COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 7:4 Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded. 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. 6 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.” (Neh 7:4-7)
Now that the wall has been built, attention is turned to the city itself. The purpose of the wall was to protect the city, and the purpose of the city was to house the Temple. Thus it was called “the city of the Great King” (Psa 48:2; Matt 5:35), “the city of the Lord of hosts” (Psa 48:8), and “the city of the Lord” (Psa 101:8). When Jehu made war against the worshipers of Baal, he began in a certain city: “the city of the house of Baal” (2 Kgs 10:25). Jerusalem was, in this sense, the city of the house of the true and living God. God’s presence was in the most holy place, which was in the Temple, which was in Jerusalem. That Divine Presence is what made the city His city. It was in that sense that He placed His name in Jerusalem (1 Kgs 11:36). His presence was there. Consequently His blessing was there. This is why Jesus called the Temple “My Father’s house” (John 2:16). It was more than a formal distinction. God’s presence sanctified the Temple, the Temple sanctified the city, and the city sanctified the wall. Therefore, now that the wall has been completed, our attention is appropriately turned to the city itself, which it protected.
THERE WAS PLENTY OF ROOM IN THE CITY
“ 7:4 Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded.” As a good and godly leader, Nehemiah knows God is not primarily interested in the wall itself, but in what it protected – the city of Jerusalem. One of the marks of inferior spiritual leaders is their inability to see the REASON for the great salvation of God. Salvation is likened to “walls and bulwarks” (Isa 26:1). As such, as with Nehemiah, it is what salvation is intended to do that is the point, and not salvation itself. As the walls protected Jerusalem, so salvation secures identity and fellowship with God and Christ, which is the point. Tragically, this is as little known within the professed church as the intention of Jerusalem’s walls were to those of Nehemiah’s day.
THE CITY WAS LARGE AND GREAT. Other versions read, “large and spacious.” NASB,NIV The Temple itself was relatively small. The interior of Solomon’s Temple, for example, was about ninety feet long, thirty feet wide, and forty-five feet high (1 Kgs 6:2). The Temple in Nehemiah’s day was the one built by Zerubbabel under the edict of Cyrus the Persian. It was apparently smaller and inferior to the one built by Solomon (Ezra 3:12). However, though relatively small, the Temple itself remained the center of the city, the hub of legitimate activity, and the reason for the distinction of the city.
The point of all of this is that the Temple sanctified a large area – an area in which people were intended to live – within proximity of the Lord Himself. The circumference of the city is estimated to have been between 4.6 and 6 miles. That would make the general size of the city over two square miles. , or at least 30-40 acres. All of this area was sanctified by the Temple, which was sanctified by God’s presence. For such a city to be “large and great” is a benefit of unusual magnitude, and an unparalleled opportunity.
THE PEOPLE WERE FEW THEREIN. The city of Jerusalem provided room for many more residents than were living there. Nehemiah saw this as improper. Large benefits are not intended to be occupied by a few people – particularly few of those for whom the benefit is really intended. We know that 42,360 people returned with Zerubbabel, who was charged with rebuilding the house of the Lord (Neh 7:66; Ezra 2:64). There were an additional 1,754 that returned with Ezra (Ezra 8:1-20). Yet, it appears that most of these people chose to live outside of Jerusalem, in surrounding areas. This was no doubt owing to the desolate condition of the “holy city.” However, Nehemiah was not content for things to remain this way. He knew God had not put into his heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem only to have the people living outside of the city they protected.
THE HOUSES WERE NOT BUILDED. Some few houses were in the city, and are mentioned in conjunction with the building of the wall (3:10,20,23,24,28,29). However, the city had not been prepared for actual inhabitants. People simply were not living there. During the building of the wall, Nehemiah had urged those living without the city to “lodge within Jerusalem” (4:22). But now attention must be given to populating the city. God is not glorified by a holy city that is protected by stable walls, yet has few occupants.
THE APPLICATION. The day in which we live perfectly parallels the time of Nehemiah. It is a day when God has established salvation for “walls and bulwarks” as He has promised. Access into the most holy place, where God Himself resides, has been opened (Heb 9:8). Jesus Christ, the High Priest, has been seated at God’s right hand enabling us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Because of the atoning death of Christ, we may draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22). Full provision has been made to “live in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25), “fellowship” with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3), have Christ “dwell in our hearts by faith” (Eph 3:17), and enjoy the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor 13:14). The redeemed can “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7). Their names have been “written in heaven” (Heb 12:23), and “Jerusalem which is above” is the “mother” of them all (Gal 4:26). We can live, so to speak, in Jerusalem.
Yet, tragically, many professed believers choose to live in the areas that surround Jerusalem. They can catch an occasional glimpse of the truth, yet do not have an appetite for it. They choose to live in the outer court, which has been “given to the Gentiles,” or those who do not really know the Lord (Rev 11:2). This is such a plague in the Western church that it staggers the hearts of those who consider it. People can scarcely be found who live close to the Lord, where they had been placed in Christ (Eph 2:6). This is a time that cries out for Nehemiah’s, who see the sparse population of the city God has prepared.
GOD PUT IT INTO MY HEART
“ 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.” One of Nehemiah’s traits was his sensitivity to uncomely situations. When he heard about the walls of Jerusalem being in shambles, its gates burned with fire, and the Jews in distress, his heart burned to do something about it (1:2-11). When he journeyed to Jerusalem and saw its actual condition, he challenged the people, “come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (2:17). When the heart of the builders became discouraged, and the fear of their enemies came upon them, Nehemiah immediately made provision for their protection (4:10-14). When the people cried out because of the injustices of their own nobles, the man of God set about to correct the condition (5:1-13). When he saw his brethren sold because of debt, he “redeemed” them (5:8). Here was a man God could trust, who had the faith of Abraham. It is no strange thing, therefore, that God now puts into his heart how to resolve the problem of the underpopulated city of Jerusalem.
GOD PUT INTO MINE HEART. This whole project began when God “put” it into Nehemiah’s heart to do something about the conditions in Jerusalem (2:12). Thusfar, in every situation, Nehemiah has turned to the Lord and relied upon Him. He has never taken things into his own hand, or relied upon mere human ingenuity. His faith has made him sensitive to the Lord, and thus he is able to know when something has been put into his heart by God. When a person lives at a distance from God, confusion concerning His will dominates. Such people take matters into their own hands and commit frequent blunders because they are insensitive to the Lord. They become like Samson, who “did not know that the LORD had departed from him” (Judg 16:20). They are like backslidden Israel who “did not know” that God “gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal” (Hosea 2:8). There are people who are literally “dumber than an ox.” It is written of such people, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (Isa 1:3).
Nehemiah is NOT such a person! He lives close enough to the Lord to know when God has put something into his heart. Like David, he can actually trace his thoughts back to God. “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with Thee” (Psa 139:17-18). Here is something the routine-makers have never been able to do: teach people to detect when God puts something into their hearts. There are no effective seminars or workshops on this matter. This is something that can be realized by faith, and faith alone. Thus, not only did God put something into Nehemiah’s heart, Nehemiah knew it! He realized what was also stated by Paul, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor 3:5).
GATHER THE PEOPLE. And what did the Lord put into the heart of this godly man? First, it was to gather the people together – all of them: nobles, rulers, and people. He had brought the people together to build the wall. He brought them together to provide protection against the enemy. Again, he brought them together to assure them God would fight for them. When they were together Nehemiah corrected injustices among them. Now he brings them together on the matter of populating the holy city.
RECKON BY GENEALOGY. Here the man of God takes great care. The challenge is not simply to get a lot of people into the city. This is the “holy city,” and was intended primarily for the people of God. Therefore, Nehemiah seeks for people of a pure lineage to be identified – people whose bloodline could be traced back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All of this was done in strict accord with the nature of the Old Covenant. It was a covenant based upon the fleshly identity of the people. By this means, the bloodline was kept pure for the coming of the Messiah, whose genealogy is most precise (Matt 1:1-16).
APPLICATION. Modern day “evangelism” is not noted for the wisdom of Nehemiah. It allows for people to be identified with the body of Christ who are not born again, and have not been joined to the Lord. When building upon the foundation of Christ, men must be particular and discreet. People of proper spiritual lineage are to be brought into the “church,” not those who are “wood, hay, and stubble” (1 Cor 3:10-12). God will ultimately test the caliber of all “converts.” Should any of them prove false, the one who “converted” them will “suffer loss” (1 Cor 3:15). Further, God has pledged He will “destroy” any person who defiles His spiritual house, the church, with inferior converts (1 Cor 3:17). Men do well to take heed to the conscientious manner in which Nehemiah proceeded, and do likewise.
I FOUND A REGISTER OF THE GENEALOGY
“ 5And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein. 6 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.”
Intent upon relocating the proper people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah searched for available and accurate genealogies. This was the manner under the Old Covenant, which focused upon the fleshly offspring of Abraham. Extensive genealogies are given of Abraham’s offspring (Gen 25:1-4; 1 Chron 1:32-34), Jacob (Gen 35:23-26), from Pharez to David (Ruth 4:18-22), and others. After the Law was given, and before the people entered into Canaan, a record was made of the people by “their pedigrees after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, by their polls” (Num 1:18). Both Matthew and Luke record the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, Matthew tracing from Abraham to Christ (Matt 1:1-17), and Luke from Christ all the way back to Adam (Lk 3:23-38). The point here is that Nehemiah proceeded in strict keeping with the covenant under which he lived. He did not resort to his own wisdom.
I FOUND A REGISTER. Other versions read, “book of the genealogy,” NASB and “genealogical record.” NIV Considering the Babylonian captivity, the deteriorated condition of Jerusalem, and the state of the nobles and priesthood, it is most remarkable that a register could be found at all. We must see that God was in this matter. We know this is the case because God put it into Nehemiah’s heart to do this. It should be no surprise to us, therefore, that He directs Nehemiah to the document required to do what has been put into his heart by the Lord.
THEY WENT UP OUT OF THE CAPTIVITY. Because the Jews kept accurate records, and because of the nature of the task, Nehemiah obtains the most recent register of genealogies. To read the one written in the wilderness by Moses would not be sufficient. Nor, indeed, would the one written during the reign of David (1 Chron 1-3). Nehemiah was not looking for novel historical facts, but for something that would assist him in moving the proper inhabitants into Jerusalem.
Therefore, Nehemiah selects the record made following the Babylonian captivity – the one closest to the time in which he lived. This is the record of those who came back from the captivity. The seventh verse tells us the people came back with Zerubbabel when he rebuilt the Temple. This was a good beginning point, for it was the record of the families who repopulated the area. This would assist him in actually locating the families.
THEY CAME AGAIN TO JERUSALEM. The record is very precise. These were the people who returned from the captivity effected by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The group returned to their native cities, Judah in general, and Jerusalem in particular. The people of whom Nehemiah had first heard when he was in Shushan were the “remnant” of this group (1:3). These came back under the edict of Cyrus, whose spirit God raised up to build the temple and send back a cluster of Jews. The language used by Ezra is identical to that of Nehemiah: “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” (Ezra 2:1). Among other things, this reveals Nehemiah’s dependence upon the Scriptures. He refers to Moses (1:7-9), and now to Ezra.
APPLICATION. There is a facet of the Kingdom that is made known here. Those who trust in the Lord also put a high regard on things He has revealed to others – in this case to Ezra. There is a notion among certain people that God leads only through personal thoughts and inclinations. Such individuals hold no regard whatsoever for the writings of other godly men, but depend wholly upon what they conceive God to be revealing to them. This is faulty reasoning, and cannot be supported by Scripture. God has nowhere pledged to make everything known personally to every believer. The Kingdom of God requires the acceptance of what He has revealed to others, as well as how He has directed them. Belshazzar was held accountable for not learning from the experience of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 5:22). Those in Christ are to learn from the experience of the Israelites (1 Cor 10:1-11). If something is revealed to a prophet, other prophets are to give due heed to that matter (1 Cor 14:30).
Nehemiah did not expect God to make everything known to him personally. He knew God also worked through written records, like the genealogy recorded in Ezra. God’s people are expected to avail themselves of, and learn from, all of God’s workings among men.