Let your ear now be attentive, and your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant, which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against you: both I and my father's house have sinned.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Nehemiah 1:6. Which I pray before thee night and day — He refers to all the prayers which he had for some time been addressing to God, during his sorrow for the desolations of Jerusalem.2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2 note; Ezra 6:10; Ezra 7:12, Ezra 7:21), is a favorite one with Nehemiah, who had been born and brought up in Persia.
4. when I heard these words, that I sat down … and mourned … and fasted, and prayed—The recital deeply affected the patriotic feelings of this good man, and no comfort could he find but in earnest and protracted prayer, that God would favor the purpose, which he seems to have secretly formed, of asking the royal permission to go to Jerusalem.Nehemiah 1:11,
and thine eyes open; to behold with pity and compassion the distressed case of Jerusalem, and the Jews in it:
I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants; this he had continued to do ever since he heard of their trouble and calamity:
and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned; he considered sin as the cause of all this evil that had befallen his people, and confesses it with sorrow and humiliation, and not their sins only, but his own personal and family sins.Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)6. The humble access leading to the confession of sin.
let thine ear now be attentive] The word ‘attentive’ is not very common in the original. It occurs again in Nehemiah 1:11, in Psalm 130:2. And with the rendering ‘attent’ (A.V. and R.V.) in 2 Chronicles 6:40; 2 Chronicles 7:15. The LXX. renders πρόσεχον.
and thine eyes open] We should expect this clause to come first, as in 2 Chronicles 6:40; 2 Chronicles 7:15. We need not however supply the words ‘to the misery of thy people’ or ‘to him that prayeth.’ A similar passage in 1 Kings 8:52, ‘that thine eyes may be open unto the supplication of thy servant,’ shows that the metaphor is not to be pressed too literally.
hear] R.V. hearken unto. An alteration due to the wish to give the full force of the Hebrew. ‘Thy servant.’ Compare 1 Samuel 3:9-10; 1 Samuel 23:10; 2 Samuel 7:20.
now, day and night] R.V. at this time, day and night. Literally, ‘this day, day and night,’ cf. Nehemiah 1:11. ‘At this time’ then refers to the ‘certain days’ mentioned in Nehemiah 1:4 : it does not mean that he went into the presence of the king on the day of this prayer.
The Vulgate ‘hodie nocte et die.’ Cf. Acts 20:31 ‘night and day with tears.’
for the children of Israel thy servants] i.e. in their behalf. In spite of their sin and disobedience, the children of Israel are still God’s servants, cf. Leviticus 25:55; Isaiah 63:17. The exact phrase used here does not occur elsewhere. But the permanent ideal relation, in spite of all failure or rebellion, is frequently expressed in the prophets; cf. ‘Jacob, my servant,’ used in Isaiah (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 44:2 &c.), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 30:10; Jeremiah 46:27-28), Ezekiel 37:25.
and confess] R.V. while I confess. The A.V. is not grammatical.
‘Confess.’ See on Ezra 10:1.
the sins of the children of Israel, which we &c.] Nehemiah identifies himself with the guilt of the people. Cf. Moses in Exodus 34:9 ‘Pardon our iniquity and our sin.’
both I and my father’s house] i.e. Neither the individual nor the family being free from the responsibility of national sin. It has been remarked that, if Nehemiah belonged to the house of David, there would be a special appropriateness in these words. According to one tradition (Euseb.), he was of the tribe of Judah.Verse 6. - Both I and my father's house have sinned. Ewald well observes, "In the prayer of Nehemiah the keynote is struck in the words, 'I and my father's house have sinned'" ('History of Israel,' vol. 5. p. 149, note 1). The desolation which he mourns is the result of the people's sins, and in those sins are included his own, and those of his ancestors. His own may not have been very grievous, but those of his fathers weigh upon him as if his own, and oppress his spirit. Ezra 10:44 contains the statement with which the account of this transaction closes. The Chethiv נשׂאיּ seems to be an error of transcription for נשׂאוּ (the Keri), which the sense requires. וגו מהם וישׁ, "and there were among them women who had brought forth sons." מהם must be referred to women, notwithstanding the masculine suffix. ישׂימוּ, too, can only be referred to נשׁים, and cannot be explained, as by J. H. Mich.: unde etiam filios susceperant seu procreaverant. The gender of the verb is adapted to the form of the word נשׁים, an incorrectness which must be attributed to the increasing tendency of the language to use the masculine instead of the feminine, or to renounce a distinction of form between the genders. There are no adequate reasons for such an alteration of the text as Bertheau proposes; for the lxx already had our text before them, and the καὶ ἀπέλυσαν αὐτὰς σὺν τέκνοις of 1 Esdr. 9:36 is a mere conjecture from the context. The remark itself, that among the women who were sent away were some who had already brought children into the world, is not superfluous, but added for the purpose of showing how thoroughly this matter was carried out. Separation from women who already have children is far more grievous, ob communium liberorum caritatem, than parting with childless wives.
Strictly as this separation was carried out, this evil was not thereby done away with for ever, nor even for very long. After the arrival of Nehemiah at Jerusalem, when the building of the wall was concluded, the congregation again bound themselves by an oath, on the occasion of a day of prayer and fasting, to contract no more such illegal marriages (Nehemiah 10:31). Nevertheless, Nehemiah, on his second return to Jerusalem, some five and twenty to thirty years after the dissolution of these marriages by Ezra, again found Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Moab, and Ammon, and children of these marriages who spoke the tongue of Ashdod, and could not speak the Jews' language, and even one of the sons of the high priest Jehoiada allied to a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (Nehemiah 13:28, etc.). Such a phenomenon, however strange it may appear on a superficial view of the matter, becomes comprehensible when we consider more closely the circumstances of the times. The nucleus of the Israelite community in Jerusalem and Judah was formed by those exiles who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Ezra; and to this nucleus the remnant of Jewish and Israelite descent which had been left in the land was gradually united, after the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of the worship of Jahve. Those who returned from Babylon, as well as those who remained in the land, had now, however, lived seventy, and some of them one hundred and fifty, years (from the captivity of Jehoiachin in 599, to the return of Ezra in 457) among the heathen, and in the midst of heathen surroundings, and had thus become so accustomed to intercourse with them in civil and social transactions, that the consciousness of the barriers placed by the Mosaic law between Israel, the people of Jahve, and the Gentiles, was more and more obliterated. And this would specially be the case when the Gentiles who entered into matrimonial alliance with Israelites did not flagrantly practise idolatrous worship, i.e., did not offer sacrifice to heathen deities. Under such circumstances, it must have been extremely difficult to do away entirely with these unlawful unions; although, without a thorough reform in this respect, the successful development of the new community in the land of their fathers was not to be obtained.
Ezra's narrative of his agency in Jerusalem closes with the account of the dissolution of the unlawful marriages then existing. What he subsequently effected for the revival of religion and morality in the re-established community, in conformity with the law of God, was more of an inward and spiritual kind; and was either of such a nature that no striking results ensued, which could furnish matter for historical narrative, or was performed during the period of his joint agency with Nehemiah, of which an account is furnished by the latter in the record he has handed down to us (Nehemiah 8:10).
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