Nehemiah 13 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Nehemiah 13
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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;

(1-3) Reform as to mixed marriages.

(1) On that day.—Probably the season of the Feast of Tabernacles, as before. But portions were selected to be read.

They read in the book of Moses.—“It was read” in the Pentateuch, and specially Deuteronomy 23. This is introduced for the sake of the action taken, and the history is given in brief, with a striking and characteristic parenthesis of Nehemiah’s own concerning the curse turned into a blessing.

Therein was found written.—What to the people generally was not known.

For ever.—No Ammonite or Ammonite family could have legal standing in the congregation, “even to their tenth generation;” and this interdict was to last “for ever.” It virtually though not actually amounted to absolute exclusion.

(3) The mixed multitude.—For the “mixed multitude,” or Ereb, which plays so prominent a part in Jewish history, see on Exodus 12:38. The process here was that of shutting out heathens who were in the habit of mingling with the people in the services. In Nehemiah 9 it was, as we saw, the people’s separation from the practices and spirit of the heathen.

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.
Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.
And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah:
(4-9) The scandal of the high priest.

(4) Eliashib the priest, having the oversight.—Probably the high priest of Nehemiah 3:1, whose office alone would not have given him control over the chamber:” that is, the series of chambers running round three walls of the Temple. He “was allied unto Tobiah,” but in what way is not stated.

Before this.—That is, before the return of Nehemiah; indeed, there is a suspicious absence of Eliashib’s name throughout the high religious festivities of the preceding chapters.

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.
(5) A great chamber.—The sequel shows that many email chambers had been thrown into one.

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:
(6) Was not I at Jerusalem.—Parenthetical explanation of this disorderly state of things.

King of Babylon.—Probably it was at Babylon that Nehemiah found the court, and therefore he does not say King of Persia.”

After certain days.—The time is left indefinite. But the “two and thirtieth year” shows that he had been in Jerusalem twelve years before his return to the king.

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.
And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.
(8) It grieved me sore.—The second time we read of Nehemiah’s deep emotion: first, because of the utter dissoluteness of which this was a token; and secondly, because it was a priestly desecration.

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.
(9) Cleansed.—There was a formal purification. It is a note of minute accuracy that there is no mention of tithes being brought back as yet; the next verses show why.

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.
(10-13) The provision for the Levites.

(10) Fled every one to his field.—They who performed the work of the Temple were obliged to seek their sustenance by cultivating the fields apportioned to them in the Levitical cities (Numbers 35:2).

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.
(11) Contended I with the rulers.—See their express covenant in Nehemiah 10:39. The rich men had taken advantage of Nehemiah’s absence to indulge their covetousness.

And I gathered them together.—The Levites were summoned back from their fields.

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.
(13) And I made.—The reform was made effectual by organisation. Eliashib had failed in his duty (Nehemiah 13:4); and the appointment of treasurers (Nehemiah 12:44) is now confirmed. One of the treasurers was a layman named Hanan (Nehemiah 10:22); but they were all faithful men, and are mentioned in connection with the building of the wall. The majority being priests and Levites, they distributed “to their brethren.” Zadok was probably the Zidkijah of Nehemiah 10:1, and the secretary of Nehemiah.

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.
(14) Remember me.—Once more the faithful servant of God begs a merciful remembrance of what he had done for the honour of God in the “observances” of His Temple.

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.
(15-22) Vindication of the Sabbath.

(15) Saw I in Judah.—In the country Nehemiah marked the most determined profanation of the Sabbath; and this extended to Jerusalem, into which all kinds of burdens were on that day, as on others, carried.

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.
(16) Men of Tyre.—They brought timber for the building of the Temple, and received food in payment Ezra 3:7). Now they seem to have established themselves as a colony, and supplied fish, especially to the inhabitants. But their offence was the doing this “on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.” The verse closes emphatically.

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?
(17) That ye do.—The nobles, in the absence of Nehemiah, had been responsible, and the sin is charged upon them. The appeal supposes their familiarity with the express prediction of Jeremiah and its literal fulfilment (Jeremiah 17:27).

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.
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.
(19) Some of my servants.—These are several times mentioned as employed in public duty. Here they are used provisionally, to keep out traffickers until the formal appointment of the Levitical guard (Nehemiah 13:22), after which they would be relieved.

So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.
(20) Once or twice.—For a time they lodged outside; the unseemliness of this, and the evidence it gave that they were only waiting to evade the law, made Nehemiah testify in word, and threaten forcible action. This effectually removed the evil.

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.
(22) Cleanse themselves.—As for a sacred duty, not without reference to their past neglect, which required to be forgiven. This was a high tribute to the Sabbath ordinance, and as such in harmony with all the details of this episode.

Remember me.—In this prayer also Nehemiah commits his fidelity to the merciful estimate of God. But something in connection with the Sabbath, or with his retrospect of his own conduct, gives the passing prayer a peculiar pathos of humility.

In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:
(23-29) The mixed marriages again.

(23) Saw I Jews.—The punishment shows that these were exceptional cases; but the transgression was of the most flagrant kind (see 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.
(24) Half in the speech of Ashdod.—A mixture of Philistine and Aramaic.

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.
(25) Cursed them.—Nehemiah simply echoed the covenant sanction on this very point (Nehemiah 10:29-30).

Certain of them.—Some were selected for special punishment and humiliation. Ezra, on a like occasion, humbled himself by plucking off the hair of his own head (Ezra 9:3). Then they were obliged to repeat the oath of the covenant.

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.
(26) Did not Solomon . . .—Here it is implied that the language of Scripture concerning Solomon was familiar both to Nehemiah and to these transgressors. It is a remarkable instance of the faithful application of their own chronicles.

Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?
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.
(28) I chased him from me.—Eliashib himself was allied by marriage to Tobiah, and one of his grandsons was now brought into prominence as married to Sanballat. Him Nehemiah drove into exile.

Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.
(29) Remember them.—This priestly violation of law is committed to God alone for punishment.

And of the Levites.—God chose the tribe of Levi for Himself, specially the house of Aaron, and every priest was to be “holy to the Lord (Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 21:8). This was “the covenant of the priesthood;” though there may be an undertone of reference to the great covenant in Nehemiah 10.

Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;
(30, 31) Conclusion.

(30) This is a brief recapitulation of the special Work of Nehemiah after his return.

Thus cleansed I them.—After the acts of discipline described above, there was doubtless some formal service of expiation.

And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.
(31) Remember me, O my God, for good.—With these words Nehemiah leaves the scene, commiting himself and his discharge of duty to the Righteous Judge. His conscientious fidelity had brought him into collision not only with external enemies but with many of his own brethren. His rigorous reformation has been assailed by many moralists and commentators in every age. But in these words he commits all to God, as it were by anticipation.—It may be added that with these words end the annals of Old Testament history.

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