Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Public reading of the law, and separation from strangers. - Neh 13:1. At a public reading of the law, it was found written therein, that no Ammonite or Moabite should come into the congregation of God, because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam to curse them, though God turned the curse into a blessing. This command, found in Deu 23:4-6, is given in full as to matter, though slightly abbreviated as to form. The sing. ישׂכּר relates to Balak king of Moab, Num 22:2., and the suffix of עליו to Israel as a nation; see the explanation of Deu 23:4.
This law being understood, all strangers were separated from Israel. ערב is taken from Exo 12:38, where it denotes the mixed multitude of non-Israelitish people who followed the Israelites at their departure from Egypt. The word is here transferred to strangers of different heathen nationalities living among the Israelites. The date of the occurrence here related cannot be more precisely defined from the ההוּא בּיּום. Public readings of the law frequently took place in those days, as is obvious from Neh 8 and 9, where we learn that in the seventh month the book of the law was publicly read, not only on the first and second days, but also daily during the feast of tabernacles, and again on the day of prayer and fasting on the twenty-fourth of the month. It appears, however, from מזּה לפני, Neh 13:4, compared with Neh 13:6, that the reading Neh 13:1-3 took place in the interval between Nehemiah's first and second stay at Jerusalem. This view is not opposed by the facts mentioned Neh 13:4. and 23f. The separation of the ערב could not be carried out at once; and hence, notwithstanding repeated resolutions to sever themselves from strangers (Neh 9:2; Neh 10:31), cases to the contrary might be discovered, and make fresh separations needful.
Nehemiah, on his return to Jerusalem, reforms the irregularities that had broken out during his absence. - Neh 13:4-9. While Nehemiah was at Babylon with King Artaxerxes, Eliashib the high priest had given up to his relative, Tobiah the Ammonite (Neh 2:10; Neh 4:3, and elsewhere), a large chamber in the temple, i.e., in the fore-court of the temple (v. 7), probably for his use as a dwelling when he visited Jerusalem (see rem. on v. 8). On his return, Nehemiah immediately cast all the furniture of Tobiah out of this chamber, purified the chambers, and restored them to their proper use as a magazine for the temple stores. מזּה לפני, before this (comp. Ewald, 315, c), refers to the beforementioned separation of the ערב from Israel (Neh 13:3). Eliashib the priest is probably the high priest of that name (Neh 3:1; Neh 12:10, Neh 12:22). This may be inferred from the particular: set over (he being set over) the chambers of the house of our God; for such oversight of the chambers of the temple would certainly be entrusted to no simple priest, though this addition shows that this oversight did not absolutely form part of the high priest's office. For נתן, in the sense of to set, to place over, comp. Kg1 2:35; the construction with בּ instead of על is, however, unusual, but may be derived from the local signification of בּ, upon, over. Ewald and Bertheau are for reading לשׁכת instead of the sing. לשׁכּת, because in Neh 13:5 it is not הלּשׁכּה that is spoken of, but a large chamber. לשׁכּת may, however, be also understood collectively. Eliashib, being a relation of Tobiah (קרוב like Rut 2:20), prepared him a chamber. The predicate of the sentence, Neh 13:4, follows in Neh 13:5 with ויּעשׂ, in the form of a conclusion following the accessory sentence of the subject. How Tobiah was related to Eliashib is nowhere stated. Bertheau conjectures that it was perhaps only through the circumstance that Johanan, the son of Tobiah, had married a daughter of Meshullam ben Berechiah (Neh 6:18), who, according to Neh 3:30, was a priest or Levite, and might have been nearly related to the high priest. "A great chamber," perhaps made so by throwing several chambers into one, as older expositors have inferred from Neh 13:9, according to which Nehemiah, after casting out the goods of Tobiah, had the chambers (plural) cleansed. The statement also in Neh 13:5, that there (in this great chamber) were aforetime laid up not only the meat-offerings (i.e., oil and flour, the materials for them), the incense, and the sacred vessels, but also the tithe of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, and the heave-offerings of the priests, seems to confirm this view. This tenth is designated as הלויּם מצות, the command of the Levites, i.e., what was apportioned to the Levites according to the law, the legal dues for which משׁפּט is elsewhere usual; comp. Deu 18:3; Sa1 2:13. The heave-offering of the priest is the tenth of their tenth which the Levites had to contribute, Neh 10:39.
In all this, i.e., while this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem; for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes I went to the king, and after the lapse of some days I entreated the king (נשׁאל like Sa1 20:6, Sa1 20:28). What he entreated is not expressly stated; but it is obvious from what follows, "and I came to Jerusalem," that it was permission to return to Judea. Even at his first journey to Jerusalem, Nehemiah only requested leave to make a temporary sojourn there, without giving up his post of royal cup-bearer; comp. Neh 2:5. Hence, after his twelve years' stay in Jerusalem, he was obliged to go to the king and remain some time at court, and then to beg for fresh leave of absence. How long he remained there cannot be determined, - ימים לקץ, after the lapse of days, denoting no definite interval; comp. Gen 4:3. The view of several expositors, that ימים means a year, is devoid of proof. The stay of Nehemiah at court must have lasted longer than a year, since so many illegal acts on the part of the community as Nehemiah on his return discovered to have taken place, could not have occurred in so short a time. Artaxerxes is here called king of Babylon, because the Persian kings had conquered the kingdom of Babylon, and by this conquest obtained dominion over the Jews. Nehemiah uses this title to express also the fact that he had travelled to Babylon.
At his return he directed his attention to the evil committed by Eliashib in preparing a chamber in the court of the temple (בּ הבין like Ezr 8:15) for Tobiah.
This so greatly displeased him, that he cast out all the household stuff of Tobiah, and commanded the chamber to be purified, and the vessels of the house of God, the meat-offering and the frankincense, and probably the tenths and heave-offerings also, the enumeration being here only abbreviated, to be again brought into it. From the words household stuff, it appears that Tobiah used the chamber as a dwelling when he came from time to time to Jerusalem.
The payment of dues to the Levites, and the delivery of the tenths and first-fruits, had also been omitted. - Neh 13:10. "And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given; and the Levites and singers who had to do the work, were fled every one to his field." The Levites, i.e., the assistants of the priests, the singers, and also the porters, who are not expressly mentioned in this passage, were accustomed to receive during the time of their ministry their daily portions of the tenths and first-fruits (Neh 12:47). When then these offerings were discontinued, they were obliged to seek their maintenance from the fields of the towns and villages in which they dwelt (Neh 12:28.), and to forsake the service of the house of God. This is the meaning of the בּרח, to flee to the fields.
"Then I contended with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken?" It was the duty of the סגנים, the heads of the community (comp. Neh 2:16), to see that the tithes, etc., were regularly brought to the house of God. Hence Nehemiah rebukes them by asking: Why is the house of God forsaken? i.e., through the non-delivery of the dues. On נעזב, comp. Neh 10:39. This rebuke made the impression desired. Nehemiah assembled the Levites and set them in their place (comp. Neh 9:3; Ch2 30:16; Ch2 35:10), i.e., he brought them back to the performance of their official duties, and (Neh 13:12) all Judah (the whole community) brought the tithe of the corn, etc., into the store-chambers of the temple; comp. Neh 10:38. Ch2 11:11.
"And I appointed as managers of the stores (or storehouses, i.e., magazines) Shemaiah the priest," etc. ואוצרה, Hiphil, for אוצירה, is a denominative from אוצר, to set some one over the treasures. Whether Shemaiah and Zadok are the individuals of these names mentioned in Neh 3:30, Neh 3:29, cannot be determined. Zadok is called a סופר, a writer or secretary, not a scribe in the Jewish sense of that word. A Pedaiah occurs Neh 8:4. ידם ועל, and at their hand Hanan, probably as an under-steward. These four were placed in this position because they were esteemed faithful. ועליהם, and it was (incumbent) on them (comp. Ch1 9:27; Ezr 10:12) to distribute to their brethren, i.e., to the priests and Levites, the portions due to them (Neh 13:10). Nehemiah concludes his account of this matter with the wish, that God may remember him concerning it (comp. Neh 5:19), and not wipe out the kindnesses which he has shown to the house of God and its watches. תּמה, abbreviated from the Hiphil תּמחה, to cause to wipe out. חסדים .tuo like Ch2 35:26. משׁמרים (the form occurring only here), properly watches, watch-posts, here the office of attending on the service of the temple.
Field-work and trading on the Sabbath done away with. - Neh 13:15. In those days, i.e., when he was occupied with the arrangements for worship, Nehemiah saw in Judah (in the province) some treading wine-presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses, and also wine, grapes, and figs, and all kinds of burdens, and bringing it to Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day. The מביאים is again taken up by the second וּמביאים, and more closely defined by the addition: to Jerusalem. Robinson describes an ancient wine-press in his Biblical Researches, p. 178. On כּל־משּׂא, comp. Jer 17:21. ואעיד, and I testified (against them), i.e., warned them on the day wherein they sold victuals. ציד, food, victuals; Psa 132:15; Jos 9:5, Jos 9:14. He warned them no longer to sell victuals on the Sabbath-day. Bertheau, on the contrary, thinks that Nehemiah saw how the market people in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem started while it was still the Sabbath, not for the purpose of selling during that day, but for that of being early in the market on the next day, or the next but one. The text, however, offers no support to such a notion. In Neh 13:16 it is expressly said that selling took place in Jerusalem on the Sabbath; and the very bringing thither of wine, grapes, etc., on the Sabbath, presupposes that the sale of these articles was transacted on that day.
Tyrians also were staying therein, bringing fish and all kind of ware (מכר), and sold it on the Sabbath to the sons of Judah and in Jerusalem. ישׁב is by most expositors translated, to dwell; but it is improbable that Tyrians would at that time dwell or settle at Jerusalem: hence ישׁב here means to sit, i.e., to stay awhile undisturbed, to tarry.
Nehemiah reproved the nobles of Judah for this profanation of the Sabbath, reminding them how their fathers (forefathers) by such acts (as rebuked e.g., by Jeremiah, Jer 17:21.) had brought upon the people and the city great evil, i.e., the misery of their former exile and present oppression; remarking in addition, "and ye are bringing more wrath upon Israel, profaning the Sabbath," i.e., you are only increasing the wrath of God already lying upon Israel, by your desecration of the Sabbath. Comp. on the last thought, Ezr 10:10, Ezr 10:14. He also instituted measures for the abolition of this trespass.
He commanded that the gates of Jerusalem should be closed when it began to be dark before the Sabbath, and not re-opened till the Sabbath was over. In the description of this measure the command and its execution are intermixed, or rather the execution is brought forward as the chief matter, and the command inserted therein. "And it came to pass, as soon as the gates of Jerusalem were dark (i.e., when it was dark in the gates) before the Sabbath, I commanded, and the gates were shut; and I commanded that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath," i.e., after sunset on the Sabbath-day. צלל, in the sense of to grow dark, occurs in Hebrew only here, and is an Aramaean expression. Nehemiah also placed some of his servants at the gates, that no burdens, i.e., no wares, victuals, etc., might be brought in on the Sabbath. אשׁר is wanting before יבוא לא; the command is directly alluded to, and, with the command, must be supplied before יבוא לא. The placing of the watch was necessary, because the gates could not be kept strictly closed during the whole of the day, and ingress and egress thus entirely forbidden to the inhabitants.
Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of ware remained throughout the night outside Jerusalem, once and twice. Thus, because egress from the city could not be refused to the inhabitants, the rest of the Sabbath was broken outside the gates. Nehemiah therefore put an end to this misdemeanour also.
He warned the merchants to do this no more, threatening them: "If you do (this) again (i.e., pass the night before the walls), I will lay hands on you," i.e., drive you away by force. The form לנים for לנים occurs only here as a "semi-passive" formation; comp. Ewald, 151, b. From that time forth they came no more on the Sabbath.
A further measure taken by Nehemiah for the sanctification of the Sabbath according to the law, is so briefly narrated, that it does not plainly appear in what it consisted. "I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and they should come keep the gates to sanctify the Sabbath-day." The meaning of the words השּׁערים שׁמרים בּאים is doubtful. The Masoretes have separated בּאים from שׁמרים by Sakeph; while de Wette, Bertheau, and others combine these words: and that they should come to the keepers of the doors. This translation cannot be justified by the usage of the language; for בּוא with an accusative of the person occurs only, as may be proved, in prophetical and poetical diction (Job 20:22; Pro 10:24; Isa 41:25; Eze 32:11), and then in the sense of to come upon some one, to surprise him, and never in the meaning of to come or go to some one. Nor does this unjustifiable translation give even an appropriate sense. Why should the Levites go to the doorkeepers to sanctify the Sabbath? Bertheau thinks it was for the purpose of solemnly announcing to the doorkeepers that the holy day had begun, or to advertise them by some form of consecration of its commencement. This, however, would have been either a useless or unmeaning ceremony. Hence we must relinquish this connection of the words, and either combine השּׁערים שׁמרים as an asyndeton with בּאים: coming and watching the gates, or: coming as watchers of the gates; and then the measure taken would consist in the appointment of certain Levites to keep the gates on the Sabbath, as well as the ordinary keepers, thus consecrating the Sabbath as a holy day above ordinary days. Nehemiah concludes the account of the abolition of this irregularity, as well as the preceding, by invoking a blessing upon himself; comp. rem. on Neh 13:14. על חוּסה like Joe 2:17.
Marriages with foreign wives dissolved. - Neh 13:23 and Neh 13:24. "In those days I also saw, i.e., visited, the Jews who had brought home Ashdodite, Ammonite, and Moabite wives; and half of their children spoke the speech of Ashdod, because they understood not how to speak the Jews' language, and according to the speech of one and of another people." It is not said, I saw Jews; but, the Jews who ... Hence Bertheau rightly infers, that Nehemiah at this time found an opportunity of seeing them, perhaps upon a journey through the province. From the circumstance, too, that a portion of the children of these marriages were not able to speak the language of the Jews, but spoke the language of Ashdod, or of this or that nation from which their mothers were descended, we may conclude with tolerable certainty, that these people dwelt neither in Jerusalem nor in the midst of the Jewish community, but on the borders of the nations to which their wives belonged. הושׁיב like Ezr 10:2. וּבניהם precedes in an absolute sense: and as for their children, one half (of them) spake. יהוּדית (comp. Kg2 18:26; Isa 36:11; Ch2 32:18) is the language of the Jewish community, the vernacular Hebrew. The sentence וגו ואינם is an explanatory parenthesis, ועם עם וכלשׁן still depending upon מדבר: spake according to the language, i.e., spake the language, of this and that people (of their mothers). The speech of Ashdod is that of the Philistines, which, according to Hitzig (Urgeschichte u. Mythol. der Philister), belonged to the Indo-Germanic group. The languages, however, of the Moabites and Ammonites were undoubtedly Shemitic, but so dialectically different from the Hebrew, that they might be regarded as foreign tongues.
With these people also Nehemiah contended (אריב like Neh 13:11 and Neh 13:17), cursed them, smote certain of their men, and plucked off their hair (מרט, see rem. on Ezr 9:3), and made them swear by God: Ye shall not give your daughters, etc.; comp. Neh 10:31. On the recurrence of such marriages after the separations effected by Ezra of those existing at his arrival at Jerusalem. Nehemiah did not insist on the immediate dissolution of these marriages, but caused the men to swear that they would desist from such connections, setting before them, in Neh 13:26, how grievous a sin they were committing. "Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin on account of these?" (אלּה על, on account of strange wives). And among many nations there was no king like him (comp. Kg1 3:12., Ch2 1:12); and he was beloved of his God (alluding to Sa2 12:24), and God made him king over all Israel (Kg1 4:1); and even him did foreign women cause to sin (comp. Kg1 11:1-3). "And of you is it heard to do (that ye do) all this great evil, to transgress against our God, and to marry strange wives?" Bertheau thus rightly understands the sentence: "If the powerful King Solomon was powerless to resist the influence of foreign wives, and if he, the beloved God, found in his relation to God no defence against the sin to which they seduced him, is it not unheard of for you to commit so great an evil?" He also rightly explains הנשׁמע according to Deu 9:23; while Gesenius in his Thes. still takes it, like Rambach, as the first person imperf.: nobisne morem geramus faciendo; or: Should we obey you to do so great an evil? (de Wette); which meaning - apart from the consideration that no obedience, but only toleration of the illegal act, is here in question - greatly weakens, if it does not quite destroy, the contrast between Solomon and לכם.
Nehemiah acted with greater severity towards one of the sons of Joiada the high priest, and son-in-law of Sanballat. He drove him from him (מעלי, that he might not be a burden to me). The reason for this is not expressly stated, but is involved in the fact that he was son-in-law to Sanballat, i.e., had married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (Neh 2:10), who was so hostile to Nehemiah and to the Jewish community in general, and would not comply with the demand of Nehemiah that he should dismiss this wife. In this case, Nehemiah was obliged to interfere with authority. For this marriage was a pollution of the priesthood, and a breach of the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Hence he closes the narrative of this occurrence with the wish, Neh 13:29, that God would be mindful of them (להם, of those who had done such evil) on account of this pollution, etc., i.e., would punish or chastise them for it. גּאלי, stat. constr. pl. from גּאל, pollution (plurale tant.). It was a pollution of the priesthood to marry a heathen woman, such marriage being opposed to the sacredness of the priestly office, which a priest was to consider even in the choice of a wife, and because of which he might marry neither a whore, nor a feeble nor a divorced woman, while the high priest mighty marry only a virgin of his own people (Lev 21:7, Lev 21:14). The son of Joiada who had married a daughter of Sanballat was not indeed his presumptive successor (Johanan, Neh 12:11), for then he would have been spoken of by name, but a younger son, and therefore a simple priest; he was, however, so nearly related to the high priest, that by his marriage with a heathen woman the holiness of the high-priestly house was polluted, and therewith also "the covenant of the priesthood," i.e., not the covenant of the everlasting priesthood which God granted to Phinehas for his zeal (Num 25:13), but the covenant which God concluded with the tribe of Levi, the priesthood, and the Levites, by choosing the tribe of Levi, and of that tribe Aaron and his descendants, to be His priest (לו לכהנו, Exo 28:1). This covenant required, on the part of the priests, that they should be "holy to the Lord" (Lev 21:6, Lev 21:8), who had chosen them to be ministers of His sanctuary and stewards of His grace.
Josephus (Ant. xi. 7. 2) relates the similar fact, that Manasseh, a brother of the high priest Jaddua, married Nikaso, a daughter of the satrap Sanballat, a Cuthite; that when the Jewish authorities on that account excluded him from the priesthood, he established, by the assistant of his father-in-law, the temple and worship on Mount Gerizim (xi. 8. 2-4), and that many priests made common cause with him. Now, though Josephus calls this Manasseh a brother of Jaddua, thus making him a grandson of Joiada, and transposing the establishment of the Samaritan worship on Gerizim to the last years of Darius Codomannus and the first of Alexander of Macedon, it can scarcely be misunderstood that, notwithstanding these discrepancies, the same occurrence which Nehemiah relates in the present verses is intended by Josephus. The view of older theologians, to which also Petermann (art. Samaria in Herzog's Realenc. xiii. p. 366f.) assents, that there were two Sanballats, one in the days of Nehemiah, the other in the time of Alexander the Great, and that both had sons-in-law belonging to the high-priestly family, is very improbable; and the transposition of the fact by Josephus to the times of Darius Codomannus and Alexander accords with the usual and universally acknowledged incorrectness of his chronological combinations. He makes, e.g., Nehemiah arrive at Jerusalem in the twenty-fifth year of Xerxes, instead of the twentieth of Artaxerxes, while Xerxes reigned only twenty years.
Nehemiah concludes his work with a short summary of what he had effected for the community. "I cleansed them from all strangers" (comp. Neh 13:23., Neh 9:2; Neh 13:1.), "and appointed the services for the priests and Levites, each in his business, and for the wood-offering at times appointed (Neh 10:35), and for the first-fruits" (Neh 10:36.). The suffix to וטהרתּים refers to the Jews. נכר, strange, means foreign heathen customs, and chiefly marriages with heathen women, Neh 13:23., Neh 9:2; Neh 13:1. משׁמרות העמיד, properly to set a watch, here used in the more general sense of to appoint posts of service for the priests and Levites, i.e., to arrange for the attendance upon those offices which they had to perform at their posts in the temple, according to the law; comp. Neh 10:37, Neh 10:39; Neh 12:44-46; Neh 13:13. וּלקרבּן and ולבּכּוּרים, Neh 13:31, still depend on משׁמרות ואעמידה: I appointed the attendance for the delivery of the wood for the altar at appointed times (comp. Neh 10:35), and for the first-fruits, i.e., for bringing into the sanctuary the heave-offering for the priests. The בּכּוּרים are named as pars pro toto, instead of all the תרוּמות prescribed by the law. On the arrangements connected with these two subjects, viz., the purification from heathen practices, and the restoration of the regular performance of divine worship, was Nehemiah's whole energy concentrated, after the fortification of Jerusalem by a wall of circumvallation had been completed. He thus earned a lasting claim to the gratitude of the congregation of his fellow-countryman that returned from Babylon, and could conclude his narrative with the prayer that God would remember him for good. On this frequently-repeated supplication (comp. Neh 13:14, Neh 13:22, and Neh 5:19) Rambach justly remarks: magnam Nehemiae pietatem spirat. This piety is, however - as we cannot fail also to perceive - strongly pervaded by the legal spirit of post-Babylonian Judaism.