Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
1Now [And] in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them [i.e., upon their heads]. 2And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers [sons of strangeness], and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. 3And 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 4the LORD their God. Then [And] stood up upon the stairs of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and 5cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God. Then [And] 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 [from eternity to eternity], and blessed be [they blessed] thy glorious name [the name of thy 6glory], which [and it] is exalted above all blessing and praise. 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 7preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. 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; 8and foundest his heart faithful before thee and madest a [the] 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: 9and didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red Sea [Sea of weeds]. 10And 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 [and thou didst] get thee a name, as it is this day. 11And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that [and] they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the 12deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters. Moreover [and] 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. 13Thou camest down also [And thou camest down] upon Mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments and true laws [laws of truth], good statutes and commandments: 14and madest known unto them thy holy Sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, 15[and] statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant: 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 16which thou hadst sworn [lifted up thy hand] to give them. But [And] they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments, 17and refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but [and] hardened their necks and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage [in place of “in their rebellion,“ in Egypt]; but thou art a God ready to pardon [a God of pardons] gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not. 18Yea, when they had made [Yea, they even made] them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought [and wrought] great provocations; 19yet [and] 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 [the] fire by night, to show them light, and the way wherein they should go. 20Thou gavest also [And thou gavest] thy good Spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them 21water for their thirst. Yea forty years [And forty years] didst thou sustain, them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and 22their feet swelled not. Moreover [And] thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners [or districts]: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon [perhaps, the land of Sihon, the king of Heshbon], and the land of Og, king of Bashan. 23Their children also multipliedst thou [And their children thou didst multiply] as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that 24they should go in to possess it. [So [And] 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. 25And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged [cisterns hewn], vineyards and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so [and] they did eat, and were filled, 26and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless [And] 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, 27and they wrought great provocations. Therefore [And] thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble when they cried [their oppressors who oppressed them: and in the time of their oppression they cried] unto thee, [and] 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 [oppressors]. 28But after they had rest, they did evil again [they returned to do evil] before thee: therefore leftest thou [and thou leftest] them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them yet when [and] they returned, and cried unto thee, [and] thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies; 29and testifiedst against [to] them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet [and] they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but [and] sinned against thy judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them [which a man shall do and live in them], and withdrew the shoulder [gave a resisting shoulder], and 30hardened their neck, and would not hear [did not hear]. Yet [And] many years didst thou forbear them [i.e., act forbearingly towards them], and testifiedst against [to] them by thy Spirit in thy prophets [by the hand of thy prophets]; yet would they not give ear [and they did not give ear] therefore gavest thou [and thou 31gavest] them into the hand of the people of the lands. Nevertheless [And] for thy great mercies’ sake [in thy great mercies] thou didst not utterly consume them, 32nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God. Now therefore [and now], our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy [the covenant and the mercy], let not all the trouble [distress] seem little before thee, that hath come upon us [found us], on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, 33since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day. Howbeit [And] thou art just in all that is brought [comes] upon us; for thou hast done right, but [and] we have done wickedly: 34neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers kept [done] thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against [to] them. 35For they have not served thee in their kingdom and in thy great goodness [blessings of prosperity] that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned 36they from their wicked works. Behold, we are servants this day, and [as] for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it: 37and it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also [and] they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress. 38And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests seal unto it [are on the sealed covenant].
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Nehemiah 9:8. כָרוֹת inf. abs. for כָרַתָּ.
2 Nehemiah 9:22. וַעֲמָמִים. This Aramæan form is found in Judges 5:14, where it is poetical.
3 Nehemiah 9:26. גַוּם, In this phrase (see 1 Kings 14:9; Ezekiel 23:35, and here) the Tsere becomes Pattahh, as if from גַּו not גִּו.
4 Nehemiah 9:28. רַבּוֹת עִתִּים for עִתִּים רַבּוֹת.
5 Nehemiah 9:38. אֲמָנָה. That this is not an adjective with בְרִית understood is evident from its use in chapter 11:23.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
The confession recorded in this chapter uses largely the language of the older Scriptures. For Nehemiah 9:6 see Ps. 86:10; Ex. 20:11, and Deut. 10:14. For Nehemiah 9:9, see Ex. 3:7. For Nehemiah 9:10, see Jer. 32:20. For Nehemiah 9:11, see Ex. 15:5, 10. For Nehemiah 9:12, see Ex. 13:21. For Nehemiah 9:13, see Ex. 19:20. For Nehemiah 9:15, see Ps. 105:40, 41. For Nehemiah 9:16, see 2 Kings 17:14. For Nehemiah 9:17, see Ps. 78:11; Ex. 34:6. For Nehemiah 9:25, see Deut. 6:10, 11. For Nehemiah 9:27, see Judg. 2:14, 18. For Nehemiah 9:29, see Lev. 18:5. For Nehemiah 9:33, see Ps. 106:6. For Nehemiah 9:35 and Nehemiah 9:36, see Deut. 28:47, 48.
Nehemiah 9:1. The twenty and fourth day of this month.—The ’Atzereth was the 22d day of Tisri. Two days after is this special day of fasting and confession. It must not be confounded with the Yom-hak-kippurim or Day of Atonement, which was the 10th of Tisri.
Earth upon them,i.e., on their heads (see 1 Sam. 4:12). Both earth and ashes were used on the head as a sign of sorrow. Comp. 2 Sam. 13:19. Our Eng. version has written here sackclothes, but everywhere else has used sackcloth for the Heb. plural.
This fasting, mourning and confession was not a swing of the pendulum to the other extreme from the joy and gladness of the Tabernacle’s feast, but the action of the same religious spirit which recognized God’s great favors, but which at the same time recognized the great errors of the people.
Nehemiah 9:2. The Bene-nechar or strangers were foreigners who had become mixed with the Jews by commercial interest or by marriage. Comp. Nehemiah 13:3, 27.
Nehemiah 9:3. And read.—Probably as before, Ezra reading from the high platform to the great multitude, and the Levites explaining in different parts of the crowd. One-fourth part of the day.—Probably half way to noon. Another fourth part.—Probably the rest of the time till noon. Comp. Nehemiah 8:3.
Nehemiah 9:4: Stairs.—See on Nehemiah 8:4. Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Sherebiah appear again in Nehemiah 9:5, but Bunni, Bani (2) and Chenani are replaced there by Hashabniah, Hodijah, and Pethahiah. So there appears to have been two movements. The Levites mentioned in the fourth verse opened the service with a loud cry, perhaps a doxology, and then the Levites mentioned in the fifth verse began the confession. Bunni is perhaps Binnui of Nehemiah 10:9. Bani (2) is perhaps Benina of Nehemiah 10:13. Chenani is probably Hanan of Nehemiah 10:10.
Nehemiah 9:5. Hashabniah.—In Nehemiah 10:11Hashabiah.Hodijah.—See Nehemiah 10:10. Pethahiah.—Perhaps Pelaiah of Nehemiah 10:10. The only Levites mentioned as sealing in chap. 10, who are not mentioned here are, then, Kelita, Micha, Rehob, Zaccur, Shebaniah (2), Hodijah (2).
Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever.—This the eight Levites cry out to the people (some having perhaps seated themselves), and then they make the confession to God, doubtless from a written document prepared for the occasion, so that all the eight speak together, and so make a strong voice to be heard by all. The Hebrew of this confession is quite pure and largely borrowed from the older books.
And blessed be thy glorious name.—Here the Fut. Piel is, with wav conversive, an assertion made by Nehemiah himself in an ejaculatory form to God, thus: “The Levites said, Stand up and bless the Lord, etc., and they [i.e., the people] blessed thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” The words of the people then begin with Nehemiah 9:6.
Nehemiah 9:6. Heaven of heavens.—Intensive, for the unseen as well as seen heaven. Host of heaven—i.e., the angels.
Nehemiah 9:7. Ur of the Chaldees cannot be Mugheir by the Persian gulf, as is the present prevailing theory. The Chaldees or Casdim in Abraham’s day (or in Moses’ day) were not so far south. Ur was more likely in northern Mesopotamia, though scarcely so near to Haran as Oorfa. The Semitic stock to which Abraham belonged seem to belong to northern Mesopotamia.
Nehemiah 9:8. The Hivites are left out of this enumeration, perhaps to please their descendants, the Nethinim. (See Josh. 9:7.)
Nehemiah 9:11. Mighty—in the sense of violent. Comp. Ex. 15:5 for the figure.
Nehemiah 9:13, 14. Judgments, laws, statutes, commandments, precepts.—In Hebrew the words are (in the singular) mishpah, torah, hok, mitzwah. The last word is translated in E. V. by “commandments” and “precepts.” The mishpah has the idea of discrimination and decision in it. The torah is a code. The hok is a separate decree. The mitzwah is a simple order. The adjectives “right,” “true,” and “good,” are exactly appropriate.
Nehemiah 9:17. Appointed a captain.—In Num. 14:4 it is only stated that they proposed to appoint one. The proposition had been really carried out. In their rebellion.—LXX: ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ, reading מצרים for מרים. The LXX. is probably right. Comp. Num. 14:4. The words in Heb. come after “to their bondage.”
Nehemiah 9:18. This is thy God.—Here “this thy Elohim,” and in Exod. 32:4 “these thy Elohim.” In each case only one God is referred to. The plural style of the sentence in Exodus, both as to the demonstrative and the verb, is simply a conformity to the plural form of Elohim. The molten calf may have been a copy of Apis or Mnevis, or it may have been a cherub. Indeed Apis and Mnevis may have been Egyptian forms of the primeval cherubim.
Nehemiah 9:19. To show them light and the way wherein they should go.—Better: to shed light on them and the way, etc.
Nehemiah 9:20. Thou gavest also thy good Spirit.—Referring to the event described in Numb. 11. Comp. Isa. 63:11.
Nehemiah 9:22. And didst divide them into corners.—Rather: And didst distribute them into districts. The words “and the land of the,” weth eretz, before “king of Heshbon,” seem to be an error of transcription. “The land of Sihon, king of Heshbon, and the land of Og, king of Bashan” is probably the right reading (comp. Deut. 2:26, 30, and 36), or the old formula may have been corrupted, “the land of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon,” Deut. 3:2, etc.
Nehemiah 9:24. With their kings.—Rather, both their kings.
Nehemiah 9:25. Became fat.—This is Hiphil as in Isa. 6:10, and must be strictly rendered “made fat,” i.e., themselves.
Nehemiah 9:26. Slew thy prophets.—See 1 Kings 18:4; 2 Chron. 24:21.
Nehemiah 9:27. Their enemies who vexed them, and in the time of their trouble.—Better: their oppressors, who oppressed them, and in the time of their oppression.
Nehemiah 9:29. Testifiedst against.—Rather, testifiedst to.—So in Nehemiah 9:30 and Nehemiah 9:34.
Nehemiah 9:32. Since the time of the kings of Assyria,i.e., the days of Pul and Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:19, 29). This time was more than three centuries before Nehemiah’s day.
Nehemiah 9:35. In thy great goodness that thou gavest them.—That is, in the great prosperity (from thee) which thou gavest them. So in Nehemiah 9:25. “Thy goodness” is not God’s moral attribute, but the prosperity He gave them.
Nehemiah 9:38. This verse is the first of the tenth ch. in Heb. Although the word “covenant” is inserted, it is warranted by the use of the verb “carath,” the full expression being “carath berith.”
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. If we marvel at the readiness of Israel to fall away into alliances with the heathen, we must also marvel at their readiness to return to their separation before the testimony of their law. There is no greater wonder displayed to us in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah than the speediness of the work of these reformers in drawing away the people of Israel from alliances, where pecuniary interest and personal affection had formed a double and most potent bond. There must have been a prodigious vitality in the old Mosaic commonwealth. No mere philosophic reformers would have dared to venture on so radical a movement against the deep-seated tendencies of the people, and no people but those who had a truly divine side to their life would have hearkened to such a proposition. With all their errors, how much there is to admire in Israel!
2. Every covenant with God must, on man’s side, be founded on penitential confession of sin. For God’s grace, which is the content of His part of the covenant, cannot enter a soul that harbors its wickedness. When David acknowledged his sin unto God, God’s forgiveness poured in upon his soul. (Ps. 32:5.) After this chapter of confession comes the chapter of the covenant, with its natural issues of reform.
3. This confession is a prayer, although it has no petition in it. It is the laying of the soul before God in the attitude of awaiting. Often the best part of a prayer is its rehearsal of God’s goodness and our own short-comings. This increases the receptivity of the soul. It removes worldliness, increases faith, makes the spiritual eyesight clearer, and brings it en rapport with heaven.
4. The distress of Israel under its political burdens is recognised as part of the discipline which God had exercised over the nation through its entire history. The covenant is not considered as broken by God in all this. He had been faithful. In this way Israel sees God’s grace in the midst of the afflictions. An infidel heart would have regarded God as abandoning His people, and have seen in their vicissitudes only the ordinary fate of nations. Events are to be judged not by their outward appearance, but by the subjective truth, on which they really depend. A godly soul understands this secret, and draws from it great peace and strength.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Nehemiah 9:1–3. The penitential and fast-days of the Lord’s congregation. 1) Their time and cause. They must alternate with facts and festivals; even God’s favors must prompt us to observe them. 2) Their aim—to confess sins, our own as well as those of our ancestors, and to praise God’s mercy as contrasted with them (Nehemiah 9:2). 3) The manner of their celebration. Occupation with God’s holy law forms the foundation which helps us to a right understanding of sin, and a right appreciation of the grace. The aim is penitence, as also faith, which worships the Lord (Nehemiah 9:3).—BEDE: Manifestius ostenditur, quanta gratia devotionis omnes eorum personæ novum post festa skenopægia conventum fecerint, ut videlicet se tota intentions a scelerum contagiis expurgatos divino fœderi conjungerent, ipsamque sancti fœderis conditionem et sermons confirmarent et scripto, acsi ab impiorum consortio separati securiores implerent opus, quod jam dudum cœperant; id est, congruos factæ urbis cives de numero piorum instituerent.—STARKE: Confession of our sins before God is an effect of true contrition for the same. Such confession is necessary 1). As regards God who demands it (Jer. 3:12, 13), who also wishes to be recognised by men as holy, just, and true, and will not forgive any sin without confession. (Ps. 32:5.) As regards the Mediator; for as He confessed our sins and the sins of the whole world before God, with words and deed through suffering punishment for His people, so must we, much more, confess our own sins, if indeed we wish to be partakers of the merit of Christ. (1 John 1:7, 8.) 3) As regards the Holy Spirit’s office of correction, whose work it is to convince the sinner. 4) As regards ourselves, for if we will not confess we remain under God’s wrath. (1 John 1:8). 5) As regards our neighbor: for if we have provoked him, such provocation must be done away, and thereby the honor be given to God. God wishes that public assemblies should be held in the church. Heb. 10:15. When we keep penitential and fast-days, or go to the holy communion, we should fast, lay aside all adornment, and appear in plain dress, with honest, humble hearts.
Nehemiah 9:4–15. God’s faithfulness to the covenant. 1) Its preparative activity. It lets itself far down, and gives the prospect of great and glorious things (Nehemiah 9:4–8). Its saving activity (Nehemiah 9:9–11). It takes pity upon misery, overcomes the oppressor, and removes hinderances and perplexities even in nature. 3) Its preserving and perfecting activities. It shows the way, and provides, for God’s flock, in body and soul, and incites it to appropriate the promises (Nehemiah 9:8.) The goal of the Old and New Testament covenant life is, the earthly and heavenly inheritance. 1) The promise of the same. At the calling of Abraham; then in the gospel. 2) The way to it. Through the wilderness of Arabia; then through the wilderness of life. 3) The power which proceeds from it, particularly for Israel after it had obtained the same for us already, while we yet hope for it.—STARKE: Our good, heavenly Father gives earthly goods in possession to His children, in order that they may have good hope of the heavenly inheritance.
Nehemiah 9:16–25. God’s pardoning grace. 1) He does not refuse it in spite of our disobedience (Nehemiah 9:16), in spite of faithlessness (Nehemiah 9:17), in spite of open backsliding (Nehemiah 9:18). Much more, He shows His gracious presence to lead us to the high prize of the calling (Nehemiah 9:19), gives His good and Holy Spirit for instruction; gives also the bread and water of life for hunger and thirst (Nehemiah 9:20). 2) He punishes indeed, but affords, even in the time of punishment experiences, proofs, and advances of grace (Nehemiah 9:21–23). 3) He brings us richly blessed to the prize of the calling (Nehemiah 9:24, 25).
Nehemiah 9:20, 21. God’s gracious care. 1) He provides both for bodily and spiritual necessities. 2) He provides it by great and small, startling and insignificant miracles. 3) He provides it during the march through the wilderness, that He may bring His people into Canaan.
Nehemiah 9:21. The wisdom of the divine care. 1) Its manner: God often helps, not in a startling, but in an insignificant way, quietly, yes, secretly blessing. 2) Its reason. The faith of His people is best tried, exercised, and strengthened in this way. 3) Its aim. That the godly may accustom themselves in all things, even in the insignificant, to perceive God’s helping father hand, and shall learn the art to let all and everything, even the daily common-place, be a cause of thanks and of joy.—STARKE: God punishes the persecutors of His people energetically. Our pillar of cloud, which shows us the way to our everlasting father-land, is the ministry of the gospel, in which God is truly present and powerful. Although God does not immediately place all the godly in fruitful and pleasant places, nor give them bread from heaven, nor water from the rock, still He gives them, notwithstanding, necessary nourishment and clothing wherewith they should be satisfied. Matt. 6:31, 32; 1 Tim. 6:8. The wickedness of mankind is so great when left to itself, that they are not bettered by the divine benefits, but indeed become worse, and in the highest ingratitude towards our God, return evil for good. Although with us is a multitude of sins, with God is plenteous redemption. Ps. 130:7. Let no one therefore say with Cain, My sins are greater than it is possible to forgive. Gen. 4:13.
Nehemiah 9:26–31. God’s educating wisdom. 1) God indeed chastises, but He again has mercy (Nehemiah 9:26, 27). 2) God has mercy many times, but He also admonishes to follow His precepts, in the observance of which man has his life (Nehemiah 9:28, 29). 3) He admonishes a long while, and punishes and increases His punishment to the utmost if He is cot listened to, but nevertheless He never gives him entirely up whom it is possible to help (Nehemiah 9:30, 31).
Nehemiah 9:26–37. The grounds for the petition for forgiveness and mercy. 1) God’s unwearied mercy in the past (Nehemiah 9:26–31). 2) God’s justice and our guilt in the present, particularly as they are to be recognised in connection with our troubles (Nehemiah 9:32–35). 3) The greatness of our need and trouble (Nehemiah 9:36, 37).
Nehemiah 9:32–37. The debasement of the congregation at the present time. 1) Wherein it consists. 2) What is its cause. 3) What its aim.—STARKE: It is very consoling to think of the mercy of God which He has shown to our ancestors, for the same God lives yet. We must hold ourselves in true faith to the promises of God, for they will never fail. When the godly are involved in the greatest danger God cares for them the most, and knows how to rescue them. We are chastised by God that we may not be condemned with the world. When God wishes to deliver His people, He does not look at what they have deserved, but at what His immeasurable mercy demands. Those who have provoked God to auger by their sins have little happiness to expect as long as they go on without penitence. True confession—confession of the name of God and believing prayer, are the right means by which the enemy are again to be driven away. Lord, when trouble is present, they seek thee, etc. Isa. 26:16. Although a false religion may have a great appearance of sanctity and piety before people, yet is it in the sight of God a great abomination. What beautiful surnames has God. Oh soul! mark them well, that thou mayest remember them when conscience accuses, and when thou art in trouble, that thou mayest not despond.
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.