Esther Bible Study

As we begin this Esther Bible Study, let’s consider the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In those books we saw a large group of Jews who returned to Judah and Jerusalem after the Exile. And we can imagine the kind of questions this group might have been asking – “Our fathers and we have sinned against God. We broke his covenant with us which he made with us at Mount Sinai. Are we still his covenant people? Has he rejected us because of our sin? Is he done with the Jews?” And what we saw is that no in fact God was not done with the Jews. They were still his covenant people. Even though they broke the covenant, he continued to keep his end of the bargain. The people who returned to Judah were in the land God promised them. They had the Temple once more. God sent prophets to encourage them to rebuild that Temple. They were sacrificing according to God’s commandments. So it was evident that God was still with them.

But what about the Jews who didn’t return to Jerusalem? Did you know that there were some who stayed back in Babylon and Persia? There were quite a few who did. Were they still God’s covenant people? That’s what the book of Esther seeks to answer. So this week and the next five weeks we’ll be studying the book of Esther and seeing what we might discover along those lines.

The book of Esther is a masterpiece of a book in our Bible. It’s the source of the modern Jewish holiday called Purim. That’s the holiday in which Jews get together and remember the deliverance they received from their enemies. Sometime usually in March all the Jews read this book in their synagogues and make a party of it. They read this very book we’ll be studying. And whenever they hear the name… Haman they boo, hiss, and rattle noisemakers in order to blot his name out. This is a book that I’ve heard the Nazis in Germany banned in the concentration camps. The Nazis apparently didn’t want the Jews to get any idea that they’d be delivered from the Germans’ wicked plot against them. This book is a great story. And it’s all the greater because it’s absolutely true and is profitable to teach us doctrinally, to reprove us, to correct us, and to instruct us in righteousness so that we can be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So let’s dive-in to this wonderful book. I’ll state from the beginning that there are 5 main sections in this book. We have an introduction, 3 middle sections that develop and deliver the story, and then a conclusion that wraps things up. Let’s get a broad overview of each of these sections in this book.

Introduction to this Esther Bible Study

We’ll start with the introduction. That covers 1:1-2:23. What do we learn in the introduction? Let’s read 1:1-4.

Esther 1:1 ¶ Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:) 2 That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, 3 In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him: 4 When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days.

So we have a king named Ahasuerus. He throws an extravagant party for his nobles. And this party lasts for a half a year. King Ahasuerus comes across to me as a fairly extreme man. He does things quickly and decisively – or you could say hastily and thoughtlessly. He does what he does to the extreme – a party that lasts a half a year! This man is the king of Persia. He’s actually the one who came after king Darius whom we saw in Ezra. Darius is the one under whom the Temple was finally rebuilt. [explain chronology of the kings]

At any rate, king Ahasuerus throws this party for some elite folks in his circle of influence. Then in verses 5 through 9 he throws a party for everyone – not just the nobles – in the capital city of Shushan. This lasts for 7 days. At the end of this section we are alerted that the king has a queen and her name is Vashti. We see her holding a party for the women who belong to the king – probably the king’s concubines.

Now, even though these first 9 verses of this first chapter seem to paint a really rosy picture of Ahasuerus’ situation, he’s got a problem. What’s the problem? Well, verses 10 and 11 tell us that the king’s heart was merry with wine on the last day of the feast for the folks in Shushan. And in that merriness he wants his queen to come. I’m assigning the best motives to Ahasuerus. I think he’s shown all his royal bounty and the whole time the queen was entertaining other guests. So now Ahasuerus wants to show the people his beautiful queen. I don’t think there are any ulterior motives in his heart about this. Now, how does Vashti respond? Let’s read verse 12.

Vashti’s Response

Esther 1:12 But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.

This is not a good situation. The queen publicly defied the king. King Ahasuerus then asks his wise men and counselors what he should do in response to this disobedience. One counselor in particular advises the king that queen Vashti’s disobedience could have far-reaching consequences. The counselor suggests that when all the ladies in Persia hear of this, they’ll be encouraged to disrespect their own husbands. So, the counselor thinks of a solution. It doesn’t involve executing Vashti or anything like that. It simply involves the king not allowing Vashti to come before his presence. And then the king will find someone more worthy of being queen in Vashti’s place. The king likes that idea and send letters throughout his kingdom declaring what Vashti did and how he handled the situation.

That brings us to chapter 2. The king comes out of his anger and remembers what he decreed concerning Vashti. Then he had overseers throughout his kingdom collect – probably by force – beautiful young virgins and bring them to his harem in Shushan. Let’s read about one such young lady in 2:5-7.

One Young Lady

Esther 2:5 ¶ Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; 6 Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. 7 And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.

So now we’re introduced to two of the main characters in this story – Mordecai and Esther. Esther’s parents were out of the picture. So Mordecai selflessly raised her as his own daughter. And Esther was beautiful. So she’s brought to the harem by the king’s officials. And while she’s there she finds favor with the man in charge of the girls. He gives her whatever she wants, assigns attendants to her, and gives her the best place in the harem. I guess if you find yourself in this kind of situation, it couldn’t get any better than what Esther experienced.

Let me point out an oddity. Did you notice that Esther has two names? Her Jewish name was Hadassah. “Esther” is actually her Persian name. You ask, why would she need two names? Let’s read verse 10.

Why Two Names?

Esther 2:10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.

No one knew Esther’s Hebrew name. Why? Because she’s keeping her identity a secret. She’s hiding the fact that she’s a Jew. Why? The reason is perhaps somewhat noble. She’s simply doing what she’s been told. That’s in contrast to Vashti. What else do we know about Vashti beside the fact that she disobeyed? Unlike Vashti, Esther was obedient to her authorities. But that kind of puts the burden on Mordecai then. Why did he not want to reveal their Jewish identity? I don’t quite know. He probably thought they might get in trouble if people knew who they were. But whatever the reason, their identity can’t stay hidden for very long. Now, before we get a bad view of Mordecai, verse 11 talks about his extreme care for Esther. He was a man in a tough position. He wanted to protect his adopted daughter. In his mind apparently, hiding her Jewish identity would protect her. He’s trying his best. The question that’s left unanswered is whether it was right for him to do this. Maybe we’ll get the answer in the coming weeks as we study through this book in greater detail.

Now the day came when Esther had her turn to go in to king Ahasuerus. And it just so happened that the king loved Esther more than any other of the virgins. And he made her queen in place of Vashti. Now, there are two reactions to this turn of events. First, we should be amazed that a lowly Jewish girl became queen of the Persian empire! What an incredible chance happening! But second, I’m just a bit uncomfortable with the fact that a Jew would be able to fit in so well with this pagan crowd and their pagan king. What kind of Jewish norms did she have to compromise in order to find the acceptance she found? Just something to think about for now.

And after Esther is crowned queen, it just so happens that Mordecai is sitting at the king’s gate. And it’s there that he just happens to overhear a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus – his new in-law. Mordecai then relays that information to Esther. Esther tells the king. The king conducts an investigation. And when he finds that Mordecai is right, he hangs the conspirators on a gallows.

So it seems like these two Jews are really having some good luck! Well, eventually their luck seems to run out. Let’s read 3:1.

“Luck” Runs Out

Esther 3:1 ¶ After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.

Well, what’s so bad about this? Why would this indicate the Jews’ luck is about to change? Well, this Haman is an Agagite. Do you know who Agag is? He’s actually an Amalekite king. And he was king in the days of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul was commanded to utterly destroy Agag. Did he do it? No, he didn’t. Samuel had to do it himself because Saul disobeyed. Here’s the point – Haman, who would turn out to be a most insidious enemy of the Jews, would not have been around if king Saul would have obeyed. But Saul disobeyed and so now Haman was born and is able to oppose the Jews.

So, this is bad news. Haman the Agagite is around. And even worse – he’s been promoted by the king! Everyone bowed to Haman. That was the king’s command. Everyone, that is, except Mordecai. Mordecai refused to bow to this man. Whether or not that was right of him is another story. I tend to think Mordecai was doing right by not bowing. Why? Read 3:4.

Take a Bow?

Esther 3:4 Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.

What’s most important is that last verse. Mordecai gave the reason to his fellow citizens of Persia for not bowing to Haman. The last phrase of verse 4 – he was a Jew. So, Mordecai is finally pressured into revealing that he was a Jew.

Haman picks up on that fact. Now, Haman is a proud and arrogant man. We’ll see that throughout the story. He can’t stand the fact that Mordecai won’t bow and tremble and pay homage before him. So, Haman wants to destroy Mordecai. But, now he knows Mordecai’s people. So, Haman steps up his antagonism and wants to destroy all the Jews – not just Mordecai alone.

So Haman casts lots to determine when to carry out the destruction of the Jews. The lot somehow falls on the 13th day of the 12th month. Haman goes to the king, tells the king that there is a group in his kingdom who doesn’t obey the king’s laws, and asks permission to destroy them. King Ahasuerus rather mindlessly gives his permission. So, Haman writes up an edict declaring that all the Jews throughout Persia (Judah, too) must be destroyed on the 13th day of the 12th month.

The reaction is pure sorrow all across the kingdom. There was confusion in the capital city of Shushan. Mordecai himself put on sackcloth and mourned loudly in the street. News of this event reached queen Esther and she writhed in great anguish. So, she sends a messenger to Modecai to find out exactly why this is happening. And this leads to this really engaging correspondence between Esther and Mordecai in 4:6-16. We won’t read it for the sake of time, but what ends up happening is that Mordecai tells Esther that she must go before the king and ask him to deliver the Jews. She puts up some excuses as to why that would not be a good idea. So Mordecai needs to remind her that she is also vulnerable even in the palace. She is a Jew after all. And Mordecai tells her that if she doesn’t act, she’ll be destroyed and yet deliverance for the Jews will come from somewhere else. And then that famous line, “and who knows if you’ve attained royalty for… such a time as this.”

This is a real turning point I think for Esther herself. Would she identify with her people and bear the reproach and danger associated with that identification? And we know that she did. She’s ready to own up to her identity as a Jew and approach the king. And if she perishes, she says, she perishes. She tells Mordecai and the people to fast three days. She will also fast. And during that time she hatches a plan.

And here’s how the plan unfolds. Esther first comes to the king. Remember, she could be executed on the spot for coming in uninvited. But it just so happens that the king extends mercy to her and asks her what she wants. So she tells him she’d like to invite him and Haman to a banquet. The king commands for Haman to be brought quickly. At the banquet, the king again asks what Esther would like from him. She says that she’d like both of them to attend a banquet again tomorrow and then she’ll tell the king her request.

Haman, the arrogant and easily-flattered man that he is, goes away rejoicing that he had the great privilege of dining with the king and queen. But on the way to his home, Haman saw Mordecai at the gate. Mordecai as usual did not bow to him. So Haman became very angry once again. When Haman returned home he got together his wife and friends and was telling them all about his accomplishments and fame. He told them exuberantly how even queen Esther invited only him and the king to her banquet and that she invited him tomorrow as well! But all this seem worthless in his mind because that one Jew Mordecai won’t bow to him!

So his wife and friends suggest that he have a gallows constructed to hang Mordecai and that he should ask the king if he can hang Mordecai tomorrow before the banquet. Oh, Haman liked that idea. And so he had a gallows constructed and made his way to the palace.

But it just so happened that during the night the king couldn’t sleep. So what helps a king sleep better than having a book of records read aloud to him? So he’s lying there having this book of records read and the reader comes to where it was recorded that Mordecai saved the king’s life by uncovering that assassination plot we read about earlier. The king asks what has been done for Mordecai. The servants say that nothing has been done. So the king asks if anyone is in the court. Indeed, it just so happened that Haman was in the court on his way to ask the king if he could kill Mordecai. So the king summons Haman into his room.

The king asks Haman what he should do to the man he wants to honor. Of course the king is thinking of Mordecai. But Haman, the proud man, is thinking of himself. So Haman gives the king a great idea as to what he should do for the man the king desires to honor. So the king tells Haman to go do that for Mordecai. Haman is humiliated. He hurries home mourning while Mordecai just returns to the gate.

Now this was the turning point in the story. Up until this point the Jews are in grave danger. They’re going to be annihilated. But this reversal of fortunes in Haman being forced to honor Mordecai is the beginning of the end of that.

And Haman’s wife and friends even say as much. Read 6:13.

Haman’s In Trouble!

Esther 6:13 And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him. Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him.

Haman’s doom is sealed. He has begun to fall before a Jew. And this is going to be his end. You just wonder if Haman’s wife and counselors recall the promise made in the Old Testament to blot out Agag’s memory from under heaven. At any rate there seems to be no hope for Haman.

As Haman’s wife and counselors are speaking to him, messengers come to whisk Haman away to Esther’s second banquet. It is there that the king asks Esther again what her petition is. Now is the time! Esther asks that her people be saved from certain destruction. The fact that someone has plotted against the queen’s people seems to surprise and anger King Ahasuerus. Let’s read the rest of the exchange in 7:5-6.

The King’s Anger

Esther 7:5 Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? 6 And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.

The king, true to his character, storms out of the room angrily. Meanwhile, Haman begs his life from Esther. But as he does this, he’s falling on the couch where Esther is. So when the king returns it looks like Haman is assaulting Esther. This enrages the king even further. Someone points out to the king that Haman constructed a gallows for Mordecai – remember? The Mordecai who saved the king’s own life?! So the king commands that Haman be hanged on the same gallows that he constructed to destroy the Jew Mordecai.

But we still have to deal with this edict that had been written in the king’s name to destroy all the Jews everywhere in the Persian empire on the 13th day of the 12th month. And basically, that’s what the rest of the book covers. Briefly, what happens is that the king allows Mordecai to write another edict stating that the Jews can defend themselves and destroy anyone who hates them. So when the 13th day of the 12th month comes, the Jews avenge themselves on their enemies, killing several tens of thousands throughout the kingdom. But they don’t take the plunder. They’re not using this as an excuse to get rich. They’re defending their own lives.

The rest of the book after that gives us a summary of the whole story and tells us that this is the reason the Jews celebrate the festival of Purim. And they still do to this day.

So, that’s the book of Esther in a nutshell. We’ll take the next 5 weeks to work through each chapter in more detail. But this gives us a good introduction to the plot and characters.

Now, it’s hard to teach a Sunday School class without mentioning the words “God” or “Lord”. But if you’ve been keeping track I’ve only said the word “God” 6 times in the introduction. And I haven’t mentioned the word “Lord” at all. Why, you ask? I was trying to do like the book of Esther does. Did you catch how many times the book of Esther uses the words “God” or “Lord”? 0 times. There is no direct reference to God anywhere in the book of Esther. There are veiled references, like when Mordecai tells Esther that if she doesn’t help the Jews, the Jews will be delivered from some other source. Or when Esther tells Mordecai to fast. In these situations, God is implied. But he’s not pictured as directly intervening in their situation at any time. He’s not sending prophets. He’s not rending the heavens and working miracles. God is conspicuously silent. And yet, he’s not inactive. There’s no doubt that God was behind all of these “chance happenings”.

What are we to make of this fact? God isn’t mentioned and yet his handiwork is written throughout this book. Can we apply this situation to our lives? As Christians in the church age after the passing of the apostles, we don’t have miracles. Don’t believe the ridiculous claims of gold dust flying around in some of these charismatic churches. God in this day is not typically in the business of working miracles. He wasn’t in that business in Esther’s day either. So how does God work today? Not through miracles, but through his providence. He arranges for his will to be done through normal, every-day circumstances. And because of this, sometimes it seems like he’s not there. Do you know what that’s like? To be beside yourself with some care or concern and to have God conspicuously silent? It’s very troubling. You can wonder if you’re truly God’s child. This is, no doubt, how the Jews of Esther’s day felt. “Are we really still God’s covenant people? He’s silent to us these days.”

But have you also experienced God delivering you from your trials – not through direct supernatural means – but through his normal ordinary every-day providence? Do you ever look back at such deliverances and marvel at how God orchestrated every piece to fall into place at the right time? Again, this too is what the Jews of Esther’s day experienced… So, the book of Esther should resonate with us. It’s a book about a God who is pretty much silent… and yet active. This silent God leads his people through normal – yet, sometimes amazing – circumstances and thereby shows them that they are still his people… So, the message of this great book is: God leads his people providentially.

Nehemiah 13 KJV Sermon, About, Explanation, Sunday School Lesson

Nehemiah 13 Image

This is our 16th lesson in our study through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And if you’re keeping track, today we’re on the last chapter of Nehemiah.

Next time I plan to have us overview the book of Esther. And then we’ll spend 5 more lessons studying through that book in its entirety. I’m excited about that study. I think we’ll learn a lot from a book that we might not know as well as we think we do.

Well, this study through Ezra and Nehemiah has been quite a ride, hasn’t it? We started back in Ezra chapter 1. There we saw the Persian King Cyrus issue a decree that allowed all Jews to return to their homeland. We saw a number of the Jews take advantage of Cyrus’ decree. And the descendants of the ones who didn’t return we’ll learn about next week when we study the book of Esther!

Once the people got to their homeland they gave a lot of money to the Lord’s work of restoring the Temple. But the people really seem to have lapsed in their dedication to see that work even start. In fact it appeared that God had to kind-of stir-up the hearts of the enemies around the Jews to frighten the Jews and thereby get them to start the work of rebuilding the Temple. So the Jews started rebuilding the Temple.

They rebuilt the altar and the foundation of the Temple – the ground upon which the Temple would rest. And when they had these two items completed they celebrated. They were so thankful for God’s mercy and providence in leading them back to the land and helping them start the work. They rejoiced so loud that others heard. These others certainly weren’t rejoicing that God’s work was being accomplished. And so these enemies opposed the work the Jews were doing. They hindered the rebuilding of the Temple. As a result, that work was stopped for over a decade.

The situation looked bleak. That is, until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah came and preached to the people. With renewed vigor, the leaders Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the people in rebuilding the Temple. Then they celebrated the completion of that Temple. They even celebrated the Passover there.

Then we have several decades of silence between Ezra chapter 6 and Ezra chapter 7. In Ezra 7, we finally see the namesake of this book – Ezra. He was a priest and scribe. He knew God’s word very well. And King Artaxerxes sends him and a group of Jews with him back to Jerusalem to – get this – make sure that the Jews are keeping the Law of God. What a perfect job for Ezra.

After an extended exposition of how he got to Jerusalem, he finally gets there and takes a little break for a few days. What did Ezra find when he got to Jerusalem? The people had been intermarrying with pagans. That’s what was happening in those decades since Zerubbabel passed off the scene. So the rest of the book of Ezra details how he dealt with that issue of disobedience among God’s people.

That brings us to the book we’re finishing today – the book of Nehemiah. You recall that the book started out with Nehemiah hearing that the Jews were not well as a people and that their city was desolate. So Nehemiah got permission from King Artaxerxes who gave him leave to come to Jerusalem. We’ll find out today that Nehemiah was there in Jerusalem for 12 years. What’s amazing is that within the first few months of arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah and the Jews managed to fend-off fierce opposition and to rebuild the walls.

After that the people started re-inhabiting Jerusalem. They also entered the city and made a number of resolutions and promises. Do you remember the promises they made? What was the nature of those promises? You could boil them down to what they were promising not to forsake. The Jews promised God that they would not forsake his word or his place of worship. In particular they promised not to forsake the Temple, not to treat the 7th day of the week as common, and not to marry pagans. Remember those three particulars for the rest of this lesson – Temple, Sabbath, Intermarriage.

Then last week’s lesson. Having made their resolutions, the Jews celebrated the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem. There was great joy and rejoicing. Do you remember that? The people had separated themselves from the pagans like Sanballat and Tobiah. They were paying their ministers for their sacred services and rejoicing in those ministers. To summarize Ezra 1 to Nehemiah 12, verse 47 ends on this note: “And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron.” Wonderful. The Jews did right when Zerubbabel was around and when Nehemiah was in charge.

Nehemiah 13:1-2

So with those very happy facts in mind, let’s enter into Nehemiah 13. We’ll start by reading the first 3 verses.

On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; 2 Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.

So this section starts off on a good note. The people are reading in the law again. It’s always a good thing to be reading God’s word. And they find a particular passage that reminds them that Ammonites and Moabites must not be allowed to enter the congregation. Why? Because almost 1,000 years ago when Moses was bringing the people up into the Promised Land, these two groups hired that old false prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites. But the God of the Israelites back then who was still the same God of the Jews in Nehemiah’s day, he turned that curse into a blessing. But because of this action, God forbade Ammonites and Moabites from entering the assembly of God’s people. So the Israelites kick out the “mixed multitude.”

Nehemiah 13:4-7

Now, is this a good thing? You say, “Well of course it is! They’re obeying God.” You’re right. But here’s my point. How did this mixed multitude get back in amongst the Jews? Remember that during the Jews’ New Year’s observance (ch 9) they separated themselves from all foreigners. Let’s read verses 4-7 for some help in understanding this concerning situation.

And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: 5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. 6 But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: 7 And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.

OK, let’s try to piece together what happened here. Nehemiah originally arrived in Jerusalem in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. He returns to the king in the 32nd year. That would seem to indicate that Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for 12 years – maybe the whole time, maybe part of the time, I don’t know. But his presence was there for 12-some years. He left eventually. Maybe he thought his work was done. Who knows? We don’t know how long he was gone or why he returned. But some time had passed and Nehemiah, in Babylon, apparently wondered how the Jews were doing. So he came back. And what did he find? The obedient joy-filled rejoicers of Nehemiah chapter 12? No. He found a priest named Eliashib. He’s just a regular priest, not the high priest. We hear about the high priest at the end of this chapter. But Eliashib the priest did something really bad. He allowed an Ammonite to enter into the congregation of God. The name of that Ammonite? Yes, Tobiah, our old enemy. Why would Eliashib do such a thing? Note that the text says he was related to Tobiah. I wonder how that happened… The Jews haven’t intermarried with pagans again, have they?! We’ll see. But for now, the main issue Nehemiah discovered is that Tobiah, a most unholy and antagonistic enemy of God and his people, was given a room in the holiest building in the holiest place on the face of the world by a man who was supposed to be holy to the Lord – a priest. So does this situation give you an idea of the broader context? Does it make sense now why the people are needing to kick out the pagans all over again? Even a priest among the Jews let the pagans in. He gave him access to their most revered building.

Nehemiah 13:8-9

How do you think Nehemiah felt about this? How would you feel if you were him? Let’s read verses 8 and 9.

And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.

Nehemiah wasn’t indifferent about Eliashib’s profaning of the Temple by giving a pagan a room in that very Temple. It grieved him sore! He took appropriate action based on his holy grief. So he threw all of Tobiah’s household stuff out of the Temple and had the rooms ritually purified. Then Nehemiah returned all the things that had been cleared away to make room for Tobiah.

Nehemiah 13:10

Now, of course we all understand that Tobiah was allowed to reside in the Temple. We’re probably all bothered by that. But have you gone any further than that? Has it occurred to you that the Temple is a pretty happening place most of the time? With all the sacrifices and the ministers to offer those sacrifices, the place must have been continually busy. How was it that Tobiah could have found any extra room in the Temple with all of this activity going on? Let’s read verse 10.

And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.

So the Levites and singers were gone. Where did they go? To their fields. Why did they return to their fields? Because the people weren’t paying them to minister. So here’s how I think Eliashib’s mind worked: “Well, the people aren’t paying us ministers, to the point that most of us have left the ministry and gone to work secular jobs. So these days the Temple is pretty quiet. There’s a lot of room, now that the Levites and singers are all gone. And Uncle Tobiah or cousin Tobiah or whomever he was to Eliashib – this guy is wondering if I could put him up in Jerusalem. There’s room here in the Temple. Surely, no one would notice. It’s not like there’s anything going on in the Temple these days anyway…” And so Eliashib let Tobiah the pagan Ammonite into the Temple. I assume Tobiah is one of the foreigners whom the Jews kick out earlier in this passage.

Nehemiah 13:11

So the Levites had to return to a life of farming. Is that such a bad thing? Let’s see what Nehemiah thinks. Read verse 11.

Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.

So Nehemiah finds fault with the rulers. Apparently it was they who should have been ensuring that the ministers were getting their pay. And what does he ask them? “Why is the house of God forsaken?” How/in what manner do you think Nehemiah asks this question? Narrative is interesting because it leaves a number of things unsaid. But at the same time it gives us clues and draws us into the story line so that we should get a pretty good idea of what’s going on. I imagine Nehemiah a bit bewildered. I can imagine the meeting between him and the rulers. He’s standing there looking at each one of them. The rulers are silent. Nehemiah asserts his question to them – “Why?” No response… Why is it such a big deal that the house of God had been forsaken? I mean, beyond the fact that God’s things ought never to be forsaken, there’s something else. Do you remember two lessons ago when the Jews were making their New Year’s resolutions? They wrote a number of promises and had everyone sign their name to it. Do you remember the last promise they made? They uttered this promise — “we will not forsake the house of God.” And what had they done now? They forsook the house of God. They broke their promise to God. And in this light, Nehemiah’s bewilderment is understandable.

Nehemiah 13:12-13

But Nehemiah doesn’t remain incredulous and bewildered at God’s sinning people. He acts to correct the wrong that had been done. Let’s read the details in verses 12 and 13.

Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. 13 And I made treasurers over the treasuries, 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 counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren.

So Nehemiah influenced all of Judah to start bringing the ministers’ salary to the Temple once more. Then he put some people in charge of distributing this pay to their brothers. I think it’s interesting that Nehemiah assigns one person from each ministerial group – a priest, a Levite, and a scribe. They had a reputation of faithfulness. So they could be trusted to carry out their office.

Nehemiah 13:14

This was apparently a fairly big burden for Nehemiah. The Jews had broken their promise to God. They indeed did forsake the Temple. Nehemiah had put his name to that document they all signed. I sense that he’s concerned about that – that a promise that he had signed on to had been broken. And so he talks to God about it. Read verse 14.

Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.

Nehemiah was one of the ones who promised not to forsake God’s house. So he’s concerned that God remember his best efforts at getting the people to take care of God’s place of worship.

I haven’t given the message a title yet. This is kind of becoming my custom. But one reason I haven’t done so is really because I’m not quite sure what this last chapter intends to communicate to us. Is the message focusing on Nehemiah and his faithfulness? Should we be focused on the Jews who broke their covenant yet again with their God? Are we supposed to be yearning for a ruler of the Jews – perhaps a King of the Jews – who would take his people’s best intentions of not forsaking God and make these intentions an internal matter so that God’s people wouldn’t stray anymore? By the end of this chapter, God still has not forsaken his people, despite their awful forsaking of him. Are we supposed to be encouraged that God won’t forsake those with whom he’s entered into a covenant? The fact is that all of these ideas are probably in view here. Now, this is a jarring chapter. It’s one that starts on a very high and positive note. But then Nehemiah pulls the rug out from under the reader with the harsh reality of sin among God’s people. So what’s the message of this chapter?

Whatever else the passage may be aiming to communicate, I do know what I see here. I see a godly leader – Nehemiah. I see him correcting God’s sinning people. And so I think I can’t go wrong by pointing out that the activity of this chapter – and subsequently the title of this message – is “A godly leader corrects God’s sinning people.” Again, I’m guessing that there’s something deeper in view. But on the surface at least, this is what’s happening in this chapter. So, we’re seeing a godly leader correct God’s sinning people. Nehemiah did this when the people sinned by forsaking God’s house. Without even consulting Eliashib or Tobiah he threw the latter’s stuff out of the Temple. Nehemiah reprimanded the rulers for neglecting to ensure that the ministers were paid. Then he got God’s people to start doing right in that area and appointed those who could perpetuate that pattern of obedience.

Sometimes as a godly leader in a home or in the church or anywhere else, you’re going to need to make decisions that are unpopular. This fact probably doesn’t surprise you. When you know something is right to do and you have the authority to make sure it’s happening, sometimes you don’t need to form a committee to make sure everyone’s OK with you doing it. You just need to do it. And sometimes you need to confront those who should know better and should be doing right. But for whatever reason they’re not doing it. And in those cases a bewildered question like “why are you forsaking God?” is all you’ll be able to utter in your dismay.

Nehemiah 13:15

Well, I’m sure glad Nehemiah corrected God’s sinning people. But if you think his work is over, you need to keep reading. Nehemiah saw a few more things that were very disturbing. Let’s read verse 15.

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.

Nehemiah 13:16

The people were doing secular common work on the 7th day of the week. And what is Nehemiah’s response? He testified against them. This term has somewhat of a range of possible meanings. It can mean testify. It can mean admonish. It can mean warn. It can mean to bear witness. So what Nehemiah did was to verbally address these people and call attention to their sin. Now, who were the people who did wrong in verse 15? All we know is that these were some people in Judah. And they were breaking the Jewish Sabbath ordinance. But did you know that it wasn’t just the Jews who were involved in this? There were some Gentiles involved as well. Read verse 16.

There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 13:17-18

These men from Tyre were selling on the 7th day of the week – even in the holy city Jerusalem. How does Nehemiah deal with these folks? He actually addressed not the men of Tyre but the men of Jerusalem. Let’s read verses 17 and 18.

Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.

Nehemiah takes his complaint to those in charge. He again asks a question to God’s sinning people – “What is this that you’re doing? You’re treating the Sabbath day as common!” The reasoning Nehemiah gives next is really thought-provoking. He appeals to them to do right on the basis of their fathers’ sins. One of the major reasons God sent Judah into Exile is that they would not observe his Sabbath days as he prescribed in the Law. God let the people return to their homeland only after the land had enjoyed some Sabbath rest. The last statement in Nehemiah’s confrontation of the people indicates that at least in his mind God’s wrath had already been kindled against the Jews. By sinning in this way they were adding to that wrath.

As a godly leader when you try to correct God’s sinning people, it is appropriate to point out to them their sin. Its right to point out what that sin has done to others in times-past. God’s wrath was spent on Christ, ultimately. But his wrath is still revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness.  It’s upon the sons who are characterized by disobedience. “Why”, you can ask God’s sinning people, “why are you acting like one of those toward whom God is wrathful?”

Nehemiah 13:19-22

But a godly leader doesn’t just admonish people to do right. He actually helps them along in doing right. Let’s read verses 19-22.

And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. 20 So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21 Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. 22 And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

So when it started getting dark before the 7th day of the week Nehemiah would have the gates shut. When the 7th day ended the gates could be opened. This should have settled the issue. And yet the merchants didn’t get the hint. So Nehemiah needed to be pretty direct with them. He was going to lay hands on those people if they spent the night outside the wall again! And I love the follow-up that Nehemiah states – “from that time forth they didn’t come again on the Sabbath.” Then Nehemiah had some of those Levites come who recently came back from their career as farmers. He made them gate keepers, so that Nehemiah wouldn’t need to be continually involved in this process of making sure that the Sabbath was observed to the specifications of the Mosaic law.

So as a godly leader, it’s appropriate to put up barriers that would help those who are under you to obey God and walk in his ways. As godly leaders an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you know that a certain friend or activity is a bad influence on those who are under your care then it’s appropriate to change their situation to avoid these things.

Now what was the big deal with keeping the Sabbath, you wonder? Well of course the Lord commanded the children of Israel to keep it in the Law. But also do you remember that this too was a promise that the Jews made to God along with their promise to nor forsake the Temple? Yes, the people in their New Year’s resolution promised to observe the Sabbath and not buy any wares on that day. But just like their promise regarding the Temple, they broke this promise as well. And Nehemiah doesn’t want to be associated with the rebellion. So he prays to God as we saw at the end of verse 22.

Nehemiah 13:23-24

So when Nehemiah was away the people did play. They forsook the Temple. They broke the Sabbath. What else could they possibly have done? I’ll give you a hint. It’s the same sin that Ezra confronted almost 30 years ago. Read verses 23 and 24.

In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: 24 And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.

So in opposition to God’s command that no Ammonite or Moabite should enter God’s congregation, some of the men had married these pagan women. And the product of these marriages was not wholesome. None of the offspring from these relationships held to a Jewish identity. They didn’t identify with God’s people. The Jews weren’t being an influence on the pagans. It was exactly the opposite. The pagans were influencing the Jews – and even how they raised their children.

Nehemiah 13:25-27

This was very troubling to this godly leader. I think it’s in this last section that we see the extent of Nehemiah’s desperation. Let’s read verses 25 through 27.

And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. 27 Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?

How is this for conflict management? What book out there is going to counsel you in your disagreements with others to strike them and pull out their hair? Stop and think about this. What did Nehemiah do? What was the content of his cursing? I doubt it consisted of vulgarity like we think when we speak of cursing. Was he calling down God’s judgment against them? Was it something a little less harsh? What about the striking? He got close enough to hit some of these people. Did he strike with an open hand – kind of like a slap? Or did he ball-up his fist and let it fly? Did he use a rod? Where was he aiming? For the face? The shoulder? The mid-section? And as for this pulling out hair, did the person whose hair was being pulled stand still? Was the person running as Nehemiah yanked some hair out of his head or beard? Really, this can be somewhat humorous to think about. But it certainly wasn’t a laughing matter with Nehemiah or those who married the pagan women.

I think that it goes without saying, but I’ll say it any way. I wouldn’t advocate this kind of action to us today. Nehemiah was in a different position than we are. But can we agree about something? It’s OK as a godly leader to get heated. If not, then what do we make of Jesus making a whip and driving people from the Temple? The zeal of the Lord can consume us. But be careful that it is the Lord’s zeal and not your own selfish zeal.

Nehemiah also makes the people swear that they won’t marry pagans again. And if you’ve followed the plot line in Ezra and Nehemiah this can be almost amusing. The people didn’t follow their first vow to not intermarry with pagans. They didn’t follow their second vow. What’s to say this new oath would be any more effective in stopping this aberrant sinful practice? Well, Nehemiah makes them swear anyway. What else can he do? Then Nehemiah reminds the people of a great king of old – Solomon. How does he fit with this situation? Well, remember that Solomon was one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. God set his love on him even as a child. Do you remember that? In 2 Samuel 12 God sent Nathan the prophet to Solomon’s parents – David and Bathsheba. He let them know that God loved this child. So they actually gave him a second name – Jedidiah, which means beloved by the Lord. He’s the only one to whom that name was given. And God as you know gave Solomon great possessions and great wisdom. God even personally appeared to this man and let Solomon ask him for whatever he wanted. Solomon was a man who was loved by God. And yet how do we see his life end? He married pagan women. And what did they do to him? They turned his heart from the Lord. Nehemiah’s argument is: “If someone as favored by God as Solomon was caused to stumble by these foreign women, are you really going to fare any better?”

Nehemiah 13:28-29

The most irksome part for Nehemiah was that this transgression wasn’t limited to the lay people. The ministers were involved in it as well. Let’s read verses 28 and 29.

And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.

We saw an Eliashib at the beginning of this chapter. He was just a priest. This Eliashib that we just read about is actually the high priest. The former Eliashib was related to Tobiah. Who is this Eliashib related to? Sanballat. And actually it wasn’t Eliashib the high priest himself who did the wrong. It was his grandson. Nehemiah drove this man away. Why? Because, as Nehemiah states in his prayer, this young man had defiled the priesthood. Leviticus 21 tells us that the high priest needed to marry a virgin among the daughters of his people. Any one of the sons of the high priest could potentially become the high priest himself. So by marrying a pagan, this son of Joiada had defiled the priesthood and broken the rules concerning whom the high priest must marry.

There’s a time for godly leaders to separate from those who are doing wrong. But beyond that, Nehemiah made it a matter of prayer. This situation was so concerning to him that he turned from praying for himself to praying regarding these priests who defiled their covenant. His is not really a prayer for restoration. It’s a prayer that God would remember them for the evil they’ve done.

Nehemiah 13:30-31

Nehemiah ends this exhausting chapter with verses 30 and 31. Let’s read those.

Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; 31 And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

Nehemiah catalogs what he did for God’s sinning people. He got rid of the foreigners. He appointed people to take care of the ministers. He arranged for those ministers to get the materials they needed to minister. And then he ends this entire book. I don’t know how to describe this statement he makes. How do we take it? It sounds – and I mean no disrespect to this godly leader – but it sounds pathetic. After mentioning all these mundane things he did – and knowing that his actions aren’t going to solve all the problems — he manages to utter “remember me, O my God, for good.” As a godly leader, there are times when the sins of God’s people will bewilder you. They will test your patience and sanity. They will bring you very low and humble you deeply. But however strong or weak is our cry, we can still take recourse to our God and trust that he truly knows our hearts and will remember us.

So, we’ve seen in this chapter that a godly leader corrects God’s sinning people.

You know, even after all of this sin and failure, the Jews were still God’s covenant people. They were in the land. They had the Temple. They had ministers and sacrifices, when Nehemiah was around, at least. And I think this was a question that was on the minds of the Jews after the Exile: “Are we still God’s covenant people? We broke the covenant. Has God abandoned us?” I think throughout the book of Nehemiah we’ve seen that God indeed had not abandoned his people. In particular, he hadn’t abandoned the people who returned to Israel. But what about those Jews who never returned to Israel? Were they still God’s covenant people? We’ll see if we can figure that out next week when we start studying the book of Esther.

Nehemiah 12, KJV Sermon, About, Explained, Sunday School Lesson

Nehemiah 12 Image

OK, now on to Nehemiah 12. And what do we have but more lists!

Nehemiah 12:1-11

So, what are these lists enumerating? Read 12:1.

Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua…

So we’re going back to the time covered at the beginning of the book of Ezra. But now we’re not talking about all the people – just the ministers – the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel. The priests themselves are mentioned from the end of verse 1 to verse 7. Then the Levites who came originally are mentioned in verses 8 and 9. And verses 10 and 11 serve as a transition to the next list.

Nehemiah 12:10-11

Let’s read 12:10-11.

And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib, and Eliashib begat Joiada, 11 And Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua.

How is this a transition, you ask? This short list details the succession of high priests that lived from the days of Zerubbabel to the days of Nehemiah. And this list serves as a chronological guidepost so that as we read through the next two lists in this chapter we’ll kind of have an idea of where we stand chronologically.

Nehemiah 12:12-21

So for instance verses 12 through 21 comprise another list. It’s a list of the heads of fathers’ households among the priests. But from what time period? Ah, it says from the days of Joiakim. When was that? Well remember from verses 10 and 11 – he was the son of Jeshua. Remember Jeshua? The one who came with Zerubbabel at the beginning of the book of Ezra? OK. So I trust we see how verses 10-11 help us get a sense of where we are in the time line of history.

Nehemiah 12:22-25

Now, as we’ve said, verses 12 through 21 detailed some priests. And of course you can’t have priests without Levites. So verses 22 through 25 talk about Levites.

Nehemiah 12:22-23

And chronologically what time are we talking about here? Read verses 22 and 23.

The Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, were recorded chief of the fathers: also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The sons of Levi, the chief of the fathers, were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib.

So, under the 4 most recent high priests, the chief of the fathers of the Levites were recorded. And that’s just like the priests, from verses 12-21, were recorded in the days of Darius the Persian. And further, the Levites were recorded in a book of chronicles until Johanan. So at some point either during or after Johanan’s high priesthood this practice of recording the Levites in a book of chronicles ended.

Nehemiah 12:24-25

And then those Levites who had been recorded are listed in verses 24 and 25.

Nehemiah 12:26

And here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – verse 26 – the end of the lists in these two chapters! Let’s read it.

These were 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.

I think this is just saying that some of the previous ministers he listed were active when Jeshua’s son was around and the others were active during Ezra’s tenure in Jerusalem.

So now I hope you have a better grasp on what these lists mean. We’ve gone through each one, not in great detail, but in as much detail as I think we need in order to be able to explain what each list covers. So we know the content of each list. But there’s a deeper question that we’d like to have answered, I think. Yes, we know the content of the lists, but… why are those lists there? Why did Nehemiah decided to include these lists? Well, there are a few reasons. One we kind of already saw. Nehemiah was interested in telling us who lived in Jerusalem. Remember? He stated that there were few people there. And then God put it into his heart to reckon the people by genealogy. And so he wanted to state the result of that reckoning and who exactly lived in Jerusalem after it was over. So that’s one reason for these lists. But there’s another reason. Did you notice the subtle shift in the contents of those lists? It went from just lay-folks to then enumerating the priests and Levites and gatekeepers, etc. What class would you group priests and Levites into in the Old Testament? They were ministers. So the focus of the lists shifts to ministers exclusively. Why?

Nehemiah 12:27

Let’s move on from the lists to a section of narrative and read verse 27.

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.

So, there’s been all this building anticipation for ministers in those lists of chapters 11 and 12 all for this moment. We’re talking about ministers, ministers, ministers, they did this, they’re the sons of this great man in Israel’s history, they were appointed by that great Israelite king, etc. And now – the crescendo! Here’s why these people are so important. The people are finally dedicating the wall. You haven’t forgotten about the wall, have you? The Jews completed it in 52 days. Remember all the opposition? It was intense. But they got it done. Do you sense some parallels to how the Jews in the book of Ezra completed the Temple in the midst of intense opposition? So the people seek the Levites from wherever they’re living to come to the dedication. And the people are happy about this. They’re rejoicing. They want to celebrate with gladness, thanksgivings, singing, and all sorts of musical instruments. They want skilled musicians. And that’s just what they get.

Nehemiah 12:28-29

Read verses 28 and 29.

And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi; 29 Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had builded them villages round about Jerusalem.

So the singers come from all over the place – wherever they happened to be living.

Nehemiah 12:30

Well, that’s just the singers. What about all the priests and Levites we’ve been talking about? Read verse 30.

And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.

So, there are the priests and Levites. By the way, the singers probably would have been classified as Levites. But anyway, now we see the whole group of ministers there. And they’re engaged in some ministerial activity, as ministers tend to do. They’re purifying themselves and the people. And they’re purifying the gates and the wall that they’re about to dedicate. This is something only those priests and Levites could do. The non-ministerial folks couldn’t engage in this kind of ceremonial activity.

Nehemiah 12:31

Well, what do they do next? Let’s read verse 31.

Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies of them that gave thanks, whereof one went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate:

Nehemiah brings some people up on the wall. Take that, Tobiah! Right? Do you remember Tobiah’s mocking earlier in this book? What kind of animal did he think would knock down the wall if it jumped up on it? A fox. A tiny little fox. Tobiah said that if such a creature were to jump up onto the wall it would break down the Jews’ stone wall. He had a great laugh about that. Well, who’s laughing now? There’s no fox up on that wall now. Rather, all the leaders of Judah are up on that wall. And it’s holding them pretty well. And notice who’s actually up there. The princes of Judah. I’m not sure if this is Judah to the exclusion of Benjamin. I think more likely Judah refers to the nation as a whole. So, all the leaders from both Judah and Benjamin are up on the wall.

Further, Nehemiah appoints two great companies that gave thanks. A number of translations take this to mean “choirs.” And that’s reasonable. So, let’s talk about the first large company. Where do they go once they’re up on the wall? They move toward the Dung Gate. Remember that that gate is on the city’s south side.

Nehemiah 12:32-36

Then verses 32 through 36 tell us a little bit about the composition of this first group. Half of the leaders of Judah were in this group. Additionally, there were some priests with trumpets. There was also a son of Asaph, the renowned singer of old. They even had musical instruments from David the man of God. And they had Ezra leading them on the wall.

Nehemiah 12:37

And lastly according to verse 37 this group went from the Dung Gate on the south north-east to the Water Gate. And we’ll see in just a few moments that they kept going north.

Nehemiah 12:38

So that’s the first group. What about the second group? Let’s read verse 38.

And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and the half of the people upon the wall, from beyond the tower of the furnaces even unto the broad wall;

Where did this group go? Our English translation here says this group went “over against them.” This phrase can also be translated as “opposite them.” Let me just say a word about how someone who doesn’t know Hebrew could get to the bottom of this matter. First, consult other good translations. I trust that this suggestion isn’t controversial in this assembly. You don’t have to agree with every translational decision that other good versions make. But you can respect their honest effort and perhaps gain from their labors. So that’s my first suggestion. And then, second, of course context is so crucial to helping us understand the Bible. Let’s consider the context of this passage. Remember, we’re talking about two large groups going up on the wall. One of the groups starts walking on the wall in a northeastern direction. The other group also starts walking. And they go in some direction, which is still a mystery to us. Then eventually – you don’t know this yet but – both of these groups end up in the same place. So picture the wall as a circle. The two groups start at the bottom of the circle. One group goes to the right and waits for the other group. So that other group would have to go what direction to meet that first group? The opposite direction. OK, I hope that’s helpful. So this second group starts on the south part of the wall and travels northwest.

Nehemiah 12:40

I mentioned that these two groups meet eventually. Where do they meet? Let’s read verse 40.

So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God, and I, and the half of the rulers with me:

Ah, so the two groups meet in the Temple. Nehemiah is there. The leaders are there. There are priests with trumpets. There are singers doing what they do best.

Nehemiah 12:43

What’s the result? Verse 43.

Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.

The ministers and leaders – really, I think all the people – offered great sacrifices that day. Everyone was rejoicing. Did you catch how many times the word joy or rejoice is in this verse? I count 5 times out of 36 English words in that verse. Even the wives and little children rejoiced. And the result of that is that their joy was heard from afar. Now, remember back to the dedication we saw in the book of Ezra. The people rejoiced greatly on that occasion as well. At that point they were simply dedicating the foundation of the Temple. Perhaps their joy was a little premature at that time. Because what happened after they rejoiced at that dedication? The enemy immediately started opposing and discouraging the people and the work stopped for over a decade. So, having read Ezra, I’m inclined to wonder if some enemy is going to start opposing again. But you know what I discover? The enemy isn’t opposing anymore. They’ve been beaten back. The Jews don’t have to fear opposition from the enemy anymore. They have walls to protect their holy city. They have a Temple. They have a godly leader in Nehemiah and godly ministers to lead them in worshiping their great God. These are all causes for great unhindered joy and rejoicing!

Now, I haven’t given a title for the message yet. And we’re almost done with the lesson so I better give one soon here. The title of the message and I believe the message of the passage is twofold. The first part of the title is “Rejoice in the Lord.” That’s what the Jews were doing. Have you experienced some great deliverance in the last 365 days? Have you experienced some improvement in your situation? Has the Lord helped you to persevere through some trial? And you’re still among us. Has he been good to you in any way? Then, rejoice in the Lord. That’s the first part of this lesson’s title. Let’s move on to the last scene in our text for the second part.

Nehemiah 12:44-47

At first I actually wondered if verses 44 through 47 happened at the same time as the dedication of the walls. Now I’m pretty sure that they did. So if you have notes from our overview of Nehemiah you might have a note that says that Nehemiah was gone for 12 years. Cross that out and put in its place, “Paul made a mistake.” That happens when finite humans are trying their best to interpret God’s perfect word. At any rate, I think verses 44 through 47 happen very closely in time to the dedication of the Temple.

Nehemiah 12:44

Well, what happens in these verses? Read verse 44.

And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited.

The Jews appoint people to supervise the places where the ministers’ pay would have been stored. Why were they now concerned that the ministers receive their just wages? The last phrase of verse 44 says that Judah rejoiced in their ministers. There’s that concept of joy again. The people rejoiced in the Lord and in their ministers.

Nehemiah 12:45

Why did they rejoice in their ministers? Verse 45.

And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.

The people rejoiced in their ministers – like the Levitical singers and the porters or the gatekeepers – because these ministers “kept the ward” or in modern English they served their God and they purified what needed to be purified. And they did this according to the biblical command of David and of Solomon in the Scripture.

Nehemiah 12:46

And verse 46 tells us this is the way it had been done for centuries, according to God’s command. So Israel rejoiced in their ministers. And that’s the second part of the message title – “Rejoice in the Lord and in his ministers.”

It’s often easier to rejoice in the Lord than to rejoice in his ministers. After all, his ministers are frail and weak. God is almighty. Ministers are subject to error. God is not. Ministers have the flesh and can fall and fail in really any number of areas to one degree or another. God never fails. There’s no darkness at all in him. He’s not tempted with evil. And so it’s easier to rejoice in the Lord than in his ministers. And yet we see here the Jews rejoicing in the Lord and in his ministers. Why the ministers? Not because they were perfect. Not because they were people persons. But because they were doing the best they could to carry out what God commanded to ministers just like them in his word so very long ago. Catch that. That’s why the Jews are rejoicing in their ministers. Because these ministers were trying their best to be biblical in carrying out their ministries.

You know, it’s possible to claim to be rejoicing in the Lord and yet to despise the ministers he’s given you. Whether we’re talking about situations at church, at home, or at school, in a Christian environment there are ministers of God all over the place – people who are serving you for God’s sake and because of what God has commanded them in his word. And you and I can far too easily act as if the minister is nothing. After all, God is all that matters. And in a sense that’s true. But God uses ministers as ones who deliver help and benefits to his people. Don’t shun the minister. Don’t despise him. Support him. Recognize that — where you are being served by someone who loves God and is trying to do his will as best he knows how — you are a recipient of grace through that individual. And rejoice in that minister and make every attempt to honor and encourage him.

Nehemiah 12:47

And that leads us to the last verse of this section. Let’s finally read verse 47.

And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron.

This is wonderful. The people are giving what’s due to their ministers – to the singers, and porters, to the Levites, and to the priests, the sons of Aaron. This is how it should work — God’s people rejoicing in the Lord and in his ministers. And this necessarily takes the form of providing a living for these full-time ministers. What a happy ending. Jerusalem is completely rebuilt. The people have no fear of the enemies surrounding them. They have ministers who are serving according to God’s word. And they have a godly leader in Nehemiah to ensure all of this happens. Just one second. Look at the first clause of verse 47. When did all of these wonderful things happen? Back in the days of Zerubbabel, who was by that time gone for several decades. And in the days of Nehemiah. When those two were around things were good. You know, I wonder. Just like Zerubbabel, Nehemiah is going to have to leave his position of leadership in Jerusalem at some point. It’s inevitable. Remember, Nehemiah is still an employee, if you will, of king Artaxerxes. And remember back in the beginning of this book how Artaxerxes asked how long Nehemiah would be away? Nehemiah gave him a certain time frame. That means he’s going to need to leave Jerusalem at some point. I wonder what happens when he’s gone. Lord-willing that’s what we’ll see next Sunday when we study the last chapter of this book.

But until then, with God’s help, let’s make every effort to Rejoice in the Lord and in his ministers.

Nehemiah 11 KJV Sermon, Meaning, Commentary, Bible Study

Nehemiah 11 Image

Alright, now let’s get into our lesson for today. We’ll be studying Nehemiah chapters 11 and 12. That means we’re in the 2nd major act of the 2nd major section of the book of Nehemiah.

The 1st major section (chapters 1 through 6) dealt with Nehemiah coming to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. And that’s all I’ll say about it.

So, once he finished rebuilding the walls, we’re told that not many people lived in the city itself at the time. And for one reason or another this is a problem. What’s the solution?

Nehemiah has the people enroll by genealogies. Now, we’re not specifically told how taking a census of the people would really help fill Jerusalem with people. Perhaps it would remind the people of their lineage and heritage and create a mass movement to Jerusalem. And we did see the people come to Jerusalem last week in our lesson.

And when they were there they made some New Year’s resolutions – specifically, they vowed not to forsake God’s word or God’s place of worship.

Nehemiah 11:1-2

So… the question is: did this fill Jerusalem with people? Let’s read 11:1-2.

And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities. 2 And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.

So we’re told in verse 1 that the rulers of the people lived in Jerusalem. That would indicate that up to that point, it was only the rulers who lived there. But then things changed. 1 out of 10 people moved to Jerusalem to join the leaders. So, did taking a census help fill Jerusalem with people? Well, yes I think so. How? Now the Jews knew who was officially among them. They could select a certain proportion of the people from their midst to live in Jerusalem. How else could they know that they were selecting 1 tenth of the people? I think the census helped with this process.

Now, only some of the people went to live in Jerusalem. And apparently that was sufficient. The text seems to speak only positively about this situation. The people who ended up living in cities outside Jerusalem blessed those who got to live in Jerusalem. And the ones who ended up moving to Jerusalem did so willingly, the text says. So there’s no ill-will. This is a fine arrangement. Not everyone needed to live in the holy city.

Now, we need to be prepared for a lot of lists in these two chapters. I admit that at first, lists in the Bible can seem to be a bit uninteresting. But I think they’re only uninteresting when you don’t know why God placed them where he did. I think if you actually understand the whys and wherefores of how those lists are placed, they can be very interesting. So with God’s help we’ll try to figure out why these lists are where they are.

Nehemiah 11:3

We’ll start with the list that spans from 11:3-36. What is this list and why is it here? Let’s read 11:3.

Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon’s servants.

Nehemiah 11:4

So here we have those rulers that we saw in the first 2 verses of this chapter. You know – the ones who were living in Jerusalem. “The chief of the province.” And the rest of the people are still in their cities – even a good number of the ministers. Now, Nehemiah wants to enumerate the rulers who lived in Jerusalem. What portion of these leaders does he start with? Look at verse 4. Who are we talking about?

And at Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin. Of the children of Judah; […]

Nehemiah states that some of the people from the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived in Jerusalem. And he’ll get to Benjamin. But for now he’s going to list the leaders of Judah. Now, in this section Nehemiah gives the names of some people. I think these are the leaders. Then he gives the number of people who were with each of those leaders. Thus, though he’s mentioning the leaders by name, he’s also including the tenth of the people who lived in Jerusalem. And he enumerates the rulers from the tribe of Judah first starting in verse 4. In verses 4 through 6 Nehemiah mentions two men who were the sons of Perez, who was Judah’s son. There were 468 of these folks.

Nehemiah 11:7-9

Then verses 7-9 cover what group?

And these are the sons of Benjamin…

— Benjamin. We have the names of three leaders of Benjamin. And then there were 928 of people with them. So that’s a list of Benjamites who lived in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 11:10-14

Moving on, verses 10-14 give us the names of the priests who lived in Jerusalem. I’ll just pull out a few facts about these folks – in this list we have the name of a man who was the leader of the Temple, we have others who performed the work of the temple, and we even have some valiant warriors! There were almost 1200 of these priests. And that’s all for the priests in Jerusalem. After the priests we have a list of the Levites. Remember, priests were a narrower group of folks who were descended from Aaron. The Levites were everyone who was descended from Levi’s other sons.

Nehemiah 11:15-18

Verses 15-18 tell us about the 284 Levites living in Jerusalem. What did they do? Well, the text tells us that some of them were in charge of the work outside the Temple. They were basically groundskeepers and maintenance men. One of the leaders led the giving of thanks during prayer. That’s the Levites living in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 11:19

Next, according to verse 19 there were 172 gatekeepers.

Nehemiah 11:20

Verse 20 tells us that the rest of the ministers were dispersed throughout Judah and Benjamin.

Nehemiah 11:21

Except, according to verse 21, the Temple servants were living in Ophel. That makes sense. Ophel is the area just south of the Temple Mount. So if they lived there in that part of the city of Jerusalem, they’d be very close to the Temple. In fact the old entrance to the Temple Mount – which is now walled-up – faced the south toward Ophel.

Nehemiah 11:22-24

And finally, verses 22-24 end this list by telling us of certain leading Levites. One of them was a son of Asaph, the famous singer. Another one of them represented the king. So, the total number of people living in Jerusalem was over 3,000 at that time – leaders and the tenth of the people. Well, now we know a good deal about the various people who lived in Jerusalem. Do we know anything about where the other Jews lived?

Nehemiah 11:25-35

Yes. In verses 25-35 we have another list! This one describes the locations where Judah and Benjamin lived outside of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 11:25-30

The first section of that list consists of verses 25-30 where we’re given the names of the cities and towns around Jerusalem where the tribe of Judah dwelt. So it starts with Judah. Well, where do they live? In verse 30 we’re told that Judah lived as far south as Beer-Sheba. Where is that? Well, if you think of a map of modern Israel you might be able to think of where Israel’s western boundary with the Mediterranean Sea reaches its southern-most point. Just go due East from there to the middle of the nation of Israel and you’ll arrive at Beer Sheba. So that’s as far south as the Jews lived. Then we’re given their northern boundary. Judah lived as far north as the valley of Hinnom which marks the southwestern boundary of Jerusalem. So that’s the part of the list that gives us which cities Judah lived in.

Nehemiah 11:31-35

Well, what about Benjamin? Verses 31-35 tell us where they lived. And that brings us to the end of chapter 11.

 

Nehemiah 10 KJV, Sermon, Devotional, Explained

And that brings us into chapter 10. This chapter consists entirely of the Jews’ promise to God in light of their disturbing cycle of disobedience. Verses 1 through 27 give the names of each leader who was signing his name to this resolution. And here’s what they agree to. Verse 29 – they would keep the Law of Moses. What does that look like? Verse 30 – they won’t intermarry with pagans. Verse 31 – they won’t buy wares from pagans on holy days. Neither will they harvest their crops on the 7th year or collect on debts from their Jewish brothers. Verse 32 – they’d give 1/3 of a shekel for the Temple service. Verse 34 – they’d bring wood to the Temple for the sacrifices. Verse 35 – they’d bring the firstfruits of their produce to the Temple. And verse 36 – they’d bring the firstborn of their sons and animals to the Temple. They say more in verses 37 through 39. But the gist of it is at the end of verse 39. They would not forsake God’s house, the Temple. And that’s actually what the promises from verse 32 to the end of the chapter aim at – not forsaking the Temple. So in summary, the people promise to not forsake God’s word or his place of worship. That was the Jews’ New Year’s resolution.

So how can we apply this last scene to making God-Honoring New Year’s resolutions? If you’ve been following whole-heartedly this message then you’ve already resolved to understand God’s word and then live it out, even in the seeming insignificant or inconvenient parts. And I think this is kind of reflected again in the Jews’ promise to not forsake God’s word. They were going to understand it and live it. So what’s the new emphasis in this section that we haven’t seen thus far? How about the part about the Temple, God’s place of worship? It’s excellent to be seeking and practicing God’s word. But remembed that in God’s word he specifies that we should gather with his people and not forsake that assembly. But it’s not as if we should just file into the building and leave without being an influence on our brethren for good. We’re supposed to provoke one another. No, we’re not supposed to be provoking each other to anger, but to love and good works. So would you resolve to not take our assembling together lightly? Would you resolve to appropriately and tastefully be more involved in the lives of your brethren? To be more attentive to their needs? To encourage and up-lift? To pray for one another? And to live your life in such a way that we could all come together and truly worship our great God together in a spirit of unity and harmony?

So would you think this is an appropriate and God-honoring News Year’s resolution? I resolve this year to make every attempt to understand and live God’s word, even when it seems insignificant or inconvenient, and to not forsake God’s people or our assembling together.