Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1-38) The Fast, the Confession, and the Covenant.
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.(1) In the twenty and fourth day.—After one day of rest, the people assembled with all the tokens of sorrow, even to dust on the head (1Samuel 4:12): the external signs and the internal spirit were one.
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.(2) The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers.—The change to “seed” has here a deep propriety. They carefully avoided the many aliens among them throughout this fast.
And stood and confessed.—It must be remembered that these verses give the programme of what is afterwards filled up: the very praise for which they “stood” was filled with confession.
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.(3) One fourth part.—Both day and night were divided into four parts. All orders standing in their respective place, the reading occupied the morning and the worship the afternoon. It is the latter which is now made prominent, as the former had been prominent in the preceding chapter.
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.(4) Stairs, of the Levites.—The scaffold of the Levites, without the comma: the steps of ascent to the pulpit of Ezra (Nehemiah 8:2).
Bani, and Chenani.—Probably, Binnui and Haman (Nehemiah 10:9-10).
Their God.—When the people are called upon (Nehemiah 9:5), it is “your God”; hence these eight Levites offered a prayer which is not inserted.
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.(5) Hashabniah.—Not found elsewhere. No reason is given why this company is somewhat different from the former; the LXX. arbitrarily omit all names after Kadmiel. Similarly, they insert “and Ezra said” before Nehemiah 9:6. The psalm was perhaps composed by Ezra, but uttered by the Levites in the name of the congregation.
Stand up and bless . . . Blessed be.—Or, let them bless.
Thou, even thou, art Lord alone.—The three phrases mark how the address to the people glides into direct adoration of God.
Thy glorious name.—Literally found again in Psalm 72:19 alone.
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.(6) Preservest them all.—In this comprehensiveness reproduced only in Hebrews 1:3.
The host of heaven.—First the stars, but here the angels (Psalm 103:21).
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:(8) The Hivites are for some reason omitted.
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.(11) As a stone into the mighty waters—Compare the Song of Moses, and mark in the Hebrew both the identity and the variation.
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:(13) Right judgements.—Five of the names given to the law of God in Psalms 119 are singled out and applied to the Sinaitic legislation first, and then to the subsequent ordinances of Moses generally. But the emphasis here is on the adjectives “right,” “true,” “good,” as belonging rather to the eternal principles of the Decalogue.
And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:(14) Madest known unto them thy holy sabbath.—Every word here, as well as the prominence given to this among the other “commandments,” must be noted as illustrating the importance of this ordinance in the covenant of chapter 10 and throughout the book.
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.(15) Bread from heaven.—A change of phrase, which our Lord consecrated for ever (John 6).
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,(16) Dealt proudly.—Like the Egyptians themselves (Nehemiah 9:10). It is remarkable that the same word is used as in the Hebrew of Exodus 18:11 and Deuteronomy 1:43.
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.(17) In their rebellion.—Rather, appointed a captain to return to their bondage in Egypt. This is the reading of some MSS., followed by the Septuagint, and is in harmony with Numbers 14:4, though there the appointment is only proposed.
Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.(20) Thy good spirit.—Probably a reference to Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25. The epithet given to the Spirit is in Psalm 143:10. But His teaching function occurs here only, and is a remarkable anticipation of the New Testament.
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.(22) Divide them into corners.—Strict usage of the term would require: Thou didst divide unto them [these nations] in their boundaries.
And the land.—There is a double reference to Sihon, king of Heshbon. This and Bashan were taken as the earnest of the possession of Canaan.
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.(27) Their enemies who vexed them.—The phraseology in this and the following verse shows that the Book of Judges is carefully remembered in the prayer.
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.(32) Here begins the prayer proper.
Kings of Assyria.—“The rod of God’s anger” (Isaiah 10:5). Pul, Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, Sargon, Sennacherib, Esar-haddon, are traced in the sacred record as successive scourges.
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.(34) Our kings.—Note that the prophets are omitted in this enumeration.
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.(37) Yieldeth much increase.—In money and kind a very large amount was sent by Syria to the Persian treasury.
Over our bodies, and over our cattle.—For military service; but the priests do not omit themselves.
In great distress.—Not so much under the Persian yoke as in the remembrance of God’s judgments. The pathetic comparison between the Divine purpose in giving the land originally and their present bondage in it extends almost to every word.
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.(38) Because of all this.—On the ground of this confession, and to prove our sincerity.
Seal unto it.—On the sealed [document]. Each party impressed his seal on moist clay, which was then hardened. Sometimes these seals were attached to the document by separate strings. In Nehemiah 11, “those who sealed” is, literally, those on the sealed [documents], in the plural.