Nehemiah 9 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Nehemiah 9
Pulpit 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.
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.
Verse 2. - The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers. Compare Nehemiah 10:28, by which it appears that the "strangers" are "the people of the lands," or neighbouring heathen, of whom there were at all times considerable numbers in Jerusalem (comp. Nehemiah 13:16). It was not fitting that these aliens should take part in a ceremony of which the main object was that the special people of God should renew their covenant with him. Stood and confessed. Attitude is perhaps scarcely intended here, since the Jews confessed their sins kneeling (Ezra 9:5), or prostrate (Ezra 10:1). Hence we hear in the next verse that they "stood up," or "rose up" (consurrexerunt, Vulg.).
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.
Verse 3. - In their place. See above, Nehemiah 8:7. The people and the ministers had their appointed "places"in every gathering of a religious character. The former now "stood up" in their proper place, and read, i.e. "engaged in the reading of the law, not, however, as actual readers, but as listeners. The readers would be the Levites (see Nehemiah 8:7, 8). One fourth part of the day. The day and the night were alike divided by the Jews into four parts, each of three hours duration. The nocturnal divisions are frequently alluded to in the New Testament (Mark 13:35; John 18:28, etc.). Worshipped. Literally, "bowed themselves down," or "prostrated themselves."
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.
Verse 4. - Upon the stairs, of the Levites. Rather, "upon the platform of the Levites," the same probably as the "pulpit of Nehemiah 8:4. Bani. Rather, "Binnui" (see Nehemiah 10:9; Nehemiah 12:8),the representative of the "sons of Henadad. Jeshua, Binnui, and Kadmiel are the three principal families of the Levites (comp. Ezra 2:40; Ezra 3:9; Nehemiah 3:24; Nehemiah 8:7, etc.). Sherebiah was the head of a family which returned with Ezra (Ezra 8:18). Chenani is probably the "Hanan" of Nehemiah 8:7, and Nehemiah 10:10.
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.
Verse 5.- Stand up. The people had prostrated themselves (see the comment on ver. 3) for confession and prayer; they are now bidden to "stand up" for praise. Compare the practice of the Christian Church. Blesse
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.
Verse 6. - Thou art Lord alone. Compare Psalm 86:10 and Isaiah 27:16. In the latter passage the phrase used is almost identical. The heaven of heavens. Compare Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 148:4. The expression has been explained as -

1. The very highest heaven;

2. The heavens in all their infinity,

The latter sense best suits the various passages where the phrase occurs. With all their host. The "host of heaven" has been taken to mean -

1. The angels;

2. The stars.

By the immediate context the stars would seem to be here intended; but the last clause of the verse is more properly applicable to the angels. Still, it must be remembered that, according to H.S. (Psalm 148:3), even the stars "praise" God. Thou preservest them all. The preservation of all created things by him who called them into being is scarcely taught in the Old Testament elsewhere than in this passage. The Psalmist says in one place, "Thou preservest man and beast" (Psalm 36:6); but this acknowledgment falls very far short of the universality of the present passage. Man naturally, but foolishly, fancies that things once created are able to preserve themselves. Exact thought sees, that if all things have been produced from nothing, it requires precisely the same power to sustain as originally to produce them. Hence "preservation" has been called "a continual creation."
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;
Verses 7-31. - Compare with this long historical resume the still longer ones in Psalm 78:5-72 and Acts 7:2-47. God's dealings with his people furnished a moral lesson of extraordinary force, and moral teachers, naturally, made frequent reference to them. But it is not often that we have so complete and elaborate a recapitulation as the present, which, beginning with the call of Abraham, brings the history down to the time of the Persian servitude. God's goodness and his people's ingratitude form the burthen of the whole.
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:
Verse 8. - Canaanites, etc. The nations driven out were actually seven (Deuteronomy 7:1), but it is a common figure of speech to put the part for the whole. In the present enumeration the Hivites are omitted. Hast performed thy words. Though for a time remnants of the accursed nations were left in the land, "to prove Israel" (Judges 3:1), yet ultimately all were either driven out or reduced to the condition of slaves (see the comment on Ezra 2:55).
And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;
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.
Verse 10. - They dealt proudly. The "proud dealing" of the Egyptians is spoken of in Exodus 18:11. That God "got himself a name" by the signs and wonders shown in Egypt is often declared (see Exodus 9:16; Exodus 14:17; Exodus 15:14-16, etc.).
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.
Verse 11. - As a stone. This phrase is taken from the "song of Moses" (Exodus 15:5). The composer of the address has also in his mind Exodus 15:10. The epithet given to the "waters" is not, however, the same, as might appear from the A.V.
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.
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:
Verse 13. - Right judgments, true laws, good statutes, etc., are expressions which imply an immutable morality, a standard of right and wrong antecedent to command or precept, which standard is doubtless the eternal goodness of God himself. The repetition of the epithets here shows the composer of the form to be penetrated with the spirit of admiration for God's commandments which breathes so remarkably through the whole of Psalm 119.
And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:
Verse 14. - Madest known unto them thy holy sabbath. The anterior existence of the sabbath to the law is here implied, which accords with Genesis 2:2, 3, and Exodus 20:11. Precepts, statutes, and laws. Rather a periphrasis for "the law" generally, than a logical division of the Law into distinct parts.
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.
Verse 15. - Bread from heaven. The manna had been already called the "bread of heaven" (Psalm 105:40) and the "corn of heaven" (Psalm 78:24) by the national psalmists. The composer of this prayer now for the first time calls it "bread from heaven"- a phrase consecrated to Christians by its employment in John 6. (vers. 32, 51, 58).
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,
Verse 16. - They and our fathers. Rather, "they, our fathers." The vau is used exegetically. Dealt proudly. i.e. "acted insolently." Compare Deuteronomy 1:43, where the same verb is translated "were presumptuous" (marg.). Hardened their necks. So in 2 Kings 17:14.
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.
Verse 17. - In their rebellion. Several MSS. have b'Mitzraim for b'Miryam, which would give the sense "appointed a captain to return to their bondage in Egypt." So the Septuagint. Appointed a captain. The reference is to Numbers 14:4, where we are told that the Israelites "said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt." The Levites speak as if the appointment had been made, perhaps regarding the intention as morally equivalent to the act. A God ready to pardon. Literally, "a God of pardons." The word used is a rare one, occurring only in Daniel 9:9 and Psalm 130:4, besides the present passage. Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. This is quoted from Joel 2:13, which is perhaps a conscious reproduction of Jonah 4:2.
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;
Verse 18. - Great provocations. Or "great blasphemies," as the same word is rendered in Ezekiel 35:12.
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 gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.
Verse 20. - Thou gavest them also thy good Spirit to instruct them. The "good Spirit" of God is mentioned in Psalm 143:10; and the fact of God's "instructing and teaching" men in Psalm 32:8. But instruction by God's Spirit is nowhere else distinctly mentioned in the Old Testament.
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.
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.
Verse 22. - Thou didst divide them into corners. i.e. "didst plant them in every corner of the Holy Land," - "gave them to possess the whole of it," - ultimately, that is, not at first (see the comment on ver. 8). The land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon. The Levites must have known that Sihon was king of Heshbon, and (if the text is sound) must have expressed themselves as they did, by way of rhetorical amplification; perhaps, however, the van after "Sihon" is the mistake of a copyist.
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.
Verse 23. - As the stars of heaven. There is a reference here to the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17). On the great multiplication which took place in Egypt see Exodus 1:7, 12.
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.
Verse 24. - The Canaanites. Sometimes, as in ver. 8, the Canaanites are spoken of as one of the nations cast out; sometimes the word is used in a larger sense, and includes the other six nations. Here we have the wide sense.
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.
Verse 25. - They took strong cities. As Jericho, Ai, Libnah, Lachish, Hazer, Hebron, etc. A fat land. Compare Numbers 14:7, 8; Deuteronomy 8:7-9; 2 Kings 18:32. Houses full of all goods. See Deuteronomy 6:11. Fruit trees in abundance. The fruit trees of Palestine are, besides the vine and the olive, the fig tree, the carob or locust tree (ceratonia siliqua), the quince, the apple, the almond, the walnut, the peach, the apricot, the mulberry, the sycamore fig, the prickly pear, the pomegranate, and the orange. Date-palms also were anciently abundant in the valley of the Jordan. They... became fat, Compare Deuteronomy 32:15 and Jeremiah 5:28, the only other places where the expression here used occurs. The comparison will show that dispraise is intended - "they grew wanton and self-indulgent." Delighted themselves. Rather, "luxuriated" (ἐτρύφησαν, LXX.).
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.
Verse 26. - They... slew thy prophets. Compare Matthew 23:37; Luke 11:47. Jewish tradition states that Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were murdered. Many prophets were slain by Jezebel, with Ahab's sanction (1 Kings 18:4). Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was put to death by Joash (2 Chronicles 24:22).
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.
Verse 27. - Thou gavest them saviours. e.g. Othniel and Ehud (who are called "saviours," Judges 3:9, 15), Shamgar, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Saul, David, etc. The writer seems to have the history of "Judges" especially in his mind (see the next 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;
Verse 28. - After they had rest. See Judges 3:11, 30; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28.
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.
Verse 29. - Withdrew the shoulder. Compare Hosea 4:16 ("Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer") and Zechariah 7:11. The metaphor is taken from the action of a beast of burthen which, when required to draw, shrinks from the yoke and starts back.
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.
Verse 30. - Many years didst thou forbear them. The ten tribes for 260 years from the revolt of Jeroboam, the remaining two tribes for 135 years longer. Testifiedst against them by thy Spirit in thy prophets. Compare 2 Kings 17:13, where the phrase used is nearly the same, and see also 2 Chronicles 36:15, 16. There was a continual succession of prophets from the time of Solomon to, and through, the captivity. Besides those whose writings have come down to us, we find mention of Ahijah the Shilonite, Iddo the seer, Shemaiah the prophet, Hanani, Jehu the son of Hanani, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah the son of Imlah, Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, Huldah, and (perhaps) Hosai. The guilt of the Jewish people was enormously increased by the fact that they would not give ear to the exhortations constantly addressed to them by the messengers of God. Therefore they were delivered into the hands of the heathen, or people of the lands.
Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.
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.
Verse 32. - Our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible. Compare Nehemiah 1:5, with the comment. Who keepest covenant and mercy. This phrase, which occurs also in Nehemiah 1:5, has apparently been derived from the Psalmist's words - "My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him" (Psalm 89:28). All the trouble. Literally, "the weariness;" but the word is clearly used here for "suffering" generally. Since the time of the kings of Assyria. The kings of Assyria, in the strictest sense of the word, had been God's original instrument for punishing his rebellious people. A king not mentioned in Holy Scripture tells us that he defeated Ahab, and forced Jehu to pay him tribute. Another (Pul) took tribute from Menahem (2 Kings 15:19, 20). A third (Tiglath. Pfieser) carried two tribes and a half into captivity (ibid. ver. 29; 1 Chronicles 5:26). A fourth (Shalmaneser) laid siege to Samaria (2 Kings 17:5), and a fifth (Sargon) took it. A sixth (Sennacherib) took all the fenced cities of Judah from Hezekiah, and forced him to buy the safety of Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:13-16). A seventh (Esar-haddon) had Manasseh brought as a prisoner to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11). Hence Isaiah calls the Assyrian monarch "the rod of God's anger" (Isaiah 10:5).
Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly:
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.
Verse 34. - Thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them. i.e. the testimony borne by the prophets (see ver. 30).
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.
Verse 35. - They have not served thee in their kingdom. There is no need of altering the reading here. "In their kingdom" means, "while they had a kingdom of their own, and were not subjects, as now, to a foreign power." Thy great goodness. See above, ver. 25. The large and fat land. Compare Exodus 3:8. Although the limits of Palestine are narrow, yet the land which God flare to his people, extending as it did from the Euphrates to the river of Egypt (Genesis 15:18), might well he termed a "large" or "broad" land.
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:
Verse 36. - We are servants this day. i.e. we have now no kingdom, we are slaves - the Persian is our master. As we would not be God's servants, we are handed over to him (comp. 2 Chronicles 12:8, where "the service of God" and "the service of the kingdoms of the countries" are contrasted).
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.
Verse 37. - It yieldeth much increase unto the kings. "The Persian monarchs derive a large revenue from our territory." The amount paid by Judaea is not known; but Syria, in which Judaea was included, paid annually in money 350 talents of silver (Herod. 3:91), or about £90,000. There was also a further contribution in kind. They have dominion over our bodies. They can impress us either as soldiers or sailors, and make us fight their battles for them. Jews probably took part in the expedition of Xerxes against Greece. And over our cattle. They can impress our cattle for their baggage-train.
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.
Verse 38. - Because of all this. Because of our past sins and their punishment - to prevent a recurrence of similar conduct and similar afflictions. We... seal unto it. In the East it is always the seal that authenticates a document. Babylonian documents were often stamped with half a dozen seals or more. These were impressed upon the moist clay, and then the clay was baked. Sometimes each party to the contract stamped his seal upon a separate piece of sealing clay, which he then attached to the document by means of a string (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 154). Any number of seals could be attached in this way.

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