Nehemiah 10 Study Notes
10:2-8 This list is similar to the listing of the priests who “went up with Zerubbabel” (12:1), although it contains some alternative spellings and minor textual corruption. None of the priests alive in Zerubbabel’s time would have been present here, suggesting again that these are not the names of living people but the names of the founders of priestly divisions.
10:14-27 The list of the heads of the people (Hb ra’she ha‘am) likewise appears to list both family names and individual signers. The first half (vv. 14-19) generally matches the names of the returnees in the list of Ezr 2 and Neh 7; the second half mentions people assigned to rebuild specific sections of the wall in Neh 3.
10:28-29 Once the document was completed, the rest of the people had the opportunity to participate in the great event. This sworn oath first dealt broadly with obedience to God demonstrated in obedience to the law of God given through God’s servant Moses. The particular areas of compliance to the law are then specified in vv. 30-39.
10:30-39 These commands and prohibitions, prescribed in six crucial areas, are not just quotations from throughout the Pentateuch but are an integration and application of the law to the present conditions. In some cases the OT laws are given greater specification or are broadened and applied to Israel’s new circumstances. What is clear is the presupposition of the absolute authority of law as God’s revelation and the presupposition of its applicability to every generation.
10:31a The law forbade any type of work on the Sabbath, but in Nehemiah’s time, living in a multicultural situation, the question about buying from non-Israelites on the Sabbath came up. Here the prohibition is extended to the new cultural situation.
10:31b The pledge here is unique in that it brings together two ordinances not originally combined. The law commanding the land to remain fallow on the seventh year (Ex 23:10-11) is linked with the remission of all debts on the seventh year (Dt 15:1-6).
10:32-33 In Ex 30:11-16 Moses was commanded to collect a half shekel from every male twenty years old or older. The passage does not describe this as an annual taxation. However, in King Joash’s time when the temple was being restored, the taxation of the people for the upkeep of the temple was assumed to be an annual occurrence (2Ch 24:4-6). It is not clear why in this passage the temple tax was only a third of a shekel rather than the normal half shekel. Since there was not uniformity between monetary systems, it may be that the shekel in Nehemiah’s time was more valuable than in earlier times.
10:34 The OT law commanded that “fire must be kept burning on the altar continually; it must not go out” (Lv 6:13). This required a lot of wood in a country not known for its forests. Thus the priests, Levites, and lay people shared the responsibility for providing wood.
10:35-39 The sixth and final obligation to which the Jews pledged themselves was to give the first and the best to God. This included the firstfruits of every fruit tree, a specification not found in OT law but a logical extension of the idea of giving the “firstfruits of [the] land” (Ex 23:19). Just as they brought the firstfruits (Hb bikkurim) of the land, so they brought the firstborn (Hb bekoroth) of their sons and livestock. Their sons (and the unclean livestock) would be redeemed (Ex 13:13; Lv 27:27) by a monetary payment (or the substitution of a clean animal for an unclean one), while the firstborn of a clean animal was offered to the priests. A tenth of the agricultural produce was given to the Levites, who in turn gave a tenth of the tenth to the temple. To ensure the proper allocation of these gifts and tenths, a priest from Aaron’s descendants was required to accompany the Levites when they accepted these donations (v. 38), a stipulation not found elsewhere in the OT.