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We here learn, that as soon as Nehemiah's design was known, the Ammonites, Moabites, Samaritans, and other neighbouring nations, joined to oppose it. The ancient enmity of the Samaritans has been already mentioned; but they had an additional motive in common with the other nations, for oppressing the Jews at that time; and this was, their having all seized upon different parts of the Jewish territories during the captivity, which, on the return of the Jews, they had been obliged to restore; for this reason the Samaritans did all in their power to prevent the settlement of the Jews, hoping they should find an opportunity of resuming the prey they had lost.
We find that * Nehemiah was not discouraged by these malicious enemies, nor by the insinuations of dis-' affected people and false prophets within the walls, but resolutely persisted; and the people used their utmost exertions, laying their weapons by them, and working and standing guard alternately, by which means they accomplished the work in fifty two days. Nehemiah and the rulers, during this time, did not even pull off their clothes, but to change them for clean ones.
After this Nehemiah relieved the poor from the oppression of the rich, who having lent them money to supplv their necessities, had exacted great interest; to pay which they had been obliged to mortgage their lands, and even give up their children to servitude. Shortly after, he returned into Persia, to acquaint the king of his success, and having obtamed a new commission, he with the assistance of Ezra, set about a farther reformation of the church and state; and as Jerusalem was but thinly inhabited, they prevailed on the rulers and other great men to build houses and dwell in the city; and of the common people, every tenth man was
* See Chap. iii. and sequel.
taken" taken by lot, and obliged to settle there with their families ; by which means the Jews were enabled to defend the place against their , enemies.
Nehemiah next caused the genealogies of the people to be exactly scrutinized, that all might be directed in what parts to take their possessions; and the tribe of Levi to be ascertamed, that those who were not of the family of Aaron might be excluded the sanctuary. It is very curious to trace these genealogies, but it would take our attention too long from the history.
Ezra having completed his copy of the law of God, and written it out fair in the Chaldee character, read it publicly, as we learn from the following section.
THE SOLEMN READING OF THE LAW.
From Nehemiah, Chap. viii.
And all the people gathered themselves together as one man, into the street that was before the water-gate, and they spake unto Ezra the scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation, both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. i
And he read therein before the street that was before the water-gate, from the morning until mid day, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people, were attentive unto the bock of the law.
And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood,
which they had made, for the purpose, and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above all the people), and when he opened it all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed the Lord the great God: and all the people answered, Amen, amen, with lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with /their faces to the ground.
And the Levites who stood by Ezra, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Loud your God, mourn not, nor weep : for all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared : for this day is holy unto our Lord : neither be you sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace,for the day is holy, neither be ye grieved.
And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.
And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of the people, the priests and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law.
And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths, inthefeast of theseventh month, And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount and fetch olive-branches, and pine-branches, and myrtle-branches, and palm-branches, and branches pf thick trees to make booths, as it is written.
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of Gob, and in the street of the water-gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, unto that day, had not the children of Israel done so: and there was very great gladness.
Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God: and they kept the feast seven days, and on the eight day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.
ANNOTATIONS And REFLECTIONS.
The scaffold or pulpit, whence Ezra read the law to the people, was erected in the largest street of the city, probably because the court of the Temple was not capable of containing so great a multitude. He read it in Hebrew, and the Levites repeated it, period by period to the people, in the Chaldee tongue, which was usually spoken by the Jews at that time; from hence we may
inter infer, that Ezra thought it agreeable to the Divine will that the Scriptures should be translated for the use of the common people.
This was a very affecting ceremony to the Jews, and there is no wonder that it caused their tears to flow. The spiritual famine, which the prophet Amos had foretold*, had been of long continuance, the bread of life was now restored to them. Had they set a proper value on it before, it would not have been taken from them ; but they slighted the Divine ordinances, till they provoked the Lord to cast a veil over them, which it required a diligent hand, guided by his Holy Spirit to draw aside.
May all who enjoy the advantage of a translation of those scriptures, which they have not skill to read in their original language, set as high a value on them, as the Jews at this time did on that which was vouchsafed to them ! And may every one who hears them read pay the same ready and devout attention to them!
A SOLEMN FAST AND REPENTANCE OF THE PEOPLE
THEY SOLEMNLY PROMISE TO KEEP GOD*S LAWS.
From Nehemiah, Chap. ix.
Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.'
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. ,
And they stood up in their place, and read in the
Amos viii. 11.