Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1-28) The sealers of the covenant.
Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah,(1) Zidkijah.—Probably, Zadok the scribe (Nehemiah 13:13), Nehemiah’s secretary. (Comp. Ezra 4:8.)
Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah,(2) Seraiah.—The family name of the high-priestly house to which Ezra and Eliashib belonged, one of whom—probably Ezra—affixed its seal.
Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these were the priests.(8) These were the priests.—That is, the names of the priestly families. (Comp. Nehemiah 12:1-6.)
And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel;(9) And the Levites.—Five of these family names are traceable (Ezra 2:40; Ezra 8:19; Nehemiah 7:43).
The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani,(14) The chief of the people.—Some of the names are personal, some belong to families, some represent places, and some are independent. Comparing the list with Ezra 2, we find that years had added to the number of the houses.
And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding;(28-39) The points of the covenant.
(28) All they that had separated themselves.—If these meant proselytes from heathenism, this verse would be a perfect description of the constituents of the people. But we have no record as yet of a recognised body of such proselytes; and the word “separated” is the same as we find, with another meaning, in Nehemiah 9:2. Moreover, the following verses show that the covenant bears specially in mind the danger to God’s law arising out of commerce with the heathen.
Having understanding.—Children who could intelligently take the oath were included.
They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;(29) They clave to their brethren.—It was a union of the people as such, and sprang from a deep national conviction.
Entered into a curse, and into an oath.—The oath assumed the obligation; the curse imprecated the penalty of violation. (Comp. Deuteronomy 29:12.)
And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.(31) Or on the holy day.—On the great festivals, equally with the Sabbath days of rest.
Leave the seventh year.—The Sabbatical year naturally follows; in it the ground should be left untilled.
The exaction of every debt.—The “Lord’s release” of the seventh year (Deuteronomy 15:2).
Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God;(32) Also we made ordinances for us.—The covenant proceeds now to certain new regulations and resumption of neglected duties.
To charge ourselves.—Origin of that annual rate for the general service of the Temple which afterwards was raised to a half shekel (Matthew 17:24). The more ancient half shekel of the law was only an occasional tax (Exodus 30:13).
And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law:(34) As it is written in the law.—Leviticus 6:12 prescribes that the fire on the altar should be kept burning by wood. But here we have the origin of the “feast of the wood-offering”—a special day, subsequently substituted for the “times appointed year by year.” The lot determined the order in which the various classes should supply the wood.
And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD:(35) And to bring.—Following “we made ordinances” (Nehemiah 10:32). The various firstfruits are specified according to the Mosaic law, which made this expression of natural piety an obligation; and the minuteness of the specification implies that neglect had crept in.
Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God:(36) The firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle.—Similarly collocated in Numbers 16:15-16; but there the cattle are defined as “unclean beasts,” thus distinguished from “the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks.” The latter were to be brought to “the priests that minister” for sacrifice; the former were, with the sons, to be redeemed by money, according to the priests’ valuation.
And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.(37) To the chambers of the house of our God.—To the store-chambers, minutely described as they were of old in 1 Kings 6, Hezekiah appears to have added formerly a treasure-house for the tithes, referred to in the next verse (2Chronicles 31:11).
In all the cities of our tillage.—Agricultural towns, so called here with reference to the fruits of the earth, which were deposited first in certain selected places.
And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.(38) The son of Aaron.—Consult Numbers 18:22-26, which gives the reason for the distinction, here so marked, between the priest, the son of Aaron, and the Levites, the children of Levi. A priest was present when the tithes were gathered in the Levitical cities, to secure their own “tithe of the tithe,” which then the Levites carried to Jerusalem.
For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.(39) Shall bring.—The priests themselves were exempted from the care of gathering the tithes.
We will not forsake the house of our God.—Both the pledge and the violation of it in the sequel are explained by Nehemiah 13:11-14.