Nehemiah 13 – “Nehemiah Enforces the Law”

fishgroupHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The people read the Law of Moses and decide to desist from their foreign wives. After a visit to the King in Persia, Nehemiah chastises the priests for misusing the Temple’s rooms. He also enforces the laws of the Levitical tithes, the sabbath, and intermarriage.

II. Photo
Jerusalem is rife with sabbath desecration: “Tyrians who lived there brought fish and all sorts of wares and sold them on the sabbath to the Judahites in Jerusalem.” (v. 16)

III. Important Verses
vv. 1-3: At that time they read to the people from the Book of Moses, and it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite might ever enter the congregation of God, since they did not meet Israel with bread and water, and hired Balaam against them to curse them; but our God turned the curse into a blessing. When they heard the Teaching, they separated all the alien admixture from Israel.
vv. 15-18: At that time I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the sabbath, and others bringing heaps of grain and loading them onto asses, also wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of goods, and bringing them into Jerusalem on the sabbath. I admonished them there and then for selling provisions. Tyrians who lived there brought fish and all sorts of wares and sold them on the sabbath to the Judahites in Jerusalem. I censured the nobles of Judah, saying to them, “What evil thing is this that you are doing, profaning the sabbath day! This is just what your ancestors did, and for it God brought all this misfortune on this city; and now you give cause for further wrath against Israel by profaning the sabbath!”
vv. 23-27: Also at that time, I saw that Jews had married Ashdodite, Ammonite, and Moabite women; a good number of their children spoke the language of Ashdod and the language of those various peoples, and did not know how to speak Judean. I censured them, cursed them, flogged them, tore out their hair, and adjured them by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters in marriage to their sons, or take any of their daughters for your sons or yourselves. It was just in such things that King Solomon of Israel sinned! Among the many nations there was not a king like him, and so well loved was he by his God that God made him king of all Israel, yet foreign wives caused even him to sin. How, then, can we acquiesce in your doing this great wrong, breaking faith with our God by marrying foreign women?”
v. 31: [I made sure that] the wood offering [was brought] at fixed times and for the first fruits. O my God, remember it to my credit!

IV. Outline
1-3. Commitment to desist from foreign wives
4-9. Nehemiah chastises Eliashib for misappropriating the Temple’s rooms
10-13. Nehemiah reinstates the Levitical tithes
14. Petition
15-18. Nehemiah censures the people for their violation of the sabbath
19-22. Nehemiah enforces sabbath observance
23-30. Nehemiah punishes those who intermarry
31. Nehemiah ensures that the wood offering was brought

V. Comment
Chapter 13 begins with the problem of intermarriage: “At that time they read to the people from the Book of Moses, and it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite might ever enter the congregation of God, since they did not meet Israel with bread and water, and hired Balaam against them to curse them; but our God turned the curse into a blessing.” (vv. 1-2) While one might not expect these verses to be identical to the laws of Deuteronomy 23:4-5 (they are similar, but by no means identical), the discrepancies between the two text call into question the meaning of the word katuv “it is written” in v. 1. This was also seen in chapter 8, and Duggan writes in regard to that chapter: “The discrepancies between Neh 8:14-15 and the pentateuchal legislation on Booths raise questions about the meaning of ‘as it is written’ [kakatuv] in 8:15. The two basic alternatives that scholars have proposed to account for the differences are either Ezra’s pentateuchal text was different from the MT or that Ezra and the leaders were engaged in a halakic interpretation of Lev 23:39-43. However, from a narrative perspective, the central issue is observance of the law, not the degree of literal correspondence between Neh 8:14-15 and Lev 23:39-43.” (131)

The problem of intermarriage is one of the prominent themes found in Ezra-Nehemiah. Chapter 13 has two narratives regarding intermarriage, and Collins writes: “The problem of intermarriage appears again in the second term of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 13 we are told that ‘on the day they read from the book of Moses… it was found written that no Ammonite of Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God… When the people heard the law they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.’ It seems incredible that anyone would have been unaware of this law less than a generation after Ezra’s reform. This passage, however, only serves as an introduction to a confrontation between Nehemiah and ‘the priest Eliashib,’ who had given a room in the temple to Tobiah the Ammonite, to whom he was related. The episode illustrates the violent character of Nehemiah: ‘I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room’ (Neh 13:8). It also shows the difficulty of instituting any lasting reform. Tobiah had been ensconced in the temple when Nehemiah was recalled to the Persian court. We learn in 13:28 that one of the grandsons of Eliashib was the son-in-law of Sanballat of Samaria. The purist policies of Ezra and Nehemiah could not erase the ties that bound the high priesthood in Jerusalem to the upper classes of the neighboring peoples.” (441)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)

Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).

Duggan, Michael W. “The Covenant Renewal in Ezra-Nehemiah (Neh 7:72B-10:40)” (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1996).

Photo taken from http://www.scenic-oregon-coast.com/image-files/fishgroup.jpg

Nehemiah 12 – “A List of Priests and Levites; The Dedication of the Wall”

52431_boys-choir-singing-_667785cHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The priests and Levites are listed, Jerusalem’s walls are dedicated with great joy, and the Temple’s officers are appointed.

II. Photo
Jerusalem’s walls are dedicated with a musical procession: “The companies of singers assembled from the [Jordan] plain, the environs of Jerusalem, and from the Netophathite villages.” (v. 28)

III. Important Verses
v. 24: The heads of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their brothers served opposite them, singing praise and thanksgiving hymns by the ordinance of David the man of God — served opposite them in shifts.
v. 27: At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites, wherever they lived, were sought out and brought to Jerusalem to celebrate a joyful dedication with thanksgiving and with song, accompanied by cymbals, harps, and lyres.
vv. 44-47: At that time men were appointed over the chambers that served as treasuries for the gifts, the first fruits, and the tithes, into which the portions prescribed by the Teaching for the priests and Levites were gathered from the fields of the towns; for the people of Judah were grateful to the priests and Levites who were in attendance, who kept the charge of their God and the charge of purity, as well as to the singers and gatekeepers [serving] in accord with the ordinance of David and Solomon his son — for the chiefs of the singers and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God already existed in the time of David and Asaph. And in the time of Zerubbabel, and in the time of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions of the singers and the gatekeepers, and made sacred contributions for the Levites, and the Levites made sacred contributions for the Aaronites.

IV. Outline
1-7. List of priests from the time of Zerubbabel
8-9. List of Levites from the time of Zerubbabel
10-21. List of priests from the time of Joiakim
22-24. Reference to the Levites from the time of Joiakim
25. List of gatekeepers from the time of Joiakim
26. Summary statement
27-42. Choir procession at the dedication of Jerusalem’s walls
43. Sacrifices are offered
44-47. The Temple administration is appointed

V. Comment
Nehemiah 12 begins with a lengthy list of the priests and Levites from the times of Zerubbabel and Joiakim. It continues with the joyous dedication of Jerusalem’s walls, and Zar Kavod attempts to contextualize this account (translation my own): “It makes sense that the dedication was in the month of Tishrei, [the month] following the day that the wall was completed, i.e. the 25th of Elul of the first year that Nehemiah came to Jerusalem.” (137) He also points to the emphasis on joy found in the processional: v. 43 mentions the word simcha “joy/rejoicing” five times, “On that day, they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced, for God made them rejoice greatly; the women and children also rejoiced, and the rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard from afar.”

Having discussed the chronological complications regarding the dates of Ezra and Nehemiah in previous posts, let us now turn to the views regarding the book’s date of authorship. Klein writes: “Because Ezra and Nehemiah recount the rebuilding of the Temple and the work of Ezra and Nehemiah after their return to Judah, it is universally granted that the books were composed in Palestine. The date for the present shape of the books must be later than the events they recount: the dedication of the Temple in 515 B.C.E., the return of Ezra in 458 B.C.E. (or 398 B.C.E.; see H.2), and the governorship of Nehemiah, 445–433 B.C.E., and his second visit to Jerusalem, no later than 424 B.C.E. How many years elapsed after these dates until the basic shape of the books evolved depends on the compositional theory presupposed. Among recent commentators, Williamson (Ezra Nehemiah WBC, xxxvi) dates the final form of the books to about 300; Clines (Ezra Nehemiah Esther NCBC, 13–14) puts it “within a few decades” of the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, or about 400 B.C.E. Japhet (1982: 89, n. 55), who notes that the last king mentioned (in 12:26) is Darius II (423–404) or Artaxerxes II (403–359), if Ezra came during his reign, and who believes that the last high priest mentioned, Jaddua, served under these Persian kings, assigns the book to the first quarter of the 4th century.” Thus, the consensus seems to be that the book was written in Israel between the years 420-300 B.C.E.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Klein, Ralph W. “Ezra-Nehemiah, Books of” in Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. II pp. 731-742 (New York: Doubleday, 1992).
Zar Kavod, Mordecai. “Da‘at Miqra: ’ezra wenechemayah” (Jerusalem: Mosard Harav Kook, 1980).
Photo taken from http://www.macjams.com/filemgmt_data/snaps/52431_boys-choir-singing-_667785c.jpg

Nehemiah 11 – “Jerusalem and its Inhabitants”

1Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The people carry out a lottery, and one out of every ten are chosen to dwell in Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s inhabitants are then listed by family.

II. Photo
The Judean hills are settled: “… In the countryside of Judah, the people lived in their towns, each on his own property, Israelites, priests, Levites, temple servants, and the sons of Solomon’s servants.” (v. 3)

III. Important Verses
v. 1: The officers of the people settled in Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots for one out of ten to come and settle in the holy city of Jerusalem, and the other nine-tenths to stay in the towns.
v. 2: The people gave their blessing to all the men who willingly settled in Jerusalem.
v. 24: Petahiah son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah son of Judah, advised the king concerning all the affairs of the people.

IV. Outline

1-2. The lottery to decide who gets to live in Jerusalem
3-24. A list of those residing in Jerusalem
    3. Introduction
    4-6. The Judahites
    7-8. The Benjaminites
    9. The governors
    10-14. The priests
    15-18. The Levites
    19. The gatekeepers
    20. The rest of the people
    21-24. The temple servants and city liaisons
25-36. The other Israelites

V. Comment
No comment today. Stay tuned.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Photo taken from http://www.generationword.com/images/israel_pictures/judean_hills/1.jpg

Nehemiah 10 – “A Renewed Commitment”

pomegrantsHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The people take an oath that binds them by the Law of Moses. They specifically guarantee their adherence to the following laws: intermarriage, the sabbath day and year, the temple upkeep, the first fruits, the first born, and the tithes.

II. Photo
The people swear to bring the first fruits: “And [we undertake] to bring to the House of the LORD annually the first fruits of our soil, and of every fruit of every tree.” (v. 36)

III. Important Verses
vv. 29-32: “And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to [follow] the Teaching of God, their wives, sons and daughters, all who know enough to understand, join with their noble brothers, and take an oath with sanctions to follow the Teaching of God, given through Moses the servant of God, and to observe carefully all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, His rules and laws. “Namely: We will not give our daughters in marriage to the peoples of the land, or take their daughters for our sons. The peoples of the land who bring their wares and all sorts of foodstuff for sale on the sabbath day — we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day. We will forgo [the produce of] the seventh year, and every outstanding debt.”
vv. 33-35: “We have laid upon ourselves obligations: To charge ourselves one-third of a shekel yearly for the service of the House of our God — for the rows of bread, for the regular meal offering and for the regular burnt offering, [for those of the] sabbaths, new moons, festivals, for consecrations, for sin offerings to atone for Israel, and for all the work in the House of our God. We have cast lots [among] the priests, the Levites, and the people, to bring the wood offering to the House of our God by clans annually at set times in order to provide fuel for the altar of the LORD our God, as is written in the Teaching.”

IV. Outline

1-30. The leaders sign and the people agree an oath
31-40. The particular stipulations
    31. Intermarriage
    32. Sabbath and the sabbatical year
    33-34. Temple upkeep
    35. Fuel for the altar
    36. The first fruits
    37. The firstborn
    38-40. Tithes

V. Comment
No comment today. Stay tuned.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Photo taken from http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/photo941210.htm

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).

Photo taken from http://intranet.dalton.org/mslib/6th/assyrianhorse.jpg

Nehemiah 8 – “Ezra Teaches the Laws of Moses”

HerdershutHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Ezra teaches the Law of Moses to the people, and they celebrate their newfound understanding. The people learn about the festival of Sukkot, and celebrate it for the first time since the days of Joshua.

II. Photo
The people celebrate the festival of Sukkot after a lengthy interruption: “The whole community that returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths — the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua son of Nun to that day — and there was very great rejoicing.” (v. 17)

III. Important Verses
vv. 2-3: On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Teaching before the congregation, men and women and all who could listen with understanding. He read from it, facing the square before the Water Gate, from the first light until midday, to the men and the women and those who could understand; the ears of all the people were given to the scroll of the Teaching.
vv. 7-8: Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites explained the Teaching to the people, while the people stood in their places. They read from the scroll of the Teaching of God, translating it and giving the sense; so they understood the reading.
vv. 11-12: The Levites were quieting the people, saying, “Hush, for the day is holy; do not be sad.” Then all the people went to eat and drink and send portions and make great merriment, for they understood the things they were told.
vv. 13-17: On the second day, the heads of the clans of all the people and the priests and Levites gathered to Ezra the scribe to study the words of the Teaching. They found written in the Teaching that the LORD had commanded Moses that the Israelites must dwell in booths during the festival of the seventh month, and that they must announce and proclaim throughout all their towns and Jerusalem as follows, “Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms and [other] leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them, and made themselves booths on their roofs, in their courtyards, in the courtyards of the House of God, in the square of the Water Gate and in the square of the Ephraim Gate. The whole community that returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths — the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua son of Nun to that day — and there was very great rejoicing.

IV. Outline
1-8. Ezra and his students teach the Law of Moses to the people
9-12. The day is celebrated festively
13-18. The Jews celebrate the holiday of Sukkot

V. Comment
Nehemiah 8 recounts how the Jews celebrated Sukkot for the first time since the days of Joshua. The practices of Sukkot were previously mentioned in Lev 23:39-43: “Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the LORD to last seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the LORD for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.

Due to the fact that the non-sacrificial aspects of Sukkot are only described in the books of Leviticus and Nehemiah, scholars focus on the discrepancies between the two accounts (e.g. there is no mention of the peri ‘etz hadar “beautiful tree-fruit” [traditionally understood as the etrog] in Nehemiah, and the Pentateuch lists 4 species of flora, not 5). For example, Duggan writes: “The proclamation about going into the hills and gathering five species of boughs for constructing booths (8:15) similarly does not correspond precisely with any of the legal texts governing the Festival of Booths. However, it does reflect the two distinctive requirements of the Priestly legislation (Lev 23:39-43): the people’s taking various species of branches for use in the Festival of Booths (Lev 23:40); and the use of booths (Lev 23:42-43). Nevertheless, Neh 8:15 has three variations from the directives for the festival in Lev 23:39-43: (1) Leviticus describes two ceremonies (one, a festive procession with the branches and fruit [23:40]; the other, the people’s inhabiting booths [23:42]), whereas Nehemiah prescribes a single undertaking (the construction of booths out of the branches); (2) Leviticus lists four species of branches, but Nehemiah lists five and, of these, they agree only on two ([temarim – palm] and [‘etz avot – leafy trees]); and (3) Neh 8:15 prescribes the ‘making’ [‘aseh] of booths, whereas Lev 23:42-43 speaks only of ‘dwelling’ in booths ([yashav] cf. Neh 8:17).” (131)

As one might expect, there are many ways to approach discrepancies in the Hebrew Bible. Scholars such as Duggan write: “The Discrepancies between Neh 8:14-15 and the pentateuchal legislation on Booths raise questions about the meaning of ‘as it is written’ [kakatuv] in 8:15. The two basic alternatives that scholars have proposed to account for the differences are either that Ezra’s pentateuchal text was different from the MT or that Ezra and the leaders were engaged in a halakhic interpretation of Lev 23:39-43.” (ibid.) Traditionalists, however, tend to mitigate the problem by adding unstated information. For example, Zar Kavod summarizes Hoffman as follows (translation from Hebrew my own): “Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman in his commentary to Leviticus explains why the command was to bring only two of the four species. It is because at the time of harvest there was an etrog available to all, and the river branches were located everywhere. Only the ‘branches of palm trees’ and ‘leafy willow trees’ as well as the fresh green vegetables were needed to be brought from the mountains.” In other words, the “contradiction” isn’t really a contradiction at all. Thus, while many scholars see no problem in questioning Ezra’s pentateuchal text, many traditionalists opt for a more speculative approach.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Duggan, Michael W. “The Covenant Renewal in Ezra-Nehemiah (Neh 7:72B-10:40)” (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1996).
Zar-Kavod, Mordecai. “Ezrah we-Nehemiah” (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1980).
Photo taken from http://www.ahsd25.k12.il.us/curriculum/Africa/images/desert/Herdershut.jpg

Nehemiah 7 – “Defending Jerusalem; The Returnees from Babylon”

castle-gateHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Nehemiah assigns watchmen to guard Jerusalem’s gates. He also recapitulates the families who returned to Judea from Babylon.

II. Photo
Nehemiah defends the city: “I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the heat of the day, and before you leave your posts let the doors be closed and barred…’” (v. 3)

III. Important Verses
v. 2: I put Hanani my brother and Hananiah, the captain of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a more trustworthy and God-fearing man than most.
v. 3: I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the heat of the day, and before you leave your posts let the doors be closed and barred. And assign the inhabitants of Jerusalem to watches, each man to his watch, and each in front of his own house.”
v. 5: My God put it into my mind to assemble the nobles, the prefects, and the people, in order to register them by families. I found the genealogical register of those who were the first to come up, and there I found written

IV. Outline
1-3. Nehemiah assigns gatekeepers to gaurd the wall
4-72. A list of the people who came up to Judea

V. Comment
No comment today. Stay tuned.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Photo taken from http://www.globe-hoppers.com/images/castle-gate.jpg