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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 12

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-26


LIST OF THE LEVITICAL AND PRIESTLY FAMILIES WHICH RETURNED FROM BABYLON WITH ZERUBBABEL (Nehemiah 12:1-9). This list receives elucidation and, to some extent, correction from two others:—

1. That of the priestly families whose seals were set to the covenant (Nehemiah 10:2-8); and,

2. That of the heads of the priestly courses under the high priest Joiakim (Nehemiah 12:12-21). The number of the names in each of the three lists is almost exactly the same (twenty-two or twenty-one); the names are for the most part the same; and they are given nearly in the same order. That they are the names of families appears most distinctly from the third list (Nehemiah 12:12-21).

Nehemiah 12:1

Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel. See the comment on Ezra 3:2. Jeshua. The high priest of Zerubbabel's time. Seraiah. Compare Nehemiah 11:11 with the comment on that place. The original Seraiah was the high priest murdered by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18-21). Jeremiah and Ezra, who gave name to the second and third course, must not be regarded as the prophet or the scribe so named, but as persons of whom nothing more is known to us.

Nehemiah 12:2

Malluch is rolled "Melicu" below, in Nehemiah 12:14; but the reading of "Malluch" is confirmed by Nehemiah 10:4. Hattush. It is curious that Hattush is omitted from the third list (infra, Nehemiah 10:12-21). He appears, however, in the first (Nehemiah 10:4), as well as here.

Nehemiah 12:3

Shechaniah Rather, "Shebaniah," as the name is given in Nehemiah 10:4 and Nehemiah 12:14. Rehum. Rather, "Harim," which is found in Nehemiah 12:15, and also in Nehemiah 10:5. Compare, moreover, Ezra 2:39; Nehemiah 7:42. Meremoth is probably correct, though altered to Meraioth in Nehemiah 7:15, since we find Meremoth in Nehemiah 10:5.

Nehemiah 12:4

Iddo is probably correct, rather than "Obadiah," which we find after Meremoth in Nehemiah 10:5, since "Iddo" recurs in Nehemiah 10:16. Ginnetho. Rather, "Ginnethon"(see Nehemiah 10:6; Nehemiah 12:16). Abijah. This would seem to be the course to which Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, belonged (Luke 1:5).

Nehemiah 12:5

Miamin is confirmed by Nehemiah 10:7, and is therefore to be preferred to the "Miniamin" of Nehemiah 10:17. Maadiah "Moadiah" (Nehemiah 10:17), and "Maaziah" (Nehemiah 10:8) are not so much different names as different ways of spelling the same name. The same may be said of Bilgah and "Bilgai" (Nehemiah 10:8).

Nehemiah 12:6

And Joiarib. The introduction of the conjunction "and" here, and here only, in this list separates off very markedly the last six names from the first sixteen. A similar division is made in Nehemiah 12:19. The reason for the division seems to be that these last six courses, though including some of the very highest priestly families, as those of Joiarib and Jedaiah (1 Chronicles 24:7; Ezra 2:36; Nehemiah 7:39; Nehemiah 11:10), for some reason or other, did not seal to the covenant, whereas the other sixteen courses did so. Jedaiah. The double occurrence of this name (in Nehemiah 12:6 and Nehemiah 12:7) would naturally raise a suspicion of corruption; but the two Jedaiahs are confirmed by Nehemiah 12:19, Nehemiah 12:21.

Nehemiah 12:7

These were the chief, etc. It may be suspected that this is properly the heading of another list, parallel to that in Nehemiah 12:12-21, which gave the names of the actual heads of the courses in Jeshua's time.

Nehemiah 12:8

Moreover the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, etc. Here again families are probably intended, as in Ezra 2:40; Ezra 3:9; Nehemiah 9:4, Nehemiah 9:5, etc; though it is possible that the founders of the families actually returned with Zerubbabel. Jeshua, Binnui, and Kadmiel appear as the leading Levitical families at the sealing of the covenant (Nehemiah 10:9). On Mattaniah see the comment upon Nehemiah 11:17.

Nehemiah 12:9

Bakbukiah and Unni. Bakbukiah's position with respect to Mattaniah has been already mentioned (Nehemiah 11:17). "Unni" appears, in this place only, as a Levite of Zerubbabel's time. Were over against them in the watches. i.e. "ministered in their courses, as the others did, and kept their stations over against them in their turns of attendance, which are called their 'watches' or wards" (Bp. Patrick).

Nehemiah 12:10-11

LIST OF THE HIGH PRIESTS FROM JESHUA TO JADDUA (Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:11).

That this is the line of descent in the high priestly family of the time sufficiently appears both from the names themselves, and from the position assigned to those who bore them in Nehemiah 12:22, Nehemiah 12:23, Nehemiah 12:26. Whether all of them actually exercised the high priest's office is left uncertain in Scripture, but satisfactorily established by Josephus. The six names cover a space of at least 205 years—from the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, b.c. 538, to the submission of Jerusalem to Alexander the Great, b.c. 333, which gives very long generations, but still such as are historically possible. Jeshua was certainly high priest from b.c. 538 to b.c. 516. He may have been succeeded by his son, Joiakim, about b.c. 490. Joiakim had certainly been succeeded by his son, Eliashib, before b.c. 444 (Nehemiah 3:1); and Eliashib was probably succeeded by Joiada about b.c. 420. Joiada's high priesthood may be assigned to the period between b.c. 420 and 380; Jonathan's to that between b.c. 380 and 350. Jaddua might then hold the dignity from b.c. 350 to 330, or later, and so be brought into contact with Alexander the Great. It is questioned whether in that case Nehemiah can have written the present passage, and certain that he cannot have done so unless he lived to be at least 131 years of age. As this is exceedingly improbable, it is best to suppose, either that the whole list was placed here by Malachi, or at any rate that that prophet added the clause, "and Jonathan begat Jaddua."

Nehemiah 12:10

Jeshua. The "Jeshua" of Nehemiah 12:1, not of Nehemiah 12:8—the high priest of Zerub-babel's time (Ezra 3:2, Ezra 3:8; Ezra 4:3; Ezra 5:2, etc.). Begat Joiakim. The high priesthood of Joiakim falls into the interval between the first part (chs. 1-7.) and the second part (chs. 7-10.) of Ezra. He is only mentioned in this chapter (verses 12, 26). Eliashib is first mentioned in Ezra 10:6, but he does not appear as high priest until after Nehemiah reaches Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:1). On his close connection with Tobiah see Nehemiah 13:4, Nehemiah 13:5, Nehemiah 13:28. Joiada is called Judas by Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 11.7, § 1). His term of office lasted, according to Syncellus and the Paschal Chronicle, thirty-six years.

Nehemiah 12:11

Jonathan, or "Johanan," as the name is given in Nehemiah 12:22, Nehemiah 12:23, became high priest about b.c. 380, according to Syncellus and the Paschal Chronicle, and held the office for thirty-two years. Josephus, who calls him "Jannseus" (= John), says that he murdered his own brother, Jeshua, in the temple, because he was endeavouring to supplant him in the high priesthood through the influence of the Persians. Jaddua is mentioned as high priest at the time of Alexander's entrance into Jerusalem by Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 11.8, § 5) and Eusebius. The story of Alexander's having previously seen him in a dream is not generally credited. He is said to been high priest for twenty years, and to have outlived Alexander.

Nehemiah 12:12-21


Joiakim must have been contemporary with Xerxes, and consequently have been high priest at the time when the very existence of the Jewish people was threatened by Haman. It is curious that we have no record of his high priesthood, nor of the condition of the Palestinian Jews at the time, beyond the slight hints furnished by this chapter. These hints seem to imply that under him special attention was paid to the formation of lists, especially of the chief priests and Levites, and that the temple service was celebrated with great exactness and regularity (Nehemiah 12:24-26). The present list is particularly valuable, as enabling us to check that with which the chapter opens, and as establishing the family character of the names whereof that list is made up.

Nehemiah 12:12

Of Seraiah, Meraiah. It will be observed that the family names of the priestly, courses follow the order of the same names in Nehemiah 12:1-7, and exactly accord with them, excepting in minute differences of spelling, and in one omission—that of the name of "Hattush.' It might be supposed that the family of Hattush had died out; but this is contradicted by its reappearance among the signatures to the covenant (Nehemiah 10:4); the omission here would therefore appear to be accidental.

Nehemiah 12:17

Of Miniamin Rather, "of Miamin" (see Nehemiah 12:5). The name of the head of the course in Joiakim's time has, by the carelessness of a copyist, fallen out.

Nehemiah 12:19

And of Joiarib. The conjunction "and' occurring here, exactly as it does in Nehemiah 12:6, once only in the whole list, and before the same name, shows that the two documents (Nehemiah 12:1-7, Nehemiah 12:12-21) are from the same hand. That the hand is that of Nehemiah, or a contemporary, seems to follow from the fact that no reason can be assigned for the division, or for the low place in the lists of the names Joiarib and Jedaiah, except the failure of these families to set their seals to the covenant (see the comment on verse 6).

Nehemiah 12:22-23


These verses appear to constitute a late insertion. They interrupt the list of high church officers in the time of Joiakim, which is commenced in Nehemiah 12:12 and not concluded till Nehemiah 12:26. By their mention of Jaddua as high priest, and of "Darius the Persian" as contemporary king, they betray a writer who lived at least as late as b.c. 336, or nearly a century after the time of Nehemiah's religious reforms. The facts put on record by this writer are not of very much importance. They seem to be simply these:—

1. That the practice of accurately recording the heads of the priestly and Levitical courses, which Nehemiah has noted as belonging to the days of Joiakim, was continued under his successors, Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, down (at any rate) to the accession of Darius Codomannus; and,

2. That in the case of the Levites the lists were inserted into the book of the chroniclesnot our "Book," but that larger one, of which ours is in the main an abbreviation—down to the time of Johanan, the son (or, rather, grandson) of Eliashib. It has been supposed that the writer originally accompanied these statements with lists that have been lost, but this does not appear to be probable.

Nehemiah 12:22

In the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua. See comment on Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:11. In the reign of Darius. Rather, "to the reign." The "Darius" intended is beyond all doubt Codomannus, the adversary of Alexander the Great, who was contemporary with Jaddua. The lists went on under the four high priests down to the time when Darius Codomannus was king of Persia. It is not said that they then ceased. The Persian. Some suppose an antithesis here between this Darius.and "Darius the Mede" of Daniel (Daniel 5:31; Daniel 11:1). But this is unlikely, since there was nothing to recall that unimportant personage to the thoughts of the writer. Others, with better reason, suggest a tacit allusion to the transfer of empire from Persia to Macedon, and think the date of the passage must be subsequent to b.c. 331, when the kingdom passed away from Persia

Nehemiah 12:23

Even until the days of Johanan. Why the practice of inserting the names in the book of the chronicles ceased at this date it is impossible to say, unless it was that the chronicles themselves ceased to be compiled. There certainly appears to be a long gap in the authentic Jewish annals between the close of the Old Testament canon and the composition of the First Book of the Maccabees. Johanan, the son of Eliashib. The "grandson" really, as appears by Nehemiah 12:10, Nehemiah 12:11.

Nehemiah 12:24-26


That family, rather than personal, names are here intended is sufficiently shown in the final summary of Nehemiah 12:26, since the same individuals cannot have flourished under Joiakim and also under Nehemiah. The actual names—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Hashabiah, Shersbiah, etc.—are all found as family names.

Nehemiah 12:24

Hashabiah. See above, Nehemiah 9:5; Nehemiah 10:11. Sherebiah. Compare Nehemiah 9:4, Nehemiah 9:5; Nehemiah 10:12; Nehemiah 12:8. Jeshua, the son of Kadmiel. For ben, "son," we should probably read "Bani," a common Levitical name (Nehemiah 9:4, Nehemiah 9:5; Nehemiah 10:13), in which case the passage would run as follows:—"And the chief of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, with their brethren," etc. To praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David. Compare 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1Ch 23:5; 1 Chronicles 25:3, etc. Man of God is an epithet not often applied to David. It occurs, however, again in verse 36, and also in 2 Chronicles 8:14. Ward over against ward. Antiphonically—division over against division.

Nehemiah 12:25

Meshullam and Obadiah are new as Levitical names; but the remaining names of the passage are well known. Talmon and Akkub are among the porters of David's time (1 Chronicles 9:17), and are mentioned in Ezra 2:42; Nehemiah 7:45; Nehemiah 11:19. Bakbukiah and Mattaniah occur in Nehemiah 11:17 and Nehemiah 12:8, Nehemiah 12:9; but as families of singers, rather than of porters, in those places. Keeping the ward at the thresholds of the gates. Rather, as in the margin, "at the treasuries." It is thought that the chambers above the gateways may have been used as storehouses or treasuries.


Nehemiah 12:1-26

Ministers in God's temple.

These lists, once so important, are to us little more than fragmentary relics of a vanished system. They remind us how all that is external decays and passes away. They may, however, also suggest to us truths which abide and retain their worth throughout all ages.

I. THE VARIETIES OF MINISTRY IN THE HOUSE OF GOD. Here, high priests, priests, Levites; chiefs and subordinates; singers and musicians; gate-keepers and guards of treasure-houses. In the Christian Church, pastors, preachers, evangelists, deacons, teachers of the young, etc. In the Church, in the wider sense, all are to minister in some way; secular relations and employments are to be deemed sacred; "Holiness to the Lord" stamped on everything (see Zechariah 14:20). In all, God may be served more really than by the high priest of the old covenant, if he were content with only outward ministration. And each, performing his appointed ministry faithfully, is acceptable to God.

"All works are good, and each is best

As most it pleases thee;

Each worker pleases when the rest

He serves in charity;

And neither man nor work unblest

Wilt thou permit to be."

II. THE RIGHT OF MINISTRY. In the case of the ministers of the temple this was hereditary. Hence the importance of the genealogies. Under the gospel, as the service is spiritual, the ministers must be spiritual also. No ordination or appointment can make an unregenerate man a true minister of Christ, though it may give him authority to take part in the external services of the Church which appoints him. Such a man may, indeed, do good; but so does the devil, through the overruling power and grace of God. In like manner, all who would employ themselves in spiritual ministration of any kind, in the Church or in private life, should seek first to have the Spirit in their own hearts; and all who have the Spirit are priests of God for some service.

III. THE SHORT DURATION OF EACH MINISTER'S WORK ON EARTH. If no other cause bring it to an end, death will. A motive to diligence and fidelity. "Work while it is day." A motive also for care to obtain, and to exercise in the earthly ministry, those spiritual qualities which insure an eternal sacred service in the heavenly temple.

IV. THE SUCCESSION OF MINISTERS. If "one generation passeth away," "another generation cometh." The Jewish priesthood was perpetuated by the natural processes. More worthy of note and of thanksgiving is the unbroken succession of godly men from age to age in such a world as this, and of men qualified and willing to undertake the more difficult and arduous ministries. The One ever-living Head of the Church, the One ever-abiding Comforter, assure us that this will ever be the case. Stall the labourers are few, and constant prayer should be presented to "the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest."

V. THE UNCERTAINTY OF FAME. Many of the most excellent live and die unnoticed, and their names are found in no record; and many of the recorded names are not of the most worthy—they may be in the register for quite other and inferior reasons. Besides, the recorded names soon become little more than names; and when it is otherwise, those who once owned them are not benefited by the distinction. The honour which comes from men cannot then be the chief reward of good service. Let us not seek it, but seek to act our part well, looking for the unfailing rewards which God bestows.

VI. THE GREAT INFERIORITY OF THE MINISTRIES OF THE TEMPLE IN COMPARISON WITH THOSE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. "The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than" the greatest prophet; but prophets were superior to priests, and the humblest Christian is, therefore, superior to the greatest priest of the Old Testament, as he is, indeed, to the greatest mere official in the Christian Church. He is a priest of a higher order; has greater privileges, approaches nearer to God, can offer really "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ," and has the true qualification for spiritual service to his brethren. For he has that "unction from the Holy One," without which, whatever external office is filled, no spiritual ,functions can be exercised. But high above all others is the one great High Priest of our religion. All, and surpassingly more than all, that the whole order of priests of the law were in the national, external sphere, Christ is in the spiritual and eternal. All that they and their ministrations represented as types, he has become and accomplished. What they could not effect by the whole of their sacrifices from age to age he effected by the one offering of himself. In his qualifications for priesthood, combining sinless holiness and tenderest sympathy with sinners; in his nearness to God; in the efficacy of his priestly acts, he stands alone. He offered once for all the only atoning sacrifice; and by fulfilling all that was typified by the old sacrifices and priesthood he abolished them.

Nehemiah 12:9, Nehemiah 12:24

Sacred singing.

Its place in public worship at the tabernacle and the temple, from David onward, if not earlier. The careful arrangements made for conducting it. Its place in the Christian Church, in which it was prominent from the first. Pliny's testimony.

I. Its DESIGN. Not the glorification of poets, organists, or choirs, or the musical entertainment of the people; but—

1. The united praise of God. Of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This chiefly, not this only, or many of cur best hymns would have to be condemned.

2. The benefit of the congregation. Of the Christians worshipping, and of others present. Promoting devout feelings, and impressing great truths on the heart. In Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16, a distinctly didactic purpose seems, notwithstanding adverse criticism, to be reeognised.

II. The QUALIFICATIONS it requires. Besides the physical and the musical, and far above them in nature and importance.

1. Understanding of what is sung (1 Corinthians 14:15).

2. Faith. In the object of worship, the truths uttered, the Mediator (Hebrews 11:6; Hebrews 13:15).

3. Devout feelings. Reverence, humility, gratitude, love, joy in God.

4. Unity with fellow-worshippers (Romans 15:5, Romans 15:6). Mutual harmony is essential to harmonious praise. Anger, envy, alienation, hinder united worship, spoil the best singing.

III. The DUTY OF THOSE WHO PROVIDE FOR OR CONDUCT IT. Such as (Colossians 3:12) are "over the thanksgiving" are to regard themselves not as performers exhibiting their own skill, but as ministers of Christ and the congregation, to worship with their brethren, and aid them in worshipping God. The composition and choice of hymns and tunes, and the style of playing and singing, are all to be subordinate to this end. If this seem to require of composers, organists, and choirs some sacrifice of credit, it confers on them a far higher dignity than they could otherwise reach, and secures them a richer recompense now and hereafter.


1. To take part in the worship. In heart, if not with voice.

2. To unite, if capable, in the singing itself. The singing at the temple appears to have been chiefly choral; that of the Christian Church should be congregational. All are as Levites, "to praise and to give thanks," unless physically incapacitated. The benefits of the service depend much on the union of the many in it.

3. To qualify themselves, therefore, as far as possible for the exercise. That "with one mouth" (Romans 15:6), as well as "one mind," all may "glorify God." The subject requires more thought and care by ministers and congregations than it sometimes receives.


Nehemiah 12:1-26, Nehemiah 12:44-47

Ministers of the Lord.

Twenty-six verses of this chapter are given to the record of the names of priests and Levites. That fact itself is suggestive. It is indicative of the high place which the ministers of God held in the national estimation. We meet in these chronicles with the names of few men of comparative wealth, or rank, or soldierly ability; but the names of the ministers of religion are recorded, and are thus immortalised. Concerning these we may learn—

I. THEIR RELATIVE VALUE IN THE STATE. "Judah rejoiced in the priests and Levites that waited"—stood at their posts (Nehemiah 12:44). The worth of the "non-productive classes" of the community, however high their social position, has been said to be less than that of the man who "makes two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before." But the worth of this last is surely less by far than that of him who makes a true thought to live and grow in the mind where one false fancy throve before, who plants right principles in the soul, who is the means of cultivating fruits of righteousness in the hearts and lives of men. A number of men scattered all over the land who live to circulate that sacred truth which leads men into and along the way of wisdom, and to draw the hearts of men into fellowship with a holy God, must be dying a work of truest patriotism, second to none that can be mentioned. Well might "Judah rejoice in the priests and Levites that stood at their posts" (or that waited), and treasure their names in her archives. Well may England rejoice in her ministers of Christ who stand at their posts and do the work he has placed in their hands.

II. THE PRINCIPLE OF THEIR APPOINTMENT (Nehemiah 12:10). We are naturally struck with the expression (Nehemiah 12:10), "And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib," etc. It brings before us—as indeed all these family names do—the hereditary principle adopted by God in the appointment of his ministers. The priestly and the Levitical office went from father to son. In that age, and under the system of religion appointed of God, there can be no doubt that this was the best possible principle. We have sad and striking instances, indeed, of its failure to secure purity and integrity. The cases of Eli and Samuel, whose sons "walked not in their fathers' ways," immediately suggest themselves. Yet there was an unquestionable spiritual force in this family arrangement. The sons and grandsons who looked back to their fathers, to their ancestors, as men that stood before God in his near presence, as men that taught Israel the sustaining, reviving, saving truths of religion, would gain a powerful incentive from the thought; and as they looked forward to their sons and their grandsons, to a remote posterity discharging the same sacred offices, a holy anticipation would join with a holy pride to keep them loyal to their faith and to their functions. With the Christian ministry the hereditary principle is in the background; it is a secondary, not primary, consideration. The first thing is fitness for the work, and the conviction that a man is personally called thereto by God's own Spirit. "Aptness to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2) and to serve in the various offices of the ministry of Christ, with that earnest desire to "do good and to communicate" which argues a heaven-born inspiration, must be the decisive thing. Nevertheless, there is room for the influence of the family principle here. Many of the very best ministers of Christ are sons and grandsons of those who thus served their God and their generation before them; and these have been worthier and abler servants of their age because they have drawn inspiration from their fathers' lives and labours. In this our time there is much of holy influence and power to gain from those who have gone before us, and much to give to those who shall come after us. We should aim to

(1) be worthy of our ancestors, and to

(2) supply an incentive and example to our posterity.

III. THEIR RECOMPENSE (Nehemiah 12:44-47). So much did "Judah rejoice for (in) her priests and Levites" (Nehemiah 12:44), that men had to be appointed "over the chambers for the treasures," first-fruits, tithes, and free-will offerings which the people freely brought to them. All those who held any sacred office—including those of the Levites who were singers and porters, and "who kept the ward," i.e. did their work (Nehemiah 12:45)—received their recompense, and the people "sanctified" (set apart) "holy things" (their offerings to the Lord) to the Levites, and these gave their tenth to the "children of Aaron" (Nehemiah 12:47). The Christian minister has his recompense, which is threefold.

1. It is present and temporal. "Sowing spiritual things, he expects to "reap carnal things" (1 Corinthians 9:11). He that is "taught in the word is to communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Galatians 6:6).

2. It is present and spiritual. In the approval of Christ his observant Lord; in the gratitude and affection of those whom he serves; in the excellency and success of his work—intrinsically the highest and best of all works; and in the opportunities it provides for his own spiritual culture.

3. It is future. The smile of the Master in the day when "every man has praise of God;" the greeting again of those rescued and strengthened on earth; the "rule over many cities" to be enjoyed by those who wisely employ their talents here.—C.

Verses 27-47




DEDICATION OF THE WALL (Nehemiah 12:27-43). It is supposed by some that the author ,has here departed from the chronological order, and gone back to a date not much subsequent to the completion of the wall in September, b.c. 444, since the dedication of a work under ordinary circumstances follows closely upon its accomplishment. But no reason has been shown for the actual place held by the narrative in the Book upon this supposition, nor is it easy to imagine that the author would have separated the dedication of the wall from its completion by five chapters and a half, unless they had been separated in fact by an interval of some duration. The interval seems, by the notes of time contained in Nehemiah 12:1-47; Nehemiah 13:1-31; to have been one of nearly thirteen years. Nehemiah's religious reforms were certainly subsequent to the visit that he paid to the Persian court in B.C. 432 (Nehemiah 13:6). These reforms grew out of a reading of the law which took place at the time when Nehemiah appointed the temple officers (Nehemiah 13:1), and that appointment followed closely on the dedication (Nehemiah 12:44). We may account for the long delay by supposing that Nehemiah was afraid of offending Artaxerxes if he ventured on a ceremony, to which the superstition of the surrounding heathen may have attached extreme importance, without his express permission, and that to obtain this permission his personal influence was necessary.

The dedication of a city wall was, so far as we know, a new thing in Israel; but it had been customary from a remote time to dedicate houses (Deuteronomy 20:5); and natural piety extended this practice to aggregations of houses, and to the limit or fence by which they were practically made one. The priestly order had shown its sense of the fitness of such a consecration when they raised their portion of the wall, and had at once "sanctified it" (Nehemiah 3:1). Nehemiah now, by the ceremony which he planned and carried out, placed the whole circuit of the wall under the Divine protection, confessing in this solemn act the intrinsic worthlessness of mere walls and bulwarks, unless God lends them strength and makes them a protection against enemies.

Nehemiah 12:27

And at the dedication … they sought the Levites. The nexus of this passage seems to be with Nehemiah 11:36; and we may suppose that originally it followed immediately on Nehemiah 11:1-36.—the lists (Nehemiah 12:1-26) being a later insertion. The author, having (in Nehemiah 11:36) told us of the wide dispersion of the Levites, now notes that they were summoned from all the places where they dwelt, and brought (one and all) to Jerusalem for the solemnity of the dedication. To keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgiving and with singing, etc. Solomon's dedication of the temple was the pattern followed. As he had made the service altogether one of praise and thanksgiving (2 Chronicles 5:13), and had employed in it cymbals, trumpets, psalteries, and harps (ibid. Nehemiah 11:12), so Nehemiah on the present occasion.

Nehemiah 12:28

The sons of the singers. i.e. the Levites who belonged to the class of singers (1 Chronicles 15:16-22; Nehemiah 7:44, etc.). The plain country round about Jerusalem. Dean Stanley understands by this "the Jordan valley"; but that is a district too remote to be intended by the words "round about Jerusalem." The valleys of Hinnom and Jehoshaphat better suit the description. The villages of Netophathi. Rather, "of the Netophathites" (see 1 Chronicles 9:16), or people of Netophah, which was a country town not far from Bethlehem.

Nehemiah 12:29

From the house of Gilgal. Rather, "from Beth-Gilgal," which was the name now borne by the Gilgal due north of Jerusalem. Out of the fields of Geba. See above, Nehemiah 11:31. And Azmaveth, Compare Ezra 2:24; Nehemiah 7:28. Azmaveth was a Benjamite town, not far from Anathoth. The singers had built themselves villages round Jerusalem. Such of the singers as were not located in Jerusalem itself fixed their dwellings in the immediate neighbourhood, in order the more readily to attend the temple service.

Nehemiah 12:30

The priests and the Levites purified themselves. On this occasion there is no preference of the Levites over the priests, as in 2 Chronicles 29:34 and Ezra 6:20. Both classes were, it would seem, equally zealous, and equally forward to purify themselves. And the gates and wall. Inanimate things might contract legal defilement (Deuteronomy 23:14; Leviticus 14:34-53). In case either the wall or the gates should be in any such way unclean, they were made to undergo a legal purification before the ceremony of the dedication began.

Nehemiah 12:31

I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies. Nehemiah caused all the chiefs of the nation, both lay and clerical, to mount upon the wall, and there marshalled them into two companies, composed of clergy and laity intermixed, one of which he placed under the direction of Ezra (verse 36), while of the other he took the command himself (verse 38). The place of assemblage must have been some portion of the western wall, probably the central portion, near the modern Jaffa gate. From this Ezra's company proceeded southward, and then eastward, along the southern wall, while Nehemiah's marched northward, and then eastward, along the northern wall, both processions meeting midway in the eastern wall, between the "water" and the "prison" gates. Toward the dung gate. On the position of this gate, see the comment on Nehemiah 2:13.

Nehemiah 12:32

After them. After the singers, who in each procession took the lead. Hoshaiah is perhaps the "Hoshea" of Nehemiah 10:23, who "sealed to" the covenant. Half the princes of Judah. The other half were with Nehemiah in the other "company" (verse 40).

Nehemiah 12:33, Nehemiah 12:34

Azariah, Ezra, and Meshullam. Next to the "princes" came two priestly families—those of Azariah (or Ezra) and Meshullam (ch. x, 2, 7); then Judah and Benjamin, or certain lay people of those tribes; after them two other priestly familiesthose of Shemaiah and Jeremiah (Nehemiah 10:2, Nehemiah 10:8; Nehemiah 12:1, Nehemiah 12:6).

Nehemiah 12:35

Certain of the priests' sons with trumpets. Compare Nehemiah 12:41. A body of priests, who blew trumpets, accompanied each procession, following closely upon the "princes," and followed by a body of Levites. Namely, Zechariah. There is nothing corresponding to "namely" in the original; and it is clear that Zechariah was not a "priest's son," but a Levite, since he was descended from Asaph. Probably a vau conjunctive has fallen out before his name.

Nehemiah 12:36

The musical instruments of David. Cymbals, psalteries, and harps. See above, Nehemiah 12:27, and comp. 1Ch 15:16, 1 Chronicles 15:19-21. The Jews had become acquainted with a great variety of musical instruments during the captivity (Daniel 3:7; Psalms 150:4, Psalms 150:5), but rigidly excluded all except the old instruments from the service of religion. Ezra the scribe before them. As their leader. It is interesting to find no jealousy separating Ezra from the governor who had superseded him. As the two conjointly had addressed the people on a former occasion (Nehemiah 8:9), so now they conjointly conducted the ceremony of the dedication.

Nehemiah 12:37

At the fountain gate. See above, Nehemiah 2:14 and Nehemiah 3:15. Which was over against them. There is no "which was" in the original; and it was clearly not the gate, but the steps, that were "over against them." They came to the fountain gate in the course of their perambulation of the wall, and there saw, "opposite to them," the steps that led up to the city of David. By these they ascended the eastern hill, and mounting upon the wall once more, followed its course until they reached the "water gate," which overlooked the Kidron valley (Nehemiah 3:26), where they stopped. Above the house of David. See the comment on Nehemiah 3:25.

Nehemiah 12:38, Nehemiah 12:39

And the other company. Nehemiah now proceeds to trace the course of the other choir or procession—the one which he himself accompanied. Starting from the same part of the western wall as the other, its course was northward to the N.W. angle of the city wall, after which it was eastward to the "sheep gate, and then southward to the "prison gate." In this part of his description Nehemiah traces the same portion of the wall as that which had engaged his attention in Nehemiah 3:1-11, and mentions almost exactly the same features, but in the reverse order. For the tower of the furnaces see Nehemiah 3:11; for the broad wall, Nehemiah 3:8; for the old gate, Nehemiah 3:6; for the fish gate, Nehemiah 3:3; for the tower of Hananeel, the tower of Meah, and the sheep gate, Nehemiah 3:1. The gate of Ephraim is not mentioned in Nehemiah 3:1-32. It must have been in the north wall, a little to the west of the "old gate." The prison gate, also omitted in Nehemiah 3:1-32; was probably in the east wall, a little north of the water gate.

Nehemiah 12:40

So stood the two companies. Having performed their respective portions of the perambulation, and reached the central portion of the eastern wall, opposite the temple area, the two companies came to a stand, one over against the other, not in the house of God, but by it, or near it, which is a meaning that the preposition בoften has. The half of the rulers. Compare Nehemiah 12:32.

Nehemiah 12:41

And the priests, Eliakim, etc. These names are probably personal. With a single exception, they are absent from the lists of priestly families (Nehemiah 10:2-8; Nehemiah 12:12-21).

Nehemiah 12:42

And Maaseiah, etc. It may be suspected that these are Levitical names, and correspond to the nine Levites mentioned as accompanying Ezra in verses 35, 36. The chief difference seems to have been that Ezra's Levites played on instruments, while Nehemiah's were "singers."

Nehemiah 12:43

Also that day they offered great sacrifices. David had inaugurated the "tabernacle" which he made for the ark of the covenant at Jerusalem with sacrifice (2 Samuel 6:17), and had consecrated the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite in the same way (2 Samuel 24:25). Solomon, at his dedication of the temple, had sacrificed sheep and oxen "that could not be numbered for multitude" (1 Kings 8:5). Zerubbabel had followed this example at the dedication of the second temple (Ezra 6:17); and we may presume that it was with victims that Eliashib and his brethren the priests had "sanctified" their portion of the wall soon after they completed it (Nehemiah 3:1). Nehemiah now completed the dedication of the entire circuit of the walls by sacrifices on a large scale. God had made them rejoice with great joy. It is characteristic of Nehemiah to ascribe the universal joy, which another might well have claimed as his own work, to the Divine mercy and forethought, which had brought the matter of the wall to a prosperous and happy issue. The wives also and the children rejoiced. It is seldom that the Jewish women are mentioned as taking that prominent position in joy, which naturally belonged to them in sorrow (Judges 11:40; Jeremiah 31:15; Jeremiah 49:3; Joel 1:8, etc.). There is, however, one remarkable example of the kind, besides the present one—the rejoicing of the women after the passage through the Red Sea, under the leadership of Miriam (Exodus 15:20). The joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off. See Ezra 3:13, and comp. 1 Kings 1:40; 2 Kings 11:13.

Nehemiah 12:44-47


The good resolutions of the people at the time of the renewal of the covenant (Nehemiah 10:28-39) would have borne comparatively little fruit had they not been seconded and rendered effective by formal action on the part of the civil authority. The people, in the first flush of their zeal, had bound themselves to undertake the conveyance of the tithes, firstfruits, and free-will offerings from the country districts to Jerusalem, and the deposition of them in the temple treasuries (Nehemiah 10:37-39). But in practice this was found too great a burthen (Nehemiah 13:10). Nehemiah therefore appointed special officers to collect the tithes and other dues throughout the entire territory, and to bring them to Jerusalem, and lay them up in the proper chambers (Nehemiah 12:44). Over the chambers he appointed treasurers, whose duty it was, not only to collect the ecclesiastical dues, but also to distribute the proceeds among the individuals entitled to share in them (Nehemiah 13:13). Having in this way provided for the sustenance of the clerical body, he was able to insist on their regular performance of all their duties; and the success of his arrangements was such, that under him the temple service was restored, not merely to the condition established by Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:47), but to one not markedly different from that which had been attained in the time of David and Asaph (ibid. verse 46). The priests, Levites, singers, and porters respectively performed their duties to his satisfaction, purifying themselves, and taking the service in their turns, "according to the commandment of David and Solomon" (ibid. verse 45).

Nehemiah 12:44

At that time. Literally, "On that day;" but a certain latitude must be allowed to the expression. The chambers for the treasures. On these adjuncts of the temple, see the comment on Nehemiah 10:37. The "treasures" themselves consisted chiefly of tithes (including corn, wine, and oil), firstfruits, and free-will offerings. They also included frankincense (Nehemiah 13:5), and probably other spices. The portions of the law. i.e. the proportion of the produce required by the law to be set apart for sacred uses. These were to be gathered by the officers out of the fields of the cities, that is, out of the portions of cultivable soil attached to each provincial town (Nehemiah 11:25). For Judah rejoiced. The general satisfaction of the people with their spiritual guides led them to increase their contributions beyond the requirements of the law; whence there was at this time special need of treasurers and treasuries—abundant occupation for the one, and abundant material requiring to be stored in the other.

Nehemiah 12:45

This verse is wrongly translated in the A. V. It should be rendered, as in the Vulgate and the Septuagint—"And they (i.e. the priests and Levites) maintained the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, and the singers, and the porters (i.e. the institutions of singers and porters), according to the ordinance of David and of Solomon his son." Maintaining the ward of their God is serving regularly in the temple at the times appointed; maintaining the ward of the purification is observing the rules for the purifying of the holy things which had been laid down by David (1 Chronicles 23:28).

Nehemiah 12:46

For in the days of David. This verse is exegetical of the clause in Nehemiah 12:45, "according to the commandment of David." The writer justifies his reference to that "commandment' by reminding his readers that the whole musical service—the singers , themselves, and their "chiefs," together with the "songs of praise" and the "thanksgiving songshad descended to the Jews of his day from David and Asaph.

Nehemiah 12:47

In the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah. i.e. "In the days of Nehemiah, no less than in those of Zerubbabel." Gave the portions. Paid their tithes, and other dues, regularly, so that the portions were forthcoming. Every day his portion. Compare Nehemiah 11:23. They sanctified holy things unto the Levites. They, i.e. the people, "set apart" for the Levites all that the law required; and the Levites set apart for the priests their due share—"the tithe of the tithe" (Numbers 18:26).


Nehemiah 12:27-43

The dedication of the wall.

As soon as possible after the completion of the wall, a joyful celebration of the event was made, in which all the people participated. As Jerusalem was "the holy city," this took the form of a "dedication."


1. The preparations. The gathering of the Levites, especially the singers and musicians, who were to take a leading part in the ceremonies (Nehemiah 12:27-29).

2. The purifications (Nehemiah 12:30). The priests and Levites first purified themselves, and then the people, the gates, and the wall. By what rites is not recorded.

3. The processions (Nehemiah 12:31-42). Two processions were formed, Ezra accompanying one, and Nehemiah the other. One company marched on the wall to the right, the other to the left, both to the sound of trumpets, singing, and instruments of music; and meeting over against the temple, they united their praises.

4. The universal rejoicing (verse 43). Many sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered, of which the people, men, women, and children alike, partook with many and loud expressions of joy.


1. An expression of ardent gratitude to God. He "had made them rejoice with great joy," and it was meet and right that they should praise him for—

(1) The wall itself, so strong a defence against their enemies; within which the citizens, with the temple and religious services, would, be secure.

(2) The wonderful way in which they had been led and prospered in the work.

(3) The conquest effected over great obstacles, and powerful, cunning, and resolute opponents.

(4) The rapidity with which the work had been done.

2. A consecration to God's service of the wall and all it was to guard.

3. A committal of all to his care and protection. As conscious that without him strong walls are vain. They may well have remembered—it is not unlikely that they sang—the song in Isaiah 26:1, or the promise given in Zechariah 2:5.


1. For success in every good work praise should be offered to God. The joy it awakens should be directed heavenwards in thanksgiving. For however active we and others may have been, it is to God the good issue m to be ascribed. The power and the will to work, the favouring circumstances, the assistance of others, etc; all are from him.

2. All should join in thanksgiving for mercies common to all. For signal national blessings, national thanksgiving should be rendered.

3. The best expression of gratitude for Divine gifts is to dedicate them to the Divine service. All that we are and have should be thus devoted to God.

4. Purity is necessary for, and may be secured by, those who engage in religious services (Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:15, Isa 1:16; 1 Timothy 2:8; Hebrews 10:22). The last-quoted passage, with the previous verses, shows how the needful purification is to he obtained. Not from merely human priests, but from the great High Priest, who needed not, like the priests mentioned in verse 30, to purify himself before purifying others (see Hebrews 7:26, Hebrews 7:27).

5. Children should be associated with their parents in the worship of God

Nehemiah 12:44-47

Joy of the Church in her ministers.

In these verses an account is given of the measures taken for the full and regular supply of the wants of the priests and Levites, and the readiness with which the people did their part, because "Judah rejoiced for the priests and Levites that stood [before God]; and they [the priests and Levites] kept the charge of their God, and the charge of the purification; and the institutions of the singers and the porters, according to the commandment of David," etc. (Nehemiah 12:44, Nehemiah 12:45).


1. On the part of ministers, from consistent lives and diligent attention to their duties. Israel felt satisfaction with the priests, etc. because they did their work well (Nehemiah 12:44, Nehemiah 12:45), and because they were upright (Nehemiah 12:47). As the people consecrated of their substance to the Levites, so did the Levites to the priests, according to the law. If ministers are negligent, and show no interest in their work, or if their conduct be inconsistent, they need not be surprised that the people become indifferent to them and their ministrations. But consistent, earnest, faithful, loving, diligent ministers go the way to secure the affections of their congregations and give them pleasure.

2. On the part of the people, the ability to appreciate good ministers. The best ministers fail to give satisfaction to many. They cannot appreciate them, owing to want of piety, the absence of earnest desire for instruction and salvation, love of novelties, "itching ears, censorious spirit, self-conceit, carnality of mind, etc. Some may hate them because of their faithful reproofs of their beloved sins. Thus the very excellences of a minister may prevent joy in him in some quarters. But where a true-hearted minister has the happiness to labour amongst an earnest, godly people, he will be their joy, as they will he his.

II. How JOY IN MINISTERS SHOULD BE EXPRESSED. Not by mere words, not merely by praise to God for them and prayer on their behalf, but (as in the case of Israel and the ministers of the temple) by making suitable provision for their sustenance. This is according to the law of Christ no less than that of Moses (1 Corinthians 9:13,. 1 Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Timothy 5:18), and will be cheerfully done by such as rightly rejoice in their ministers. Such provision should be, as in the text,

(1) liberal,

(2) systematic and regular.


1. To the happiness and vigorous labours of ministers themselves. If good ministers make satisfied and generous congregations, they are also to a great extent made by them. The influence is reciprocal. The mental and spiritual powers of a minister cannot develop and exercise themselves to the full in an atmosphere of coldness, suspicion, dissatisfaction, or illiberality; his physical and mental energies will alike be impaired if he is scantily furnished with material supplies.

2. To the spiritual profit of hearers and their families. The teaching of a pastor in whom lively interest is felt, and to whom generosity is shown, will be listened to with the attention and confidence needful for profit. Children will be taught to respect and love him, and so will be likely to accept him as their guide and friend. But an opposite state of things will produce opposite results. Even satisfaction which expresses itself in words only, where deeds are needful and possible, will tend to give an unreality to the whole religious life, and prevent any real and lasting good.


Nehemiah 12:1-47

Joy of Jerusalem.

"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" (Nehemiah 12:43).


1. Thankfulness and praise in the remembrance of the past and in confident anticipation of the future. The people recounted the mercies of the Lord. Their dedication of the completed walls represented their preparation by the grace of God for his worship and service; their defence against assaults from without; their unity and order as a people. So ought all rejoicing to be well founded on the faith which has full possession of our hearts, and the consecrated religious life which maintains that faith in- practice.

2. Purification. We should keep our religious joy separate from the joy of this world, which is deceit and corruption. Our rejoicing must be "in the Lord." Nor should we forget that the pleasantness of God's house should be the chief support of a cheerful spirit. "They offered great sacrifices and rejoiced." The giving out of the heart in religious worship uplifts the whole strain of the life. A great expenditure of feeling in the pleasures of this world is exhausting to the nature, but religious emotion both purifies and exalts.

3. Fellowship. All rejoiced together—high and low, rich and poor, the strong men, the wives and children. The true joy is not solitary and selfish, but reveals the unity of kindred minds and sympathising hearts. Family life is elevated by the cultivation of the spirit of social worship and praise, both in the larger circle of the congregation and in the smaller of the household. All joys brighten in the atmosphere of religious joy. Salt of faith should be mixed with the various elements of earthly life to keep them from corruption.

II. A few hints to be gathered on THE METHOD OF PRAISE.

1. The gifts of nature should be sanctified and dedicated to religion. Possibility of a much higher development of the capacity of the Christian community. Musical ability a great responsibility. Importance of lifting up the expression of religious joy to a much higher stage, not by the increase of the sensuous element and mere ritualism, but by the thoughtful adaptation of the talents and acquirements of God's people to give a pure and beautiful form to the spirit of praise.

2. The element of worship must always be supreme. They offered sacrifices and rejoiced. Music must not usurp the place of higher things. Mere enjoyment must never be the motive. Nor is praise the only attitude of the believer's life. He appears in the temple as himself a sacrifice—body, soul, and spirit—unto God.

3. We must depend more or less upon the separation of individuals to be the leaders and helpers in giving expression to praise. Their support should be generous; their sanctification should be real. As much as possible the people of God should be independent of alliance with those whose dedication is not spiritual, but a mere secular engagement.

4. There was a recognition at Jerusalem of the labours and aims of holy men of former times. We should listen for the voice of the universal Church in our praise; then while it leads our chanting it exalts our ideal, and gives a wise variety to the form of our worship, keeping up the vitality and cheerfulness.—R.


Nehemiah 12:27-43

A joyous dedication.

Knowing all that we do know of God's ancient people, of the devoutness of their spirit, and their disposition to connect closely the human and the Divine, we should expect that the building of the wall round the sacred city would be followed by some religious service. The verses of the text give a graphic description of this interesting scene. The Levites who had been dispersed through the province were "sought out of all their places" (Nehemiah 12:27), and the "sons of the singers gathered themselves together" (Nehemiah 12:28) from "the villages round about Jerusalem" (Nehemiah 12:29). It was a day of sacred joy, when gladness in the Lord rose to enthusiasm, and could only be poured forth in song and shouting. First, however, came the solemn ceremony of purification (Nehemiah 12:30), the sprinkling of "water of separation"—a "purification for sin" (Numbers 19:9-13). This was sprinkled on the

(1) priests and Levites themselves,

(2) on the people, and

(3) on the wall: everything was to be "clean" and "holy unto the Lord."

Then came the twofold procession (Nehemiah 12:31-40). In two divisions, starting from the same point, and going in opposite directions, they traversed the walls, Nehemiah beading one half of the princes of the people, and Ezra the other half; in both cases preceded by the "thanksgiving companies" (verse 31), which played and sang as they marched. They met near the entrance to the temple (verse 40), and there joined in the utterance of public praise, singing "loud thanksgivings to their God" (verse 42). Then came "great sacrifices" (verse 43) offered on the brazen altar by the priests, the people, during the procession and after the sacrifices, rending the air with shouts of great joy, women and children joining in the general gladness, "so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off" (verse 43). The whole scene suggests thoughts to us of—

I. OUR PURIFICATION OF OURSELVES. If we ask, What is there in Christianity that answers to the purification of themselves and of the people by the priests under Judaism? (verse 30), we answer that there are two ways in which we are now made clean.

1. "By the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" we are "cleansed from all iniquity." We are "justified by his blood" (Romans 5:9). Applying to our own souls' need the propitiatory work of our Redeemer, we ourselves are "made whole" in the sight of God; "we are washed,… we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 6:11).

2. By deliberate separation of ourselves to the service of God. Not the withdrawal of ourselves from the relationships in which we are called to stand or from the active duties which await our energy and skill, but the separation of our souls from the evil which is in the world, and a full dedication of our powers and our lives to the service of our Saviour. Thus are we purified.

II. THE ACCEPTABLENESS OF OUR WORK. The wall which had been built was purified as well as the builders (verse 30). Our work which we have wrought for God and man needs to be made clean, pure, acceptable. It is thus rendered—

1. Through the work of the Divine Mediator. We ask acceptance of all we have done for Jesus' sake.

2. By the spirit of consecration we show in its execution.

(1) By entering upon it with a pure desire to honour Christ and bless our brethren.

(2) By doing it in a spirit of thorough loyalty to him and sympathy with them.

(3) By ascribing its success, when completed, to his gracious guidance and help.

III. OUR JOY. The joy of the Jews on this occasion was

(1) occasioned by a sense of deliverance and security; was

(2) sanctified by gratitude and devotion: they "gave thanks in the house of God" (verse 40), and "offered great sacrifices" (verse 43); and it was

(3) general and contagious: it extended to all classes and ages, and went far and wide beyond the city walls—it was "heard afar off" (verse 43).

Such should be the characteristics of our Christian joy; it also should—

(1) Be kindled in the heart by our deep sense of redemption and security through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

(2) Be sanctified by much thanksgiving and devotion. Gladness is never so pure and safe as when it takes the form of gratitude, and goes into the house of God to worship there.

(3) Extend to all those below us—the children, the servants, etc.; and all around us—be felt "afar off."—C.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nehemiah 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/nehemiah-12.html. 1897.
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