Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah,
Verse 1. - Nehemiah, as Tirshatha, or civil ruler, naturally appended his seal first of all. He was followed by Zidkijah, or Zadok, probably his secretary (Nehemiah 13:13).
Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah,
Verses 2-8. - The heads of the priestly houses attached their seals next; and among these the high-priestly house of Seraiah had, very properly, the precedence. The other names of this list recur for the most part in Nehemiah 12:1-6, where they designate "priests" (i.e. priestly houses) "which went up with Zerubbabel." Eliashib, the high priest of the time, probably appended the seal of the house of Seraiah.
Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah,
Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch,
Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah,
Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch,
Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin,
Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these were the priests.
And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel;
Verses 9-13. - Jeshua, Binnui, and Kadmiel represent the three chief families of returned Levites (see Ezra 2:40; Ezra 3:9; Nehemiah 7:43, 44; Nehemiah 9:4, 5, etc.). Binnui, it may be remarked, has now supplanted Kadmiel, and stepped into the second place. Of the remaining names, those of Hashabiah and Sherebiah designate families which returned with Ezra (Ezra 8:18, 19). The remaining names are probably also those of families.
And their brethren, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan,
Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah,
Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah,
Hodijah, Bani, Beninu.
The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani,
Verses 14-27. - The chief of the people. Down to Magpiash the names correspond to those of lay families which returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:3-30; Nehemiah 7:8-33), the first eighteen being personal, and the last three names of localities. Nebai is the same as "Nebo" (Nehemiah 7:33), and Magpiash the same as Magbish (Ezra 2:30). From Meshullam to Baanah (vers. 20-27) the names seem to be again personal; but they are new, and therefore probably those of individuals who were not authorised to represent either clans or localities. In ver. 17, the two names Ater and Hizkijah should be united by a hyphen, since it is clear that they represent the single family, Ater of Hezekiah, mentioned in Ezra it. 16 and Nehemiah 7:21. "Hizkijah"and "Hezekiah" are in the original identical.
Bunni, Azgad, Bebai,
Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin,
Ater, Hizkijah, Azzur,
Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai,
Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai,
Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,
Meshezabeel, Zadok, Jaddua,
Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah,
Hoshea, Hananiah, Hashub,
Hallohesh, Pileha, Shobek,
Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah,
And Ahijah, Hanan, Anan,
Malluch, Harim, Baanah.
And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding;
Verse 28. - The rest of the people. i.e. those who had not appended their seals, whether others had sealed for them or no. The writer makes no exception, and thereby indicates a very general, if not a universal, concurrence on the part of the nation. His enumeration of classes is the same as Ezra's (Ezra 2:70). All they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God. Such proselytes from the heathen as had joined themselves to the Jewish people since their return from the captivity (comp. Ezra 6:21). Every one having knowledge, and having understanding. All who were of age to understand the nature of the covenant and what was meant by sealing to it - not a specially "intelligent" or "learned" class, as Ewald supposes ('Hist. of Israel,' vol. 5. p. 144, note 4).
They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;
Verse 29. - They clave to their brethren, their nobles. They gave their support and adherence to their more distinguished brethren who had attached their seals to the document, approving what they had done, and ratifying it. Entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law. Something of this kind seems to have occurred in the wilderness, when God's law was first given to his people (Deuteronomy 29:12); and therefore, when renewals of the covenant were made, and the people were required to ratify the act, it was natural to recur to the old sanction, An oath was probably taken of the people in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 23:3), when they are said to have "stood to the covenant." Moses the servant of God. The epithet "servant of God," or "servant of the Lord," attaches to Moses in a peculiar way. God called him (Numbers 12:7) "my servant Moses, who is faithful in all my house;" and henceforward "servant of God" was his epitheton usitatum (see Joshua 1:1; Joshua 8:31, 33; 1 Chronicles 6:49; 2 Chronicles 24:9; Daniel 9:11; Hebrews 3:5; Revelation 15:3). St. Paul contrasts "Moses, the servant" with "Christ, the Son" (Hebrews 3:1-6).
And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons:
Verse 30. - That we would not give our daughters, etc. On the recurrence of the mixed marriages so soon after the reformation of Ezra, see the comment on Nehemiah 13:23.
And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.
Verse 31. - If the people of the land bring ware ... on the sabbath. If the heathen of this region will insist on bringing their wares into our cities and offering them for immediate sale on the sabbath, we Jews bind ourselves not to deal with them on that day. Subsequently, Nehemiah carried out more stringent regulations (Nehemiah 13:15-22). Or on the holy day. Rather, "or on a holy day." The people bind themselves to abstain from trade not only on the sabbath, but on any holy day. That we would leave the seventh year. By "leaving the seventh year," leaving the lands untilled every seventh or sabbatical year is meant. This precept of the law had been frequently neglected during the times of the monarchy, and its neglect was one of the sins which the captivity was expressly intended to punish (2 Chronicles 36:21). It now appears that after the return the precept had been again disobeyed. The exaction of every debt. Literally, "the pledge of every hand." Compare Nehemiah 5:2-13, and note that, notwithstanding Nehemiah's curse and the people's assent to it (ver. 13), the practice of lending upon pledge had recommenced.
Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God;
Verse 32. - To charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel. Hitherto the Jews had had no impost analogous to our "church-rate." The "half-shekel of the sanctuary," as it is called, being only payable on the rare, and forbidden, occasion of a census of the whole people (Exodus 30:13-16), could not possibly have served for the ordinary support of the temple service; but it was calculated to suggest to thoughtful minds the need of some regular fund, and the persons on whom the obligation lay to provide it. While the Jews were an independent nation, with their own kings and their own revenue, no difficulty had been felt in keeping up the service, since the kings easily provided for it; but in the existing condition of affairs the case was different. A "governor" was not like a king; he was responsible; he was removable; he was bound to remit the great bulk of the taxes to the court. Under these circumstances, and probably in connection with an immediate need, the idea arose of a special (voluntary) tax, to be paid annually by all adult males, for the support of the service, the continual provision of the morning and evening sacrifice, the incense, the shew-bread, the red heifers, the scape-goat, the numerous victims, and the numerous meat and drink offerings required on various occasions, and especially at each of the great festivals. It was felt that the provision in the law ruled two things -
1. The uniformity of the tax; and,
2. The sphere of its incidence - that it should be paid by all adult males.
With regard to its proper amount, that had to be fixed by a consideration of existing needs in comparison with existing means. The third part of a shekel was determined on, as sufficient at the time; but it was not long ere for the third part the half-shekel was substituted, a return being thus made to the standard fixed by the law, and an ample provision made for the maintenance of the established rites in full completeness and efficiency (comp. Matthew 17:24-27).
For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.
Verse 33. - For the shew-bread. See Leviticus 24:5-8. Small as the cost of the shew-bread was, consisting, as it did, of no more than twelve cakes of fine flour weekly, it is yet placed first on account of its importance, being the bread of God's presence, the type of the sacramental bread of the new covenant. The continual meat offering is that offering of flour mingled with fine olive oil which God had required to be offered twice a day, at morning and at evening, in conjunction with the two lambs, which constituted the continual burnt offering (Numbers 28:5). Of the sabbaths. i.e. "for the offering of the sabbath days," which consisted of two lambs with appropriate meat and drink offerings, in addition to the offering of every day (Numbers 28:9, 10). Of the new moons. Two bullocks, one ram, seven lambs, with appropriate meat and drink offerings (ibid. vers. 11-14). For the set feasts. The passover, the feast of Pentecost, the feast of trumpets, and the feast of tabernacles. The offerings required at each are given with great exactness in Numbers 28, and 29. The holy things. "Wave-offerings" and "peace-offerings" (Leviticus 23:10, 17, 19) are probably intended. They were "holy to the Lord for the priest" (ibid. ver. 20). The sin offerings are those commanded in Numbers 28:15, 22, 30; Numbers 29:5, 11, 16, 19, etc. And for all the work of the house. The internal "work" of cleansing and keeping in proper order the apparatus of worship is probably intended, not external repairs.
And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law:
Verse 34. - We cast the lots for the wood offering. The "wood offering" is now first heard cf. Fuel had probably been more plentiful in the times of the monarchy than it had now become, and the temple treasury had been rich enough to provide what was needed in order to keep the altar fire perpetually burning (Leviticus 6:13). But times had changed. The hill-country of Judaea had gradually been stripped of its forests. The temple was, comparatively speaking, poor, and some permanent arrangement for the supply of the required fuel had become necessary. It would seem, from the present passage, that the arrangement actually made was one by which different families or districts undertook the duty of furnishing the wood in turn, and lots were cast to determine the order in which they should discharge the office. According to Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' it. 17, § 6), the wood needed for a year was brought in on a particular day - the fourteenth day of the fifth month - which was kept as a festival, and known as the "Xylophoria." At times appointed year by year. It may be gathered from this that, originally, no single day was selected for bringing in all the wood; much less one and the same day appointed for every year. The original system was variable and elastic; but in course of time a rigid uniformity was introduced and established. As it is written in the law. See Leviticus 6:12.
And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD:
Verse 35. And to bring the first-fruits ... unto the house of the Lord. The idea of offering "first-fruits" may be ascribed to natural piety. They were well known to the Greeks and Romans (ἀπαρχαί, primi-tiae). But in the Mosaic law they were commanded (Exodus 22:29; Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:10, 17, etc.), and thenceforth became a matter of religious obligation. The present passage furnishes, however, distinct evidence that the obligation had now for some time been disregarded. The first-fruits of all fruit. First-fruits were required not merely of wheat and other grain, but also expressly of wine and oil, the produce of the vine and olive, and by implication of all other fruit trees (see Numbers 18:12; Deuteronomy 18:4, etc.).
Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God:
Verse 36. - The first-born of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the law. See Exodus 22:29; Exodus 34:19. The firstborn children were to be "redeemed."
And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.
Verse 37. - The first-fruits of our dough. See Numbers 15:18-21. And our offerings. Literally, "our heave offerings" (Numbers 15:20; Leviticus 23:11, 17). To the chambers of the house. The store-chambers attached to the temple-building (see Nehemiah 13:4, 5). The tithes of our ground. As with the law of first-fruits, so with that of tithes (which was more burthensome), there had grown up a practice of neglecting it on the part of many, if not of all. The natural result would be the non-attendance of Levites at Jerusalem, and so a falling-off in the solemnity and grandeur of the temple-worship (comp. Nehemiah 13:10). It was now covenanted afresh on the part of the people that they would resume the legal practice, at any rate to the extent of paying what has been called "the first tithe," or that due to the Levites for their sustentation. In all the cities of our tillage. The Levitical tithe was not taken to Jerusalem. but stored up in some neighbouring, generally Levitical, city.
And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.
Verse 38. - The priest shall be with the Levites when the Levites take tithe. Some representative (or representatives) of the priestly order was to be present whenever the Levites received their tithes, to take note of the quantity, and prevent the Levites from depriving the priests of their due share - the tithe of the tithe. This tenth, being thus ascertained, was to be conveyed to Jerusalem at the expense of the Levites, and deposited in its appropriate store-chamber.
For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.
Verse 39. - The children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering. The priests were not to be troubled with the conveyance of any of the offerings. The first-fruits and other oblations of the people were to be brought to the temple by the people themselves; and the "tithe of the tithe,' which was the priests' due, by the Levites. Thus the priests would not be drawn away from their duty of ministering in the temple by secular employments and matters of mere worldly business. We will not forsake, or neglect, the house of our God. We will not suffer, that is, any interruption of the continual service of the temple, we will not be parties to any neglect or slovenliness in the conduct of it. So far as we are concerned, everything shall be done to enable the priests and Levites to remain constantly at Jerusalem in full numbers, and to devote themselves wholly to their sacred duties in God's house. With this emphatic declaration of their intentions the people concluded the engagements by which they voluntarily bound themselves.