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Commentary On The Book Of Nehemiah 4.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Establishment Of Jerusalem As The Holy City, Populated By True Israelites; Its Worship Conducted By Those Specifically and Provably Appointed By God; Accepted from God With Due Gladness And Praise; And Purified By the Removal Of All That Could Be Displeasing To God (11.1-13.31).

The Book closes with a description of the restoring of Jerusalem as the holy city. This was accomplished by:

  • Populating Jerusalem the holy city with members of the new true Israel who would defend it and (hopefully) maintain its purity (11.1-36).
  • Establishing the God-appointed leaders of worship whose genealogies demonstrate that they were of those appointed by God, maintaining the holiness of worship (12.1-26).
  • The celebration of gladness and thanksgiving for the completion of the wall and gates which made possible its being established as holy and the re-establishment of the system of tithes that ensured the maintenance of YHWH’s chosen appointees (12.27-47).
  • The purifying of the holy city from the defilements of Sabbath breaking and idolatry (13.1-31).
.

Following The Making Of The Renewed Covenant The Establishment Of The New Jerusalem And Of The Renewed Israel Is Described (11.1-36).

Having renewed the covenant it was now necessary for the new Israel to be soundly established, and the words ‘we will not forsake the house of our God’ (10.39) are now shown to be carried into effect by the establishment of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ (11.1-20), surrounded by the ‘encamped’ tribes (11.20-36), and by the assurance of the legitimacy of its priests and Levites who were responsible for worship (12.1-26), headed up by the legitimate High Priests (12.10-11).

Chapter 11 is important in emphasising that the holy city was now to be re-established, with the portions of Judah and Benjamin in the land being restored to them. It indicates that YHWH was fulfilling His promises towards Israel. It also emphasises that His true worship is being consolidated as centred on Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’. The writer is not so much concerned with the very limited Persian province/district of Judah, as with demonstrating that the land as a whole had been restored to Judah/Benjamin much in line with what was described in the Book of Joshua. This was demonstrated by ignoring the fact that much of southern Judah was now occupied by the Idumaeans, and by including within the new Israel all Jewish settlements, whether in or outside the province of Judah. Such settlements were found in both in the Negeb (the southernmost part of old Israel), and in the Shephelah (the lowlands to the west). This enabled the presentation of a picture which depicted Judah/Benjamin as settled among the peoples and restored to its inheritance, with their holy city at the centre, a picture of the triumph of YHWH, . (We can compare how in the Book of Joshua we are given the impression that the land has been possessed, while at the same time it is made clear that not all the land has yet been possessed. It was a vision of what would be, rather than of the present reality, and yet given in accordance with the facts).

The Repopulating Of Jerusalem And Establishment Of The Holy City (11.1-20).

The establishing of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’, a city cleansed of all defilement, was now seen as the first priority in order to fulfil the promises of the prophets (Isaiah 52.1; Daniel 9.24). It was to be a purified city. And the walls of Jerusalem having been repaired and rebuilt it was seen as necessary for it to be fully inhabited by God’s people so that the city could be properly defended. This was essential, for if it was left as a virtual ‘ghost town’ it would undoubtedly attract unwelcome attention, especially as there were valuable things stored in the Temple which had to be considered, which would always be a temptation to outsiders. Furthermore there was also the danger that those who had previously sought to join with the worship in Jerusalem, but who were involved in idolatrous practises (Ezra 4.2-3; Nehemiah 13.4-9), would take the opportunity to infiltrate Jerusalem. Indeed whilst Jerusalem remained virtually uninhabited it spelt instability for the whole nation, and could well have proved an overwhelming burden to the new nation who would feel responsibility for it without being in a position to properly defend it. Nehemiah’s solution, in cooperation with the leadership, was that one tenth of all true Israelites should move from their cities and dwell in Jerusalem, with the prospective inhabitants mainly being chosen by lot.

Here we call to mind Nehemiah’s description of the situation in 7.4, ‘now the city was wide and large, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not built.’ There was thus nothing cheering about the prospect of moving into the city. Large parts of it were still in ruins, requiring work similar to that on the walls. And for those who moved in facilities would be few, apart from in those sections which had already been settled (e.g. by the Nephinim in the Ophel - 3.26). Chapter 3 does, of course, make clear that Jerusalem did have a number of inhabitants (3.20, 23, 26, 28). But they were apparently relatively few, and confined to one part of the city. There were simply not sufficient men available to be able to defend the city.

And defence of the city was a primary purpose of the move. This is brought out by the fact that the description that follows contains hints of military overtones. It speaks of ‘men of valour’ (verses 8.14); ‘overseer/officer’ (verses 9, 14); ‘heads of families (or units)’ (verse 13); and divisions into tribes as protectors of the sanctuary (as in Numbers 1-2). This confirms that one purpose of the resettlement of Jerusalem very much had defence in mind. It was seen as necessary in order to ensure the protection of ‘the holy city’ (verses 1, 18; compare Isaiah 48.2; 52.1; Daniel 9.24), the city which was to be the foundation stone of the new Israel in its devotion to YHWH.

But there was another purpose, specifically brought out in verse 1. There Nehemiah speaks of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’, something emphasised again in verse 18. Now the term ‘holy city’ had a prophetic background. It depicted the city as purified and made holy, with every vestige of uncleanness removed (Isaiah 52.1). It had in mind the future fulfilment of the purposes of God in bringing about everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9.24). It depicted Jerusalem as the holy and pure city of God. And this was Israel’s vision at this time. Once Jerusalem was established as a purified city, free from all idolatry, surely God would begin to act on their behalf. It would be seen as a seal on the binding agreement that they had made with God.

Thus the re-establishment of a populated and religiously pure Jerusalem was not just seen as a political necessity, it could also be seen as being the first stage in bringing about the eschatological purposes of God. It had the ring about it of Haggai 2.21-22. God was about to work!

Indeed we could say that in this chapter we have a wonderful picture of how God would work in later times in establishing a people for Himself, for He has appointed another ‘holy city’, a heavenly city, a new Jerusalem (Galatians 4.21-31; Hebrews 12.22), which, as Revelation 21 makes clear, consists of all the people of God. It is founded on the twelve Apostles. It is protected by the people of God (the twelve tribes of ‘Israel’) who are its gates. That city too started off unpopulated. But God has populated it by choosing out a remnant for Himself, and everyone of them is named before Him, as in this chapter, for each is important to Him. It includes priests (intercessors), Levites (teachers), Singers and Musicians who lead the worship, Gate-keepers who watch for those who enter, Nethinim (humble servants), and ordinary men and women to defend the city, but all of them are chosen by God (Ephesians 1.4). So does history repeat itself, for God is the God of history.

Those Who Took Up Residence In The City.

We are now provided with a list of the names of those who repopulated the holy city. These joined with those who were already there (some of whose names are given in 1 Chronicles 9). Each of them was important to God, for they were chosen as His genuine people and in order that they might re-establish ‘the holy city’.

11.1 ‘And the princes of the people dwelt (settled) in Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts in the (other) cities.’

This verse connects back to 7.73, taking up where that left off. There we found that after the return the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and people of Israel ‘dwelt in their cities’. This indicates that they dwelt in many cities, but that would naturally include Jerusalem as Jerusalem would for some good number have been ‘their city.’ Now, however, there was to be a change in that situation. There was to be a wholesale movement into Jerusalem of both the princes of the people, and one tenth of the people who had previously dwelt elsewhere.

‘The princes of the people dwelt in Jerusalem’ does not mean that they were already doing so. Note how ‘dwelling in Jerusalem’ is mentioned twice in verse 1, and then in verse 2 and in verse 3, in the other cases clearly referring to ‘taking up dwelling’. Thus the princes are being seen as the first to live up to their responsibility by taking up dwelling in the city. This was fitting as it had now become the leading city of the district, and was the city of a new beginning in the purposes of God. Their example was then followed by a tenth of the inhabitants of Judah, many of them chosen by lot, who followed their example. The remaining nine tenths of the population remained in their towns and cities.

Note the stress on Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’. The idea was that it was now to be seen as central to the purposes of God and therefore as set apart to Him And it was to be kept free from idolatry (something that the new Israel had already made great sacrifices to ensure, e.g. Ezra 4.3 and its consequences). It was very much describing what they saw as a new beginning, for in the light of the uses of the term elsewhere the idea was that it was to be seen as initiating a new fulfilment of the final purposes of God, with the city being holy because it had been purged of all uncleanness (compare Isaiah 52.1). Not only the Temple was now to be seen as holy, but the whole city as containing the Temple, and as the centre of the new community of God’s people. And this was because, as their binding agreement had made clear, it was ‘stayed upon the God of Israel’. We can compare the use of the term in Isaiah 48.2 where men used the title because they claimed, hypocritically, that they stayed themselves upon the God of Israel.

The appellation ‘the holy city’ is found in verses 1, 18; Isaiah 48.2; 52.1; Daniel 9.24. In Isaiah 52.1 Jerusalem was spoken of as ‘the holy city’ in the terms of it being the city purified by God in the apocalyptic future, the city in which there would be no ‘uncleanness’. In Daniel 9.24 it was the city in which all transgression was to be dealt with and the final purposes of God brought to fulfilment. It symbolised therefore the eschatological purification and triumph. The people had high hopes for the new Jerusalem. This makes even more poignant the fact that later they would allow it to be used for Sabbath breaking (13.15-22). It was the recognition of this fact that made Nehemiah so zealous to purify Jerusalem when it became tainted (chapter 13).

‘The rest of the people also cast lots.’ The casting of lots had been seen as a method of obtaining God’s will at least since the introduction of the Urim and Thummim. As we saw in 10.34 it was used to determine when the providers of wood for the altar would fulfil their duties. It was a Scriptural method at a time when God was seen as personally acting on behalf of, and with, His people. Consider, for example, Numbers 26.55; Joshua 7.14, 16-18; 14.2; 18.6; 1 Samuel 10.20-21; 14.41-42, and the principle enunciated in Proverbs 16.33.

11.2 ‘And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell in Jerusalem.’

Some of the people, like the princes, had voluntarily offered themselves for the purpose of populating Jerusalem, in spite of the hardships involved, and the people ‘blessed them’. Every volunteer meant one less conscripted person, which was one reason why they blessed them. But to volunteer was also probably seen as a sign of special dedication to God. It was no soft option. It meant an upheaval in their lives and a new beginning. But they had a desire to be the founders of the new Jerusalem, with all its glowing promise. Indeed, so important was this move seen to be that, as with the building of the wall (chapter 3), we are now given a roll-call of those involved. Their names would pass down through the generations. In the same way we too will be called ‘blessed’ if our names are written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life, as potential dwellers in the New Jerusalem, for that city really will be holy.

The Names Of The Chief Men Who Took Up Dwelling In Jerusalem (11.3-20).

A parallel list of those who ‘dwelt in Jerusalem’ is found in 1 Chronicles 9, but it is widely different from this list, although having some parallels. We should note, however, that 1 Chronicles 9 does not say when the people that it lists began to live in Jerusalem, and it certainly contains the names of many not mentioned here (and vice versa). That may well be because the Chronicler was using information which informed him of who was living in Jerusalem prior to the time of Nehemiah, whilst Nehemiah is only recording the names of those who now took up residence in Jerusalem. Nehemiah may well be giving here the names of the children of Judah and Benjamin who moved into Jerusalem at this time, mainly ignoring the names of those who already lived in Jerusalem (as possibly given in 1 Chronicles 9). Thus it is noteworthy that in verses 1-9 of both Nehemiah 11 and 1 Chronicles 9 there are no parallels apart from the name ‘Sallu, the son of Meshullam’. But as there is good reason to believe that there were two men bearing this name, as the listing of their different ancestors demonstrates, there are really no parallels at all. The parallels only occur when we come to the priests and Levites. So 1 Chronicles 9 describes those who initially settled in the city during the period when it was unwalled. Nehemiah is now describing those who moved into the city now that it was walled, to join those described in 1 Chronicles 9 as already populating the whole city.

11.3 ‘Now these are the chiefs of the province who dwelt in Jerusalem,’

That is, the chiefs who began to live in Jerusalem from this time forward. They were willing to make a personal sacrifice for the good of the nation. They did it because of their loyalty to God, and as an example to others. A good deal of building work would have to take place to make Jerusalem habitable (‘the houses had not been built’ - 7.4), but again they probably ‘had a mind to work’. A dream was being fulfilled.

11.3b ‘(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 Nethinim, and the children of Solomon’s servants).’

Meanwhile the remaining nine tenths of the people continued to dwell in their own cities, ‘every one in his own possession’, where they possessed houses and land, and this included priests, Levites and Temple servants. For this verse compare 7.73. It would therefore appear to be a deliberate attempt to connect up chapter 7 with this passage, demonstrating the unity of purpose of these people with the first returnees, and that the situation continued. But its importance in its own right is found in the fact that it demonstrates that the whole of Judah continued to be populated because it had been given to them by God, and that many priests, Levites and Temple servants dwelt outside Jerusalem. The people were there because it was ‘their possession’. It was the land given to them by God.

11.4a ‘And in Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin.’

The roll of honour of those who moved into Jerusalem is now given, and they are divided into their tribes. This division into tribes may indicate their protective role (consider the earlier ‘mustering of the tribes’ in Numbers and in Judges). They were there to watch over the city, just as in the Book of Numbers the tribes had watched over the Tabernacle.

Of The Children Of Judah (11.4b-6).

Comparison with the list in 1 Chronicle 9 indicates that there is not a single duplication. The names in each are totally distinctive. This demonstrates that they are referring to different times. The ones named in 1 Chronicles 9 may be those who had settled in Jerusalem, because it was ‘their own city’, prior to this time, with the ones described here seen as moving to live in Jerusalem at the instigation of Nehemiah.

11.4b ‘Of the children of Judah:;

11.4c ‘Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the children of Perez;
11.5 ‘And Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite.’
11.6 ‘All the sons of Perez who dwelt in Jerusalem were four hundred, and sixty eight valiant men.’

It will be noted that of the sons of Judah only sons of Perez are specifically mentioned. This may, of course, be because when the lots were taken a choice was initially made between the sons of Zerah and the sons of Perez, and it was the sons of Perez who were chosen. And these were then chosen out of the sons of Perez. And/or it may be because the sons of Zerah were already there in considerable numbers (1 Chronicles 9.6), because it was their home city. The reference to ‘the Shilonite’ (or Shelanite per Numbers 26.20) takes Maaseiah’s descent back to Shelah, the son of Judah (Genesis 38.5, 26).

‘Maaseiah the son of Baruch the son of Col-hozeh.’ In 3.15 we learn of Shallun, the son of Col-hozeh, who was ruler of part of Mizpah, and oversaw the building of part of the wall. He may well have been Baruch’s brother. Note the title ‘valiant men’ which has military connotations (although admittedly it could mean ‘men of substance’). They were here as defenders of Jerusalem.

Of The Children Of Benjamin (11.7-9).

Again when comparing with 1 Chronicle 9 there is not a single duplication. A Sallu, the son of Meshullam, is mentioned in both, but these were clearly popular Benjamite names and their antecedents reveal that the name refers to different men. Otherwise the names in each are totally distinctive. This demonstrates that they are referring to different times. Again the ones named in 1 Chronicles 9 may be those who settled in Jerusalem prior to the time of Nehemiah because it was ‘their own city’, with the ones described here seen as moving to live in Jerusalem at the instigation of Nehemiah.

11.7a ‘And these are the sons of Benjamin:’

11.7b ‘Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah.’
11.8 ‘And after him Gabbai, Sallai, nine hundred and twenty eight.
11.9 ‘And Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second over the city.’

This Sallu, the son of Meshullam, was a different one than that in 1 Chronicles 9.7 as is demonstrated by his antecedents. That Joel was appointed as ‘overseer/officer’ ( 2 Kings 25.19; Genesis 41.34; Judges 9.28) may refer to his being given a military responsibility, and not one necessarily limited to Benjamin. Judah was his second in command. How this reconciles with the appointment of Hanani and Hananiah as having ‘charge over the city’ (7.2) we are in no position to judge. This may well have been a specifically military appointment.

Of The Priests (11.10-14).

From this point on there are closer parallels with 1 Chronicles 9. But this may simply be because the contributor of this information in Nehemiah included some as moving into Jerusalem on a full-time basis who were already ‘living in Jerusalem’ on a part time basis (as priests and Levites, etc), as described in 1 Chronicles 9. Then it had been on a secondary basis, with them also having homes elsewhere. Now they took up permanent residence. That he spoke in this way is clear from verse 16 where Berechiah is listed as ‘dwelling in Jerusalem’, whilst at the same time ‘dwelling in the villages of the Neophathites’. As priests many would have had dual residence so that the Chronicler could include them as resident in Jerusalem (on a partial basis), whilst Nehemiah could include them in his list because they now took up sole residence in Jerusalem. Taking up full time residence was an important step, for it meant that they were continually available, if needed, to defend the city.

11.10a ‘Of the priests:’

11.10b ‘ Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin,’

1 Chronicles 9.10 has ‘Jedaiah, and Jehoiarib and Jachin.’ These three seemingly resided in Jerusalem on a part time basis from the first, (as became leading priests), but now had come the time for them to take up full residence. Jehoiarib was seemingly Jedaiah’s father, and he had presumably died in the interim.

Jedaiah was a popular priestly name. One of the families of priests who returned with Zerubbabel was called ‘the sons of Jedaiah’ and a Jedaiah was one of the prominent priests who returned with Zerubbabel (12.6, 19). It was apparently a family name and had here been given to Jedaiah’s grandson, clearly a man of great importance. Jachin was earlier the name of the leader of the twenty first course of priests under David (1 Chronicles 24.17), and was thus a prominent priestly name. Here he too was seen as an important man and priest. The High Priest himself may be unmentioned because he already had full-time residence in Jerusalem.

11.11 ‘Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the ruler of the house of God,’

Also taking up full-time residence in Jerusalem was Seraiah the son of Hilkiah. 1 Chronicles 9.11 has ‘Azariah, the son of Hilkiah’, etc, but otherwise the same words. However, Seraiah and Azariah appear to be two names of the same person as is evidenced by comparison of Ezra 2.2 with Nehemiah 7.7 (the two names are consonantally close). As a chief priest of the high priestly family of Ahitub (Ahitub was the ruler of the house of God, that is, he was the High Priest (2 Chronicles 31.10, 13)) he would necessarily have had a residence in Jerusalem. Now he was taking up residence full time.

11.12a ‘And their brothers who did the work of the house, eight hundred and twenty two.

With these prominent priests came eight hundred and twenty two other priests who ‘did the work at the house of God’, presumably on a time on, time off, basis. Thus part of their time they had spent in their cities and part of their time in Jerusalem. Now they were moving into Jerusalem full time. We do not know for certain exactly what was involved in ‘doing the work of the house of God’ as distinguished from what the other priests did. But it may be that it was these who had responsibility for the maintenance of the cult worship in the Temple, while others had a preaching and teaching ministry, and various supervisory roles (such as watching over the gathering of the tithes - 10.38), or even a military role in protecting the holy city.

11.12b And Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah,’

1 Chronicles 9.12 abbreviates this to ‘Adaiah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah’, giving only details of the name of his father, his clan and his sub-tribe. He too had dwelt part time in Jerusalem, but from now on would dwell there full time. The Chronicler mentions Maasai, the son of Adiel, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer who seemingly already had full time residence in Jerusalem.

It will be noted that Pashhur and Immer were two of the four priestly families who returned with Zerubbabel (7.40, 41). The sons of Jedaiah may be seen as represented by Jedaiah and those who came with him (verses 10-11). The sons of Harim seemingly did not take up residence in Jerusalem, possibly because of the type of duties they fulfilled.

11.13a ‘And his brothers, chiefs of fathers’ (houses), two hundred and forty two.’

With Adaiah came 242 priestly heads of families, who like him had previously resided part time but now took up full time residence. However, as their being ‘chiefs of fathers’ (houses)’ contrasts with those who ‘did the work of the house (of God’ in verse 12, this may indicate that they were captains of priestly military units organised for the defence of the holy city. With the 822 mentioned previously, and the 128 mentioned in verse 14, this makes up 1,192 who now took up full time residence.

The Chronicler gives only one total, ‘1,760 very able men for the work of the service of the house of God’. The additional men presumably already resided full time, which would be why they are not included here.

11.13b ‘And Amashsai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer,’

Amashsai of the sons of Immer is not mentioned by the Chronicler. He may have included him in his 1,760 men (in view of the fact that he mentions Maasai of the sons of Immer as representing the sons of Immer), or it may be that up to this time Amashsai had no residence in Jerusalem. Now, however, he took up full time residence.

11.14 ‘And their brothers, mighty men of valour, a hundred and twenty eight, and their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim.’

And with him came 128 ‘mighty men of valour’ (which supports the idea that they formed military units), under their officer Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim. The priests thus provided Jerusalem with a permanently present force able to help in the protection of the city, something which they clearly saw as part of their duties.

This is a reminder that all of God’s people are called on to be both servants and warriors, walking in obedience with His will, and ever ready to defend the truth, ‘always ready to give an answer to all who ask concerning the hope that is in us’ (1 Peter 3.15). We are His servants and engaged in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6.10-18). And we do well if we volunteer to commit ourselves full time to God’s holy city.

Of The Levites (11.15-18).

A number of Levites also took up permanent residence in Jerusalem in order to aid its new beginning. They would do so with high hopes.

11.15a ‘And of the Levites:’

11.15b ‘Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni,’

Shemaiah apparently had had part time residence in the city (1 Chronicles 9.14). And the Chronicler tells us that he was of the sons of Merari, one of the three sons of Levi (1 Chronicles 6.1). Now he moved into Jerusalem full time.

11.16 And Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the chiefs of the Levites, who had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God,’

The non-mention of these by the Chronicler may be as a consequence of the fact that previously they had not resided in Jerusalem at all, or more likely because they were appointed after the time of which he wrote. They had become of primary importance because they had been given oversight of the ‘outward business of the house of God’ (in contrast with ‘the work of the house’ in verse 12.) This may indicate their responsibility for oversight of the gathering of the tithes, and, of course, of the new Temple tax, which would not require their presence in Jerusalem to any large extent, or it may also indicate responsibility for the outward fabric of the Temple, which would require their presence when necessary. The names of Shabbethai and Jozabad have already occurred in Nehemiah 8.7 as those of two Levites who helped the people to understand the Law.

11.17a ‘And Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the chief to begin the thanksgiving in prayer.’

Also now taking up full time residence in the city was Mattaniah, the son of Mica, the son of Asaph (Asaph was the song leader and musician in the time of David - 1 Chronicles 16.5; 2 Chronicles 5.12). He (either Mattaniah or Asaph, but most probably Mattaniah, as otherwise why mention him?) had overall responsibility over aspects of Temple worship including the offering of thanksgiving. He was ‘head of the beginning’ of the thanksgiving in prayer. Presumably it was his responsibility to initiate the commencement of the musical worship of thanksgiving.

Obadiah, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Jeduthun, mentioned in 1 Chronicles (Jeduthun was another song leader and musician from the time of David), was clearly already in full time residence in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9.16), and is therefore not mentioned by Nehemiah. (Alternately, of course, he may have died).

11.17b ‘And Bakbukiah, the second among his brothers, and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun.’

Bakbukiah is possibly the Bakbakkar of 1 Chronicles 9.15, and if so he changed his residency from part time to full time. By Nehemiah’s time he was second only to Mattaniah among the singers. (We can compare how in 1 Chronicles 16.5 the one who was second to Asaph was also noted). Abda, a prominent Levite and singer (we know he was prominent because his fuller genealogy is given) also moved full time to Jerusalem. Heresh, Galal (not Abda’s grandfather who bore the same name) and possibly Bakbakkar, if not identified as Bakbukiah, were already permanent residents in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9.15). Berechiah the son of Asa continued dwelling part time in the villages of the Netophathites (1 Chronicles 9.16).

11.18 ‘All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred and eighty four.’

Altogether there were now 284 Levites who were newly and permanently resident in Jerusalem, ‘the holy city’, and these no doubt included singers as such are mentioned above. They had great hopes for the future.

The Gate-keepers (11.19).

The mention of the gate-keepers separately from the Levites does not necessarily mean that the gate-keepers were not seen as Levites. Only that they had a special role. Indeed verse 20 suggests that they were seen as Levites (they are not there mentioned separately from the Levites). 1 Chronicles 9.26 agrees. Nehemiah gives us minimal information about the gate-keepers, compared with 1 Chronicles 9.17-29.

In some ways the title gate-keepers gives a wrong impression. These men did not just watch the gates. They held a position of trust and had responsibility for the treasury and the chambers in the Temple (1 Chronicles 9.26), as well as the furniture and worship accessories (fine flour, wine, oil, frankincense and spices - 1 Chronicles 9.29). They had overall responsibility for the security of the Temple area.

11.19 ‘Moreover the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon, and their brothers, who kept watch at the gates, were a hundred and seventy two.’

Many of the gate-keepers had had part time residence in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9.22, 25 mentions the fact that many of the gate-keepers lived in villages and came into Jerusalem to perform their duties). Now these 172 came to reside there full time, under the leadership of Akkub and Talmon, in order to make their contribution towards the permanent safety of the holy city. Shallum, the chief gate-keeper, and Ahiman, already dwelt full time in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9.17, 19).

11.20 ‘And the residue of Israel, of the priests, the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance.’

This still left a residue, which included priests and Levites, living in the all the cities of Judah. We have learned earlier that this residue consisted of nine tenths of the men of Judah. We were not told what proportion of the priests and Levites resided there, but they were among the people as God’s representatives, teaching and guiding, and watching over the collection of tithes. This summary in verse 20 possibly ended the record from which this information was taken, unless we include verse 21. On the other hand what follows in verses 25 onwards expands on this verse (and on verse 3), and we must beware of applying what conforms to the modern mind with the methods of ancient writers. They may well not have been so systematic.

Information Concerning The Residence Of The Returnees (11.21-36).

We now have added to the previous information, which has indicated those who took up residence in Jerusalem, various details concerning residence in Jerusalem and wider Judah.

The Nethinim (11.21).

We already know from 3.26, 31 that the Nethinim (given ones) dwelt in the Ophel. They were lower level Temple servants previously given by the kings for Temple service. They had probably largely been taken as prisoners of war, but were now fully integrated into Israel, and appeared to take pride in their status, as is demonstrated by the number who returned from Exile (7.60). We must remember that they chose to return.

Apart from 1 Chronicles 9.2 they are not mentioned outside Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1 Chronicles, having there mentioned them, ignores them completely. They were thus clearly not highly regarded by the elite. Their already having residence in Jerusalem is why some see this as an added note, and not an integral part of verse 1-20. If they already dwelt in Jerusalem we would not have expected them to be included in a list of those who now took up residence. It could then be seen as simply adding to the picture. On the other hand it is possible that many Nethinim had resided outside Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 9.2 which may suggest so), in which case this is evidencing their change of residence also.

11.21 ‘But the Nethinim dwelt in Ophel. And Ziha and Gishpa were over the Nethinim.’

The Temple servants necessarily lived near the Temple. They lived on the Ophel, probably on the eastern or southern slope of the Temple Mount. They were under the leadership of Ziha and Gishpa. But some may previously have lived outside Jerusalem, coming in and temporarily residing when it was time for them to perform their duties. All now seemingly moved into Jerusalem permanently.

Extra Details Concerning The Singers/Musicians (11.22-24).

The singers/musicians have already been mentioned in verse 17. Now further details are given concerning them.

11.22 ‘The overseer also of the Levites at Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mica, of the sons of Asaph, the singers, over the business of the house of God.’

Head over the singers/musicians was Uzzi, a ‘son of Asaph’. Asaph was the chief musician in David’s day (1 Chronicles 16.5). Uzzi, along with his fellow-musicians, had responsibility for the use of music in the worship in the Temple. His pedigree, which is listed, was impeccable.

11.23 ‘For there was a commandment from the king concerning them, and a settled provision for the singers, as every day required.’

If we translate like this these singers were maintained by the Persian royal house, ‘as every day required’. The king’s expectation would thus be that thereby God would be pleased and would bless the Persian kings. We can compare how they were also relieved from taxes (Ezra 7.24). The Persian kings went to great lengths to keep on the right side of the gods.

However, it may be translated ‘the command of the king was over them in the matters of every day’. It may therefor relate, not to provisioning, but to the duties required of them by the king as part of their worship, including the duty to intercede on behalf of him and his sons (see Ezra 6.10).

11.24 ‘And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king’s hand in all matters concerning the people.’

The kings of Persia took an interest in the religious affairs of their subjects (they wanted to ensure that their gods would honour the Persian royal family) and therefore had to hand a representative for Jewish affairs, at this time one named Pethahiah, who presumably lived at the Persian court but maintained a close watch on Jewish affairs on the king’s behalf.

The Dwellingplaces Of The Children Of Judah Outside Jerusalem (11.25-30).

Meanwhile, as verse 20 tells us, ‘the residue of Israel, of the priests and the Levites, were all in the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance.’ We are now therefore given details of some of these, demonstrating that they have again taken up God’s inheritance. They had not, of course, returned to an empty land. The poor of the land, who had been left behind by the Babylonians, and would have been numerous, would have taken possession of these cities (Jeremiah 39.10); as would Jews who returned, having fled before the invasion (Jeremiah 40.11), together with others who were taking advantage of an empty land, whilst most of southern Judah had been occupied by the Edomites as they fled from the invading Arabs. It would appear also that the Negeb still retained a substantial Judean population. Thus there was a good sprinkling of Jews throughout ancient Judah, although in many cases a lack of leadership. The returnees had settled among all these peoples.

It should be noted that this is not a comprehensive list of Judean cities. Bethlehem, for example, is not mentioned. It is rather intended to indicate the widespread nature of the land occupied by the returnees, and it is significant that a considerable number of the towns were outside the Province of Judah (Persian version). The first to be mentioned are ‘the people of Judah’. They ‘encamped’ from Beer-sheba in the extreme south, to the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem (compare Joshua 15.8). The use of the verb is interesting. It suggests either the newness of their arrival, or that they were like ancient Israel who ‘encamped’ around the Tabernacle. But the overall aim appears to be to indicate that God’s people once more occupied the whole of God’s land, not just the Persian province of Judah (Yehud). Beersheba, for example, was in the Negeb, well outside the province of Judah. Thus it is apparent that some of the returning Jews had settled outside the province of Judah, and yet were seen as a part of the revived people of God.

The use of the word ‘encamped (dwelt in tents)’ may well be intended to connect this description back to the wilderness period, when Israel literally all dwelt in tents. (Note how elsewhere the command for Israelite soldiers to return home is in terms of ‘return to your tents’ e.g. 2 Samuel 20.1; 1 Kings 12.16; Judges 7.8). It was as though they were again encamped around God’s sanctuary, as they had been of old (Numbers 1-2). Behind the word may be a desire to emphasise that they were taking part in a new Exodus, seeing themselves as encamped and travelling towards the establishment of the kingdom of God, with ‘the holy city’ as its fulcrum. This would especially be so as many of the returnees were dwelling outside contemporary Judah (i.e. the Persian province). Or it may be that they saw Judah as encamped around the holy city, in the same way as in Numbers 1-2 the tribes encamped around the Tabernacle. (Such ideas recurred later at Qumran).

The impression of partaking in a new Exodus with a view to the establishment of the new kingdom of God is possibly brought out by the fact that certain cities are selected and listed very much as in the Book of Joshua, even using ancient names. Possibly it was seen as a new ‘conquest’. We must not, however, assume too much for there are far more names mentioned in the Book of Joshua than are mentioned here, and the Benjamite towns mentioned later are not on the whole mentioned by Joshua. On the other hand the ancient names may have deliberately been taken up by the returnees with this in mind. Consider how Kiriath-arba, the ancient name for Hebron, is used. The name may well have been revived by the returnees in order to emphasise their ancient roots.

The towns are listed in three groups which we may roughly see as:

  • Towns in the former Judean uplands (verse 25).
  • Towns in and around the Negeb ( verses 26-29a).
  • Towns in the Shephelah (verses 29b-30).

The purpose is seemingly in order to indicate that Judah had been reoccupied as it was of yore. It is giving an impression of comprehensiveness, ignoring the fact that much of southern Judah was now occupied by the Edomites.

Towns In The Former Judean Uplands (11.25).

These towns in the former Judean uplands were on the whole outside the Persian Province of Judah, but had seemingly been resettled by the returnees. This is in no way an attempt to list all the towns in Judah. Rather the aim was to indicate how widespread God’s people were throughout the ancient land.

11.25 ‘And as for the villages, with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt in Kiriath-arba and its towns, and in Dibon and its towns, and in Jekabzeel and its villages,

‘As for the villages, with their fields.’ Probably better translated ‘as for the towns with their surrounding countryside.’ ‘Kiriath-arba and its towns’ indicated Hebron and its satellite towns (Judges 1.10), and by this time the area was at least partly Idumaean. The Edomites had occupied a southern Judah devastated by the Babyonian invasion, as they fled from the Arab invasion of Edom. Dibon is unknown, but is possibly the Dimonah of Joshua 15.22. Jekabzeel was probably south of Hebron in the Negeb, and so clearly in ‘foreign’ territory (that is, outside the Persian province of Judah). It is clear, therefore, that in order to take up residence in their native cities, some Jews had taken up residence outside of the Persian province of Judah, in cities which contained Jewish inhabitants who had not been much affected by the Exile.

Towns In The Negeb And the Related Area. The Extreme South Of Former Judah (11.26-29a).

The Negeb (‘the Dry’) was the southernmost part of ancient Judah, its expansive area forming its southern border. It was on the whole pasture land, being semi-desert, with its towns built at ancient springs, although it had at times been more extensively farmed by the use of irrigation techniques. It would probably not have been so badly affected by the Babylonian invasion. The towns now described were all in that area.

11.26 ‘And in Jeshua, and in Moladah, and Beth-pelet,’

These cities appear to have been in the Negeb, and thus again outside the Persian province of Judah. Jeshua may be identical with Shema (Joshua 15.26) and Sheba (Joshua 19.2). Originally being called Shema, it would develop into Sheba, and finally into Shewa, with the Je (Yah) being added. For Moladah see Joshua 15.26; 19.2; 1 Chronicles 4.28. It was probably east of Beersheba. Beth-pelet is unknown.

11.27 ‘And in Hazar-shual, and in Beer-sheba and its towns,’

Hazar-shual, mentioned in Joshua 19.2, is unknown, but was in the Negeb, along with Beer-sheba which was definitely so (Joshua 19.2; Genesis 21.31; 22.19). They were originally in Simeonite territory. Beersheba indicated the southernmost part of ancient Israel (‘from Dan to Beersheba’ - Judges 20.1; etc). It will be apparent that there was thus a good settlement of returnees (along with Jews who were wholly loyal to YHWH who had not gone into exile), in the Negeb region.

11.28-29a ‘And in Ziklag, and in Meconah and in its towns, and in En-rimmon,’’

For Ziklag see Joshua 15.31. It was the city over which David presided during his exile among the Philistines (1 Samuel 27.6), and he retained possession of it when he became king of Judah and then of Israel. It was in the south-west of former Judah near the border with the province of Ashdod (Philistia). Meconah was near Ziklag. It was either a border city of, or outside, the Province.

En-rimmon (meaning ‘spring of the pomegranate’) was also called Rimmon (Joshua 15.32; 19.7; 1 Chronicles 4.32). It may have been combined with Ain to form one small town (1 Chronicles 4.32). Originally in Judah’s territory (Joshua 15.32) it had soon transferred to Simeon (Joshua 19.7). It was probably fifteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Beersheba.

Towns In The Shephelah (The Western Lowlands) (11.29b-30).

The Shephelah was the name given to the low hills and valleys which separated the Coastal Plain from the Central Highlands. It was well populated.

11.29b ‘And in Zorah, and in Jarmuth,’

Moving northward to the northern Shephelah (lowlands), west of Jerusalem, we come to Zorah and Jarmuth. Zorah was in the lowland hills of Judah (Joshua 15.33), and associated with the stories about Samson (Judges 13.2). It was possibly the Zarkha of the Amarna letters. It was north of Azekah. Jarmuth was five kilometres (three miles) south of Beth-shemesh, eighteen miles west of Jerusalem. It was previously a large Amorite city before the conquest (Joshua 10.3; 15.35).

11.30 ‘Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and its fields, Azekah and its towns. So they encamped from Beer-sheba to the valley of Hinnom.’

Zorah, Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam and Azekah are all names echoing Joshua. They are seen as close together, along with a number of other towns, in Joshua 15.33-35. These may well have indicated the western border of the Province of Judah, or may even have been outside that border. Lachish was in the lowlands further south and outside the border.

For Zanoah see 3.13; Joshua 15.34. It was three kilometres (two miles) south of Beth-shemesh. The men of Zanoah were named as involved in the building of the walls (3.13). Adullam was a former Canaanite city (Joshua 12.15), later fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11.7) and referred to by Micah 1.15. It was midway between Jerusalem and Lachish. Lachish was a large Judean city in the southern Shephelah, outside the new Province of Judah, forty kilometres (thirty miles) south west of Jerusalem. Its capture by the Assyrians was seen as a notable achievement (their having failed to capture Jerusalem) and was shown on a relief sculpture in the palace of Nineveh. Azekah was in the territory of Judah (Joshua 15.35) and was north of Lachish, both cities being referred to in the Lachish letters as resisting the Assyrian invasion (see also Jeremiah 34.7) before finally succumbing (Isaiah 37.8). It was seen in Joshua as being on the extremity of Judah (Joshua 10.10-11; compare 1 Samuel 17.1), and was one of Rehoboam’s fortified border cities.

The Dwellingplaces Of The Children Of Benjamin (11.31-35).

In contrast with the description of Judah, the cities and towns of Benjamin are detailed, although this may partly indicate how thoroughly Judah had been devastated during and after the capture of Jerusalem. The Benjamites had settled back into their cities and towns north of Jerusalem.

11.31 ‘The children of Benjamin also dwelt from Geba onward, at Michmash and Aija, and at Beth-el and its towns,’

Geba (meaning ‘a hill’) and Michmash are well known from the activities of Saul (1 Samuel 13.2, 3, 5, 16, 23; 14.5, 31). Geba was 11 kilometres (7 miles) north of Jerusalem, and was 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Gibeah. It was previously a Levitical city (Joshua 21.17). It was the site of Saul’s camp during his resistance to the Philistine invasion (1 Samuel 13.23). At one point it was the northernmost town in Judah (2 Kings 23.8). It was mentioned in Isaiah’s description of the Assyrian advance on Jerusalem (Isaiah 10.29). Today it is called Jeba. Michmash was 12 kilometres north of Jerusalem, and east of Bethel. It was a centre for the Philistines when they invaded Israel in the time of Saul (1 Samuel 13.5, 16). It is mentioned by Isaiah as a stage in the advance of the Assyrian army on Jerusalem, the point at which they laid up their baggage (Isaiah 10.28). It was thus situated at a crucial point. It was on the pass between Bethel and Jericho. It is at present a ruined village called Mukhmas, on the northern ridge of the Wadi Suweinit. Nothing is known of Aija, although some identify it with modern Khirbet Haiyan. It was seemingly in the same area as Geba, Michmash and Bethel.

‘Bethel and its towns’ was well known throughout Israel’s history. It was about 19 kilometres (12 miles) north of Jerusalem and was known in some form to Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 12.8; 13.3; 31.13; 35.7), but its site is not certainly identified. A good number of scholars identify it with Burg Beitin or Tel Beitin, but this, like most identifications, is uncertain. There are many tels in the area and there is no certain way of identifying them. All we can do is consider them in terms of the Biblical narrative. Its king was defeated by Joshua, although Bethel itself was probably not taken at the time. It was one of the two major religious centres of Northern Israel after the division of the kingdom following the death of Solomon, infamous for its idol worship (‘come to Bethel and transgress’ - Amos 4.4), the other being Dan. It became incorporated in Judah under Josiah, at which point Jerusalem then became the centre of the people’s worship.

11.32 ‘At Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah,’

Anathoth was a Benjamite city and the home town of Abiathar (1 Kings 2.26) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1.1). It was previously a Levitical city (Joshua 21.18). Its possible site (Deir-es-Sid) is 5 kilometres (3 miles) north east of Jerusalem. It was one of the areas affected by Nebuchadnezzar’s march on Jerusalem (Isaiah 10.30). Nob was another such affected area, and was the last stage prior to Jerusalem itself, indicating its nearness to Jerusalem (possible site Ras umm et-Tais). It was where David ate holy bread while on the run from Saul (1 Samuel 21.6), and where in retaliation Saul slaughtered Ahimelech and his priestly brothers (1 Samuel 22.9-19). Ananiah is possibly Beit Hanina, which is seven kilometres (between three and four miles) north-north-west of Jerusalem. As will be observed, these three towns were all within 7 kilometres (four miles) of Jerusalem, looking north.

11.33a ‘Hazor, Ramah.’

This Hazor (which simply means ‘village, settlement’) was not the well known Hazor mentioned in Joshua 11.1-13, but was rather a lesser known one found in Benjamite territory. It is possibly modern Khirbet Hazzur, north of Bethel. Ramah was a resting-place on the way north. It was near Bethel (Judges 4.5) and in the region of Gibeon and Beeroth (Joshua 18.25). It was one of the places in which the Levite planned to stay, with his concubine, and had he finally stayed there rather than in Gibeah (Judges 19.13-14). the history of the Benjamites might have been different. It was where Nebuzaradan gathered the prospective exiles after the fall of Jerusalem, and from where he released Jeremiah (Jeremiah 40.1-4). At one stage it was a border fortress of northern Israel (1 Kings 15.17). The non-mention of Mizpah, which was previously prominent in this area, may suggest that it had been laid waste by Nebuchadnezzar in retaliation for the death of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40.6-41.3).

11.33b-34 ‘ Gittaim Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat,’

These four towns, along with Lod and Ono, were in the northern Shephelah. Gittaim was the place to which Ish-bosheth’s captains fled in the time of David (2 Samuel 4.3). It is possibly modern Ras Abu Hamid. Hadid is named alongside Lod and Ono in Ezra 2.33; Nehemiah 7.37, and is probably to be identified with Adida (Septuagint Hadida) as mentioned in 1 Maccabees 12:38; 13:13, which was described as "over against the plain." It was fortified by Simon Maccabeus. It is represented by modern el-Haditheh, about 5 kilometres (3 miles) north-east of Lydda. Zeboim is unknown but was presumably in the same area. Neballat is probably to be identified with modern Beit Nebala, 6 kilometres (4 miles) north-east of Lydda.

11.35 ‘Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen.’

Lod and Ono are always mentioned together. They are described as built by the Benjamites, in 1 Chronicles 8.12, and spoken of, together with Hadid, in Ezra 2.33; Nehemiah 7.37. They were presumably in ‘the plain of Ono’ (Nehemiah 6.2), in which Nehemiah’s opponents intended to trap him. This may be the same as, or contain, ‘the valley of the craftsmen’ (see also 1 Chronicles 4.14 RV margin). This latter may have obtained its name from woodworking activity carried out there in consequence of its nearness to Joppa, through which timber from Lebanon would be imported. Ono is probably to be identified with modern Kafr ‘Ana, which lies near Lydda.

11.36 ‘And of the Levites, certain courses in Judah (were joined/allocated) to Benjamin.’

Among these Benjamites as previously described were located a number of courses of Levites, who would be responsible, among other things, for gathering tithes, and teaching and guiding the people. As God’s servants they were called on to be flexible. YHWH Himself, together with the tithes, were the inheritance of Levi, not some earthly portion of land (Numbers 18.24; Deuteronomy 10.9).

This was not just an appended afterthought. It was a reminder that provision was being made for the fulfilment of the covenant provisions in 10.38-39. The responsibility of the Benjamites towards God was not to be overlooked. (Previously it had been stated that the residue of the Levites were in ‘all the cities of Judah’ - 11.20). It also serves as a connecting verse with chapter 12 where details concerning the Priests and Levites is given.

Details Concerning The Priests And Levites Who Returned With Zerubbabel, And Those Who Subsequently Developed (12.1-26).

The importance of the genuinely appointed Priests and Levites to the new Israel and to the new Jerusalem as the holy city is now emphasised by providing details concerning their connection with the return, and their subsequent development. It is being emphasised that God had made provision for the continuation of orthodox worship in ‘the holy city’, including the maintenance of the High Priesthood. The passage may be divided up into:

  • The chiefs of the priests who went up with Zerubbabel, whose genealogies had been verified (verses 1b-7; compare 7.64).
  • The Levites who went up with Zerubbabel (verses 8-9).
  • The maintenance of the High Priestly line (verses 10-11).
  • Subsequent chiefs of priests in the time of the high priest Joiakim (verses 12-21), thus down to the time of Nehemiah.
  • Brief note regarding when the records of priests and Levites were made (verses 22-23).

    The chiefs of the Levites in the days of Joiakim the high priest, who was contemporary with Nehemiah and Ezra (verses 24-26).

List Of The Leading Priests And Levites Who Went Up With Zerubbabel From Exile (12.1-9).

The list is divided into two parts, the names of chiefs of the priests, and the names of the (leading) Levites. These were the priests and Levites whose genealogies had been demonstrated (7.64; Ezra 8.15-20).

12.1a ‘Now these are the priests and the Levites who went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua:’

Note how it is emphasised that among the returnees were a substantial number of priests and Levites. Thus the worship of the new Israel is seen to have been established on a sound foundation, being in the hands of those authorised by God. As happens so often Zerubbabel, and Joshua the High Priest, are named together (compare Haggai 1.12, 24; 2.2, 4; Ezra 3.2, 8; 4.3; 5.2), and there may be the underlying thought that the foundation of the new Israel was to be seen as established on the houses of David (Zerubbabel was a ‘son of David’) and Aaron (Joshua/Jeshua was a ‘son of Aaron’).

The Chiefs of The Priests Who Went Up With Zerubbabel (12.1b-7). p> Here we are given the names of the chiefs of the priests and their brothers who returned from exile with Zerubbabel ‘in the days of Jesuha (the High Priest)’. It is being made clear that the priests of the new Israel are firmly vouched for as being of genuine descent (compare 7.64). It will be noted that these names are largely paralleled in verses 12-21 where they are (as we would expect) the ‘fathers’ of the chiefs of priests in the time Joiakim the High Priest, i.e. the next generation. Apart from understandable variations (Hebrew names were flexible) the names are the same except that Hattush is not mentioned in verses 12-21, for reasons we can only surmise. Possibly he was childless. A Hattush is included in 10.2-8 as a priestly signatory to the covenant, which may exclude the idea that the family had died out, but we must remember that Hattush was a fairly common name. That Hattush spoken of there may have been a relative signing in the name of the family. See also, for example, 3.10 where a Hattush was supervising repairs on one part of the wall. See also 1 Chronicles 3.22, of a descendant of David; and Ezra 8.2 of a prominent returnee with Ezra.

The names of ‘the chiefs of the priests and their brothers’ are now given:

12.1b ‘Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,’

12.2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush,

12.3 Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth,

12.4 Iddo, Ginnethoi (or in some MSS Ginnethon), Abijah,

12.5 Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah,

12.6 Shemaiah, and Joiarib, Jedaiah.

12.7a Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah.

Some of the twenty two names parallel those in 10.2-8 where they were names of signatories to the covenant of Nehemiah (a generation or so later). This could partly have arisen from the fact that the signatories signed, not in their own names, but in the name of the clan. It may also partly have arisen because of the popularity at that time of the custom of giving the names of grandfathers to their grandsons. But both lists include names which are not in the other. Thus seven name mentioned here (Iddo and the last six names) are not found in the list of signatories in 10.2-8, whilst the latter includes six other names, viz Passhur, Malchijah, Obadiah, Daniel, Baruch, Meshullam, which are not included here.

12.7b ‘These were the chiefs of the priests and of their brothers in the days of Jeshua.’

It is stated specifically that those named here lived in the days of Jeshua the High Priest, although whether they had changed their names, taking the clan name, is something of which we cannot be sure. It is difficult from our viewpoint to see why the phrase ‘these were the chiefs of the priests’ has had added on ‘and of their brothers’. It may suggest that not all those mentioned were seen as chiefs of priests (compare the similar use of Levites in verses 8-9). Possibly ‘of their brothers’ refers to the last six names distinguishing them in some from the remainder (note the ‘and’ which occurs before the names of the last six, which distinguishes them from the remainder). These six are not mentioned as signatories of the covenant. They might not thus have been officially recognised ‘chiefs of the priests’. They may have been included here because attempts were being made to increase the number of priestly courses until they reached twenty four, as they did towards the end of the Persian period, and as they were in the days of David. Eventually towards the end of the Persian period the number of courses of priests would again be twenty four, as they would be in the time of Jesus. The names Joiarib and Jedaiah may have been taken by those named in order deliberately to connect them with the Davidic courses of priests. They are the first two names in that list (1 Chronicles 24.7-18). But the fact that there are only twenty two names here confirms the early nature of this list. It is significant that it is not specifically conformed to the Davidic pattern. Rather it arose through necessity.

When we remember that at the return only four priestly clans were mentioned (apart from those who could not prove their ancestry), viz. Jedaiah, Immer, Passhur and Harim (7.39-42), it is clear that the number of priestly houses was increasing, probably with a view to the requirements of Temple worship and service. Jedaiah and Harim (if identified also as Rehum, with a transposition having taken place of the first two consonants. Hebrew names are fluid. Compare 12.3 with 12.15. But this is by no means certain) are names mentioned above. But there is no mention of the names of Immer and Passhur, which may be explained by the division into sub-clans. Immer is also unmentioned in 10.1-8. The whole situation is undoubtedly complex, and many suggestions have been made by commentators, too numerous to deal with simply.

The Levites Who Went Up With Zerubbabel (12.8-9).

We are now given the names of the Levites who went up with Zerubbabel. These are all recognised Levite names, clearly passed on from one generation to another, which means that we have to be careful in the Book of Nehemiah about identifying who is who. But the important point here is that there were genuine Levites of true descent, available to carry on the work of God in the new nation in accordance with God’s ordinance. Not for this new Israel the error of appointing ‘strange priests and Levites’ as northern Israel had done long before (1 Kings 12.31).

12.8a ‘Moreover the Levites:’

12.8b ‘Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, (and) Mattaniah, who was over the thanksgiving, he and his brothers.’

These chief Levites returned with Zerubbabel. They have names which occur over and over again in Ezra/Nehemiah. Thus this Jeshua had no direct connection with the High Priest of that name, but was rather a chief Levite. He was connected with the building of the new Temple and the commencement of its activities in Ezra 3.9. The Jeshua mentioned in 7.43; Ezra 2.40 was either his clan ancestor, or himself. It was a descendant of his who signed the covenant, either in his own name or, as clan-leader, taking the name of the clan (10.9), and was presumably the Jeshua who helped the people to understand the covenant (8.7), and who, with others, interceded on behalf of the new Israel (9.4-5). This Jeshua is described as ‘the son of Azaniah’. A Jeshua is mentioned in 12.24, but he was ‘the son of Kadmiel’ (although see on that verse).

Binnui was another popular Levite name. His descendant, who also bore the same name, also signed the covenant (10.9), and assisted in the building of the wall (3.24) and if the same as Bani (a good possibility in context, the difference in the Hebrew names being slight), helped the people to understand the covenant (8.7), and interceded on behalf of Israel (9.4-5). Descendants of both Jeshua and Binnui helped to receive from Ezra the gold and silver vessels for the house of God (Ezra 8.33). Men with, or connected with, the names Bani and Binnui had to rid themselves of idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.29, 30, 34, 38) but there is no reason for connecting them with this Binnui, and Bani was a very common name used by people of all tribes (2 Samuel 23.36; 1 Chronicles 9.4; Ezra 2.10).

This Kadmiel likewise passed on his name to his descendants. The Kadmiel mentioned in 7.43; Ezra 2.40 was either this Kadmiel or his ancestor, and it was this Kadmiel who, along with Jeshua, was connected with the building of the new Temple and the commencement of its activities in Ezra 3.9. One of his descendants (either having been given the name or having taken the name) signed the covenant (10.9), helped the people to understand the covenant (8.7), and interceded on behalf of the new Israel (9.4-5). A Kadmiel was the father of the Jeshua mentioned in 12.24, which see. It is noteworthy that Jeshua, Binnui and Kadmiel, in that order, are constantly the first names spoken of when the Levites are described, the exception being 12.24 for a reason we consider easily explicable.

Sherebiah was another common Levite name. Here it referred to a chief Levite who arrived with Zerubbabel, of whom nothing further is known. One of his descendants signed the covenant of Nehemiah, either in his own name, having himself been given the family name, or in the family name (10.12). This descendant also caused the people to understand the Law (8.7), and made intercession for the new Israel (9.4-5). There can be no certainty as to whether he is linked with the Sherebiah of 12.24. In Ezra 8.24 one of the chiefs of the priests was named Sherebiah, but that demonstrates nothing more than the popularity of the name, especially in the tribe of Levi.

Judah is nowhere else spoken of as a chief Levite or family head of the Levites, but the name was common among the Jews (compare 12.34), and we should note a Levite named Judah who had to put away his idolatrous foreign wife (Ezra 10.24). Furthermore mention is made in Ezra 3.9 MT of ‘the sons of Judah’, this Judah also being a Levite. We can also compare Judah the son of Hassenuah who was a Benjamite (11.9). Some seek to relate the name Judah to the very similar Hodiah who is often referred to as one of the leading Levites in the time of Nehemiah (8.7; 9.5; 10.10, 13), but there are no solid grounds for doing so. It may, however, relate to the Hodaviah of Ezra 2.40. In view of the lack of mention elsewhere of these leading Levites in the time of Zerubbabel (apart from sparse mention in Ezra 3.9), there are no good grounds for seeking to see their names in terms of later times. They were probably rather obtained from contemporary records. It would indeed be this fact that gave the argument of the chapter solidity (the argument that worship in the new ‘holy city’ was being carried on by those who were of genuinely valid ancestry).

Mattaniah, who was over the thanksgiving, may relate in some distant way to the Mattaniah who was an ancestor at least four removed of Uzzi the Levite, who was an overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem (11.22). He may indeed have been the grandfather of ‘Hanan the son of Zaccur the son of Mattaniah’ (13.13) who was connected with the Temple treasury distributions, but it is not certain. His connection with the Mattaniah who was the chief to begin the thanksgiving in prayer in the time of Nehemiah (11.17), was probably ancestral. This latter would serve to confirm that ‘over the thanksgiving’ indicate a central role in worship The Mattaniah in 12.25, who was a gate-keeper, was therefore a distinct person, despite his being in parallel with a Bakbukiah (compare 12.8-9). The ‘he’ of ‘he and his brothers’ probably refers to Mattaniah, ‘his brothers’ thereby bringing in the wider Levite family.

So in all cases the later repetition of these names simply emphasises the custom of passing on the family name from grandfather to grandson, and a possible tendency for the beginners of the new Israel to take the names of their leading ancestors in recognition of that new beginning. What is underlined is that these were genuine, true-born Levites, which is the purpose of the whole passage.

12.9 ‘Also Bakbukiah and Unno, their brothers, were over against them according to their offices.’

Additional to the six leading Levites mentioned were Bakbukiah and Unno, described as ‘their brothers’, that is, fellow Levites. These two were important, but not as important as the six. They stood out more because of the positions they held than directly because of ancestry. The Bakbukiah of 11.17 was probably the direct descendant of the Bakbukiah mentioned here. But Bakbukiah is probably not the Bakbukiah of 12.25, who was a gate-keeper and ‘kept watch at the storehouses of the gates’. The name Unno (Unni) is unknown elsewhere except as applied to Levite musicians from the time of David (1 Chronicles 15.18, 20).

The suggestion that verses 8-9 were based on verses 24-25 has little to commend it except for the coincidence of popular names. Those in verses 8-9 were Levites at the time of the return. Those in verses 24-25 were Levites at a later date. Both lists would be obtained from contemporary records. The differences are as striking as the coincidences at a time when repetition of names were popular. Thus the first list includes Binnui, Judah and Unno, not mentioned in the second list, whereas the second list has Hashabiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub, not mentioned in the first list. Furthermore the Kadmiel of the first list, named alongside Jeshua, does not equate with the Kadmiel of the second list who was the father of Jeshua. The coincidences may simply reflect the popularity in certain Levite circles of the names in question over this period, partly based on the past, and the custom of naming a grandson after his grandfather. It is noteworthy that Bukkiah (now Bakbukiah) and Mattaniah were also linked in David’s day (1 Chronicles 25.4).

The Genealogy Of Jeshua The High Priest Who Went Up With Zerubbabel (12.10-11).

Central to the success of the new Israel, and the establishment of the holy city as holy, was the succession of High Priests. Jeshua (Joshua), along with large numbers of priests, had already been able to demonstrate his genealogy, as 7.64 assumes. As the son of Jozadak (Ezra 3.2), or Jehozadak, his genealogy is given in 1 Chronicles 6.1-15, and was therefore clearly available. The succession from Jeshua is therefore now outlined, although it is not stated that they all actually acted as High Priests (we have to consider those who might have been excluded by some disability but who might have passed on heirship to their sons).

12.10-11 ‘And Jeshua begat Joiakim, and Joiakim begat Eliashib, and Eliashib Joiada, and Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua.’

Joshua arrived with Zerubbabel in around 538 BC, and was still High Priest in 520 BC, whilst Eliashib was High Priest in the days of Ezra/Nehemiah in and around 445 BC. If the genealogy is complete (which may not be so for genealogies regularly omitted names) this would indicate a long tenure for Joiakim (although we do not know when Jeshua died). This is not, however, impossible, and is supported by the fact that his tenure is related to the days of Ezra and Nehemiah in 12.26.

Following Jeshua Joiakim was High Priest, and he is the one who is important for what immediately follows (verses 12-22. See also verse 24-26). He was then followed by Eliashib who was High Priest when the walls were rebuilt (Nehemiah 3.1). Eliashib was a grandfather by the time of Nehemiah’s second visit, and at that stage had an adult grandson (13.28). He was succeeded by Joiada, one of whose sons married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (13.28). This indicates that Joiada’s eldest son Jonathan was apparently a mature adult whilst Sanballat the Horonite, the contemporary of Nehemiah (2.10, 19), was still alive.

If the genealogy is complete Jonathan begat a son Jaddua, who would presumably have been born by the time of the listing, and could thus have been known to an ageing Nehemiah as the heir-apparent to the High Priesthood. It is not stated that he was High Priest at the time of writing (or indeed that he ever became High Priest). Thus it is not impossible that this genealogy was recorded by Nehemiah. Alternately, if Nehemiah was the author of the whole book, the words ‘and Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua’ may have been added at a later date in order to update the sequence. A slight indication of this may be that ‘begat’ is missing after Eliashib in the MT (although included in some manuscripts), which may suggest that at one stage the genealogy only reached Joiada. (This assumption is, however, not strictly necessary for them to fit into Nehemaic authorship). But the important point in context is that this list demonstrates the legitimacy of the continuing High Priesthood.

Note On Jaddua.

The importance of identifying Jaddua lies in the light that that identification would throw on the earliest date by which the Book Of Nehemiah could have been completed as it now stands. It could not have been completed before Jaddua was born. On the other hand the main part of the book may have been written earlier, with the reference to Jonathan and Jaddua being added later.

But on the face of the genealogy here, assuming no gaps, this Jaddua was probably born around 432 BC. He was the first-born son of Jonathan who was a mature adult at the time spoken of in Nehemiah 13, when his younger brother had already married Sanballat’s daughter, that is around the thirty second year of Artaxerxes (13.6), thus around 432 BC. At this stage Nehemiah was certainly still alive and active. Nehemiah would thus have seen Jaddua grow up.

Furthermore the High Priest at the time of one Elphantine papyrus dated 407 BC speaks of Johanan as High Priest, and there is no real justification for equating Jonathan with Johanan. How Johanan fits in with the above genealogy we have therefore no way of knowing. Perhaps he was the son of Jaddua. Or Jonathan may have had some impediment preventing him from being High Priest so that his uncle Johanan became so instead (12.23), he then being followed by Jaddua.

A complication is introduced by a reference in Josephus to a Jaddua, son of Johanan, who was High Priest in 351-331 BC when Alexander the Great had contact with Jerusalem. But in view of our lack of knowledge of the genealogy of the High Priests after this time there is no real reason why that Jaddua may not have been the grandson of the Jaddua mentioned here in 12.11. Indeed, if he had lived to a great age, he could even have been this Jaddua, with ‘son of Johanan’, simply signifying that he took over the High Priesthood from Johanan.

End of note.

The Priests Who Were Heads Of Fathers’ Houses In The Days Of Joiakim, Son Of Jeshua (12.12-21).

We now have listed priest who were head of father’s houses at some point during the High Priesthood of Joiakim, the son of Jeshua. This is the next generation from those above, something that is indicated by introducing them in terms of their ancestry. It is probable, but not necessary, that the naming is of father and eldest son. However, strictly speaking, only descent is indicated. The slight differences between the names of the ‘fathers’ given here, and those given in verses 1-7 merely indicate that Hebrew names were flexible. They are not necessarily due to copying errors, but rather indicate that the two lists have different primary sources, those sources having been obtained from the records office. Had one been copied from the other we would have expected the names to be the same, nor would we have anticipated the introduction of Hattush in verses 1-7. But it is noteworthy that once again the last six names are introduced by ‘and’ (for which see explanation above on verses 1-7), which confirms a distinction between the first named and the last six.

The fact of an inclusio, - ‘and in the days of Joiakim were’ (verse 12) - ‘these were in the days of Joiakim --’ (verse 26) may suggest that verses 12-26 are to be seen as a whole unit, although it is not impossible that some material was inserted (e.g. verses 22-25), with ‘these were in the days of Joiakim’ in verse 26 referring strictly to verses 12-21.

12.12a ‘And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers’ houses:

12.12b ‘Of Seraiah, Meraiah;’
12.12c ‘Of Jeremiah, Hananiah;’
12.13a ‘Of Ezra, Meshullam;’
12.13b ‘Of Amariah, Jehohanan;’
12.14a ‘Of Malluchi, Jonathan;’
12.14b ‘Of Shebaniah, Joseph;’
12.15a ‘Of Harim, Adna;’
12.15b ‘Of Meraioth, Helkai;’
12.16a ‘Of Iddo, Zechariah;’
12.16b ‘Of Ginnethon, Meshullam;’
12.17a ‘Of Abijah, Zichri;’
12.17b ‘Of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai;’
12.18a ‘Of Bilgah, Shammua;’
12.18b ‘Of Shemaiah, Jehonathan;’
12.19a ‘And of Joiarib, Mattenai;’
12.19b ‘Of Jedaiah, Uzzi;’
12.20a ‘Of Sallai, Kallai;’
12.20b ‘Of Amok, Eber;’
12.21a ‘Of Hilkiah, Hashabiah;’
12.21b ‘Of Jedaiah, Nethanel.’

The unusual ‘of Miniamin, of Mohdiah, Piltai’ in 12.17b (we would expect a name after Miniamin) may either indicate that the name of the ‘son’ of Miniamin has dropped out, or that the names of the sons of both Miniamin and Moadiah was Paltai, or that Miniamin died without an heir and Moadiah being related to him, produced an heir for him through the law of levirate marriage, who was named Paltai. On the information given the number of courses at this stage was twenty, a reduction on the previous twenty two. But if men died without male seed that could have occurred. Once more then the writer makes clear that the Jerusalem priesthood is of genuine descent. It is an interesting possibility that Zechariah the son of Iddo in verse 16a is a reference to the prophet Zechariah.

The Levites Who Were Heads Of Fathers’ Houses In The Days Of Joiakim the Son of Jeshua And Of Nehemiah The Governor And Of Ezra The Priest (12.22-26).

It is now pointed out by the writer that the information concerning the chiefs of the Levites in the time of Joiakim, necessary to complete the full picture, was obtained from subsequent records. This would serve to confirm that the previous information supplied was obtained from contemporary records.

12.22 ‘As for the Levites, in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, there were recorded the heads of fathers’ (houses), also the priests, in the reign of Darius the Persian.’

This rather complex statement can be seen as explaining that in order to complete the pattern ‘priests/Levites of the first generation, priests/Levites of the subsequent generation’, resort had to be made to records which were not contemporary for details concerning the Levites, although such contemporary records were available for the priests. The writer is thus honest enough to inform us that, unlike the previous information, the details concerning these Levites in the days of Joiakim (verse 26) were not obtained from contemporary records, but from records made in subsequent generations, namely in the time of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan and Jaddua, whilst the records concerning the priests were made in the days of Darius the Persian.

To deal with the last first. The description ‘the Persian’ is comparatively rare, and Darius the Persian is probably called such here in order to distinguish him from Darius the Mede (Daniel 5.31). Compare Daniel 6.28 where Cyrus is called ‘the Persian’ in order to distinguish him from Darius the Mede. Thus reference here is to Darius I (522-486 BC), who, as the writer indicates, was not Darius the Mede, but Darius the Persian. This would make the records concerning the priests contemporary.

With regard to ‘the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua’, this phrase suggests that the records from which the material concerning the Levites was taken, were made in subsequent generations. This is the one incontrovertible fact (if such can be said to exist). And this is especially so as verse 26 suggests that Joiakim, Eliashib’s father, continued on until the days of Nehemiah. What is not clear is the period covered by ‘the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua’.

At first glance it might appear that these names were simply repeating the information given in the above genealogy of Jeshua the High Priest, but that this is not so is evident from the fact that Jonathan is not mentioned here, while a Johanan is introduced. There is no good reason for suggesting that Johanan is simply an alternative name for Jonathan. On the other hand we do know that a Johanan did become High Priest at a date early enough to enable him to be in authority when in 407 BC letters were written from the unorthodox Jewish community in Elephantine concerning the destruction of their Temple. Johanan may thus have been Jonathan’s uncle, for it may be he who is elsewhere called ‘Johanan the son of Eliashib’ (verse 23; Ezra 10.6). It may be that he became High Priest because Jonathan suffered from some deficiency, and Jaddua was not yet of age.

On the other hand verse 23 limits the writing of these records as ‘even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib’. Taken at face value this would exclude the idea that the Jaddua here mentioned was subsequent to Johanan, and would confirm that Johanan was Joiada’s brother, for Joiada was also the son of Eliashib (13.28). It may thus be that Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua were brothers.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Eliashib also appears to have had a brother named Johanan (1 Chronicles 3.24), whilst on top of this there may also have been another Eliashib connected with the Temple who was ‘over the chambers of the house of God’ (Nehemiah 13.4), so that the Johanan of Ezra 10.6 may have been the son of this Eliashib. And just to add to the complications there was also an Eliashib who was one of the singers in Ezra 10.24, so that it is just possible that the Johanan in verse 23, in a verse referring to Levites, was his son.

It would appear to us that the most likely solution is that Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua were brothers, and all sons of Eliashib. But it is no more than that. What is certain is that for the present nothing reliable can now be built on the mention of these names, other than the indication that the records were made after the days of Joiakim, Eliashib’s father.

12.23 ‘The sons of Levi, heads of fathers’ (houses), were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib.’

This would appear to be confirming that the information concerning the Levites now to be described was obtained from records made up to the time of Johanan, the son of Eliashib, which may mean up until the time of his High Priesthood, for the writer’s contemporaries would have known that Johanan became High Priest. This would serve to confirm our solution suggested above.

The phrase ‘the sons of Levi, heads of fathers’ is interesting. In Ezra/Nehemiah the phrase ‘sons of Levi’ only elsewhere occurs in Ezra 8.15, where it continues the idea of ‘sons of --’ from the previous verses. The usual designation is ‘the Levites’. Here, however, it may simply be used precisely because ‘the Levites’ had already headed the previous sentence. The phrase as a whole parallels ‘priests, heads of fathers’ in verse 12. Both these facts suggest (although not conclusively) that verse 23 was part of the original passage from verse 12 to verse 24, rather than being an insertion.

12.24a ‘And the chiefs of the Levites:

The names of the chiefs of the Levites in the days of Joiakim are now given.

12.24b ‘Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers over against them, to praise and give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch next to watch.’

The names of the chiefs of the Levites who returned with Zerubbabel were ‘Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, Mattaniah, who was over the thanksgiving, he and his brothers’ (12.8). This may be their given names or they may have taken their ancestral names in view of the new beginning. The names of the leading chiefs of the Levites who signed the covenant (or their ancestral names) were ‘Jeshua, the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel’ (10.9), who were possibly third generation. They were the leading Levite chiefs in the time of Nehemiah. This verse may therefore be seen as indicating that, of the three chiefs mentioned here in the time of Joiakim, Hashabiah was Jeshua’s son, Sherebiah was Binnui’s son, and, as stated, Jeshua was Kadmiel’s son. ‘Sherebiah, Judah and Mattaniah who was over the thanksgiving, he and his brothers’ were now seen in terms of ‘their brothers over against them’ who ‘praise and give thanks’.

This suggestion takes into account both the confirmed order of the chiefs of the Levites (why should Jeshua otherwise have slipped to third) and the unexpected ‘son of Kadmiel’, and makes perfect sense.

Some have suggested that ‘ben-Kadmiel’ is a copying error for ‘Binnui, Kadmiel’. But the ‘and’ before Joshua supports the MT text, for ‘and’ regularly appears before the last name in a list. Furthermore where Jeshua the son of Azaniah (10.9) is spoken of he regularly heads such lists, whereas here this Jeshua comes last. In view of these facts we accept the text as it stands. And we should note that under the alteration theory the absence in verse 24 of the name of Binnui is equally striking. If he is constantly of the three why is he not mentioned there? Furthermore the relegation of Jeshua to third place would be equally striking if he were not stated to rather be a Jeshua who was the son of Kadmiel. Elsewhere the name Jeshua always heads Levite lists (e.g. 8.7; 10.9; 12.8).

The truth is that the names are in fact all common Hebrew names which were regularly given (we can compare John and Peter in my day), which is why when the father’s name is lacking the names can be easily confused. For example, in Ezra 8.24 ‘Hashabiah and Sherebiah’ were the names of chiefs of priests who returned with Ezra, whereas in Ezra 8.18-19 we have reference to Levites named Sherebiah and Hashabiah. There are no good grounds, apart from the coincidence of the names, for connecting those priests with these leading Levites. Nor are there good grounds for connecting them with the two mentioned here. Thus we see these coincidences as simply an indication of the popularity of certain names among the descendants of Levi. Indeed, the names Hashabiah and Sherebiah also appear as leading Levites (among a number of other names) at the signing of the covenant, but clearly as inferior to Jeshua (10. 11, 12). It would, of course, have been helpful if the writer had given their fathers’ names in order to identify them. But unfortunately he did not.

For the phrase “to praise (and) to give thanks according to the commandment of David the man of God” as connected with Levites see 1 Chronicles 16.4; 23.30; 2 Chronicles 5.12-13. or the phrase ‘watch next to watch’ compare 1 Chronicles 26.16 where it is used of gatekeepers. There is clearly an attempt here to confirm that all now goes on as it did in the time of David. It is a new beginning, recreating the old ideal. It may also indicate an expectancy that shortly a new ‘kingdom of David’ would arise as anticipated by the prophets (e.g. Hosea 3.5; Jeremiah 30.9 Ezekiel 34.23; 37.24).

The description of David as ‘the man of God’ is rare in Scripture (here, verse 36 and 2 Chronicles 8.14) and always occurs in connection with the worship of the Temple. It brings out that David’s great prophetic inspiration expressed itself in musical worship. It was in the Psalms that his prophetic inspiration was revealed (compare Mark 12.36).

12.25 ‘Mattaniah, and Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, Akkub, were gatekeepers keeping the watch at the store-houses of the gates.’

It is an open question here as to whether we should see the first two or three names as to be tacked on to verse 24 as named singers, with a full stop coming after Obadiah (or even after Meshullam), with Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub then being seen as the gatekeepers. Compare how in 11.17 we have mention of Mattaniah, Bakbukiah and Abda (Obadiah) as worship leaders, although at a different time. But in view of the constant proliferation of the same names for different people it can only be a conjecture. Compare how Meshullam occurs regularly as referring to different people (3.4, 6; 8.4; 10.7, 20; 11.7, 11; 12.13, 16, 33; Ezra 8.16, 25). Talmon and Akkub are the names of different generations of gatekeepers in 7.45; with Ezra 2.42; and 11.19; with 1 Chronicles 9.17.

12.26 ‘These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe.’

‘These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak.’ This is emphasising the end of an inclusio which began at verse 12. Note the assumption that Ezra and Nehemiah operated alongside each other.

The peoples mentioned in the passage from 12.12 onwards, played their part in the days of Joiakim, the son of Jeshua, in other words in the next generation after the return. This coincided with the arrival of Ezra and Nehemiah, although by that time they would be old, and the third generation would be coming through as depicted in the signing of the covenant. There is no real substance in the argument that ‘in the days of Nehemiah’ signifies that Nehemiah was dead. It is simply a reminder that the days of Joiakim (who was dead), coincided with the days of Nehemiah. The writer, whether Nehemiah or someone else, is simply repeating the pattern.

The writer has thus demonstrated that, from the return onwards, Israel has been served by a genuine priesthood, whose genealogy was known, which operated in accordance with the Law of Moses, something especially brought out in chapter 7 where those who could prove their genealogy were the ones who alone could conduct the worship of the Temple.

THE PURIFYING OF THE HOLY CITY (12.27-13.31).

The prophecies concerning Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ had in mind the coming eschatalogical age, and its consequent purification (Isaiah 52.1; Daniel 9.24), and there can be little doubt, in view of the hopes expressed in the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, that this age must have been in mind as Jerusalem was so triumphantly re-established. Thus the writer ends his book with a description of the purification of Jerusalem, both religiously and practically, the details of which are found in 12.27-13.31. This would be seen as necessary, in preparation for that age, for in that age the city was to be holy and wholly ‘clean’ (Isaiah 52.1). These passages are united together by vague time notes (beyom, beyamim) which connect them together, and they cover both the Godward side and the manward side of its purification. Whilst the time frame is foreshortened, and the time notes are imprecise, this section covers various aspects of its purification during the lifetime of Nehemiah. Each section, apart from the initial one, commences with the words beyom or beyamim, and sections 3-6 end with the statement ‘remember me --.’ On this basis we may divide it up as follows:

  • 1). The religious purifying of the city at the time of the celebrations over the completion of the wall (12.27-43).
  • 2). The re-establishment of offerings and tithes for the support of the priests and Levites who were the pure, uniquely chosen servants of YHWH and appointed to the service of the Temple, thus ensuring its purity of worship in accordance with God’s requirements. Introductory words ‘at that time -- (beyom)’ (12.44-47).
  • 3). The purifying of the true Israel and the Temple, by the exclusion of idolatrous foreign elements in accordance with the Law of Moses (3.1-9), and by establishing the God-ordained Levitical order (13.10-14). This included the exclusion of the Ammonite Tobiah who had wormed his way into the Temple precincts, and had thereby taken over the chambers intended for the storing of tithes and offerings (3.4-9). In consequence it was seen as necessary to purify the Temple chambers.

    The consequent re-establishment of God’s chosen servants the Levites in their responsibilities with regard to the Temple and its worship, something which had failed because of the failure of Israel to respond to the tithing system. The result would be that once again tithes would flow into God’s house providing for His servants, a condition of God’s future blessing (Malachi 3.10-12). Introductory words ‘at that time --’ (beyom). The passage ending with a ‘remember me --’ statement (13.1-14).

  • 4). The purification of Jerusalem by restoring full observance of the Sabbath (another requirement for future blessing - Jeremiah 17.19-27), the gates to be guarded by gatekeepers who had been purified. Introductory words ‘in those days’ (beyamim), with the passage ending with a ‘remember me’’ statement (13.15-22).
  • 5). The removal of those who had idolatrous foreign wives from Jerusalem, thus preventing the watering down of their religious heritage, and ensured the continuing purity of the cult. Introductory words ‘in those days (beyamim) --’ , with the passage ending with a ‘remember me --’ statement (13.23-29).
  • 6). Nehemiah’s summary of what he had achieved: the purifying of Jerusalem from all religiously foreign elements; the successful establishment of the God-determined priesthood and the Levitical order in order to ensure the purity of the cult; the ensuring of the means of offering sacrifices through purifying fire; and the ensuring of the supply of the holy firstfruits, this finally closing with a ‘remember me --’ statement (13.30-31).

We should note how much of what is described here is a direct enforcing of the provisions of the ‘sure agreement’ of 10.29-39 which stresses separation from foreign influence especially in respect to marriage (10.30); observance of the Sabbath (10.31); supply of the wood offering (10.34); the bringing in of the firstfruits (10.35-37); and the gathering of the tithes (10.37b-39).

Purifications And Celebrations At The Dedication Of The Wall (12.27-43).

Having established the newly walled Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ (11.1), properly inhabited by a people who were fully faithful to YHWH (chapter 11), and having demonstrated the proper succession of a genuine priesthood in accord with the Law of Moses, who would keep the city ‘holy’ (12.1-26), the writer now describes the purifications and celebrations which took place at the dedication of the wall, thereby underlining the holiness of Jerusalem. This was something in which the Levites would have a prominent part as leaders of worship and singing. This was one reason why it had been necessary to demonstrate that, as well as the priests, the Levites operating in Judah, and especially in Jerusalem, were genuine descendants of Levi (compare how important it had been to Ezra to ensure that he brought with him genuine Levites - Ezra 8.15 ff). Only such could truly celebrate YHWH’s doings.

The in-depth purifications (verse 30) were an essential part of the ceremony. The vision of Jerusalem as the ‘holy city’, clothed in beautiful garments and totally separated to God, as described in Isaiah 52.1, demanded such purifications. Jerusalem was being prepared like a bride for her husband (Isaiah 49.18; 61.10). She was to be His purified messenger to the world (Isaiah 52.9-12).

It is noteworthy that at this point the narrative returns to the first person singular, a feature last seen in chapter 7, indicating that Nehemiah is the main source of the material being presented. But while this suggests that chapters 8-12 were not a part of Nehemiah’s initial record (often called the Nehemiah Memoirs), it does not necessarily exclude him from being the ‘author’ of the whole, using contemporary sources. It simply indicates that whether the writer was Nehemiah or someone else, he called on other sources besides the Memoirs in order to build up the picture presented.

We must, however, ask as to why the celebrations concerning the completion of the wall, which quite possibly took place shortly after that completion (although not necessarily), should have been placed at this point following chapters 8-11. It would have fitted well after 7.3. And the answer unquestionably lies in the message that the writer wishes to get over. For, whenever the celebration took place, he saw it, not only in terms of the completion of the walls, but also in terms of the renewal of the covenant, and of the establishment of Jerusalem as the holy city spoken of by Isaiah and Daniel. That was what was made possible by the completion of the walls. It was intrinsic within it, and was what Israel were so delighted about. Jerusalem was once more theirs as the earthly dwellingplace of YHWH.

The Levites Are Sought Out To Play Their Part In The Celebrations (12.27-29).

The emphasis at the commencement of the passage on the calling together of all the Levites from all around Judah brings out that the celebratory nature of the events is being emphasised. The prime emphasis is to be on joy and gladness, thanksgiving and singing. The aim was to make the celebrations a time of ‘gladness -- thanksgivings -- singing’ (verse 27).

This can be seen as an echo of Isaiah 51.3, ‘YHWH has comforted Zion, -- joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of singing’. And it is especially an echo of Jeremiah 33.11, which specifically had in mind the return the return from captivity, seeing it as a new deliverance, ‘the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, -- the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to YHWH of Hosts, for YHWH is good, for His mercy is for ever,” who bring thanksgiving into the house of YHWH, “for I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first, says YHWH”.’

Now that the return had taken place, the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, and Jerusalem had been separated to pure worship, it must have appeared as though these words had been fulfilled, and that the gladness and thanksgiving and singing spoken of were now required. And this was something in which the Levites excelled. They were at the very heart of the vocally expressed worship of Israel. Here the ‘singers (musicians)’ were seen very much as Levites (compare 1 Chronicles 6.31-48).

12.27 ‘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 stringed instruments.’

The occasion of the celebrations was the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem. This probably therefore came well before the events described in chapter 11 (the largescale repopulation of Jerusalem), and may well even have led up to them. This timing explains why the Levites were still on the whole widely scattered around Judah. They were ‘sought out of all their places’ and brought to Jerusalem for the celebrations precisely because the dedication was to be a joyous occasion centred around vocal worship, and this was one of the fortes of the Levites. It was to be a time of expressing gladness and thanksgiving by musical means. As this was to be in the form of processions it brings out that all the musical instruments described were hand held. A psaltery was a many-stringed instrument.

12.28-29 ‘And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain round about Jerusalem (or ‘from the circle of Jerusalem’), and from the villages of the Netophathites; also from Beth-gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had built themselves villages round about Jerusalem.

So the singers gathered themselves together both from the area circling around Jerusalem, and from places round about. The villages of the Netophathites consisted of the settlements around Netophah, generally thought to have been about 5 kilometres (3 miles) south-east of Bethlehem (see 7.26; 1 Chronicles 2.54; Ezra 2.22), and thus south of Jerusalem. Beth-gilgal may well have been the well-known Gilgal near Jericho, and therefore east of Jerusalem. Geba and Azmaveth were Benjamite cities a few kilometres north east of Jerusalem. So they came from all quarters, for the singers had established themselves in villages around Jerusalem, in view of the necessity to provide for themselves (13.10).

Some see ‘the circle’ as a technical term for part of the Jordan valley, and see in it a reference to people living in the Jordan valley near Jerusalem.

The Preparatory Purifying Of All Involved (12.30).

The presence of the priests is assumed. For unlike the Levites, who were dependent on the then non-existent tithes (13.10), the priests would have been continually provided for from their appointed share in the offerings and sacrifices. All would be involved because now a great purification exercise was necessary. This was to be the holy city.

12.30 ‘And the priests and the Levites purified themselves; and they purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.’

So the Levites having gathered from their towns and villages, the priests and Levites purified themselves. We do not know exactly how this purification was performed, but it might have included such means as offering sacrifices and offerings; bathing themselves ceremonially; being sprinkled with the water of purification (water containing the ashes of a heifer - Numbers 19); washing their clothes; and abstaining from sexual activity (compare Exodus 19.10, 14-15; Leviticus 16.28; Numbers 8.6-8, 19).

They then proceeded to purify the people, possibly by offerings and sacrifices (compare Exodus 24.8), and the wall and gates of the city (compare possibly Leviticus 14.49-53). This latter was confirmation that the city was now seen in a new light. Their hope was that the kingdom of God was now present among them (Psalm 22.27-28; 47.8 compare Haggai 2.22). The King reigned (Psalms 93.1; 97.1; 99.1). They believed that a purified Jerusalem would be the beginning of great things as YHWH acted on their behalf. So they were putting on its beautiful garments, with the intention of its remaining pure (Isaiah 52.1). This is the emphasis of this section. The purification of the people would have followed a similar pattern to that of the purifying of priests and Levites, although not being as intensive. The purification of the gates and the wall may have followed the pattern of the purification of buildings and have been by the sprinkling of blood-sprinkled water, and the releasing of birds (Leviticus 14.49-53).

Then, all being purified, there began the great ceremony of praise and thanksgiving. In a sense Jerusalem was seen as reborn.

Those Taking Part In The Ceremony Are Divided Into Two Great Companies Who Proceed To Circumnavigate The Wall, One Company Going One Way And The Other Company The Other (12.31-43).

Nehemiah now divided the representatives of Judah (i.e. the new Israel) into two great companies who together would give thanks as they circumnavigated the wall, one company going one way and the other the other. We cannot be sure whether they actually walked on top of the wall, or whether they walked alongside the wall (the Hebrew is not clear on this). But while the details may not be fully clear the ceremony followed an established pattern:

  • First in each case went a company of those who gave thanks (verse 31, 38). These may well have been composed of the singers and musicians who had been gathered together as previously described in verses 27-29.
  • These were then followed, in the one case by Hoshaiah (verse 32), and in the other by Nehemiah ( verses 38, 40). Hoshaiah was clearly a man of great importance, a leader of the Jews, possibly deputy to Nehemiah.
  • Hoshaiah was then followed by half the ‘princes’ of Judah (verse 32), and Nehemiah by the other half (verse 40). By the princes of Judah are meant, not the leaders of that tribe, but the aristocrats of greater Judah, including Benjamin. They included the aristocrats and clan leaders of the whole community of the new Israel.
  • These were then followed in each case by seven prominent named priests, possibly accompanied by other priests, who blew the trumpets (verses 33-35a, 41).
  • After them came the leading named Chief Musicians, Zechariah (verse 35b) and possibly Jezrahiah (verse 42), who in each case were accompanied by eight leading Levitical musicians singing loudly (verses 36, 42).

The Composition Of The First Company Who Went Towards The Dung Gate, The Fountain Gate And The Stairs Of David (12.31-37).

It is almost certain that the processions commenced from the Valley Gate, through which Nehemiah had previously gone to examine the walls of Jerusalem (2.13). This was in the West wall, and was roughly equidistant from the East gate of the Temple which would be the final destination, both when going round the wall clockwise and when going round anticlockwise. This is confirmed by the fact that the first procession then proceeded towards the Dung Gate which was at the southern end of Jerusalem (verse 31b), whilst the other procession moved towards the tower of the furnaces, and the broad wall (verse 38), which were northwards of the Valley Gate. For the relevant geography see chapter 3, especially verses 11-14.

Such giving of praise to YHWH as they walked around the wall of Jerusalem was not unique to this occasion. Psalm 48.12-14 may be seen as suggesting that such processions regularly took place on some festal occasions;

‘Walk about Zion,
And go round about her,
Count her towers,
Mark well her bulwarks,
Consider her palaces,
That you may tell it to the following generation,
For this God is our God for ever and ever,
He will be our guide even unto death.’

It will be noted that the purpose for doing this in the Psalmist’s case was so that they might be aware of what God had done for them in order that they might proclaim His glory to others. They were surrounding Jerusalem with praise, thereby calling down God’s blessing on it.

12.31a ‘Then I brought up the princes of Judah on (or ‘beside’) the wall,’

Nehemiah now returns to the first person singular as he continues on the story of the completion of the wall with a description of this final act of dedication. The last reference in the first person singular was 7.5 but that had included the details provided in 7.6-73. In chapter 8.1-12.30 he is referred to in the third person. But that does not necessarily mean that he did not write the whole book, only that the material in that section was obtained from different records available to him rather than from his own account of the building of the wall, records which he did not materially alter.

Here he describes how he gathered ‘the princes of Judah’ to the wall in order to commence the celebration. This refers not only to the aristocrats of the tribe of Judah, but to all leaders of the nation in wider Judah, including Benjamin. He was gathering together the aristocrats of the whole nation, a nation which as we have seen, extended far beyond the Persian province of Judah. Whether they gathered on the wall and proceeded to march round the top of the wall, or gathered beside the wall and marched round the walls in that way, we do not know. The Hebrew text can indicate either.

12.31b And I appointed two great companies who gave thanks and went in procession; (of which one went) on the right hand on the wall toward the dung gate:’

Gathered with the aristocrats were the singers and musicians who had been summoned, and the whole were divided into two groups each of which would march in the opposite direction to the other, one anticlockwise, the other clockwise, giving thanks musically as they marched. One of the groups thus initially marched southwards in the direction of the Dung Gate. It would appear that the singers and musicians led the way, praising God as they went, and that these were followed by Hoshaiah and half the aristocrats of Judah. These included seven leading priests (including Ezra) who blew their priestly trumpets (an instrument exclusive to the priests). It would have been a stirring and moving sight. The other group, following a similar pattern, went northwards towards the tower of the furnaces and the broad wall.

12.32 ‘And after them went Hoshaiah, and half of the princes of Judah,’

We do not know who Hoshaiah was. He was clearly one of the chief leaders of Judah, and possibly deputy to Nehemiah himself. Following him was the group consisting of half the aristocrats of ‘Judah’. But it is a nice touch that, whilst we learn later that Ezra led the procession (verse 36), no doubt as an official appointee of the King of Persia, here we are informed that the aristocrats were led by a high official of Judah

12.33-35a ‘And Azariah, Ezra, and Meshullam, Judah, and Benjamin, and Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, and certain of the priests’ sons, with trumpets.’

And along with them marched seven leading priests, together with other priests (unless we translate as ‘even certain of the priests’ sons’, the phrase being explicatory of the seven), all blowing sacred trumpets. The names of the seven are given, and as there were also seven in the other party (verse 41) we have no real reason to doubt the accuracy of the report. Azariah, Meshullam, Shemaiah and Jeremiah were also named as signatories of the covenant of Nehemiah (10.2, 7, 8). Ezra we know of (see also verse 36b) and he is presumably mentioned after Azariah (a parallel name to Ezra) because of Azariah’s superior status in the priestly hierarchy. There is no reason why Judah and Benjamin should not have been the names of priests, although they are not mentioned elsewhere as priests. But whilst Ezra is named as second in status from a priestly point of view (he came from a noble priestly family) it was he who led the way as the official representative of the King of Persia (verse 36).

12.35b-36a ‘Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph; and his brothers, Shemaiah, and Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God,’

Following the aristocrats and the priests came the chiefs of the singers and musicians, nine in number. These bore the kind of musical instruments prophetically validated by David, as a ‘man of God’, for worship. This included Zechariah, the son of Jonathan, whose ancestry traced back to Asaph, the leading musician in David’s day, together with eight other named leading Levites. Their names are given. The fact that none are specifically paralleled among the signatories to the covenant in 10.9-13 suggests that there they had signed the covenant in the name of their wider Levite family and not in their own name. It will be noted that there were seventeen Levite families who signed the covenant, whilst in these processions there were eighteen leading Levites. A leading Levite who was not a head of family must presumably have been co-opted in order to even out the numbers. (But see in this regard the comment on verse 42)

12.36b ‘And Ezra the scribe was before them.’

Leading the procession, and the aristocrats and chief priests, but probably following the leading singers, came Ezra the Scribe (already mentioned in verse 33), no doubt due to his official position as an appointee of the King of Persia. Whilst Azariah was superior in the priestly hierarchy he was lower than Ezra in political status. He may well have marched alongside Hoshaiah.

12.37 ‘And by the fountain gate, and straight before them, they went up by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, even unto the water gate eastward.’

Having reached the Dung Gate, this procession rounded the southernmost point of Jerusalem and then proceeded northwards up the eastern side of the wall, coming first to the fountain gate, and then to the stairs of the city of David (3.15). Marching onwards they came to the part of the wall by the one-time palace of David, and then to the water gate (3.25-26). These were all well-known landmarks. The assumption must be that from there they proceeded to the Temple. The part of the wall from here to the sheep gate (the gate through which the other procession entered) does not appear to have featured in either procession, discounting the idea that a strict attempt was made to encircle Jerusalem for some numinous or quasi-magical purpose.

The Two Companies Meet And Great Sacrifices Are Offered (12.38-43).

The other procession was led by ‘those who gave thanks’ (the singers and musicians) followed by Nehemiah himself, leading the other half of the aristocrats, seven named leading priests and nine named leading Levites, exactly paralleling the first procession. This went northwards from the Valley Gate, following the west wall and then turning along the northern wall, until it reached the Sheep Gate from whence it would proceed to the Temple.

The fact that the company led by Nehemiah is given less prominence tends to confirm that we have here an extract from Nehemiah’s own record. Anyone else would surely have given him greater prominence.

12.38-39 ‘And the other company of those who gave thanks went to meet them, and I after them, with the half of the people, upon the wall, above the tower of the furnaces, even to the broad wall, and above the gate of Ephraim, and by the old gate, and by the fish gate, and the tower of Hananel, and the tower of Hammeah, even unto the sheep gate: and they stood still in the gate of the guard.’

The second procession was led by ‘those who gave thanks’ (the singers and musicians) who were followed by Nehemiah and ‘half the people’ (i.e. the aristocrats including priests and Levites - see verses 40-42). These proceeded northward from the Valley Gate, past the Tower of the Furnaces (Ovens), reaching the Broad Wall. Then onwards past the Gate of Ephraim (not mentioned as rebuilt in chapter 3 and possibly therefor a ruin). Reaching the north-west corner they turned eastwards, and passed along the north wall by the Old Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of Hammeah, until they reached the Sheep Gate (for these compare 3.1-11). They then proceeded to the gate of the guard. This was probably within the city giving entrance to ‘the court of the guard’ so well known as the place where Jeremiah was restrained (Jeremiah 38.13, 28). It was probably here that they awaited, and met up with, the first procession (they ‘stood still’ there), before proceeding to the Temple.

12.40a ‘So stood the two companies of those who gave thanks in the house of God.’

The two companies were now united together for the purpose of giving thanks in the house of God. This was towards the end of a long day of continual worship. And there, in and around the outer court of the Temple, they worshipped YHWH because of all that He had done for them, and all that they believed that He was going to do for them. It would have been a time of great expectancy. And why should it not have been so? Jerusalem was now purified and defensible. It was ‘the holy city’, the city through which YHWH would do great things.

The Make-up Of The Second Company (12.40b-42b).

Not yet having given the details of the make-up of the second company the writer now fills us in on the details. As well as the choir that led the way (‘those who gave thanks’), the second company in procession was made up of :

  • Nehemiah.
  • Half of the aristocrats of wider Judah.
  • Seven leading priests along with their priestly trumpets.
  • Eight leading Levite singers, possibly under the supervision of a ninth, Jezrahiah their overseer.

This followed the pattern of the other company, but whereas that was led by Ezra the Scribe and Hoshaiah, this one was led by Nehemiah.

12.40b ‘And I, and the half of the rulers with me;’

In the lead (although behind the choir) was Nehemiah, and he was followed by half the aristocrats, leading priests and leading Levites.

12.41 ‘And the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets,’

The seven leading priests in this procession are named. Of these only Maaseiah (Maaziah) and Miniamin (Mijamin) are recorded as signing the covenant, although others may have done so under the family name. The blowing of trumpets was the prerogative of the priests.

12.42a ‘And Maaseiah, and Shemaiah, and Eleazar, and Uzzi, and Jehohanan, and Malchijah, and Elam, and Ezer.

Together with them were nine leading Levites, the eight named in this verse and Jezrahiah who oversaw them in the same way as Zechariah had overseen those in the other procession (verse 35). If seen in this way these Levites were ‘the singers’ of verse 42b. An alternative possible interpretation is found under verse 42b.

12.42b ‘And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer.’

If ‘the singers’ were the eight prominent Levites, then Jezrahiah was their leader and made up a ninth, tying in with the nine leading Levites in the other group headed by Zechariah the son of Jonathan (verses 35-36).

An alternative is to see this as indicating that Jezrahiah was not one of the leading Levites, but led the singers who went ahead of the company, for we would expect mention of the singers. Whilst in some ways spoiling the symmetry, this interpretation limits the leading Levites to seventeen, tying in with the number of leading Levite families in 10.9-13.

The Culmination Of The Celebrations Which Took Place In The Temple (12.43).

The processions on or about the wall having been completed the people gathered in the Temple area and offered large numbers of sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. These would then, of course, have been partaken of, and there would be a great feast as all the people, men, women and children joined in the rejoicing and celebrations. They had a new sense of Jerusalem as the holy city, and of the presence of YHWH acting on their behalf.

12.43 ‘And they offered great sacrifices that day, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy, and the women also and the children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.’

These sacrifices would inevitably include burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin, but in the main they were probably sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving of which all could partake, and it is clear that there were a great many of them. Indeed this was necessary in order to provide meat for the feast. But they would be offered with joyful hearts and a real sense of gratitude to God. Note the emphasis on the fact that everyone was gathered, even women and children, for which compare Ezra 10.1, although there it was in penitence.

So great were the crowds, and so loud the praise from such a great multitude, that ‘the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off’. Compare for this Ezra 3.13. Note the emphasis. ‘They rejoiced -- God made them rejoice with great joy -- the women and children rejoiced -- the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off’. Joy was at the centre of their worship. As a consequence everyone around knew that God had done great things for His people, and that they were correspondingly grateful and filled with joy.

The Establishment Of The Temple Treasury, And The Chambers To Contain The Heave-offerings, Firstfruits and Tithes That Were Offered To YHWH, Their Restoration, And The Exclusion Of All Who Religiously Defiled Jerusalem (12.44-13.14).

Equally of importance with the celebrations over the completion of the wall, were the arrangements made to ensure that Jerusalem continued to be the holy city, set apart to YHWH, purified from all that religiously defiled, and fulfilling its function as the YHWH’s earthy dwellingplace, and as the store-city of all that specifically belonged to YHWH (that which had been set apart for Him and given to Him in accordance with the Law). To the mundane mind the building of the wall of Jerusalem had made it a defensible city suitable to be the capital of Judah, and thus an achievement in itself, but to the religious mind what the wall indicated was a new beginning of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ which was the centre of true Yahwism.

This portion (12.44-13.14) is distinguished by being fashioned on a clear chiastic pattern, as follows:

  • A Appointment of men over the treasure and store chambers (12.44a).
  • B The store chambers were for the treasures, heave-offerings, firstfruits and tithes (12.44b).
  • C All Judah rejoiced over the priests, and over the Levites who waited (before God) and gave them their portions as every day required (12.44c-47).
  • D In accordance with the Law of YHWH concerning the Moabites and Ammonites all who were religiously tainted were separated from Israel (13.1-3).
  • E Eliashib who was the priest who was appointed over the chambers, provided a chamber for Tobiah the Ammonite, a chamber which had previously been used for the storage of those things which had been given to God (13.4-5).
  • F All this happened when Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem, having returned to the king’s court, probably at this stage stationed at Babylon (13.6).
  • E Nehemiah learns what Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah with a chamber in the courts of the house of God (13.7).
  • D Tobiah the Ammonite was cast out of the Temple chambers which were cleansed and restored to their proper use (13.8-9).
  • C The portions of the Levites had not been given to them with the result that the house of God was forsaken by its servants who no longer waited before God (13.10-11),
  • B All Judah brought the tithes to the treasuries (13.12).
  • A Appointment of men over the treasuries (13.13-14).

Note that in A men were appointed over the treasure and store chambers, and in the parallel men were appointed over the treasury. In B the store chambers were for various things including the tithes, and in the parallel all Judah brought tithes to the treasury. In C the portions were given to the priests and Levites as every day required, and in the parallel their portions were not given to the Levites. In D all who were religiously tainted, including the Ammonites, were separated from Israel, and in the parallel Tobiah the Ammonite was cast out of the Temple chambers which had to be cleansed. In E Eliashib provided a chamber for Tobiah, ad in the parallel Nehemiah learned of it. Centrally all this happened whilst Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem

Men Appointed Over The Storage Chambers In The Temple And Arrangements Are Made For The Gathering Of The Offerings And Tithes For The Sustenance Of The God-ordained Priests And Levites (12.44-47).

In recognition of the new status of Jerusalem, and as a continuation of their expressions of thanksgiving towards God, a new impetus was given to the gathering of offerings and tithes for the priests and Levites. This is not to be seen as just an idea that was tacked on. It was central to the expectancy of the renewal of the Kingdom. It was seen as vitally important that in the holy city, where YHWH reigned in splendour, (whilst very much not being limited to that city, for it was recognised that ‘even the heaven of heavens could not contain Him’ (Psalms 93-99; 1 Kings 8.27)), those set apart to God’s holy purposes and service should be fully provided for in accordance with the Law of Moses, so that they could give their full time to His service. And we should note that significantly there is here a deliberate reference back to the times of David, thereby emphasising that this was all to be seen as an important part of the reconstitution of the Davidic Kingdom, with David’s city at its head.

The connection with the previous celebrations is clearly brought out by the opening words, ‘on that day, at that time’ (beyom). The emphasis is on the fact that what is now to be described was to be seen as springing directly out of the loyalty and dedication to God revealed in those celebrations (compare also 13.1).

This emphasis on the tithes and offerings as an important evidence of loyalty to God, and as a precursor to future blessing from God, is heavily underlined in the nearly contemporary prophecy of Malachi, which may even have been written at this time. There the prophet, in expectation of great things to come, calls on God’s people to renew their loyalty to God and pay Him His dues. Indeed he makes clear that without this there could be no glorious future (Malachi 3.7-12). One of the signs of God’s evident working is that His people become generous with their material things, all of which belong to God. Thus this establishment of tithes and offerings was all a part of the expression of their loyalty, and an ensuring of the ministry of the priests and Levites chosen by God for that purpose, thus ensuring the continual holiness of the city and its eschatological future.

Analysis Of 12.44-47.

  • Men appointed over the Temple store-chambers in order to gather the heave offerings and tithes (44a).
  • Judah rejoiced for the priest and the Levites who stood (before YHWH), and kept the charge of God, and the charge of purification, and the charge of the singers and gatekeepers according to the commandment of David and Solomon (45)
  • For in the days of David and Asaph there were chief singers and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God (46).
  • The portions for the singers and gatekeeper, and the tithes for the Levites and priests, were set apart as required (47).

12.44 ‘And at that time (or ‘on that day’) were men appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the heave-offerings, for the first-fruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them, according to the fields of the cities, the portions appointed by the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites who stood (before YHWH).’

Beyom (on that day, at that time’) is not necessarily intended to be seen as precise. ‘Yom’ could equally mean ‘day’ or ‘duration of time’, although it may be that the celebrations immediately precipitated the actions described. But it is unlikely that they commenced at the end of that very busy day. Rather they would take time to implement. Compare also 13.1. Indeed the later beyamim ‘in those days’ suggests that these time frames are vague and approximate. The aim of these connecting phrases is in order to demonstrate what follows as an essential part of the purifying of the renewed Jerusalem.

So it was as a consequence of the initial religious purifying of Jerusalem that men were appointed (by the people of Judah) to oversee the Temple treasury, and to watch over the gathering of the heave-offerings, the firstfruits and the tithes. The idea is that what was God’s should be gathered efficiently and should be kept holy. For men to be over the treasury and the store-chambers was not new. Consider for example those described in Ezra 8.33. See also 10.38. But this would appear to have in mind a new initiative taken in order to ensure efficiency in the service of God.

‘To gather into them, according to the fields of the cities, the portions appointed--.’ It is apparent from this that they were given the responsibility of gathering in the tithes in a systematic manner, for these were the portions appointed by the Law for the priests and Levites. We have no indication anywhere of how systematically his had been done in the past, but at times when tithing was practised it must have required a great deal of expended time for the Levites to gather in the tithes from every farm, and ensure that they received the correct proportion, and as 10.38 indicates this was overseen by the priests. Thus it was a regular procedure. But now this was done happily because the whole of Judah were rejoicing in their God-chosen representatives before YHWH. There was renewed hope for the future, and the contribution of the Levites was seen as being of great importance.

Thus one of the firstfruits of the revival was a renewed activity of setting apart of the chambers in the Temple for their holy purpose. But sadly, as spirituality waned, and when Nehemiah’s eagle eye was not present, those very chambers would be taken over and utilised for another, quite unholy purpose (13.4-5), something which a returning Nehemiah had to remedy. The purity of Jerusalem had to be maintained, and it was this that Nehemiah saw as his main accomplishment (13.30-31).

The heave-offerings, the firstfruits and the tithes were the portions appointed by the Law for the maintenance of the God-chosen priests and Levites. It was as a direct result of these that they were able to carry on their full-time ministry, and they were essential for that purpose. That is why they were so important in maintaining the holiness of the holy city.

The ‘heave-offerings’ were that part of the offerings which was ‘heaved’ or ‘waved’ before YHWH as His portion, and thus available only to be partaken of by the priests. The ‘firstfruits’ were that portion of produce set apart as YHWH’s in recognition that they held the land from Him. That too was partaken of by the priests. ‘The tithes’ were one tenth of all produce (both of animals and of grain) which was to be set apart, both for the Levites, and for the poor, with a tenth of a tenth being made available to the priests.

‘For Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites who stood (before YHWH).’ It is significant that the same word (‘rejoiced’) is used of Judah’s attitude towards the priests and Levites as was used of their celebrating the completion of the wall (compare verse 43). Both were occasions of great joy. They were exultant that the holy city had been established with a holy priesthood. For the phrase ‘stood before YHWH’ see Deuteronomy 10.8; 18.7; Ezekiel 44.15; 2 Chronicles 29.11.

12.45 ‘And they kept the charge of their God, and the charge of the purification, and (the charge of) the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.’

The ‘they’ here possibly refers to those appointed over the store-chambers, who would of course be priests and Levites, or it may refer to the priests and Levites generally. They gladly kept God’s charge, faithfully fulfilling their responsibilities in order to fulfil God’s Law, including His charge concerning offerings and sacrifices and other methods of purification, and His charge concerning the singers and gatekeepers in accordance with the requirements laid down by David, and his son Solomon, for which see 1 Chronicles 23-26. This is especially significant in that, once Nehemiah was absent at the court of the Persian king, the people failed to completely fulfil this responsibility (13.10), and had to be called into line. In 1 Chronicles 23.28 the ‘purifying of holy things’ was seen very much as an important part of the service of ‘the sons of Levi’.

Many would translate as ‘as did the singers and the gatekeepers’, including them as fulfilling their responsibility with regard to ‘the charge of God’.

12.46 ‘For in the days of David and Asaph of old there was a chief of the singers, and a song of praise and thanksgiving unto God.’

Here the writer stresses that there were indeed in David’s day, and in the days of Asaph his choirmaster, a chief of singers and ‘a song or praise and thanksgiving’ that is there was a choir that sang praises to God. There being a ‘song of praise’ after mention of a chief singer, is demonstrative of this latter fact. The song of praise would arise from his choir. The double emphasis on David suggests that very much in mind was the fact that they were continuing on with the ministry of the kingdom. Now that Jerusalem was once more the holy city they were hoping for a new David to arise, to lift God’s people to new heights.

12.47 ‘And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the gatekeepers, as every day required: and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.’

He then stresses that from the very moment of the return from captivity to the present time, even if only spasmodically when a leader with impetus arose (in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah), the due portions were given to the singers/musicians and the gatekeepers, in accordance with their requirements, and tithes were set apart for the Levites, who in their turn set aside a tenth of the tithes for the priests. There is a deliberate portrayal of the ideal prior to our learning what happened when the people were left unsupervised by a godly leader. But as no credit for this could specifically be given to Nehemiah there is no prayer from Nehemiah that God will remember what he has done.

With Nehemiah Having To Return To Report To Artaxerxes, Unholiness Again Began To Infiltrate The Holy City, A Situation Which Had To Be Dealt With On Nehemiah’s Return (13.1-14).

It should be noted here that Nehemiah was not satisfied with having established Jerusalem as a fortified city in its own right, but was equally concerned that it be established as the holy city. He had in mind the eschatological hopes which depended on such holiness. He never asks God to remember him for achieving the building of the wall, (the thing for which he is best remembered), but rather that He will remember the contribution that he has made towards the holiness of Israel and of the holy city.

This subsection, opening with ‘at that time, on that day’ (verse 1) and closing with ‘remember me --’ (verse 14), divides up as follows:

  • The separation out of Israel of those who had mingled among them, on the basis of Deuteronomy 23 which describes who may be accepted into the assembly of YHWH and excludes Moabites and Ammonites (13.1-3).
  • The infiltration into the Temple area of Tobiah the Ammonite as a consequence of his being provided with a chamber there by Eliashib the priest who oversaw the chambers in the Temple (13.4-5).
  • The fact that this occurred in the period between when Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes to report to him, and the time of his return (13.6-7).
  • Nehemiah’s expulsion of Tobiah’s household stuff from the chamber (13.8).
  • The necessary purifying of the chamber and its return to its proper use (13.9).
  • The restoration of the collection of the tithes (13.10-12).
  • The replacement of Eliashib by new authorities over the Temple chambers (13.13).
  • Nehemiah’s prayer that he be remembered by God for what he has done (13.14).

13.1 ‘On that day/at that time (beyom) they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people, and in it was found written, that an Ammonite and a Moabite should not enter into the assembly of God for ever,’

The time note connects this passage with what has gone before. It is always possible that Deuteronomy 23 was read out at the end of the celebrations over the completion of the wall, on that very day, but yom regularly indicates a period of time. Thus we should probably translate with the more vague ‘at that time’. Regular readings of the Scriptures took place before the people at the feasts, and no doubt also regularly on the Sabbath to all who gathered at the Temple, so that we do not know exactly when this took place. But it was the day on which the people had drawn to their attention the exclusion for ever from the assembly of Israel of Moabites and Ammonites.

Deuteronomy 23.3 literally reads, ‘an Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of YHWH, even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of YHWH for ever’. This was clearly interpreted at this time as indicating permanent exclusion. It did not exclude them from worshipping YHWH or approaching the Temple if they were converted to Yahwism. What it excluded them from was becoming full members of God’s people Israel. ‘The assembly of YHWH’ was the full gathering of all the adult males of Israel. The case of Ruth who was a Moabitess does not come into the reckoning for she was a woman who married a true-born Israelite and converted to Yahwism. As a woman she could never be a member of the assembly of YHWH, but officially her husband was.

It should be noted that the original intent of the Law was to prevent an Ammonite or Moabite from becoming true Israelites for sufficient period of time (the tenth generation) to ‘purge their contempt’. Edomite and Egyptian converts to Yahwism could become true Israelites after three generations. The word translated ‘for ever’ means ‘into the distant future’. But it was by Nehemiah’s time seen as signifying that they could not become true Israelites forever.

13.2 ‘Because they did not meet the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, to curse them: however our God turned the curse into a blessing.’

And the reason for this exclusion, as taken from Deuteronomy 23.4, was that it arose because of the failure of the Ammonites and Moabites, who were related tribes, to welcome them with food and water when Israel under Moses initially approached the land of Canaan. Rather they had hired Balaam the sorcerer so that he would curse them. It had, however, been unavailing, for YHWH had turned his curse into a blessing.

The passage in Deuteronomy then goes on to deal with other less permanent exclusions, but this part was no doubt cited because it explained Nehemiah’s reaction against the residence of Tobiah the Ammonite within the Temple precincts.

13.3 ‘And it came about when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude (or ‘those who mingled among them’).’

And the consequence of hearing this from the Law was that ‘they separated from Israel all the minglers among them’. Whilst the same word (translated ‘mixed multitude’) is found in Exodus 12.36 it had there a somewhat different meaning. There it referred to foreign slaves who fled with the Israelites from Egypt and mingled among them in their flight. The vast majority of them became true Israelites through subscribing to the covenant at Sinai, and through their subsequent circumcision on entering the land. Here in 13.3 it probably refers to those who worshipped YHWH on a syncretistic basis, in the same way as Tobiah did, who had somehow ingratiated themselves into Israel in such a way as to be treated as ‘Israel’, or at least in such a was as to be able to worship YHWH along with them. We are not told how they were separated. It may have been by exclusion from dwelling in Jerusalem. Or it may have been by excluding them from gatherings of the assembly of Israel. Or it may have been by exclusion from worship in the Temple because of their syncretism. We can compare how the syncretistic YHWH worshippers of Samaria were not allowed any official part in the Temple (Ezra 4.1-3). But the point that lies behind the words is that Israel excluded from among themselves all who were not pure worshippers of YHWH. It was all a part of the purifying of the holy city and ensuring within it only the true worship of YHWH. That this took place after Nehemiah’s return from seeing Artaxerxes as described in verse 6, is apparent from the ‘now before this’ of verse 4.

13.4-5 ‘Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being allied to Tobiah, had prepared for him a great chamber, where previously they laid the meal-offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the grain, the new wine, and the oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, and the singers, and the gatekeepers; and the heave-offerings for the priests.’

‘Now before this.’ If taken specifically this suggests that what happened in verses 1-3 occurred after this date, so that Tobiah the Ammonite had a chamber in the precincts of the Temple when that occurred. That would mean, either that what happened in verses 1-3 occurred after the return of Nehemiah, or that because of his powerful influence, Tobiah was not included in the general purging of Israel from idolatrous elements which took place in the interim, until after the return of Nehemiah.

And the reason for Tobiah’s great influence was that he was ‘allied’ to Eliashib, a priest who was responsible for the chambers in the Temple precincts. This may have been due to a trade alliance, or even a marriage alliance (Tobiah was son-in-law to a prominent Jew named Shechaniah the son of Arah, and his son Johanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah (6.18), a prominent wallbuilder (3.4, 30) and priest (3.28, 30). Both Shechaniah and Meshullam were presumably of the Jewish aristocracy). But if so we are not given details. Or alternately it may indicate a close friendship between the two which enabled Tobiah to pressurise Eliashib into providing him with a chamber in the Temple precincts.

We read in Ezra 8.33 of a fourfold responsibility for the Temple treasures, at that time consisting of two priests, Meremoth, the son of Uriah, and Eleazar the son of Phinehas, and two Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binnui. Furthermore in 13.13 we learn of four who were appointed for the same purpose in the time of Nehemiah, namely Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe, together with two Levites, Pedaiah and Hanan. Their responsibility was for the Temple treasures, and this would include the safety and distribution of the tithes, and these would all be stored in the Temple chambers. We also know that in the time of Ezra’s initial arrival one of the Temple chambers was occupied by ‘Johanan the son of Eliashib’ (Ezra 10.6). This last would tie in well with an Eliashib ‘who was over the chamber’, and it is doubtful if Ezra was there speaking of Eliashib the High priest because, although he mentions four Eliashibs, he nowhere mentions an Eliashib as the High Priest (see Ezra 10.6, 24, 27, 36). When speaking of Eliashib the High Priest Nehemiah always uses the full title ‘high priest’ (3.1, 20; 13.28). Thus this ‘Eliashib the priest’ would appear to have been a kind of priestly caretaker of the Temple chambers, undoubtedly almost a full time job, and one given only to a high level priest, with one responsibility among others being that he could allocate the chambers, many of which would have been available to prominent priests, enabling them to perform their functions more efficiently. That he allocated one to his son may cause us to frown. That he allocated one to an Ammonite, who was a syncretistic worshipper of YHWH, eventually caused everyone to frown. It may well be that the appointments in verse 13 resulted in his replacement.

The ‘great chamber’ allocated to Tobiah by Eliashib must have been very large for it was one of those previously used to store meal offerings, and frankincense, and the vessels of the house of God (verse 9), the latter vessels possibly containing the tithes of corn, wine and oil, or they may have been Temple vessels, and therefore costly. It also seemingly contained the heave-offerings of the priests. This usage for other purposes had been made possible because there had been a failure to gather in the tithes, so that the other storage chambers (compare 2 Chronicles 31.11-12) were sufficient for the storage now required. That the High Priest and the priests turned a blind eye to it ties in with the fact that earlier we have been informed that many influential Jews were in sympathy with Tobiah (4.12; 6.17-19), who may well previously have been deputy-governor with responsibility over Judah. As long as their own chambers were not affected (and each priestly clan presumably had a chamber for its patriarch) they were not averse to the presence of Tobiah in the Temple courts. As a consequence he was now presumably seeking to increase his influence in Jewish society, and infiltrate into Temple worship, no doubt with a view to making both compatible with the views of surrounding nations. It was a sign of how close true Yahwism was coming to being debased.

13.6a ‘But in all this I was not at Jerusalem, for in the thirty second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king.’

Nehemiah now explains that all this was none of his doing. Had he been in Jerusalem it would not have been allowed. But he had been called on to report to Artaxerxes. It was common practise for such kings to recall prominent men so that they could report, and renew their oaths of loyalty. This is the second indication that we have of the fact that Nehemiah’s initial governorship was restricted to about twelve years (compare 5.14). It may well be that he was not expected to return.

The title of Artaxerxes as King of Babylon is unexpected, although it was a title Artaxerxes would have claimed when dealing with affairs in Babylon (compare Cyrus king of Babylon in Ezra 5.13). It may suggest that at this time Artaxerxes was in Babylon and that Nehemiah had reported to him there.

13.6b-7 ‘And after certain days I asked leave of the king, and I came to Jerusalem, and understood the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.’

We have no information as to the length of the ‘certain days’, but we need not doubt that they were long enough to have enabled problems to have arisen in Judea. It had been long enough for Tobiah to worm his way into the Temple precincts, and for the gathering of tithes to become dilatory to such an extent that Temple worship had been affected, and both of these factors suggest a period of some years.

But it appears that Nehemiah was aware of the possible failures of the people whom he had left behind in charge of Judah and its worship, and was deeply concerned, for he asked the king’s permission to return to Judah, presumably in an official capacity, although not necessarily as Governor. He was concerned that unholiness may have begun to mar the holy city. And he was proved to be correct. For on arrival in Jerusalem he learned of what Eliashib had done for Tobiah the Ammonite, in providing for him a chamber in the Temple precincts, ‘in the courts of the house of God’. For any syncretistic worshipper of YHWH to have been introduced into such close proximity with the Temple would have marred the holiness of the Temple, and for it to be in the person of an Ammonite rendered it doubly so. With him present Jerusalem was no longer the holy city, and the Temple was no longer pure.

We have in this a reminder of how easy it is to slip from being dedicated to God as described in chapter 10, and from being willing to make sacrifices for God as described in chapter 11, to being willing to compromise with those who might seem to be able to benefit us politically and materially. With Nehemiah gone it clearly seemed expedient to those remaining in Jerusalem to cosy up to those in the area with political power, and one means of doing this was through Tobiah who in a sense had a foot in both camps. He was sympathetic to Jews who were willing to compromise, being closely related to them, and he was in a position of authority in Samaria. Had Nehemiah not returned, and had Malachi not prophesied, Israel might well once again have become syncretistic and, humanly speaking, have disappeared from history.

13.8 ‘And it grieved me sorely, therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.’

The expression here is strong. Nehemiah was ‘sorely grieved’. As a godly man concerned about God’s will and God’s Law, and about the purity of God’s Temple his heart was smitten. It must have seemed to him as though even the Temple authorities, whose major concern should have been the holiness of the Temple, were prepared to stand back and see it defiled. He saw in it the same dangerous downward path that had previously led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

But Nehemiah was a man of action, and he was also in a position to act, and he therefore arranged for all Tobiah’s household stuff to be forcibly removed from the chamber, and ‘cast forth’, making it quite clear that Tobiah had no right to be there. There could be no place for those connected with idolatry in the Temple of YHWH.

13.9 ‘Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and I again brought there the vessels of the house of God, with the meal-offerings and the frankincense.’

Then he gave command that ‘the chambers’ be ritually purified, for he saw the whole building as having been ritually defiled by Tobiah’s presence within it. Once again we see the emphasis on ritual purification already expressed earlier in 12.30, 45, 47. He was concerned to preserve Jerusalem as a holy city.

And once the chambers had been purified he again brought into them the vessels of the house of God, along with the meal-offerings and the frankincense, all of which were supremely holy to God (‘most holy’ - Exodus 30.36; Leviticus 2.1-3). The non-mention of the tithes is a reminder that at this point in time the tithes had mainly ceased to be gathered. And in view of the fact that those who gathered them would also be the ones who benefited from them we must assume that the problem arose from an unwillingness by the people to pay the tithes, although in saying this we must remember that many of them would have been finding it hard to survive (compare 5.1-5). It was in the light of such a situation that the prophet Malachi prophesied in Malachi 3.8-12, reminding the people that if they were faithful to God in such matters, He would be faithful to them.

13.10 ‘And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them; so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, were fled every one to his field.’

The ‘portions of the Levites’ came from the tithes, and as these had not been gathered the Levites received no portion. Note that ‘the Levites’ in the first clause are ‘the Levites and singers’ in the second clause. This is a reminder that the term ‘the Levites’ was used in two ways, firstly of the Levites as a whole, including the singers and gatekeepers, and secondly of the group of general Levites who were not singers and gatekeepers, but served God in other ways, including the gathering of tithes. It is noteworthy that although they would not receive their due portions (12.47) the gatekeepers remained in Jerusalem in order to fulfil their duties of watching over the affairs of the Temple.

As a consequence of the lack of tithes the Levites and the singers had returned to the task of obtaining a living by returning to their own fields which they had occupied on their return from Babylonia. They had occupied this land because the Levitical cities had ceased to be such. And besides the Levitical cities within the province of Judah had been for the benefit of the priests. The Levites had thus had to find land to occupy on their return, and they had found it within a circle around Jerusalem (12.27-28). It was to this that they returned. It went without saying that the worship in the Temple had been greatly affected.

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

Once Nehemiah had perceived what had happened he had a set to with the rulers as to why they had allowed the house of God to be forsaken by the servants of YHWH. That his words were effective comes out in that the rulers clearly arranged for the recommencement of the collection of the tithes (verse 12). At the same time he arranged for the Levites and singers to be brought together and set in their place so that they could perform their holy functions. This would include participation in the daily worship of the Temple, and the gathering of the tithes. It should be noted that there was no thought that the Levites and singers might refuse. They were seen as being servants of God, duly appointed by God, and therefor as much responsible to serve as the people were to pay tithes.

13.12 ‘Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.’

From then on the system of tithes was officially restored, and ‘all Judah’ brought their tithes of grain new wine and oil to the treasuries, that is to the Temple storerooms, including the chamber from which Tobiah had been expelled.

13.13 ‘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 business was to distribute to their brothers.’

Then he set over the storerooms, which contained the Temple’s wealth, competent men whom he considered to be reliable and honest (‘faithful’), here called ‘treasurers’. These consisted of Shelemiah the Priest, Zadok the Scribe (i.e. secretary/accountant, who was probably also a priest), together with two leading Levites, Pedaiah and Hanan. And their main business was to see to the distribution of the tithes. Hanan would appear to have been slightly subordinate to the main three.

This followed the pattern of Ezra 8.33. But if such a committee had had permanent status, it had clearly failed in its responsibilities with regard to the tithes and the wrong use of the store-chambers. It would be inevitable therefore that it would be replaced. It is quite possible, however, that with the cessation of tithing Eliashib alone had been responsible for what was in the storehouses. And certainly it is unlikely that Eliashib would have been allowed to retain his position after what he had done.

13.14 ‘Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds (covenant deeds) that I have done for the house of my God, and for its observances.’

This is the first of four ‘remember’ prayers which close off the book. See also verses 22, 29. 31, and compare 5.19; 6.14. As he would before the king, so does he also call the attention of God to the faithfulness with which he has performed his duties and had fulfilled His commands (in every positive case it follows examples of what he has done in ensuring the carrying out of specific instructions in God’s Law). Here he wants God to note how he has preserved the purity of His house, and the purity and continuation of its observances, in the manner prescribed by the Law, through God’s prescribed servants. He has faithfully fulfilled his responsibilities to the covenant.

The plea that God would not wipe out his good deeds (his chesed) may well have reflected the fact that he did rejoice in the idea that God had wiped out his sins (a regular use of the verb - Psalm 51.1, 9; Isaiah 43.25; 44.22). He does not want God to wipe out everything. He wants at least something to be remembered in his favour. He wants to hear God say, ‘well done, My good and faithful servant’. We might indeed translate chesed (covenant love) as ‘covenant deeds’ (note the use of chesed in the next remembrance statement in verse 22, and often elsewhere, to indicate God’s covenant love). This is not the prayer of a self-seeker, but of a dedicated man who, aware of his own unworthiness (verse 22b) and of how little he has done, loves his God and wants it to be remembered that he has at least sought to fulfil His covenant. This should be the prayer of us all.

Ensuring The Purity Of Jerusalem By The Enforcement Of The Sabbath (13.15-19).

Having purified the Temple and Temple worship, Nehemiah now turns his attention to the city of Jerusalem. This too he sees as defiled by forbidden activities on the Sabbath (compare how they had promised in 10.31, ‘And if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the sabbath, or on a holy day.’). And he takes steps to ensure that it cannot happen. Indeed as with the issue of tithing he no doubt saw this observance of the Sabbath as necessary in order to bring in the eschatological age, as proclaimed by the prophets, which was promised to those who hallowed the Sabbath and faithfully offered their tithes to God (Jeremiah 17.25-26; Malachi 3.8-12). Nehemiah was not just concerned with establishing Jerusalem. He was even more concerned with ensuring that Jerusalem was the holy city (11.1; Isaiah 52.1) with the hope of introducing that eschatological age promised by the post-exilic prophets (Haggai 2.6-7, 21-22; Zechariah 14).

13.15 ‘In those days I saw in Judah some men treading wine-presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses (with them); 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 in which they sold victuals.’

‘In those days.’ We once again have a vague time note introducing a subsection (compare 12.44; 13.1; 23). The change to the plural is necessary because what Nehemiah now describes occurred over a period of time.

His first accusation was against Jews who were involved in business and trade on the Sabbath day. He described how he had seen men in Judah treading their winepresses on the Sabbath day (pits in which the grapes were placed and trodden down in order to release the juice, which was gathered in another adjacent pit) and gathering their sheaves, and lading their asses with them in order to bring them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. They also brought in wine, grapes and figs, and other commodities on the Sabbath day, set up their stalls, and sold them on the Sabbath day. They no doubt saw the day when most were at leisure in Jerusalem as a good business opportunity. And all this flouted God’s command, to ‘remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy -- you shall do no manner of work on the Sabbath day’ (Exodus 20.8-10), a command that applied equally to Jews and those who lived among them. And it went against their own promise 10.31 ‘And if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the sabbath, or on a holy day.’

All this was a reminder of pre-exilic days, the days that had led up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Then also men had chafed because they could not conduct business of the Sabbath (Amos 8.5). And Jeremiah had rebuked those who bore burdens and brought them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day (Jeremiah 17.21). And he had subsequently assured the people of two things, firstly that if they refrained from profaning the Sabbath by bringing burdens through the gates on the Sabbath day, then the Davidic throne would be established and ensured, and men would flock from Judah and Benjamin, and places round about, bringing offerings and sacrifices to the house of YHWH, and the city would remain for ever. But if they would not listen to the requirement to hallow the Sabbath day, and would not refrain from bringing burdens into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then God would conversely ensure the cessation of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17.19-27).

13.16 ‘There dwelt men of Tyre also in it, who brought in fish, and all manner of wares, and sold on the sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.’

But there was worse. Not only were Jews flouting the Sabbath day, but foreigners were also being allowed to do so. There were Tyrians who were bringing fish, and all manner of wares, and selling them on the Sabbath day to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. The Jews were not only allowing the idolatrous Tyrians to enter God’s holy city on God’s holy day, but were actually encouraging them by buying goods from them on the Sabbath day. They were thereby dishonouring God in the eyes of strangers, and were themselves flouting the Sabbath by buying goods which they would then have to carry home. And it went against their own promise given in 10.31 ‘And if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the sabbath, or on a holy day.’ That the very presence of the Tyrians was seen as a problem comes out later when Nehemiah does not even allow them to camp outside Jerusalem (verses 20-21), waiting for the Sabbath to pass. So Nehemiah is concerned both for the holiness of Jerusalem, and the holiness of the Sabbath.

13.17-18 ‘Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil on us, and on this city? Yet you bring more wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.”

Nehemiah then rebuked the aristocrats of Judah for allowing such things, and even participating in them. He pointed out that in profaning the Sabbath day they were doing evil. This was similar to the charge that Jeremiah had brought against Jerusalem in his day, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem which he prophesied would follow as a result (Jeremiah 17.19-27). Did they not therefore remember how their fathers had behaved in the same way with the result that God had brought evil on them and their city? And yet here they were bringing even more wrath on Israel. by profaning the Sabbath day. For an example of this regular Biblical concept compare Ezra 10.14, where it would be the result of them allying themselves with idolatrous foreign wives. It is noteworthy that Nehemiah did not just issue a decree. He wanted the aristocrats of Judah to be aware that what was happening was grossly displeasing to God, and to be willing to cooperate with him in seeing that the profanation of the Sabbath should cease. It is important for any leader to ensure that those whom he leads understand why he does what he does.

13.19 ‘And it came about that, when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut, and commanded that they should not be opened till after the sabbath, and I set some of my servants over the gates, that no burden should be brought in on the sabbath day.’

Accordingly acting with his usual rapidity Nehemiah set his own escort to guard the gates on the Sabbath day from that time on, and commanded that the great gates of the city be closed as soon as it became dark within the gate ways at the commencement of the Sabbath, and that they should not be opened again until after the Sabbath. Entrance and exit for ordinary citizens would be possible through small doors within the gates, but strict orders were given that no burdens be brought in on the Sabbath day. His measures were clearly effective, as the next verse makes clear.

13.20 ‘So the merchants and sellers of all kind of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.’

Nothing daunted the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares still came to Jerusalem prior to the Sabbath, or on the Sabbath, and encamped themselves outside the city. The aim was probably twofold. Firstly in the hope that the people of Jerusalem would come outside the gates in order to buy, although it should be noted that that would be strictly limited as the buyers would not be allowed to carry their purchases into the city. They too would be ‘burdens’. And secondly so that as soon as the Sabbath was over they would be able to stream into the city. But Nehemiah informs us that they only did this ‘once or twice’.

13.21 ‘Then I testified against them, and said to them, “Why do you lodge about the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on (arrest) you .” From that time forth they came no more on the sabbath.’

And the reason that they only did it once or twice was because Nehemiah warned them that if they appeared again and encamped outside the city on the Sabbath they would be arrested. His concern may have been that they were still profaning the Sabbath, even though not in Jerusalem, or it may have been because he considered that their proximity to the holy city on the Sabbath day marred the holiness of the city on that day, in the same way as Tobiah’s continued presence had marred the holiness of the Temple.

13.22a ‘And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day.’

As a longer term measure Nehemiah called on the Levites, of whom many were experienced gatekeepers, to come and guard the gates. This was not in order to act in a military role, but so as to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath, a fitting levitical duty. The religious aspect of their appointment is brought out in that they had to purify themselves. They were to have their part in preserving the holiness of Jerusalem without which God’s future promises could not come to fruition, and in order fittingly to do this it was necessary for them to be purified. The use of Levites would have disarmed the population who may well otherwise have become uneasy at the role being carried out exclusively by Nehemiah’s own men, and suggests that Nehemiah’s position enjoyed some considerable support in the Temple. As in verse 1 the subsection then ends with a ‘remember --’ request to God.

13.22b ‘Remember with respect to me, O my God, this also, and spare me according to the greatness of your covenant love.’

His prayer here is that God will take note of what he has done in protecting the sanctity of His Sabbath day, and will thus spare him, not as a reward, but in view of the greatness of the covenant love revealed in that same covenant that he had protected.

It is noteworthy that Nehemiah only asks God to remember what he has done when it is in direct fulfilment of His covenant. (Thus he does not ask to be remembered for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem). In 5.19 it was because he had ensured the carrying out of the provisions of the Law for the poor of the land (e.g. in Deuteronomy 15.1-11), and the Law against a ruler piling up wealth (Deuteronomy 17.17). In 13.14 it was because he had fulfilled the provisions of the Law by expelling an Ammonite from permanent residence in the Temple in accordance with Deuteronomy 23. Here it is because he has ensured the fulfilment of the fourth commandment (Exodus 20.8-10). In 13.31 it is because he has ensured the purity of the priesthood and of the Temple in accordance with the Law, has ensured that the God-chosen priests and Levites have fulfilled their legal responsibilities, has ensured sufficient supplies of wood for the sacrificial fires, and has ensured the gathering of the firstfruits, all in accordance with the Law.

Separation From Idolatrous Foreign Women (13.23-27).

Nehemiah’s final act to which he calls God’s attention is his purifying of Jerusalem (or possibly of the new Israel) from idolatrous foreign women. It is made clear that these women had not converted to Yahwism, nor had they brought up their children to be Yahwists, otherwise they would have ensured that they knew Hebrew and/or Aramaic so that they might be able to understand the Scriptures. This was something that was incumbent on every Jew, and on every convert. Thus, as with Tobiah, Jerusalem was defiled by their presence. Furthermore otherwise genuine Yahwists (as Solomon had been) were being led astray. It is this last fact that is the emphasis of the passage.

There is no suggestion that the situation was widespread, as it had been in the days of Ezra 9-10. Rather it is revealed as a local affair dealt with locally. It had been over twenty years since Ezra had taken action against marriages with idolatrous foreign women. Now the practise had begun to creep back, and Nehemiah deals with it in his usual forthright manner.

It should be noted that in 4.7 the Ashdodites and the Ammonites were of those who actively opposed the building of the wall. They had been no friends of the Jews.

Ashdod was the name of the Persian province bordering Judah on the west. Moab and Ammon were to the east. Unlike in the time of Ezra the idolatrous foreign marriages here appear to have been limited to women of these three areas.

13.23-24 ‘In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, of Moab, and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.’

Ashdod was the name of the Persian province to the west and its notabilities would probably have had constant contact with Jerusalem, which was now the capital city of the province of Judah. These marriages may thus have been limited to the Jewish aristocracy who were seeking political and trading influence. Alternately, but less likely, they may simply have been cross border marriages. But if the latter were the case we would have expected the children soon to learn Aramaic as they mixed with Jewish children. They would not be brought up in the same isolation as the children of wealthy aristocrats. The situation therefore smacks very much of children brought up in an exclusive environment, with Ashdod-speaking servants being responsible for their education. The Moabites and Ammonites spoke a language basically similar to the Jews, as we know from the Moabite inscription, although it might not have sounded like it to Nehemiah. But probably their children were not so discernibly ignorant of Hebrew and Aramaic as the children of Ashdod, which may explain the cryptic ‘spoke half in the speech of Ashdod’. Their languages were, however, sufficiently different that it would cause misunderstanding when hearing the reading of the Scriptures, but it would certainly not have appeared to be as barbaric as the language of Ashdod.

With regard to Ammon and Moab, we know of the intermarriages of the daughters of Jewish aristocrats with Tobiah and his son, who were both Ammonites, for we have been told that Tobiah was son-in-law to a prominent Jew named Shechaniah the son of Arah, and that his son Johanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah (6.18), a prominent wallbuilder (3.4, 30) and priest (3.28, 30). Both Shechaniah and Meshullam would presumably be of the Jewish aristocracy. We can therefore understand a tendency for some who supported Tobiah to encourage intermarriage with aristocratic Ammonite sons and daughters. Once again political and trading influence was probably at stake. And as Ammonites and Moabites were closely allied, and were brother tribes, it would be natural for aristocratic Moabite men and women also to be involved.

What appears to have shocked Nehemiah the most was the inability of children of half the marriages to speak anything other than ‘the speech of Ashdod’. In other words they only spoke a language which was totally beyond understanding. This was possibly what first drew the situation to his attention. There may not only have been one language spoken in Ashdod. It was a Persian province including a number of nations. ‘The speech of Ashdod’ may not therefore signify a single language, but any language spoke in Ashdod. All would have appeared equally barbaric. And as we have suggested above their ‘speaking only the speech of Ashdod’ clearly indicated that they were not being brought up to understand the Jewish Law, which could only have bad consequences for the future. Thus underlying his horror at their not speaking Hebrew/Aramaic was a recognition of the fact that they were being brought up to worship the gods of Ashdod. And at the best this could only lead to syncretism. He could see Israel slowly slipping away from the pure worship of YHWH.

Note On The Words ‘and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.’

It is clear that this is unlikely to mean that their children each spoke half Ashdod, half Hebrew, for then it could not have been said of them that they could not speak in the Jewish language. There would have been many bi-linguists in Jerusalem who were pure Yahwists so that being bilingual would not have been a matter for concern. It may signify:

  • That half the children spoke in the Ashdod speech, as their mothers came from Ashdod, while the other half spoke in either Ammonite or Moabite (‘according to the language of each people’).
  • That being aristocrats the Jews in question had more than one wife so that some of their children were brought up to speak Hebrew, because they had mothers who were Yahwists, while the others were brought up to speak the Ashdod languages because their mothers came from Ashdod. The latter would then have been brought up to worship the gods of Ashdod.
  • That half the children of Ashdod mothers had not learned to speak Hebrew, whilst the other half had. This might explain why only some were severely punished.

Without more information we cannot be dogmatic, but whichever way it was it disturbed Nehemiah sufficiently to cause him to take drastic action, because he recognised the danger of encroaching idolatry.

End of note.

13.25 ‘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, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, or for yourselves.”

It appears from what happened that the Jews involved were summoned together before Nehemiah to present their defence, for we learn that he ‘contended with them’ (see verse 26), whilst verse 27 (‘shall we then listen to you?’) certainly suggests that they put forward a bold defence. We are probably not to see in this description that Nehemiah lost his temper and began pulling at their beards, (for that the incident would have had to be very local indeed), but rather that he passed a judicial sentence on them, solemnly cursing them and sentencing some of them to be beaten and have hairs pulled out, either of their beards or their heads. To decimate a man’s beard and hair was to subject him to shame (compare 2 Samuel 10.4; Isaiah 3.24; 15.2; Jeremiah 48.37; Ezekiel 29.18). Thus by this they were being publicly shamed. We can compare how God’s Servant described a similar punishment applied to himself in Isaiah 50.6, something clearly designed to humiliate him. In Ezra 9.3 we find how Ezra subjected himself to the same humiliation, although in his case self-imposed.

They were also made to swear before God that they would not in future “give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, or for yourselves.” This was Biblical language based on the requirements of the Law (Deuteronomy 7.3; Exodus 34.16). It will be noted that it is not specifically said they were required to put away their wives, and if that was the case it may be an indication of the high status of their wives. (Even Nehemiah had to consider possible appeals to the King of Persia). In that was so the situation was unlike that in Ezra. On the other hand it may be that divorcing their foreign wives was implied in the verdict (‘or for yourselves’) and was simply not mentioned in this very abbreviated account.

13.26 “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations was there no king like him, and he was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless even him did foreign women cause to sin.”

Nehemiah then gave a powerful Scriptural example in order to back up his case. He pointed them back to Solomon, outstanding among kings, beloved of God and granted the kingship of Israel by Him. Yet even this king who was so great and powerful, and owed God so much, was led astray into idolatry by his foreign wives (1 Kings 11.1-8). What chance was there then for lesser people to resist the temptations put in their way by idolatrous foreign wives.

13.27 “Shall we then listen to you to do all this great evil, to trespass against our God in marrying foreign women?”

Thus in view of the example of Solomon their persuasive arguments carried no weight. It is quite clear that the husbands were seeking to put up a defence for their actions, a defence which Nehemiah swept aside. Note how he describes marrying idolatrous foreign wives as a ‘great evil’. It was no light matter. And by it they were trespassing against God and His word. It is difficult in the light of this to see how he could do anything other than insist that they divorce their idolatrous foreign wives.

The Banishment Of A Member Of The High Priest’s Family For Marrying A Non-Israelite Woman And Thus Disobeying God’s Law And Defiling The Priesthood (13.28-29).

13.28 ‘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.’

It may here have been Joiada, the son of Eliashib, who was High Priest, or it may at this stage have been the Elisashib who was still High Priest, the Hebrew could mean either. But the important point is that the High Priest had condoned the marriage of Joiada’s son to the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, something forbidden in Scripture. For the Law was quite clear on the fact that a member of the High Priest’s family, who could at some stage act as High Priest, could only marry a woman who was a trueborn Israelite virgin (Leviticus 21.14). This was why he was seen as having ‘defiled the priesthood’ (verse 29) by marrying a syncretistic Yahwist who was not a true born Israelite.

The fact that this meant that Sanballat, Nehemiah’s arch-enemy, had thereby gained considerable political influence in Israel, being able to influence the High Priest himself (the marriage would not have happened without the High Priest’s approval), explains Nehemiah’s harsh action. The son, together with his wife, had to be removed from any sphere where he could exercise influence. He was thus expelled from Jerusalem, presumably taking shelter with Sanballat in Samaria. And thereby Jerusalem was cleansed and kept holy.

13.29 ‘Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.’

This is the second time that Nehemiah has called on God to remember the evil things that others have done, contrary to the covenant. The first was in 6.14 where he called on God to remember what Sanballat, Tobiah, and the current Hebrew prophets, had done to try to entrap him into being afraid and as a consequence breaching the covenant. Here he calls on God to ‘remember’ those who have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. The plural ‘them’ can only mean the High Priest’s family, for it was they who had caused the priesthood to be defiled.

The ‘covenant of the priesthood and the Levites’ presumably refers to the covenant that they entered into, based on the Law, when they came of age to enter the priesthood and levitical service. For the priests it would include the provisions of Leviticus 21, but would especially have reference to them keeping themselves ritually clean. The Levites also were expected to keep themselves ritually clean, otherwise they would not be able to serve in the Temple. Nothing ritually unclean was to enter the Temple area.

This covenant is mentioned in Malachi 2.4-8. It was a covenant which offered the priests and Levites life and peace, because they feared YHWH and sought to do His will. In consequence the law of truth was in their mouth, and they walked rightly and sought to turn people from their iniquity. But now by corrupting the Law they had caused many to stumble, who no doubt followed the High Priest’s example, and would themselves produce ‘profane seed’. Thus they had defiled the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

13.30-31 ‘Thus I cleansed them from all foreigners, and appointed charges (ordinances, offices) for the priests and for the Levites, every one in his work; and for the wood-offering, at times appointed, and for the first-fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.’

A comparison of these verses with the covenant promises in chapter 10 is interesting.

  • I cleansed them from all foreigners, compare 10.30
  • I appointed charges (ordinances, offices) for the priests and for the Levites everyone in his work, compare 10.32-33, 38-39.
  • For the wood offering at the time appointed, compare 10.34.
  • For the firstruits, compare 10.35-37.

The preciseness of order (apart from omission of the Sabbath observance laws) would not appear to be a coincidence and suggests that Nehemiah is pointing out to God that he has ensured the fulfilment of the sure agreement that Israel had made. He had already asked God to remember him for ensuring the observance of the Sabbath (verses 15-22, compare 10.31). For this he wanted ‘his God’ to remember him, for good. It is noteworthy that he does not seek that God will remember him as the wallbuilder, but rather as the one who has ensured the fulfilment of God’s covenant and the proper maintenance of Temple worship. And in view of his seeing Jerusalem as the holy city, and as the city which must be kept pure at all costs, he may well be asking to be remembered so that God would through him introduce the eschatological kingdom, which in essence was his prayer in 1.9.

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