Nehemiah 8
Pulpit 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.
Verse 1. - The chapter should commence, as in the Septuagint, with the last two clauses of ch. 7, and should run thus: - "And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in their cities, all the people gathered themselves together, as one man, into the court that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe," etc. The "court" (rehob) spoken of appears to have been situated between the eastern gate of the temple and the city wall, at the point where it was pierced by the "water gate." They spake unto Ezra. It is remarkable that the people ask for instruction. Though they do not keep the law, they have a yearning after it. They are not contented with their existing condition, but desire better things, and they have an instinctive feeling that to hear God's word will help them.
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.
Verse 2. - Ezra the priest brought the law. Ezra, God's true priest, at once responded to the call He did not say, "The law is difficult, hard to be understood, might mislead you, should be reserved for the learned;" but at once "brought it," and "read therein" before the congregation both of men and women, and of all that could hear with understanding, i.e. of all (youths and maidens) that were old enough to understand the words.
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.
Verse 3. - From the morning until midday. Or, "from daylight." He began as soon as it was light enough, and read on (he and his assistants - ver. 7) till noon, that is, for six hours or more. The reading appears to have been varied by occasional exposition (vers. 7, 8). The ears of all the people were attentive. Though there is no word in the Hebrew for "attentive," yet the meaning is quite correctly given: "the ears of all the people were to the book" Ñ fixed on that, and on nothing else.
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.
Verse 4. - Ezra... stood upon a pulpit of wood. Compare 2 Kings 11:14; 2 Kings 23:3, where, however, the term used is עמוד, "stand," and not מגדל, "tower." In either case an elevated platform seems to be meant. Mattithiah, and Shema. These persons are commonly supposed to have been priests, but there is nothing to prove it. They need not even have been Levites, since they were there not to teach, but only to do honour to Ezra.
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:
Verse 5. - All the people stood up. The Jews commonly sat to hear and stood up to pray; but in hearing they occasionally stood up, to do greater honour to the person or the occasion (see Judges 3:20). It is not to be supposed that they stood during the whole of the six hours that Ezra's reading lasted.
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.
Verse 6. - Ezra blessed the Lord. Ezra began by an ascription of praise to Jehovah, as the Levites, probably under his direction, begin in Nehemiah 9:5, and as David began his last address to the congregation (1 Chronicles 29:10). The great God. The epithet belongs to the writer rather than to Ezra himself, who in his own book never uses it. It recurs in this section (Nehemiah 9:32), and is also employed by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:5). Amen, Amen. The repetition marks intensity of feeling, as does the lifting up their hands. Compare 2 Kings 11:14; Luke 23:21; and for the lifting up of the hands, so natural in prayer, see Psalm 134:2; 1 Timothy 2:8, etc. Worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Compare 2 Chronicles 7:3; Ezra 10:2.
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.
Verse 7. - Joshua, Bani, Sherebiah, etc. Levitical families, not individual Levites (see Nehemiah 9:4, 5; Nehemiah 10:10-13; Nehemiah 12:8, etc.). And the Levites. i.e. "the rest of the Levites." Caused the people to understand the law. Expounding it, during pauses in the reading. The people stood in their place. Rather, "were in their place" - remained throughout the whole of the reading and exposition without quitting their places. It is not probable that they stood.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
Verse 8. - They read in the book in the law of God distinctly. That is, so that every word could be distinctly heard. Compare Ezra 4:18, where a cognate word is translated "plainly." And gave the sense. Translated the Hebrew words into the popular Aramaic or Chaldee. And caused them to understand the reading. Literal]y, "in the reading." In the course of the reading they caused the people to understand by explaining the meaning of each passage.
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.
Verse 9. - Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha. The term "Tirshatha" had previously been applied only to Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65), but it was applicable to any governor. The writer of the section, introducing Nehemiah here for the first time, naturally gives him a title of reverence. Nehemiah's modesty had made him content to describe himself by the general and comparatively weak term pechah. Said unto the people... Mourn not. A combined remonstrance is made against the open grief of the people by the civil and ecclesiastical rulers, and by the order of Levites. Mourning was unsuitable for a day of high festivity, the opening day of the civil year and of the sabbatical month, itself a sabbath or day of rest, and one to be kept by blowing of trumpets (Leviticus 23:24, 25; Numbers 29:1-6).
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.
Verse 10. - Then he said. Either Ezra or Nehemiah, but probably the former, to whom it appertained to give religious directions. Eat the fat and drink the sweet. i.e. "Go and enjoy yourselves, eat and drink of the best - let there be no fasting, nor even abstinence, on such a day as this." But at the same time send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared. Make the poor partakers of your joy. "The stranger, the fatherless, and the widow" should have their part in the feast (Deuteronomy 16:14). And for yourselves, remember that the joy of the Lord, i.e. religious joy, constitutes your strength.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.
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.
Verse 12. - To make great mirth. Or "great rejoicing," not "mirth" in the sense which the word now commonly bears.

CHAPTER 8:13-18
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.
Verse 13. - And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers. At times it is true that "increase of appetite doth grow by what it feeds on." Once let the sweetness of the Divine word be tasted and appreciated, and there springs up in the heart instantly a desire for more - a wish to continue in the study - a feeling like that of the Psalmist when he said, "Lord, what love have I unto thy law: all the day long is my study in it" (Psalm 119:97). The Jews, taught by Ezra in the law of God on the first day of the month, return to him on the second, desirous of hearing more, hungering and thirsting after the word of life, of which they have felt the power and the excellency. To understand. Rather, "to consider," as in Psalm 41:1.
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:
Verse 14. - And they found written. The practice of "dwelling in booths," commanded in Leviticus 23:42, had fallen into disuse, probably during the captivity, and though the feast itself had been revived by Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:4), yet this feature of it, from which it derived its name, had remained in abeyance. In the feast of the seventh month. Though the "feast of trumpets" was also a feast of the seventh month, that of tabernacles was "the feast," being one of those which all Israelites not reasonably hindered were bound to attend (Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16), and which was placed on a par with the Passover and Pentecost.
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.
Verse 15. - And that they should publish. See Leviticus 23:4. Saying, Go forth, etc. These words are not found in any existing Scripture, and some corruption of the present text may therefore be suspected. The Septuagint interposes, between "Jerusalem" and "Go forth," the words "And Esdras said," which would remove the difficulty; but it is difficult to understand how Ezra's name should have fallen out. Perhaps Houbigant is right in his suggestion of an emendation, by which the verse would run thus: - "And when they heard it, they proclaimed in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth," etc. Into the mountain. i.e. the neighbouring mountain, the Mount of Olives. Pine branches. Rather "oleaster branches." Branches of thick trees. The same expression is used in Leviticus 23:40, the meaning in each place being uncertain. Perhaps trees with thick, viscous leaves are intended. It is remark- able that two of the trees commanded in Leviticus are omitted, viz., the hadar and the "willow of the brook," while three not mentioned in Leviticus - the olive, oleaster, and myrtle - are added.
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.
Verse 16. - The flat roofs of Oriental houses, and the court round which they were commonly built, furnished convenient sites for the booths, and would be preferred by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The incomers from the country districts (ver. 15) would have to occupy the open places or "squares" of the city, and the temple courts, which would accommodate large numbers. On the street of the water gate see the comment on ver. 1. The street of the gate of Ephraim was probably a similar square, inside the great northern gateway.
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.
Verse 17. - Jeshua the son of Nun. "Jeshua" and "Joshua" are two modes of contracting the full name of Jehoshua, the latter prevalent in early, the former in later times. The Grecised form of Jeshua was "Jesus" (see Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8). When it is said that since the days of Jeshua had not the children of Israel done so, we must understand, not that there had been no celebration of the feast of tabernacles since that time - not even that there had been no celebration accompanied by "dwelling in booths," but only that there had been no such joyous and general celebration of the festival (comp. what is said in 2 Kings 23:22 and 2 Chronicles 35:18 of the passover kept in Josiah's eighteenth year). It is the very great gladness that is especially insisted upon.
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.
Verse 18. - Also day by day... . he read in the book of the law. Ezra must be intended in the form "he read," though there has been no mention of him since verse 13. The continuous and systematic reading seems to imply that the year was a Sabbatical one, and that the rehearsal commanded in Deuteronomy 31:10-13 now took place. The observance was perhaps a new thing to the newly-formed community, and is therefore recorded with so much emphasis. They kept the feast seven days. See Leviticus 23:34; Numbers 29:12-34; Deuteronomy 16:13. On the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according to the manner. Such a mode of solemnising the octave was commanded in Leviticus 23:36 and Numbers 29:35. By "according to the manner" seems to be meant "according to the regularly established custom"- one proof out of many that the feast had been constantly observed, though not perhaps with all the proper ceremonies (see the comment on ver. 17).

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