The People Respond to the Reading of the Law
When the seventh month arrived and the Israelites#tn Heb “the sons of Israel.” So also in vv. 14, 17; 9:1. were settled in their cities,#tn The traditional understanding of the chapter and verse division here is probably incorrect. The final part of v. 73 is best understood as belonging with 8:1. 1 all the people gathered together#tn Heb “like one man.” in the plaza which was in front of the Water Gate. They asked#tn Heb “said [to].” Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly which included men and women and all those able to understand what they heard. (This happened on the first day of the seventh month.) 3 So he read it before the plaza in front of the Water Gate from dawn till noon#tn Heb “from the light till the noon of the day.” before the men and women and those children who could understand.#tn Heb “all who could hear with understanding.” The word “children” is understood to be implied here by a number of English versions (e.g., NAB, TEV, NLT). All the people were eager to hear#tn Heb “the ears of all the people were toward.” the book of the law.
4 Ezra the scribe stood on a towering wooden platform#tn Heb “a tower of wood.” constructed for this purpose. Standing near him on his right were Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Masseiah. On his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the book in plain view#tn Heb “to the eyes.” of all the people, for he was elevated above all the people. When he opened the book,#tn Heb “it”; the referent (the book) has been specified in the translation for clarity. all the people stood up. 6 Ezra blessed the lord, the great God, and all the people replied “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the lord with their faces to the ground.
7 Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah – all of whom were Levites#tc The MT reads “and the Levites.” The conjunction (“and”) should be deleted, following the LXX, Aquila, and the Vulgate. That the vav (ו) of the MT is the vav explicativum (“even the Levites”) is unlikely here. – were teaching the people the law, as the people remained standing. 8 They read from the book of God’s law, explaining it#tn The exact meaning of the pual participle מְפֹרָשׁ (mÿforash) in this verse is uncertain. The basic sense of the Hebrew word seems to be “to make distinct.” The word may also have the sense of “to divide in parts,” “to interpret,” or “to translate.” The context of Neh 8:8 does not decisively clarify how the participle is to be understood here. It probably refers to the role of the Levites as those who explained or interpreted the portions of biblical text that had been publicly read on this occasion. A different option, however, is suggested by the translation distincte (“distinctly”) of the Vulgate (cf. KJV, ASV). If the Hebrew word means “distinctly” here, it would imply that the readers paid particular attention to such things as word-grouping and pronunciation so as to be sure that the listeners had every opportunity to understand the message that was being read. Yet another view is found in the Talmud, which understands translation of the Hebrew text into Aramaic to be what is in view here. The following explanation of Neh 8:8 is found in b. Megillah 3a: “‘And they read in the book, in the law of God’: this indicates the [Hebrew] text; ‘with an interpretation’: this indicates the targum; ‘and they gave the sense’: this indicates the verse stops; ‘and caused them to understand the reading’: this indicates the accentuation, or, according to another version, the Masoretic notes.” However, this ancient rabbinic view that the origins of the Targum are found in Neh 8:8 is debatable. It is not clear that the practice of paraphrasing the Hebrew biblical text into Aramaic in order to accommodate the needs of those Jews who were not at home in the Hebrew language developed this early. The translation of מְפֹרָשׁ adopted above (i.e., “explaining it”) understands the word to have in mind an explanatory function (cf. NAB, NCV, TEV, NLT) rather than one of translation. and imparting insight. Thus the people#tn Heb “they”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity. gained understanding from what was read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor,#tc The unexpected reference to Nehemiah here has led some scholars to suspect that the phrase “Nehemiah the governor” is a later addition to the text and not original. Ezra the priestly scribe,#tn Heb “the priest, the scribe.” and the Levites who were imparting understanding to the people said to all of them,#tn Heb “the people.” The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons, to avoid redundancy. “This day is holy to the lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 He said to them, “Go and eat delicacies and drink sweet drinks and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared. For this day is holy to our Lord.#tn The Hebrew term translated “Lord” here is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay). Do not grieve, for the joy of the lord is your strength.”
11 Then the Levites quieted all the people saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy. Do not grieve.” 12 So all the people departed to eat and drink and to share their food#tn Heb “to send portions.” with others#tn The Hebrew text does not include the phrase “with others” but it has been supplied in the translation for clarity. and to enjoy tremendous joy,#tn Heb “to make great joy.” for they had gained insight in the matters that had been made known to them.
13 On the second day of the month the family leaders#tn Heb “the heads of the fathers.” met with#tn Heb “were gathered to”; NAB, NIV “gathered around”; NRSV “came together to.” Ezra the scribe, together with all the people, the priests, and the Levites, to consider the words of the law. 14 They discovered written in the law that the lord had commanded through#tn Heb “by the hand of.” Moses that the Israelites should live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month, 15 and that they should make a proclamation and disseminate this message#tn Heb “a voice.” in all their cities and in Jerusalem:#map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4. “Go to the hill country and bring back olive branches and branches of wild olive trees, myrtle trees, date palms, and other leafy trees to construct temporary shelters, as it is written.”
16 So the people went out and brought these things#tn The words “these things” are not in the Hebrew text but have been supplied in the translation for clarity. back and constructed temporary shelters for themselves, each on his roof and in his courtyard and in the courtyards of the temple#tn Heb “the house.” of God and in the plaza of the Water Gate and the plaza of the Ephraim Gate. 17 So all the assembly which had returned from the exile constructed temporary shelters and lived in them. The Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day. Everyone experienced very great joy.#tn Heb “And there was very great joy.” 18 Ezra#tn Heb “He”; the referent (Ezra) has been specified in the translation for clarity. read in the book of the law of God day by day, from the first day to the last.#tn Heb “the last day.” They observed the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day they held an assembly#tn Heb “on the eighth day an assembly.” The words “they held” have been supplied in the translation for clarity. as was required.#tn Heb “according to the judgment.”