Nehemiah 13 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

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This chapter relates the reformation of various abuses crept in among the Jews by Nehemiah, who removed the Moabites and Ammonites, mixed with them, Nehemiah 13:1, threw the household goods of Tobiah out of a chamber of the temple, and restored it to its former use, Nehemiah 13:4, took care that the Levites had their portion given them which had been kept from them, Nehemiah 13:10 prevented the profanation of the sabbath by selling goods on that day, Nehemiah 13:15, and put a stop to the marrying of strange wives, which had prevailed again among them, Nehemiah 13:23.

Verse 1. On that day,.... Not when the wall of the city was dedicated, nor quickly after; for it cannot be thought that people should be so corrupted so soon as this chapter shows; but when Nehemiah had governed them twelve years, and had been at Babylon, and was returned again, as appears from Nehemiah 13:6, compared with Nehemiah 2:1,

they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; for from the time of the reading of the law by Ezra, Nehemiah 8:1 it became a custom to read the law publicly:

and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of the Lord; that is, be admitted to marry with any of the people of Israel; See Gill on "De 23:3."

Verse 2. Because they met not the children of Israel with bread,.... The same reason is given, and what follows in this verse is observed in Deuteronomy 23:4; See Gill on "De 23:4-5."

Verse 3. Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law,.... Or the law concerning the Ammonite and the Moabite, and which included other nations also, and forbad marriage with them:

that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude; all of these, and other nations, they had contracted affinity with.

Verse 4. And before this,.... Before the above law was read, and observed and acted upon:

Eliashib the priest; whom some take to be a common priest; so Bishop Usher {a}; but he seems rather to be the high priest, by comparing it with Nehemiah 13:28,

having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God; which has led some to the notion of his being a common priest; but chamber may be put for chambers, and those for the whole house or temple, which the high priest had the greatest concern in, and oversight of:

was allied to Tobiah; the servant and Ammonite, an inveterate enemy of the Jews, Nehemiah 2:10, having married a daughter of Shecaniah, and his son a daughter of Meshullam, who were both priests, and so as it seems related to Eliashib, Nehemiah 6:18.

{a} Annal. Vet. Test. p. 200.

Verse 5. And he had prepared for him a great chamber,.... In the temple, by throwing together several chambers, as Piscator observes:

where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and to the singers, and the porters, and the offerings of the priests; see Nehemiah 10:37.

Verse 6. But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem,.... Nehemiah, who was absent all the while these things were done by Eliashib, or otherwise they would not have been suffered:

for in the thirty second year of Artaxerxes, king of Babylon, came I unto the king from Jerusalem; after he had governed there twelve years, to whom he came to give an account of affairs there; this was not Xerxes, as some {b} have thought, for he reigned but twenty one years; but Darius Hystaspis, who reigned thirty six years, according to Ptolemy's canon, and with which Herodotus {c} agrees; he is called king of Babylon, because that, with the whole empire, was in the hands of the king of Persia, as it had been from the times of Cyrus:

and after certain days obtained I leave of the king; to return to Jerusalem again; not after five years, as Dr. Prideaux {d} thinks; for it is not likely that Nehemiah would stay so long ere he asked leave of the king to return to Jerusalem, which was so much his care, and on whose prosperity his heart was so much set; rather at most it was but a full year he stayed ere he got leave to return, as Vatablus and Piscator interpret it; in which sense the phrase of certain days is used in Leviticus 25:29, and in other places quoted by the last mentioned interpreter.

{b} Apud Ganz. Tzemach David, par. 2. fol. 8. 2. {c} Polymnia, sive, l. 7. c. 1. {d} Connect. par. 1. p. 397.

Verse 7. And I came to Jerusalem,.... Through the king's leave, and with a commission from him:

and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah; was informed of the mal-administration of his office:

in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God; whereby it was profaned and polluted.

Verse 8. And it grieved me sore,.... That such a sacred place should be converted to common use, and to that of an Heathen, and of an enemy to the Jews and their religion:

therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber; as being chief magistrate, and acting by commission under the king of Persia, and to regulate everything amiss, according to the Jewish laws, as well as those of the king, his power being, no doubt, as large as Ezra's, Ezra 7:25, by "household stuff" is meant what is movable in the house, as chairs, tables, vessels for dressing, caring, drinking, &c. there are various opinions about this with the ancients {e}.

{e} Vid. Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 1. c. 19.

Verse 9. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers,.... By which it appears there were more than one, or that several were thrown into one; which was done not only by washing them, but as this was a ceremonial uncleanness, contracted by the habitation of an Heathen in them, their purification might be by the water of separation, Numbers 19:9

and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense; replaced them where they were before.

Verse 10. And I perceived that the portion of the Levites had not been given them,.... The tithes, being removed to some other place, might be converted to another use; or the people, seeing what was done by Eliashib, neglected to bring them in, as judging they would not be properly disposed of; and besides, the Levites had deserted their station upon this:

for the Levites and the singers that did the work were fled everyone to his field; to look after their country farms, or to get their living by agriculture, since there was no care taken of them at Jerusalem; see Nehemiah 12:28.

Verse 11. Then I contended with the rulers;.... The ecclesiastical rulers, the priests that were appointed over those chambers, Nehemiah 12:44, he expostulated with them warmly, and chode them severely for their conduct:

and said, why is the house of God forsaken? no care being taken of the maintenance of the ministers of it, contrary to the promise made Nehemiah 10:37,

and l gathered them together; the Levites and singers that were dispersed in the countries round about:

and set them in their place; in the temple, and in the course of their ministry there.

Verse 12. Then brought all Judah the tithe of corn, and the new wine, and the oil, into the treasuries. When they saw a reformation made, and things were going in their proper channel, and a right use would be made of their tithes, these given to proper persons, who were now reinstated in their office.

Verse 13. And I made treasurers over the treasuries,.... New ones, since the others appointed were either dead or unfaithful to their trust, Nehemiah 12:44,

Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe; who also was a priest, as Ezra was both priest and scribe; one that besides his office as a priest was expert in the law, and capable of instructing others:

and of the Levites, Pedaiah, and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah, for they were counted faithful; had a good report of all that knew them, for men of fidelity and uprightness, and so fit for such a trust:

and their office was to distribute unto their brethren; to deliver to them their share in the tithes, first fruits, &c.

Verse 14. Remember me, O my God, concerning this,.... Not in a way of strict justice, as if he thought he merited anything at the hand of God for what he had done; but in a way of grace and mercy, that he would graciously accept thereof, as done for the honour of his name, and overlook all failings and infirmities therein, see Nehemiah 13:22

and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof; for the support of the worship of God in the temple, and for the regulating of the wards and courses in it, both priests and Levites, and for the maintenance of them; which being done from a right principle, love to God, and with a right view, the glory of his name, might be truly reckoned good works: and which he desires might not be wiped or blotted out of the book of his remembrance, see Hosea 6:10.

Verse 15. In those days saw I in Judah some treading winepresses on the sabbath,.... Which was not a work of necessity, and so did not drive away the sabbath, as the Jews express themselves, but might have been deferred to another day:

and bringing in sheaves; of wheat, it being the time of wheat harvest:

and lading asses; with goods to be carried from place to place, and sold on that day; this was contrary to the express law, for the ass was to rest, Deuteronomy 5:14,

as also wine, grapes, and figs: it being the time of ingathering the fruits of the earth:

and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day; besides those borne on asses, others were carried on men's shoulders; this was contrary to the law of the sabbath, which required that both men and beasts should have rest:

and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals; that is, the sabbath day; and if it was not lawful to sell food, then not anything else; so far from it, that according to the Jewish canons {f}, such that were in partnership might not discourse together of what they should sell or buy on the morrow, the day after the sabbath; and so far from gathering and carrying grapes and figs, that a man might not go into his gardens and fields to see what were wanting, or how the fruits were: now Nehemiah admonished the Jews of these evils they committed, and testified against them as breakers of the law, and called heaven and earth to testify against them, should they go on to violate it.

{f} Maimon. Hilchot Sabbat, c. 24. sect. 1, 2.

Verse 16. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish,.... From Tyre and Zidon, and the parts adjacent: these they brought from Joppa, and from thence to Jerusalem, and had houses or lodgings near the fish gate or fish market, where they sold them:

and all manner of ware; or merchandise, which, being a trading city, they had from all nations:

and sold on the sabbath day unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem; or even in Jerusalem, the holy city, where stood the temple, and where the worship of God was kept, and where the magistrates lived, who should have been terrors to evildoers: indeed, the law of the sabbath was not binding on these Tyrians, but then they tempted the Jews to break it, by bringing their ware to sell.

Verse 17. Then I contended with the nobles,.... The rulers of the city, the civil magistrates, sharply reproved them for their neglect of duty:

and said unto them, what evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? by suffering servile works to be done in it, and things sold on it.

Verse 18. Did not your fathers thus,.... Profane the sabbath in like manner:

and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon our city? suffered them to be carried captive into a strange land, and their city destroyed for their sins, and for this of sabbath breaking among the rest, see Jeremiah 17:21,

yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath; additional judgments to those that had been already upon them for the same evil with others.

Verse 19. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath,.... Or "were shaded" {g}; that is, as Jarchi interprets it, when the shadows of the eve of the sabbath were stretched out upon the gates; the sabbath did not begin till sun setting, and the stars appeared; but before that, as the sun was declining, the shadows through the houses in Jerusalem, and mountains about it, spread themselves over the gates: and when it was near dusk, and as soon as it was so,

I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath; until sun setting the next day:

and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should be burden brought in on the sabbath day; the porters being not to be trusted, being liable to be bribed and corrupted, which he knew his servants were not; and therefore, since it might be necessary on a few occasions to open the gates to let some persons in and out, and especially such who dwelt near, and came to worship, he placed his servants there, to take care that none were admitted that had any burdens upon them.

{g} wllu "obumbratae," Pagninus, Montanus; "obumbrarentur," Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Rambachius; "incidentibus umbris," Tigurine version.

Verse 20. For the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware,.... The Tyrians particularly, Nehemiah 13:16 lodged without Jerusalem once or twice; one sabbath day or two, not being able to get into the city, such strict watch and care being taken to keep the gates shut; this they did, hoping the Jews would come out to them and buy their goods, though they were not admitted to bring them within the city.

Verse 21. Then I testified against them,.... Against their continuance there, and threatened them, and called heaven and earth to witness what he would do to them, if they did not depart:

why lodge ye about the wall? of the city, waiting an opportunity to get in, and tempting the Jews to come out and buy their ware:

if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you; beat them, or slay them, at least imprison them:

from that time forth came they no more on the sabbath; finding there was no likelihood of getting into the city, and that they were liable to be taken up and punished.

Verse 22. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves,.... From all ceremonial uncleanness, that they might be fit in a ceremonial sense to perform the duties of the office on the sabbath day:

and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day; not the gates of the city, his servants were placed there, nor was this the work of the Levites, and much less did this require a particular purification to fit for it; but the gates of the temple, that no impure person might enter there; and on that day it required the greater diligence, because of the number of people that came to worship:

remember me, O my God, concerning this also; with respect to his care to have the sabbath kept holy, as well as his concern for the honour of the house of God, and the maintenance of his ministers, Nehemiah 13:14,

and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy; he desired to be dealt with, not according to any merits of his own, but according to the abundant mercy of God; that he would kindly and graciously vouchsafe to accept any good that he had done for his mercy sake, and forgive whatever was amiss in him.

Verse 23. In those days also I saw Jews that married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab. Ashdod, or Azotus, as it is called in Acts 8:40, was one of the five cities of the Philistines; which, though none of the seven nations with whom marriage was forbid, yet it was very unfit and improper to marry with them, Judges 14:3. This place was a mart of the Arabians {h}, where they sold their goods, to which the Jews might resort, and thereby be ensnared into such marriages; and which with the Ammonites and Moabites were unlawful, Nehemiah 13:1.

{h} Mela de Situ Orbis, l. 1. c. 10.

Verse 24. And their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod,.... Which they learned of their mothers, so that it was a mixed language they spoke, partly Jewish and partly Philistine; but some refer this not to their speech, but to the number of their children; that half of them, which Jarchi interprets many of them, spoke in the language of Ashdod, even as many as were most with their mothers, and chiefly brought up by them:

and could not speak in the Jews' language; not at all, or so much as to be understood well, which inclines to the last sense:

but according to the language of each people; their mothers were of, whether of Ashdod, or of Ammon, or of Moab.

Verse 25. And I contended with them,.... Argued with them, faithfully admonished them, and sharply reproved them:

and cursed them; assuring them that the curse of God would come upon them, unless they repented. Aben Ezra interprets it of excommunicating them, either with "Cherem" or "Niddui," which were two sorts of excommunication among the Jews; but it is a question whether as yet those were used by them:

and smote certain of them; ordered them to be beaten with rods or scourges, as transgressors of the law:

and plucked off their hair; or ordered it to be plucked off by the executioner that smote them; which sort of punishment, as it was painful, it was disgraceful and ignominious, see Isaiah 1:6,

and made them swear by God, saying, ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves; not intermarry with them; this they had sworn to before, Nehemiah 10:29.

Verse 26. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things?.... By marrying strange wives, by whom he was drawn into idolatry, 1 Kings 11:3,

yet among many nations was there no king like him; as not for grandeur and riches, so not for wisdom, and yet was ensnared by his idolatrous wives:

who was beloved of God; alluding to his name Jedidiah, which signifies beloved of the Lord, 2 Samuel 12:24

and God made him king over all Israel; which was a proof of his love to him, and so he was under the greater obligation to serve him, and him only, and yet his heart, through his wives, was turned after other gods:

even him did outlandish women cause to sin; and if so great and wise a man was enticed by them to idolatry, much more may you, and therefore it was very dangerous to marry with them.

Verse 27. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil,.... To suffer it to be done, and connive at it, and not punish for it:

to transgress against our God; his law, his mind, and will:

in marrying strange wives? forbidden by him, Deuteronomy 7:1.

Verse 28. And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest,.... A grandson of the high priest; for the high priest here is Eliashib, according to our version, and not Joiada his son, according to Dr. Prideaux {i}; the person designed, Josephus {k} makes to be Manasseh, the brother of Jaddua the high priest: was

son in law to Sanballat the Horonite; married a daughter of his, who was the avowed enemy of the Jewish nation; and for whom, according to the same writer, Sanballat obtained leave of Alexander to build a temple on Mount Gerizim; but this is to protract the age of Nehemiah and Sanballat to too great a length; besides, Eliashib seems to have been now high priest, and not even his son Joiada, and much less Jaddua, a grandson of Joiada:

therefore I chased him from me; drove him from his court, suffered him not to minister at the altar; banished him from the city, as Jarchi, and even from the land of Judea.

{i} Connect. par. 1. p. 412. {k} Antiqu. l. 11. c. 8. sect. 2, 4.

Verse 29. Remember them, O my God,.... The priests, and punish them: because they have defiled the priesthood; by marrying strange wives, and rendering themselves unfit to officiate in it:

and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites; made with Levi, Aaron, and Phinehas, see Numbers 24:11, of the corruption of which, complaint is made, Malachi 2:4.

Verse 30. Thus cleansed I them from all strangers,.... Both people and priests from strange wives, obliging them to put them away, or flee their country:

and appointing the wards of the priests and the Levites, everyone in his business: to do the work of their office in their courses and turns.

Verse 31. And for the wood offering, at times appointed,.... Of which see Nehemiah 10:34. Levites were appointed to receive the wood that was brought at the times and by the persons fixed, and lay it up in its proper place, and carry it to the altar when wanted:

and for the first fruits; to receive and take care of them, and distribute them to the persons to whom they belonged:

remember me, O my God, for good; to bless him with all good things, temporal and spiritual, to keep him faithful, to make him useful in church and state, and protect him from all his enemies: or rather this may respect what goes before, that as to the wood offering and the firstfruits, that God would graciously remember him as to them, since the one was as necessary to the altar as the other was to those that minister at it.