COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 7:7 . . . 66 The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, 67 Beside their manservants and their maidservants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and they had two hundred forty and five singing men and singing women . 68 Their horses, seven hundred thirty and six: their mules, two hundred forty and five: 69 Their camels, four hundred thirty and five: six thousand seven hundred and twenty asses. 70 And some of the chief of the fathers gave unto the work. The Tirshatha gave to the treasure a thousand drams of gold, fifty basins, five hundred and thirty priests' garments. 71 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. 72 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. 73 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.” (Neh 7:7-73)
This an most difficult text from which to teach because it comes to us in the shell of a genealogy. It is, however, the common view of genealogies that brings about this difficulty. In Scripture, genealogies are important. They were used to determine who were valid priests and high priests (Num 1:47-50; 16:40). They reveal the working of the Lord in maintaining a lineage through which the Savior would be born (Matt 1; Luke 3). The Lord also established a genealogy through David, which ultimately led to Jesus Christ (1 Kgs 2:33; Psa 89:5; Lk 1:32). There are two important ministries of Scriptural lineages. First, they reveal the mighty working of the Lord in maintaining a pure lineage in spite of the frequent appearance of barren women, mixed marriages, and the Babylonian captivity. Second, in them certain vital spiritual principles are revealed. Both points are profitable.
THE RETURNING MULTITUDE AND THEIR PROVISIONS
OVERVIEW OF VERSES 7-73 – Parallels Ezra 2:3-70
1. Children of Parosh, 2,172
2. Children of Shephatiah, 372
3. Children of Arah, 652
4. Children of PahathMoab, of the children of Jeshua and Joab, 2,818
5. Children of Elam, 1,254
6. Children of Zattu, 845
7. Children of Zacci, 760
8. Children of Binnui, 648
9. Children of Bebai, 628
10. Children of Azgad, 2,322
11. Children of Adonikam, 667
12. Children of Bigvai, 2,067
13. Children of Adin, 655
14. Children of Ater (through Hezekiah), 98
15. Children of Hashum, 328
16. Children of Bezai, 324
17. Children of Hariph, 112
18. Children of Gibeon, 95
19. Men of Bethlehem and Netophah, 188
20. Men of Anathoth, 128
21. Men of Bethasmaveth, 42
22. Men of Kirjathjearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743
23. Men of Ramah and Gaba, 621
24. Men of Michmas, 122
25. Men of Bethel and Ai, 123
26. Men of the other Nebo, 52
27. Children of the other Elam, 1,254
28. Children of Harim, 320
29. Children of Jericho, 345
30. Children of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 721
31. Children of Senaah, 3,930
32. The priests the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973
33. Children of Immer, 1,052
34. Children of Pashur, 1,247
35. Children of Harim, 1,017
36. The Levites: the children of Jeshua, of Kadmiel, and of the children of Hodevah, 74
37. The singers: the children of Asaph, 148
38. The porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, the children of Shobai, 138
39. All the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants, 392 (detailed in verses 46-60)
40. Those who could not prove they were from Israel.
• Telmelah, Telharesha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer:
► The children of Delaiah, the children of Tobiah, the children of Nekoda, 642
• 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.
► Names not found in the genealogy, therefore, as polluted, put from the priesthood
► Should not eat of holy things until there was a priest with Urim and Thummim
• Whole congregation 42,360 – with the servants and singers, number came to 49,942
• In addition:
• Manservants and maidservants, 7,337
• Men and women singers, 245
• Horses, 736
• Mules, 245
• Camels, 435
• Asses, 6,720
(8,136 head of livestock)
• Governor gave 1,000 drams of gold (19 lbs), 50 basins, and 530 garments for priests
• Some of the chief fathers (family heads) gave 20,000 drams of gold (375 lbs), 2,200 pound of silver (1-1/3 tons)
• Rest of the people gave 20,000 drams of gold (375 lbs), 2,000 pound of silver (1-1/4 ton), and 67 garments for priests.
(769 pounds of gold, 2.5 tons of silver, 50 basins 597 garments)
• After seven months, the priests, Levites, porters, singes, some of the people, Nethinims, and all Israel dwelt in their cities.
CLASSES OF PEOPLE. Note the different classes of people. Some were reckoned primarily by their fleshly lineage – “children of” (8-25, 34-63). Others were considered from their place of residence – “men of” (26-33). Still others were viewed from the standpoint of their occupation in the Temple – “the Levites, “the porters,” and “the Nethinims.” Some were reckoned in the number because they were servants – “manservants,” “maidservants,” and additional “singers.” There was also particular qualifications: children of children (11,), “through Hezekiah” (21), and “of the children of the house of” (39). Notice how precise and thorough the count was made.
ANIMALS. Horses, mules, camels, asses – 8,136 beasts of burden and work.
DONATIONS. 769 pounds of gold, 2.5 tons of silver, 50 basins, 597 garments for the priests – Provisions for the ministry in the Temple.
THE TIME IT TOOK TO SETTLE IN. Seven months to reoccupy the cities.
OBSERVATIONS, AND DECISIONS THAT HAD TO BE MADE
OBSERVATIONS. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, several thousand people had returned with adequate supplies and beasts to Jerusalem and Judah (Ezra 2:1-2). They returned safely under the mandate of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-5). The spirit of the people was high, and they willingly gave of their substance for the work of building the temple (Ezra 1:6). The vessels of the Temple were returned from Babylon, where Nebuchadnezzar had stored them – 5,400 hundred articles in all (Ezra 1:7-11). This took place around 536 B.C. The Temple was completed twenty years later, in 516 B.C. Ezra returned to Jerusalem to establish spiritual order around 458 B.C. – 58 years later. Now, around 433 B.C., Nehemiah is setting about to populate the city of Jerusalem. He is doing this about 103 years after the mandate of Cyrus, 83 years after the Temple was completed, and 25 years after Ezra had went to Judea to put things in order.
While God can and does restore the years the locust, cankerworm, caterpillar, and palmerworm have eaten (His great army which He sent among them – Joel 2:25), that restoration is not always rapid. Far better to avoid the chastening hand of the Lord, than to be stricken down by Him and have to recover from the snare of the devil (2 Tim 2:26).
Reliance upon the Lord must be continuous to be effective. The returning people started out well in Zerubbabel’s day. However, when Nehemiah returned, circumstances were once again deplorable, the city unoccupied, its walls demolished, and its gates burned. These things are written to assist us in avoiding spiritual retrogression.
“ 61 And these were they which went up also from Telmelah, Telharesha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer: but they could not show their father's house, nor their seed, whether they were of Israel . . . 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. 64 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. 65 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.”
When Zerubbabel had led the group back to Jerusalem and Judah, there were some hard decisions that had to be made. This was no time for generalizations, compromises, or thoughtless decisions. When we are speaking about the people of God, the city of God, and the Temple of God, a high level of sobriety and sensitivity is required.
THEY COULD NOT SHOW THEIR FATHER’S HOUSE. Telmelah, Telharesha, Cherub, and Addon were cities in Babylon. It was there that these particular people lost their identity, and now they could no longer accurately trace their Jewish lineage. This was not the case with everyone. In fact, this condition was the exception to the rule. “This group included the families of Delaiah, Tobiah, and Nekoda – a total of 642.” NLT This does not include the Tobiah Nehemiah confronted, but is one having that name over one hundred years earlier. Their humiliating condition is recorded in the register for all to read.
Lesson. In spite of some of the fanciful theologies of our day, when those who were once free in Christ become entangled in bondage, they begin to lose their identity. The marks of discipleship, signs of Divine acceptance, and privileges of the New Covenant can be lost in spiritual Babylon. It is a danger of which we are solemnly warned (2 Pet 2:20-22).
THEY SOUGHT THEIR REGISTER, BUT FOUND NONE. There was also a company of priests, including some of the children of Barzillai. This man had married one of the daughters of another Barzillai (the Gileadite), taking the name of her father for his own name. As a result, his lineage became confused, and the appropriate lineage could not be found in the register. This now required that a judgment be made concerning their participation in the priesthood. The foolish act of one man later caused confusion to many!
THEY SHOULD NOT EAT OF THE HOLY THINGS. The Tirshahtha (also mentioned in Ezra 2:63; Neh 7:10; 8:9; 10:1) is the governor, and is so translated in other versions. The Governor at the time to which this record refers was probably Zerubbabel. The judgment was made that these priests, whose lineage could not be established, could not eat the things of the Temple, as other priests (Lev 2:3,10; 6:17; 7:19-20; 10:17-18; 21:21-23). This prohibition was in force until a priest was ministering who had the Urim and Thummin. These were stones placed inside the breastplate of the high priest (Ex 26:30). They were used by God to determine judgments that could not otherwise be known (Num 27:21; 1 Sam 28:6). The meaning is that when such a high priest was found, he could obtain from the Lord the knowledge that could not be established in the genealogy.
A PICTURE, OR SHADOW, OF SPIRITUAL REALITIES
“Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col 2:17), “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount” (Heb 8:5), “For the law having a shadow of good things to come” (Heb 10:1).
THE BOOK OF LIFE. This section of Nehemiah is a marvelous type, or shadow, of the book of life. This book is mentioned eight times in Scripture (Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5; Rev 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27; 22:19). The eternal destiny of every person is determined by this book. All whose names are found therein will dwell forever with the Lord (Rev 21:27). If a person’s name is not written in this book, they will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15). This is the book to which the following phrases refer: “but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20), and “the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven” (Heb 12:23). This is the book of heavenly lineage. Everyone written there is accepted by God, and considered alive. Their lineage can, by the grace of God, be traced to Jesus – whether they lived by faith anticipating Christ’s coming, or lived by faith believing the Gospel that announces He is come.
Men spend a great deal of time seeking the approval of others. This is particularly true in the religious realm. People try to find the right church, with the right name, and the correct theology. All of that is fine in its place. However, our eternal destiny is determined by the Lord’s recognition of us, just as surely as the written genealogy the Jews that accompanied Zerubbabel determined their place in Jerusalem.
WHERE WERE YOU BORN? The Psalmist refers to the manner in which the Lord reckons the acceptance of a person before Him. “And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the Highest Himself shall establish her. The LORD shall count, when He writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah” (Psa 87:5-6). The Lord takes the new birth into consideration when He, so to speak, tallies up the people. Jesus said a man had to be “born again” before he could “see” or “enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3,5). In this world, the reality of the new birth is not always known. However, when the people of God “gathered” together like wheat, to forever be with the Lord, their spiritual birth, or the lack thereof, will be taken into account.
There is another “Jerusalem” that has been built for habitation. Now, in this world, we become citizens of the “heavenly Jerusalem,” which is “the city of the Living God” – the place where He dwells (Heb 12:22). There is a sense in which this city is our mother as well as the place we reside in Christ. In New Covenant language, “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal 4:26).
The prophets spoke much of a change that would take place in Jerusalem. They were actually speaking of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus more than historical Jerusalem. “Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem” (Isa 52:9). “For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth” (Isa 62:1). “But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying” (Isa 65:18-19). “So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more” (Joel 3:17). These, and other similar, texts find their highest meaning in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as surely as it was necessary to establish a proper fleshly lineage before and during the Old Covenant, just so it is essential that our spiritual lives be traced to a proper origin. Concerning our personal dependence upon the Lord, we must have “the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). Concerning our life, we are to have “the Spirit of Christ,” without which we are “none of His” (Rom 8:9).
Believers must master the fine art of refraining from being judgmental, while at the same time recognizing and loving “the brethren.” The Spirit is quite pointed on this matter. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14). That “unfeigned love of the brethren” (1 Pet 1:22) reveals our spiritual pedigree, just as surely as a person who could identify with those in Zerubabbel’s register confirmed their fleshly lineage.