Nehemiah - Introduction


      The Pentateuch, the name by which the first five books of theBible are designated, is derived from two Greek words, pente, "five," andteuchos, a "volume," thus signifying the fivefold volume. Originallythese books formed one continuous work, as in the Hebrew manuscripts they are stillconnected in one unbroken roll. At what time they were divided into five portions, eachhaving a separate title, is not known, but it is certain that the distinction dates at orbefore the time of the Septuagint translation. The names they bear in our Englishversion are borrowed from the Septuagint, and they were applied by those Greektranslators as descriptive of the principal subjects--the leading contents of therespective books. In the later Scriptures they are frequently comprehended under thegeneral designation, The Law, The Book of the Law, since, to give a detailedaccount of the preparations for, and the delivery of, the divine code, with all the civiland sacred institutions that were peculiar to the ancient economy, is the object to whichthey are exclusively devoted. They have always been placed at the beginning of the Bible,not only on account of their priority in point of time, but as forming an appropriate andindispensable introduction to the rest of the sacred books. The numerous and oft-recurringreferences made in the later Scriptures to the events, the ritual, and the doctrines ofthe ancient Church would have not only lost much of their point and significance, but havebeen absolutely unintelligible without the information which these five books contain.They constitute the groundwork or basis on which the whole fabric of revelation rests, anda knowledge of the authority and importance that is thus attached to them willsufficiently account for the determined assaults that infidels have made on these books,as well as for the zeal and earnestness which the friends of the truth have displayed intheir defense.

      The Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch is established by theconcurring voices both of Jewish and Christian tradition; and their unanimous testimony issupported by the internal character and statements of the work itself. That Moses did keepa written record of the important transactions relative to the Israelites is attested byhis own express affirmation. For in relating the victory over the Amalekites, which he wascommanded by divine authority to record, the language employed, "write this for amemorial in a book" [Hebrew, the book], ( Exodus 17:14 ), shows that thatnarrative was to form part of a register already in progress, and various circumstancescombine to prove that this register was a continuous history of the special goodness andcare of divine providence in the choice, protection, and guidance of the Hebrew nation.First, there are the repeated assertions of Moses himself that the events which checkeredthe experience of that people were written down as they occurred (see Exodus 24:4-7 ; 34:27 ; Numbers 33:2 ). Secondly, there arethe testimonies borne in various parts of the later historical books to the Pentateuch asa work well known, and familiar to all the people (see Joshua 1:8 ; 23:6 ; 24:26 ; 1 Kings 2:3 , &c.) Thirdly,frequent references are made in the works of the prophets to the facts recorded in thebooks of Moses (compare Isaiah 1:9 with Genesis 19:1 ; Isaiah 12:2 with Exodus 15:2 ; Isaiah 51:2 with Genesis 12:2 ; Isaiah 54:9 with Genesis 8:21 Genesis 8:22 ; compare Hosea 9:10 with Numbers 25:3 ; Hosea 11:8 with Genesis 19:24 ; Hosea 12:4 with Genesis 32:24 Genesis 32:25 ; Hosea 12:12 with Genesis 28:5 ; 29:20 ; compare Joel 1:9 with Numbers 15:4-7 ; 28:7-14 ; Deuteronomy 12:6 Deuteronomy 12:7 ; Deuteronomy 16:10 Deuteronomy 11 ; compare Amos 2:9 with Numbers 21:21 ; Amos 4:4 with Numbers 28:3 ; Amos 4:11 with Genesis 19:24 ; Amos 9:13 with Leviticus 26:5 ; compare Micah 6:5 with Numbers 22:25 ; Micah 6:6 with Leviticus 9:2 ; Micah 6:15 with Leviticus 26:16 , &c.)Fourthly, the testimony of Christ and the Apostles is repeatedly borne to the books ofMoses ( Matthew 19:7 ; Luke 16:29 ; 24:27 ; John 1:17 ; 7:19 ; Acts 3:22 ; 28:23 ; Romans 10:5 ). Indeed the referencesare so numerous, and the testimonies so distinctly borne to the existence of the Mosaicbooks throughout the whole history of the Jewish nation, and the unity of character,design, and style pervading these books is so clearly perceptible, notwithstanding therationalistic assertions of their forming a series of separate and unconnected fragments,that it may with all safety be said, there is immensely stronger and more varied evidencein proof of their being the authorship of Moses than of any of the Greek or Roman classicsbeing the productions of the authors whose names they bear. But admitting that thePentateuch was written by Moses, an important question arises, as to whether the bookswhich compose it have reached us in an authentic form; whether they exist genuine andentire as they came from the hands of their author. In answer to this question, it mightbe sufficient to state that, in the public and periodical rehearsals of the law in thesolemn religious assemblies of the people, implying the existence of numerous copies,provision was made for preserving the integrity of "The Book of the Law." Butbesides this, two remarkable facts, the one of which occurred before and the other afterthe captivity, afford conclusive evidence of the genuineness and authenticity of thePentateuch. The first is the discovery in the reign of Josiah of the autograph copy whichwas deposited by Moses in the ark of the testimony, and the second is the schism of theSamaritans, who erected a temple on Mount Gerizim, and who, appealing to the Mosaic law asthe standard of their faith and worship equally with the Jews, watched with jealous careover every circumstance that could affect the purity of the Mosaic record. There is thestrongest reason, then, for believing that the Pentateuch, as it exists now, issubstantially the same as it came from the hands of Moses. The appearance of a later hand,it is true, is traceable in the narrative of the death of Moses at the close ofDeuteronomy, and some few interpolations, such as inserting the altered names of places,may have been made by Ezra, who revised and corrected the version of the ancientScriptures. But, substantially, the Pentateuch is the genuine work of Moses, and many, whoonce impugned its claims to that character, and looked upon it as the production of alater age, have found themselves compelled, after a full and unprejudiced investigation ofthe subject, to proclaim their conviction that its authenticity is to be fully relied on.

      The genuineness and authenticity of the Pentateuch being admitted,the inspiration and canonical authority of the work follow as a necessary consequence. Theadmission of Moses to the privilege of frequent and direct communion with God ( Exodus 25:22 ; 33:3 ; Numbers 7:89 ; 9:8 ); his repeated and solemndeclarations that he spoke and wrote by command of God; the submissive reverence that waspaid to the authority of his precepts by all classes of the Jewish people, including theking himself ( Deuteronomy 17:18 ; 27:3 ); and the acknowledgment ofthe divine mission of Moses by the writers of the New Testament, all prove the inspiredcharacter and authority of his books. The Pentateuch possessed the strongest claims on theattention of the Jewish people, as forming the standard of their faith, the rule of theirobedience, the record of their whole civil and religious polity. But it is interesting andimportant to all mankind, inasmuch as besides revealing the origin and early developmentof the divine plan of grace, it is the source of all authentic knowledge, giving the truephilosophy, history, geography, and chronology of the ancient world. Finally, thePentateuch "is indispensable to the whole revelation contained in the Bible; forGenesis being the legitimate preface to the law; the law being the natural introduction tothe Old Testament; and the whole a prelude to the gospel revelation, it could not havebeen omitted. What the four Gospels are in the New, the five books of Moses are in the OldTestament."

      GENESIS, the book of the origin orproduction of all things, consists of two parts: the first, comprehended in the firstthrough eleventh chapters, gives a general history; the second, contained in thesubsequent chapters, gives a special history. The two parts are essentially connected; theone, which sets out with an account of the descent of the human race from a single pair,the introduction of sin into the world, and the announcement of the scheme of divine mercyfor repairing the ruins of the fall, was necessary to pave the way for relating the other,namely, the call of Abraham, and the selection of his posterity for carrying out thegracious purpose of God. An evident unity of method, therefore, pervades this book, andthe information contained in it was of the greatest importance to the Hebrew people, aswithout it they could not have understood the frequent references made in their law to thepurposes and promises of God regarding themselves. The arguments that have been alreadyadduced as establishing the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch prove of course that Moses wasthe author of Genesis. The few passages on which the rationalists grounded theirassertions that it was the composition of a later age have been successfully shown towarrant no such conclusion; the use of Egyptian words and the minute acquaintance withEgyptian life and manners, displayed in the history of Joseph, harmonize with theeducation of Moses, and whether he received his information by immediate revelation, fromtradition, or from written documents, it comes to us as the authentic work of an authorwho wrote as he was inspired by the Holy Ghost ( 2 Peter 1:21 ).

      EXODUS, a "going forth," derivesits name from its being occupied principally with a relation of the departure of theIsraelites from Egypt, and the incidents that immediately preceded as well as followedthat memorable migration. Its authorship by Moses is distinctly asserted by himself ( Exodus 24:4 ), as well as by ourLord ( Mark 12:26 ; Luke 20:37 ). Besides, the thoroughknowledge it exhibits of the institutions and usages of the ancient Egyptians and theminute geographical details of the journey to Sinai, establish in the clearest manner theauthenticity of this book.

      LEVITICUS. So called from its treating ofthe laws relating to the ritual, the services, and sacrifices of the Jewish religion, thesuperintendence of which was entrusted to the Levitical priesthood. It is chiefly,however, the duties of the priests, "the sons of Aaron," which this bookdescribes; and its claim to be the work of Moses is established by the followingpassages:-- 2 Chronicles 30:16 ; Nehemiah 8:14 ; Jeremiah 7:22-23 ; Ezekiel 20:11 ; Matthew 8:4 ; Luke 2:22 ; John 8:5 Romans 10:4 ; 13:9 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16 ; Galatians 3:12 ; 1 Peter 1:16 .

      NUMBERS. This book is so called because itcontains an account of the enumeration and arrangement of the Israelites. The early partof it, from the first through the tenth chapters, appears to be a supplement to Leviticus,being occupied with relating the appointment of the Levites to the sacred offices. Thejournal of the march through the wilderness is then given as far as Numbers 21:20 ; after which theearly incidents of the invasion are narrated. One direct quotation only from this book ( Numbers 16:5 ) is made in the NewTestament ( 2 Timothy 2:19 ); butindirect references to it by the later sacred writers are very numerous.

      DEUTERONOMY, the second law, a titlewhich plainly shows what is the object of this book, namely, a recapitulation of the law.It was given in the form of public addresses to the people; and as Moses spoke in theprospect of his speedy removal, he enforced obedience to it by many forcible appeals tothe Israelites, concerning their long and varied experience both of the mercies and thejudgments of God. The minute notices of the heathen people with whom they had come incontact, but who afterward disappeared from the pages of history, as well as the accountsof the fertility and products of Canaan, and the counsels respecting the conquest of thatcountry, fix the date of this book and the time of its composition by the hand of Moses.The close, however, must have been added by another; and, indeed, it is supposed by someto have formed the original preface to the Book of Joshua.

      JOSHUA. The title of this book is derivedfrom the pious and valiant leader whose achievements it relates and who is commonlysupposed to have been its author. The objections to this idea are founded chiefly on theclause, "unto this day," which occurs several times ( Joshua 4:9 ; 6:25 ; 8:28 ). But this, at least in thecase of Rahab, is no valid reason for rejecting the idea of his authorship; for assumingwhat is most probable, that this book was composed toward the close of Joshua's longcareer, or compiled from written documents left by him, Rahab might have been still alive.A more simple and satisfactory way of accounting for the frequent insertion of the clause,"unto this day," is the opinion that it was a comment introduced by Ezra, whenrevising the sacred canon; and this difficulty being removed, the direct proofs of thebook having been produced by a witness of the transactions related in it, the strong andvivid descriptions of the passing scenes, and the use of the words "we" and"us," ( Joshua 5:1-6 ),viewed in connection with the fact, that, after his farewell address to the people, Joshua"wrote these words in the book of the law of God" ( Joshua 24:26 )--all afford strongpresumptive proof that the entire book was the work of that eminent individual. Itsinspiration and canonical authority are fully established by the repeated testimonies ofother Scripture writers (compare Joshua6:26 with 1 Kings 16:34 ;compare Joshua 10:13 with Habakkuk 3:11 ; Joshua 3:14 with Acts 7:45 ; Joshua 6:17-23 with Hebrews 11:30 ; Joshua 2:1-24 with James 2:25 ; Psalm 44:2 ; 68:12-14 ; 78:54-55 ). As a narrative ofGod's faithfulness in giving the Israelites possession of the promised land, this historyis most valuable, and bears the same character as a sequel to the Pentateuch, that theActs of the Apostles do to the Gospels.

      JUDGES is the title given to the next book,from its containing the history of those non-regal rulers who governed the Hebrews fromthe time of Joshua to that of Eli, and whose functions in time of peace consisted chieflyin the administration of justice, although they occasionally led the people in their warsagainst their public enemies. The date and authorship of this book are not preciselyknown. It is certain, however, that it preceded the Second Book of Samuel (compare Judges 9:35 with 2 Samuel 11:21 ), as well as theconquest of Jerusalem by David (compare Judges 1:21 with 2 Samuel 5:6 ). Its author was inall probability Samuel, the last of the judges (see Judges 19:1 Judges 21:25 ), andthe date of the first part of it is fixed in the reign of Saul, while the five chapters atthe close might not have been written till after' David's establishment as king in Israel(see Judges 18:31 ). It is afragmentary history, being a collection of important facts and signal deliverances atdifferent times and in various parts of the land, during the intermediate period of threehundred years between Joshua and the establishment of the monarchy. The inspired characterof this book is confirmed by allusions to it in many passages of Scripture (compare Judges 4:2 ; 6:14 with 1 Samuel 12:9-12 ; Judges 9:53 with 2 Samuel 11:21 ; Judges 7:25 with Psalms 83:11 ; compare Judges 5:4 Judges 5:5 with Psalms 7:5 ; Judges 13:5 ; 16:17 with Matthew 2:13-23 ; Acts 13:20 ; Hebrews 11:32 ).

      RUTH is properly a supplement to thepreceding book, to which, in fact, it was appended in the ancient Jewish canon. Althoughit relates an episode belonging to the time of the Judges, its precise date is unknown. Itappears certain, however, that it could not have been written prior to the time of Samuel(see Ruth 4:17-22 ), who isgenerally supposed to have been its author; and this opinion, in addition to other reasonson which it rests, is confirmed by Ruth4:7 , where it is evident that the history was not compiled till long after thetransactions recorded. The inspiration and canonical authority of the book is attested bythe fact of Ruth's name being inserted by Matthew in the Saviour's genealogy [ Matthew 1:5 ].

      THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Thetwo were, by the ancient Jews, conjoined so as to make one book, and in that form could becalled the Book of Samuel with more propriety than now, the second being wholly occupiedwith the relation of transactions that did not take place till after the death of thateminent judge. Accordingly, in the Septuagint and the Vulgate, it is calledthe First and Second Books of Kings. The early portion of the First Book, down to the endof the twenty-fourth chapter, was probably written by Samuel; while the rest of it and thewhole of the Second, are commonly ascribed to Nathan and Gad, founding the opinion on 1Chronicles 29:29 . Commentators,however, are divided about this, some supposing that the statements in 1 Samuel 2:26 ; 3:1 , indicate the hand of the judgehimself, or a contemporary; while some think, from 1 Samuel 6:18 ; 12:5 ; 27:6 , that its composition must bereferred to a later age. It is probable, however, that these supposed marks of anafter-period were interpolations of Ezra. This uncertainty, however, as to the authorshipdoes not affect the inspired authority of the book, which is indisputable, being quoted inthe New Testament ( 1 Samuel 13:14 in Acts 13:22 , and 2 Samuel 7:14 in Hebrews 1:5 ), as well as in many ofthe Psalms.

      THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF KINGS, inthe ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible, constitute one book. Various titles havebeen given them; in the Septuagint and the Vulgate they are called the Thirdand Fourth Books of Kings. The authorship of these books is unknown; but the prevailingopinion is that they were compiled by Ezra, or one of the later prophets, from the ancientdocuments that are so frequently referred to in the course of the history as of public andestablished authority. Their inspired character was acknowledged by the Jewish Church,which ranked them in the sacred canon; and, besides, it is attested by our Lord, whofrequently quotes from them (compare 1 Kings 17:9 ; 2 Kings 5:14 with Luke 4:24-27 ; 1 Kings 10:1 with Matthew 12:42 ).

      THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF CHRONICLESwere also considered as one by the ancient Jews, who called them "words ofdays," that is, diaries or journals, being probably compiled from those registersthat were kept by the king's historiographers of passing occurrences. In the Septuagintthe title given them is Paraleipomenon, "of things omitted," that is, thebooks are supplementary because many things unnoticed in the former books are hererecorded; and not only the omissions are supplied, but some narratives extended whileothers are added. The authorship is commonly ascribed to Ezra, whose leading object seemsto have been to show the division of families, possessions, &c., before the captivity,with a view to the exact restoration of the same order after the return from Babylon.Although many things are restated and others are exact repetitions of what is contained inKings, there is so much new and important information that, as JEROMEhas well said, the Chronicles furnish the means of comprehending parts of the NewTestament, which must have been unintelligible without them. They are frequently referredto by Christ and the Apostles as forming part of "the Word of God" (see thegenealogies in Matthew 1:1-16 ; Luke 3:23-38 ; compare 2 Chronicles 19:7 with 1 Peter 1:17 ; 2 Chronicles 24:19-21 with Matthew 23:32-35 ).

      EZRA was, along with Nehemiah, reckoned onebook by the ancient Jews, who called them the First and Second Books of Ezra, and they arestill designated by Roman Catholic writers the First and Second Books of Esdras. This booknaturally divides itself into two parts or sections, the one contained in the first sixchapters, and which relates the circumstances connected with the return of the firstdetachment of Babylonish exiles under Zerubbabel with the consequent rebuilding of thetemple and the re-establishment of the divine service. The other part, embraced in thefour concluding chapters, narrates the journey of a second caravan of returning captivesunder the conduct of Ezra himself, who was invested with powers to restore, in all itssplendor, the entire system of the Jewish ritual. The general opinion of the Church inevery succeeding age has been that Ezra was the author of this book. The chief objectionis founded on Ezra 5:4 , wherethe words, "Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the menthat make this building?" have occasioned a surmise that the first portion of thebook was not written by Ezra, who did not go to Jerusalem for many years after. But alittle attention will show the futility of this objection, as the words in question didnot refer to the writer, but were used by Tatnai and his associates ( Ezra 5:3 ). The style and unity ofobject in the book clearly prove it to have been the production of but one author. Thecanonical authority of this book is well established; but another under the name of Ezrais rejected as apocryphal.

      NEHEMIAH appears to have been the author ofthis book, from his usually writing in his own name, and indeed, except in those partswhich are unmistakably later editions or borrowed from public documents, he usuallyemploys the first person. The major portion of the book is occupied with a history ofNehemiah's twelve years' administration in Jerusalem, after which he returned to hisduties in Shushan. At a later period he returned with new powers and commenced new andvigorous measures of reform, which are detailed in the later chapters of the book.

      ESTHER derives its name from the Jewess,who, having become wife of the king of Persia, employed her royal influence to effect amemorable deliverance for the persecuted Church of God. Various opinions are embraced andsupported as to the authorship of this book, some ascribing it to Ezra, to Nehemiah, or toMordecai. The preponderance of authorities is in favor of the last. The historicalcharacter of the book is undoubted, since, besides many internal evidences, itsauthenticity is proved by the strong testimony of the feast of Purim, the celebration ofwhich can be traced up to the events which are described in this book. Its claim, however,to canonical authority has been questioned on the ground that the name of God does notonce occur in it. But the uniform tradition both of the Jewish and the Christian Churchessupports this claim, which nothing in the book tends to shake; while it is a record of thesuperintending care of divine providence over his chosen people, with which it is of theutmost importance the Church should be furnished. The name of God is strangely enoughomitted, but the presence of God is felt throughout the history; and the whole tone andtendency of the book is so decidedly subservient to the honor of God and the cause of truereligion that it has been generally received by the Church in all ages into the sacredcanon.