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EXPLANATORY NOTES.] “The list of the inhabitants of the province (chap. 11) is followed by lists of the priests and Levites (Nehemiah 12:1-16.12.26). These different lists are, in fact, all connected with the genealogical register of the Israelite population of the whole province, taken by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:5) for the purpose of enlarging the population of Jerusalem … Nehemiah 12:1-16.12.9 contains a list of the heads of the priests and Levites who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel and Joshua. The high priests during five generations are next mentioned by name (Nehemiah 12:10-16.12.11). Then follow the names of the heads of the priestly houses, in the days of Joiakim, the high priest; and finally (Nehemiah 12:22-16.12.26), the names of the heads of the Levites at the same period, with titles and subscriptions.”—Keil. According to Keil, “the difference between the names in the two lists of chapters 10, 12, is to be explained simply by the fact that the names of those who sealed the covenant (chap 10) are names neither of orders nor houses, but of heads of houses living in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Of these names a portion coincides, indeed, with the names of the orders and houses, while the rest are different. The sameness of names does not, however, prove that the individuals belonged to the house whose name they bore. On the contrary, it appears from Nehemiah 12:13; Nehemiah 12:16, that of two Meshullams, one was the head of the house of Ezra, the other of the house of Ginnethon.”
Nehemiah 12:27. Out of all their places] The Levites were scattered through the province.
Nehemiah 12:30. Purified themselves … people … gates … wall] This was probably done by the sprinkling of water (Numbers 19:18), and the offering of sacrifices. (Compare 2 Chronicles 29:21.) “The central point of the solemnity was a procession of two bands of singers upon the wall. Nehemiah brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies and two processions. These went each upon the wall all in different directions, and stopped opposite each other at the house of God.… At the head of one procession went Ezra, the scribe, with one-half of the nobles; at the head of the second, Nehemiah with the other half.”—Keil. (See topography of the book of Nehemiah, pages 87–89.)
Nehemiah 12:43. Great sacrifices] i. e. “thank offerings which were eaten by the offerers in a happy feast, after the food of the offering made by fire unto the Lord (Leviticus 3:0).”—Crosby. With Nehemiah 12:44, according to Keil, Nehemiah’s Later Reforms begin, “at that time being used in a general sense.” Crosby differs, referring the phrase to the time of the dedication. Others postpone the dedication, making it one of the Later Reforms.
Nehemiah 12:44. Portions of the law] That is, portions prescribed by the law for the priests and Levites. (See Numbers 18:20-4.18.24; Deuteronomy 18:1-5.18.8.) That waited] Literally, the ones standing; that is, standing to minister before the Lord. (Compare Deuteronomy 10:8.)
Nehemiah 12:45. Kept the ward] Cared for all that concerned the temple; did their duty faithfully.
Nehemiah 12:47. Sanctified unto the Levites] “To sanctify, said of the bringing of gifts and dues to the ministers of the sanctuary” (comp. 1 Chronicles 26:27; Leviticus 27:14). On the matter itself, comp. Nehemiah 10:38 seq., and Numbers 18:26-4.18.29.—Keil.
HOMILETICAL CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 12
Nehemiah 12:27-16.12.43. The Dedication of the Wall.
Nehemiah 12:23. A Book.
Nehemiah 12:24. Posthumous Influence.
Nehemiah 12:30. Beginning at the Right Place.
Nehemiah 12:43. A Great Rejoicing.
Nehemiah 12:43. True Joy.
Nehemiah 12:44-16.12.47. Thanksgiving and Thanksliving.
Nehemiah 12:46. The Good Old Times.
THE DEDICATION OF THE WALL
Nehemiah 12:27-16.12.43. 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, &c.
WE have read of the building of the wall of Jerusalem, with a great deal of fear and trembling; we have here an account of the dedicating of it, with a great deal of joy and triumph. They that sow in tears shall thus reap.
I. We must inquire what was the meaning of this dedication of the wall. We will suppose it to include the dedication of the city too—the thing containing for the thing contained; and, therefore, it was not done till the city was pretty well replenished.
1. It was a solemn thanksgiving to God, for his great mercy to them in the perfecting of this undertaking, which they were the more sensible of, because of the difficulty and opposition they had met with in it.
2. They hereby devoted the city in a peculiar manner to God, and to his honour, and took possession of it for him, and in his name. All our cities, all our houses, must have “Holiness to the Lord” written upon them; but this city was (so as never any other was) a holy city, the city of the Great King. It had been so ever since God chose it to put his name there, and as such, it being now refitted, it was afresh dedicated to God by the builders and inhabitants, in token of their acknowledgment that they were tenants, and their desire that it might still be his, and that the property of it might never be altered. Whatever is done for their safety, ease, and comfort, must be designed for God’s honour and glory.
3. They hereby put the city and its walls under the Divine protection, owning that, unless the Lord kept the city, the walls were built in vain. When this city was in possession of the Jebusites, they committed the guardianship of it to their gods, though they were blind and lame ones. With much more reason do the people of God commit it to his keeping who is all-wise and almighty. The superstitious founders of cities had an eye to the lucky position of the heavens, but these pious founders had an eye to God only, to his providence, and not to fortune.
II. We must observe with what solemnity it was performed, under the direction of Nehemiah.
1. The Levites from all parts of the country were summoned to attend. The city must be dedicated to God; and therefore his ministers must be employed in the doing of it, and the surrender must pass through their hands. When those solemn feasts were over (chaps. Nehemiah 8:9), they had gone home to their respective posts to mind their cares in the country; but now their presence and assistance were again called for.
2. Pursuant to this summons there was a general rendezvous of all the Levites. Observe in what method they proceed.
(1) They purified themselves. We are concerned to cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts, when any work for God is to pass through them. Themselves they purified, and then the people. They that would be instrumental to sanctify others, must sanctify themselves, and set themselves apart for God with purity of mind and sincerity of intention. Then they purified the gates and the wall. Then may we expect comfort when we are prepared to receive it. “To the pure all things are pure” (Titus 1:15); and to them who are sanctified, houses and tables, and their creature comforts and enjoyments are sanctified (1 Timothy 4:4-54.4.5). This purification was performed, it is probable, by sprinkling the water of purifying or of separation, as it is called (Numbers 19:9), on themselves and the people, the walls and the gates; a type of the blood of Christ, with which our consciences being purged from dead works, we become fit to serve the living God, and to be his care.
(2) The princes, priests, and Levites walked round upon the wall in two companies, to signify the dedication of it all to God, the whole circuit of it. This procession is here largely described; one end of the ceremony being to affect them with the mercy they were giving thanks for, and to perpetuate the remembrance of it among them;
3. The people greatly rejoiced. While the princes, priests, and Levites testified their joy and thankfulness, by great sacrifices, sound of trumpet, musical instruments, and songs of praise, the common people testified theirs by loud shouts, which were heard afar off, farther than the more harmonious sound of their songs and music; and these shouts coming from a sincere and hearty joy are here taken notice of: for God overlooks not, but graciously accepts, the honest zealous services of mean people, though there be in them little of art, and they are far from being fine. It is observed that the women and children rejoiced; and their harmonies were not despised but recorded to their praise. All that share in public mercies ought to join in public thanksgivings. The reason given is, that “God had made them rejoice with great joy;” he had given them both matter for joy and hearts to rejoice: his providence had made them safe and easy, and then his grace made them cheerful and thankful. The baffled opposition of their enemies no doubt added to their joy, and mixed triumph with it. Great mercies call for the most solemn return of praise, “in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem!”—Matthew Henry.
Nehemiah 12:23. The chief of the fathers were written in the book of the chronicles
THE BOOK OF THE CHRONICLES
A book is a marvel—why not say a standing miracle?
I. A book unites the ages. Brings the past into the present: borrows the future to give the present significance. The “sceptred spirits of history” rule us still. “The world’s grey patriarchs” thought for us. With books the poorest enters the highest society: the loneliest need not be solitary. A good book the truest guide, philosopher, friend.
II. A book reveals life’s importance. A book gives permanence to thought, because thoughts sway the world: gives permanence to deeds, because if good they encourage, if bad they warn. Life is a writing. And with deeper than Pilate’s meaning, “What I have written, I have written.”
III. A book silently anticipates the judgment. It is written. A record may be appealed to. Is this thy handwriting? God’s “Book of Remembrance.”
Nehemiah 12:24. The chief of the Levites … with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God.
A man’s influence after he is dead. He is still present with his people.
I. By his will. “The commandment of David.” The grip of the dead is on our fields and churches; schools and hospitals.
II. By his writings. Immortality of genius. David’s Psalms. Solomon’s proverbs. And outside the circle of sacred history, Shakespeare and Milton, Bunyan, and a thousand others. “Being dead, they yet speak.”
III. By his example. “David the man of God.” Goodness is greatness. Kind words; good deeds never die. “Let your light shine before men.” Intentional influence may fail: unconscious influence cannot. For good or evil a man lives. For good or evil his deeds will live after him. “The memory of the just is blessed.”
BEGINNING AT THE RIGHT PLACE
Nehemiah 12:30. And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.
I. A pure Church may make a sound commonwealth. “They purified themselves.” Like priest, like people. And as with the people so with the priest. Cleric and laic act and react on each other. Pulpit and pew not two but one. All history testifies that an impure priesthood means an impure people. “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” Eli’s sons. Uzzah may not sustain the ark. Jesus swept the temple of the traffickers.
II. To a pure people all things are pure. “They purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.” Citizens and city: sanctuary and house: God’s work and their own.
“All things are sacred.
The eye of God is on them all
And hallows all.”
Jesus revealed God in the minutest. Peter’s vision. The present preparatory. “I think our fathers had a better, a grander, a diviner idea even of common life than we have, when they spoke about the trades and professions of men as being their calling. We sometimes use the word yet, though it has almost passed out of use. It is a pity, for there is a great thought in it. Why, it makes all the men, streets, shops, and warehouses to me, as I walk along, Divine objects. I feel that I am in a Divine place when I think of the men about me as following their calling. I feel that there is a God above men; that there in a God in human society; a God in the shops and counting-houses of London, touching and teaching every human being; and that every man is occupying the place, and putting his hand to the work, to which God has called him. Sometimes you may see a man at a certain calling which is but preparatory. He is meant for something else. Providence opens the way, and he goes up higher and does another thing. God has given us a spiritual vocation—a Divine calling in Jesus Christ, and we are to walk worthy of that vocation, here—doing all worldly things in a spiritual manner, preparatory to a higher calling which shall come one day, when we shall enter upon other forms of duty and service, to which the present inferior forms of duty and service faithfully fulfilled shall gradually prepare and fit us.”—Binney.
A GREAT REJOICING
Nehemiah 12:43. That day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.
A great rejoicing as it should be.
I. Associated with the rites of religion. “Sacrifices.” Holy-day and holiday united. Holy-days joy-bringing times. Holidays not to be dissevered from the sacred nature of those who share them.
II. The outcome of a great deliverance. From captivity to freedom: exile to home: heathen surroundings to heaven-chosen city and divinely-built temple. The memory of God’s great goodness should awaken joy—a joy that all may share. “The wives also and the children rejoiced.”
III. The preparation for strong adhesion to the sacred cause. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” And you must be strong to labour. Sacred festivals not an end but a means to an end. Get to give; know to communicate; experience to declare; rest to toil; share to serve—this is the will of God concerning us.
Nehemiah 12:43. That day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced
I. Its right. The God who has given us life, wishes also that it shall move joyfully; the God who always anew overwhelms us with favours wishes that they should fulfil their mission; that is, make us happy, in the end holy.
II. Its occasion. God’s grace, which has strengthened, protected, assured or elevated our lower or higher life. The chief sites in Jerusalem testified to this, and in the Christian Church; yes, indeed, in our lives, all the heights testify thereof.
III. Its kind. It raises itself to God, is a joy in him, that is, becomes a service to God and our neighbours.—Dr. Schultz.
THANKSGIVING AND THANKSLIVING
Nehemiah 12:44-16.12.47. And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the first-fruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited. And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, & c.
We have here an account of the remaining good effects of this universal joy that was at the dedication of the wall. When the solemnities of a thanksgiving-day leave such impressions on ministers and people, as that both are more careful and cheerful in doing their duty afterward, then are they indeed acceptable to God, and turn to a good account. So it was here.
I. The ministers were more careful than they had been of their work. The respect the people paid them upon this occasion encouraged them to diligence and watchfulness; “the singers kept the ward of their God,” attending in due time to the duty of their office; the porters too they “kept the ward of the purification,” this is, they took care to preserve the purity of the temple, by denying admission to those that were ceremonially unclean. When the joy of the Lord thus engageth us to our duty, and enlargeth us in it, it is then an earnest of that joy which, in concurrence with the perfecting of holiness, will be our everlasting bliss.
II. The people were more careful than they had been of the maintenance of their ministers. The people, at the dedication of the wall, among other things which they made matter of their joy, rejoiced “for the priests and the Levites that waited.” They had a great deal of comfort in their ministers, and were glad of them; when they observed how diligently they waited, and what pains they took in their work, they rejoiced in them. The surest way for ministers to recommend themselves to their people, and gain an interest in their affections, is to wait on their ministry, to be humble and industrious, and to mind their business; when these did so, the people thought nothing too much for them, to encourage them. The law had provided them their portions; but what the better were they for that provision, if what the law appointed them either was not duly collected or not justly paid them?
1. Care is here taken for the collecting of their dues. They were modest, and would rather lose their right than call for it themselves; the people were many of them careless, and would not bring it unless they were called upon; and therefore “some were appointed” whose office it should be “to gather” in to the treasuries, “out of the fields of the cities, the portions of the law for the priests and Levites,” that their portion might not be lost for want of being demanded. This is a piece of good service both to ministers and people, that the one may not come short of their maintenance, nor the other of their duty.
2. Care is taken that, being gathered in, it might be duly paid out. They gave the singers and porters their daily portion, over and above what was due to them as Levites; for we may suppose when David and Solomon appointed them their work, above what was required from them as Levites, they settled a fund for their further encouragement. Let those that labour more abundantly in the word and doctrine be counted worthy of this double honour. As for the other Levites, the tithes, here called the holy things, were duly set apart for them, out of which they paid the priests their tithe according to the law. Both are said to be sanctified. When what is contributed, either voluntarily or by law, for the support of religion, and the maintenance of the ministry, is given with an eye to God and his honour, it is sanctified, and shall be accepted of him accordingly; and it will cause the blessing to rest on the house, and all that is in it.—Matthew Henry.
THE GOOD OLD TIMES
Nehemiah 12:46. The days of old
The aged regret, the young despise, these good old times. The old feed on memory, the young on hope. These place the golden age in the future, those in the past.
I. Nothing is necessarily good because it is old. “Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden?” Habit, education, tradition, prejudice play an important part in history.
II. That which is old is presumptively valuable. Good lasts. Truth is as old as the hills.
Application. Prove all things. Despise nothing. Gather treasures wherever they can be found. Be not blinded by passion. There is a soul of goodness in things that at first sight seem only evil. The present is a huge borrower from the dead past. Reverence the true word, the saintly deed whenever found. God is all, and in all things bright and good.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany