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Nehemiah 8:1 All the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spoke to Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which Yahweh had commanded to Israel- The LXX correctly connects this with the end of Neh. 7, "in the seventh month". This was the time of the feast of trumpets (Lev. 23:24,25). But they were unaware of this feast (:14), so it seems they likely gathered together at the annual new moon festival which would have been at that time- and then discovered that actually, they were intended to be keeping the feast of booths. Perhaps the idea was that God's word was as living waters, hence it was read from "before the water gate", which was at the eastern entrance to the temple (see on :3), into which Ezekiel had prophesied the glory of Yahweh could return- if they were faithful. This is the same "broad place" near the temple of Ezra 10:9, where the Nethinim (the temple servants) lived (Neh. 3:26). However, the restoration prophets had explained that the old covenant had been broken, and Israel's only hope was to accept the new covenant offered in Ezekiel and Jeremiah. And yet they all hankered to keep the old covenant, "the book of the law of Moses", rather than accepting the implications of their actions.

We wonder why Ezra only now appears on the scene in Nehemiah, and has not been mentioned earlier as working with Nehemiah. He may have returned to Babylon in that period; or perhaps his own commitment to the cause had faltered. This calling of Ezra to read the law is presented as a new and unusual move, as if he had not been in the habit of doing this previously. See on :14.

Nehemiah 8:2 Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women, and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month-
In those days, religion was largely a hobby for adult men. We note that Israel's God sought relationship with both men and women as well as children old enough to understand (cp. Neh. 10:28), and so both men and women were to hear the law. This is repeated in :3.

Nehemiah 8:3 He read therein before the broad place-
"Before" means therefore 'to the east' of it; see on :1.

That was before the water gate from early morning until noon, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those who could understand. The ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law- "All the people" included both men and women; see on :2. We note the commendable desire to hear the actual text of God's word for itself, when it is a human tendency to shy away from that and to prefer listening to someone else's interpretation of it without the text itself.

Nehemiah 8:4 Ezra the scribe stood on a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose-
Literally, "for the word". This confirms the observation made on :1 that this was not a regular occurrence; it was a special reading of the law. And they had not been taught the law as they should have been, for they were unaware of the feast of booths (:14).

And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam- "The parallel passage in 1 Esdras gives seven on the right hand, inserting an Azariah between Anaiah and Uriah, but six only on the left, omitting the last name Meshullam". This would mean that if 1 Esdras is correct about only six on the left, we have a total of twelve; surely appropriate for the 12 tribes of Israel. Although mostly only those of Judah and Benjamin were present, it was God's prophetic intention that the repentant remnants of both Israel and Judah, along with converted Gentiles, would unite as a new, multiethnic people of God in the land. This didn't come about, but it was the prophetic potential. We note too that the High Priest is absent here. He was perhaps spiritually corrupted by intermarriage with the Samaritans.

Nehemiah 8:5 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-
We note their respect of God's word. The Jews typically sat to hear and stood up to pray. But here they stand to hear the word of God. We wonder from where this great interest in God's word and respect for it came from; for it was on their initiative that the scrolls were called for (:1). Perhaps Ezra and Nehemiah had urged them to desire this. Or maybe this was all the movement of God's Spirit. Or maybe they realized that the time of the feast of trumpets (see on :1) ought to be the time of reading God's word together.

Nehemiah 8:6 Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God. All the people answered, Amen, Amen, with the lifting up of their hands. They bowed their heads, and worshipped Yahweh with their faces to the ground-
Ezra may have been praising God for their interest in His word which had suddenly appeared (see on :5). Their worshipping with faces to the ground recalls the scene at the inauguration of Solomon's temple (2 Chron. 7:3). On one hand we must allow that they may have been totally sincere; but the nationalistic desire to replicate past glory was surely also there, and as with all worship, God alone knows the motivations of every heart.

Nehemiah 8:7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah and the Levites caused the people to understand the law; and the people stayed in their place-
Probably what is in view is the names of Levitical families, rather than individual Levites (cp.  Neh. 9:4,5; 10:10-13; 12:8). Four of these names are found in the list of Levites in Neh. 9:5, and seven in the list of Levites in Neh. 10:9-14. I have noted earlier the tension between priests and Levites, and how few Levites there were relative to the priests amongst those who returned. The idea seems to be that there were few willing to do the work of humble service, without possessing land, which the Levites were called to. The fact they are presented here as teaching the people the law, when this was the job of the priests, is another indication that the priesthood had failed in their duty of teaching the law; see in :14.

Nehemiah 8:8 They read in the book, in the law of God, with interpretation; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading-
LXX "And they read in the book of the law of God, and Ezra taught, and instructed them distinctly in the knowledge of the Lord, and the people understood the law in the reading". As noted on :7, it was Levites and not priests who were explaining the law. The priesthood had failed pathetically, and thus precluded the possibilities envisioned in the restoration prophets; because they wouldn't even read them, let alone believe them and share the message with the people.

Nehemiah 8:9 Nehemiah, who was the governor-
Nehemiah himself only uses the less significant word pechah about himself (Neh. 5:14,15,18). He had a commendable humility.

And Ezra the priest, the scribe, and the Levites who taught the people, said to all the people, This day is holy to Yahweh your God. Don’t mourn, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law- As noted on :1, this was the time of the feast of trumpets (Lev. 23:24,25). But they were unaware of this feast (:14), so it seems they likely gathered together at the annual new moon festival which would have been at that time- and then discovered that actually, they were intended to be keeping the feast of booths. This is the force of "This day is holy to Yahweh"- it was His feast, and not the new moon festival.

Nehemiah 8:10 Then he said to them, Go your way. Eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be grieved; for the joy of Yahweh is your strength-
Isaiah had repeatedly prophesied that Judah would come with joy to Zion (e.g. Is. 51:11), and would continue there with an everlasting joy. But the records give little indication that they were joyful; Neh. 8:9,10 shows Nehemiah encouraging them to be joyful, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength”. They didn’t want to have all joy and peace through believing; and so the Kingdom of joy didn’t come. They didn’t live the Kingdom life of joy, and so they didn’t possess or experience the Kingdom. The lowness of their petty concerns deprived them of it. They were intended to send portions to the Gentiles and the poor (Dt. 16:14), recalling the spirit of Purim and the great salvation worked for them through Esther. The idea was that they would bring the Gentiles into covenant relationship with Yahweh; but as Nehemiah finally has to lament, they actually did the very opposite. Like Hezekiah, instead of doing this, they adopted their ways, and married their women.  

Nehemiah 8:11 So the Levites stilled all the people saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be grieved-
The idea is that the new moon feast they thought they were celebrating was indeed to be a holy day to Yahweh, and they were permitted to celebrate that- even though they were doing so some days earlier than written in the law (see on :15). I have several times lamented that Ezra, Nehemiah and the people seemed unaware of the restoration prophets; but they were unaware even of the most basic principles of the law of Moses concerning the feast. It is a picture of really pathetic ignorance, due to the failure of the priesthood to teach them God's word.

Nehemiah 8:12 All the people went their way to eat and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great joy, because they had understood the words that were declared to them-
The intention was that portions be sent to the surrounding Gentiles (Dt. 16:14). Seeing the Samaritans had been so bitterly opposed to them, this would have been an act of great grace; if in fact they obeyed it by sending to the Gentiles too. We wonder which "words" they understood that they so rejoiced. Perhaps it was the assurance of the passages in the law of Moses which speak of Israel always being able to repent and to accept God's grace.

Nehemiah 8:13 On the second day were gathered together the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, to Ezra the scribe, even to give attention to the words of the law-
The priests were intended to teach the law; and yet realizing their ignorance even of basic commandments about the feast, they come to Ezra asking him to read and explain more to them. We can now better understand Malachi's deep criticism of the priesthood at this time.  

Nehemiah 8:14 They found written in the law-
They had not been instructed about keeping the feast of tabernacles- a tacit reflection of how little Bible teaching they had received and the utter failure of the priesthood, and raising the question discussed on :1 as to where Ezra was all this time.

How that Yahweh had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month- Keeping the feast of the seventh month was required in the restored Kingdom: Ez. 45:25: “In the seventh month, in the fifteenth day of the month, shall he [the prince] do the like in the feast of the seven days, according to the sin offering, according to the burnt offering, and according to the meat offering, and according to the oil”. Zech. 7:5 criticized the Jews for keeping this feast only externally, but not “unto me”. Hag. 2:1 records how on the 21st day of the 7th month- i.e. once the seven day feast that began on the 15th had finished- Haggai was sent to rebuke “the prince”, Zerubbabel, for being so slack in fulfilling Ezekiel’s vision. Even by the time of Neh. 8:14-17, it was so that the feast of the 7th month had not been kept by Judah since the time of Joshua. They subconsciously switched off to Ezekiel’s words; just as we can all do. They reasoned that “the time” of which he spoke hadn’t come- even though the temple had miraculously been enabled to be rebuilt, for no human benefit at all to Cyrus (Isaiah 45:13 “not for price nor reward”). They felt that all the prophecies were “marvellous” in the sense of something incapable of concrete fulfilment in their experience (Zech.  8:6). This is why Hag. 1:2 rebuked them for saying “the time is not come…that the Lord’s house should be built”. They didn’t want the prophecy to be fulfilled, because it would mean ‘going up’ from their ceiled houses- both in Babylon and in the farmsteads they had built in Judah- to build the temple.

Nehemiah 8:15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem saying, Go out to the mountain, and get olive branches, and branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written-
The commandment about the feast of tabernacles was that it should be kept on the 15th day of the 7th month (Lev. 23:34). It seems that they were permitted to keep the feast a few days earlier, seeing they were all gathered together and were eager to keep it (see on :11). The trees mentioned were those which were to blossom in the restored Kingdom (Is. 41:19; 55:13). And God has caused them to grow; all the preconditions were set up for the people to repent and reestablish His Kingdom on earth in Judah. But such huge potential was wasted by them.

Nehemiah 8:16 So the people went out, and brought them, and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of God’s house-
Perhaps the idea was that they had 13 days to prepare. Verse 13 may refer to the 2nd day of the 7th month, and the feast was to begin on the 15th, according to the law. But I suggested above that they were permitted to keep the feast immediately.


And in the broad place of the water gate, and in the broad place of the gate of Ephraim- Ez. 48:31-34 envisaged the 12 gates of Jerusalem being named after the 12 tribes of Israel. But it seems no accident that twelve separate gates of the city are mentioned in the restoration record- but they weren't renamed after the tribes of Israel. Here are the names of the city gates in Nehemiah: valley (Neh. 3:13); horse (Neh. 3:28); east (Neh. 3:29); Miphkad (Neh. 3:31); water (Neh. 8:16); dung (Neh. 12:31); fountain (Neh. 12:37); Ephraim, old, fish, sheep and prison gates (Neh. 12:39). No wonder some wept when the rebuilt temple was finally dedicated- the pattern of Ezekiel's vision hadn't been followed, even on such basic matters as the names of the twelve gates of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 8:17 All the assembly of those who had come again out of the captivity-
Time and again, Jeremiah had prophesied how Yahweh would bring again His people and the vessels of the temple back to the land (Jer. 28:3,4,6; 30:3,18; 31:23); and this all had a fulfilment in the return from captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah. It was then that in some sense Yahweh ‘brought again Zion’ (Is. 52:8). The very same word used by Joel [translated “bring again”] is to be found in the references to Judah’s return at the restoration (Ezra 2:1; 6:21; Neh. 7:6; 8:17). The same word is to be found in Ezekiel 38:8 and 39:27, where again, the invasion is to happen once Judah had been ‘brought again’ from captivity. Judah returned, and yet they didn’t rebuild the temple as they were commanded. Therefore the invasion didn’t come, and therefore the Kingdom wasn’t then established. As if knowing this, Hos. 6:11 had prophesied [otherwise strangely] that Judah would reap their punishment, when they returned from captivity. They returned [s.w. ‘bring again’], but not to the Most High (Hos. 7:16). Joel 3, however, speaks from the perspective that Judah would be ‘brought again’ from Babylon under Ezra; and then Joel 3:2 “I will also gather all nations...and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land”.

Made booths, and lived in the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day the children of Israel had not done so. There was very great gladness- See on Ezra 3:4. They had kept the feast of tabernacles, but not in this way, to this extent. And they had apparently forgotten all about the feast since the time of Ezra 3:4, which presumably they kept in a ritualistic sense, as we can keep the breaking of bread meeting- and then forgot all about it. We see here the paucity of Israel's attention to God's law, and the failure of the priesthood in their intended teaching ministry- which Malachi condemned so strongly at this time.

Nehemiah 8:18 Also day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. They kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance
- Hos. 12:9 had prophesied that keeping this feast was to be a feature of the restored Kingdom when the exiles returned. Their ignorance of it therefore reflects how the restoration prophets had just not been taken seriously.