Book of Nehemiah Chapter Seven Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
We've seen Nehemiah's struggle in previous chapters to complete the walls of Jerusalem, keeping the place and its people safe from the many enemies that surrounded the city. He was capable, skilled, faithful and very human. We can see the man's relief as he wrote the words of Verses 1-2 in his on-going journal of events: "Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, 2 then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many." The walls were now complete and so were the massive and smaller gates that led through those walls into the city. It was difficult for Nehemiah to find people he could trust, as it is for people in all generations, but he did trust his brother, Hanani, and had come to trust Hananiah, who was already in charge of the Birah, called the "fortress" here and "temple-tower" in some translations. To fear God includes belief that He exists, a deep respect for Him, and a trust that He is accomplishing what is needed for us all.
Nehemiah well knew it was typical for walled cities of the time to open the gates shortly after dawn, allowing outlying villagers to come in with produce and commence the trade necessary for the city's financial security. We find a different approach in Verse 3: "Then I said to them, 'Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house." The difference here was safety—their enemies were many and because of intermarriage with neighboring tribes, it was difficult to tell who were enemies and who were friends—loyalties were divided and so the gates would open much later each day when the guards were fully alert. And note the wisdom of Nehemiah in manning guard posts on the walls—each guard was "in front of his own house." When the guard defended his section of the wall, he was also defending his own house and his own family. Everyone fights harder when personal interests are at stake.
We will see in the census beginning in the next verse, numbers that may seem large, but considering the size of Jerusalem, Verse 4 reveals that comparatively few Jews had returned to the land: "Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built." The place was not unlike the area of the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the U.S., after being struck by Hurricaine Katrina, some years ago. Formerly densely populated areas now consisted of many vacant lots littered with the debris of what had been people's homes. Before the exile, the population of Israel was well into the millions. The returnees were in the thousands.
Verses 5-7: "Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record: 6 These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city, 7 who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah. The number of men of the people of Israel:" There were multiple returns of the Jewish people to the promised land in Canaan, including those who returned after the decree of Cyrus, a wave of returning exiles led by Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, another group led by Ezra in 458 BC, and the return we read about in this book under Nehemiah, in approximately 445 BC. This chapter is about Nehemiah's discovery of a record of those who were in the first return to the land, a record, a census of returnees that is also seen in Ezra Chapter 2.
The following is the record he found and copied, which we call Nehemiah 7:8-73—"the sons of Parosh, 2,172; the sons of Shephatiah, 372; the sons of Arah, 652; the sons of Pahath-moab of the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,818; the sons of Elam, 1,254; the sons of Zattu, 845; the sons of Zaccai, 760; the sons of Binnui, 648; the sons of Bebai, 628; the sons of Azgad, 2,322; the sons of Adonikam, 667; the sons of Bigvai, 2,067; the sons of Adin, 655; the sons of Ater, of Hezekiah, 98; the sons of Hashum, 328; the sons of Bezai, 324; the sons of Hariph, 112; the sons of Gibeon, 95; the men of Bethlehem and Netophah, 188; the men of Anathoth, 128; the men of Beth-azmaveth, 42; the men of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah and Beeroth, 743; the men of Ramah and Geba, 621; the men of Michmas, 122; the men of Bethel and Ai, 123; the men of the other Nebo, 52; the sons of the other Elam, 1,254; the sons of Harim, 320; the men of Jericho, 345; the sons of Lod, Hadid and Ono, 721; the sons of Senaah, 3,930. The priests: the sons of Jedaiah of the house of Jeshua, 973; the sons of Immer, 1,052; the sons of Pashhur, 1,247; the sons of Harim, 1,017. The Levites: the sons of Jeshua, of Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodevah, 74. The singers: the sons of Asaph, 148. The gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, 138. The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, the sons of Keros, the sons of Sia, the sons of Padon, the sons of Lebana, the sons of Hagaba, the sons of Shalmai, the sons of Hanan, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephushesim, the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, the sons of Bazlith, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, the sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha. The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Sophereth, the sons of Perida, the sons of Jaala, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the sons of Amon. All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392. These were they who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses or their descendants, whether they were of Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai, the Gileadite, and was named after them. These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim. The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and their female servants, of whom there were 7,337; and they had 245 male and female singers. Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720. Some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 gold drachmas, 50 basins, 530 priests’ garments. Some of the heads of fathers’ households gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,200 silver minas. That which the rest of the people gave was 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,000 silver minas and 67 priests’ garments. Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities." Priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers—all were thought to be descended from Levi, son of Jacob (also called Israel). They were from just one tribe scattered throughout Israel, but now the percentage of them was much greater in relation to other Jews, and there was a struggle to determine which of them were truly descended from Levi and who were the products of mixed marriages, mixed loyalties. A census would help answer that question
In 2 Samuel 24:1-17, we find another census, this time NOT a list of returnees, but instead the numbering of the peoples of Israel to the north and Judah in the south, taken long BEFORE the as-yet undivided nation went into slavery and exile. The nation was outwardly strong at that time, containing almost a million and one-half fighting men, and in addition, the elderly, women and children. The nation appeared strong but was weak in faith, which is a danger for us all. Pride had filled the land. The returnees listed in this chapter were weak outwardly, unable to adequately defend, but many were people of faith, willing to entrust themselves to the Lord. This census was to re-establish the leadership of the nation, with the emphasis on those qualified to serve. Nehemiah was such a man, as were many of his contemporaries, and most of all, he had true faith in the Lord, as we all should. Our standing with God is based on our faith, our belief in the Lord.
Father, Your people are like the city of Jerusalem at that time. We are weak, Lord, but You are strong. Only You can build us into Your Image and keep us us safe from enemies, from pride, from ourselves. We entrust ourselves to You. Thank You, Lord, for saving and leading us. In Jesus Name. Amen.