COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 7:1 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, 2 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. 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.” (Neh 7:1-3)
In fifty-two days, the wall has been built in the midst of opposition and seasons of discouragement and fear. But this is not the end of the matter. There is more to be done. As a godly leader, Nehemiah will set things in order. He knows the enemy will not abandon opposing efforts. Now that the wall is finished, it must be protected and used correctly – as God intended it to be used. Holy things are not intended to begin only to be forsaken. Holy beginnings are intended to have godly conclusions. Works that are associated with the Living God, yet have ignoble ends, bring no glory to the Lord. They are a reproach to Him, and are an epitaph to unbelief. Being moved by faith, Nehemiah will now provide for the profitable continuance of the holy city. He will give attention to the purpose for the walls, and will not consider his work finished. This will require the appointment of competent people – those who can be trusted with holy things, and whose lives have demonstrated a commitment to the work and cause of the Lord.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
“ 7:1 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 . . . ”
THE WALL WAS BUILT. Other versions read, “rebuilt.” NASB,NIV Nehemiah’s work was the repair of an existing wall, not the erection of a new one. It was not the establishment of something modern, but the restoration of something old. This is accented by the use of the word “repaired,” which is used thirty-five times in chapter three (verses 1-24, and 27-32). The finishing of the wall, therefore, had to do with getting it back in its original shape and functionality.
There is a lesson to be learned here. We are living in days similar to those of Nehemiah. The “walls” of salvation (Isa 26:1; 60:18) are badly deteriorated. It is not the salvation itself that has eroded. It is as powerful and effective as it has ever been. But the apprehension of salvation is at a low point. Its real purpose and nature is little understood. So far as comprehension and appreciation are concerned, the massive walls of the salvation of God are in shambles, and its gates are burned with fire. The role of godly men of our generation must be to clarify the nature and content of the Gospel of Christ, and re-establish the glory of salvation in the minds of the people. It is altogether too common for the salvation of God to be held in near disdain within the very church of God.
SET UP DOORS. When the wall was completed, the doors were not yet put in place (6:1). This was one of the last things to be done. The “gates” were the ports of entrance and exit. The doors were set “in the gates” NIV allowing for them to be opened or closed for use. In the description of the work assignments on the wall, the “doors” of the gates were frequently mentioned, being associated with the “sheep gate, fish gate, old gate, valley gate, dung gate,” and “gate of the fountain” (3:1,3,6,13,14, 15).
A gate was an opening, and a door was how it was controlled. This is similar to the imagery of the sheepfold that Jesus presented. He Himself is the “Door” of the sheepfold, controlling access through the point of entry into the fold (John 10:7,9). A gate without doors becomes a point of liability, providing free access to enemies as well as friends.
Nehemiah will follow the revealed protocol of the Temple, setting porters, singers, and Levites in place (1 Chron 26:1-19).
APPOINTED PORTERS. Other versions read, “gatekeepers.” NKJV,NASB,NIV The “porters,” or “gatekeepers,” had charge of opening and closing the doors. Notice the care with which the city is protected. First, an imposing wall. Next, chosen areas of entrance – “gates.” Third, “doors” by which the gates were controlled. Fourth, “porters,” or “gatekeepers,” to manage the gates. Entrance into the holy city was obviously considered a serious matter. Left unguarded and uncontrolled, the gates that provided access to vital supplies and amiable souls also became the means through which enemies entered. “Gates,” particularly when they relate to the things of God, are to be taken seriously.
The Temple had “porters,” responsible for protecting the entrance to the Temple. They were called “keepers of the entry” (1 Chron 9:19), and were two hundred and twelve in number (1 Chron 9:22). In the work of God, entrances are always important.
APPOINTED SINGERS. David originally appointed “singers,” who employed all manner of instruments, and were noted for “lifting up their voice with joy” (1 Chron 15:16). Certain singers were appointed to also use “cymbals of brass” (1 Chron 15:19), others with “psalteries” (1 Chron 15:20), and still others with “harps” (1 Chron 15:21).
Thus, Nehemiah is restoring an ordained order that had been neglected. When the walls were in shambles and the gates burned with fire, the whole Divine order quickly dissipated. Now Nehemiah restores the activities around the Temple, which had fallen into disregard because of the former condition of the walls.
APPOINTED LEVITES. The Levites were appointed to guard the points of entrance into the city in general, and the Temple in particular. The Levites had always had charge of guarding the Temple gates (1 Chron 9:17-22; 26:12-19). However, while the wall was in a state of disrepair, this function had also been neglected. Having rebuilt the wall, now Nehemiah appoints the Levites to once again fulfill their office.
APPLICATION. Much, if not all, of the deficiencies of the church in our day is owing to the gross neglect of the salvation of God. Although God has established salvation as “walls and ramparts for security” NASB (Isa 26:1), other things have been given the priority. As a result, spiritual gates have been left unguarded, enemies have entered, and the work of the Lord is neglected. We must be able to see the parallel of our day with that of Nehemiah.
A FAITHFUL MAN REQUIRED
“ 2 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.”
HANANI AND HANANIAH. Another version reads, “Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress.” NASB As “Governor of Judah” (5:14), Nehemiah had a large range of responsibilities. Part of those included the proper care of Jerusalem. Two faithful men are chosen to handle this responsibility – Hanani and Hananiah. The first was Nehemiah’s own brother, who had given a faithful report of the conditions in Jerusalem when asked by Nehemiah (1:2). The second was in charge of the palace, castle, or fortress. This was doubtless the palace, or “citadel” NIV that was by the Temple, and for which special timbers had been acquired (2:8).
In the record of the wall builders, mention was made of two men, each of which ruled a “half part of Jerusalem” – Rephaiah and Shallum (3:8,12). Whether they maintained some responsibilities is not certain. It does appear, however, that a restored wall and renewed Temple activity required more competent leaders. With the reestablishing of the wall came increased responsibilities, and thus the need for faithful and godly men.
“Charge over Jerusalem.” Other versions read, “the administration of Jerusalem,” NJB “the responsibility for governing Jerusalem,” NLT “responsible for the government of Jerusalem.” BBE A weighty responsibility, indeed, for this was no ordinary city. This was “the city of God” (Psa 46:4), “the city of the great king” (Psa 48:2), and “the throne of the Lord” (Jer 3:17). It was “the holy city” (Neh 11:1; Matt 4:5), “the city of truth” (Zech 8:3), and the place where God had placed His name (1 Kgs 11:36). Part of having charge of this city was maintaining all of those holy associations. These two men were not merely to maintain a flow of commerce, promote order, and keep the city safe. The city of Jerusalem was to be managed with its reason for existence in mind. Therefore, godly men must rule it.
An Observation. When the church is in a deplorable state, it does not demand that its leaders be godly. A weak and uninformed church will allow itself to be led by novices, and often those who have no fundamental interest in the Kingdom of God. It is easy enough to settle for a person with academic credentials when the walls of salvation are deteriorated and the church only has a name that it is alive, yet is dead. But when the church again becomes “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), walking in the light, living by faith, and walking in the Spirit, it will have no place for uninformed and uncommitted leaders. Then, and only then, will spiritually responsible men be placed in charge.
HANANIAH. A special word is said about Hananiah, who went from being in charge of the palace to having “charge over Jerusalem.” His qualities are worthy of special note.
A Faithful Man. Other versions read, “a man of integrity,” NIV “more trustworthy,” NJB “a true man,” Septuagint “a man of good faith,” BBE and “a man of truth.” YLT Hananiah was a man that could be trusted to do the will of God. You did not have to hedge him in with commandments, or have his activities monitored. In this regard, he was like Timothy, who distinguished himself by naturally caring for the state of God’s people, or having a “genuine interest in their welfare” NIV (Phil 2:20). Throughout the history of God’s people, such men have been rare. It is no wonder Solomon cried out, “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20:6). It was said of Daniel that “he was faithful” (Dan 6:4). Moses is also said to have been “faithful” to God who appointed Him, and “faithful” in all of God’s house (Num 12:7; Heb 3:2,5). Timothy is described as “faithful in the Lord” (1 Cor 4:17). Scripture refers to “faithful Abraham” (Gal 3:9), and Tychicus is said to be a “faithful minister” (Eph 6:21). Epaphras was a “faithful minister of Christ” (Col 1:7), and Onesimus was a “faithful and beloved brother” (Col 4:9).
Such a person can be trusted to do what is right, protect God’s interests, and bring advantages to the people and cause of the Lord. How sorely such people are needed!
He Feared God Above Many. Here was an area in which Hananiah excelled. He “feared God more than most men.” NIV His fear and godly honor of God was more fervent, more consistent, and more productive. He rose above his peers in his respect for God. When it came to being aware of the Lord and determined to do His will, Hananiah surpassed those around him. He was like Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly” (1 Kgs 18:3). He could not forget God in his daily walk. He associated Jerusalem with the Lord, and maintained a consciousness of God that was unequaled in his generation. As such, the blessing of the Lord was upon him, for “He will bless them that fear the LORD, both small and great” (Psa 115:13). Here is an area in which you too can stand out.
PROTECT THE CITY!
“ 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.” Having established those responsible for the protection of the city, Nehemiah now sets some practical procedures in place. These are the instructions given to those Nehemiah had appointed: porters, singers, Levites, and the two placed in charge of the city. These were to be vigilant in their duties, with the highest regard for the city.
UNTIL THE SUN BE HOT. Ordinarily, the gates were opened at sunrise. Here, however, extra precautions were taken. “Until the sun be hot” refers to “the hottest part of the day, NLT or “till the sun is high” BBE – probably around noon. If there were any enemies lurking in the shadows, this would allow for their discovery, as the sun at its zenith would shed light on all of the crevices and areas obscured by shadows in the early morning.
A Principle. There is a principle to be seen here – one that pertains to the door of salvation. The entrance into the sheepfold must not be opened until “the Sun of righteousness,” Jesus Christ, has risen “with healing in His wings” (Mal 4:2). Until the Gospel of Christ has been proclaimed in power, and the Person of Christ is prominent in preaching, an invitation to come to the Lord is out of order. Too frequently Jesus is presented entirely apart from the Gospel – set forth as a sort of Resolver of all human problems and difficulties. When the gates of salvation are opened under such circumstances, it allows for enemies to enter as well as patrons, and foes as well as friends.
We must ever remember “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat 7:14). These characteristics are properly seen only “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6) – when He has been properly presented, and as the Son has risen to dominance, shedding light on everything else.
This condition is required by the very nature of God and His great salvation. The truth of the matter is that God will not allow anyone to appropriate His salvation, or enter into His presence, apart from His “only begotten Son.” Therefore, when we provide access to men only when Christ is seen plainly, we are acting in harmony with God Himself.
I have come from a background where it was comm on to state “the plan of salvation” and open the access to God in every sermon, and with every message. It made little difference if Jesus had been declared and seen plainly. I am saying it is not possible to support such a notion. If you will read the book of Acts with this in mind, you will find men were not given access to salvation until they had seen Jesus Christ as dominant.
SHUT THE DOORS AND BAR THEM. The gatekeepers were to stay on duty, or “stand by,” until the doors were shut and the bars put in place. This was to be done before the night descended upon them, and while the sun was still shining. Thus other versions read, “And while the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut and bar the doors,” NLT “and while the watchmen are in their places, let the doors be shut and locked.” BBE The idea is that the gatekeepers were to be on the site well before the gates were opened, and remain there until they were closed. It goes without saying, they must be watchful and vigilant.
APPOINT WATCHERS OF THE INHABITANTS. Guards were to be appointed from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” NKJV Throughout the city, everyone was to be on guard, with no lethargic and indifferent souls among them. Every area was to be covered. There were designated areas, or stations, and around private residences as well: “some at their posts and some near their own houses.” NIB It is understood that this spoke of the nighttime, after the gates had been shut. Thus a constant vigil was kept throughout the entire city, and beside every house. No stranger was to be included in the watch force, but all of them were to be taken from “the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” There were to be no hired mercenaries, but only those who had a personal interest in the city of Jerusalem, and were citizens of it.
A Parallel. In Christ Jesus, every believer plays a role in promoting spiritual safety. When we are exhorted, “be sober, be vigilant” (1 Pet 5:8), it is not for the individual alone. Wherever there is a weak Christian, the whole body is threatened, for that person becomes a point of entrance for the enemy. Therefore we are warned, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb 12:15). In the interest of the entire household of faith, we are to possess our souls in patience. None of our houses are to become an entry point for the enemy, but watchfulness must attend both day and night until Jesus comes.