Nehemiah 8

CHAPTER VIII

Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites, read and interpret the laws

to the people, 1-7.

The manner in which they do this important work, 8.

The effect produced on the people's minds by hearing it, 9.

The people are exhorted to be glad, and are told that the joy

of the Lord is their strength, 10-12.

On the second day they assemble, and find that they should keep

the feast of tabernacles; which they accordingly religiously

solemnize for seven days; and Ezra reads to them from the book

of the law, 13-18.

NOTES ON CHAP. VIII

Verse 1. The street that was before the water gate] The gate

which led from the temple to the brook Kidron.

Verse 2. All that could hear with understanding] Infants,

idiots, and children not likely to receive instruction, were not

permitted to attend this meeting; nor should any such, in any

place, be ever brought to the house of God, if it can be avoided:

yet, rather than a poor mother should be deprived of the

ordinances of God, let her come with her child in her arms; and

although it be inconvenient to the congregation, and to some

ministers, to hear a child cry, it is cruel to exclude the mother

on this account, who, having no person to take care of her child

while absent, must bring it with her, or be totally deprived of

the ordinances of the Christian Church.

Upon the first day of the seventh month.] This was the first

day of what was called the civil year; and on it was the feast of

trumpets, the year being ushered in by the sound of these

instruments.

Verse 4. Stood upon a pulpit of wood] migdal, a

tower, a platform, raised up for the purpose, to elevate him

sufficiently for the people both to see and hear him; for it is

said, Ne 8:5,

that he was above all the people. This is the first intimation we

have of a pulpit, or structure of this kind. But we must not

suppose that it was any thing similar to those tubs or barrels

ridiculously set up in churches and chapels, in which a preacher

is nearly as much confined, during the time of his preaching, as

if he was in the stocks.

Verse 5. All the people stood up] This was out of respect to

the sacred word: in imitation of this, when the gospel for the day

is read in our churches, all the people stand up.

Verse 6. Ezra blessed the Lord] In imitation of this, we say,

when the gospel for the day is commenced, Glory be to God for his

holy Gospel! and conclude this thanksgiving with, Amen.

Verse 8. So they read in the book] For an explanation of this

verse, see the observations at the end of the chapter.

See Clarke on Ne 8:17.

Verse 9. Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha] This puts it out of

doubt that, when the Tirshatha is mentioned, Nehemiah himself is

intended, Tirshatha being the name of his office.

Mourn not, nor weep.] This is a holy day to God: a day

appointed for general rejoicing in Him who has turned our

captivity, restored to us his law, and again established among us

his ordinances.

Verse 10. Eat the fat, and drink the sweet] Eat and drink the

best that you have; and while ye are feeding yourselves in the

fear of the Lord, remember those who cannot feast; and send

portions to them, that the joy and the thanksgiving may be

general. Let the poor have reason to rejoice as well as you.

For the joy of the Lord is your strength.] This is no

gluttonous and drunken festival that enervates the body, and

enfeebles the mind: from your religious feast your bodies will

acquire strength and your minds power and fervour, so that you

shall be able to DO HIS will, and to do it cheerfully. Religious

joy, properly tempered with continual dependence on the help of

God, meekness of mind, and self-diffidence, is a powerful means of

strengthening the soul. In such a state every duty is

practicable, and every duty delightful. In such a frame of mind

no man an ever fell, and in such a state of mind the general

health of the body is much improved; a cheerful heart is not only

a continual feast, but also a continual medicine.

Verse 14. In the feast of the seventh month] That is, the

feast of tabernacles, which was held in commemoration of the

sojourning of their fathers in the wilderness after they had been

delivered from the Egyptian bondage. Now, having been delivered

from the Babylonish captivity, and the proper time of the year

occurring, it was their especial duty to keep the same feast.

Verse 15. Fetch olive branches] For every thing concerning

this feast of tabernacles, see the notes on Lev. xxiii., and the

other places there referred to.

Verse 16. Upon the roof of his house] It need scarcely be

repeated, that the houses in the East are generally built with

flat roofs. On these they reposed; on these they took the air in

the heats of summer; and on these they oftentimes slept.

Verse 17. Since the days of Joshua] No feast of tabernacles

since Joshua's time had been so heartily and so piously

celebrated. The story of the sacred fire now discovered, which

had been hidden by the order of Jeremiah in a dry well, and now,

some of the mud from the bottom being brought upon the altar, was

kindled afresh by the rays of the sun, which suddenly broke out,

though before covered with clouds, &c., is worthy of no credit.

Those who wish to see the detail may consult 2Mac 1:18-36.

ON the subject in Ne 8:8, I beg leave to make a few

observations:-So they read in the book in the law of God

distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the

reading. The Israelites, having been lately brought out of the

Babylonish captivity, in which they had continued seventy years,

according to the prediction of Jeremiah, Jer 25:11, were not only

extremely corrupt, but it appears that they had in general lost

the knowledge of the ancient Hebrew to such a degree, that when

the book of the law was read, they did not understand it: but

certain Levites stood by, and gave the sense, i. e., translated

into the Chaldee dialect. This was not only the origin of the

Chaldee Targums, or translation of the law and prophets into that

tongue but was also, in all probability, the origin of preaching

from a text; for it appears that the people were not only ignorant

of their ancient language, but also of the rites and ceremonies of

their religion, having been so long in Babylon, where they were

not permitted to observe them. This being the case, not only the

language must be interpreted, but the meaning of the rites and

ceremonies must also be explained; for we find from Ne 8:13, &c.,

of this chapter, that they had even forgotten the feast of

tabernacles, and every thing relative to that ceremony.

As we nowhere find that what is called preaching on or

expounding a text was ever in use before that period, we are

probably beholden to the Babylonish captivity for producing, in

the hand of Divine Providence, a custom the most excellent and

beneficial ever introduced among men.

What the nature of preaching or expounding the word of God was,

at this early period of its institution, we learn from the above

cited text.

I. They read in the book of the law of God.-The words of God,

the doctrines of Divine revelation, are the proper matter of

preaching; for they contain the wisdom of the Most High, and teach

man the things which belong to his peace and happiness.

II. They read distinctly- mephorash, from

parash, to expand; they analyzed, dilated, and expounded it at

large, showing the import and genuine meaning of every word.

III. They gave the sense- vesom sechel, they put

weight to it; showed its value and utility, and how intimately

concerned they were in all that was revealed: thus applying verbal

criticism, and general exposition to their true and most important

purposes.

IV. They caused them to understand the reading-

vaiyabinu bammikra: and they understood-had a mental taste and

perception of the things which were in the reading, i. e., in the

letter and spirit of the text. Thus they knew the Divine

will, and approved the things that were more excellent, being

(thus) instructed out of the law, Ro 2:18.

This was the ancient method of expounding the word of God among

the Jews; and this mode is still more necessary for US:-

1. Because the sacred writings, as they came from God, are shut

up in languages no longer vernacular; and no translation ever did

or ever can reach the force of the original words, though perhaps

our own in general, comes nearest to this of all versions, whether

ancient or modern.

2. Ninety-nine out of a hundred know nothing of these languages;

and consequently cannot, of themselves, reap all the requisite

benefit from reading the Scriptures.

3. Sacred things are illustrated in the Bible by a reference to

arts and sciences, of which the mass of the people are as ignorant

as they are of the original tongues.

4. Provincial customs and fashions are mentioned in these

writings, which must be understood, or the force and meaning of

many texts cannot be comprehended.

5. There is a depth in the word of God which cannot be fathomed

except either by Divine inspiration, or by deep study and

research, for which the majority of the people have no time.

6. The people in general trust to the piety, learning and

abilities of their ministers, and maintain them as persons capable

of instructing them in all the deep things of God; and believing

them to be holy men, they are confident they will not take their

tithes, their food, and their raiment, under a pretence of doing

a work for which they have not the ordinary qualifications. Where

there is not such preaching as this, the people "sit in darkness,

and in the valley of the shadow of death;" sinners are not

converted unto God; neither are believers "built up on their most

holy faith."

Reader-Art thou a Christian minister? Dost thou feed the flock

of God? Let thy conduct, thy conscience, and the fruits of

thy ministry answer for thee.

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