Nehemiah 7-9

Nehemiah 7:1-2 when the wall was build… the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed

Ezra had previously reappointed the porters, singers, and Levites (Ezra 7:24).  They are the temple workers:  the ushers, the Temple Choir, and the worker bees.  Ezra and Nehemiah were key actors in the Restoration—the Restoration of the gospel after the Babylonian captivity.  They had a lot of work to do:  to re-establish temple worship, to read the law to the people and teach them, and to re-establish the traditions that should have been in place since the Law of Moses was first given.  These include the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Feast of Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks). (Ezra 3:4-5) Jerusalem was in the Restoration phase of the Apostasy/Restoration cycle.

Nehemiah 7:5 I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first

Nehemiah knew he was doing something great—that he was leaving a legacy that subsequent generations would look back upon.  That is one reason to include the genealogy of Ezra 2.  Another reason was political.  The surrounding nations including the Samaritans had caused quite a bit of havoc.  The Samaritans had a way of claiming all the privileges of the Israelite heritage and temple worship but their lineage had been polluted.  Focusing on the genealogy was a way of weeding out the imposters.  The temple recommend question of the day was, “Are you a true descendant of Israel?”  The genealogy would help the fledgling group establish that.

By Jesus day, the idea of a pure lineage became a problem, a bragging right of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Hence the John the Baptist warned, “think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:9).  Paul warned, “neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies” because they are not edifying (1 Tim. 1:4).

Well, it wasn’t that fun to read Ezra’s copy of the genealogy.  Nehemiah’s copy, though slightly different, is no more edifying.  The take home message is that the original pioneer group was 42,360 plus servants and animals. Got it!

Nehemiah 8:2 Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation

Welcome back Ezra!  Now we know for sure that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries and knew each other.  Ezra and his group of pioneers date to the 7th year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:1-6); Nehemiah dates to the 20th year of Artaxerxes, just 13 years apart.  Now that Nehemiah has established himself as a new leader of the people, having completed the wall, he turns to Ezra the scribe and priest to teach the people the law.

Joseph Smith

Some say the kingdom of God was not set up on the earth until the day of Pentecost… But I say, in the name of the Lord, that the kingdom of God was set up on the earth from the days of Adam to the present time, whenever there has been a righteous man (like Ezra) on earth unto whom God revealed His word and gave power and authority to administer in His name. And where there is a priest of God—a minister who has power and authority from God to administer in the ordinances of the gospel and officiate in the priesthood of God—there is the kingdom of God. And, in consequence of rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Prophets whom God hath sent, the judgments of God have rested upon people, cities, and nations, in various ages of the world. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 271)

Nehemiah 8:3 the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law

What if you took the scriptures away from the members of the church?  What if there were only a few copies of the Book of Mormon which were kept by the Brethren?  Instead of having a church full of scriptorians, you would have people who only know the culture of Mormonism, not the underlying principles. (Actually, there are a lot of those in the church).  The end result is apostasy.  When the Jews re-establish Jerusalem, the temple, and the walls, they are starting over—a Restoration with priesthood authority and pioneers willing to brave difficult circumstances.  But they can’t read the scriptures daily like we can.  If nobody reads the law to them, how are they supposed to understand it?

Back in the days of King Josiah, about 40 years before the Babylonian Captivity, the priest Hilkiah found the book of the Law and presented it to Josiah.  Unbelievably, it was as if there was only one copy of the scriptures and priests had lost track of it!  When “the king had heard the words of the law… he rent his clothes,” because for the first time, he understood the will of the Lord through the Law.  He finally understood that “our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord” as commanded and as a result, the Jews had suffered “all the curses that are written in the book” (2 Chron. 34:14-28). What did he do?  The same thing that Nehemiah and Ezra are doing—“he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments” (2 Chron. 23:30-31).

Now we see how important it was for Nephi to have a copy of the brass plates!  We see how important it was to kill Laban if necessary to obtain them!  With the scriptures, Nephi and his children kept the Law of Moses, but they were able to “talk of Christ… rejoice in Christ… preach of Christ…that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:26, see also 1 Ne. 3:19-20).

Nehemiah 8:7-8 Jeshua… caused the people to understand the law… and gave the sense… [of] the reading

Many have declared that the scriptures are more important than scriptural commentaries.  We couldn’t agree more, but at some point, somebody has to explain what they mean?  Most people can’t just pick up the scriptures and understand them.  Ezra’s audience is no different.  They can’t hear the reading of the Law and immediately comprehend it.  Hence the value of commentaries (such as the one you are reading).  Jeshua (i.e. Joshua or in the Greek, Jesus) and company take the time to explain the meaning of the scriptures to the people.

Once upon a time, there was a man, a “eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians.”  He was sitting in his chariot reading Isaiah, when the Lord inspired Philip to go talk to him.  And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?  And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him… Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” (Acts 8:27-39)

“The only justification for a commentary on the scriptures is an expanded understanding of holy writ and of the manner in which its teachings apply in our lives. To proceed on any other basis, no matter how interesting the material presented, is to create a spiritual eclipse or to upstage the divine message with something that by its very nature is of lesser importance… The scriptures themselves direct us to "teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom" (D&C 88:77).

“The issue is not whether we should have commentary on the scripture; indeed, much of our scripture is commentary by one prophet upon the words of another. (In large measure, the Book of Mormon is a commentary on the teachings of Bible prophets.) Rather, the issue is what commentary is of greatest worth, and where we ought to center our attention. The obvious answer to that question is the saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987-1992], 1: xv)

Nehemiah 8:9 all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law

Why all the weeping and mourning?  The Jews didn’t realize how far they were from the Law of Moses; they didn’t fully realize that their history of destruction and Babylonian captivity were exactly according to the promises in Deuteronomy 28.  The Lord had warned them, but they had not heeded the warning.

However, this was the good kind of sorrow, the kind that leads to repentance (see Mormon 2:13).  And the Lord is so merciful and ready to forgive that He inspires the priests and Levites to encourage the people:“mourn not, nor weep.”

Gordon B. Hinckley

There are occasionally hard days for each of us. Do not despair. Do not give up. Look for the sunlight through the clouds. Opportunities will eventually open to you. Do not let the prophets of gloom endanger your possibilities (from Ensign, Apr. 1986, 4–5)

The Lord has said: “Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made” (D&C 25:13).

I believe He is saying to each of us, be happy. The gospel is a thing of joy. It provides us with a reason for gladness. Of course there are times of sorrow. Of course there are hours of concern and anxiety. We all worry. But the Lord has told us to lift our hearts and rejoice. I see so many people … who seem never to see the sunshine, but who constantly walk with storms under cloudy skies. Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Walk with faith, rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart concerning things divine (from Ensign, Nov. 1984, 91–92). (

Nehemiah 8:10 this day is holy unto our Lord

Holidays give us time to celebrate.  Excepting Easter and Christmas, our holidays are spent in secular pursuits and secular celebrations.  In Israel, there was no such thing as a secular holiday.  All holidays were religious.  The origin of the word holiday comes from holy-day.  Hence, the Levites teach us, “this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The crowd is gathered in the 7th month of the Hebrew calendar (Neh. 8:2) which is approximately the beginning of November.  They have just read the Law which speaks of celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacles in the 7th month (Lev. 23:33-44).  It was their Thanksgiving holiday—a time to celebrate blessings including a bountiful harvest, the goodness of God, and the successful migration of the Israelites through the Sinai wilderness in tents or booths.  They realized it was time to celebrate this feast as commanded by Moses.

Nehemiah 8:13-18  The Reinstitution of the Feast of Tabernacles

Maybe you don’t really care about the Feast of Tabernacles.  So what if they forgot to celebrate it from the days of Joshua to the days of Nehemiah—a span of 750 years!  If you think of the Feast of Tabernacles as the same holiday as Thanksgiving, then it seems like a big oversight!  In addition, you might care to know that the Feast of Tabernacles was important in the days of Jesus as one of the big three feasts that every “faithful” Jew was to celebrate in Jerusalem if at all possible. The Feast might seem more important if you consider that it will be practiced in the Millennium (Zech. 14:16-19).  You might be fascinated to know that the Feast of Tabernacles, as practiced in the Millennium was shown to Peter, James, and John during their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration (D&C 63:21), which explains Peter’s unusual suggestion when the vision concluded, “let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Matt. 17:4). 

It will be a big Millennial holiday, almost like a camping trip where everyone lives in tents for a week. You can camp in your own backyard if you wish, “the people… made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street,” wherever you can find a good spot. That is the idea.  You may not like camping very much, but the Jews enjoyed it, “there was very great gladness” from keeping the Feast.

The Levites recount the history of Israel

History repeats itself, especially when it is forgotten.  It is said, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.”  Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying, "That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history."  Well, the Levites have a story to tell.  It is the story of God’s dealings with Abraham and his children.  The complete story is longer than their oral version, but it always includes the part about Pharaoh, the Red Sea, and the destruction of the Egyptian army. 

Nephi reminded his brothers of the same story because they lacked faith (1 Ne. 4:2; 1 Ne. 17:23-43).  Stephen would repeat the same story to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7).  In both cases, whether Laman and Lemuel plotting the death of their father, or the Elders of Stephen’s day conspiring against the Son of God, history was repeating itself.  The Levites said, our fathers “were disobedient, and rebelled against thee… and slew thy prophets” (v. 26).  Nephi told Laman and Lemuel, “ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them” (meaning the fathers, 1 Ne. 17:44).  Stephen was ruthless with the Sanhedrin, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.  Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:51-52).

Nehemiah 9:21 that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not

Camping for 40 years in an Arabian wilderness?  How is it possible that “they lacked nothing”?  From our perspective, running water, hot showers, free wifi are all necessary requirements for us to feel like we “lacked nothing.”  What about room service?  Would we be satisfied with manna and quail for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  Yet, the Lord took care of their needs in miraculous ways.  Moses reminded them,

   God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. 

   And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna… that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the lord doth man live. 

   Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. (Deut.  7:2-4)

Nehemiah 9:27 thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies

The history of the Israelites inheriting Canaan is a violent one.  After 40 years in the wilderness, they were commanded to wipe out the wicked peoples who inhabited the land. Nephi wondered how this violence could be the Lord’s will.  And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land (i.e. the Canaanites), who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.  Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.  Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people (the Canaanites) had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fullness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it… And he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked.” (1 Ne. 17:33-37)

So the Israelites inherited the land of Canaan.  They made a lot of enemies in the process; enemies who shortly thereafter sought revenge upon Israel.  The Book of Judges should be named the Book of Saviors because it recounts all the military heroes which kept Israel safe during the ensuing years(Judges 2:16).  This is what is meant by the Levites statement, “thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.” 

The first deliverer was Othniel (Judges 3:9), the next was Ehud (Judges 3:15). The prophetess Deborah was both judge and deliverer (Judges 4-5).  Gideon became famous for beating the Midianites with a small band of 300 men (Judges 6-9). Jephthah defeated the Ammonites, (Judges 11).  The most famous of all is probably Samson, who fought against the Philistines killing a thousand with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15).  All of these saviors, these deliverers, were famous for their military prowess.  Their strength came from the Lord, but the tradition of a savior was a military tradition.  When the Messiah came as the great Deliverer, the ultimate Savior, the expectation was an overthrow of Roman authority in the tradition of Gideon, Samson, etc.  The Lord’s delivering and saving power was spiritual not temporal.  The long awaited political and military deliverance is still coming, but the Jews must wait until the Second Coming to see it.

Nehemiah 9:32 our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God… thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly

At times we lament the sorrow of mortality.  Some have asked how God could allow terrible things to happen to them.  Satan convinces others that no God would allow such wickedness to prevail.  The logical conclusion, they surmise, is there is no God after all.  When we begin to throw ourselves a pity party, we must remember that we are never justified in blaming God.  He is careful to make sure that we come to the opposite conclusion—that He is just in all that we have suffered.  He has done right; we have done wickedly.  We have received the just rewards of our deeds. At the last day, the conclusion will be “God is just. I deserved it.  I understand now. It all makes sense in retrospect.”  In other words, “when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God… that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye” (Mosiah 27:31).