Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
On the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, the people hold a solemn fast unto the Lord, and confess their sins, Neh 9:1-3. 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, vv. 4-37. They make a covenant with the Lord, Neh 9:38.
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 covenants.
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 again.
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' offenses.
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.
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.
Thou preservest them all - ואתה מחיה את כלם vettah mechaiyeh eth cullam, and thou givest life to them all: and the host of the heavens, לך משתחוים 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, etc.
Who didst choose Abram - See the notes on Exo 13:21 (note).
The name of Abraham - For the explanation of this name, See the notes on Gen 17:5.
By a cloudy pillar - See the notes on the parallel passages, both here and in the other verses.
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.
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 במרים bemiryam, in their rebellion, is a mistake for במצרים 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 Num 14:4. The clause should undoubtedly be read, They appointed a captain to return to their bondage in Egypt.
The pillar of the cloud departed not from them - מעליהם 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.
Their clothes waxed not old - See the note on Deu 8:4.
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 ו vau may be translated here as it often is, even: Even the land of the king of Heshbon.
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."
Thou gavest them saviors - The whole book of Judges is a history of God's mercies, and their rebellions.
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 Spirit.
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.
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.
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.
For they have not served thee in their kingdom - Instead of במלכותם bemalcutham, "in Their kingdom," במלכותך 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.
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.
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 labor, 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 favor. 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!"
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."