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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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NEHEMIAH 10

THOSE WHO SEALED THE COVENANT; TERMS OF THE COVENANT

This writer finds it impossible to believe the flat declaration of Bowman that, "Neh. 10:1-27 are interpolated,"F1 there being no historical evidence whatever of such a thing. The critical scholars seek to connect those verses with the Book of Ezra, but that notion is refuted absolutely by the fact that, of the families who returned (in the Book of Ezra), only fourteen of them are found in the list here of those who sealed the covenant; therefore these twenty seven verses belong exactly where they are in the Book of Nehemiah. We have already noted the defense of Y. Kaufmann who maintained that this chapter is a unit with Neh. 8 and Neh. 9, and that it belongs exactly where it is.F2

The last verse of Neh. 9 states that, "Our princes, our Levites, and our priests seal unto it" (Nehemiah 9:38); and some scholars state that the list of these appears in reverse order,F3 but the principle difference is that in Neh. 10 (1) the princes are first (Nehemiah the governor), (2) then the priests, and (3) then the Levites. Thus, the principal difference is the reversal of the position of the priests and Levites, which is explained by the fact that in Neh. 9 the Levites are clearly the religious leaders of the confession and prayer, whereas in Neh. 10, where the sealing of the document takes place, the priests, who ranked higher than the Levites, naturally had preference in the order of their signing.

The actual signing of the covenant was apparently made by various groups, heads of houses, and officials, including some individuals, who affixed their seal instead of writing a signature. "The large number of such seals uncovered in recent excavations in Palestine shows that there is nothing improbable about this."F4

We have noted already the reluctance of the priesthood, and even the treachery of some of them; but it is not surprising that they, seeing the popularity of the covenant, and following the lead of the governor Nehemiah, readily affixed their seals to it.

THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO SEALED


 
Verses 1-27
Now those that sealed were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah; these were the priests. And the Levites: namely, Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; and their brethren, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. The chiefs of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nobai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, and Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, Baanah.

Zedekiah
(Nehemiah 10:1). The identity of this person is not known. Some have supposed him to have been the same as Zadok (but Zadok is found in Neh. 10:21); others have imagined that he must have been the governor's secretary, which is as good a guess as any.

For all who wonder where the name of Ezra may be in this list, Cook's opinion offers the solution that, "The seal of the high-priestly house of Seraiah was probably appended, either by Ezra personally, or by Eliashib, both of whom were members of that house."F5

GENERAL ACCEPTANCE OF THE COVENANT AND TERMS THEREOF


 
Verses 28-31
And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinim, and all they that had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one that had knowledge, and understanding; They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of Jehovah our Lord, and his ordinances and his statutes; and that we would not give our daughters unto the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons; and if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the sabbath, or on a holy day; and that we would forego the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.

In this paragraph, four provisions of the covenant are given: (1) A strict promise to abide by all the divine commandments as revealed in the Law of Moses (Nehemiah 10:29); (2) the prohibition against mixed marriages with the pagans (Nehemiah 10:30); (3) strict observance of the sabbath day (Nehemiah 10:31); and (4) the honoring of the seventh year and its requirement of forgiving all debts (Nehemiah 10:31).

Restriction against marriage with pagans…
Ezra had dealt with this problem (Ezra 9--10); but the problem persisted, and there was constant need to address it.

Keeping the sabbaths…
Jeremiah 17:21, 22, and Amos 8:5 indicate clearly that trading on the sabbath day was prohibited.F6

The sabbatical year a time of release of debts…
Deut. 15 required that all debts (among Israelites) be canceled, although that release did not apply to foreigners. Also, the fields were to lie fallow and remain uncultivated on the seventh year (Leviticus 25:2-7). Such provisions would have greatly alleviated the distress in Jerusalem and all Judea (described in Neh. 5:1-4), but these regulations had apparently not been observed in Israel until this point.F7

FURTHER PROVISIONS OF THE COVENANT


 
Verses 32, 33
Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; for the showbread, and for the continual meal-offering, and for the continual burnt-offering, for the sabbaths, for the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin-offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.

Also we made ordinances for ourselves
(Nehemiah 10:33). This was merely a revival of a charge levied by Moses upon every Israelite twenty years old and upward to pay a half shekel (Exodus 30:13),F8 the only difference being in their reduction of it to one third of a shekel.

This one-third of a shekel annual tax was levied against every Israelite and continued in force until the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Of course, through the years, the tax increased to the original half a shekel. Jesus Christ himself paid this tax for himself and the apostle Peter, in spite of our Lord's being exempt from it. This he did by sending Peter to take up the fish out of the sea of Galilee with a whole shekel in its mouth (Matthew 17:24-27). By this action, the Christ endorsed and approved the ordinance mentioned here. It was God's ordinance, despite the statement in Neh. 10:33 that "we made it." They only renewed an old duty.

The mention here of the showbread and of various kinds of sacrifices is only a detailed way of saying that the tax was for everything connected with the work in the house of God. For comments on the various things mentioned here, see our commentaries on the Pentateuch where all these things are first mentioned.

THE WOOD-OFFERING, THE FIRST-FRUITS, AND THE TITHES


 
Verses 34-39
And we cast lots, the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood-offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers' houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn upon the altar of Jehovah our God, as it is written in the law; and to bring the first-fruits of our ground, and the first-fruits of all fruit of all manner of trees, year by year, unto the house of Jehovah; also the first-born of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God; and that we should bring the first-fruits of our dough, and our heave-offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, the new wine and the oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites; for they, the Levites, take the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure-house. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the heave-offering of the grain, of the new wine, and of the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.

This paragraph merely spells out, very briefly, the obligations which had existed from the times of Moses in the Pentateuch; and for comments on these various kinds of gifts and offerings, our writings on all of these are somewhat extensive in our commentaries on the Pentateuch. There is no need whatever to rehearse such comments here.

The only thing new here is the casting of lots to determine who would bring the wood for use in the temple, and when they would bring it. Wood was probably much more plentiful in the early years of the monarchy; but, "The times had changed. Judah had been stripped of her forests; the Temple was relatively poor, and some permanent arrangement for the supply of wood was necessary. Lots were cast to determine who would bring it, and when they would do it."F9

Another arrangement, which this writer does not remember from the Pentateuch is that of requiring the Levite to take the tithe in the presence of a priest. That, of course, was to prevent the Levite from cheating on the tithe of the tithe he paid to the priesthood!


Footnotes for Nehemiah 10
1: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 3, p. 761.
2: Y. Kaufmann, History of the Religion of Israel, Vol. IV (New York: KTAV, 1977).
3: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 542.
4: Arthur S. Peake's Commentary, p. 334.
5: F. C. Cook, Barnes' Commentary Series, Nehemiah, p. 476.
6: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 409.
7: Ibid.
8: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Nehemiah, p. 253.
9: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 7, Nehemiah, p. 111.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 10". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ne&chapter=010>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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