Book of Nehemiah Chapter Eleven Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Where Would they Live?
In previous chapters we've seen the returnees from exile in the Persian Empire deal with problems about the status of people. Were those who thought they were of the Levitical priesthood really priests? And were all the ones who returned actually Jews at all? Such decisions had largely been made, the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, the gates were in place, and now another problem—where would they live? They could not ALL live in Jerusalem or in other cities...some of them already were in other cities or occupying rural sections of the land that once had been called Israel, and more recently the country of Judah. Not all could be city dwellers because some had to be farmers or ranchers in order for them to function if they were to become a nation once more. No commerce could exist if there were no crops or animals to sell or trade. And those in other cities were expected to trade with merchants in Jerusalem. How would it all work? Who would live where?
Verses 1-2: "Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities. 2 And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem." These were big decisions because the city of Jerusalem was a prime target for the enemies of the Jews who lived nearby—the concern was that even with the walls and gates in place, it might still be invaded at any time. And so they "cast lots" to see who would live there, not unlike the apostles of Jesus, who not only prayed but also cast lots as a way of deciding on a replacement for the disgraced Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:23-26). The result was that one out of every ten Jews would live in Jerusalem. Those to be outside of the city prayed for, or as it says here, they "blessed" Jerusalem's occupants.
Verses 3-6: "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. 4 Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem. From the sons of Judah: Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; 5 and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite. 6 All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men." Judah the man was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, also called Israel, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Levi had been another of Jacob's sons and Benjamin was yet another—the youngest. The nation later split in two after the death of King Solomon, with most of the tribes to the north forming a nation called Israel, a country that was defeated by the Assyrians and taken into captivity in about 722 BC. In the south, the nation of Judah consisted of the descendents of Judah and those who descended from Benjamin, along with members of the priesthood, who were descended from Levi. Perez, named in Verse 6, was a twin, one of Judah's sons by a woman, his former daughter-in-law, named Tamar (Genesis 38:24-30). The nation called Judah was defeated by Babylon and enslaved in about 586 BC.
This chapter is essentially a genealogy of the people, enabling them to be identified in relation to their ancestors. Without such historical information, the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 would not have been written. Verses 7-9: "Now these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah; 8 and after him Gabbai and Sallai, 928. 9 Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second in command of the city." Can you imagine the difficulty they faced in reconstructing birth records after a number of disasters had literally torn the nation into many pieces at differing times? Governor Nehemiah who wrote the words of this chapter in his journal, and Ezra the priest who later transcribed them, certainly did their prayerful best. Judah's genealogy can be seen more fully in 1 Chronicles Chapter 4, with Levi's records in Chapter 6 and Benjamin's in Chapter 8.
Looking at the verses that follow, beginning with Nehemiah 11:10-14, it's important to note that all the priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. Verses 10-14: "From the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin, 11 Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the leader of the house of God, 12 and their kinsmen who performed the work of the temple, 822; and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah, 13 and his kinsmen, heads of fathers’ households, 242; and Amashsai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, 14 and their brothers, valiant warriors, 128. And their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim." The list continues in the verses that follow, presenting a structure not unlike a modern religion or corporation—different functions and titles, but they did what humans often do—they shared a somewhat united goal.
Verses 15-21 identify Levitical workers who were not priests: "Now from the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; 16 and Shabbethai and Jozabad, from the leaders of the Levites, who were in charge of the outside work of the house of God; 17 and Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer, and Bakbukiah, the second among his brethren; and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. 18 All the Levites in the holy city were 284. 19 Also the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon and their brethren who kept watch at the gates, were 172. 20 The rest of Israel, of the priests and of the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, each on his own inheritance. 21 But the temple servants were living in Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of the temple servants." There were many peopole who performed a variety of functions within the Jewish religion through the centuries, and many of them lived in the Temple, not unlike monks and nuns who lived and served in monastaries and convents within the centuries-later Christian church.
In Verses 22-24, we can see that the Persian king had a say in all that happened in Judah: "Now the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mica, from the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God. 23 For there was a commandment from the king concerning them and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day. 24 Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was the king’s representative in all matters concerning the people." There were many competing forces at work in relation to these events and Governor Nehemiah, who had a high respect for the Persian king, walked a careful line in relation to all of the individuals who were involved.
As indicated in this chapter, nine out of every ten Jews were delegated to live outside of Jerusalem, and Verses 25-36 provide Nehemiah's careful listing of who many of them were and where they were located: "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." God has a listing also.
Nehemiah's list was limited for he was just a man, though a capable man, living in just one time and on one small part of the planet. God lives everywhere and is in everytime, knowing not only our outward circumstances, but He also precisely knows our hearts. He is infinite, all-knowing, faithful in all His ways, full of incredible love for us all, as proved through God the Son, Jesus Christ, and strong, able to bring us through. He knows your name, your heart, and all He asks in return is that you place your faith, your trust in the Lord. Let's do it together:
Dear God, I place my faith in You. You know my failures and I confess them to You right now. And You, who are strong and could destroy me in an instant, instead choose to forgive me and grant me eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. I am Yours, Lord. I trust in You. In Jesus Name. Amen.