Nehemiah 12 – Dedication of the Wall
A. Priestly and Levitical families.
1. (1-11) Priests and Levites in the days of Zerubbabel, the high priest.
Now these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shechaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, and Jedaiah. These were the heads of the priests and their brethren in the days of Jeshua. Moreover the Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah who led the thanksgiving psalms, he and his brethren. Also Bakbukiah and Unni, their brethren, stood across from them in their duties. Jeshua begot Joiakim, Joiakim begot Eliashib, Eliashib begot Joiada, Joiada begot Jonathan, and Jonathan begot Jaddua.
2. (12-21) Priests in the days of Joiakim.
Now in the days of Joiakim, the priests, the heads of the fathers’ houses were: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; of Melichu, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; of Abijah, Zichri; the son of Minjamin; of Moadiah, Piltai; of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; and of Jedaiah, Nethanel.
3. (22-26) Levites during the reign of Darius the Persian.
During the reign of Darius the Persian, a record was also kept of the Levites and priests who had been heads of their fathers’ houses in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua. The sons of Levi, the heads of the fathers’ houses until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib, were written in the book of the chronicles. And the heads of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers across from them, to praise and give thanks, group alternating with group, according to the command of David the man of God. Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers keeping the watch at the storerooms of the gates. These lived in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe.
B. The dedication ceremony.
1. (27-29) Gathering the Levites for the dedication ceremony.
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem, from the villages of the Netophathites, from the house of Gilgal, and from the fields of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem.
a. They sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem: The Levites had many responsibilities in the life and worship of Israel, but one of the most important jobs that they had was to lead the people in songs of worship and praise to God.
b. To celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing: More often they sang with musical instruments. Here cymbals and stringed instruments and harps are specifically mentioned.
i. There are at least twenty-two different musical instruments mentioned in the Bible, including the harp, the lyre (an ancient guitar), horns, trumpets, flutes, tambourines, drums, cymbals, and bells.
ii. The Levites were specially appointed to use these instruments to lead the people in worshiping God through singing.
c. Sons of the singers…the singers had built themselves villages: There were also specially appointed singers. The singers in Nehemiah’s day had a close-knit bond, both by families and living arrangements.
i. Since the job of these singers was to lead the people in worship of God, they had to be good singers; but more importantly, they had to be people of worship themselves.
ii. There is a huge difference between being a great singer and being a great leader of songs of worship to God. Worship should be excellent, but it isn’t entertainment. The goal isn’t to give the people a good feeling (though that may happen), but to give glory and honor to God.
2. (30) The ceremonies for purification.
Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.
a. Then the priests and Levites purified themselves: They did this first. They could not effectively lead the people in worship of God unless they walked in purity before the Lord.
b. And purified the people: This was their next step. They brought cleansing to the people the way the Bible said to, knowing that only a purified people could really worship and praise God.
i. Some might silently object here; they might say, “I know a person who goes to church and seems to be lost in beautiful praise and worship to God, and I also know their life is rather impure outside the church walls. It appears they are worshiping God, but they are personally impure.”
ii. Something is wrong there; probably, their worship is not true worship of God in spirit and in truth, but instead a “soulish” experience. All that inwardly moves a person in a deep way is not necessarily of God’s Spirit; it can be of the soul. One of the great works of the word of God is to divide between that which is truly spiritual and that which is merely soulish (Hebrews 4:12).
iii. Without purity, we can’t worship God in spirit and in truth, as Jesus commanded us to (John 4:24). Psalm 24:3-4 asks, Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, and it means it in the sense of bringing praise to God.
iv. We can be made pure and clean before God today, right now, by doing what the Bible says to do – not in following an Old Testament ceremony, but by receiving the word of the New Testament: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
c. The gates, and the wall: Finally, their surroundings were purified. Purified surroundings help us to walk in purity consistently. The homes and offices of many Christians could benefit from purification and cleansing.
3. (31-43) Two choirs lead Jerusalem in joyful praise.
So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate. After them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the priests’ sons with trumpets; Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his brethren, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. Ezra the scribe went before them. By the Fountain Gate, in front of them, they went up the stairs of the City of David, on the stairway of the wall, beyond the house of David, as far as the Water Gate eastward. The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, above the Old Gate, above the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel, the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped by the Gate of the Prison. So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Minjamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director. Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.
a. Appointed two large thanksgiving choirs: The two large choirs were called thanksgiving choirs for a good reason. All praise and worship must have a strong element of thanksgiving to God for it to be genuine.
i. Notice that the singers sang loudly. They had to be heard, because as glorious as the instruments were, the people would follow the lead of the singers in worship.
b. God had made them rejoice with great joy: God did this with the choirs assembled, and the people spread all about. They were then overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving, considering all God had done.
c. The women and the children also rejoiced: This tremendous experience of worship was for everyone. There weren’t some who were excluded from worship.
d. The joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off: Their worship was a testimony to others, and what others heard was not so much the singing itself as the joy. We often worry about others hearing us sing but what God wants to hear, and what others should hear, is not so much your singing but your joy.
4. (44-47) Other aspects of this day of joy.
And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered. Both the singers and the gatekeepers kept the charge of their God and the charge of the purification, according to the command of David and Solomon his son. For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chiefs of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. In the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah all Israel gave the portions for the singers and the gatekeepers, a portion for each day. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites, and the Levites consecrated them for the children of Aaron.
a. Some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings: This was a day of giving. People brought their offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes to the storehouse of the Levites, and they did it with joy because they enjoyed supporting the priests and Levites ministering on their behalf.
b. Both the singers and the gatekeepers kept the charge of their God and the charge of the purification: This was a day of purity. It was an ongoing concern, not a one-time ceremony.
c. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites: It was a day of consecration. Holy things were set apart for the Levites, speaking of the separation to God.