of them, suffering them to walk on in their idolatrous and destructive courses; thou didst choose and single out him to serve and glorify thee, to be father of all the faithful, the progenitor of the Messias, and the person in whom, not we only, but all nations, should be blessed, and to enjoy thee to all eternity.
And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous:Foundest his heart faithful before thee; when thou madest that admirable trial of his faith and obedience, in requiring him to offer up his only son Isaac, thou didst find out and discover his faithfulness, which was well known to thee before, and also was wrought in him by thy grace.
And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;No text from Poole on this verse.
And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as it is this day.They dealt proudly against them; treating thy people with great scorn and contempt, like slaves and beasts.
And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.Into the mighty waters, i.e. the deep waters, such as these were, into which, when a stone is thrown, there is no hopes of seeing it again.
Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go.No text from Poole on this verse.
Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:True laws; not such laws as some of the heathen laws were, which taught them falsehood, superstition, idolatry, and other errors; but such as discover the truth, and the true mind and will of God, and the true and only way to life.
Good statutes; both in themselves, and to us also, being useful to teach, and comfort, and save us.
And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:Thy holy sabbath; that holy and blessed sabbath day which thou didst bless and sanctify to Adam in Paradise, Genesis 2:3, commanding him, and in him all his posterity, to observe it, which yet almost all people and nations have quite forgotten, yea, so far as to mock at them, Lamentations 1:7, thou didst graciously reveal unto thy people, reviving that ancient law by another particular law about it given to us in the wilderness.
And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them.No text from Poole on this verse.
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,Notwithstanding all these singular and wonderful mercies; which he hitherto recounted to aggravate their sins, which he now comes to confess, and to lead them to a sincere and ingenuous grief and repentance for their sins, not only for the mischief which they brought upon themselves, but for the injury and indignity which they offered to God.
Dealt proudly, i.e. sinned presumptuously, and with contempt of God, as scorning to submit their wills to God’s.
And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not.Refused to obey; persisted in their disobedience after many admonitions, and invitations to repentance.
Appointed a captain, i.e. designed, purposed, and resolved to do so, Numbers 14:4, and therefore they are said to do so, as Abraham is said to have offered up Isaac, Hebrews 11:17, because he intended and attempted to do it.
Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations;No text from Poole on this verse.
Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go.Thou forsookest them not in the wilderness; where, if thou hadst left them without thy conduct and comfort, they had been utterly lost and undone.
Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.Thou gavest also thy good spirit; which thou didst graciously and plentifully impart unto Moses, and then unto the seventy eiders, Numbers 11:17,25,26, to the end that they might be able to direct and govern thy people wisely, and in thy fear.
Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.Of which See Poole "Deu 8:4".
Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan.Into corners, or, into a corner. But the singular number is very commonly put for the plural. This is understood, either,
1. Of the Israelites, to whom God divided by lot the
kingdoms and nations last mentioned, and gave them all the corners, or sides, or quarters (for all these the word signifies) of their land. Or rather,
2. Of the heathen nations, whom God in a great measure destroyed, and the remainders of them he dispersed into corners; that whereas before the Israelites came they had large habitations and dominions, now they were cooped up into corners, some of them into one town or city, and some into another, in the several corners of their land, as indeed we find them afterward; whilst thee Israelites dwelt in a large place, and had the possession of their whole land, some few and small parcels excepted. Compare Deu 32:26, where the like phrase is used in the same sense.
Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it.No text from Poole on this verse.
So the children went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would.No text from Poole on this verse.
And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness.i.e. In all these comforts and blessings, which by thy great goodness they obtained and enjoyed.
Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.Cast thy law behind their backs, i.e. neglected and despised thy laws, would not regard nor observe them; whereas they should have had them continually before their eyes, to direct and govern them. Compare Psalm 50:17 Ezekiel 23:35.
Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.No text from Poole on this verse.
But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies;No text from Poole on this verse.
And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear.Which if a man do, he shall live in them; of which see on Leviticus 18:5 Ezekiel 20:11 Romans 10:5 Galatians 3:12.
Withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, i.e. would not submit to thy yoke, like stubborn oxen.
Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.Didst thou forbear them, i.e. thou didst delay to bring upon them those judgments which thou hadst threatened, and they had deserved, and didst wait for their repentance.
By thy spirit in thy prophets; by thy prophets, who shake to them by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, whom therefore they should have obeyed.
Yet would they not give ear, i.e. would not obey them, nor would they vouchsafe so much as to hear them.
Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.No text from Poole on this verse.
Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day.Covenant and mercy, i.e. covenanted mercy, or thy covenant of mercy and peace. Or, he adds mercy, because the covenant in itself was not a sufficient ground of hope, because they having so basely broken it, God was discharged from keeping it, and therefore they fly to God’s free and rich mercy for relief.
Let not all the trouble seem little before thee; do not thou account it small and insufficient for our punishment, and that it is fit to continue and increase it.
Since the time of the kings of Assyria, strictly and properly so called; for from them was the beginning of all the calamities, both of Judah and of Israel, as appears from 2 Kings 15:19 18:13. Or, the kings of Babylon, so called, 2 Chronicles 33:11.
Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly:No text from Poole on this verse.
Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them.No text from Poole on this verse.
For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works.Which thou gavest before them, i.e. which thou didst lay open to their view and possession, removing their enemies and all impediments out of the way.
Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it:In that land wherein heretofore, under thee, and by thy favour, we were rightful lords and owners.
And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.We plough, and sow, and labour, and thou givest thy blessing to our endeavours; and yet in a great measure this is not for ourselves, as formerly it was, but for our kings, to whom we pay great and heavy tributes for these things; of which see Ezra 6:8 7:24. They have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle; pressing or forcing both us and our beasts to go and do what they please.
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.Because of all this; because all this misery lies upon us for our sins, we do heartily repent of them, and resolve to forsake them. Or, we faithfully promise and engage ourselves to future obedience.