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(1-3) Reform as to mixed marriages.
(1) On that day.—Probably the season of the Feast of Tabernacles, as before. But portions were selected to be read.
They read in the book of Moses.—“It was read” in the Pentateuch, and specially Deuteronomy 23:0. This is introduced for the sake of the action taken, and the history is given in brief, with a striking and characteristic parenthesis of Nehemiah’s own concerning the curse turned into a blessing.
Therein was found written.—What to the people generally was not known.
For ever.—No Ammonite or Ammonite family could have legal standing in the congregation, “even to their tenth generation;” and this interdict was to last “for ever.” It virtually though not actually amounted to absolute exclusion.
(3) The mixed multitude.—For the “mixed multitude,” or Ereb, which plays so prominent a part in Jewish history, see on Exodus 12:38. The process here was that of shutting out heathens who were in the habit of mingling with the people in the services. In Nehemiah 9:0 it was, as we saw, the people’s separation from the practices and spirit of the heathen.
(4) Eliashib the priest, having the oversight.—Probably the high priest of Nehemiah 3:1, whose office alone would not have given him control over “the chamber:” that is, the series of chambers running round three walls of the Temple. He “was allied unto Tobiah,” but in what way is not stated.
Before this.—That is, before the return of Nehemiah; indeed, there is a suspicious absence of Eliashib’s name throughout the high religious festivities of the preceding chapters.
(4-9) The scandal of the high priest.
(5) A great chamber.—The sequel shows that many email chambers had been thrown into one.
(6) Was not I at Jerusalem.—Parenthetical explanation of this disorderly state of things.
King of Babylon.—Probably it was at Babylon that Nehemiah found the court, and therefore he does not say “King of Persia.”
After certain days.—The time is left indefinite. But the “two and thirtieth year” shows that he had been in Jerusalem twelve years before his return to the king.
(8) It grieved me sore.—The second time we read of Nehemiah’s deep emotion: first, because of the utter dissoluteness of which this was a token; and secondly, because it was a priestly desecration.
(9) Cleansed.—There was a formal purification. It is a note of minute accuracy that there is no mention of tithes being brought back as yet; the next verses show why.
(10) Fled every one to his field.—They who performed the work of the Temple were obliged to seek their sustenance by cultivating the fields apportioned to them in the Levitical cities (Numbers 35:2).
(10-13) The provision for the Levites.
(11) Contended I with the rulers.—See their express covenant in Nehemiah 10:39. The rich men had taken advantage of Nehemiah’s absence to indulge their covetousness.
And I gathered them together.—The Levites were summoned back from their fields.
(13) And I made.—The reform was made effectual by organisation. Eliashib had failed in his duty (Nehemiah 13:4); and the appointment of treasurers (Nehemiah 12:44) is now confirmed. One of the treasurers was a layman named Hanan (Nehemiah 10:22); but they were all faithful men, and are mentioned in connection with the building of the wall. The majority being priests and Levites, they distributed “to their brethren.” Zadok was probably the Zidkijah of Nehemiah 10:1, and the secretary of Nehemiah.
(14) Remember me.—Once more the faithful servant of God begs a merciful remembrance of what he had done for the honour of God in the “observances” of His Temple.
(15) Saw I in Judah.—In the country Nehemiah marked the most determined profanation of the Sabbath; and this extended to Jerusalem, into which all kinds of burdens were on that day, as on others, carried.
(15-22) Vindication of the Sabbath.
(16) Men of Tyre.—They brought timber for the building of the Temple, and received food in payment Ezra 3:7). Now they seem to have established themselves as a colony, and supplied fish, especially to the inhabitants. But their offence was the doing this “on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.” The verse closes emphatically.
(17) That ye do.—The nobles, in the absence of Nehemiah, had been responsible, and the sin is charged upon them. The appeal supposes their familiarity with the express prediction of Jeremiah and its literal fulfilment (Jeremiah 17:27).
(19) Some of my servants.—These are several times mentioned as employed in public duty. Here they are used provisionally, to keep out traffickers until the formal appointment of the Levitical guard (Nehemiah 13:22), after which they would be relieved.
(20) Once or twice.—For a time they lodged outside; the unseemliness of this, and the evidence it gave that they were only waiting to evade the law, made Nehemiah testify in word, and threaten forcible action. This effectually removed the evil.
(22) Cleanse themselves.—As for a sacred duty, not without reference to their past neglect, which required to be forgiven. This was a high tribute to the Sabbath ordinance, and as such in harmony with all the details of this episode.
Remember me.—In this prayer also Nehemiah commits his fidelity to the merciful estimate of God. But something in connection with the Sabbath, or with his retrospect of his own conduct, gives the passing prayer a peculiar pathos of humility.
(23) Saw I Jews.—The punishment shows that these were exceptional cases; but the transgression was of the most flagrant kind (see Nehemiah 13:1).
(23-29) The mixed marriages again.
(24) Half in the speech of Ashdod.—A mixture of Philistine and Aramaic.
(25) Cursed them.—Nehemiah simply echoed the covenant sanction on this very point (Nehemiah 10:29-30).
Certain of them.—Some were selected for special punishment and humiliation. Ezra, on a like occasion, humbled himself by plucking off the hair of his own head (Ezra 9:3). Then they were obliged to repeat the oath of the covenant.
(26) Did not Solomon . . .—Here it is implied that the language of Scripture concerning Solomon was familiar both to Nehemiah and to these transgressors. It is a remarkable instance of the faithful application of their own chronicles.
(28) I chased him from me.—Eliashib himself was allied by marriage to Tobiah, and one of his grandsons was now brought into prominence as married to Sanballat. Him Nehemiah drove into exile.
(29) Remember them.—This priestly violation of law is committed to God alone for punishment.
And of the Levites.—God chose the tribe of Levi for Himself, specially the house of Aaron, and every priest was to be “holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 21:8). This was “the covenant of the priesthood;” though there may be an undertone of reference to the great covenant in Nehemiah 10:0.
(30) This is a brief recapitulation of the special Work of Nehemiah after his return.
Thus cleansed I them.—After the acts of discipline described above, there was doubtless some formal service of expiation.
(30, 31) Conclusion.
(31) Remember me, O my God, for good.—With these words Nehemiah leaves the scene, commiting himself and his discharge of duty to the Righteous Judge. His conscientious fidelity had brought him into collision not only with external enemies but with many of his own brethren. His rigorous reformation has been assailed by many moralists and commentators in every age. But in these words he commits all to God, as it were by anticipation.—It may be added that with these words end the annals of Old Testament history.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany