Praying over this chapter, the Lord didn’t lay on my heart any more specific sermons. This is mostly a long list of names which were important at the time and were far more interesting than they are today. But there are a few incidentals from which a lesson or two might be drawn. And that is what we will try to do this evening.
“Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed, That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.” I have said several times that Nehemiah’s work was very different from Ezra’s a generation earlier. Ezra was sent from Persia to rebuild the temple and to restore the temple worship of Jehovah. I don’t think the importance of the work of Ezra can be over-emphasized. There is nothing higher and more important than the worship of the Lord – when a congregation of God’s people get together, singing the songs of Zion, praising the name of the Lord and listening to His word. If the city of Jerusalem had been walled but without the temple, it would have been much like any heathen community.
All Nehemiah came to do was rebuild the walls to protect and beautify the place where God’s temple rested. Nevertheless, there is a spiritual and heavenly aspect to anything which is done for the glory of the Lord. That made Nehemiah’s work important in the eyes of his God. Wednesday, Austin mentioned David’s appointment of porters, singers and Levites for the worship of God. Who was more important, the singers, the Levites or the priests? Didn’t they all serve the same Lord? The porters were guards and gatekeepers. It was their job to see who came through their gates. There were some who worked specifically at the gates of Solomon’s and then Herod’s temples. There were others who had the more menial job of working at the city gates. But they had all been helping Nehemiah to rebuild the walls. And now notice who was there with them – singers and Levites – members of the priestly tribe of Israel.
It appears that these singers and Levites were being appointed for special service – the dedication of these walls and gates to God. Again – the temple was a sacred place with lots of unique and godly service. But these walls were being made sacred as well. And similarly the things you own – your house, your car and your Visa card can also be dedicated to the Lord. Your finances for example, can be used like Israel’s offering of the first fruits. When you offer the first fruits of your income to the Lord, you sanctifying the 90% which is left. These porters, singers and Levites were telling the world that the walls of Jerusalem belong to the Lord. That is not menial service.
Hanani and Hananiah were then given the responsibility to govern the enclosed city. They were given specific instructions – some of which are explained to us. And notice in this regard that Nehemiah was following the precepts laid down by Moses in Exodus 18:21 – “Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: and let them judge the people at all seasons.” In an ideal world we would not only have capable leaders, but we’d have godly leaders. Too bad we do not live in an ideal world.
Verse 3 – “And I said unto them, Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them: and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his house. Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded.” It makes no sense to have beautiful, high walls if they are as leaky as a sieve – leaky as a facial bandana. There is no point in going to all this trouble to build adequate gates, if there is no one to close them. Nehemiah ordered the gates to be shut every night in order to regulate who was coming and going. In the morning, the porters were to wait until the sun was high enough to reveal who was out there wanting admission, thus protecting the city from invasion. And notice further that every family needed to consider their own on-going protection. In this post-Christian world, there is constant spiritual danger – for which we are responsible to be wary. We cannot assume that the Sanballats of this world are going to leave us alone now that we have a wall and a temple. Furthermore, we shouldn’t expect Nehemiah and the priests to do everything for us. We are responsible to know the truth and to defend ourselves with the truth.
Verse 5 – “And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein, These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city; Who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah. The number, I say, of the men of the people of Israel was this; The children of Parosh, two thousand an hundred seventy and two…….
Now stay right there while I read from Ezra 2:1 – “Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city; Which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel: The children of Parosh, two thousand an hundred seventy and two…. One of the things this demonstrates is the accuracy with which those people recorded things. There were some people whose names changed, or they were spelled differently, and there were some very slight differences in numbers, but that is all.
Now harken back to King David who numbered the people of Israel. What made this numbering different from that disaster in David’s life? As Bro. Austin pointed out to us a couple weeks ago, David, in pride and for military purposes, numbered the men of his nation – without any reference to the Lord. But Nehemiah tells us that it was the Lord who put this thought about numbers into his heart. Perhaps someone made the suggestion; perhaps it seemed like a good idea due to the circumstances. But Nehemiah made sure that it was God’s will; he prayed about it; he made sure that the source of this idea was the Lord. There was no pride in it. It was for practical purposes and to glorify the Lord.
We know that David didn’t do it, but I wonder if Nehemiah followed the Lord’s command in Exodus 30 – When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.” This might have been a requirement only for the two original censuses and not for subsequent numberings. But it had several purposes – it collected funds for the ministry of the Tabernacle, which would have been helpful again in Nehemiah’s day. And it would have made tallying the number pretty practical and easy, a coin for every person numbered. But perhaps verses 70 to 72 make up for the half shekel? “And some of the chief of the fathers gave unto the work. The Tirshatha gave to the treasure a thousand drams of gold, fifty basons, five hundred and thirty priests’ garments. And some of the chief of the fathers gave to the treasure of the work twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand and two hundred pound of silver. And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand pound of silver, and threescore and seven priests’ garments.”
I won’t embarrass myself in trying to pronounce all of the names in these verses. But let me point out a couple of things. Notice that in verses 8 to 25 Nehemiah lists the “children” of certain people, then from verse 26 he lists the “men” of certain cities. So this census collected two kinds of data – families and residents. There had been many of these people working on the wall, whose families were not originally from Jerusalem, and they were not obligated to live behind those walls now, even though it appears some of them did so. Admittedly some of these families and citizens overlap.
Verse 60 – “All the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon’s servants, were three hundred ninety and two.” I think it is interesting the way some of these people were grouped. For example, after 500 years, there were still people who knew themselves to be Solomon’s servants, and they were proud of that special link to the past. They were not priests and they were not rulers, but their ancestors had served and blessed the great king. The Lord is aware of our skills and talents, after all, He has given them to us. He knows our offices and services. He will remember and reward eternally every servant of the King. And it should be a matter of humble pride to be able to say, “I am a the son of servant of God.” Verse 67 adds that there were “two hundred forty and five singing men and singing women.” Were these people who descended from the people David had appointed to minister in music? I don’t see why not. Again, for five centuries these people knew who they were, and they apparently maintained their skills and services. And then there were the Nethinim. The ancestors of these people had been slaves in the temple, and these folk were proud of that service. Joshua 9:27 – “And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the LORD, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.” As I’ve said before I admire the Nethinim for their dedication to the worship of Jehovah and their willingness to continue live according to the treaty made a thousand years before. They weren’t throwing rocks through windows demanding reparations. They were sinners saved by grace, just like us. They were nobodies until the Lord made them somebodies. But their service was so menial – hewers of wood and drawers of water. Is there anything better than that if it is for the Lord?
There is an interesting account of some whose lineage was broken. Verse 61 – “And these were they which went up also from Telmelah, Telharesha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer: but they could not shew their father’s house, nor their seed, whether they were of Israel.” Verse 63 – “And of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai, which took one of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite to wife, and was called after their name. These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim.”
Is this referring to the Gileadite Barzillai who was such a blessing to David in his retreat from Absalom? I can’t find any commentators who want to address that possibility. Maybe Barzillai became such a hero in Gilead that the name was given to several people throughout history.
What about the Urim and Thummim? Exodus 28 describes the making of the original clothing of the High Priest. The breastplate of priest’s uniform was actually a beautifully designed pouch or pocket. “And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen shalt thou make it. Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.” First, notice that this particular piece of the uniform was called “the breastplate of JUDGMENT.” Verse 30 adds, “And thou shalt PUT IN the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim.”
We learn about the judgmental purpose of the Urim and Thummin from Numbers 27:18 – “And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the LORD: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation. And Moses did as the LORD commanded him…”
As I understand it, the Urim and Thummim were two smooth stones, identical size and shape, but not in color. In some situations when Israel wished to know the Lord’s will, they would go to the High Priest, who would pray and perhaps offer an acceptable sacrifice, after which he would reach into his breastplate and pull out one of the two stones, the color of which would signify the Lord’s will. Apparently Israel was no longer in possession of the Urim and Thummim, so this means of knowing God’s will was gone. Rather than draw the Lord’s anger by installing priests who might not come from the proper branch of the tribe of Levi, those men were asked to take on other Levitical responsibilities – which they willingly did. I see in this an intense desire to do the Lord’s work – the Lord’s way and with the Lord’s chosen men. Everyone could serve, but not everyone could serve as a priest – and that was okay.
Then finally, after listing servants, camels and the forbidden horses, the chapter concludes. “So the priests, and the Levites, and the porters, and the singers, and some of the people, and the Nethinims, and all Israel, dwelt in their cities; and when the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities.” After the wall was finished and dedicated…. Was this six months after Nehemiah’s departure from Shushan??? After the temple services were organized and strengthened…. The people were permitted to return to their ancestral cities – if they chose to do so. I see in this a picture of the end of all things – when the saints of God enter into those dwelling places – perhaps those mansions – which the Lord Jesus has gone to prepare for us.