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Nehemiah Eight

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

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Nehemiah 8:1 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.

all the people. Even if “all” is not taken literally, there must have been gathered here one of the largest congregations ever to hear the Scriptures read in their presence. Even the older children were included (Nehemiah 8:2).

Ezra the scribe. Ezra is here mentioned for the first time by Nehemiah, but he had been preaching to the people already for at least thirteen years.

law of Moses. “The book of the law of Moses” undoubtedly included all the Pentateuch, and possibly is used here generically for all of the Scriptures which had been received by this time. Ezra is generally believed to have been largely responsible for organizing the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Nehemiah 8:2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.

the first day of the seventh month. The wall had been completed just a month previously (Nehemiah 6:15).

Nehemiah 8:3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.

Nehemiah 8:4 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.

Nehemiah 8:5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:

people stood up. Apparently the congregation stood on their feet from morning until noon, for seven days, as the Scriptures were read and expounded (compare Nehemiah 8:3, 7, 8, 18). This is an amazing testimony of reverence toward God's Word, seldom, if ever, repeated since.

Nehemiah 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Nehemiah 8:7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.

Nehemiah 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

gave the sense. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, but the people had no doubt used the Aramaic language while in Babylon, or possibly other languages while scattered in Assyria. Thus translation, as well as simple reading and exposition, would have been required for many of the people.

Nehemiah 8:9 And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.

the Tirshatha. This was the Persian title for governor of a province.

Nehemiah 8:10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

joy of the Lord. The reading of the law had caused weeping, as the people realized their failures. Nevertheless, God had preserved them, as He had promised, and this new beginning was a time for thankful rejoicing. This particular phrase, “the joy of the Lord,” occurs elsewhere only in Matthew 25:21, 23, where the Lord rewards His faithful servants with the invitation to “enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

Nehemiah 8:11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.

Nehemiah 8:12 And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.

Nehemiah 8:13 And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law.

unto Ezra the scribe. Note also Nehemiah 8:4, 7. Jewish tradition indicates that Ezra gathered together a body of learned men, called the Great Synagogue. They not only taught the people God's Word but also gathered all the available copies of the Scriptures for comparison and correction of any errors that might have occurred in copying, finally settling on what they believed must have been the original text.

Nehemiah 8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:

Nehemiah 8:15 And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.

Nehemiah 8:16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.

Nehemiah 8:17 And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.

very great gladness. Although the children of Israel had occasionally observed the feasts of the Lord, as commanded in Leviticus 23, the observances had generally been perfunctory and often ignored altogether. The Feast of Tabernacles had actually been observed by the captives who returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Jeshua (Ezra 3:4), but it was not like this, with all the people of Israel dwelling in their own hand-made “booths,” with great gladness everywhere.

Nehemiah 8:18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.