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This is an interesting chapter, for it records the solemn manner in which Nehemiah caused the law to be read in the presence of the people.
(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. (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 was a remarkable day in the estimation of Israel, for the Lord had appointed that an holy convocation should be observed on that day; (Numbers 29:1 .) and the blowing o f the trumpets. The various days and services by this ceremony of the blowing of trumpets, were all significant of the year of redemption. It must have been an animating sight to have beheld Israel once more gathered together in the great street of the city, even their beloved city of Jerusalem, to hear again after the ancient method, the law of God read to them by a scribe. But Reader! think of your privileges in having the gospel of salvation proclaimed every day, in every street and city, which is not as the law, the ministration of death, but the power of an endless life in Jesus. And if all Israel gathered as one man upon this occasion, how inexcusable are those who stay away from the house of God, and neglect to hear the wholesome truths of redemption.
(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. (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. (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: (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. (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. (8) So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
The length of the service in reading the law implies, that this was a more than ordinary occasion. And it is remarkable that though Ezra had been in Jerusalem, at the time that this service was so solemnly observed, for many years, yet we never hear of it before. Probably the building of the wall inspired the people with greater confidence. The bringing out of the book before the people, and opening it in their view; their standing up at the reading of it, by way of testifying their great reverence for it; and Ezra's blessing the Lord, with the people's answering Amen, amen, with lifted up hands, and bowing faces; all these were delightful signs of the real devotion of the heart on this memorable occasion. Blessed be God! amidst all the decays of vital godliness in the mass of the people, still there is a reverence observed, at least in our churches, on the reading of the scriptures. And the sweet savor the people of God feel at those seasons, becomes no small testimony that a relish for divine truths still is among us. Oh! that the Lord would increase it. I beg the Reader to remark what is said, in this account, of the expounding the word, reading, and causing the people to understand the reading. This not only becomes an authority for ministers to expound the word of life, as they read it to the people, but also a lovely example. And surely God doth own, and will bless, the labors of scribes well instructed in the mysteries of the gospel, when under the Spirit's teaching they bring forth out of the treasury things new and old.
(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.
Tirshatha means governor. And here Nehemiah presided in that capacity. But what I particularly request the Reader to observe with me is, the effect the reading of the Lord's holy law had upon the people. Certainly we may conclude that their tears were both tears of sorrow for sin, and of joy in God's mercy. And as the law, without an eye to Jesus as the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth, could never minister joy to any poor sinner; I venture to believe that some, at least, of this assembly were enabled by faith to look beyond the law, and behold him to whom the law acted as a schoolmaster. And if so, what a precious view, is here held forth to the church concerning faith in Christ. The Reader will be pleased to observe that I do not speak decidedly upon this point. I rather use caution. I only say, that if Nehemiah, or Ezra, or any of the people, were enabled by the Lord so to do, what an interesting glimpse of Jesus was here afforded; and how charmed must have been the soul of every faithful believer present.
(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. (11) So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. (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.
Reader! do observe how truly beautiful when blended together, is charity with devotion. Thy prayers and thine alms (saith the angel to Cornelius) are come up for a memorial before God. Acts 10:4 . Observe the expression; Jehovah is your strength. Who doth this mean but Jesus? Surely He is the strength of his people, and the arm of the Lord. Isaiah 52:1 .
(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.
How blessed is it to follow up the sabbath day's employment in the study of God's word with the next day's attention, bringing to remembrance what we then heard. When the parlour or the kitchen, or those who have neither, make the chamber an echo to the sanctuary, and rehearse among their household, or their friends, or acquaintance, what they heard on the preceding sabbath concerning Jesus. And what encouragement is there to this in God's blessed word! The prophets tells us that they that feared the name of the Lord were often talking one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard it. And the Evangelist tells us that while the disciples of Jesus were talking of him by the way, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. Luke 24:15 . Reader! depend upon it, when Jesus, in the sweetness and preciousness of his name, is in the mouth and upon the lips, from the abundance of the heart awakened by grace, the Lord will bless such edifying conversation, and impart greater degrees of knowledge both to speaker and hearer. See Malachi 3:16-17 ; Luke 24:14-15 .
(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: (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. (16) So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, everyone 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. (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. (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.
This custom of erecting booths is kept up to the present hour by the Jews. But alas! to what purpose? Do they read the law as their fathers did, from the first day to the last of their feasts? I fear not; though I presume not to judge them. But thus far I am authorized to say; their minds are blinded; for until this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. But what a precious scripture is that which so sweetly and graciously promiseth: Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 . Oh! who will not add, in all the fervency of prayer, Hasten, Lord, the gracious hour! may the Lord Jesus, the great deliverer, arise in Zion, and take away ungodliness from Jacob!
PRECIOUS chapter this, which in the view of Ezra reminds me of Jesus! how was it possible indeed to see Ezra taking the book, and opening it before the people, and not call to mind what I have read of thee, thou Holy Saviour, when as a Lamb thou, and thou alone, wert found worthy to open the book of God, and loose the seals thereof. And were the people of the captivity anxious to hear Ezra the scribe read out of the book of the law, and shall I not be, extremely solicitous that thou, most blessed Jesus, should open to me the precious words of salvation? Did they weep with holy tears at what they heard. And shall my soul remain, unmoved at the gracious words which proceed forth from thy mouth? Was the law of Moses, which contained the ministration of death, glorious to their view? And shall not life from the dead in the gospel of thy blood and righteousness, be abundantly more glorious? Oh! precious, precious Lamb of God; let me join the universal song that filled heaven and earth, in the moment redemption work was made known, and cry out with them; Thou art worthy to take the book, and open the seals thereof, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, by thy blood. Yes! thou adorable Redeemer; the church hail thee in heaven; the church praise thee on earth. Oh! let a poor worm send forth his feeble breathings, poor and feeble as they are, and sing as they did, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. May all glory be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent