Book of Nehemiah Chapter Twelve Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Dedication And Rejoicing
Verses 1-7: "Now these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, 2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, 4 Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, 5 Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah and Joiarib, Jedaiah, 7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah. These were the heads of the priests and their kinsmen in the days of Jeshua." An author once said about these verses, "These lists, once so important, are to us little more than fragmentary relics of a vanished system. They remind us how all that is external decays and passes away." I don't recall who that author was, but this is so much more than just a list of names. These were flesh and blood people, the ancestors of people who live today, part of the continuity of a humanity created by God, and a glimpse into a very real history that anchors these words in Scripture and affects us all.
Verses 8-11 describe Levites who were not priests, but instead were assigned to spend their lives in praise to God: "The Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah who was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving, he and his brothers. 9 Also Bakbukiah and Unni, their brothers, stood opposite them in their service divisions. 10 Jeshua became the father of Joiakim, and Joiakim became the father of Eliashib, and Eliashib became the father of Joiada, 11 and Joiada became the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan became the father of Jaddua." Do you like to sing? I do, and it sounds delightful to be able to (1) sing for a living, and (2) sing praise to God as an ongoing way of life. It is not like work because music brings joy. And that's how eternity will be: Filled with praise, thanksgiving, beautiful music and the joy of the Lord. And all of us will sing on key.
Important Levitical priests of that time are listed in Verses 12-21: "Now in the days of Joiakim, the priests, the heads of fathers’ households were: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; 13 of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; 14 of Malluchi, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; 15 of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; 16 of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; 17 of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; 18 of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; 19 of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; 20 of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; 21 of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethanel." Some of these names are found in other contexts and we vaguely recognize them, though nothing is known of others. But all are known to God. Many fear death, and all of these people are literally dead to the world, but not to God, for if they placed their faith in Him, they are His forever. If you are concerned that you might be forgotten, trust in the Lord, for in Him and through Him, you are precious, loved, found, rescued and saved—forever and ever. Amen.
Verses 22-26: "As for the Levites, the heads of fathers’ households were registered in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan and Jaddua; so were the priests in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The sons of Levi, the heads of fathers’ households, were registered in the Book of the Chronicles up to the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. 24 The heads of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers opposite them, to praise and give thanks, as prescribed by David the man of God, division corresponding to division. 25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub were gatekeepers keeping watch at the storehouses of the gates. 26 These served in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest and scribe." It's interesting that these verses comprise such a brief moment in history, though it did not seem brief to them while they were alive. If we are called by God and say "yes" to ministry, we should immediately look to Him in prayer, asking what to do next, because our time to serve here on earth truly is limited. A few years or decades and then our successors come into play, occupying the earthly places and offices we have vacated. Prayerfully serve the Lord with joy while the opportunity is yours.
Verses 27-31: "Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth-gilgal and from their fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30 The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall. 31 Then I had the leaders of Judah come up on top of the wall, and I appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate." This was a great celebration, a time for old friends and new associations to come together and worship the Lord. They celebrated with gladness, thanksgiving, with songs from the past and present acknowledging the deliverance of God. No matter what our circumstances, the very breath we take and the ability to comprehend these words—it all comes from God. We do well to thank Him even for those events and circumstances that seem "negative" to us. He is doing a great work in our lives, in which our successes, shortcomings and failures are made to work together in such a way that will ultimately bring glory to Him who made us and then re-created us in Christ Jesus. In and through all of it, He offers us the amazing, saving gift of faith.
Verses 32-37: "Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 and some of the sons of the priests with trumpets; and Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east." Ezra, called "the scribe" here, was the Ezra who led one of the returning exile groups back to the holy land, and was also the author of the Book of Ezra. He was a leader at this moment as well. As reported in Nehemiah's journal, which was the basis of this book, Ezra led half of the excited Temple workers in one direction and as we will see, Governor Nehemiah led the joyous other half in the opposite direction. Note, by the way, that the ability to sing and beautifully utilize musical instruments is God's gift, not only to those who play the instruments and sing, but also to those who hear.
Verses 38-39: "The second choir proceeded to the left, while I followed them with half of the people on the wall, above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall, 39 and above the Gate of Ephraim, by the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard." The "I" of Verse 38 is Nehemiah himself, who wrote the original words that were incorporated into this Book of Nehemiah. The group led by Ezra went to the right and those with Nehemiah went left, with the intention of meeting in the middle after a joyful march around the city.
And that's exactly what happened, as seen in Verses 40-43: "Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; 41 and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets; 42 and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, 43 and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar." The two marching groups of Temple singers and other Levitical workers came together in the Jerusalem Temple, and you can only imagine the joyful singing and the many sacrifices that were offered. And probably few to none of them realized that every song and each sacrifice was a prophesy, a parable of the Messiah who was to come, the Lamb of God to be offered as payment for the sins of the world.
Nehemiah, Ezra, and others like them are given the capacity for leadership to benefit humanity. Such men and women have the God-given ability to organize others into activities that bring order for the benefit of all. Such gifts have often been misused throughout history, but Nehemiah and Ezra were like God's light in the darkness of this world, that leaders can rule with integrity and love, serving rather than lording it over the people. We can see the results of their leadership reflected in the events of Verses 44-47: "On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served. 45 For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon. 46 For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. 47 So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated portion for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated portion for the sons of Aaron." Provision was insured for those who would not otherwise work, but instead give their lives in service to the Lord.
As it is true for many historical times of spiritual revival, that which begins in honest faith in the Lord can degenerate into mere ritual, as we can see just a few centuries later, when the successors of these religious leaders selfishly brought about the death of Jesus Christ. But His death was more than just something done by men. Jesus was and is the Lord, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). We are saved through God's grace, though faith, through trust in Him who died for you and me.
Lord, thank You for giving Yourself, dying for me and imputing Your innocence into me as though I had no sin, making me right in the sight of God the Father. I freely confess my sins, entrusting my life to You, my Savior. I am Yours, Lord. I place my faith in You. Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit and give me Your peace. In Jesus Name. Amen.