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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Nehemiah 8



Verses 1-18

THEN, AS THE last verse of the chapter tells us, came the seventh month; and chapter 8 opens with the record of how the people were gathered together in the street before the water gate. Ezra the priest had been in Jerusalem for a number of years, but he now was called upon to bring the book of the law of the Lord and read it publicly before both men and women, and indeed before all who could understand it, which must have meant even children of maturer years. The word of God concerns everybody who has a mind capable of understanding it.

This public reading was a great occasion, and it furnishes us with some valuable instruction, particularly for those who minister the word in a public way. Ezra stood upon a pulpit, so that both he and the book out of which he read, were in full view of the people, and others helped to make the meaning plain to all who listened. If any of our readers engage in the public preaching of the Gospel or the ministry of the word to believers, we would ask them to read verse Nehemiah 8:8, and carefully note three words in it.

In the first place the book was read distinctly. What was written in the one precious book was clearly to reach the ears of the people, for they had no copies of it in their hands, which would enable them to check any mumbled or indistinct utterance. Secondly, they gave the sense, for during a thousand years the language may have altered somewhat, and many may have spoken the Aramaic and been unlearned in the ancient Hebrew. Thirdly, they made certain that the hearers really did understand the reading. How remarkably this verse anticipates the instructions given in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40, in regard to what is uttered in the Christian assembly. He who gives thanks, or prays, or ministers the word, is to make sure, not only that he himself really knows what he is saying, but that also he says it in such a way that it is understood, and therefore can be assimilated, and endorsed by the saying of 'Amen', by those who hear him. The speaker may say, 'I understood quite well what I wanted to convey.' We however, have to reply, 'Yes, but did you speak with sufficient distinctness and simplicity, that your hearers got the sense and with clear understanding grasped your message?' A reference to our understanding occurs eight times in 1 Corinthians 14:9-20.

The first effect upon the people of this reading is revealed in verse Nehemiah 8:9 -the people were moved to tears; and well they might be, for no one can face the demands of God's holy law without a sense of condemnation entering the conscience. Both Nehemiah and Ezra however stilled the people and bade them rejoice, for in the book there were of course the promises of God, showing mercy and predicting the Messiah, and further the Feast of Tabernacles was at hand, which was intended to be a season of happiness. They were entitled, of course, to rejoice in all that God had wrought on their behalf in spite of all the efforts of their adversaries. But we have wondered whether this switching of the emotions of the people from conviction and sorrow to eating and drinking and making 'great mirth', because they had understood, was really of God. Conviction of conscience is not easily reached, and consequently repentance is shallow all too often, though it is true of course that 'the joy of the Lord' imparts strength. There is however a great difference between that joy and making great mirth as one eats and drinks. The day will declare whether this successful direction of the leaders was really of God or not.

There was however on the part of the leaders a real desire to read and understand the directions of the law, as verse Nehemiah 8:13 records, and the original directions as to the feast of Tabernacles came clearly before them. This resulted in taking action to observe the feast as it had been written. The statement of verse Nehemiah 8:17, that this feast had not been so observed since the days of Joshua, might fill us with astonishment did we not know how easily and swiftly a decline from the instructions of the word of God can take place. When King Josiah moved the people in his day to keep the Passover, the record is that, 'there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet' (2 Chronicles 35:18). This was an earlier exhibition of the same tendency, though not quite so extreme a case.

And what has taken place in the sad history of the professing church? We cannot, in this connection, throw stones at the people of Israel. In 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40, we have revealed the great facts that govern the life and activities of the church as the body of Christ, followed by the commandments of the Lord, to be obeyed in the exercise of spiritual gifts, so that all may profit. For how long were they remembered and obeyed? Not for long. Soon other arrangements were made, which led in the course of a few centuries to the fearful evils of the Papacy, and what are called the 'Dark Ages'. There was possibly some remembrance of the word of God amongst the humble, unknown, persecuted saints, whom the Popes branded as 'heretics', but that was all, as many centuries passed. So we are not surprised at what is recorded in verse Nehemiah 8:17 of our chapter.

In the last verse of our chapter and the opening verses of Nehemiah 9:1-38, we see that this reading of the book of the law, which started when Ezra mounted the pulpit, did not end there. It continued through the seven days of the feast, and even beyond. It lay at the root of such measure of revival as occurred at that time, and thus, we believe, it has always been. The revival that came to a head in the sixteenth century, sprang largely from the fact that the Scriptures had begun to be translated out of dead languages into languages that were alive, coupled with the invention of printing, that enabled countless thousands to read them. And so it has been again and again since that time.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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