Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Ordinary C9


allA the peopleB gathered togetherC, D

Notes on verse 1a

A “all” = kol. From kalal (to complete). This is all or every.
B “people” = am. From amam (to darken, hide, associate; creating shadows by huddling together). This is people or nation. It can be used specifically for a tribe, collectively of troops or armies, or figuratively to refer to a flock of animals.
C “gathered together” = asaph. This is to gather, assemble, or bring. It can also mean to take away, destroy, or remove.
D {untranslated} = ish + echad. Literally, “as one man.” Ish is perhaps from enosh (human, humankind, mortal); from anash (to be weak, sick, or frail). This is man, husband, another, or humankind. Echad is perhaps from achad (to unify, continue on a path; figuratively, to gather one’s thoughts). This is the number one, first, united. It can also be alone, altogether, a certain, a few.

into the squareE beforeF the WaterG Gate.H

Notes on verse 1b

E “square” = rechob. From rachab (to grow wide or enlarge in a literal or figurative sense; extend, relieve, rejoice, or speak boldly). This is a wide, open place like a plaza, square, or avenue.
F “before” = paneh. From panah (to turn, face, appear). This is face in a literal or figurative sense. It could be face, presence, anger, respect. It can also be used of God to indicate divine favor or presence.
G “Water” = mayim. This is water, waters, or waterway in a general sense. Figuratively, it can also mean juice, urine, or semen.
H “Gate” = shaar. May be related to sha’ar (to calculate or reckon; may come from a root that means to open up or split). This is a gate, door, or other opening like a port.

They told the scribeI EzraJ to bringK the bookL of the lawM of Moses,N

Notes on verse 1c

I “scribe” = saphar. From sepher (writing, document, book, evidence). This is properly to tally or record something. It can be enumerate, recount, number, celebrate, or declare.
J “Ezra” = Ezra. From ezrah (help, helper, support); from ezer (help, aid); from azar (to help, protect, surround, ally). This is Ezra, meaning “help.”
K “bring” = bo. This is to enter, come in, advance, fulfill, bring offerings, enter to worship, attack. It can also have a sexual connotation.
L “book” = sepher. Related to “scribe” in v1. See note I above.
M “law” = torah. From yarah (to throw, shoot, be stunned; to flow as water so figuratively to instruct or teach). This is law, instruction, teaching, or statute. It can also refer to the first five books of the Bible – the Torah.
N “Moses” = Mosheh. From mashah (to pull out in a literal or figurative sense, to draw out) OR from Egyptian mes or mesu (child, son i.e. child of…). This is Moses – the one drawn out from the water, which is to say, rescued. If derived from the Egyptian, his name would share a root with Rameses and Thutmose.

which the LordO had givenP to Israel.Q 

Notes on verse 1d

O “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
P “given” = tsavah. This is to charge, command, order, appoint, or enjoin. This is the root that the Hebrew word for “commandment” comes from (mitsvah).
Q “Israel” = Yisrael. From sarah (to persist, exert oneself, contend, persevere, wrestle, prevail) + el (God or god). This is Israel, meaning God strives or one who strives with God; new name for Jacob and for his offspring. This refers to the people and to the land.

Accordingly, the priestR Ezra brought the law before the assembly,S both menT and womenU and all who could hearV with understanding.W

Notes on verse 2a

R “priest” = kohen. This is literally the one who officiates i.e. the priest. This is where the Jewish last name “Cohen” (and its variants) comes from.
S “assembly” = qahal. This is an assembly, congregation, or multitude.
T “men” = is the same as {untranslated} in v1. See note D above.
U “women” = ishshah. Related to {untranslated} in v1. From ish (see note D above). This is woman, wife, or female.
V “hear” = shama. This is to hear, call, consent, or consider. It implies listening intelligently, giving attention, and, because of these two factors, obedience and action are often implied.
W “understanding” = bin. This is to discern, consider, attend to. It refers to distinguishing things in one’s mind or, more generally, to understand.

This was on the firstX dayY of the seventhZ month.AA 3 He readBB from it facingCC the square

Notes on verses 2b-3a

X “first” = echad. Same as {untranslated} in v1. See note D above.
Y “day” = yom. Root may mean being hot. This is the day in a literal or figurative sense. It can also mean birth, age, daylight, continually or other references to time.
Z “seventh” = shebii. From sheba (seven – the number of perfection/sacred fullness). This is seventh.
AA “month” = chodesh. From chadash (to renew, repair). This refers to a new moon. It can also mean monthly.
BB “read” = qara. This is to call or call out – to call someone by name. Also used more broadly for calling forth.
CC “facing” = paneh. Same as “before” in v1. See note F above.

before the Water Gate from early morningDD until midday,EE in the presence ofFF the men and the women and those who could understand; and the earsGG of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 

Notes on verse 3b

DD “early morning” = or. From or (to be or become light). This is light, sun, sunshine, dawn, or daylight. Figuratively, it can refer to light from instruction, light of a face (that is to say one that is cheerful or finds favor). It can refer to prosperity or salvation; a light that guides, a light eternal from Zion.
EE “midday” = machatsith + yom. Machatsith is 16x in OT. From chatsah (to halve, divide, reach, participate). This is half or middle. Yom is the same as “day” in v2. See note Y above.
FF “in the presence of” = neged. From nagad (to declare, make conspicuous, stand in front, manifest, predict, explain). This is in front of, opposite to. It can refer to a counterpart or partner, one corresponding to or in the sight of.
GG “ears” = ozen. This is ear, hearing, audience, show. Properly, it is broadness – applied to its ear in reference to its shape.

5 And Ezra openedHH the book in the sightII of all the people, for he wasJJ standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.KK 

Notes on verse 5

HH “opened” = patach. This is to open wide in a literal or figurative sense. So, it is open, draw out, let something go free, break forth. It can also mean to plow, engrave, or carve.
II “sight” = ayin. This is eye in a literal or figurative sense so eye, appearance, favor, or a fountain (the eye of the landscape).
JJ “was” = hayah. Related to “Lord” in v1. See note O above.
KK “stood up” = amad. This is to stand up in a literal or figurative sense. So it can be establish, continue, endure, take a stand, act, be a servant, stand still, remain, stand against an enemy.

6 Then Ezra blessedLL the Lord, the greatMM God,NN

Notes on verse 6a

LL “blessed” = barak. This is to kneel, to bless. It is blessing God as part of worship and adoration or blessing humans to help them. It can be used as a euphemism to say curse God.
MM “great” = gadol. From gadal (to grow up, become great, become wealthy – to advance. The root meaning may be to twist in the sense of the process of growing). This is great, high, bigger, noble, old, marvelous. It can also refer to someone who is powerful or distinguished.
NN “God” = Elohim. Related to “Israel” in v1. See note Q above.

and all the people answered,OO “Amen,PP Amen,” lifting upQQ their hands.RR

Notes on verse 6b

OO “answered” = anah. This is answer, respond, announce, sing, shout, or testify. It means to pay attention, which implies responding and, by extension, starting to talk. Used in a specific sense for singing, shouting, testifying, etc.
PP “amen” = amen. From aman (to believe, endure, fulfill, confirm, support, be faithful, put one’s trust in, be steadfast. Figuratively, this is to be firm, steadfast, or faithful, trusting, believing, being permanent, morally solid). This word is literally firmness, but figuratively fidelity, faithfulness, honesty, responsibility, trust, truth, steadfastness. Properly, it is to be sure, certain, or firm. This is a word of emphasis indicating that something crucial follows.
QQ “lifting up” = moal. 1x in OT. From alah (to go up, ascend, be high, be a priority; to arise in a literal or figurative sense). This is a lifting or raising.
RR “hands” = yad. This is hand, ability, power. Hand in a literal sense, but also what one can do or the means by which one does it.

Then they bowed their headsSS and worshipedTT the Lord with their facesUU to the ground.VV 

Notes on verse 6c

SS “bowed…heads” = qadad. 15x in OT. Properly, this means to shrivel up. So it is used for bowing one’s head, bowing down, or stooping. It can be used to show deference.
TT “worshiped” = shachah. This is to bow down, make a humble entreaty, to do homage to royalty or to God.
UU “faces” = aph. From anaph (to be angry; properly, breathing hard as a signifier of being enraged). This properly refers to the nose or nostril and by extension the face. It can specifically refer to anger or wrath as one breathes hard and nostrils flare in times of great anger.
VV “ground” = erets. Root may mean to be firm. This is earth, ground, field land, or country.

8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation.WW They gaveXX the sense,YY so that the people understood the reading.ZZ

Notes on verse 8

WW “interpretation” = parash. 5x in OT. This is to scatter, separate oneself, specify, declare, wound, sting.
XX “gave” = sim. This is to put or place in a literal or figurative sense. It can be appoint, care, change, make, and may other things.
YY “sense” = sekel. 16x in OT. From sakal (to consider or be prudent; to instruct, be an expert; dealing prudently, which implies success and prospering; can mean laying cross-wise). This is prudence, insight, understanding, wisdom, discretion, success.
ZZ “reading” = miqra. Related to “read” in v3. From qara (see note BB above). This is a convocation, assembly, public meeting. It can refer to the place where the meeting is happening or the people meeting.

9 And Nehemiah,AAA who was the governor,BBB and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the LevitesCCC who taughtDDD the people

Notes on verse 9a

AAA “Nehemiah” = Nechemyah. Related to “Lord” in v1 & “was” in v5. 8x in OT. From nacham (a strong breath or sigh; to be sorry, to pity, console, comfort, or repent; also to comfort oneself with thoughts of vengeance) + Yah (the shortened form of the name of the God of Israel; God, Lord); {from YHVH (see note O above)}. This is Nehemiah, meaning “the Lord comforts” or “consolation of the Lord.”
BBB “governor” = tirshatha. 5x in OT. Perhaps from Persian – root verb may mean (tremble) or (cut). This is a Persian title for a deputy or governor. It may mean, “excellency” or “eunuch.” See
CCC “Levites” = Levi. From Levi (Levi; perhaps meaning “attached”; Jacob’s son, his tribe, and descendants); perhaps from lavah (to join, twine, unite, remain, borrow, lend). This is Levite or levitical.
DDD “taught” = bin. Same as “understanding” in v2. See note W above.

said to all the people, “This day is holyEEE to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”FFF For all the people wept when they heard the wordsGGG of the law. 

Notes on verse 9b

EEE “holy” = qadosh. From qodesh (set apart and so sacred; God is different from us and so God is holy/set apart; things we dedicate to God’s service are set apart for God and so they, too, are holy); related to qadash (set apart, consecrated, hallowed, sanctified; something or someone set apart for a holy purpose or use – ceremonially or morally clean). This is sacred or holy in a ritual or moral sense. As a noun, it refers to a holy one (like a saint or angel), a holy place (the sanctuary), or God (the Holy One).
FFF “weep” = bakah. This is to weep, complain, or lament.
GGG “words” = dabar. From dabar (to speak, declare, discuss). This is speech, a word, a matter, an affair, charge, command, message, promise, purpose, report, request. It is a word, which implies things that are spoken of in a wide sense.

10 Then he said to them, “Go your way,HHH eatIII the fatJJJ and drinkKKK sweet wineLLL

Notes on verse 10a

HHH “go…way” = halak. This is go, come, walk. It is walk literally and figuratively and includes people and animals. It can be used figuratively for one’s moral life – how we walk according to God’s way or against it. It can also refer to the walk of life as in the course one’s life takes, the choices we make, etc.
III “eat” = akal. This is to eat, devour, burn up, or otherwise consume. It can be eating in a literal or figurative sense.
JJJ “fat” = mashman. 7x in OT. From shaman (to grow fat, shine, be oily). This is fat in a literal sense – one who is fat or robust. It can also refer to the general concept of fatness. Figuratively, it could be a food that is rich or a place that is fertile.
KKK “drink” = shathah. This is to drink literally or figuratively. It could also be a drinker.
LLL “sweet wine” = mamthaqqim. 2x in OT. From mathoq (to be sweet, sweeten, become pleasant, cover, to suck, to relish). This is sweetness or something that is sweet. It can be used in a literal or figurative sense

and sendMMM portionsNNN of them to those for whom nothing is prepared,OOO for this day is holy to our Lord;PPP

Notes on verse 10b

MMM “send” = shalach. This is to send out, away, send for, forsake. It can also mean to divorce or set a slave free.
NNN “portions” = manah. 14x in OT. From manah (to weigh out, reckon, count, number, set, tell. By implication, it is allotting or providing something officially). This is a part or portion. It is something that is weighed out so it can be used specifically for a ration or portion of food. It can also mean a lot as in casting lots.
OOO “prepared” = kun. Properly, this means in a perpendicular position. So, it is set up in a literal sense – establish, fix, fasten, prepare. In a figurative sense, it is certainty, to be firm, faithfulness, render sure or prosperous.
PPP “Lord” = Adonai. From adon (lord, master, owner); root means to rule or be sovereign. This is the actual Hebrew word for Lord used (in a different form) of humans and (in the present form) of God. It means someone who is in control.

and do not be grieved,QQQ for the joyRRR of the LordSSS is your strength.”TTT

Notes on verse 10c

QQQ “be grieved” = atsab. 17x in OT. This is properly to carve. So it can mean to create or fashion. Figuratively, it means to hurt, grieve, worry, anger, or displease.
RRR “joy” = chedvah. 2x in OT. From chadah (to rejoice). This is joy or gladness.
SSS “Lord” = YHVH. Same as “Lord” in v1. See note O above.
TTT “strength” = maoz. From uz (to run for refuge, to seek safety, be strong) OR from azaz (to be strong, become fixed, be bold, prevail, be impudent; to be stout literally or figuratively). This is a defense, refuge, safety, fortress, rock, strength, or stronghold. It is somewhere one goes to be safe and protected or something one uses to be safe. Figuratively, it could be a defense or a force.

Image credit: “Coney Island, 1914” by Joseph Stella. Photo by art@aditi.

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