August 6, 2020

Nehemiah 13-2020-08-06


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Commentary: Nehemiah 13 

Bible Text: Nehemiah 13:15-31

15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 16 Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! 17 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

19 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.

23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”

28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.

Remember me, O my God, for good.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 13:15-31

  • What can I learn from the fact that without any despair or self-pity, Nehemiah responds to the collapse of obedience among the people by reinstituting, step-by-step, the same reforms he had established before? What lesson does this teach me regarding fighting sin in my life, and regarding spiritually leading others?

Nehemiah 13:31

  • The reforms that Nehemiah instituted in this chapter end with the prayer for God to “remember me” (including v.14). Reflect on what this shows about Nehemiah’s sensitivity to God’s gaze upon him and to what God desires. To what extent do I have such sensitivity?  Am I motivated by a desire to please God in all that I do?


August 5, 2020

Nehemiah 13-2020-08-05


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Commentary: Nehemiah 13

13:1–3 […] Here as earlier, the separation is justified in relation to Torah observance, now explicitly in connection with a public reading of Deut 23:3–5—with its references to Ammonite and Moabite exclusion on the basis of an association with Balaam.[…] If, as we tentatively suggest below, this invocation of Deut 23 and commitment on the part of the community reflect their own diagnosis of the problem during Nehemiah’s return visit to Jerusalem but prior to the dedication of the wall, the events narrated in these verses report the final acts of the community in Nehemiah’s narrative, even if those narrated in Neh 13 are the final ones to be reported.

13:4–9 Nehemiah’s account of the problems that he found on his return and the actions he took begins with his eviction of Tobiah. […] Assuming this Tobiah to be Nehemiah’s inveterate opponent last encountered in Neh 6, Nehemiah’s cause for concern is entirely understandable. Quite apart from the misuse of the temple’s estate, Tobiah’s presence at the heart of the community’s sacred space seems likely to have been an attempt to integrate Jewish concerns within the wider network of Ammonite, Moabite, and Samarian interests. That this could happen at all is then excused by Nehemiah with reference to his absence from Jerusalem (13:6–7), which lasted long enough for the return trip and the passing of “some time” (lit., “the end of the days”) in the Persian court. Whether the brevity of Nehemiah’s absence is meant to heighten the sense of Tobiah’s impropriety, Nehemiah’s outraged response (“very angry”; 13:8) leads to the apparently immediate and unceremonious ejection of Tobiah’s offending furnishings from the room. The room’s purification and the restoration of its rightful contents (“vessels,” “grain offering,” and “frankincense”) complete Nehemiah’s decisive intervention on this front.

13:10–13 Next Nehemiah discovers that the collection of the Levitical tithe, the system for which was agreed by the community in 10:35–39, has ceased to function, resulting in the exodus of the Levites from the capital toward the country (cf. 11:20). […] As the latter chapters of Nehemiah are currently arranged, Nehemiah’s indignant response here, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” (13:11), throws the community’s words, “We will not neglect the house of God” (10:39), back at them in no uncertain terms, but the action Nehemiah takes suggests a change of approach. Instead of attempting to restore the earlier system, evidently unimplemented—in which storage in regional depots was linked to subsequent temple delivery—Nehemiah recalls the temple functionaries to their posts (13:11) and resumes the collection of contributions (13:12) centrally in Jerusalem under the supervision of a trusted team composed of a priest, a Levite, a scribe, and an assistant (13:13). […]

13:14 That we have returned to the Nehemiah memoir in Neh 13 is confirmed by the interjection of a prayer not on this occasion for the divine remembering of Nehemiah’s enemies’ evil or sins (cf. 6:14; 4:4–5) but rather for a preservation of Nehemiah’s “faithfulness/loyal love”…this prayer surely reflects Nehemiah’s anxieties about a legacy less easily preserved than the wall (cf. 5:19), but …it also manifests a genuine concern for the worship of his God, which he has worked so hard to reform and whose preservation his prayer now entrusts to God himself.

13:15–22a […] In spite of what are presented as these earlier commitments not to purchase from foreigners, Nehemiah finds the people of Judah in Jerusalem doing precisely that, aided and abetted by Tyrian traders with no interest in Sabbath observance (13:16). […] Exercising his authority as governor, Nehemiah has his own servants close and patrol the very gates he had had rebuilt, to safeguard the city from a threat to its holiness as real as any Samarian or Moabite. Having sought to stem the ingress of goods and the creeping commercialization of the Sabbath (13:19), Nehemiah also recounts his apparently successful efforts to frighten off those traders whom he felt or knew to be loitering with intent on Friday night, with the promise of apprehension or worse (13:21). That the Levites, normally trusted with guarding the temple’s gates, should be charged with guarding the city gates, specifically “to keep the Sabbath day holy” (13:22a) suggests a final echo and identification with the prophetic purposes of Jeremiah (17:22, 24, 27).

13:22b A further prayer for divine remembrance implores God to spare (i.e., prolong) Nehemiah’s life, now not because of Nehemiah’s own “loving-kindness” (see 13:14) toward God, but rather because of God’s love toward Nehemiah. That the former should be expected to elicit the latter is presupposed in 1:5, where mention is also made of the divine loving-kindness. Nehemiah offers his plea to God by celebrating the “abundance of your loving-kindness/mercy”, an expression found also in the prayer of Ps 5:7.

13:23–27 The centrality of the issue of intermarriage with those outside the community is further established when—despite the community’s blanket commitment to avoid such attachments (10:30)—Nehemiah returns to discover Jewish men with wives of “Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab” (13:23) and children whose “mother tongue” appears not to have been Hebrew (or Aramaic) (13:24), but rather that of Ashdod and others. That the violence of Nehemiah’s reaction, first merely verbal and then even physical (13:25), relates not to the linguistic situation itself, but the foreign marriages of which they are but a natural symptom, is made clear by his reference to Deut 7:3–4: “Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of YHWH would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly” (NRSV). […]

13:28–31 Not only were high priests (and presumably prospective ones) required to marry within the community (Lev 21:13–15), but the marriage of Eliashib’s grandson to a daughter of Nehemiah’s old enemy Sanballat (Neh 6) will have opened up the real prospect of Horonite influence on the uppermost echelons of the community’s religious establishment. Nehemiah’s predictable response is to remove the offending man from the corridors of power (13:28). This action and the notion that “foreign” influence on the clerical ranks was seen by Nehemiah to be specifically “defiling” sits comfortably with the note in 7:64 that some priests were seen as defiled precisely because of questions regarding genealogy. […] Finally, a resumption of prayers has increasingly punctuated these final chapters. Here Nehemiah prays for divine remembrance against his clerical opponents (x13:29)—presumably specifically those in the upper reaches of it—and in his final words, for divine remembrance of himself. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 57-60.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 13:1-14

1 On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2 for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.

4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5 prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6 While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king 7 and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.

10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 13:1-3

  • What can I learn from the people’s response to the Book of Moses?

Nehemiah 13:4-14

  • Reflect on the fact that while Nehemiah was gone, the people had abandoned his reforms and the commitments they themselves had made. How might this have happened, and what warnings and lessons are there for me?


August 4, 2020

Nehemiah 12- 2020-08-04


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Commentary: Nehemiah 12

12:1–7 With the Judahite-Benjaminite settlement of Jerusalem and the region now documented, the account offers a supplementary list of clerical personnel extending across multiple generations. The list is headed by those associated with the high priesthood of Jeshua (12:1, 7) during the first return under Darius I, sixteen of which (in varying forms) are found in the list of signatories to the covenant in Neh 10.

12:8–26 […] Notes concerning the recording of the Levites and priests (Neh 12:22–23) offer a further hint of the consuming interest (visible in these very lists) in documenting who did what in the days of the return, while 12:24 recollects those responsible not just for thanksgiving (cf. 11:17) but now also for “praise,” both of which are seen to have a Davidic connection (cf. Chronicles). The gatekeepers, familiar from 11:19, remind the reader of just how treasured the newly rebuilt temple and its precincts were for the returnees, while the intention of the final verse (12:26) may well be to indicate that the service of the Levites referred to in the previous verse was associated with the days of Joiakim and those later days in which Ezra and Nehemiah are to be found together (when Eliashib was high priest).

12:27–30 Given the numbers of Levites already in the capital (on the basis of the previous chapter), the summoning to Jerusalem of those from towns outside (12:27; cf. 11:3, 20) hints at the scale of the celebrations to come. Their distinctive contribution “rejoicing, with thanksgivings and with singing”—anticipated already in the foregoing lists (11:17; 12:24)—is elaborated upon here with the mention of musical instruments and indeed the recruiting of additional singers from the environs of the capital (12:28–29). That such preparations would include the purification of the Levites and the priests (12:30) is hardly unanticipated given the mention of this same practice in Ezra 6:20 at the dedication of the temple. […]

12:31–39 […] To facilitate the giving of “thanks,” Nehemiah forms two great companies, the first of which, composed of leaders, priests, and musicians, is led by Ezra (12:36). Nehemiah by contrast (12:38) follows the other half of the people (also giving thanks), with the two parting company from their starting point, likely at the Valley Gate. If this was their point of departure, one may well imagine Nehemiah surveying with some satisfaction the progress that had been made since he passed through the very same gate to inspect the ruined walls in the dead of night on his arrival in Jerusalem (Neh 2). […]

12:40–43 Proceeding on to the temple, the two companies take their places to give “thanks,” with the presence of the priests noted as well as the trumpets (12:41) and singers (12:42). Here, as at the dedications of the temple (Ezra 6) and the altar (Ezra 3), mention is made of both joyful celebration and the offering of sacrifices (Neh 12:43). […] The amplification of such joy is accomplished not only by means of repetition within the verse but also by mentioning that the noise was so loud that it could be heard at a distance, inviting comparison with the similar sentiment in Ezra 3:13. While there, in the early days of the restoration we see both rejoicing and regret; here in Neh 12, at the dedication of the wall, the sound is not a mixture of laughter and tears, but rather one of pure, unadulterated praise.

12:44–47 While the reader has already been informed of the people’s commitment to offer the first portions (10:35–37) and to bring them to the storerooms (10:38–39), the oversight of these chambers and their contents is mentioned as being established “on that day”—that is, the day of the dedication (12:27–43). […] Having also already detailed that the provisioning of the singers was royally mandated (11:23), a further note here describes the means of such provision (also for the gatekeepers), clarifying too the process of supplying for the needs of the clerical classes in terms of “hallowing or setting apart.”  [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 55-57.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 12:1-47

1 These are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, 2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, 4 Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, 5 Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, 7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah. These were the chiefs of the priests and of their brothers in the days of Jeshua.

8 And the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, who with his brothers was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. 9 And Bakbukiah and Unni and their brothers stood opposite them in the service. 10 And Jeshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, 11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.

12 And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers’ houses: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; 13 of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; 14 of Malluchi, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; 15 of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; 16 of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; 17 of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; 18 of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; 19 of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; 20 of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; 21 of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethanel.

22 In the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, the Levites were recorded as heads of fathers’ houses; so too were the priests in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 As for the sons of Levi, their heads of fathers’ houses were written in the Book of the Chronicles until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. 24 And the chiefs of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers who stood opposite them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch by watch. 25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers standing guard at the storehouses of the gates. 26 These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra, the priest and scribe.

27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28 And the sons of the singers gathered together from the district surrounding Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; 29 also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30 And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.

31 Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. One went to the south on the wall to the Dung Gate.32 And after them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, 33 and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, 35 and certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets: Zechariah the son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, son of Asaph; 36 and his relatives, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went up straight before them by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, to the Water Gate on the east.

38 The other choir of those who gave thanks went to the north, and I followed them with half of the people, on the wall, above the Tower of the Ovens, to the Broad Wall, 39 and above the Gate of Ephraim, and by the Gate of Yeshanah, and by the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, to the Sheep Gate; and they came to a halt at the Gate of the Guard. 40 So both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half of the officials with me; 41 and the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; 42 and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. 43 And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

44 On that day men were appointed over the storerooms, the contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the Law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns, for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered.

45 And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 12:27-30

  • What can I learn from the fact that the first thing the Levites did was to “[purify] themselves” and then “they purified the people” before they celebrated joyfully?

Nehemiah 12:27-43

  • What is the significance of Ezra the scribe leading the procession of celebration (v.36)? What is fitting about the scope of this event that took place to thank God?  How is this an apt picture of the church?

Nehemiah 12:44-47

  • What does this passage say regarding how a church should function? What are the “daily portions” that I am to contribute to God’s church?


July 30, 2020

Nehemiah 11- 2020-07-30


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Nehemiah 11


11:1–3 Having recommitted themselves in the previous chapter to a giving of the firstfruits and tithes that would sustain the temple, the people now cast lots in order to “tithe” themselves in the repopulation of Jerusalem (11:1). That specific mention is made of the casting of lots serves to continue the echo of the settlement of the land, which was also done by lot according to Num 26:55–56 and Josh 14:2. Evidently, both there and here, the apportioning of unequal “shares” was seen to require divine impartiality (cf. Prov 16:33). This may also suggest that the relocation was seen to be a costly one, or unappealing at least, for families only recently returned to ancestral lands and keen to extract a living from them. Indeed, this costliness would seem to be confirmed by the note in Neh 11:2 that the people blessed those “who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem” (NRSV), though it may well be that this blessing was reserved for those who moved to Jerusalem without being compelled by the lot. […]

11:19–24 […] Whatever the real cause for the mention of a royal warrant (11:23) for the support of the singers, the impression given of “a settled provision . . . every day” for the descendants of Asaph (11:22) suggests that the musical contribution was no less important than any of the others.[1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 54-55.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 11:1-36


1 Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem. And the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem the holy city, while nine out of ten remained in the other towns. 2 And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.

3 These are the chiefs of the province who lived in Jerusalem; but in the towns of Judah everyone lived on his property in their towns: Israel, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants, and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. 4 And in Jerusalem lived certain of the sons of Judah and of the sons of Benjamin. Of the sons of Judah: Athaiah the son of Uzziah, son of Zechariah, son of Amariah, son of Shephatiah, son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; 5 and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, son of Col-hozeh, son of Hazaiah, son of Adaiah, son of Joiarib, son of Zechariah, son of the Shilonite. 6 All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 valiant men.

7 And these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, son of Joed, son of Pedaiah, son of Kolaiah, son of Maaseiah, son of Ithiel, son of Jeshaiah, 8and his brothers, men of valor, 928. 9 Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer; and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second over the city.

10 Of the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin,        11 Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, son of Meshullam, son of Zadok, son of Meraioth, son of Ahitub, ruler of the house of God,  12 and their brothers who did the work of the house, 822; and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, son of Pelaliah, son of Amzi, son of Zechariah, son of Pashhur, son of Malchijah, 13 and his brothers, heads of fathers’ houses, 242; and Amashsai, the son of Azarel, son of Ahzai, son of Meshillemoth, son of Immer, 14and their brothers, mighty men of valor, 128; their overseer was Zabdiel the son of Haggedolim.

15 And of the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, son of Bunni; 16 and Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the chiefs of the Levites, who were over the outside work of the house of God; 17 and Mattaniah the son of Mica, son of Zabdi, son of Asaph, who was the leader of the praise, who gave thanks, and Bakbukiah, the second among his brothers; and Abda the son of Shammua, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun. 18 All the Levites in the holy city were 284.

19 The gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon and their brothers, who kept watch at the gates, were 172. 20 And the rest of Israel, and of the priests and the Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, every one in his inheritance. 21 But the temple servants lived on Ophel; and Ziha and Gishpa were over the temple servants.

22 The overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, son of Hashabiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Mica, of the sons of Asaph, the singers, over the work of the house of God. 23 For there was a command from the king concerning them, and a fixed provision for the singers, as every day required. 24 And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king’s side in all matters concerning the people.

25 And as for the villages, with their fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kiriath-arba and its villages, and in Dibon and its villages, and in Jekabzeel and its villages, 26 and in Jeshua and in Moladah and Beth-pelet, 27 in Hazar-shual, in Beersheba and its villages, 28 in Ziklag, in Meconah and its villages, 29 in En-rimmon, in Zorah, in Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and its fields, and Azekah and its villages. So they encamped from Beersheba to the Valley of Hinnom.          31 The people of Benjamin also lived from Geba onward, at Michmash, Aija, Bethel and its villages, 32 Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, 33 Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, 34 Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, 35 Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen. 36 And certain divisions of the Levites in Judah were assigned to Benjamin.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 11:1-2

  • What leadership lesson can I learn from the fact that the “leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem” while the “rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem”?
  • What is so beautiful about the people blessing “all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem”? What acts of sacrifice and selflessness for the sake of God do I see around me that I need to notice and bless?

Nehemiah 11:3-36

  • What can I learn about God from the fact that all those “who lived in Jerusalem” are listed by name and remembered in the Scriptures to this day?
  • Reflect on the rich spiritual lineage I am a part of, both at this church and in the whole history of Christianity that includes so many ancestral heroes. How should I live, knowing that I am part of this kind of glorious lineage?


July 29, 2020

Nehemiah 10- 2020-07-29


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Commentary: Nehemiah 10

Bible Text: Nehemiah 10:30-39

30 We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. 31 And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

32 “We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. 34 We, the priests, the Levites, and the people, have likewise cast lots for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law. 35 We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord; 36 also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; 37 and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. 38 And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. 39 For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the chambers, where the vessels of the sanctuary are, as well as the priests who minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers. We will not neglect the house of our God.”

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 10:30-39

  • What are the three areas addressed in the covenant the people enter into? What are my commitments to God regarding these areas?

Nehemiah 10:32-39

  • Notice that the things they committed to are listed in specific and concrete detail. What lesson regarding making commitments does this reveal?
  • Reflect on the statement “We will not neglect the house of our God.” What concrete steps do I need to take to make this become a reality in my life?


July 28, 2020

Nehemiah 10- 2020-07-28


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Commentary: Nehemiah 10

10:30 Given the prominence of the theme of separation in the book as a whole (Ezra 9; Neh 9:2) and the aversion for intermarriage (Ezra 9), it is hardly surprising that this concern heads the list of covenant commitments. While some groups (cf. Neh 13:23: Ashdod, Ammon, Moab) may have been more prominently associated with the practice than others, the generic terminology of the “peoples of the lands” here resonates with usage in this chapter and Neh 9 and gives the impression of a wider proscription akin to Ezra 9. Here, as there (Ezra 9:2; Neh 13:26), the giving of both sons and daughters to those outside the community reflects the abiding suspicion of intermarriage as the inevitable prelude to religious infidelity. While the actual fate of any existing marriages with proscribed partners is unclear, the failure to mention their dissolution here gives the impression at least of a more lenient line than was taken in Ezra 9–10.

10:31 While the regulation of the Sabbath in the Torah did not specifically include commerce in its prohibition of work, Amos 8:5 suggests that selling on the Sabbath had already been restricted before the exile, and the extension of the proscription to buying here is an illustration of the progressive regulation of the Sabbath that had thus begun long before the return from exile and would continue long after it. That this commitment is made specifically in relation to again the “peoples of the land” may well have answered a legitimate query regarding the application of the law, but reflects in any case the consuming interest in maintaining the boundaries of identity and community. […]

10:32–33 Whether early imperial financial support (Ezra 6:9; 7:21) had subsequently waned or simply proved insufficient, the voluntary contributions of the community had always been encouraged and noted (1:4, 6; 2:69). Even if it was a one-off contribution (cf. Exodus and Joash’s levy in 2 Chr 24:4–14), and all the more if it was a regular commitment akin to the later temple tax (Matt 17:24), such a voluntary subscription represented a significant step forward, both as a concrete expression of solidarity and as a tangible investment in the institution of the temple and the cultic establishment. The full extent of this investment and the scale of the cult is well illustrated by the range of activities to be supported (Neh 10:33) for the sake of “our” God (10:32–33).

10:34–39 […] The gift of firstfruits (deconsecrated to allow for use of the rest) was mandated (e.g., Exod 23:19), but the further specification of “all the fruit of every tree” appears to be an example of rigorist extension of the law to cover additional cases. The firstborn males of family and flock also are required (and may presumably be redeemed; cf. 34:19–20) while only the clean animals will be offered to the priests (Neh 10:36). Nehemiah 10:37 completes the list with the mention of the first portions of foods produced, but not otherwise covered, with the repetition of the “fruit of every tree” justified now by that which it produces—“wine and oil.” […] The final commitment of 10:39 (“we will not neglect the house of our God”) while certainly resonant with Nehemiah’s accusatory question in 13:11, serves to sum up the pledge of support for the temple articulated toward the end of this chapter (10:32–39) and the theological motivation for offering it (i.e., “our God”). [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 52-54.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 10:1-29

1 “On the seals are the names of Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, Zedekiah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, 3 Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, 4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, 5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, 6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, 7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, 8 Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah; these are the priests.    9  And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; 10 and their brothers, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11 Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodiah, Bani, Beninu.           14 The chiefs of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, 18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,           21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, 24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluch, Harim, Baanah.

28 “The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, 29 join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 10:1-29

  • Note that for practical purposes, not everyone could fix their seals in making the binding agreement to follow the Law of God and to obey fully all of God’s commands. However, everyone was able to join in the same commitment.  What is my view of my commitment to follow God and his laws regardless of my position within the church? 
  • Reflect on the fact that the people “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God.” How does this apply to me specifically?
  • In what ways have I entered into “a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law … and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord”?


July 23, 2020

Nehemiah 9- 2020-07-23


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Commentary: Nehemiah 9

Bible Text: Nehemiah 9:26-38

26 “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. 27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. 29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. 33 Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. 35 Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

38 “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 9:26-35

  • What is the pattern of the Israelites’ relationship with God? What warning does this have for me?
  • Why was it important for the Israelites to go through their detailed history of the past several hundred years and what was their conclusion upon reflecting?
  • Do I agree with the Israelites as I look back at my life, “yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon [me], for you have dealt faithfully and [I] have acted wickedly”? Praise God for his faithfulness despite my sins.


July 22, 2020

Nehemiah 9- 2020-07-22


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Commentary: Nehemiah 9

9:1–5 […] As in Ezra 10, the assembled people here manifest visible signs of mourning, and the Israelites separate themselves from those described as “foreign.” While it is suggested that the Israelites’ separation here is of a quite different sort from that recounted in Ezra—not from foreign women, but from all foreigners—the reading of Neh 9 with Neh 10 where marital separation is very much in view tends to encourage the interpretation of the intervention here in similar terms, whether or not it always had this meaning. […]

9:6–8 […] The repetition of “you are YHWH” from Neh 9:6 invites the hearer to see the election of Abram too as an act of creation, and indeed throughout these verses, the subject, the active agent, is overwhelmingly God, who first chooses, brings out, and gives a new name to Abraham (9:7) and then finds him faithful and makes a covenant with him (9:8). While these verses disclose an awareness of traditions very like (but not identical) to Gen 15 and Gen 17, it is not the promise of progeny, but land—promised to one who had also come from Mesopotamia—that prompts the proleptic acknowledgment of its fulfillment and the expression of adoration (“you are righteous”).

9:9–11 No less resonant for returning exiles was the exodus tradition, reduced here to God’s climactic intervention against the Egyptian oppressors at the Sea (Exod 14–15). The repeated invocation of “our ancestors” (Neh 9:9–10) strengthens the identification of the returned exiles’ own distress (9:9) and insolent treatment (9:10) with that of their ancient forebears, even as the name that God made for himself in those days remains an encouragement “to this day.”

9:12–15 The recital of God’s gracious agency on behalf of Israel continues into the wilderness wanderings, with the tradition of the pillar (9:12) and the giving of Torah at Sinai (9:13) invoked in terms of divine movement/presence (“you led” in 9:12; “you came down” in 9:13) and the gift of divine guidance (“the way they should go” in 9:12). […]

9:16–22 The arrival of the disjunction “but they, our ancestors” sounds the note of rebellion characteristic of historical recitals within the penitential prayer tradition (Ps 106:13). […] The persistent grace of Israel’s God is reiterated in phrases drawn from and otherwise reminiscent of passages like Exod 34:6, before the prayer belatedly invokes that archetypal sin of the wilderness period, the idolatry of the calf (Neh 9:18). Yet such sin is juxtaposed with the mention again of God’s provision of the pillar (9:19), the manna and water (9:20), as well as “the good spirit to instruct them” (cf. Ps 143:10, where “good spirit” is also related to instruction). […]

9:26–31 […] A second invocation of the law and the people’s disobedience of “your ordinances, by which a person shall live” (9:29) is again followed by a reminder of the rejection of “your prophets” inspired by “your spirit” (cf. 9:20). The prayer notes finally the Israelites’ inevitable deliverance into the hands of not merely “enemies” but the “peoples of the lands”—a phrase whose application to those outside the golah community (Ezra 9:1, 2, 11; Neh 10:28) will have confirmed the contemporary relevance of the lessons of the past. While the historical recital ends on a note of divine blessing despite previous rebellion, the transition to petition proper (9:32) is signaled by the prayer’s note that the most recent mercy falls short of full redemption (“did not make an end of them”; 9:31 NRSV) and especially by the movement from historical reflection to present praise: “you are a gracious and merciful God” (9:31).

9:32–38 […] The juxtaposing of this divine fidelity with the faithlessness of these same people in neglecting the law and ignoring (prophetic) “warnings” is acknowledged as full justification for “all that has come upon us” (9:34). If the prayer’s owning of the past lapses briefly into further lament of ancestral ungratefulness (“they did not serve you” in 9:35), the continuing abundance of the divine generosity of the past (“great goodness” in 9:35; “good gifts” in 9:36) down to the present day (“rich yield”; 9:37) makes the community’s current status as “slaves” in a land that used to be their own (9:35) all the more painful (“in great distress” in 9:37). […] [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 50-51.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 9:1-25

1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God. 4 On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

6  “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 7 You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

9 “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters. 12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. 13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.

16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.

22 “And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 9:1-5

  • What is the significance of the completion of the wall as a background for the Israelite’s repentance?

Nehemiah 9:6-25

  • What is so appropriate about the Israelites’ prayer of repentance beginning with praising who God is and recalling God’s history with the Israelites?


July 21, 2020

Nehemiah 8- 2020-07-21


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Commentary: Nehemiah 8

Bible Text: Nehemiah 8:13-18

13 On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. 14 And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 8:13-18

  • What can I learn from the progression, repeated throughout this chapter, of studying the words of the Law, understanding, obedience, and celebrating with “very great rejoicing”?
  • What insight does this give about the secret to true joy?


July 16, 2020

Nehemiah 8- 2020-07-16


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Commentary: Nehemiah 8

8:1–8 Having described in great detail the diversity and distribution of the returnees in Neh 7, the narrative moves quickly to affirm in 8:1 the unity of (“all”) the people and the singularity of their purpose…it is the people who prompt Ezra to produce the Torah and the people who also feature most prominently in Neh 8:1–12…the Torah is not merely the “law of Moses” commanded by the God of Israel (as at Ezra 7:6), but also the law that “YHWH had commanded Israel.” The inclusiveness of the gathering is further emphasized by the mention of both “men and women” (Neh 8:3) and indeed “all who could understand,” a notion whose inclusiveness of children in 10:28 would seem to imply the presence of the latter here too. That this audience in its entirety (again, “all”) was especially attentive is explicitly emphasized by the narrator—and perhaps implicitly too by the note of how long Ezra read (six hours). […]

That the Torah will be not merely venerated but taught becomes clear as the narrative shifts its attention from liturgy to pedagogy in 8:7–8. In light of the involvement of Levites later in the passage (8:9, 11, 13) and the specific identification of some here as Levites elsewhere (e.g., Jeshua, Bani, and others in 9:4–5), it seems likely that Levites were employed to assist the crowds in understanding what they heard, presumably by circulating among them in some fashion. The technique of the “tutors” includes reading the text themselves, but extends also to some type of interpretation. […] The insistence that the teaching of Torah too is being done now, as it was then, is yet another confirmation of the importance of continuity with the past.

8:9–12 As in Ezra 10, the emotional response of the gathering expresses itself in “weeping,” a visible sign of mourning and emotional distress comparable (if not identical) to that found in 2 Kgs 22:11, where Josiah is convicted by the hearing of the law, as seems to be the case here. While such a report reaffirms both the power of the law and the tenderheartedness of the people, the admonitions first in Neh 8:9 and then twice in 8:10–11 (“do not be grieved”) suggest a popular response quite out of keeping with the spirit that the leaders wished to cultivate on a day that was “holy” (three times in 8:9–11). The choice of the first day of the seventh month, announced already in 8:2, was evidently far from accidental, with Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the New Year, being a traditional day of “holy gathering” (Lev 23:24). […]

8:13–18 That the community has been captivated by their engagement with Torah is suggested by the narrator’s insistence that the very next day, a now more restricted group of laymen—the unnamed heads of the ancestral houses—together with the priests and Levites, take the further initiative of gathering around Ezra the scribe to “study” (8:13) the words of Torah. […]

While Neh 8:18 (“they kept the festival seven days”; NRSV) implies that the community proceeded to observe Sukkot more or less immediately, 8:16’s focus is on where it was observed, namely, in both private homes and public spaces in Jerusalem, including within—and perhaps in proximity to—the temple. […] the final verse captures neatly the dynamics of the chapter as a whole. On one hand, the “he” (singular) who is noted as reading (Neh 8:18) can only be Ezra, whose six-hour recitation of Torah was the starting point from which all else flowed. On the other hand, the mention of the now solemn assembly (“they”) with which the observance concludes reflects the fundamental part played by the people themselves in responding to the Torah read by Ezra, but given by God. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 47-49.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 8:1-12


1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 8:1-6

  • Reflect on the significance and rightness of the scene of “all the people gathered as one man,” standing for 6 hours with their ears “attentive to the Book of the Law” as the first order of business after completing the wall.

Nehemiah 8:7-12

  • What can I learn from the people’s response to the message of God’s word?
  • Reflect on the words of Nehemiah to the people: “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” To what extent am I experiencing strength that comes from the joy of the Lord?


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