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THE DAY OF PENITENCE AND PRAYER, Nehemiah 9:1-37.
1. The twenty and fourth day Two days after the close of the feast of tabernacles.
With fasting Or, in fasting; in this way they observed the day. After the seven days’ feast came one day’s fast. They had left off weeping to observe the joyful feasts, (chap. Nehemiah 8:9,) now they return again to sorrow.
With sackcloth Black garments made usually of goats’ hair, (Revelation 6:12,) and used as a penitential garb by mourners when in great distress.
Earth… them Another sign of bitter humiliation and grief. Comp. Joshua 7:5: 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; Job 2:12. In the history of Israel each period, however short, of prosperity and joy seems to have had its dark background of adversity and sadness.
2. Seed of Israel The pure descendants of Israel, as distinguished from the offspring of unlawful mixed marriages.
Separated themselves from all strangers Renounced all fellowship with the heathen, and dissolved all their marriages with strange women. Marriages of this character had been one of the great sins of the people which Ezra had corrected some time before, (Ezra 9:10,) but even up to this time they were not all pure, and at a still later day Nehemiah had to contend again with the same evil.
Stood and confessed As is more fully shown in the penitential prayer that follows after Nehemiah 9:5.
3. Read in… the law In the same manner, probably, as on the first day of the month. Nehemiah 8:1-8.
One fourth part of the day About three hours, reckoning from the twelve hours of the labourer’s day. The first part of the day was devoted to the reading of the law; the second part to confession of sins and worship.
4. Stairs Margin, scaffold. Probably the same platform, or “pulpit of wood,” used for the same purpose on the first day of the month.
The Levites By comparing the names in this verse with those in Nehemiah 9:5, we find the name Bani twice in this verse and once in the next. The names Bunni and Chenani of this verse are not found in Nehemiah 9:5, and Hashabniah, Hodijah, and Pethahiah, do not appear in Nehemiah 9:4. Keil attributes these differences to a clerical error, but this is unnecessary. Some of the Levites who called upon the people to stand up and worship may not have been different from those who cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God. We suppose that a large part of the worship of the latter half of the day was liturgical and antiphonal, and the penitential prayer that follows was probably prepared for the occasion, and recited by the Levites and the people alternately. Some parts may have been antiphonally recited by Levites alone, one party responding to the other. Other parts may have been recited by the people in response to the priests and Levites.
The psalm that follows is a most impressive and admirable specimen of penitential prayer. With it should be compared the ninth chapter of David and Psalms 106:0. It recounts and bewails the numerous sins of Israel which brought upon them the righteous judgments of God. The Septuagint represents it as the prayer of Ezra, and introduces Nehemiah 9:6 with the words, and Ezra said, and Bertheau adopts this reading as the probable original Hebrew text. It is very probable that the prayer was composed by Ezra for this occasion, and it might have been uttered by him, or any other individual, in the name and behalf of the whole nation; but the call for the people to “stand up and bless Jehovah,” and the general form and phraseology of the prayer, place it among the liturgical psalms of the Old Testament, and show it specially suitable to be used by the whole congregation.
5. Stand up The Levites thus call upon the congregation to join in offering the prayer, and probably the people, rising, responded, and blessed be thy glorious name, etc. And thus they continued, reciting and responding, through all this confession prepared for them by Ezra.
For ever and ever Hebrew, from everlasting to everlasting. Always and unceasingly is Jehovah to be praised.
Exalted above all blessing All worship and praise must fail fully to recognise and appreciate the worth and power of that GLORIOUS NAME.
6. All their host The glorious host of stars. Compare Genesis 2:1.
Host of heaven worshippeth thee Here the host of angels are intended. Compare Psalms 103:21; Psalms 148:2.
7. Abram… Abraham See Genesis 17:5. For the various historical allusions throughout the chapter, see the marginal references.
10. Get thee a name A wondrous fame for Almighty power over false gods. Jehovah made for himself such a name by the miracles which he wrought for Israel.
As it is this day Jehovah’s fame had not departed, for in Nehemiah’s time the miracles of the Exodus were still remembered and extolled.
15. Thou hadst sworn Literally, as the margin, which thou didst lift up thy hand to give them. Allusion to the custom or ceremony of solemnly raising the hand in taking an oath.
16. They and our fathers This should be rendered, and they, even our fathers.
17. Appointed a captain According to Numbers 14:4 the Israelites only proposed among themselves to appoint a captain, but it is quite probable that they also carried their rebellion so far as actually to nominate a new leader.
22. Thou gavest them kingdoms and nations Namely, the kingdoms and peoples of the land of Canaan.
Divide them into corners Or, divide them according to borders. That is, thou didst divide those kingdoms (their territory) according to definite boundary lines. The conquered land was distributed among the Israelites according to their tribes, as is recorded in the Book of Joshua So Bertheau and Keil explain; but others, as Gesenius, refer the suffix to the Israelites, thus: thou didst distribute them (the Israelites) into various quarters.
29. Withdrew the shoulder Like the refractory ox or the “backsliding heifer” (Hosea 4:16) that rebels against the yoke. Compare Zechariah 7:11.
30. Forbear them Margin, protract over them. An elliptical expression for prolonging one’s mercy or kindness. Compare the fuller form in Psalms 36:10; Psalms 109:12; Jeremiah 31:3.
32. All the trouble… that hath come upon us Literally, all the distress which has found us; that is, the woes and judgments which had come upon them in consequence of their sins.
THE SEALED COVENANT, Nehemiah 9:38 to Nehemiah 10:27.
38. Because of all this In view of the people’s profound humiliation and penitence, as expressed in the preceding prayer. This verse properly belongs to chapter 10.
We make a sure covenant For the purpose of preserving and perpetuating the excellent feeling that now prevailed, the whole community entered at once into a written covenant to separate themselves from the heathen and remain true to Jehovah.
Seal unto it The word rendered seal is the passive participle sealed, and is evidently used in the sense of sealed instrument. Thus, literally, and upon the sealed, (document,) were our princes, Levites, priests; that is, the sealed instrument bore their names or signatures. Such solemn sealing of documents to ratify a treaty or covenant has been a custom in all ages.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent