Nehemiah 9


On the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, the people hold

a solemn fast unto the Lord, and confess their sins, 1-3.

The Levites give a general account of God's kindness and

forbearance to them and to their fathers; and acknowledge God's

mercies and judgments, 4-37.

They make a covenant with the Lord, 38.


Verse 1. Now in the twenty and fourth day] The feast of

trumpets was on the first day of this month; on the fourteenth

began the feast of tabernacles, which, lasting seven days,

finished on the twenty-second; on the twenty-third they separated

themselves from their illegitimate wives and children; and, on the

twenty-fourth, they held a solemn day of fasting and confession

of sin, and reading the law, which they closed by renewing their


Verse 2. The seed of Israel separated themselves] A

reformation of this kind was begun by Ezra, Ezr 10:3; but it

appears that either more were found out who had taken strange

wives, or else those who had separated from them had taken them


And stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their

fathers.] They acknowledged that they had been sinners against

God throughout all their generations; that their fathers had

sinned and were punished; and that they, with this example before

their eyes, had copied their fathers' offences.

Verse 3. One fourth part of the day] As they did no manner of

work on this day of fasting and humiliation, so they spent the

whole of it in religious duties. They began, says Calmet, on the

first hour, and continued these exercises to the third hour; from

the third they recommenced, and continued till the sixth hour;

from the sixth to the ninth; and from the ninth, to the

twelfth or last hour. 1. They heard the law read, standing;

2. They prostrated themselves, and confessed their sins; 3. They

arose to praise God for having spared and dealt thus mercifully

with them.

Verse 5. Stand up and bless the Lord your God] It is the

shameless custom of many congregations of people to sit still

while they profess to bless and praise God, by singing the Psalms

of David or hymns made on the plan of the Gospel! I ask such

persons, Did they ever feel the spirit of devotion while thus

employed? If they do, it must be owned that, by the prevalence of

habit, they have counteracted the influence of an attitude most

friendly to such acts of devotion.

Verse 6. Thou preservest them all]

vettah mechaiyeh eth cullam, and thou givest life to them all: and

the host of the heavens, lecha mishtachavim, prostrate

themselves unto thee. How near is this to the opinion of Kepler,

that all the heavenly host are instinct with life, and navigate

the great expanse on pinions adjusted to their situation in their

respective orbits! But to preserve in life, or in being, is a

very good meaning in the original, which does not necessarily

imply vitality. We say a tree is alive when flourishing, a

plant is dead when it withers, &c.

Verse 7. Who didst choose Abram] See the notes on the passages

referred to in the margin.

The name of Abraham] For the explanation of this name,

See Clarke on Ge 17:5.

Verse 12. By a cloudy pillar] See the notes on the parallel

passages, both here and in the other verses.

Verse 14. Madest known unto them thy holy Sabbath] They appear

to have forgotten this first of all the commandments of God,

during their sojourning in Egypt.

Verse 17. And in their rebellion appointed a captain] This

clause, read according to its order in the Hebrew text, is thus:

And appointed a captain to return to their bondage in their

rebellion. But it is probable that bemiryam, in their

rebellion, is a mistake for bemitsrayim, in Egypt. This

is the reading of seven of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., the

Neapolitan edition of the Hagiographa, and the Septuagint. It

is also the reading in Nu 14:4. The clause should undoubtedly be

read, They appointed a captain to return to their bondage in


Verse 19. The pillar of the cloud departed not from them]

mealeyhem, "from over them." I have already had occasion

to observe that this miraculous cloud, the symbol of the Divine

presence, assumed three different positions while accompanying the

Israelitish camp: 1. As a cloud in the form of a pillar, it went

before them when they journey, to point out their way in the

wilderness. 2. As a pillar of fire, it continued with them during

the night, to give them light, and be a rallying point for the

whole camp in the night season. 3. As an extended cloud, it

hovered over them in their encampments, to refresh them with its

dews, and to keep them from the ardours of the sun.

Verse 21. Their clothes waxed not old]

See Clarke on De 8:4.

Verse 22. The land of Og king of Bashan.] It is most evident

that Sihon was king of Heshbon. How then can it be said that they

possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon?

The words the land of the king of Heshbon are wanting in two of

De Rossi's MSS. In another MS. the words and the land of are

wanting; so that the clause is read, They possessed the land of

Sihon, king of Heshbon. The Septuagint has the same reading; the

Arabic nearly the same, viz., the land of Sihon, the land of the

king of Heshbon. The Syriac has, They possessed the land of

Sihon, the land of the KINGS of Heshbon. The reading of the text

is undoubtedly wrong; that supported by the MSS. and by the

Septuagint is most likely to be the true one. Those of the Arabic

and Syriac contain at least no contradictory sense. The and in

the Hebrew and our version, distinguishes two lands and two

kings; the land of Sihon and the land of the king of

Heshbon: when it is most certain that only one land and one king

can be meant: but the vau may be translated here as it often

is, even: EVEN the land of the king of Heshbon.

Verse 25. Became fat, and delighted themselves] They became

effeminate, fell under the power of luxury, got totally corrupted

in their manners, sinned against all the mercies of God, and then

were destroyed by his judgments. We have an old nervous saying,

"War begets poverty, poverty begets peace, peace begets

affluence, affluence begets luxury and corruption of manners;

and hence civil broils, foreign wars, and desolations." A sensible

Roman historian has said the same: "Imperium facile iis artibus

retinetur, quibus initio partum est: verum ubi pro LABORE,

DESIDIA; pro continentia et aequitate, LIBIDO atque SUPERBIA

invasere: fortuna simul cum moribus IMMUTATUR."

Verse 27. Thou gavest them saviours] The whole book of Judges

is a history of God's mercies, and their rebellions.

Verse 30. Many years didst thou forbear] It is supposed that

Nehemiah refers here principally to the ten tribes. And many

years did God bear with them; not less than two hundred and

fifty-four years from their separation from the house of David,

till their captivity and utter dispersion under Shalmaneser;

during the whole of which time God invariably warned them by his

prophets; or, as it is here said, by thy Spirit in thy prophets,

which gives us the true notion of Divine inspiration. God's

Spirit was given to the prophets; and they testified to the

people, according as they were taught and influenced by this


Verse 32. On our kings, on our princes] I believe Nehemiah in

this place mentions the whole of civil society in its officers as

they stand related to each other in dignity:-1. KINGS, as supreme.

2. PRINCES. 3. PRIESTS. 4. PROPHETS. 5. The FATHERS, heads or

chiefs of tribes and families. 6. The COMMON PEOPLE. Those who

disturb this natural order (for it subsists even in Britain) are

enemies to the peace of the whole, whatever they may pretend to

the contrary.

Verse 34. Neither have our kings] In this verse he

acknowledges that the kings, princes, priests, and fathers, had

broken the law: but the prophets are left out; for they continued

faithful to God, testifying by his Spirit against the crimes of

all; and this even at the risk of their lives.

Verse 35. For they have not served thee in their kingdom]

Instead of bemalcutham, "in THEIR kingdom,"

bemalcuthecha, in THY kingdom," is the reading of two of

Kennicott's MSS.; as also of the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic.

This is most likely to be the true reading.

Verse 36. Behold, we are servants] They had no king of their

own: and were under the government of the kings of Persia, to whom

they paid a regular tribute.

Verse 37. It yieldeth much increase unto the kings] Good and

fruitful as the land is, yet it profits us little; as the chief

profits on all things go to the kings of Persia.

Over our bodies] Exacting personal and feudal services from

us, and from our cattle; and this not by any fixed rate, or rule,

of so much rent, so much labour, or boons; but at their

pleasure; so that we can neither call our persons, our time, our

land, nor our cattle, our own: therefore we are in great distress.

Miserable are the people that live under such a government. Think

of this, ye Britons! think of your liberties and rights. Compare

them with any other nation under heaven, and see what a balance is

in your favour. Almost all the nations of the earth acknowledge

Britons the most happy of all men. May I not say,

O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint!

"How exceedingly happy would you be, could

you but consider your many advantages!"

Verse 38. Our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.]

Persuaded that we have brought all the miseries upon ourselves by

our transgressions, feeling much and fearing more, we make a

covenant with thee to devote ourselves to thy service; to do with

us as thou pleasest. From this sealing we learn that at this time

the government of the Jews was a mixed aristocracy; composed of

the nobles for the civil department, and the priests and

Levites for the ecclesiastical.

This was not mixing the Church with the state, or the state

with the Church: both were separate, yet both mutually supported

each other. The state never attempted to model the Church

according to its own mind; because the Church had been founded and

regulated by God, and neither its creed nor its ordinances could be

changed. The Church did not meddle with the state, to give it

new laws, new ordinances, or new officers. Therefore the one

could not be jealous of the other. Where this state of things

prevails, every public blessing may be expected. In every state

God says to the governors and the governed: "Render to Caesar the

things which are Caesar's, and to GOD the things which are GOD's."

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