Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
A covenant made (vv. 1-32), and an engagement entered into, to furnish what was needed for the maintenance of the temple, its services, and ministers (Neh 10:33-39). - Vv. 1-28. For the purpose of giving a lasting influence to this day of prayer and fasting, the assembled people, after the confession of sin (given in Neh 9), entered into a written agreement, by which they bound themselves by an oath to separate from the heathen, and to keep the commandments and ordinances of God, - a document being prepared for this purpose, and sealed by the heads of their different houses.
And because of all this we make and write a sure covenant; and our princes, Levites, and priests sign the sealed (document). בּכל־זאת does not mean post omne hoc, after all that we have done this day (Schmid, Bertheau, and others); still less, in omni hoc malo, quod nobis obtigerat (Rashi, Aben Ezra), but upon all this, i.e., upon the foundation of the preceding act of prayer and penitence, we made אמנה, i.e., a settlement, a sure agreement (the word recurs Neh 11:23); hence כּרת is used as with בּרית, Neh 9:8. אמנה may again be taken as the object of כּתבים, we write it; החתוּם ועל be understood as "our princes sealed." החתוּם is the sealed document; comp. Jer 22:11, Jer 22:14. החתוּם על means literally, Upon the sealed document were our princes, etc.; that is, our princes sealed or signed it. Signing was effected by making an impression with a seal bearing a name; hence originated the idiom החתוּם על אשׁר, "he who was upon the sealed document," meaning he who had signed the document by sealing it. By this derived signification is the plural חחתוּמים על (Neh 10:2), "they who were upon the document," explained: they who had signed or sealed the document.
At the head of the signatures stood Nehemiah the Tirshatha, as governor of the country, and Zidkijah, a high official, of whom nothing further is known, perhaps (after the analogy of Ezr 4:9, Ezr 4:17) secretary to the governor. Then follow (in vv. 3-9) twenty-one names, with the addition: these, the priests. Of these twenty-one names, fifteen occur in Neh 12:2-7 as chiefs of the priests who came up with Joshua and Zerubbabel from Babylon, and in Neh 12:11-20 as heads of priestly houses. Hence it is obvious that all the twenty-one names are those of heads of priestly classes, who signed the agreement in the names of the houses and families of their respective classes. Seraiah is probably the prince of the house of God dwelling at Jerusalem, mentioned Neh 11:11, who signed in place of the high priest. For further remarks on the orders of priests and their heads, see Neh 12:1.
The Levites who sealed were: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel, and their brethren, fourteen names. Sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel returned, together with seventy-four other Levites, with Zerubbabel and Jeshua; Ezr 2:4; Neh 7:42. Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, and Sherebiah are also named in Neh 12:8 as heads of orders of Levites. Of the rest nothing further is known, but we may regard them as heads of Levitical houses.
The heads of the people. Forty-four names, thirteen of which are found in the list (Ezra 2) of the kindreds who returned with Zerubbabel; see Ezra 2. The rest are names either of the heads of the different houses into which these kindreds were divided, or of the elders of the smaller towns of Benjamin and Judah. The fact that, while only thirty-three kindreds and placed are enumerated in Ezra 2, forty-four occur here, - although names of kindreds mentioned in Ezra 2, e.g., Shephatiah, Arah, Zaccai, etc., are wanting here, - is to be explained partly by the circumstance that these kindreds included several houses whose different heads all subscribed, and partly by fresh accessions during the course of years to the number of houses.
All the members of the community acceded to the agreement thus signed by the princes of the people, and the heads of the priests and Levites, and bound themselves by an oath to walk in the law of the Lord, and to separate themselves from the heathen.
And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the door-keepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, all who had knowledge and understanding, held with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into an oath and curse, etc. מצזיקים is the predicate of the subjects in Neh 10:29 : they were holding with their brethren, i.e., uniting with them in this matter. "The rest of the people, the priests," etc., are the members of the community, exclusive of the princes and heads of the priestly and Levitical orders. The Nethinim, to whom belonged the servants of Solomon (see rem. on Ezr 2:43.), were probably also represented in the assembly by the heads of the Levites. To these are added all who had separated themselves, etc., i.e., the descendants of those Israelites who had been left in the land, and who now joined the new community; see rem. on Ezr 6:21. The connection of נבדּל with אל־תּורת is significant: separated from the heathen to the law of God, i.e., to live according thereto; comp. Ezr 6:21. Not, however, the men only, but also women and children of riper years, acceded to the covenant. כּל־יודע מבין, every one knowing, understanding (מבין and יודע being connected as an asyndeton, to strengthen the meaning), refers to sons and daughters of an age sufficient to enable them to understand the matter. אדּרריהם, their nobles, is connected in the form of an apposition with אחיהם, instead of the adjective האדּירים. The princes and the heads of the community and priesthood are intended. באלה בּוא, to enter into an oath, comp. Eze 17:13. אלה is an oath of self-imprecation, grievous punishments being imprecated in case of transgression; שׁבוּעה, a promissory oath to live conformably with the law. We hence perceive the tenor of the agreement entered into and sealed by the princes. Non subscripsit quidem populus, remarks Clericus, sed ratum habuit, quid-quid nomine totius populi a proceribus factum erat, juravitque id a se observatum iri. Besides the general obligation to observe all the commandments, judgments, and statutes of God, two points, then frequently transgressed, are specially mentioned in Neh 10:31 and Neh 10:23. In Neh 10:31 : that we would not give our daughters to the people of the lands, etc.; see rem. on Ezr 9:2. In Neh 10:32 : that if the people of the land brought wares or any victuals on the Sabbath-day to sell, we would not buy if of them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and would let the seventh year lie, and the loan of every hand. The words וגו הארץ עמּי are prefixed absolutely, and are afterwards subordinated to the predicate of the sentence by מהם. מקּחות, wares for sale, from לקח, to take, in the sense of to buy, occurs only here. מהם נקּח, to take from them, i.e., to buy. קדשׁ יום beside שׁבּת means the other holy days, the annual festivals, on which, according to the law, Num 28 and 29, no work was to be done. To the sanctification of the Sabbath pertained the celebration of the sabbatical year, which is therefore named immediately afterwards. The words השׁ את־השּׁנה נטשׁ, to let the seventh year lie, i.e., in the seventh year to let the land lie untilled and unsown, is an abbreviation taken from the language of the law, Exo 28:10. כל־יד משּׁא also depends upon נטּשׁ. This expression (משּׁא, not משּׂא, being the reading of the best editions) is to be explained from Deu 15:2, and means the loan, that which the hand has lent to another; see rem. on Deu 15:2.
Agreement to provide for the expenses of the temple and its ministers. - If the community seriously intended to walk by the rule of God's law, they must take care that the temple service, as the public worship of the community, should be provided for according to the law and a firm footing and due solemnity thus given to religion. For this purpose, it was indispensable to guarantee the contributions prescribed for the necessary expenses of the temple worship, and the support of its ministers. Hence this entering into a solemn agreement to observe the law was regarded as a suitable occasion for regulating the services prescribed by the law with respect to the temple and its ministers, and mutually binding themselves to their observance.
We ordained for ourselves (עלינוּ, upon us, inasmuch as such things are spoken of as are taken upon one). עלינוּ לתת, to lay upon ourselves the third part of a shekel yearly for the service of the house of our God. It is not said who were to be bound to furnish this contribution, but it is assumed that it was a well-known custom. This appointed payment is evidently only a revival of the Mosaic precept, Exo 30:13, that every man of twenty years of age and upwards should give half a shekel as a תּרוּמה to the Lord, - a tribute which was still paid in Christ's days, Mat 17:24. In consideration, however, of the poverty of the greater portion of the community, it was now lowered to a third of a shekel. The view of Aben Ezra, that a third of a shekel was to be paid in addition to the half shekel levied in conformity with the law, is unsupported by the text. העבודה, the service of the house of God, is not the building and repairs of the temple, but the regular worship. For, according to Neh 10:34, the tax was to be applied to defraying the expenses of worship, to supplying the shew-bread, the continual meat and burnt offerings (Num 28:3-8), the sacrifices for the Sabbaths, new moons (Num 28:9-15), and festivals (Num 28:16-29, 38), - for the קדשׁים, holy gifts, by which, from their position between the burnt-offering and the sin-offering, we may understand the thank-offerings, which were offered in the name of the congregation, as e.g., the two lambs at Pentecost, Lev 23:19, and the offerings brought at feasts of dedication, comp. Exo 24:5; Ezr 6:17, - for the sin-offerings which were sacrificed at every great festival; and finally for all the work of the house of our God, i.e., whatever else was needful for worship (ל must be supplied from the context before כּל־מלאכת). The establishment of such a tax for the expenses of worship, does not justify the view that the contributions promised by Artaxerxes in his edict, Ezr 7:20., of things necessary to worship had ceased, and that the congregation had now to defray the expenses from their own resources. For it may readily be supposed, that besides the assistance afforded by the king, the congregation might also esteem it needful to furnish a contribution, to meet the increased requirements of worship, and thus to augment the revenues of the temple, - the royal alms being limited to a certain amount (see Ezr 7:22).
"And we cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people for the wood-offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after our houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law." In the law we merely find it prescribed that wood should be constantly burning on the altar, and that the priest should burn wood on it every morning, and burn thereon the burnt-offering (Lev 6:12.). The law gave no directions concerning the procuring of the wood; yet the rulers of the people must, at all events, have always provided for the regular delivery of the necessary quantity. Nehemiah now gives orders, as he himself tells us, Neh 13:31, which make this matter the business of the congregation, and the several houses have successively to furnish a contribution, in the order decided by casting lots. The words, "at times appointed, year by year," justify the conclusion that the order was settled for several years, and not that all the different houses contributed in each year.
(Note: Josephus (bello Jud. ii. 17. 6) speaks of a τῶν ξυλοφορίων ἑορτή, which he places on the fourteenth day of the month Λῶος, i.e., Ab, the fifth month of the Jewish year. From this Bertheau infers that the plural מזמּנים עתּים, here and Neh 13:31, denotes the one season or day of delivery in each year. But though the name of this festival is derived from the present verse, the lxx translating העצים קרבּן העצי על, πιρὶ κλήρον ξυλοφορίας, it appears even from what Josephus says of this feast, ἐν ᾗ πᾶσιν ἕθος ὕλην τῷ βωμῷ προσφέρειν, that the feast of wood-carrying does not designate that one day of the year on which the wood was delivered for the service of the altar. According to Mishna Taanit, ch. 4 (in Lightfoot's horae hebraicae in Matth. i. 1), nine days in the year were appointed for the delivery of wood, viz., 1st Nisan, 20th Tammuz, 5th, 7th, and 10th Ab, etc. Further particulars are given in Lundius, jd. Heiligtmer, p. 1067f. The feast of wood-carrying may be compared with our harvest festival; and Bertheau's inference is not more conclusive than would be the inference that our harvest festival denotes the one day in the year on which the harvest is gathered in.)
It was also arranged to contribute the first-fruits prescribed in the law. The infinitive להביא depends on העמדנוּ, and is co-ordinate with לתת, Neh 10:33. The first-fruits of the ground, comp. Exo 23:19; Exo 34:26; Deu 26:2; the first-fruits of all fruit trees, comp. Num 18:13; Lev 19:23; the first-born of our sons who were redeemed according to the estimation of the priest, Num 18:16, and of our cattle (i.e., in the case of the unclean, the required redemption, Exo 13:12., Num 18:15), and the firstlings of the herds and of the flocks, the fat of which was consumed on the altar, the flesh becoming the share of the priests, Num 18:17. In Neh 10:38 the construction is altered, the first person of the imperfect taking the place of the infinitive: and we will bring the first-fruits. ערסות, probably groats or ground flour; see rem. on Num 15:20, etc. תרוּמות, heave-offerings, the offering in this connection, is probably that of wheat and barley, Eze 45:13, or of the fruits of the field, which are suitably followed by the "fruit of all manner of trees." On "the first of the wine and oil," comp. Num 18:12. These offerings of first-fruits were to be brought into the chambers of the house of God, where they were to be kept in store, and distributed to the priests for their support. "And the tithes of our ground (will we bring) to the Levites; and they, the Levites, receive the tithes in all our country towns. (Neh 10:39) And a priest, a son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites take tithes; and the Levites shall bring the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, into the chambers of the treasury." The parenthetical sentences in these verses, המעשׂרים הלויּם והם and הלויּם בּעשׂר, have been variously understood. עשׂר in the Piel and Hiphil meaning elsewhere to pay tithe, comp. Deu 14:22; Deu 26:12; Gen 28:22, many expositors adhere to this meaning in these passages also, and translate Neh 10:38 : for they, the Levites, must give again the tenth (to the priests); and Neh 10:39 : when the Levites give the tenth; while the lxx, Vulgate, Syriac, Rashi, Aben Ezra, Clericus, Bertheau, and others, take עשּׂר and העשׂיר in these sentences as signifying to collect tithe. We prefer the latter view, as giving a more suitable sense. For the remark that the Levites must give back the tenth (Neh 10:38) does not present so appropriate a motive for the demand that the tithes should be paid, as that the tithes are due to the Levites. Still less does the addition, in our agricultural towns, suit the sentence: the Levites must give back the tithe to the priests. Again, the fact that it is not said till Neh 10:39 that the Levites have to give the tenth of the tenth to the priests, speaks still more against this view. A priest is to be present when the Levites take the tenth, so that the share of the priests may not be lessened. On "the tenth of the tenth," comp. Num 18:26. Hezekiah had provided store-chambers in the temple, in which to deposit the tithes, Ch2 31:11.
Neh 10:39 is confirmatory of the preceding clause: the Levites were to bring the tithe of the tithes for the priests into the chambers of the temple; for thither are both the children of Israel and the Levites, to bring all heave-offerings of corn, new wine, and oil: for there are the holy vessels for the service of the altar (comp. Num 4:15), and the priests that minister, and the doorkeepers and the singers, for whose maintenance these gifts provide. "And we will not forsake the house of our God," i.e., we will take care that the service of God's house shall be provided for; comp. Neh 13:11-14.