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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 12

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



(Note: in this chapter, we shall use the text of the RSV, which has returned to the order of verses in the KJV).

This chapter exhibits two separate parts: (1) certain lists of priests, High Priests and Levites (Nehemiah 12:1-16); and (2) the elaborate ceremonies of the dedication. Cook classified the lists thus: (1) the chief priestly and Levitical families who returned with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:1-9); (2) the first six of the post-exilic High Priests from Jesuha to Jaddua (Neh. 12:19-11); (3) the actual heads of the priestly families in the times of the High Priest Joiakim (Nehemiah 12:12-21); and (4) the chief Levitical families of Nehemiah’s time (Nehemiah 12:22-26). Cook wrote that all of these lists were probably compiled by Nehemiah, except the second;(F1) he supposed that list might have been far later due to the mention of Jaddua, mentioned by Josephus as High Priest in the times of Alexander the Great (339 B.C.). This writer rejects that supposition altogether.


This is as good a place as any to dispose of the problem centered around the name Jaddua.

(1) There might easily have been several High Priests named Jaddua. If there’s anything about all these Jewish names we have been studying that stands out above everything else, it is that the same names appear again, and again, generation after generation. “For example there were twenty-seven Zechariahs”!(F2) And even among the Twelve Apostles there were two Simons and two James. Nehemiah mentions a Jaddua here (Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22), apparently in his times; and Josephus mentions another one more than a century later. The critics will have to come up with something a lot better than this in order to late-date Nehemiah. We simply will not receive any such thing on the premise that only one High Priest was named Jaddua!

(2) We believe that Josephus’ identification of Jaddua as the High Priest in the times of Alexander the Great is an error by Josephus. There’s not a scholar on earth who has not questioned Josephus’ reliability on many things.

(3) It is altogether possible that Jaddua lived to be over a hundred years old and might have been high priest in the times of both Nehemiah and Alexander. Whitcomb stressed this, pointing out that one of the High Priests, “Jehoiada died at the age of 130 (2 Chronicles 24:15).”(F3) That possibility is supported by the fact that Jaddua died very soon after his meeting with Alexander the Great, indicating that he might indeed have been a very old man when that happened.

(4) Then there is the very definite possibility that the word Jaddua here is an interpolation. It is this writer’s opinion that overwhelming odds favor this possibility. Williamson admitted that these lists are “defective,” due to copyist’s errors, etc. We appreciate Hamrick, a very recent scholar, and his elaboration of this very point. “Jaddua in verse 22 (Nehemiah 12:22) may have been added by a subsequent editor. In the Hebrew, it reads, `and Johanan, and Jaddua’ (cf. KJV), as though the latter name had been inserted by a later hand.”(F4)

All of these four options may be defended, and indeed have been defended, by able scholars; so one may take his choice. Until the critics effectively refute all four of these options, we shall stick to our conviction that the appearance of the name of Jaddua in this chapter is no adequate basis whatever for late-dating Nehemiah.

There isn’t anything that betrays the enthusiastic bias of critics in favor of late-dating Bible books any better that their ridiculous seizure of one single word in a defective list of names as their sole basis for denying the Word of God, which ascribes this Book to Nehemiah, and not to some mythical `chronicler’ living a hundred years later in the times of Alexander the Great. Such an action goes much further in discrediting the critics than it does toward late-dating Nehemiah.

Counting the list of the inhabitants of the province given in Nehemiah 11, the four we have here in Nehemiah 12 make five lists in all. “They are all connected with the genealogical register of the Israelite population of the whole province, taken by Nehemiah for the purpose of enlarging the population of Jerusalem.”(F5)

We shall not discuss these lists in detail. It is sufficient to remember that they served their purpose as far as Nehemiah was concerned. The discrepancies, questions, problems and variations in all of these are insoluble at this period of time, twenty five centuries afterward.

One of the first problems regarding the two lists in Nehemiah 10 and Nehemiah 12 is that they do not coincide. “This difference is due to the time elapsed between the taking of the two lists; and also because, the names in Nehemiah 10 are not the names of orders nor houses, but the names of heads of families.”(F6)

Verses 1-11


“Now these are the priests and Levites who went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah. Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shechaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bigah, Shemiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Antok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah. These were the chiefs and of their brethren in the days of Jeshua. And the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah and Mattaniah, who with his brethren was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. And Bakbukiah and Unno their brethren stood opposite them in the service. And Jeshua was the father of Joiakim,Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.

Nehemiah 12:10 and Nehemiah 12:11 are a parenthesis thrown in at this point as an aid in the chronology. The names are those of the first six High Priests in the period after the exile.

Verses 12-21


“And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers’ houses: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; of Malluci, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, Moadiah, Piltai; of Bilgai, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; of Joiarib, Matteniah; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; of Hilkiah, Hashabai; of Jedaiah, Nethanel.”

Verses 22-26


“As for the Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, there were recorded the heads of fathers’ houses; also the priests until the reign of Darius the Persian. The sons of Levi, heads of fathers’ houses, were written in the book of the Chronicles until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. And the chiefs of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch corresponding to watch. Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers standing guard at the storehouses of the gates. These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest the scribe.”

“In the days of Joiakim” That entire list of six High Priests in Nehemiah 12:10-11, raises the question of why four were named in Nehemiah 12:22, whereas, here (Nehemiah 12:26), all of the names in this paragraph are identified as those who lived in the days of Joiakim. This makes it a certainty that the Darius the Persian mentioned here was none other than, “Darius Nothus, the second Persian king of that name.”(F7) “This is proved by the Elephantine papyri.”(F8) It appears that the best explanation of why four High Priests are named in Nehemiah 12:21 is that all four generations of them were living at the same time, which would mean that Jaddua was indeed quite a young child at the time. The text nowhere states that the names given were those of people living throughout the administrations of all four of those High Priests.

Verses 27-30


“And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgiving, and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. And the sons of the singers gathered together from the circuit round Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. And the priests and the Levites purified themselves; and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.”

The purification ceremonies probably included the offering of sacrifices and the strict observance of all the prohibitions of the Mosaic law.

The time of this dedication was not long after the completion of the wall, as should have been expected. This writer was astounded that several scholars placed the dedication a decade or so after the wall was completed. Rawlinson made the dedication “thirteen years after the wall was finished.”(F9) Cook wrote that, “The dedication was deferred for nearly twelve years.”(F10) Such errors are due solely to the scholarly emphasis upon that misplaced name of the High Priest Jaddua in Nehemiah 12:22. Short got it right. “The dedication was only a few days after the completion of the wall.”(F11)

Although our text does not give us the exact date of the dedication, the historical note in, “2 Maccabees 1:18 gives the date of the dedication as the twenty fifth of the ninth month (Kislew), only three months after the completion of the wall.”(F12)

Verses 31-37


“Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies which gave thanks and went in procession. One went to the right upon the wall to the Dung Gate; and after them went Hosahaiah and half of the princes of Judah, and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, and certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets: Zechariah the son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, son of Asaph; and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with musical instruments of David the man of God; and Ezra the scribe went before them. At the Fountain Gate they went up straight before them by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, to the Water Gate on the east.”

“Upon the wall… upon the wall” Many of the older scholars thought that the grand processions, one moving clockwise, the other counter clockwise, circled the wall around the city, walking on the ground; but the text here flatly declares that they marched atop the wall. This is to be trusted as the way it happened. Excavations by Kathleen Kenyon in Jerusalem have indicated that, “Nehemiah’s wall was nine feet wide.”(F13) As Hamrick noted, “That was ample room for a procession to move along the top of it.”(F14) (Our map, p. 138, will show how the processions proceeded.)

These verses concern only half the procession; there were two, one led by Ezra the priest the scribe, and the other by the governor Nehemiah. Both began in the area between the Dung Gate and the Valley Gate, Ezra moving northward around the eastern wall of the city, and Nehemiah and his procession heading northward around the western wall, both processions coming together in the vicinity of the temple.

Verses 38-43


“The other company of those who gave thanks went to the left, and I followed them with half of the people, upon the wall, above the Tower of the Ovens, 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 the Hundred, to the Sheep Gate; and they came to a halt at the Gate of the Guard. So both companies of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half the officials with me; and the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Minamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; and Maaseiah, Shemiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; and the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”

Any way it may be considered, this is a very remarkable narrative. The whole celebration is outlined in such a manner that one may visualize it even today. There was indeed a great joy in Jerusalem.

Verses 44-47


“On that day, men were appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first-fruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and gatekeepers according to the command of David and his son Solomon. For as in the days of David and Asaph of old there was a chief of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.”

“Men were appointed over the chambers for the stores… the tithes… to gather them” Bringing tithes into Jerusalem was no doubt an arduous and constant work; and it is no wonder the duty was neglected. Here we learn that men were appointed to collect them from outlying areas and to deliver them to the storehouses in the temple. This no doubt pleased the vast majority of the people.

Nehemiah, in this paragraph, used the third person; but that does not mean another author nor that mythical chronicler. “The solemnity was terminated with the offering of great sacrifices and a general festival of rejoicing. In all that sacrificing, Nehemiah, the civil governor, was naturally superceded as the man in charge by Ezra the priest; and therefore Nehemiah related the close of the proceedings objectively, using the third person, as he had done in describing the preparations (Nehemiah 12:27), only using the first person when speaking of what was appointed by himself or his position.”(F15) Biblical authors (and other ancient historians) very often used the third person in their writings; even Paul did so (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

This last paragraph emphasizes the widespread cooperation of the people with the priests and the Levites. Israel considered their national safety as dependent upon the faithful observance of all the religious ceremonies and ordinances by the priests and Levites. By stressing that fact that this was being done, “The author,” according to Cook, “Is comparing the religious activity and strictness of Nehemiah’s time with that which had prevailed under Zerubbabel (described in Ezra 6:16-22), with the implication that the intermediate period had been a time of laxity.”(F16)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 12". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/nehemiah-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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