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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 21-26


In these verses we have, first, the list of priests and Levites that went up from Babylon with Zerubbabel, 1-9; next follows a genealogy of the high priests from Jeshua to Jaddua, 10-11: then the names of the chief fathers of the priestly houses in the days of Joiakim, 12-21; and, finally, sundry statements concerning the Levites, 22-26.

It will be observed that the names in Nehemiah 12:1-9 appear again with but a few changes in Nehemiah 12:12-21, and many of them are also identical with names in the list of Nehemiah 10:1-13. According to Keil, “the difference between the names in the two lists of chapters 10 and 12 is to be explained simply by the fact that the names of those who sealed the covenant, Nehemiah 10:0, 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.”

The names of the priests in Nehemiah 12:1-7 are twenty-two, all descendants of Jedaiah, Immer, Pashur, and Harim, named in Nehemiah 7:39-42. According to the Talmud, “four divisions of priests returned from captivity, namely, Jedaiah, Harim, Pashur, and Immer. These the prophets of the returned captives again divided into twenty-four; whereupon their names were written upon tickets and put in an urn, from which Jedaiah drew five, and each of the other three before-named divisions as many. It was then ordained by those prophets that even if the division of Jehoiarib (1 Chronicles 24:7) should return, Jedaiah should, nevertheless, retain his position, and Jehoiarib should be associated with him.” In all this we observe how the returned exiles struggled to restore and preserve their ancient institutions and orders.

Verse 22

22. The Levites… to the reign of Darius the Persian The grammatical connexion of the parts of this verse it is difficult to determine. The whole verse seems to be the heading or superscription of a list of names, and, indeed, the whole passage (Nehemiah 12:22-26) has a fragmentary aspect, like disconnected parts of some more extensive document. It is evident from this verse that a register of the chief fathers of the priests and Levites was kept until the reign of Darius. But who was this Darius the Persian? According to Josephus, ( Ant., Nehemiah 11:8 ; Nehemiah 11:4-5,) Jaddua was the name of the high-priest who was contemporary with Alexander the Great, the conqueror of Darius Codomannus. This Darius was the last king of Persia, and must have reigned so long after the time of Nehemiah, that if the Jaddua of this verse was his contemporary, this passage must have been written later than the age of the supposed author of this book.

There are three methods of obviating these difficulties: 1.) This verse may have been inserted by a later hand. Into a passage so aphoristic as this, such an interpolation might have easily crept. This supposition is favoured by the insertion of “and” before the name of Johanan, as if that name had originally ended the list; and also by the mention, in the next verse, of Chronicles that were continued to “the days of Johanan.” 2.) The Jaddua of this verse may have been a different person from the one mentioned by Josephus as contemporary with Alexander. 3.) Most interpreters identify this Darius the Persian with Darius Nothus, who, after a few months of anarchy in the royal family, succeeded his father, Artaxerxes Longimanus, and reigned nineteen years. Nehemiah might easily have been living in his day, and the Jaddua of Josephus might have been then a young man. For, according to Nehemiah 13:28, Joiada had in Nehemiah’s time a son who was married, and, therefore, the oldest son. Johanan might have begotten Jaddua some years before this. Accordingly in bringing down these registers to his own time, Nehemiah recorded the name of Jaddua as then living and prospectively high priest, though not yet in office.

If these representatives of four successive generations in the high priest’s family were all living at one time, we may see a reason for thus recording their names even though one or more of them had not yet entered upon his office. One of the sons of the high priest had married Sanballat’s daughter, and erected a false worship on Mount Gerizim; and such a pollution in the priesthood may have shaken the faith of many a pious Jew. But it would restore confidence to note the remarkable providence of God in preserving at such a time four generations of high priests to look each other in the face at once.

Verse 23

23. The sons of Levi This expression comprehends both priests and Levites, and is therefore more general than the term the Levites, which is used in distinction from the priests.

The book of the Chronicles Not our present book of “Chronicles,” but the public annals of the Jewish nation, from which all these registers were probably derived.

Until the days of Johanan The preceding verse mentions registers kept until the reign of Darius the Persian, a date apparently later than the time of Johanan; and this favours the opinion of some that the mention of Darius and Jaddua is a later interpolation. But if this Persian king were Darius Nothus, then his reign and the days of Johanan were contemporaneous, and Nehemiah himself may have written these words.

Verse 24

24. The commandment of David See 1 Chronicles 16:4; 1 Chronicles 23:30.

Ward over against ward One company of singers opposite another company, so as to worship antiphonally. See note on Ezra 3:11.

Verse 25

25. The thresholds of the gates Rather, treasuries, or store chambers of the gates; chambers located near the gates, and used for the storing of temple goods. Comp. 1 Chronicles 26:15, note.

Verse 27

27. They sought the Levites Having been duly registered and organized for service, the Levites dwelling in the various cities of Judah outside of Jerusalem could easily be summoned to keep the dedication. Only a part of the Levites dwelt in Jerusalem, Nehemiah 11:15-18. The rest had their places assigned them in the province.

Cymbals, psalteries See on 1 Samuel 10:5, and 2 Samuel 6:5.

Verses 27-43


All the details and genealogical lists from chapter vii up to this point were, in some sense, preparatory to the dedication of the walls of the holy city. Upon the completion of the walls the Jews’ enemies were humiliated, and devised crafty measures to put Nehemiah in fear. Nehemiah 6:15-19. Thereupon Nehemiah at once proceeded to organize and consolidate the new community, and to thoroughly provide for their civil and religious interests. He carefully collected the genealogical registers, assembled the whole nation for public instruction in the law, made all needful provision for the temple service, and for a large increase of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus Nehemiah and Ezra were like another Moses and Aaron to lead, organize, and instruct their nation after its deliverance from the second “house of bondage.” The dedication of the restored walls of their capital followed most fittingly after the nation had become thoroughly organized and consolidated, and the priestly and Levitical houses had learned their proper places and work.

The date of the dedication of the wall is quite uncertain. The close connexion of this account with Nehemiah’s later reforms, (Nehemiah 12:44, and Nehemiah 13:1,) seems to place it after Nehemiah’s absence in Persia.

And it is very possible that for reasons now unknown this dedication of the wall was hindered, or postponed, till after Nehemiah returned from Persia.

Verse 28

28. The plain country The ciccar, ( הככר .) The word is always elsewhere applied to the Jordan valley, but the additional phrase round about Jerusalem has led most interpreters to understand here the country immediately around Jerusalem. Keil, however, with good reason, adheres to the established usage of the word.

Villages of Netophathi Towns in the vicinity of Netopha, a village apparently in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, (comp. Neh 7:26 ; 1 Chronicles 2:54,) but not yet with certainty identified. Some suggest its identity with Beit Nettif, about fifteen miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Verse 29

29. House of Gilgal Or Beth-gilgal; probably the modern Jiljilia, about half way between Jerusalem and Shechem.

Geba See on Joshua 18:24. The site of Azmaveth is unknown.

The singers had builded them villages That is, new villages or towns, in the immediate vicinity of those just named.

Verse 30

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.

Verse 31

31. The princes of Judah are here, as usual, the political chiefs or representatives of the new community. It was important for all these, as well as for Nehemiah himself, to appear in the great processions which were so prominent a part of the ceremonies of the day.

Two great companies of them that gave thanks Or, two great choirs. One of these was to go, as a body of musicians, before each of the great processions.

One went on the right… toward the dung gate The two processions seem to have started near the valley gate, (Nehemiah 2:13,) and this one going southward, passed round the southwestern corner of the city, near which was the dung gate. See on Nehemiah 2:13; and Plan, page 444.

Verses 32-34

32-34. Hoshaiah was probably a leading chief among these princes of Judah. Keil maintains that all the names in Nehemiah 12:33-34 are the names of princes; while others hold that they are names of priests, being identical with priestly names occurring elsewhere in this book. This latter argument, however, is not conclusive, for princes might have names identical with certain priests, and the special designation of “priests’ sons” in Nehemiah 12:35 seems rather to confirm the view of Keil. Ezra, here, is not the distinguished priest and scribe who is mentioned in Nehemiah 12:36; and Judah and Benjamin are not the names of the tribes, but of individuals among the princes. The name Judah occurs again in Nehemiah 12:36 among the priests’ sons.

Verse 36

36. The musical instruments of David Such instruments as David invented, and introduced into the sacred service. Comp. 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 29:26.

Verse 37

37. At the fountain gate Near the pool or fountain of Siloam.

Nehemiah 3:15.

Which was over against them Rather, and before them, ( נגדם ,) referring not to the position of the gate but to the advance of the procession. The word is here used as in Joshua 6:5; Joshua 6:20, in the sense of straight forwards. The procession passed by the fountain-gate, and straight forwards they went up by the stairs of the city of David. These stairs were situated somewhere on the eastern slope of Zion. Nehemiah 3:15.

At the going up of the wall Or, in the ascent to the wall. The exact meaning is difficult to determine. The reference may be to some ascent by which the procession moved up to the wall, or went up upon it; or to some rise of ground over which the wall itself was built. Bertheau thinks it was an ascent by which the procession mounted upon the wall, having descended from it at some previous point.

Above the house of David The probable meaning is, opposite to the building or place where David once had his royal dwelling.

Unto the water gate Somewhere in the vicinity of the bridge over the Tyropoeon, which connected mounts Zion and Moriah. Nehemiah 3:26. It opened upon a broad street in which the people gathered to hear the law read. Nehemiah 8:1. In this broad place, perhaps, both processions united, and marched together to the house of God. Nehemiah 12:40.

Verse 38

38. The other… went over against That is, on the opposite side of the city. As the first company went to the right, (Nehemiah 12:31,) these went to the left, following the wall around, until both processions met near the water gate.

Tower of the furnaces… broad wall See notes on Nehemiah 3:8; Nehemiah 3:11.

Verse 39

39. Gate of Ephraim In the northern wall, opening out in the direction of Ephraim’s territory. See on 2 Kings 14:13.

Old gate… sheep gate See Plan, page 444, and notes on Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 3:6.

Stood still in the prison gate Came to a halt at that point. The position of the prison gate is uncertain, but was probably near the southwestern corner of the temple area, and not far from the water gate, where the other procession halted. See on Nehemiah 12:37.

Verse 40

40. So stood Rather, and they stood. The two processions probably united in the street before the water gate, or else in the temple area, and at once proceeded into the courts of the temple, where they stood and worshipped together.

Verse 43

43. Joy of Jerusalem The joy of the people over their completed work, and the prospect of peace and prosperity. Their hosannas, says Wordsworth, “may be caught up and re-echoed by us, when we look forward to the time when the Church militant will have encircled the world, and have completed her mission in preaching the Gospel and in building up her walls; and when the two companies of Gentile and Jew will meet together at the heavenly Zion, and join in one song of united praise to God. Then will the saints see the jewelled walls, and the gates of pearl, and the streets of pure gold, of the heavenly Jerusalem, (Revelation 21:11-21,) and will sing hallelujahs to God and the Lamb, and dwell forever there.”

Verse 44


NEHEMIAH’S LATER REFORMS. Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:31.


44. At that time This seems certainly to refer to the time of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem, and hence some have very naturally supposed that the wall was not dedicated till after the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, when Nehemiah came the second time to Jerusalem. See introductory note before Nehemiah 12:27.

Chambers for the treasures Store chambers; rooms in the temple for the storing of such things as offerings… firstfruits,… tithes, which were gathered in for the support of the sacred services. It was necessary for certain responsible persons to have charge of these important chambers and their stores.

Fields of the cities The suburbs or outlying fields that were attached to the different cities of Israel. The Israelites lived not on their lands, but in cities, from which they went forth at seed-time and harvest to sow and reap. So the fields of Boaz were in the vicinity of Bethlehem, but he abode in the city.

Portions of the law That is, portions prescribed by law for the priests and Levites. See Numbers 18:20-24; Deuteronomy 18:1-8.

Judah rejoiced for the priests That is, had great joy and comfort in their ministry and service, and gave willingly for their support.

That waited Literally, the ones standing; that is, standing to minister before the Lord. Compare Deuteronomy 10:8.

Verse 45

45. Kept the ward of their God Or, kept the charge of their God; looked after all the sacred interests committed to their oversight and care. Compare Leviticus 8:35.

The ward of the purification The charge of “the purifying of all holy things.” 1 Chronicles 23:28. The rooms and vessels of the temple were to be purified, and called for the special appointment of persons for that work.

According to the commandment of David See 2 Chronicles 8:14; and comp. 1 Chronicles 25-26.

Verse 46

46. For in the days of David and Asaph So these Levitical appointments were no new invention of Nehemiah, but a restoration of a usage old as the times of David. The “and” before Asaph seems to be s clerical error. It is better to read, In the days of David Asaph was chief, etc.

Verse 47

47. Gave the portions The tithes and other contributions necessary for the support of the singers and porters.

They sanctified holy things unto the Levites They set apart, as things consecrated to holy uses, the portions designed for the Levites. Instead of holy things it is better simply to substitute them, referring to the portions just named.

And the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron The Levites were required to give a tithe of the tithes (compare Nehemiah 10:38) to the priests, here called sons of Aaron. So of all the tithes committed to them they set apart a tenth for the priests. “Ye also shall offer a heave offering unto the Lord of all your tithes,” etc. See the law in Numbers 18:26-29.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Nehemiah 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/nehemiah-12.html. 1874-1909.
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