Nehemiah 9 – “Desisting from Foreign Wives; A Historical Hymn”

assyrianhorseHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The people assemble in a funereal manner and decide to desist from their foreign wives. The Levites lead the congregation in a hymn that praises God’s mercy throughout Israel’s history.

II. Photo
The Levites mention the Assyrian oppression: “And now, our God, great, mighty, and awesome God, who stays faithful to His covenant, do not treat lightly all the suffering that has overtaken us — our kings, our officers, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all Your people — from the time of the Assyrian kings to this day.” (v. 32)

III. Important Verses
vv. 1-2: On the twenty-fourth day of this month, the Israelites assembled, fasting, in sackcloth, and with earth upon them. Those of the stock of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
vv. 7-8: You are the LORD God, who chose Abram, who brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and changed his name to Abraham. Finding his heart true to You, You made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite — to give it to his descendants. And You kept Your word, for You are righteous.
v. 26: Then, defying You, they rebelled; they cast Your Teaching behind their back. They killed Your prophets who admonished them to turn them back to You; they committed great impieties.
vv. 36-37: Today we are slaves, and the land that You gave our fathers to enjoy its fruit and bounty — here we are slaves on it! On account of our sins it yields its abundant crops to kings whom You have set over us. They rule over our bodies and our beasts as they please, and we are in great distress.

IV. Outline

1-4. The people separate from their foreign wives
5-37. Historical hymn of the Levites
    5. Introduction
    6-31. A retelling of Jewish history
        6. Creation
        7-8. Abraham
        9-15. Exodus; Laws
        16-21. The generation of the desert
        22-25a. The conquest of the land
        25b-31. Although the Jews sinned, God did not abandon them
    32. Petition
    33-35. Confession
    36-37. Complaint

V. Comment
Nehemiah 9 concerns the problem of intermarriage. This was a topic dealt with in Ezra 9-10. Collins writes in regards to Ezra’s ordinances: “The problem of intermarriage is based on two passages in Deuteronomy. Chapter 7 orders the Israelites to destroy utterly the seven nations who inhabited the land before them: Hittites, Girgashites, Ammonites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivvites, and Jebusites. It adds: ‘Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods.’ In this case idolatry seems to be the issue, and the prohibition applies equally whether the amrriage iw with foreign men or foreign women. Deuteronomy 23:3-8 declares categorically: ‘No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.’ But the passage continues in 23:7-8: ‘You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.’ It is apparent that Ezra’s prohibition of intermarriage is broader than either of these, because it includes the Egyptians. The point, then, is not just strict observance of the law, but bespeaks a more extreme fear of contact with outsiders. Moreover, Ezra provides a new rationale for the prohibition. The danger is not just that those who worship other gods might lead the Israelites into idolatry, but that the ‘holy seed’ would be defiled by the union itself. This is quite a novel idea in the Hebrew Bible, and presupposes a greater gulf between Jew and Gentile than anything we have seen hitherto. This idea is rooted in the self-identity of the exilic community as a pure and holy remnant, and its determination to keep that character pristine.” (435)

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).

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