On the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, the people hold a solemn fast unto the Lord, and confess their sins, Nehemiah 9:1-3. The Levites give a general account of God's kindness and forbearance to them and to their fathers; and acknowledge God's mercies and judgments, vv. 4-37. They make a covenant with the Lord, Nehemiah 9:38.
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.Now in the twenty and fourth day - The feast of trumpets was on the first day of this month; on the fourteenth began the feast of tabernacles, which, lasting seven days, finished on the twenty-second; on the twenty-third they separated themselves from their illegitimate wives and children; and, on the twenty-fourth, they held a solemn day of fasting and confession of sin, and reading the law, which they closed by renewing their covenants.
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.The seed of Israel separated themselves - A reformation of this kind was begun by Ezra, Ezra 10:3; but it appears that either more were found out who had taken strange wives, or else those who had separated from them had taken them again.
And stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. - They acknowledged that they had been sinners against God throughout all their generations; that their fathers had sinned and were punished; and that they, with this example before their eyes, had copied their fathers' offenses.
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.One fourth part of the day - As they did no manner of work on this day of fasting and humiliation, so they spent the whole of it in religious duties. They began, says Calmet, on the first hour, and continued these exercises to the third hour; from the third they recommenced, and continued till the sixth hour; from the sixth to the ninth; and from the ninth, to the twelfth or last hour.
1. They heard the law read, standing;
2. They prostrated themselves, and confessed their sins;
3. They arose to praise God for having spared and dealt thus mercifully with them.
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.
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.Stand up and bless the Lord your God - It is the shameless custom of many congregations of people to sit still while they profess to bless and praise God, by singing the Psalms of David or hymns made on the plan of the Gospel! I ask such persons, Did they ever feel the spirit of devotion while thus employed? If they do, it must be owned that, by the prevalence of habit, they have counteracted the influence of an attitude most friendly to such acts of devotion.
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.Thou preservest them all - ואתה מחיה את כלם vettah mechaiyeh eth cullam, and thou givest life to them all: and the host of the heavens, לך משתחוים lecha mishtachavim, prostrate themselves unto thee. How near is this to the opinion of Kepler, that all the heavenly host are instinct with life, and navigate the great expanse on pinions adjusted to their situation in their respective orbits! But to preserve in life, or in being, is a very good meaning in the original, which does not necessarily imply vitality. We say a tree is alive when flourishing, a plant is dead when it withers, etc.
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;Who didst choose Abram - See the notes on Exodus 13:21 (note).
The name of Abraham - For the explanation of this name, See the notes on Genesis 17:5.
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:
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.
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.
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.By a cloudy pillar - See the notes on the parallel passages, both here and in the other verses.
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:
And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:Madest known unto them thy holy Sabbath - They appear to have forgotten this first of all the commandments of God, during their sojourning in Egypt.
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.
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,
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.And in their rebellion appointed a captain - This clause, read according to its order in the Hebrew text, is thus: And appointed a captain to return to their bondage in their rebellion. But it is probable that במרים bemiryam, in their rebellion, is a mistake for במצרים bemitsrayim, in Egypt. This is the reading of seven of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., the Neapolitan edition of the Hagiographa, and the Septuagint. It is also the reading in Numbers 14:4. The clause should undoubtedly be read, They appointed a captain to return to their bondage in Egypt.
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;
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.The pillar of the cloud departed not from them - מעליהם mealeyhem, "from over them." I have already had occasion to observe that this miraculous cloud, the symbol of the Divine presence, assumed three different positions while accompanying the Israelitish camp:
1. As a cloud in the form of a pillar, it went before them when they journey, to point out their way in the wilderness.
2. As a pillar of fire, it continued with them during the night, to give them light, and be a rallying point for the whole camp in the night season.
3. As an extended cloud, it hovered over them in their encampments, to refresh them with its dews, and to keep them from the ardours of the sun.
Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.
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.Their clothes waxed not old - See the note on Deuteronomy 8:4.
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.The land of Og king of Bashan - It is most evident that Sihon was king of Heshbon. How then can it be said that they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon? The words the land of the king of Heshbon are wanting in two of De Rossi's MSS. In another MS. the words and the land of are wanting; so that the clause is read, They possessed the land of Sihon, king of Heshbon. The Septuagint has the same reading; the Arabic nearly the same, viz., the land of Sihon, the land of the king of Heshbon. The Syriac has, They possessed the land of Sihon, the land of the Kings of Heshbon. The reading of the text is undoubtedly wrong; that supported by the MSS. and by the Septuagint is most likely to be the true one. Those of the Arabic and Syriac contain at least no contradictory sense. The and in the Hebrew and our version, distinguishes two lands and two kings; the land of Sihon and the land of the king of Heshbon: when it is most certain that only one land and one king can be meant: but the ו vau may be translated here as it often is, even: Even the land of the king of Heshbon.
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.
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.
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.Became fat, and delighted themselves - They became effeminate, fell under the power of luxury, got totally corrupted in their manners, sinned against all the mercies of God, and then were destroyed by his judgments. We have an old nervous saying, "War begets poverty, poverty begets peace, peace begets affluence, affluence begets luxury and corruption of manners; and hence civil broils, foreign wars, and desolations." A sensible Roman historian has said the same: "Imperium facile iis artibus retinetur, quibus initio partum est: verum ubi pro Labore, Desidia; pro continentia et aequitate, Libido atque Superbia invasere: fortuna simul cum moribus Immutatur."
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.
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.Thou gavest them saviors - The whole book of Judges is a history of God's mercies, and their rebellions.
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;
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.
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.Many years didst thou forbear - It is supposed that Nehemiah refers here principally to the ten tribes. And many years did God bear with them; not less than two hundred and fifty-four years from their separation from the house of David, till their captivity and utter dispersion under Shalmaneser; during the whole of which time God invariably warned them by his prophets; or, as it is here said, by thy Spirit in thy prophets, which gives us the true notion of Divine inspiration. God's Spirit was given to the prophets; and they testified to the people, according as they were taught and influenced by this Spirit.
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.On our kings, on our princes - I believe Nehemiah in this place mentions the whole of civil society in its officers as they stand related to each other in dignity: -
1. Kings, as supreme.
5. The Fathers, heads or chiefs of tribes and families.
6. The Common People.
Those who disturb this natural order (for it subsists even in Britain) are enemies to the peace of the whole, whatever they may pretend to the contrary.
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.Neither have our kings - In this verse he acknowledges that the kings, princes, priests, and fathers, had broken the law: but the prophets are left out; for they continued faithful to God, testifying by his Spirit against the crimes of all; and this even at the risk of their lives.
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.For they have not served thee in their kingdom - Instead of במלכותם bemalcutham, "in Their kingdom," במלכותך bemalcuthecha, in Thy kingdom," is the reading of two of Kennicott's MSS.; as also of the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic. This is most likely to be the true reading.
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:Behold, we are servants - They had no king of their own: and were under the government of the kings of Persia, to whom they paid a regular tribute.
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.It yieldeth much increase unto the kings - Good and fruitful as the land is, yet it profits us little; as the chief profits on all things go to the kings of Persia.
Over our bodies - Exacting personal and feudal services from us, and from our cattle; and this not by any fixed rate, or rule, of so much rent, so much labor, or boons; but at their pleasure; so that we can neither call our persons, our time, our land, nor our cattle, our own: therefore we are in great distress. Miserable are the people that live under such a government.
Think of this, ye Britons! think of your liberties and rights. Compare them with any other nation under heaven, and see what a balance is in your favor. Almost all the nations of the earth acknowledge Britons the most happy of all men. May I not say,
O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint!
"How exceedingly happy would you be, could you but consider your many advantages!"
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.Our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it - Persuaded that we have brought all the miseries upon ourselves by our transgressions, feeling much and fearing more, we make a covenant with thee to devote ourselves to thy service; to do with us as thou pleasest. From this sealing we learn that at this time the government of the Jews was a mixed aristocracy; composed of the nobles for the civil department, and the priests and Levites for the ecclesiastical.
This was not mixing the Church with the state, or the state with the Church: both were separate, yet both mutually supported each other. The state never attempted to model the Church according to its own mind; because the Church had been founded and regulated by God, and neither its creed nor its ordinances could be changed. The Church did not meddle with the state, to give it new laws, new ordinances, or new officers. Therefore the one could not be jealous of the other. Where this state of things prevails, every public blessing may be expected. In every state God says to the governors and the governed: "Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things which are God's."