Nehemiah 10 - Israel’s Covenant with God
A. Roster of those who signed the covenant.
1. (1-8) Nehemiah and the priests signed the covenant.
Now those who placed their seal on the document were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, and Shemaiah. These were the priests.
a. Those who placed their seal on the document: At the end of Nehemiah chapter 9, the people had come to a place of decision, and now, collectively, the nation was going to do something about it by entering into a covenant.
i. Nehemiah 8:38 gives the sense of this: And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; and our leaders and our Levites and our priests shall seal it.
ii. In Nehemiah 8:38, make a covenant is literally “cut a covenant”; covenants were not made in the ancient world, they were cut - because almost always an animal was sacrificed as part of the covenant. A covenant always cost something, and our point of decision will cost us something - the self-life, comfort, ease, some of the passing pleasures of this world. Count the cost to see if it’s worth it!
b. Those who placed their seal on the document: It was wonderful for the nation as a whole to feel that something had to be done about the sin problem among them. But it was meaningless unless individuals came forth to say “we will do something about this.” Here are the leaders (84 in all) willing to put their name on the line for the covenant before God.
c. On the document: These people in Nehemiah’s day knew what covenants were all about, and how important they were to God. They remembered God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that both a nation and the Messiah would descend from him; God made a covenant with Moses and the nation of Israel when He gave them the law at Mount Sinai; God made a covenant with King David, promising the Messiah would come from his family. But the greatest covenant, the New Covenant instituted by the Messiah, was yet to come.
2. (9-13) The Levites who signed the covenant.
The Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, and Kadmiel. Their brethren: Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Bani, and Beninu.
3. (14-27) The civic leaders who signed the covenant.
The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-Moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahijah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, and Baanah.
B. The terms of the covenant.
1. (28-29) The making of the covenant with God.
Now the rest of the people; the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding; these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes:
a. Now the rest of the people: The 84 mentioned previously sealed the covenant, but the rest of the people - that is, everyone who had knowledge and understanding - also made the covenant with God.
b. Entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law: In making the covenant, they agreed to accept a curse from God if they did not obey His law. They accepted the curse as a form of His correction, to bring them back to obedience.
i. Many of us have done a similar thing. We probably didn’t pray “God, curse me if I disobey You.” But many of us have prayed, “Lord, whatever it takes I want to follow You. Whatever it takes I want to be Your man.” That is essentially praying the same thing, and that is a good prayer.
c. Their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding: They made this covenant publicly; though its most significant meaning was between the individual and God, it was also important that other people be witness to the covenant. A public covenant meant accountability.
2. (30) Their first area of decision: we will be faithful to God when it comes to our romantic relationships.
We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons;
a. We would not give our daughters as wives to the people of the land: This promise was addressed to parents. This is because in that day, parents made the marriage decisions, not the people getting married.
i. If this covenant were to be repeated today, it wouldn’t be focused towards the parents, but towards the individuals who wanted to get married.
b. We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land: This preserved the important principle that a follower of God should only marry another similarly committed follower of God. It is obvious by experience and observation that it is important to carefully and prayerfully choose your spouse.
i. Many of us have remarkable stories of how we came together with our mate - some stories are romantic, and others are kind of strange. Once we are together, God wants to make that marriage something special before Him, and desires to draw the couple closer together as they draw closer to God, as the sides of a triangle come closer as they come higher up.
ii. But if one is not now married, it is important for them to make the same kind of covenant. If one has given their life to serving Jesus Christ, there will be difficulty if they marry someone who has given their life to something else. If one is in that situation now, God can do great things, but one should never knowingly choose to be in that place from the beginning.
iii. The whole idea of marriage is closely connected to the idea of covenant. Malachi 2:14 says, Yet she is your companion, and your wife by covenant. Marriage is a covenant, between the husband and wife, between them and all family and witness, but most importantly, between them and God.
iv. When we understand marriage as a covenant, we have something to bond us together that is stronger than society’s expectations, more constant than romantic love, and more certain than happy times - we have a covenant.
3. (31) Second area of decision: we will be faithful to God when it comes to doing business.
If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.
a. If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day: Under the Old Testament law, God said that no one could buy or sell anything on the Sabbath day. These citizens of Jerusalem had been breaking this law, and they now covenant with God to obey it.
b. We would not buy it from them on the Sabbath: The motive for breaking this law was clear. They could make more money selling on seven days of the week instead of six days. This was a covenant to only make money in ways that were obedient and glorifying to God.
i. This is a great challenge for the church today, when many are in careers where they have the opportunity to make money in ways that are plain wrong. We need to have the same heart they had here, and covenant before God to only make money in ways that are obedient and glorifying to Him.
ii. Many of us - as was true in Nehemiah’s day - slip into these practices subtly. We don’t wake up in the morning saying we’re going to cut corners, cheat others, and defraud the system. We do it because we think we need to - bills need to be paid, the kids need things, and so on. Then we do it because it works. But we don’t really need to; if we trust God, He will take care of us. We should never trust our slick ways of doing business more than we trust God in heaven.
4. (32-39) The third area of decision: we will be faithful to God when it comes to supporting God’s work.
Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. We cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for bringing the wood offering into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at the appointed times year by year, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God as it is written in the Law. And we made ordinances to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the LORD; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God.
a. To exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: They laid down a yearly tax to support the workings of the temple. They required people to bring wood to the temple on a rotating basis. They committed themselves to obey the command to bring the firstborn and the firstfruits, and the tithe (ten percent of the produce of their land) unto the house of God.
i. They simply did two things. First, they agreed to give as God had commanded (the firstborn, firstfruits, and the tithe). Second, they agreed to give as the special need required (the one-third of a shekel tax and the wood).
ii. Firstborn and firstfruits were risky ways to give, because your land might not yield much more produce, and your cow or ewe might not give birth again - yet the first still belonged to God, and was given to the priests. God promised to bless this giving of the firstfruits and firstborn in faith: Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10).
b. We will not neglect the house of our God: If before they covenanted to make money only in ways that would glorify God, here they covenant to spend their money in ways that glorify God - and beginning it all with giving unto the Lord.
c. We will not neglect the house of our God: Simply said, the Bible says we need to be givers. Not so much for the sake of those we give to, but because giving sets our heart right about material things. God Himself is the greatest giver.
i. If you hold on to money so tightly that you will not be a giver, than you have revealed where your heart is when it comes to money.
ii. The New Testament speaks with great clarity on the principle of giving; that giving should be regular, planned, proportional, and private (1 Corinthians 16:1-4); that it must be generous, freely given, and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9).
iii. If you are reluctant to be a giver as the Bible says you should, simply talk to those who are. Ask them if it has been a blessing or a curse in their life to give as God says to. God promises He will never owe us anything, and we cannot out-give God - though the return is often far better than dollars and cents.
Nehemiah 11 - The Citizens of Jerusalem
A. Recruiting citizens of Jerusalem.
1. (1) Those who will live in Jerusalem.
Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities.
a. To bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem: It wasn’t enough to see the city walls rebuilt and the spiritual renewal of the people of Jerusalem; now they concerned themselves with getting more people into the city.
i. For a city to prosper and be great, it must be populated. And for more than seventy years, Jerusalem had been nothing but a ghost town. Now, over the last eighty or so years, it has been repopulated, with a new temple built (under Ezra) and the walls rebuilt (under Nehemiah). But the city still needed more people.
ii. Nehemiah also knew the bigger the population of Jerusalem, the greater the resources for defense and strength in battle. He didn’t rebuild the walls just to see some conquering army come and break them down again!
b. Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: It was good that the leaders of the people set the example by living in Jerusalem. Leaders must set the pattern by their lives. They had no right to expect the people to live in Jerusalem if they themselves were not living there.
c. One out of ten: The rest of the people submitted themselves to a lottery system, where one out of ten would be selected to move from the surrounding regions into the city of Jerusalem. So, in the end, at least ten percent of Judah’s population would live in Jerusalem.
2. (2) Blessing the citizens of Jerusalem.
And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.
a. And the people blessed all the men: Apart from the leaders (who had a special obligation) and those selected in the lottery (who were also obligated), there were all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem. These men had a special blessing.
i. They had a unique pioneer spirit. They had the ability to endure some measure of hardship or discomfort to accomplish a greater work for God’s kingdom.
ii. It was in these days in the rebuilding of Jerusalem that God asked and important question through the prophet Zechariah: For who has despised the day of small things? (Zechariah 4:10). The answer is, “Many of us have!” But these who offered themselves to willingly live at Jerusalem, so as to take what is small and build it up before the Lord, have decided to not despise the day of small things.
b. To dwell at Jerusalem: If such a blessing is reserved for those who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem, there was something special about the challenge of living in Jerusalem.
i. To live in Jerusalem, you had to re-order your view of material things. You had to give up land in your previous region and take up some kind of new business in Jerusalem.
ii. To live in Jerusalem, you had to re-arrange your social priorities, certainly leaving some friends and family behind in your old village.
iii. To live in Jerusalem, you had to have a mind to endure the problems in the city. It had been a ghost town for 70 years, and was now basically a slightly rebuilt, somewhat repopulated ghost town. The city didn’t look all that glorious and it needed work.
iv. To live in Jerusalem, you had to live knowing you were a target for the enemy. There were strong walls to protect you, but since Jerusalem was now a notable city with rebuilt walls, the fear was more from whole armies than bands of robbers. The old village was nice, but not in much danger from great armies.
v. The Bible tells us there is a city coming down from heaven to earth, when God is done with this earth as we know it, and it calls that city New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). People don’t want to be citizens of the New Jerusalem for the same reasons many didn’t want to be citizens of Nehemiah’s Jerusalem.
B. Roster of those living in Jerusalem and in Judea.
1. (3-24) Leaders who lived in Jerusalem.
These are the heads of the province who dwelt in Jerusalem. (But in the cities of Judah everyone dwelt in his own possession in their cities; Israelites, priests, Levites, Nethinim, and descendants of Solomon’s servants.) Also in Jerusalem dwelt some of the children of Judah and of the children of Benjamin. The children 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 children of Perez; 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 Shiloni. All the sons of Perez who dwelt at Jerusalem were four hundred and sixty-eight valiant men. And 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; and after him Gabbai and Sallai, nine hundred and twenty-eight. Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Senuah was second over the city. Of the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, and Jachin; Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, was the leader of the house of God. Their brethren who did the work of the house were eight hundred and twenty-two; 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, and his brethren, heads of the fathers’ houses, were two hundred and forty-two; and Amashai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, and their brethren, mighty men of valor, were one hundred and twenty-eight. Their overseer was Zabdiel the son of one of the great men. Also of the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the heads of the Levites, had the oversight of the business outside of the house of God; Mattaniah the son of Micha, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the leader who began the thanksgiving with prayer; Bakbukiah, the second among his brethren; and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred and eighty-four. Moreover the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon, and their brethren who kept the gates, were one hundred and seventy-two. And the rest of Israel, of the priests and Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, everyone in his inheritance. But the Nethinim dwelt in Ophel. And Ziha and Gishpa were over the Nethinim. Also the overseer of the Levites at Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micha, of the sons of Asaph, the singers in charge of the service of the house of God. For it was the king’s command concerning them that a certain portion should be for the singers, a quota day by day. Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the children of Zerah the son of Judah, was the king’s deputy in all matters concerning the people.
a. These are the heads of the province: This extensive list includes tribal leaders (of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin), military men, priests, Levites, gatekeepers, and civil and royal servants.
b. Who dwelt in Jerusalem: All these notable men and their families took the lead by choosing to settle in Jerusalem, setting a good example for all God’s people.
2. (25-36) Jewish villages and towns throughout Judea.
And as for the villages with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt in Kirjath Arba and its villages, Dibon and its villages, Jekabzeel and its villages; in Jeshua, Moladah, Beth Pelet, Hazar Shual, and Beersheba and its villages; in Ziklag and Meconah and its villages; in En Rimmon, Zorah, Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages; in Lachish and its fields; in Azekah and its villages. They dwelt from Beersheba to the Valley of Hinnom. Also the children of Benjamin from Geba dwelt in Michmash, Aija, and Bethel, and their villages; in Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah; in Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim; in Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat; in Lod, Ono, and the Valley of Craftsmen. Some of the Judean divisions of Levites were in Benjamin.
Nehemiah 12 - Dedication of the Wall
A. Priestly and Levitical families.
1. (1-11) Priests and Levites in the days of Zerubbabel, the high priest.
Now these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shechaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, and Jedaiah. These were the heads of the priests and their brethren in the days of Jeshua. Moreover the Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah who led the thanksgiving psalms, he and his brethren. Also Bakbukiah and Unni, their brethren, stood across from them in their duties. Jeshua begot Joiakim, Joiakim begot Eliashib, Eliashib begot Joiada, Joiada begot Jonathan, and Jonathan begot Jaddua.
2. (12-21) Priests in the days of Joiakim.
Now in the days of Joiakim, the priests, the heads of the fathers’ houses were: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; of Melichu, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; of Abijah, Zichri; the son of Minjamin; of Moadiah, Piltai; of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; and of Jedaiah, Nethanel.
3. (22-26) Levites during the reign of Darius the Persian.
During the reign of Darius the Persian, a record was also kept of the Levites and priests who had been heads of their fathers’ houses in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua. The sons of Levi, the heads of the fathers’ houses until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib, were written in the book of the chronicles. And the heads of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers across from them, to praise and give thanks, group alternating with group, according to the command of David the man of God. Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers keeping the watch at the storerooms of the gates. These lived 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, the scribe.
B. The dedication ceremony.
1. (27-29) Gathering the Levites for the dedication ceremony.
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem, from the villages of the Netophathites, from the house of Gilgal, and from the fields of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem.
a. The sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem: The Levites had many responsibilities in the life and worship of Israel, but one of the most important jobs they had was to lead the people in songs of worship and praise to God.
b. To celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing: Mostly, they did not sing without musical instruments. Here are specifically mentioned cymbals and stringed instruments and harps.
i. There are at least twenty-two different musical instruments mentioned in the Bible, including the harp, the lyre (an ancient guitar), horns, trumpets, flutes, tambourines, drums, cymbals, and bells.
ii. The Levites were specially appointed to use these instruments to lead the people in worshipping God through singing.
c. Sons of the singers . . . the singers had built themselves villages: There were also specially appointed singers. The singers in Nehemiah’s day had a close-knit bond, both by families and living arrangements.
i. Since the job of these singers was to lead the people in worship of God, they had to be good singers; but more importantly, they had to be people of worship themselves.
ii. There is a huge difference between being a great singer and being a great leader of songs of worship to God. Worship should be excellent, but it isn’t entertainment. The goal isn’t to give the people a good feeling (though that may happen), but to give glory and honor to God.
2. (30) Purification.
Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.
a. Then the priests and Levites purified themselves: They did this first. They could not effectively lead the people in worship of God unless they walked in purity before the Lord.
b. And purified the people: The next did this. They brought cleansing to the people the way the Bible said to, knowing that only a purified people could really worship and praise God.
i. Some might silently object here; they may say, “I know a person who goes to church and seems to be lost in beautiful praise and worship to God, and I also know their life is rather impure outside the church walls. It sure seems they are worshipping God, but are personally impure.”
ii. Something is wrong there; probably, their worship is not a true worship of God in spirit and in truth, but instead a “soulish” experience. All that inwardly moves a person in a deep way is not necessarily of the spirit; it can be of the soul. One of the great works of the Word of God is to divide between that which is truly spiritual and that which is merely soulish (Hebrews 4:12).
iii. Without purity, we can’t worship God in spirit and in truth, as Jesus commanded us to (John 4:24). Psalm 24:3-4 asks, Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, and it means it in the sense of bringing praise to God.
iv. We can be made pure and clean before God today, right now, by doing what the Bible says to do - not in following an Old Testament ceremony, but by receiving the word of the New Testament: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
c. The gates, and the wall: Third, their surroundings were purified. Purified surrounding help us to walk in purity consistently. The homes and offices of many Christians could use a good purification and cleansing.
3. (31-43) Two choirs lead Jerusalem in joyful praise.
So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate. After them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the priests’ sons with trumpets; Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his brethren, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. Ezra the scribe went before them. By the Fountain Gate, in front of them, they went up the stairs of the City of David, on the stairway of the wall, beyond the house of David, as far as the Water Gate eastward. The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, above the Old Gate, above the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel, the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped by the Gate of the Prison. So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Minjamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director. Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.
a. Appointed two large thanksgiving choirs: The two large choirs were called thanksgiving choirs for good reason. All praise and worship must have a strong element of thanksgiving to God for it to be genuine.
i. Notice that the singers sang loudly. They had to be heard, because as glorious as the instruments were, the people would follow the lead of the singers in worship.
b. God made them rejoice with great joy: God did this with the choirs assembled, and the people spread all about. They were then overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving, considering all God had done.
c. The women and the children also rejoiced: This tremendous experience of worship was for everyone. There weren’t some who weren’t able to worship.
d. The joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off: Their worship was a testimony to others, and what others heard was not so much the singing itself as the joy. We often worry about others hearing us sing; but what God wants to hear and what others should hear is not so much your singing, but your joy.
3. (44-47) Other aspects of this day of joy.
And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered. Both the singers and the gatekeepers kept the charge of their God and the charge of the purification, according to the command of David and Solomon his son. For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chiefs of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. In the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah all Israel gave the portions for the singers and the gatekeepers, a portion for each day. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites, and the Levites consecrated them for the children of Aaron.
a. Some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings: This was a day of giving. People brought their offerings, firstfruits, tithes to the storehouse of the Levites, and they did it with joy because they enjoyed supporting the priests and Levites ministering on their behalf.
b. Both the singers and the gatekeepers kept the charge of their God and the charge of the purification: This was a day of purity. It was an ongoing concern, not a one-time ceremony.
c. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites: It was a day of consecration. Holy things were set apart for the Levites, speaking of the separation unto God.
Nehemiah 13 - Nehemiah’s Reforms
A. True worship leads to the nation’s obedience.
1. (1-2) Hearing the law brings a call to obedience.
On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people, and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God, because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing.
a. No Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God: As the people drew near to God in worship (as seen in Nehemiah 11 and 12), they became aware of God’s standards. In this case the standard stated in Deuteronomy 23:3-4, where the Ammonites and Moabites were not to be regarded as part of Israel.
b. Because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water: The Ammonites and Moabites were singled out because of their devious schemes against Israel, when Israel came into the promised land - at least a thousand years before this.
i. Long before the Ammonites and Moabites had schemed against Israel, God had made a promise to the father of the Jewish people, Abraham: I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you (Genesis 12:3). The command about the Ammonites and the Moabites is a simple fulfillment of this promise.
c. Should ever come into the assembly of God: This meant to be regarded as one of the people of Israel and people of God. It meant one could fully participate in the spiritual life of Israel.
i. An Israelite became a part of God’s covenant by birth; but an Ammonite or Moabite could not. They had to become a part of the covenant by choice - by joining with God’s covenant people and leaving their own people.
ii. This command was a powerful message - both then and now. It said to these Ammonites and Moabites, “You are not a part of the people of God by birth. You must make a choice. You can not live the thinking and deeds of your anti-God culture, and truly join in the spiritual life of God’s people. Unless you leave one and join the other, you will never really be a part of this spiritual life. Come join us!”
d. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing: This refers to the events of Numbers 22-24, where God blessed Israel, even though the prophet Balaam wanted to curse them. It also reminds us that God is able - more than able - to turn any curse into a blessing.
2. (3) After hearing God’s command, Israel obeys and separates from the mixed multitude.
So it was, when they had heard the Law, that they separated all the mixed multitude from Israel.
a. They separated all the mixed multitude from Israel: They could have thought of 20 reasons to not do what the word of God plainly told them to do. Instead, they simply obeyed.
i. They might have made familiar excuses:
· “That command was made long ago, and speaks to a different time.”
· “Things are different now.”
· “Let’s not go overboard.”
· “Let’s assign a task force to examine the issue.”
b. The mixed multitude: This refers to those who wanted to associate with the people of Israel, but did not want to count the cost and make a full commitment.
i. Even today, there may be people of good will in churches; honorable people, who respect God and His word. Yet they are part of the mixed multitude because they have not received God’s covenant of salvation in Jesus. Such people are welcome, but it should be understood where they stand.
B. Nehemiah’s reforms.
1. (4-9) Temple reforms.
Now before this, Eliashib the priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah. And he had prepared for him a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine and oil, which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests. But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king, and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
a. But during all this I was not in Jerusalem: This section indicates that Nehemiah left Jerusalem and went back to his duties in the Persian court. He was gone from Jerusalem for anywhere from 10 to 12 years.
i. Nehemiah left sometime after the remarkable spiritual revival noted in the recent chapters. But the real test of revival - the real test of God’s work in our lives - is the long term. It is seeing where we are with the Lord ten years after a season of great work.
b. I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah: When Nehemiah came back, he saw that Eliashib the priest had entered into agreements with one of the enemies of Nehemiah’s work of rebuilding the wall - Tobiah.
i. Incidentally, Tobiah was an Ammonite (Nehemiah 2:10) - one of the very mixed multitude that had been put out of the assembly of God’s people some 10 years before. At this point in the record of Nehemiah, Tobiah was not only present among the assembly, he actually rented rooms in the temple courts.
ii. Apparently, Tobiah had not changed over the years. He did not join the people of God in the terms of His covenant. The problem was evident to Nehemiah - but Eliashib was completely blind to it.
c. And it grieved me bitterly: There were many reasons why this was so distressing to Nehemiah.
i. Because rooms in the courts of the temple of God were being occupied by a man not only a pagan, but who also had a history of actively opposing God’s work in the days of Nehemiah.
ii. Because it reflected so badly on Eliashib (a man who was a spiritual leader in Israel) and those around him. It showed that if Eliashib was blind to a problem area, there was also no one around him who could confront him with the problem.
iii. Because it made Nehemiah question the lasting value of the spiritual revival he witnessed when last in Jerusalem.
d. Therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room: Nehemiah wasn’t one just to sit back and grieve. He took action - throwing all Tobiah’s stuff out of the rooms he occupied in the temple courts, then ceremonially cleansing the rooms, and finally by putting the rooms to their proper use - as storerooms for the sacred things of the temple.
i. Nehemiah is much like Jesus when He cleansed the temple from those who profaned it. Both Jesus and Nehemiah had the wisdom to not confuse love with being “nice” - and the wisdom to know when to take bold action.
2. (10-14) Financial reforms.
I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field. So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place. Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse. And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouse Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah; and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered faithful, and their task was to distribute to their brethren. Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services!
a. I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them: The people did not obey God’s word regarding giving. Because of the lack of support, those who should give their time to the service of God and His people (the Levites and the singers) could not - and they had to leave that service.
b. Why is the house of God forsaken? The lack of giving was a way of forsaking the house of God.
c. I gathered them all together and set them in their place: Nehemiah set the situation right by expecting the Levites and the singers to recommit to the work of serving God and His people as they should. He also reorganized the collection and accounting of the people’s tithes and gifts.
3. (15-22) Priority reform.
In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day. Now the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. Then I warned them, and said to them, “Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!” From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy!
a. In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath: The Sabbath was being ignored in disobedience to God’s clear command under the Old Covenant. Foreigners sold and the people of Israel bought.
i. At the root, this was a problem of priorities. There is nothing wrong with buying and selling, only when our desire to buy and sell, to make money or spend money, becomes more important to us than honoring God. This was a clear way the people of Israel were putting making and spending money before glorifying God.
ii. The New Testament makes it clear we are not under the law of the Sabbath in the same sense Israel was under the Old Covenant (Colossians 2:16-17); but we are certainly under the same obligation to make honoring God more important than making money or spending money.
b. You bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath: Nehemiah knew that sin was not only a personal issue. When such open sin is winked at and left uncorrected among God’s people, it invites the correcting hand of God.
i. Nehemiah wasn’t going to sit still for this; he threatened If you do so again, I will lay hands on you! He did not mean the gentle laying on of hands for prayer, but the rough laying on of hands for correction.
4. (23-31a) Relationship reform.
In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?” And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I drove him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan. I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service, and to bringing the wood offering and the firstfruits at appointed times.
a. In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab: In the years Nehemiah was away the Israelites had resumed their practice of intermarrying with the pagan nations surrounding them. This was in dramatic disobedience to God’s command.
b. So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear: From this strong reaction of Nehemiah, we gather he considered this to be the most dangerous of their sins - pursing ungodly romance, and getting involved in romantic relationships God had said “no” to.
i. His example of Solomon is well taken (Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? . . . pagan women caused even him to sin). If Solomon, one of the wisest and most blessed men ever, sinned with unwise and ungodly romance then no one else should consider themselves invulnerable.
5. (31b) Conclusion: Nehemiah’s clear conscience.
Remember me, O my God, for good!
a. Remember me: At the end of it all, Nehemiah knew he did his best to make the people of God strong, safe, and secure. Beyond that, he also led them to be pure, worshipful, and obedient.
b. Remember me, O my God, for good! Yet, Nehemiah certainly carried a sense of failure. In Nehemiah 10 the people made a solemn covenant to God that they would not do three things: have ungodly romantic relationships (10:30), buy and sell on the Sabbath (10:31), and support the work of God with money as He commanded (10:32-39).
i. Nevertheless, in Nehemiah 13, some 10 to 12 years later, Israel was steeped in the exact sins they vowed to stop. Nehemiah had to address the problems of ungodly romantic relationships (13:23-31), buying and selling on the Sabbath (13:15-22), and failing to support the work of God as He commanded (13:10-14).
ii. In Nehemiah 10:39 the people promised: we will not neglect the house of our God. But later in Nehemiah 13:11, Nehemiah had to ask: Why is the house of God forsaken? It was forsaken because Israel did not keep its promises before God.
iii. This makes a point vividly clear: the law - that is, rules, vows, promises, covenants, and the such, are all ultimately powerless to stop sin. Only the grace of God, alive and flowing in our lives, can give us the power to truly overcome sin.
iv. Paul expresses this in Romans 8:3, among other places: For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Too many Christians look for victory in the making of rules, of vows, of promises - and fail to find it, because all those things tend to make us look to ourselves, instead of looking to Jesus.
v. The Old Testament history of Israel, from beginning to end, illustrates this. When the nation was first born at the Exodus, despite the most spectacular miracles, displays of God’s glory, and revelation of the law, the people sinned, by crediting a gold calf with their deliverance from Egypt! And now here, at the end of the Old Testament history of God’s people in the promised land, Nehemiah is pulling hair out - his own and those of sinners - because they couldn’t keep their promises to God.
vi. If we could be saved by our own promises, by our own commitment to Jesus, then His death would have been noble, but unnecessary. We aren’t saved by some vow we make, or some leaf we turn over, but by trusting in who Jesus is, and what He has done to save us.
of , which is