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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to Nehemiah
In the earliest form of the Hebrew canon known to us the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were united in one, under the name of "The Book of Ezra." After a while, a division was made, and the two books which we now recognize were distinguished as "the First Book of Ezra" and "the Second Book of Ezra" Later still - probably not until toward the close of the fourth century - the Second Book of Ezra came to be known as "the Book of Nehemiah."
The Book of Nehemiah is composed of four quite distinct sections:
(1) Nehemiah 1-7 containing the record of the 20th year of Artaxerxes (or 445-444 B.C.), but composed by Nehemiah at least twelve years later Nehemiah 5:14.
(2) the second section of the work consists of Nehemiah 8-10, and contains a narrative of some events belonging to the autumn of 444 B.C. In this portion Nehemiah is spoken of in the third person; he is called the Tirshatha," whereas in the earlier chapters his title is always פחה pechâh ("governor"); and Ezra holds the first and most prominent position. The style of this portion of the book is markedly different from that of the earlier and later chapters; and critics are generally agreed that it is NOT from the hand of Nehemiah. Some assign it to Ezra; others conjecture Zadok (or Zidkijah), Nehemiah's scribe or secretary Nehemiah 13:13, to have been the author.
(3) Nehemiah 11-12:26, which consists of six important lists.
List 1 Neh. 11:1-24 and List 2 Neh 11:25-36 are probably either the work of Nehemiah himself or documents drawn up by his orders.
Of the other lists Nehemiah 12:1-26 some may have been drawn up in the time (or even by the hand) of Nehemiah, and incorporated by him into his work as documents having an intrinsic value, though not connected very closely with the subject matter of his history. But the list in Nehemiah 12:10-11 cannot, in its present shape, have proceeded from his hand, or from that of a contemporary, since it mentions Jaddua, who lived about a century LATER THAN Nehemiah. Neither can Nehemiah 12:22-23 intruded between the 5th and 6th lists - lists closely interconnected - belong to Nehemiah's time, since they contain a mention of both Jaddua and Darius Codomannus, his contemporary. Possibly, the list in question and the intruded verses may have proceeded from the same hand.
The section may therefore be regarded as the compilation of Nehemiah himself, with the exception of Nehemiah 12:11, Nehemiah 12:22-23, which must have been added a century later. Or, it was first added at that period. In either case, the writer must be equally considered to have drawn the lists from contemporary state archives (see Nehemiah 12:23).
-4Neh 12:27 to the end. This section contains an account of the dedication of the wall, and of certain reforms which Nehemiah effected after his return from Babylon in 432-431 B.C.. It is allowed on all hands to be, in the main, the work of Nehemiah, andIt is perhaps, on the whole, more probable that the various sections composing the "Book of Nehemiah" were collected by Nehemiah himself, who had written, at any rate, two of them Nehemiah 1-7:5; Nehemiah 12:27; Nehemiah 13:31. Having composed these two separate memoirs, and having perhaps drawn up also certain lists, he adopted from without an account of some religious transactions belonging to his first period, and, inserting this in its proper place, prefixed to the whole work the title, "The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hachaliah," as fitly designating its main contents. His work, thus formed, was subsequently added to by Jaddua, or a writer of that time, who inserted into it Nehemiah 12:11, Nehemiah 12:22-23. Or, possibly, this late writer may first have formed the book into a whole. The date of the compilation would, in the former case, be about 430 B.C.; in the latter, about one century later.
The authenticity of the history contained in the Book of Nehemiah is generally admitted: and the condition of the text is generally good.
1The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah - The prophetical books commence generally with a title of this kind (see Jeremiah 1:1); but no other extant historical book begins thus. Nehemiah, while attaching his work to Ezra, perhaps marked in this manner the point at which his own composition commenced. (See the introduction of the Book of Nehemiah.)
Chisleu - The ninth month, corresponding to the end of November and beginning of December.
In the twentieth year - i. e. of Artaxerxes Longimanus (465-425 B.C.). Compare Nehemiah 2:1.
Shushan the palace - Compare Esther 1:2, Esther 1:5, etc.; Daniel 8:2. Shushan, or Susa, was the ordinary residence of the Persian kings. "The palace" or acropolis was a distinct quarter of the city, occupying an artificial eminence.
2That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
Hanani seems to have been an actual brother of Nehemiah Neh 7:2.
3And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
The attempt to rebuild the wall in the time of the Pseudo-Smerdis Ezra 4:12-24 had been stopped. It still remained in ruins. The Assyrian sculptures show that it was the usual practice to burn the gates.
4And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
The God of heaven - This title of the Almighty, which is Persian rather than Jewish (see 2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2 note; Ezra 6:10; Ezra 7:12, Ezra 7:21), is a favorite one with Nehemiah, who had been born and brought up in Persia.
5And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
6Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
7We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
8Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
9But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.
10Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.
11O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.
A Persian king had numerous cup-bearers, each of whom probably discharged the office in his turn.