Nehemiah 13
Pulpit 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;
Verse 1. - On that day. See Nehemiah 12:44. The phrase seems to mean, in Nehemiah, "About that time." They read in the book of Moses. It is uncertain whether this was a casual reading, like that of Ezra's, recorded in Nehemiah 8:1-8, or whether it was the prescribed reading (Deuteronomy 31:11) at the time of the feast of tabernacles. Therein was found written. See Deuteronomy 23:3-5. It seems to be implied that the nation at large had no knowledge of the law, except that which they derived from the occasional public reading of the Pentateuch, or portions of it. Copies of the law were extremely scarce; and even if an ordinary Jew possessed one, he would not have been able to understand it (comp. above, Nehemiah 8:8).
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.
Verse 2. follows closely Deuteronomy 23:4, 5, merely substituting the third for the second person, and abbreviating a little. On the turning of Balaam's proposed curse into a blessing see Numbers 24:10.
Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.
Verse 3. - They separated from Israel all the mixed multitude. Some lengthy process, like that pursued by Ezra (Ezra 10:10-19), is probably glanced at in these words, and again in the opening words of ver. 30 - "Thus cleansed I them from all strangers." The rebukes of Nehemiah (vers. 25-27) did not suffice to produce a voluntary putting away of the foreign wives. Judicial proceedings had to be taken, and the "mixed multitude" separated off by authority.
And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah:
Verse 4. - Eliashib the priest. It is questioned whether the high priest of Nehemiah 3:1 is meant, and noted that the expression used - "the priest"- does not always designate "the high priest" (see ver. 13); but the important charge said to have been assigned to him, the alliance with so great a man as Tobiah, and the important step taken, the assignment to a heathen of a residence within the temple precincts, imply a man of high authority, and suit better with the high priest than with any one of lower rank. Moreover, the fact that Eliashib's leanings were towards the enemies of Nehemiah accounts for his disappearance from the history from Nehemiah 3:1 to Nehemiah 13:4. Having the oversight. Literally, "being set over" - perhaps by Nehemiah, who seems to have claimed the appointment to all offices about the temple which were not purely spiritual. (see Nehemiah 12:44; Nehemiah 13:13). Of the chamber. The word "chamber" (lishkah) is here used in a collective sense of the entire building containing the many "chambers" or "treasuries" of Nehemiah 12:44; Nehemiah 13:9, 12, 13. Was allied unto Tobiah. Karob, the word translated "allied," means "a relation," either by blood or marriage. In the present case the relationship must have been by means of a marriage.
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.
Verse 5. - He had prepared for him a great chamber. He (Eliashib) had prepared (or made) for him (Tobiah) a great chamber - probably by throwing into one several of the old store-chambers. The meat offerings. The minchah consisted of fine flour seasoned with salt, and mixed with oil and frankincense. It was made into a sort of cake, but without leaven, and formed part of the daily morning and evening sacrifice, the Sabbath offerings, and most others. The frankincense. Frankincense was a necessary ingredient in the incense which was offered twice a day on the "altar of incense" in the holy place (Exodus 30:34). As a rare foreign product, it had necessarily to be kept in store. The vessels. Sacred vessels, basins, and the like, not needed except on occasion of great gatherings. The offerings of the priests. The portion of the offerings which belonged to the priests - "the tithe of the tithes."
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:
Verse 6. - In all this time. Literally, "during all this"- while all this was being done. The reference seems to be solely to the affair of Eliashib and Tobiah. Artaxerxes, king of Babylon. The title "king of Babylon," which was certainly borne by Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius Hystaspis, may have continued in use down to the time of Nehemiah, or even later. If he visited Artaxerxes at Babylon, the court happening to be there at the time, he would naturally think and speak of him as "king of Babylon." After certain days. Literally, "at the end of days," which is thought to mean "at the expiration of a year." I obtained leave of the king. Gesenius and Professor Lee render, "I asked leave of the king; Houbigant, Rambach, and others, "I was asked for from the king," i.e. "the Jews asked to have me sent back to govern them."
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.
Verse 7. - A chamber in the courts of the house of God. It would seem by this expression that the chamber made over to Tobiah was not part of the main building of the temple, but a portion of some detached building belonging to the "courts." This, no doubt, made the desecration less flagrant, but was far from justifying it.
And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.
Verse 8. - Therefore cast I forth all the household stuff. Tobiah had furnished his "chamber" as a dwelling-house, filling it with "household stuff" of various kinds. Nehemiah, of his own authority, had the whole of it turned out of doors.
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.
Verse 9. - I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers. Regarding the sacred place as polluted by its conversion to secular uses, Nehemiah had it purified, and so reconsecrated. He then ordered the restoration to their former place of the various stores which had been removed to make room for Tobiah's furniture.
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.
Verse 10. - I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites ... were fled. What Nehemiah saw was that the Levites were absent, and "the house of God forsaken" (ver. 11). On inquiry, he found that the reason of their absence was the non-payment of the tithes. That did the work. i.e. whose business it was to do the work of the house, or, in other words, conduct Divine service. Every one to his field. Every Levite had a plot of ground, which he cultivated when not engaged in the work of the temple (see Numbers 35:2; Joshua 21:3).
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.
Verse 11. - Then contended I with the rulers. While the guilt of profaning the temple lay especially with the priestly class, that of withholding the tithes was mainly chargeable on the "rulers," or "nobles." These persons, as wealthy landowners, had of course a pecuniary interest in keeping back the tithe. When they felt the control of a strong hand they made the payments regularly enough (Nehemiah 12:47; Nehemiah 13:12); but no sooner was this control removed by Nehemiah's departure than they relapsed into the covetous habits in which they had indulged before he was made governor (Nehemiah 10:37). The Church in all ages has suffered wrong from the cupidity of wealthy men among its members. Why is the house of God forsaken? Why, contrarily to the distinct pledge given at the time of the renewal of the covenant (Nehemiah 10:39), have you suffered the house of God to become a solitude, driving the Levites away from it by depriving them of their legal sustenance? I gathered them together. Nehemiah brought the Levites back to the temple from their country residences, and re-established them in their proper offices.
Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.
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.
Verse 13. - And I made treasurers. It was perhaps now for the first time that special treasurers were provided to have the charge of the temple store-chambers, these having hitherto been under the superintendence of the high priest (ver. 4). The appointment mentioned in Nehemiah 12:44 is probably the same with this; and the entire duty of the treasurers is to be learnt by combining that passage with the present. They were to be both the collectors and the dispensers of the tithes. Of the four treasurers, one was a priest, one a Levite, one a layman of rank (see Nehemiah 10:22), and one a professional scribe. This last, Zadok, is perhaps to be identified with the "Zidkijah" of Nehemiah 10:1, who appears to have been Nehemiah's private secretary (see the comment ad loc.). Unto their brethren i.e. to the priests and Levites, brethren of Shelemiah and Pedaiah.
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.
Verse 14. - Remember me, O my God, Or, "Think upon me, my God," as the same words are translated in Nehemiah 5:19. Wipe not out my good deeds. i.e. "Blot not my good deeds out of thy remembrance"- forget them not, let them be remembered in my favour. For the offices thereof. Rather, as in the margin, "for the observances thereof" - i.e. for the maintenance of the rites, ceremonies, usages, etc. of the temple, which I have done my best to continue on the ancient footing.
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.
Verse 15. - In those days. A note of time even vaguer than that of Nehemiah 12:44 and Nehemiah 13:1, but pointing certainly to a date later than Nehemiah's return from the Persian court. Saw I some treading wine-presses on the sabbath. On the treading of grapes in the wine-press, as the first step towards the production of wine, see Job 24:11; Isaiah 63:2, 3, etc. The performance of this work on the sabbath was a flagrant breach of the fourth commandment. Bringing in sheaves and lading asses. Scarcely "sheaves in our sense of the word, since corn was not stored in sheaves. Rather, "bringing grain and loading it upon asses." As also. Rather, "and even." It might be pleaded that the transport of grain was a necessity; but there could be no absolute need of a supply of wine, grapes, or figs. I testified against them in the day in which they sold victuals. Rather, "I testified against them in respect of the day on which they sold provisions."
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.
Verse 16. - There dwelt men of Tyre also therein. It was not against the law that foreigners should dwell in Jerusalem. Araunah the Jebusite lived there in the time of David, and Ebed-melech the Ethiopian in the time of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:7). Nehemiah does not object to the Tyrians for being dwellers in Jerusalem, but for offering their wares for sale there on the sabbath, and inducing the Jews to buy of them. Which brought fish. Fish was always a favourite article of food with the Israelites (Leviticus 11:9; Numbers 11:5; Deuteronomy 14:9; Isaiah 19:10; Matthew 14:7; Matthew 15:34; Luke 24:42, etc.). They derived it chiefly from the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean.
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?
Verse 17. - Then I contended with the nobles. In the desecration of the sabbath, as in the non-payment of tithes, the nobles were the chief offenders, being at once luxurious and latitudinarian. They desired the freshest food for their feasts, and encouraged both foreigners and natives to break the law for the gratification of their carnal appetites.
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.
Verse 18. - Did not your fathers thus? The desecration of the sabbath is among the sins most strongly denounced by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:21-27)and Ezekiel
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.
Verse 19. - When the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath. The Jews have always reckoned their days from sunset to sunset, grounding their practice on the account of the Creation given in the first chapter of Genesis, where "the evening and the morning" arc said to constitute each of the six days. There was also a special command that the "sabbath" of the great day of atonement should be kept "from even to even" (Leviticus 23:32). I commanded that the gates should be shut. The gates would as a matter of course have been shut at sunset. Nehemiah required that the closing should take place some half-hour earlier, when the shadows were lengthening, and the day was drawing towards a close. He regarded it as a sort of desecration of the sabbath to carry on secular work to the last allowable moment. Some of my servants. Compare Nehemiah 4:16; Nehemiah 5:16. That there should be no burthen brought in. Foot passengers were no doubt allowed to enter and leave the city on the sabbath, Nehemiah's servants being set to see that under no pretence should merchandise be allowed to enter.
So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.
Verse 20. - The merchants lodged without. The merchants could not leave their wares unguarded; and the wares not being admitted into the town, they were obliged to camp out. Thus a crowd was collected about the gates, and a disturbance and excitement caused, which was unsuitable for the sabbath. To prevent this, Nehemiah threatened to arrest the merchants, whereupon the practice was given up (ver. 21).
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.
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.
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.
In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:
Verse 23. - In those days. i.e. "About this same time." Compare ver. 15. Saw I Jews. Rather, "looked I after the Jews." There is a reference to the first three verses of the present chapter, which had introduced the subject of the mixed marriages. Nehemiah wishes to put on record the part which he had taken in the matter, and begins by observing that it had not escaped him - he had had his eye on the transgressors, and had noted their misconduct, and the evils whereto it led. Wives of Ashdod. Philistine wives, of a race always hostile to Israel, and natives of a city which had recently taken part with Nehemiah's bitter enemies (Nehemiah 4:7). Of Ammon and of Moab. Compare Ezra 9:1, and Nehemiah 13:1.
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.
Verse 24. - Their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod. Some understand the writer to mean that half of the children in a family spoke the tongue of the father, and half that of the mother. But many of the best Hebraists prefer the sense expressed by our translators, viz., that all the children spoke a jargon half Ashdodite and half Aramaic. The Philistine language is said to have resembled the Egyptian (Hieronym., 'Comment. in Esaiam,' 19:18).
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.
Verse 25. - I contended with them, and cursed them. Or, "reviled them," as Gesenius and Professor Lee explain. And smote certain of them. i.e. "had some of them beaten." Some understand by this that the offenders underwent the bastinado by sentence of a court (Deuteronomy 25:2); others think Nehemiah had them struck informally by his attendants. This latter explanation 'is supported by the following clause, since "plucking out the hair" was never a legal punishment. Made them swear by God. Literally, "swore them by God," i.e. dictated the words, and made them repeat the formula and accept the oath. Saying, Ye shall not give. Literally, "If ye shall give,' etc. Nehemiah made them swear that they should intermarry with the heathen the curse of God should fall upon them.
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.
Verse 26. - Did not Solomon... sin by these things? The example adduced was more apt than any other to move Jews. Israelites might have felt more deeply the case of Ahab (1 Kings 21:25). Solomon's sin in "going after strange wives," and its punishment, are set forth very fully in 1 Kings 11:1-40. Among many nations there was no king like him. The reference is not so much to particular texts (e.g. 1 Kings 3:13; 2 Chronicles 1:12) as to the general description of Solomon, his glory, and his greatness (1 Kings 4-10; 2 Chronicles 1-9.), which set him above all other earthly monarchs. Who was beloved of his God. See 2 Samuel 12:24. And God made him king over all Israel. See 1 Kings 4:1.
Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?
Verse 27. - Shall we then hearken unto you? Shall we give way to you, and adopt the practice which you recommend, thus transgressing against God, and provoking him to destroy us? Surely not. Solomon's example is enough to deter us.
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.
Verse 28. - One of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib. See Nehemiah 12:10. Eliashib seems to have been still living, though one of his grandsons was of age to contract a marriage. Was son-in-law to Sanballat, the Horonite. Had therefore married one of his daughters, while Eliashib himself was connected by marriage with Tobiah. The defection of the high priestly family from those principles which Ezra and Nehemiah regarded as vital is only too apparent. I chased him from me. i.e. I forced him to quit the country and become an exile. We may suppose that he refused to repudiate his foreign wife, and preferred to take refuge with Sanballat in Samaria.
Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.
Verse 29. - They have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. We look in vain for any distinct "covenant" which the priestly order broke by allying itself with the heathen, or indeed for any special law forbidding the priests to take heathen wives, which was not equally binding upon laymen. But Nehemiah feels that every sin is worse in a priest than in one who is not a priest; that a priest who contracts a pollution "pollutes the priesthood;" and that there is a tacit covenant by which priests and Levites bind themselves to holiness of life more absolutely and definitely than others.
Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;
Verse 30. - Thus cleansed I them. Rather, "And I cleansed them." The process of cleansing touched on in this verse, and also in ver. 3, is not described. It probably resembled the process adopted by Ezra (Ezra 10:5-17). And appointed the wards. i.e. "assigned their offices to the various priests and Levites" (see Nehemiah 11:11-24; Nehemiah 12:44; Nehemiah 13:13).
And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.
Verse 31. - And for the wood offering. i.e. "I appointed persons to look after the collection of the wood offering (Nehemiah 10:34) and of the first-fruits" (ibid. vers. 35-37). At appointed times. Compare the expression in Nehemiah 10:34: "At times appointed year by year." Remember me, O my God, for good. A characteristic termination of a book whereof one of the main features has been a constant carrying to God of all the author's cares, troubles, and difficulties (see Nehemiah 1:4-11; Nehemiah 2:4, 20; Nehemiah 4:4, 9, 20; Nehemiah 5:15, 19; Nehemiah 6:9, 14; Nehemiah 13:14, 22, 29).

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