OK, now on to Nehemiah 12. And what do we have but more lists!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And then those Levites who had been recorded are listed in verses 24 and 25.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.