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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 12

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-28

Nehemiah 12:1-28

Were written in the book of the chronicles.

A book

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. With books the poorest enters the highest society: the loneliest need not be solitary.

A book reveals life’s importance. It gives permanence to thought. Life is a writing.

A book silently anticipates the judgment. A record may be appealed to: “Is this thy handwriting?” God’s “Book of Remembrance.” (J. Parker, D. D.)


“The commerce of books,” says our gossiping Montaigne “has the constancy and facility of its service for its own share: it goes side by side with me in my whole course, and everywhere is assisting to me: it comforts me in my age and solitude; it eases me of a troublesome weight of idleness, and delivers me at all times from a company that I dislike: and it blunts the point of griefs, if they are not extreme, and have not got an entire possession of my soul . . . books do not mutiny to see that I have only recourse to them for want of other more real, natural, and lively conveniences; they always receive me with the same kindness.”

Verse 24

Nehemiah 12:24

According to the Commandment Of David the man of God.

Posthumous influence

A man’s influence after he is dead. He is still present with his people.

By his will. “The commandment of David.” The grip of the dead is on our fields and churches, our schools and hospitals.

By his writings. Immortality of genius. David’s psalms. Solomon’s proverbs. The writings of Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, and many others.

By his example. “David the man of God.” For good or evil a man lives. For good or evil his deeds will live after him. “The memory of the just is blessed.” (Homiletic Commentary.)

Verses 27-43

Nehemiah 12:27-43

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem.

The dedication of the wall

In this dedication--

It was designed to offer thanks to God for the completion of a good work.

It was intended to set apart the holy city for its sacred ends.

It was desired to invoke the Divine blessing and guardianship on the city of God.

It is beautiful to observe how fully the domestic affections are cherished and displayed. “The wives also and the children rejoiced.” (W. Ritchie.)

Verse 30

Nehemiah 12:30

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

Beginning at the right place

A pure church may make a sound commonwealth. “They purified themselves.” Like priest, like people. Cleric and laie act and react on each other.” Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” Eli’s sons. Uzzah may not sustain the ark.

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, grander, a diviner idea even of common life than we have when they spoke of the trades and professions of men as being their calling. There is a great thought in this word. 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 is 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 Christ Jesus--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. (T. Binney.)

Verse 43

Nehemiah 12:43

Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced.

A great rejoicing

A great rejoicing as it should be.

Associated with the bites of religion.

The outcome of a great deliverance. From captivity to freedom: 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.”

The preparation for strong adhesion to a great cause. Sacred festivals not an end, but a means to an end. (Homiletic Commentary.)

True joy

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.

Its occasion. God’s grace, which has strengthened, protected, assured, and elevated our lower or higher life.

Its kind. It raises itself to God, is a joy in Him; that is, becomes s service to God and our neighbours. (Dr. Schultz.)

The joy of Christian work


That great sacrifices always precede great joy. God’s best gifts never increase by saving, but by scattering. The sea is in a constant state of evaporation. The mist rises, there are clouds above the hills, there are streams running into the valleys, there is life and greenness everywhere. There are some men who do not believe in evaporation. They believe in getting all they can and keeping all they get. But they are never joyful There is no joy in selfishness. It is against the great law of God, the law of sacrifice by His own Son. What is the meaning of these sacrifices mentioned in the text?

1. The sin-offering. This shadowed the great sacrifice. Morality alone will not save any man, and if you will only admit sin, you admit half the Bible, and the rest has to do with God’s way of getting rid of it.

2. The burnt-offering. This means that we give ourselves up to God entirely; and the happiest men I have met in my life have been men who have handed the keys of every room in their soul up to Christ, without keeping one closed to hide a loved sin.

3. The peace-offering. This was a peculiar offering in Israel. It was a free-will offering. When a man brought the peace-offering, God gave him a feast there and then in his house. A part of the offering was given back to the offerer. This peace-offering is very much like your contributions to-day. You can keep your offerings, but if you do God will keep the feast from you. We in Wales have two sermons in one service very often, and the collection comes before the second sermon. I have watched a man drop the smallest coin into the plate from a richly gloved hand. I have seen a poor old woman unwrapping a two-shilling piece from a paper, from another paper, from a third paper, in which she had wrapped it in order to keep it for the collection. And I have watched them through the second sermon. The tears of joy are coursing down the wrinkled face of the poor Christian woman, but the man who dropped his miserly coin is as dry as Gilboa. It is a remarkable fact that the Almighty never accepted a wild animal as an offering in the olden time. A man was always obliged to offer something he had taken trouble with: the fruit of his own garden, the fruit of his own farm, or from his own flock. I have heard a man say sometimes, “If I succeed in this speculation now, I will give to the cause of Christ.” Ah! that is a wild hare.

Great work for God brings great joy from God. Charles Kingsley has said that every man ought to thank God every morning because he has something to do that must be done that day. Work is the greatest blessing. I was once struck down with complete nervous prostration, and a medical man told me that I must do nothing for a twelvemonth, and that was the hardest work I ever did in my life--to do nothing. I see gentlemen come up along the Menai Straits in their yachts fighting the tempest. On they come like sailors on the ocean-wave, because it is easier to do that than to do nothing. You may see the room in which Louis XVI. worked as a common blacksmith, because it was easier to do that than to do nothing. Prisoners have come to the gaoler many a time, when confined in a room to do nothing, asking him for permission to pick oakum, or anything rather than do nothing. It is possible to do the most common work to God, to Christ, and when every one will do his work to Christ, that is the time when this world will be full of happiness and song. There is joy in serving Christ. Just think, for instance, of the erection of a place of worship: what an investment it is to contribute towards that.

This religion of great sacrifice and great joy will tell on our families. “The wives also and the children rejoiced.” Joyful religion repeats itself to others. Parents should let their children see that they value religion.

1. By making sacrifices for it.

2. By letting them see that they are most anxious for them to become decided Christians.

That the religion of great sacrifices and great joy will be heard of afar off. “Then joy was heard afar off.” It is the names of self-sacrificers that live--Abraham--Abraham Lincoln--Florence Nightingale--Jesus, the Redeemer of the world. (E. Herber Evans, D. D.)

Sacrifice, a condition of joy

The principle of sacrifice stands at the very threshold of the ever-fascinating study of life, and is found at every turn of the bewildering maze which marks life’s upward pathway of struggle and survival. In merely physical processes, as well as in many vital functions of vegetable and animal life, there are clear foreshadowings of the part which sacrifice plays in the great tragedy of existence. The primitive rock, when subjected to the disintegrating action of the atmospheric agents, yields up its characteristic compactness, and crumbles into soil, which, in turn, surrenders its richness to promote the welfare of multitudinous forms of vegetable growth. In the lower species of animal life the death of the parent is the essential condition of the life of the offspring, and in the higher grades of creatures there is invariably a parental sacrifice in favour of the well-being of the progeny. Notwithstanding that these functions are nothing more than compulsory obedience to the stern mandates of nature, Mr. Herbert Spencer calls them acts of unconscious sacrifice, and so distinguishes them from those voluntary surrenders of self which spring from love to others, and which, strictly speaking, can only be termed sacrifice. The helpless infant survives merely on account of the care which the maternal love lavishes upon it. Let the attention of others be withdrawn, and the child must perish. It lives by the sacrifices which others make for it. The bond of family life is kept intact by a succession of beautiful deeds, springing from the ever-growing tendency to sacrifice the immediate interests of self to promote the good of others. The capacity to enjoy purely egoistic pleasures is heightened by ministering to the wants of others. Indulged selfishness, by producing satiety, defeats itself. But a nobler truth than that is this--that the deepest satisfactions and most lasting joys of life are blossoms on the tree whose roots derive nutriment from the soil of sacrifice. (S. S. Chronicle.)

Verses 45-47

Nehemiah 12:45-47

And both the singers.

Thanks-giving and thanks-living

We have here the effects of the joy that was at the dedication of the wall.

The ministers were more careful than they had been of their work. Ii. The people were more careful than they had been of the maintenance of their ministers. 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.

1. Care is here taken for the collecting of their dues.

2. Care is taken that, being gathered in, it might be duly paid out. (Matthew Henry.)

For in the days of David and Asaph of old.

The good old times

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.

That which is old is presumptively valuable. Good lasts. Truth is as old as the hills. Application: Prove all things. Despise nothing. The present is a huge borrower from the dead past. (Homiletic Commentary.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/nehemiah-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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