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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Nehemiah 1

 

 

Verses 1-11

Nehemiah 1:1. The words of Nehemiah. Poole, in his Synopsis of the Critics, having examined very accurately what antiquity has said concerning the author of this book, I cannot do better than translate the whole of his enquiry.

“Question 1. Who was the author of this book? Answer 1. Ezra. So Athanasius in his Synopsis, and Chrysostom, and Bede; and they infer it, because in the Hebrew the books of Ezra and Nehemiah follow each other. Answer 2. Nehemiah was the author, as the first words demonstrate. ‘The words of Nehemiah.’ Both Ezra and Nehemiah wrote out their own affairs in separate books. Besides, the diversity of the style indicates the diversity of the authors: for the language of Nehemiah is much more easy and plain than that of Ezra, who recites many occurrences in Chaldea.

Question 2. Who was Nehemiah; was he not the same with Ezra? Answer. He was of the tribe of Levi, as appears from 2 Maccabees 12:13. “[See 2 Maccabees 1:18; 2 Maccabees 1:21.]” He was also the same Nehemiah of whom Ezra speaks, chap. 2.; because in both books he is called Athersata, that is, Tirshatha, or governor, and the same action is attributed to the same Nehemiah. Ezra 2:63. Nehemiah 7:65.

Question 3. What was this Nehemiah? Answer. It is said that he came to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Joshua: chap. Nehemiah 7:7. It is also said, chap. Nehemiah 8:9, that he with Ezra interpreted the law; he was therefore the companion of Ezra, though younger than he.

Objection 1. Then Nehemiah was one hundred and sixteen years of age, because from the first year of Cyrus to the thirty second of Artaxerxes, to which he attained, Nehemiah 13:6, was ninety six years. Answer. It is true that Nehemiah was preserved by the Lord to a very old age for the good of the people.

Objection 2. The scriptures speak of Nehemiah as the companion of Ezra in the third person, as appears from Nehemiah 7:65; Nehemiah 8:9. Answer. Nehemiah is the author of this book, and therefore speaks of himself in the first person, but sometimes in the third, as Nehemiah 7:7; Nehemiah 8:9. But Wolpius contends that this Nehemiah is another, from the Nehemiah of Ezra: chap. Nehemiah 2:2. The book of Nehemiah not being separate in the Hebrew from the book of Ezra, both the books form one continued history. The journey of Nehemiah took place seventy two years after that of Ezra. Hence he saw Ezra and outlived him. He was one of the chief men of the captivity, and a member of that convention called the Great Synagogue.”

In the above extract Poole assigns no proof that Ezra’s journey was seventy two years before Nehemiah; but the history of those times is very obscure. Herodotus and Xenophon glaringly contradict each other. Besides, Ezra returned to Babylon after having accompanied Zerubbabel.

The son of Hachaliah. Who this eminent man was is not known; history is silent; but the Jews conclude, from the high office of cup-bearer to the king, which his son Nehemiah held, that Hachaliah was a man of princely rank.

In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. In the year of the world 3558, and before Christ about 446 years.

I was in Shushan the palace. The name of this city is equivalent to a lily, distinguished for its beauty. He was cup-bearer to the king, Nehemiah 1:11; a place of very great honour in the Persian court, as appears from Xenophon’s Cyropediæ, cap. 1.

Nehemiah 1:4. Mourned certain days. Four months; viz. from the month Chisleu to the month Nisan, as appears from chap. Nehemiah 2:1. See the table of Hebrew time, Exodus 12.

Nehemiah 1:5. Oh Lord God of heaven, alluding to the prayer of Solomon, whom the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain. The grandeur of the divine nature affords supreme consolation to a devout mind, crying to heaven in the depth of affliction.

REFLECTIONS.

This book opens with a most inviting prospect of the providence and grace of God towards his people. The good Zerubbabel had been dead some years; of the pious Ezra we read no more, except in reference to former deeds. But the Lord, whose eyes are over the righteous, was preparing a servant not inferior to either, and qualifying him for his work by a long residence in the Persian court. Could we but trust that unseen hand, it would manage all our affairs far superior to our fond wishes, and our weak conceptions.

Good men who have been eminently owned of God have not run before providence, but waited in the Lord’s way till wanted for his work. Nehemiah’s kinsman Hanani, coming no doubt to seek redress against the cruelties of the Samaritans, related all the calamities which had befallen the Israelites. At this sad tale Nehemiah felt all the soul of a prophet and a patriot revive in his breast. God that moment inspired him with his inward call; and seeking redress from Him, before applying to the king, he wept and prayed, and fasted certain days. It is a sure mark of a chaste and holy zeal when we begin to serve God and his people by the deepest exercises of devotion and piety.

His prayer has a most fervent and enlightened character. He addresses JEHOVAH as the great and terrible God of heaven and earth, and appeals to his covenant as the ground of all his pleas. He solicited audience with the deepest humility, and associates himself with the number of his sinful fathers; for there is no succeeding with the Just and Holy One without deep repentance, and a full confession of sin. He glorifies God for the equity and leniency of the punishments inflicted on his people; but he pleads the stronger on that account, the promises of mercy, and even in a strange land. Deuteronomy 31:5. If the Father of mercies be faithful to his threatenings, he cannot be less faithful to his promises. He prays that God would open the heart of the king to favour his people, as God had opened the heart of Cyrus. This prayer is in substance the same as Daniel’s: chap. 9. And it is not improbable that he had seen that venerable prophet, for they both resided much in Shushan.

We learn farther, that Nehemiah’s love to God and to his people, was more than the attachment he felt to his honours and interests in this great pagan court. Jerusalem was so afflicted that he could have little hope in its welfare. His zeal therefore was pure, and his hope rested solely on the promises of God to Israel. It is a great satisfaction when a man can lay his hand upon his heart and say, Lord thou knowest all things—thou knowest that I do this for thy glory, and solely for thy glory.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Nehemiah 1:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/nehemiah-1.html. 1835.

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