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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Nehemiah 13

 

 

Verse 1

THE SEPARATION FROM STRANGERS, Nehemiah 13:1-3.

1. On that day — This is to be understood in the same sense as at that time, in Nehemiah 12:44. But no doubt public readings of the law took place frequently during Nehemiah’s administration.

The book of Moses — Here it is evident that the Book of Deuteronomy, from which they read on that occasion, was regarded as the work of Moses. Its Mosaic authorship was not questioned in Nehemiah’s day.

Found written — The passage referred to is in Deuteronomy 23:3-6, and reads as follows: “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever; because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever.”


Verse 3

3. They separated from Israel all the mixed multitude — Literally, separated all mixture from Israel. The word ערב, mixed multitude, is used of the people of foreign blood who accompanied the Hebrews out of Egypt, (Exodus 12:38,) and afterwards lusted after flesh. Numbers 11:4 . It may, therefore, refer to any non-Israelitish people. So according to the true spirit of the law they separated themselves from all foreigners, not from Ammonites and Moabites only. Marriage with unbelievers is fraught with so much danger that it is discountenanced in the New Testament also. 2 Corinthians 6:14. Intermarriage and association with foreigners was an evil against which both Ezra and Nehemiah had to fight repeatedly. Compare Nehemiah 13:23-30, and Nehemiah 9:2; also Ezra 9-10, notes.


Verse 4

CLEANSING OF THE CHAMBER OCCUPIED BY TOBIAH, Nehemiah 13:4-9.

4. Before this — Before the separation of the mixed multitude from Israel.

Eliashib the priest — The high priest mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1.

Oversight of the chamber — “Such oversight of the chambers of the temple would certainly be intrusted to no simple priest, though this addition shows that this oversight did not form part of the high priest’s office.” — Keil.

Allied unto Tobiah — In what particular way is unknown. Perhaps the Jewess whom his son Johanan had married (Nehemiah 6:18) was a relative of the high priest. See on Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 6:18.


Verse 5

5. Great chamber — Formed, probably, as Piscator suggests, by removing the partitions from several contiguous chambers, and thus throwing them all into one. The variety of stores aforetime kept in these chambers confirms this view, as well as the mention of chambers in Nehemiah 13:9. Tobiah used it as a dwelling, Nehemiah 13:8.


Verse 6

6. All this time was not I at Jerusalem — Else such profanation of the temple would not have been tolerated.

Two and thirtieth year — After having been governor of Jerusalem for twelve years. See Nehemiah 5:14.

King of Babylon — Artaxerxes is so called, because he ruled all the dominions of the ancient kingdom of Babylon. See note on Ezra 6:22.

Came I unto the king — When Nehemiah left the Persian court he set a time for his return, Nehemiah 2:6, note. The time originally set may have been extended, but after twelve years’ absence, loyalty to the king required his return to the court.

After certain days — Hebrew, at the end of days; an indefinite period, perhaps several years.

Obtained I leave — The Hebrew indicates that he obtained leave of absence this second time only by an earnest petitioning. See margin.


Verse 8

8. I cast forth all the household stuff — The violence of the act was expressive of his indignation and grief. The mention of household stuff shows that Tobiah had used the chamber for his residence while at Jerusalem.


Verse 9

9. Cleansed the chambers — By carrying forth all the filthiness, and sanctifying them again to holy uses. Comp. 2 Chronicles 29:5; 2 Chronicles 29:15-16; 2 Chronicles 29:18.


Verse 10

THE PORTIONS OF THE LEVITES RESTORED, Nehemiah 13:10-14.

10. The portions… had not been given — The arrangements narrated in Nehemiah 12:44-47 had not been carried out, and consequently the ministers of the temple had been obliged to flee every one to his field, in order to procure sustenance for himself. The evil example of the high priest had spread demoralization among all the Levites, and we have the dark picture of this corruption of priests and people vividly presented to us in the prophecy of Malachi.


Verse 11

11. The rulers — Whose duty it was to see that the tithes were collected, and the temple service properly sustained.

Why is the house of God forsaken — They had bound themselves not to forsake the house of God, Nehemiah 10:39, where see note. Nehemiah now demands why they have violated that solemn covenant.

I gathered them — That is, gathered the Levites, who had gone to seek sustenance in the fields of their cities, (Nehemiah 13:10,) and restored them to their proper places in the temple service.


Verse 12

12. Then brought all Judah the tithe — No doubt the words of the prophet Malachi, (Malachi 3:10,) as well as those of the governor, were instrumental in bringing about this result. The prophet charged them with robbing God, but at the same time reminded them of Jehovah’s long-suffering and mercy: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Nehemiah’s rebuke was effectual, the prophetic challenge of Malachi was accepted, and a blessed reformation was wrought.


Verse 13

13. I made treasurers — Thus re-establishing what he had himself done once before. Nehemiah 12:44.

Shelemiah… Zadok — Probably the same mentioned in Nehemiah 3:29-30. They were probably aged men of unsullied character, and, therefore, counted faithful, and fit to be trusted with this responsible work.


Verse 14

14. Remember me — Comp. Nehemiah 5:19, note.

Wipe not out — Nehemiah conceives of his work as recorded in a book, and prays that it may not be erased, nor blotted out and forgotten. Having been wrought and registered, he desired that it might stand. “He does not say, Publish to the world my good deeds, but, Wipe them not out; he does not say, Reward me, but, Remember me — the prayer of the penitent on the cross.”

Wordsworth.

Good deeds — Hebrew, kindnesses; that is, pious acts, springing out of tender regard for the house of God.

Offices thereof — That is, its usages and rites.


Verse 15

SABBATH DESECRATION STOPPED, Nehemiah 13:15-22.

15. Treading winepresses — The press consisted of two vats, one situated higher than the other. The grapes were trodden in the higher vat, from which the expressed juice ran into the lower one. Dr. Robinson found an ancient winepress a few miles east of Antipatris. It had been dug in a ledge of rock, the upper vat being eight feet square and fifteen inches deep, and the lower four feet square by three feet deep. The treading of the wine-press on the sabbath was an express violation of the fourth commandment, (Exodus 20:8-11,) and also strange forgetfulness of a recent covenant. Nehemiah 10:31.


Verse 16

16. There dwelt men of Tyre — These Tyrians are not to be understood as having permanent abodes in Jerusalem, but dwelling only temporarily there in order to carry on the traffic here mentioned.


Verse 18

18. Did not your fathers thus — The prophet Jeremiah had occasion to rebuke his people for this same evil. “Thus saith the Lord; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction. But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”


Verse 20

20. Lodged without Jerusalem — This enabled them to carry on their impious traffic to some extent without the gates, and, as Keil observes, “because egress from the city could not be refused to the inhabitants, the rest of the Sabbath was broken outside the gates.”


Verse 21

21. I will lay hands on you — Proceed to violent measures, and arrest and treat you as criminals.


Verse 22

22. The Levites… should cleanse themselves — By certain ceremonies, as in Nehemiah 12:30.

Come and keep the gates — Literally, coming keeping the gates. The meaning is, that in addition to the ordinary gate keepers, certain Levites were detailed to see that the gates of the city were properly guarded during the Sabbath. A reason for this may have been the moral influence which the sacred character of the Levites would be supposed to exert.

To sanctify the sabbath day — That is, to secure its sanctity by preventing further profanation, like that mentioned in Nehemiah 13:15-16.


Verse 23

FOREIGN MARRIAGES DISSOLVED, Nehemiah 13:23-31.

“The sin of mixed marriages was one of the crying sins of the Jews at this time. The greatness of the sin arose from the fact that it tended to defeat one of the purposes of the Mosaic economy. God isolated the Jews from all other nations that they might be a nursery for the great ideas of religion that were to be elaborated in the history of the world, and a stock from which he would bring forth the Messiah. All mingling with other nations, who had not been trained in this way and preserved for this purpose, tended to defeat this design. Especially was this true of matrimonial alliances. Heathen women retained a natural longing for the indulgences of their own religion, and easily led their husbands into guilty compliances. The women of Moab and Philistia, and the wives of Solomon, furnish mournful proofs of this fact. They led their infatuated husbands and paramours into the grossest idolatry. They, therefore, who chose heathen wives, thereby rejected the God of Israel.” — T.V. Moore.

23. Saw I Jews — That is, he observed, or his attention was called to, certain Jews who had contracted foreign marriages. Perhaps he observed this during some journey through the province, for these Jews seem not to have lived in Jerusalem.

Had married wives — Literally, had caused to dwell. An expression originating in the custom of the husband’s bringing his wife home to dwell in his own house.

Ashdod — One of the principal cities of the Philistines. See on Joshua 11:22.


Verse 24

24. The speech of Ashdod — Supposed to have been an Indo-Germanic language.

Not speak… Jews’ language — Hebrew, and none of them knowing to speak Jewish. The children would naturally speak the language of their mothers.

According to the language of each people — Better, as margin, of people and people; that is, of this or that people to whichsoever the mother belonged. “From the circumstance that a portion of the children of these marriages were not able to speak the language of the Jews, but spoke the language of Ashdod, or of this or that nation from which their mothers were descended, we may conclude with tolerable certainty that these people dwelt neither in Jerusalem nor in the midst of the Jewish community, but on the borders of the nations to which their wives belonged.” — Keil.


Verse 25

25. I contended with them — By rebuke and expostulation, as he had done with the rulers and nobles. Vers. 11, 17.

Cursed them — Comp. Malachi 3:9. He went beyond mere expostulation, and pronounced them cursed of God in having thus violated the Divine law.

Smote certain of them — As governor he had them scourged as public offenders. Compare Deuteronomy 25:2-3.

Plucked off their hair — A penalty designed to be both painful and disgraceful. The offence was too great to be allowed to pass without severe treatment.

Made them swear — As Ezra had made the people, guilty of the same offence, do some years before. Ezra 10:5.

Not give your daughters — The principal members of the community had taken the same oath during Nehemiah’s administration, (Nehemiah 10:30;) but, perhaps, the ones now guilty were not among that number.


Verse 26

26. Outlandish women — That is, foreign women. The word outlandish, from the Anglo-Saxon utlendisc, is now obsolete in the sense in which it is here used. The reference to Solomon was exceedingly appropriate. See 1 Kings 11:1-9.


Verse 27

27. Shall we then hearken unto you — Shall we hear to you, that is, in the sense of accepting your views, and consenting to your evil action in this matter? Less simple, we think, is the construction of Bertheau and Keil, who take נשׁמע as third person, Niphal: for you is it hard to do, etc.; that is, is it not unheard of for you to do so great an evil?


Verse 28

28. One of the sons of Joiada — Not Jonathan or Johanan, (Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22,) but a younger and less prominent member of the high priest’s family. The fact, however, that he was a son of the high priest made the matter of his foreign marriage the more notorious, and called for the greater severity on the part of the governor.

Sanballat — See on chapter Nehemiah 2:10.

I chased him from me — Expelled and banished him from the province of Judea. Josephus (Antiq., Nehemiah 11:7; Nehemiah 11:2) relates this incident of Manasseh, a brother of Jaddua, and places it in the reign of Darius Codomannus the last king of Persia. In this, as in some other things, he seems to have fallen into a confusion of names and dates. He also relates how the excommunicated priest went over to Sanballat and became high priest of the Samaritan temple which was built upon Mount Gerizim.


Verse 29

29. Remember them — All who were involved in the sin of Joiada’s son.

They… defiled the priesthood — By being parties in the contraction of this marriage with a foreign woman. If it were sinful — a breach of the law — for any Israelite to marry a heathen wife, much more so for a son of the high priest to do it. The law expressly forbade a high priest to marry a widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or harlot, or any but a virgin of his own nation. Leviticus 21:14. Hence this marriage of the high priest’s son was a breach of the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. Compare Malachi 2:1-8. For though this apostate son of Joiada were not himself high priest, his marriage with a foreign woman was a stigma on his father’s family.


Verse 30

30. Thus cleansed I them — This verse is a concluding summary of Nehemiah’s reforms.

Appointed the wards — See Nehemiah 12:44-47.


Verse 31

31. For the wood offering… and for the firstfruits — See Nehemiah 12:44; Nehemiah 10:34; Nehemiah 10:38.

Remember me, O my God, for good — Thus Nehemiah closes his narrative with the pious prayer of a soul conscious of earnest and self-sacrificing labour for the cause of God.

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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/nehemiah-13.html. 1874-1909.

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