The penitential worship of Yahweh (Neh 9:1-9:4)

“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads. Then those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their ancestors. They stood up in their place. They read from the book of the law of Yahweh their God for a fourth part of the day. For another fourth, they made confession and worshiped Yahweh their God. Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the stairs of the Levites. They cried with a loud voice to Yahweh their God.”

The traditional penitential posture was fasting and sackcloth, which was the cheap cloth that things were bundled in. This seems to have been separated from Yom Kippur, but nevertheless much like it. They separated themselves from all foreigners. Then they stood and confessed their own sins as well as the evils of their ancestors. A quarter of the day they were confessing sins and then a quarter of the day they were reading or listening to a reading from the book of the law of Yahweh. 8 of them stood on the Levite steps and cried out to Yahweh. 3 of them were the people who helped explain the law in the preceding chapter, Jeshua, Bani, and Sherebiah. In fact, Bani is mentioned twice, while the others are from the ancestral Levite families that returned. Chenani is only one mentioned here and nowhere else.

Reading from the book of Moses (Neh 8:4-8:8)

“The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had made for this purpose. Beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand. Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam stood on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people. He was above all the people. When he opened it all the people stood up. Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God! All the people answered. ‘Amen, Amen!’ They lifted up their hands. Then they bowed their heads as they worshiped Yahweh with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform or tower so that they could hear and see him. This was similar to the special bronze platform of King Solomon in 2 Chronicles, chapter 6.   He had 6 people on his right side and 7 on his left side. Of the 6 on the right side Maaseiah will be also one of those instructing the people. All the others just appear here although there are numerous other biblical people with the same names. On the left side, Pedaiah, Malchijah, and Meshullam had helped with the wall. Hashum and Zechariah were from important returning families, while very little is known about Mishael and Hashbaddanah. He opened the book, probably the Book of Deuteronomy, but it is not clear. Everyone stood up as he opened the book, much like Roman Catholics stand for the reading of the Gospel of Jesus. There was the great ‘Amen’ at the end of Ezra’s blessing of Yahweh. They lifted up their hands to pray and then bowed their heads to the ground, much like the Muslim prayer position. There was another group who helped the people to understand the law. They seem to be important Levite family members, especially Jeshua, Bani, Azariah, and Hanan. Only Jamin appears here and nowhere else, while Akkub was a gatekeeper. They gave an interpretation of the law so that the people could understand it. Some commentators indicate that this might have been a translation into Aramaic, since the book was written in Hebrew. However, it could have been a commentary also.

 

The list of Levites returning (Neh 7:43-7:45)

“The Levites who were the descendents of Jeshua, namely descendents of Kadmiel, the descendents of Hodevah, were seventy-four. The singers, who were the descendents of Asaph, were one hundred forty-eight. The gatekeepers, who were the descendents of Shallum, the descendents of Ater, the descendents of Talmon, the descendents of Akkub, the descendents of Hatita, the descendents of Shobai, were one hundred thirty-eight.”

There were only 3 groups of Levites, the people of Jeshua, the people of Kadmiel, and the people of Hodevah, or Hodaviah as in Ezra, with a total of 74, the same as in Ezra, chapter 2. The singers of the Asaph group had 148 rather than the 128 people in Ezra. The gatekeepers have a major role with 6 different groups. Shallum, Talmon, and Akkub and their families had been gatekeepers since the time of King David. On the other hand, the descendents of Ater, Hatita, and Shobai only appear at this time after the exile. Nevertheless, they only had a total of 138 and not 139 people as in Ezra. Somebody got lost.

The list of priests returning (Neh 7:39-7:42)

“The priests who were the descendents of Jedaiah, namely the house of Jeshua, were nine hundred seventy-three. The descendents of Immer were one thousand fifty-two. The descendents of Pashhur were one thousand two hundred forty-seven. The descendents of Harim were one thousand seventeen.”

Once again, this list is very similar to that found in Ezra, chapter 2. There are only 4 groups of priests rather than 24 that where in 1 Chronicles, chapter 24. However, there numbers are very large and the same as in Ezra. The Jedaiah group, that was the 2nd division, had 973 people. The Immer group, that was the 16th division, had 1,052 people. The Pashhur group had 1,247 people.   However, the descendents of Harim were mentioned in a larger number here and in Ezra, 1,017 rather than the 320 in the Harim group in the preceding paragraph.  


The leaders who left Babylon with Zerubbabel (Neh 7:6-7:7)

“I found the following written in it. These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, and Baanah.”

This is very similar to Ezra, chapter 2. Most of the 12 people named, that is 7, are exactly the same people as in the beginning of chapter 2 of Ezra, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Bigvai, and Baanah. These exiles were lead by Zerubbabel. Jeshua was the head of the priests. This Nehemiah is not the Nehemiah writing this book. Mordecai played a major role in the Book of Esther, so that it is hard to believe that this is the same person here. Bilshan is only mentioned in these listings. The family of Bigvai will sign a covenant. It is hard to tell the role of Baanah. The other 4 named may be variations of the same name. Azariah may be the same as Seraiah. Raamiah may be Reelaiah. Mispereth may be Mispar, and Nehum may be Rehum. That leaves only Nahamani as a new person. These exiles supposedly returned to their own towns. According to 2 Kings, the poor people were not taken into captivity.

The list of the guilty priests (Ezra 10:18-10:22)

“There were found among the descendents of the priests those who had married foreign women. There were Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah, who were the descendents of Jeshua son of Jozadak and his brothers. They pledged themselves to send away their wives. Their guilt offering was a ram of the flock for their guilt. There were the descendents of Immer, Hanani and Zebadiah. There were the descendents of Harim, Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah. There were the descendents of Pashhur, Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.”

These priests had to offer a ram as guilt or sin offering. There were 4 groups of priests consisting of about 16 listed priests who had married foreigners. They pledged to send their wives away to some unknown place.

The prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1-5:2)

“Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set out to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. With them were the prophets of God, helping them.”

Haggai and Zechariah are the names of prophetic books of the Bible. So unlike Isaiah and, Jeremiah, they are known as part of the 12 Minor Prophets. Now we are back to Zerubbabel and Jeshua as in chapter 3 and the building of the foundation of the Temple. These two prophets were now helping and encouraging them to build the Temple. It appears that those objections in the preceding chapter may have come after the start of the rebuilding of the Temple since those objections were about the wall of Jerusalem, rather than the Temple itself.

The planners for the foundation of the Temple (Ezra 3:8-3:9)

“In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak made a beginning. Together with the rest of their people, the priests, the Levites, and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity, they began work on the house of God at Jerusalem. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of Yahweh. Jeshua with his sons and his kinsmen, Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and Hodaviah, along with the sons of Henadad, these Levites, their sons and kinsmen took charge of the workers in the house of God.”

Clearly this is the 2nd year after the big assembly, which would put it under King Cyrus. They put various Levites in charge of building the foundation. Once again, this was led by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, just as in the previous year. Working in conjunction with the other returnees, they began to plan the foundation of the Temple. The Levites, over 20 years old, were to be in charge of this activity. The leaders would be Jeshua and his family, Kadmiel and Hodaviah were the leading Levites as mentioned in the previous chapter. Binnui and Henadad are new names not mentioned before this.

The list of the Levites returning (Ezra 2:40-2:42)

“The Levites were the descendents of Jeshua and Kadmiel, and the descendents of Hodaviah, seventy-four. The singers were the descendents of Asaph, one hundred twenty-eight. The descendents of the gatekeepers were the descendents of Shallum, the descendents of Ater, the descendents of Talmon, the descendents of Akkub, the descendents of Hatita, and the descendents of Shobai, in all one hundred thirty-nine.”

There were only 3 groups of Levites, the people of Jeshua, the people of Kadmiel, and the people of Hodaviah, with a mere total of 74. The singers of the Asaph group had 128 people. The gatekeepers had a major role with 6 different groups. Shallum, Talmon, and Akkub and their families had been gatekeepers since the time of King David. On the other hand, the descendents of Ater, Hatita, and Shobai only appear at this time after the exile. Nevertheless, they only had a total of 139 people with nothing to guard.

The leaders of the exiles (Ezra 2:1-2:2)

“Now these were the people of the province who came from those captive exiles whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, all to their own towns. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.”

These people were captured by King Nebuchadnezzar around 582 BCE. This return is around 537 BCE so that some of these people may have still been living. Although the prophet Jeremiah had predicted 70 years, that might include the years of the first attack. These exiles supposedly returned to their own towns. According to 2 Kings, the poor people had stayed there. These exiles were lead by Zerubbabel. There is a dispute about whether he is the same person named earlier Sheshbazzar. More likely, they were 2 different people. He might have been the governor later under King Darius. Jeshua was the head of the priests, even though he was born in Babylon. This Nehemiah is not the Nehemiah mentioned in the book with this name. There were 10 other people with the name of Seraiah. This is the only mention of Reelaiah, Bilshan, and Mispar. Mordecai played a major role in the Book of Esther, so that it is hard to believe that this is the same person. The family of Bigvai will sign a covenant. Rehum may have been some kind of lieutenant governor. It is hard to tell the role of Baanah.