Nehemiah 8 Commentary

8:1-13:31 NEHEMIAH’S REFORMS

First reading of the law (8:1-18)

The wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the sixth month (see 6:15). Israel’s mid-year meetings and festivals were held during the seventh month (Lev 23:24,27,34), so this was a fitting occasion to assemble the people to celebrate the completion of the rebuilt wall (see 7:73b, 8:1). (The same

 

time of the year had been chosen for the dedication of the rebuilt altar more than ninety years previously; see Ezra 3:1-6.)

At the people’s request, Ezra, assisted by some Levites, read the law and explained it to the people. It must have been so long since the people had heard the law that they all listened attentively (8:1-8). When they found how far they had departed from the law, they were filled with grief. Nehemiah was concerned that the celebration, instead of being a time of joyous feasting, was turning into a time of mourning and weeping (9-12).

Next day Israel’s leaders returned to hear more of God’s law (13). This led in turn to a full-scale national celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (RSV: Feast of Booths; GNB: Festival of Shelters). On this occasion the people lived in temporary shelters made of branches of trees and palm leaves, in memory of their ancestors’ unsettled existence in the wilderness (14-18; see Lev 23:33-43).

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