NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 10
Israel’s Oath of Faithfulness (Continued)
– ESV Study Bible notes, “The long list of those who put their names to the covenant is designed to show that the entire community- priests, Levites, and lay leaders- was wholeheartedly behind it. These are prominent people in the community; many of their names have appeared before in Nehemiah (esp in vv. 20-27; see also ch 3).”
– The following names were on the sealed document:
– Nehemiah the governor, who was Hakaliah’s son.
– The following priests: Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malkijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluk, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, and Shemaiah.
– The following Levites: Jeshua, who was Azaniah’s son; Binnui, who was of Henadad’s sons; Kadmiel. And their fellow Levites: Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Mika, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zakkur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Bani, and Beninu.
– The following leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-Moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, Malluk, Harim, and Baanah.
– “The rest of the people- priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants, and all of those who separated themselves from the surrounding peoples because of the Law of God, along with their wives, their sons and daughters, all of whom are able to understand- hereby participate with their fellow Israelites, the leaders, and enter into a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through God’s servant Moses, and to obey all the commands, ordinances, and statutes of Yahweh our Lord.
– ESV Study Bible writes, “The people essentially undertake to keep the entire Mosaic law. The enumeration of laws is selective, however, highlighting major issues of their day. The range of those who solemnly agreed to the covenant is now widened to include all groups in the community. The two expressions [a curse and an oath] convey together the people’s serious intention to keep their commitment. The ‘curse’ refers to some terrible penalty, perhaps performed as a ritual, that they accept as their due if they fail (see 1 Kings 19:2; Jer 34:18).”
The Obligations of the Covenant
– “We will not give our daughters in marriage to the surrounding peoples and we will not take their daughters as wives for our sons. When the surrounding peoples bring merchandise or any kind of grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or a holy day. Every 7th year we will let the land lie uncultivated and cancel all debts owed to us. We also take upon ourselves the obligation to give an eighth of an ounce of silver annually for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain and burnt offerings, for the Sabbath offerings, for the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals, for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the duties of the house of our God.
– On the addition of the annual tax of 1/8th of an ounce of silver ESV Study Bible points out, “No Pentateuchal law requires this tax, so it is a new commitment…The purpose is to support the service of the house of God…”
*** Time Out ***
– Verse 31 is very interesting because, as many sources note, none of the Sabbath passages in the Torah explicitly prohibit trading on the Sabbath. This is fascinating to me as an individual who grew up in a Saturday Sabbath keeping sect. In these types of sects, Sabbath is set forth as a command that predates the giving of the Mosaic Law, the observance of which they allege was required since Adam and Eve. It is true that Sabbath observance is mentioned prior to Moses’ receiving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, but only just prior, in Exodus 20 when Moses instructs the Israelites not to gather manna on the Sabbath day. Prior to that occasion, there is absolutely nothing mentioned about how one was to observe a Sabbath, nor any mention of any patriarch engaged in observing it. Those Torah passages are Ex 20:8-11 and Deut 5:12- 15. One would think that Scripture would include detailed instructions for how to properly observe a command considered to be of supreme importance, that had pre-existed the Law, and which had been observed since the time of Adam and Eve. Yet, there is nothing.
– Some commentaries indicate that this new rule mentioned here in Nehemiah 10 was just a “natural expansion” of the original Sabbath command. Maybe so, but that insinuates Sabbath observance instructions that were somewhat in flux over time. Also, anyone familiar with the legalistic pitfalls of the NT group known as the Pharisees, with whom Jesus was often butting heads, will realize that additions that were considered to be “natural expansions” of original Mosaic commands, which they subsequently elevated to the status of original Mosaic Law, was a major problem.
– As Arnold Fruchtenbaum points out, these expansions were considered a fence around the Law to insulate the community from breaking an actual Mosaic Law. The purpose of this fence was to hopefully avoid transgression of the actual Law, which would result in divine judgment. The idea was: one may cross the line on one of these expansions of the Law, but the problematic behavior will be dealt with quickly and prohibit the individual from breaking an actual Mosaic Law, thus avoiding judgment on the community. The interested reader may refer to Fruchtenbaum’s insightful series on Jesus’ Sabbath Controversies with the Pharisees for additional information.)
– So, if Sabbath observance rules evolve over time, where in Scripture is this variable property mentioned? Even more importantly, who announces and institutes such a change? Does it come from Yahweh through a prophet such as Ezra, as it appears to here in Nehemiah? Scripture offers no clue.
– Bible Odyssey’s article titled “Sabbath“ provides the following discussion from an OT perspective, and culturally Jewish perspective drawing on texts from the Second Temple period:
– “In most texts, proper observance of the Sabbath is linked to resting or to abstention from work on the seventh day…Specifically, what does it mean to rest from work? Biblical texts offer few details except that work includes kindling a fire (Exod 35:3), gathering food (Exod 16) or sticks (Num 15:32), and carrying burdens, especially through city gates (Jer 17:21). Other texts add performing business transactions to the list of prohibited work (Amos 8:5; Neh 10:31; Neh 13:15-19). However, these details do not begin to cover all the activities of everyday life. Later traditions of the Second Temple and rabbinic periods fill in the blanks. For example, the book of Jubilees offers more detailed instructions for observing the Sabbath, including the requirements to abstain from preparing food and drink or drawing water from a well (Jub. 2.24.17- 33).”
– I was surprised to find the following resource from a group that believes that the Saturday Sabbath command still applies to New Covenant believers which mentions that it very much seems like there was not universal agreement among Jews neither during the time period at hand, nor prior to it, on what proper protocol for Sabbath observance entailed! TorahClass writes:
– “There is NOTHING here in Exodus (nor in Deuteronomy) that directly addresses the issue of buying and selling, either as regards Hebrews or non-Hebrews. However the implication is quite heavy that this shouldn’t occur because it would certainly seem that buying and selling was the result of normal work and thus not to be done. Obviously this was not a matter of universal agreement in Nehemiah’s day (or before) and I can tell you that it still isn’t even among religious Jews today. However, probably as interpreted by Ezra, it was determined that buying and selling was normal work; and that it had been a usual practice for Jews to buy from and sell to non-Jews even on Shabbat. Now, however, this was deemed to be a violation of the Torah Law concerning Sabbath.”
– I know that none of this actually answers our initial questions. I’m unaware of a source that offers a solution. At the very least, perhaps this sheds some light on why details of Sabbath observance could have been a complicated topic in Jesus’ day.
– “We- the priests, the Levites, and the people- have cast lots to determine when, at regular times each year, each of our ancestral families will bring a contribution of wood to be burned on the altar of Yahweh our God, as it is written in the Law.
– NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Because the fire on the altar burned continually (Lev 6:12), a good deal of wood was used. The Gibeonites provided it at an earlier time (Josh 9:27), but now it was a joint responsibility.”
– “We also assume responsibility for bringing the firstfruits of our land and the firstfruits of every fruit tree year by year to Yahweh’s house. As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons, firstborn of our cattle, and firstborn of our herds, and firstborn of our flocks to the house of God, to the priests ministering there. We will also bring the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of every tree, of new wine, and of olive oil to the priests at the storerooms of the house of our God. And we will bring a tenth of our land’s produce to the Levites, because the Levites are the ones who collect the tithes in all the cities where we work. A priest of Aaronic descent must accompany the Levites when they collect the tithes, and they are to bring a tenth of the tithes to the storerooms of the treasury in the house of our God. The Israelites and the Levites are to bring the contributions of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the storerooms where the sanctuary utensils are kept, which is near where the ministering priests, the gatekeepers, and the singers stay. We will not neglect our God’s house.”
– ESV Study Bible notes, “These verses summarize the agricultural offerings made to supply the temple personnel, as specified in various Pentateuchal laws (e.g., Ex 23:19; 34:26; Num 18:12-13; Deut 26:1-11). The offerings were not always paid (see Neh 13:10).” On the firstborn of their sons, the same source clarifies, “In fact, these were ‘redeemed’ by sacrifice (Ex 13:13; 34:20).”
– NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Offerings from the community provided for the priests and Levites, who had no allocations of agricultural land and no means of providing for themselves. These provisions came from the first part of every harvest [firstruits]…, the redemption money of five shekels paid for the oldest sons and the firstborn of all the herds and flocks…, as well as a tenth of everything…The Levites collected the tithes: in all…rural towns and sent a tenth of that collection to the Temple in Jerualem (see Num 18:25-32).”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “The law decreed that a tenth of the plant crops was holy to the Lord…There is no reference here to a tithe of cattle (as in Lev 27:32-33; cf 2 Chr 31:6). Early in the fifth century BC, the prophet Malachi accused Israelites of robbing God by withholding tithes and offerings (Mal 3:8). Tithes were originally meant for the support of the Levites (Neh 13:10-12; Num 18:21-32). A tithe of their tithe was to go to the priests. But we know from Josephus that later on the priests collected the tithes for themselves. Because the tithe was originally expressed in terms of agricultural produce, the burden of the tithe fell disproportionately on farmers.”