08 Neh 11-13 Nehemiah Completes His WorkEzra, Nehemiah, & Esther: Restore, Rebuild, & Redeem
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Once again, I have extensively used and copied from the Truth for Today Commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, written by my friend and former colleague at Heritage Christian University, Coy D. Roper, Ph.D. I highly recommend it!
There was a problem in Jerusalem noted previously in Neh 7:4, “Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built.” Nehemiah then decided to assemble the people and enroll them by their genealogies (7:5). Next, he listed those who had returned earlier from Babylon (7:6-73a).
Now, having renewed the covenant, as described in Neh 8-10 that we just studied, Nehemiah and the people came back to the issue of Jerusalem’s sparse population. Of course, a larger number of residents and homes in the city would strengthen it in many ways and add to its defenses and security.
08 Neh 11-13 Nehemiah Completes His Work
Nehemiah 11 – The New Residents of Jerusalem and Judah
Neh 11:1-2 – The Plan to Repopulate Jerusalem
Only the leaders lived in Jerusalem, perhaps because the people in general had misgivings about its safety due to previous attacks against it. It was termed “the holy city,” specially devoted and consecrated to God, because the temple was there, representing the presence of God among His people.
The casting of lots, used several times to determine God’s will, may have also been a way of simply “drawing straws” here. Roper notes references to casting lots in Neh 10:34; Num. 26:55; Josh. 7:14–18; 14:1, 2; 18:6, 8; 1 Sam. 10:20, 21; 14:41, 42; Prov. 16:33.
In addition to those required by the lots to move into the city, others offered to go willingly. They did so, not for their own benefit, but for the greater cause of populating and securing the city.
Neh 11:3-24 – The People to Repopulate Jerusalem
— Neh 11:3 – The Heads of Provinces
Now these are the heads of the provinces who lived in Jerusalem, but in the cities of Judah each lived on his own property in their cities—the Israelites, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants and the descendants of Solomon’s servants.
These “heads” are next listed in three groups and then followed by the king’s “representative.”
— Neh 11:4-9 – The Sons of Judah and Benjamin
This group included 468 able men from the tribe of Judah (11:6) who were strong and courageous enough to defend the city. There were also 928 Benjamites (11:7-8).
The leaders of the entire group were Joel as the overseer and Judah as second in commend of the city. The specifics of their authority and their roles are not given.
— Neh 11:10-14 – The Priests
One leader who stands out in this list is Seraiah, the leader of the house of God (11:11), possibly the high priest. Another was Zabdiel, who was the overseer of the 128 valiant warriors (11:14).
— Neh 11:15-23 – The Levites, Gatekeepers, and Temple Servants
Not all of these lived in Jerusalem. After naming Levites and others who came to live in the holy city, the text notes that “The rest of Israel, of the priests and of the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, each on his own inheritance” (11:20).
The Levites’ overseer, Uzzi (11:22), was a descendant of the sons of Asaph, who were the singers in the temple. Their role was sufficiently important that there was a commandment from the king – apparently the king of Persia – concerning them and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day. No details are given, but it is clear that the worship was structured and orderly, rather than spontaneous or informal.
Roper writes: This whole group also had men in charge. Identified as leaders are “Shemaiah” and “Shabbethai,” who “were in charge of the outside work of the house of God” (11:15, 16). “Mattaniah” was “the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer,” and “Bakbukiah” is simply said to have been “second among his brethren” (11:17). “Akkub” and “Talmon” were apparently over “the gatekeepers” (11:19), while “Ziha” and “Gishpa” were “in charge of the temple servants” (11:21). Finally, “Uzzi” is named as “the overseer of the Levites” (11:22).
— Neh 11:24 – The King’s Representative
“Representative” translates the Heb. phrase, “at the king’s hand.” The ESV renders it, “at the king’s side.” It apparently describes one who was stationed as part of the Persian king’s court. He would then express the concerns of the people of Israel to the king. In other words, he represented the people to the king, not the king to the people.
Neh 11:25-36 – The Places Where Other Jews Lived
25 Now as for the villages with their fields, some of the sons of Judah lived in Kiriath-arba and its towns, in Dibon and its towns, and in Jekabzeel and its villages, 26 and in Jeshua, in Moladah and Beth-pelet, 27 and in Hazar-shual, in Beersheba and its towns, 28 and in Ziklag, in Meconah and in its towns, 29 and in En-rimmon, in Zorah and in Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and its fields, Azekah and its towns. So they encamped from Beersheba as far as the valley of Hinnom. 31 The sons of Benjamin also lived from Geba onward, at Michmash and Aija, at Bethel and its towns, 32 at Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, 33 Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, 34 Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, 35 Lod and Ono, the valley of craftsmen. 36 From the Levites, some divisions in Judah belonged to Benjamin.
The first part of this chapter highlighted the people who lived in Jerusalem and other cities. Now the text names the other places where the people of Judah and Benjamin settled.
Takeaways from Nehemiah 11
Problems – When we face difficulties, as the Jews did regarding the sparse population in Jerusalem, we should not be surprised. Instead, we can choose a proactive solution that is practical and fair to all involved. Rather than “win/lose,” we can seek a “win/win” outcome.
Priorities – Every decision we make, consciously or subconsciously, grows out of what we believe matters. Volunteers offered to move into the holy city, apparently because they saw a need that outweighed their own comfort and pleasure. So, sign up! Show up! Serve up! Let those things go that interfere with “seek ye first.”
Persons – Each individual named in Nehemiah 12, just like each of us today, was unique in terms of his personality, background, talents, and role. They found their places as household heads, priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, or even a liaison agent to the king. Don’t be someone or something you are not. Be yourself, find your spot, and serve God and the church in the ways that fit what He has given you.
Nehemiah 12 – The Priestly Service and The Dedication of the Wall
Roper: This chapter lists of priests and Levites, both from the time of Zerubbabel’s return and from a later date, thus demonstrating the continuity of the priesthood. Those who served as priests and Levites in the days of Nehemiah are linked with those who had returned from Babylon (see 12:1, 26). The chapter also describes the joyous ceremony held when the wall was dedicated (12:27–43). It concludes by telling how the needs of the priests and Levites were supplied through the people’s tithes and gifts, which were stored in the temple (12:44–47).
Neh 12:1-26 – The Service of The Priests and Levites
— Neh 12:1-7 – The Priests Who Came with Zerubbabel and Jeshua
These priests and Levites came up with Zerubbabel and served after the temple was rebuilt. That event occurred almost a hundred years before Nehemiah’s ministry.
Jeshua was the high priest (Ezra 3:2, 8). The “Jeremiah” and “Ezra” named here were not the better-known men who bore these names.
— Neh 12:8-9 – The Levites Who Came with Zerubbabel and Jeshua
Mattaniah was the chief song leader. Others who “stood opposite them” may have participated in antiphonal (back-and-forth) singing.
— Neh 12:10-11 – A Genealogy of the High Priests
Starting with Jeshua, who served as high priest in the time of Zerubbabel, the text here traces the lineage of the high priests through the next five. Apparently the last one named, Jaddua, was the high priest at the time this was written. The text shows the legitimacy of Jaddua in the role of high priest.
— Neh 12:12-21 – The Priests and Household Heads After the Time of Jeshua
To show that the priests of his day had the right to serve in that office, the author connected priests of his day with those who had come from Babylon (12:1b–7). He again gave the names of the priests from the days of Zerubbabel and Jeshua; and after each one, he gave the name of the priest of the present time who descended from him.
For example, “of Seraiah” refers to the priest in Jeshua’s day. “Meraiah” refers to the later priest who descended from Seraiah.
— Neh 12:22-23 – Sources of Information About the Levites
The Jews kept meticulous records. Here the author affirms that the Levites had been registered and documented. The “Book of the Chronicles” was different from the Old Testament books known as 1 and 2 Chronicles.
— Neh 12:24-26 – The Family Leaders of the Levites Who Served After the Time of Jeshua
King David, called here “the man of God,” was highly esteemed. His regulations of the worship practices (1 Chron 16:4–6; 23:27–31; 25:1–8; 2 Chron 8:14) were followed precisely.
Roper: David’s name is prominent in Nehemiah 12. We read, “David the man of God” (12:24, 36); “the city of David” and “the house of David” (12:37); “the command of David” (12:45); and “the days of David” (12:46). The writer emphasized that what was happening on that occasion was reminiscent of the glorious days of David’s kingdom. His being called a “man of God” (see 12:36; 2 Chron. 8:14) is unusual because that title was generally applied to one who served as a prophet. Perhaps its use here suggests that the author considered David to be, in some sense, a prophet of God (see Acts 2:29, 30).
Neh 12:27-43 – The Dedication of the Wall (12:27–43)
— Neh 12:27-30 – The Preparation
The text does not indicate how much time passed between the completion of the wall and its dedication. Perhaps it was only a few months. However, the interim allowed the people the opportunity to renew the covenant. That renewal reminded them of the purpose of the wall – to provide security so that the Jews could be God’s holy people.
Note these vital elements: organization, designation, purification, and celebration.
— Neh 12:31-39 – The Procession
Here again Nehemiah speaks in the first person “I.” He appointed two great choirs for the ceremony that would actually walk on top of the wall (12:31). One was directed by Ezra (12:36) and the other by Nehemiah (12:38).
Roper: Two great processions likely started from the Valley Gate in the southwestern portion of the wall (see 2:13, 15; 3:13). The first procession, directed by Ezra, moved counterclockwise on the wall. The second procession, led by Nehemiah, went clockwise on the wall. The two processions made their way to the eastern side of Jerusalem and met in the temple courts.
— Neh 12:40-43 – The Procedure
Roper urges us to “visualize these two large processions of people marching along the top of the wall, led by choirs singing praises to God. Priests were blowing trumpets, and Levites were playing musical instruments. The two groups marched down from the wall and toward the temple, where they met. There the two choirs joined together and were led in beautiful songs praising and blessing God. Everyone in the assembly joined in, praising the LORD. The sight was wondrous: thousands of people singing and rejoicing and praising God together! The sound must have been magnificent: a beautiful blending of voices loud enough to be heard all over the city and beyond!”
“Even the women and children” – the praise was not limited to the men. The women and the little ones joined in the jubilant celebration as well. Later, in Jesus’ life, children cried out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David (Matt 21:15-16)!”
Neh 12:44-47 – Provisions for The Priests and Levites
“Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served (12:44).” Their fellow Jews appreciated, valued, and supported those who had specific religious assignments, because they worked hard in carrying out their duties (12:45).
The text establishes continuity from the days of David and Asaph to the days of Zerubbabel and now Nehemiah. The people at this point had restored and returned to the rituals, the sacrifices, and the worship that God has approved. Things were, in that sense, back to normal, back where they once had been.
Takeaways from Nehemiah 12
Dedication – When the church reaches a goal, finishes a project, increases its service, or expands its mission, how fitting it is to dedicate the entire effort to the glory of God. By highlighting that dedication, the church impresses on its members the blessings God has given and the work that all have done.
Celebration – There is a time for rejoicing and jubilation, even excitement, in our relationship with God. We take genuine pleasure in his grace and in what he accomplishes through us.
Consecration – The church as patterned in the New Testament does not have “clergy” (priests, Levites, and sons of Asaph). Yet we commend those who devote their lives to God as elders, deacons, ministers, missionaries, and teachers.
Appreciation – When those who lead our worship and service work hard, we are so grateful for them! As the Word of God says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thess 5:12-13).
Nehemiah 13 – The Enforcement of the Covenant
Neh 13:1-3 – Foreigners Excluded
The “book of Moses” that they read was most likely the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses, the Torah, Genesis-Deuteronomy). It would have included the exclusion of Ammonites and Moabites from the assembly of Yahweh, recorded in Deut 23:3-6. Such exclusion was the consequence of these two peoples’ behavior. Since the people of Nehemiah’s day had renewed the covenant and determined to follow it completely, they excluded all foreigners.
Neh 13:4-9 – The Room at the Temple Cleansed
Eliashib the priest, a relative of the Jews’ enemy Tobiah, had prepared a large side room in the temple area in which Tobiah could live! The room was intended for storage of materials for worship and sacrifice, and also for contributions. This happened while Nehemiah was away. He had left for Persia “in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes,” or about 433 BC (13:6). The text does not say how long he was away; he might have been gone for less than a year or for several years.
When Nehemiah returned, presumably as governor once again, he became aware of this evil deed. Displeased, he threw out all of Tobiah’s things, and he returned the room to its intended purpose.
Neh 13:10-14 – Tithes for Temple Workers Restored
The Levites and the singers relied on the financial support that was to come from the Jews’ tithes. Without that income, they had no choice but to go home and work their own fields. Nehemiah’s discovery of the problem led to his swift, decisive action. His reprimand came in the form of a productive question, “Why?”
He placed the Levites and singers back in their positions, and all Judah brought the required tithes. He appointed a group of men, a committee, men who were trustworthy. He delegated oversight to them and left the task in their hands.
Again, Nehemiah prayed that God would remember these deeds. He asked that He not erase them from His book in which He kept records.
Neh 13:15-22 – The Sabbath Enforced
God had given Israel the seventh day, consecrating it as a holy day on which man was to honor Yahweh and rest from his work. Jesus said later that the sabbath was made for man, not vice versa. Man would benefit greatly from a mandated day off of work!
However, because some minimized reverence and rest and maximized business and profit, they defied God’s law in favor of economic pursuits. Nehemiah called their actions out as evil and as profaning (turning something holy into something common) the sabbath. Their actions were arousing God’s wrath, exactly as their ancestors had done. They could not afford to suffer the kind of penalty that God carried out in the past, that is, the exile.
So, Nehemiah had the gates locked as it grew dark each Friday evening, when the sabbath began. He stationed his own servants at the gates to prevent the opening of the gates. He threatened to use force against the traders and merchants who spent the night outside the gates, waiting to do business as soon as they were opened.
Once again, Nehemiah prayed for God to remember his deeds. Yet he was not simply saying, “Give me what I deserve.” He asked rather for Yahweh to respond with compassion, “according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness.” Nehemiah’s good deeds represented and demonstrated his faithfulness, but they did not earn or merit a relationship with God or obligate Him apart from His grace.
Neh 13:23-29 – Mixed Marriages Forbidden
There was a recurring problem of mixed marriages between Jews who followed Yahweh and their spouses who did not. How could this be, since Ezra had dealt decisively with it (Ezra 9-10)? Some time had passed since then. Remember that there had been an interval between Nehemiah’s return to Persia in 433 BC (Neh 5:14; 13:6) and his coming back to Jerusalem at some (unknown) future date.
Ashdod was one of the five key cities of the Philistines. The Ammonites and Moabites had descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot through Lot’s incestuous relations with his two daughters. These were the very people from whom the Jews were commanded to separate themselves. It was not at all a matter of ethnic racism, based purely on genetic or biological differences. Rather it was a matter of the Jews keeping faith in Yahweh, obeying His commands, avoiding spiritual contamination, and furthering the true faith through their children.
Because these Jews had intermarried, many of the children born to them spoke the language of Ashdod, that is, of the Philistines. None of them was able to speak the language of Judah. How could it have been otherwise? When these little ones grew up hearing, not about Yahweh in the Jews’ language, but about Philistine beliefs and practices in a foreign tongue, of course that is the language they would speak. And, those are the beliefs and practices that would have been familiar to them.
So Nehemiah contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves” (Neh 13:25). He reminded them of the great king Solomon and the fact that, though there was none like him, the foreign women caused even him to sin” (Neh 13:26).
Rather than learn from the example of Solomon’s downfall (1 Kgs 11:4-8), these Jews followed his example by doing just what he had done. As a case in point,
Even the grandson of the High-Priest (cf. 12:10) sinfully married a daughter of Sanballat. Sanballat who was the governor of Samaria and one of the Jews’ chief enemies (2:10, 19). Roper notes that Nehemiah dealt severely with the situation, saying, “I drove him away from me” (13:28).
Neh 13:30-31 – Reforms Concluded and Prayer Offered
Though specifics are not given, Nehemiah did all that he deemed appropriate, and all that was within his power as governor, to purify the people from all foreign influences. In addition to the foreign marriages, he ended the sabbath day merchandising taking place between the Jews and the foreign merchants and traders.
As noted earlier, Nehemiah also reinstated the priests’ and the Levites’ religious duties. He organized the regular supply of wood for the altar and made sure that the first fruits were provided. For the third time in this chapter (cf. 13:14, 22) Nehemiah sought God’s blessing for his faithful efforts.
Takeaways from Nehemiah 13
Choices and Consequences – The Ammonites and the Moabites were responsible for hiring Balaam to curse Israel. Future generations, though not guilty of their ancestors’ sins, suffered the consequences as a result. The decisions we make today are crucial, not just for ourselves, but because of the ripple effect or domino effect they will have on our children, our grandchildren, and beyond.
Purposes and Practices – Eliashib the priest, a relative of the evil Tobiah, prepared quarters for him in the temple! By doing so, he lost sight of that rooms purpose, to store the holy items used for sacrifice and also the contributions. Defining our purpose automatically determines our practice. Where one’s purpose is unclear, how can one’s practice be focused or effective?
Languages and Lifestyles – The words that we listen to most often become the words we know by heart and share with others. That’s why young children pick up words on the school playground and then use those words at home. That’s why people know music lyrics and lines from popular movies and commercials by heart. As Christians we must recognize and reject the “language of Ashdod,” worldly terminology from our culture and doctrinal teachings from various religions that are contrary to Scripture.