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Nehemiah 8:17

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Since the days of Joshua - No feast of tabernacles since Joshua's time had been so heartily and so piously celebrated. The story of the sacred fire now discovered, which had been hidden by the order of Jeremiah in a dry well, and now, some of the mud from the bottom being brought upon the altar, was kindled afresh by the rays of the sun, which suddenly broke out, though before covered with clouds, etc., is worthy of no credit. Those who wish to see the detail may consult 2 Maccabees 1:18-36.

On the subject in Nehemiah 8:8, I beg leave to make a few observations: - So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. The Israelites, having been lately brought out of the Babylonish captivity, in which they had continued seventy years, according to the prediction of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 25:11, were not only extremely corrupt, but it appears that they had in general lost the knowledge of the ancient Hebrew to such a degree, that when the book of the law was read, they did not understand it: but certain Levites stood by, and gave the sense, i. e., translated into the Chaldee dialect. This was not only the origin of the Chaldee Targums, or translation of the law and prophets into that tongue but was also, in all probability, the origin of preaching from a text; for it appears that the people were not only ignorant of their ancient language, but also of the rites and ceremonies of their religion, having been so long in Babylon, where they were not permitted to observe them. This being the case, not only the language must be interpreted, but the meaning of the rites and ceremonies must also be explained; for we find from Nehemiah 8:13, etc., of this chapter, that they had even forgotten the feast of tabernacles, and every thing relative to that ceremony.

As we nowhere find that what is called preaching on or expounding a text was ever in use before that period, we are probably beholden to the Babylonish captivity for producing, in the hand of Divine Providence, a custom the most excellent and beneficial ever introduced among men.

What the nature of preaching or expounding the word of God was, at this early period of its institution, we learn from the above cited text.

    I. They read in the book of the law of God. - The words of God, the doctrines of Divine revelation, are the proper matter of preaching; for they contain the wisdom of the Most High, and teach man the things which belong to his peace and happiness.

II. They read distinctly - מפרש mephorash, from פרש parash, to expand; they analyzed, dilated, and expounded it at large, showing the import and genuine meaning of every word.

III. They gave the sense - שכל ושום vesom sechel, they put weight to it; showed its value and utility, and how intimately concerned they were in all that was revealed: thus applying verbal criticism, and general exposition to their true and most important purposes.

    IV. They caused them to understand the reading - במקרא ויבינו vaiyabinu bammikra : and they understood - had a mental taste and perception of the things which were in the reading, i. e., in the letter and spirit of the text. Thus they knew the Divine will, and approved the things that were more excellent, being (thus) instructed out of the law, Romans 2:18.

This was the ancient method of expounding the word of God among the Jews; and this mode is still more necessary for Us: -

  1. Because the sacred writings, as they came from God, are shut up in languages no longer vernacular; and no translation ever did or ever can reach the force of the original words, though perhaps our own in general, comes nearest to this of all versions, whether ancient or modern.
  • Ninety-nine out of a hundred know nothing of these languages; and consequently cannot, of themselves, reap all the requisite benefit from reading the Scriptures.
  • Sacred things are illustrated in the Bible by a reference to arts and sciences, of which the mass of the people are as ignorant as they are of the original tongues.
  • Provincial customs and fashions are mentioned in these writings, which must be understood, or the force and meaning of many texts cannot be comprehended.
  • There is a depth in the word of God which cannot be fathomed except either by Divine inspiration, or by deep study and research, for which the majority of the people have no time.
  • The people in general trust to the piety, learning and abilities of their ministers, and maintain them as persons capable of instructing them in all the deep things of God; and believing them to be holy men, they are confident they will not take their tithes, their food, and their raiment, under a pretense of doing a work for which they have not the ordinary qualifications. Where there is not such preaching as this, the people "sit in darkness, and in the valley of the shadow of death;" sinners are not converted unto God; neither are believers "built up on their most holy faith."
  • Reader - Art thou a Christian minister? Dost thou feed the flock of God? Let thy conduct, thy conscience, and the fruits of thy ministry answer for thee.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    It is not the intention of the writer to state that the Feast of tabernacles had not been kept from the time of Joshua until this occasion (see 1 Kings 8:2, 1 Kings 8:65; Ezra 3:4); but that there had been no such celebration as this since Joshua‘s time. Compare 2 Kings 23:22; 2 Chronicles 35:18.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    They found written in the law about the feast of tabernacles. Those who diligently search the Scriptures, find things written there which they have forgotten. This feast of tabernacles was a representation of the believer's tabernacle state in this world, and a type of the holy joy of the gospel church. The conversion of the nations to the faith of Christ, is foretold under the figure of this feast, Zec 14:16. True religion will render us strangers and pilgrims upon earth. We read and hear the word acceptably and profitably, when we do according to what is written therein; when what appears to be our duty is revived, after it has been neglected. They minded the substance; else the ceremony had been of no use. They did it, rejoicing in God and his goodness. These are the means which the Spirit of God crowns with success, in bringing the hearts of sinners to tremble and to become humbled before God. But those are enemies to their own growth in holiness, who always indulge sorrow, even for sin, and put away from them the consolations tendered by the word and Spirit of God.
    Ellen G. White
    The Ministry of Healing, 281-3

    In all the affairs of their daily life, the Israelites were taught the lesson set forth by the Holy Spirit: MH 281.1

    “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17. MH 281.2

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 216

    To the desert prophet all this seemed a mystery beyond his fathoming. There were hours when the whisperings of demons tortured his spirit, and the shadow of a terrible fear crept over him. Could it be that the long-hoped-for Deliverer had not yet appeared? Then what meant the message that he himself had been impelled to bear? John had been bitterly disappointed in the result of his mission. He had expected that the message from God would have the same effect as when the law was read in the days of Josiah and of Ezra (2 Chronicles 34; Nehemiah 8, 9); that there would follow a deep-seated work of repentance and returning unto the Lord. For the success of this mission his whole life had been sacrificed. Had it been in vain? DA 216.1

    John was troubled to see that through love for him, his own disciples were cherishing unbelief in regard to Jesus. Had his work for them been fruitless? Had he been unfaithful in his mission, that he was now cut off from labor? If the promised Deliverer had appeared, and John had been found true to his calling, would not Jesus now overthrow the oppressor's power, and set free His herald? DA 216.2

    But the Baptist did not surrender his faith in Christ. The memory of the voice from heaven and the descending dove, the spotless purity of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit that had rested upon John as he came into the Saviour's presence, and the testimony of the prophetic scriptures,—all witnessed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Promised One. DA 216.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Prophets and Kings, 661-5

    This chapter is based on Nehemiah 8; 9; and 10.

    It was the time of the Feast of Trumpets. Many were gathered at Jerusalem. The scene was one of mournful interest. The wall of Jerusalem had been rebuilt and the gates set up, but a large part of the city was still in ruins. PK 661.1

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