Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
REPENTANCE OF THE
1. Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month--that is, on the
second day after the close of the feast of tabernacles, which commenced
on the fourteenth and terminated on the twenty-second
The day immediately after that feast, the twenty-third, had been
occupied in separating the delinquents from their unlawful wives, as
well, perhaps, as in taking steps for keeping aloof in future from
unnecessary intercourse with the heathen around them. For although this
necessary measure of reformation had been begun formerly by Ezra
and satisfactorily accomplished at that time (in so far as he had
information of the existing abuses, or possessed the power of
correcting them) yet it appears that this reformatory work of Ezra had
been only partial and imperfect. Many cases of delinquency had escaped,
or new defaulters had appeared who had contracted those forbidden
alliances; and there was an urgent necessity for Nehemiah again to take
vigorous measures for the removal of a social evil which threatened the
most disastrous consequences to the character and prosperity of the
chosen people. A solemn fast was now observed for the expression of
those penitential and sorrowful feelings which the reading of the law
had produced, but which had been suppressed during the celebration of
the feast; and the sincerity of their repentance was evinced by the
decisive steps taken for the correction of existing abuses in the
matter of marriage.
2. confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers--Not only
did they read in their recent sufferings a punishment of the national
apostasy and guilt, but they had made themselves partakers of their
fathers' sins by following the same evil ways.
3. they . . . read in the book of the law--Their extraordinary zeal
led them to continue this as before.
one fourth part of the day--that is, for three hours, twelve hours
being the acknowledged length of the Jewish day
This solemn diet of worship, which probably commenced at the morning
sacrifice, was continued for six hours, that is, till the time of the
evening sacrifice. The worship which they gave to the Lord their God,
at this season of solemn national humiliation, consisted in
acknowledging and adoring His great mercy in the forgiveness of their
great and multiplied offenses, in delivering them from the merited
judgments which they had already experienced or which they had reason
to apprehend, in continuing amongst them the light and blessings of His
word and worship, and in supplicating the extension of His grace and
4. Then stood up upon the stairs--the scaffolds or pulpits, whence
the Levites usually addressed the people. There were probably several
placed at convenient distances, to prevent confusion and the voice of
one drowning those of the others.
cried with a loud voice unto the Lord--Such an exertion, of course,
was indispensably necessary, in order that the speakers might be heard
by the vast multitude congregated in the open air. But these speakers
were then engaged in expressing their deep sense of sin, as well as
fervently imploring the forgiving mercy of God; and "crying with a loud
voice" was a natural accompaniment of this extraordinary prayer
meeting, as violent gestures and vehement tones are always the way in
which the Jews, and other people in the East, have been accustomed to
give utterance to deep and earnest feelings.
5. Then the Levites . . . said, Stand up and bless the Lord your
God--If this prayer was uttered by all these Levites in common, it
must have been prepared and adopted beforehand, perhaps, by Ezra; but
it may only embody the substance of the confession and thanksgiving.
6-38. Thou, even thou, art Lord alone, &c.--In this solemn and
impressive prayer, in which they make public confession of their sins,
and deprecate the judgments due to the transgressions of their fathers,
they begin with a profound adoration of God, whose supreme majesty and
omnipotence is acknowledged in the creation, preservation, and
government of all. Then they proceed to enumerate His mercies and
distinguished favors to them as a nation, from the period of the call
of their great ancestor and the gracious promise intimated to him in
the divinely bestowed name of Abraham, a promise which implied that he
was to be the Father of the faithful, the ancestor of the Messiah, and
the honored individual in whose seed all the families of the earth
should be blessed. Tracing in full and minute detail the signal
instances of divine interposition for their deliverance and their
interest--in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage--their miraculous
passage through the Red Sea--the promulgation of His law--the
forbearance and long-suffering shown them amid their frequent
rebellions--the signal triumphs given them over their enemies--their
happy settlement in the promised land--and all the extraordinary
blessings, both in the form of temporal prosperity and of religious
privilege, with which His paternal goodness had favored them above all
other people, they charge themselves with making a miserable requital.
They confess their numerous and determined acts of disobedience. They
read, in the loss of their national independence and their long
captivity, the severe punishment of their sins. They acknowledge that,
in all heavy and continued judgments upon their nation, God had done
right, but they had done wickedly. And in throwing themselves on His
mercy, they express their purpose of entering into a national covenant,
by which they pledge themselves to dutiful obedience in future.
22. Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations--that is, put them
in possession of a rich country, of an extensive territory, which had
been once occupied by a variety of princes and people.
and didst divide them into corners--that is, into tribes. The propriety
of the expression arose from the various districts touching at points
or angles on each other.
the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon--Heshbon being
the capital city, the passage should run thus: "the land of Sihon or
the land of the king of Heshbon."
32. Now therefore, our God . . . who keepest covenant and mercy--God's
fidelity to His covenant is prominently acknowledged, and well it
might; for their whole national history bore testimony to it. But as
this could afford them little ground of comfort or of hope while they
were so painfully conscious of having violated it, they were driven to
seek refuge in the riches of divine grace; and hence the peculiar style
of invocation here adopted: "Now therefore, our God, the great, the
mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy."
36. Behold, we are servants this day--Notwithstanding their happy
restoration to their native land, they were still tributaries of a
foreign prince whose officers ruled them. They were not, like their
fathers, free tenants of the land which God gave them.
37. it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us
because of our sins--Our agricultural labors have been resumed in the
land--we plough, and sow, and till, and Thou blessest the work of our
hands with a plentiful return; but this increase is not for ourselves,
as once it was, but for our foreign masters, to whom we have to pay
large and oppressive tribute.
they have dominion over our bodies--Their persons were liable to be
pressed, at the mandate of their Assyrian conqueror, into the service
of his empire, either in war or in public works. And our beasts are
taken to do their pleasure.
38. we make a sure covenant, and write--that is, subscribe or sign it.
This written document would exercise a wholesome influence in
restraining their backslidings or in animating them to duty, by being a
witness against them if in the future they were unfaithful to their