COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 10:38 And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house. 39 For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.” (Nehemiah 10:38-39)
Having become God-conscious, the people are now acutely aware of His house, the Temple. This was the hub of Jewish life, and those who had been chosen to minister there were the concern of all of the people. In order to properly focus on the Temple services, the people have separated themselves from the heathen, refusing to intermarry with them (10:30). They have also given themselves to the proper observance of the Sabbath day, resolving not to buy from heathen merchants that came to sell goods on that day (10:31). Full provision was also made for the priests and Levites, who had no inheritance in the land. This included an annual tax taken from all of the people, and the first fruits of the land, all trees, and all flocks and herds (10:32-37). Now, in confirmation of their commitment to the house of the Lord, they provide for the handling of their offerings, promising not to forsake the house of their God.
THE PRIEST THE SON OF AARON, AND THE TITHE OF TITHES
“ 10:38 And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.”
It is essential to see that the people do not create their own ways to serve the Lord. They are restoring the practices that God had put into place under Moses – ways that had fallen by the way over the years. There were no doubt whole generations who had little or no knowledge about these requirements. Prior to the Babylonian captivity, the whole nation had been in a state of constant decline. A few revivals and awakenings had occurred under Samuel (1 Sam 7:1-6), Elijah (1 Kgs 18:17-40), Jehoash and Jehoiada (2 Kgs 11:1-12:21), Hezekiah (2 Kgs 18:1-7), Josiah (2 Kgs 22:1-20), Asa (2 Chron 14:2-5; 15:1-14), and Manasseh (2 Chron 33:12-19). But none of them had lasted for any extended period of time. With constant judgments levied against them by God, and the continual sound of the Prophets in their ears, “They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel” (Psa 106:13). Through Hosea God gave a pitiful assessment of them: “she went after her lovers, and forgat Me, saith the LORD” (Hosea 2:13).
One of the tragic effects of this was the loss of even a rudimentary knowledge of the Living God. The house of God was neglected, His priests and servants forgotten, and the people lived wholly for themselves. When it came to things pertaining to God, they offered their worst, complained about it, and let the house of God waste away. However, they could not maintain such an attitude after the Word of God has entered into their ears and hearts. Now, they could no longer neglect the house and servants of God. Through the convicting power of the Spirit, they were able to make an association between the house and servants of God and themselves. They were able to apply the Law to their own lives.
THE PRIEST THE SON OF AARON. A distinction was made between the Levites and “the priest the son of Aaron.” Under the Law, Eleazar “the son of Aaron,” was appointed as “chief of the Levites” (Num 3:32). The Lord also said of Aaron and his sons, “And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel” (Num 3:9). Aaron then dedicated the priests to the service of the Lord. As it is written, “And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the LORD” (Num 8:11).
In this text, a priest of the order of Aaron the High Priest was to be with the Levites when the they received the tithes from the people. This would ensure that no Levite coveted any of the tithes, being tempted to take it for himself, or withhold it from the priests. Strict care, therefore, was taken to ensure there was not an outbreak of covetousness, as with Achan during the conquest of Jericho (Josh 7:20-21). This is an Old Covenant example of making “no provision for the flesh” (Rom 13:14), and giving no “place to the devil” (Eph 4:27). Keep in mind, this is something that the people have all seen. I find this perception and wisdom to be a most remarkable thing in any age – particularly one in which there was no remission of sin or fellowship with God through Christ Jesus.
THE TITHE OF THE TITHES. Under the Law, this was called “the tenth part of the tithe.” This part of the tithes was then was presented as a “heave offering” to the Lord by the Levites. This “heave offering” was, in turn, given to the “Aaron the priest” – i.e. the High Priest (Num 18:26-28). A “heave offering” was one voluntarily lifted up to the Lord as an offering or gift to be used in the Lord’s service. They were gifts to the Lord, which He, in turn, gave to the priests. Thus, the Levites gave the tithe, of what the people had tithed to them, to the priest. These were formal presentations, yet were to be voluntary. Other versions refer to “heave offerings” as “present an offering” NASB,NIV and “set apart an offering,” NRSV “Lord’s lifted offering,” BBE and “the Lord’s contribution to . . . the priest.” ESV Notice how the Lord provided for the priest. The people gave their tithes to the Levites, who in turn gave a tithe of the tithes to the priest. Thus we see that Divine provisions often come to men through the instrumentality of others – in this case, from the people through the Levites. All of this was done under the superintendence of a priest. The people were restoring a procedure specifically outlined by God – not creating a new way of doing things.
THE TREASURE HOUSE. David is said to have established brethren “over all the treasures of the dedicated things” (1 Chron 26:26). Hezekiah also prepared chambers in which the tithes were to be stored (2 Chron 31:11-12). Notice, the things that were dedicated to the priests were called “treasures,” and the place where they were stored was called a “treasure house.” Thus the highest regard was assigned to things given to God.
BROUGHT INTO THE CHAMBERS
“ 39a For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers . . . ”
Keep in mind, we are not reading the dictates of the Law itself, but a covenant made by the people to do what the Law required. It is a blessed day when Divine requirements and the will of the people are brought together in perfect accord. This is an Old Covenant picture of God’s laws being written upon the heart and put into the mind. It is when the people are brought to think like the Lord, and are resolved to continue that way of thinking. There has been such a significant deterioration of spiritual life, that resolves like that of Nehemiah’s day are exceedingly rare in this day of salvation – even though in Christ Jesus this is the norm, or standard. No person in Christ Jesus can be justified in having less of a heart and mind for the things of God than those in Nehemiah’s day.
CHILDREN OF ISRAEL AND THE LEVITES. Willingness was promised in both the people and the Levites, or those who served in the Temple. Other versions read that both the people and the Levites would “bring the contribution,” NASB or “bring their contributions.” NIV The idea is that all of the offerings would be brought together and at once – not by each individual person or family. It was like a formal presentation to the Lord, attended by the wholehearted agreement of all of the people. The Lord had specified such a procedure under the Law (Deut 12:4-6). In the revival of Hezekiah’s time, he also instituted such a procedure (2 Chron 31:11-12).
While true religion is personal, it is also collective. God has set the solitary “in families” (Psa 68:6), and “none of us liveth to himself” (Rom 14:7). There is an irreplaceable ministry that takes place in willing unified efforts. When hearts are joined together in holy resolves, advantages are realized that cannot be otherwise experienced.
BRING THE OFFERING TO THE CHAMBERS. The tithes were not sent to the chambers and treasure house by professional freight carriers. They were brought by the people and the Levites. These offerings included grain, wine, and oil – all to be used in the service of the Lord. What is given to God is to be brought personally – given from the heart, for “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). In bringing the offerings to the chambers and treasure house, the people would become more aware of the Lord, His work, and His servants. If people are going to become more conscious of the Lord, they must eventually be around people and things that are associated with Him. One of the marks of lifeless ritual and vain religion is that an association is not made between the activity, and the God to whom it is professed to be offered.
VESSELS OF THE SANCTUARY. The “chambers,” or storerooms also contained the “vessels” used in the Divine service. Other versions refer to them as “articles of the sanctuary,” NKJV “utensils of the sanctuary,” NASB and “sanctified vessels.” DOUAY These vessels were used in the Temple service. It also appears as though the commodities brought in were stored in these vessels – a way of emphasizing that holy things must be stored in holy vessels. Not only were those who served the Lord to themselves be holy (Isa 52:11), but things devoted to the Lord were to be stored in dedicated containers within a dedicated place. In this we see a marvelous depiction of what has taken place in God’s “great salvation.” God has taken His holy Law, together with spiritual blessings, and put them into a people who have been made holy, and placed in holy and heavenly places. There is a sense in which the people of God are in God’s chambers – His treasure house.
THE PRIESTS THAT MINISTER. These “chambers” were also the residence of the priests when they ministered. They lived where they served! These were also the place where the priests ate of the holy things (Ezek 42:13). In the wilderness, the priests ate “by the door of the tabernacle” (Ex 29:33), a holy place (Lev 6:16), and the court of the tabernacle (Lev 6:26). Ezekiel spoke of “chambers” in which the priests that approached God were to “eat the most holy things” (Ezek 42:13). Once again, we have a remarkably detailed type of how the things of God are to be consumed – in a holy place. For those in Christ Jesus, this is “the heavenly places,” where spiritual blessings are realized (Eph 1:3).
THE PORTERS AND THE SINGERS. The “porters” were gatekeepers (1 Chron 9:22), having charge of both the entrances and exit to the Temple. Some of them also had charge of “the chambers and treasuries of the house of God” (1 Chron 9:26). During their time of service, they also resided in these chambers. The singers also stayed in these areas, singing “joyful songs” night and day for God’s glory (1 Chron 15:16; 9:33).
WE WILL NOT FORSAKE THE HOUSE OF OUR GOD
“ 39b . . . and we will not forsake the house of our God.” Other versions read, “We will not neglect” NKJV “THUS we will not neglect,” NASB and “not give up caring for.” BBE
The idea is this: by bringing the tithes into the chambers and treasuries, we will not be neglecting or forsaking the house of God. Note, they did not simply make a resolve, but expressed their resolution in terms of specific and determined action. A common weakness in spiritual resolves is found in this very area – people generalize when determining to serve the Lord. There is a time to be specific, even as the people in our text.
WE WILL NOT FORSAKE. The Word “forsake” is a strong one, meaning to relinquish, fail, leave destitute, or refuse association with. This is not a term describing merely forgetting. Rather, it is deliberate – a condition in which one thing is intentionally neglected in preference for something else. The penitent Israelites are here saying that by making the covenant to give their tithes, and bring the supplies to the chambers and treasury of the house of God, they would no longer forsake and neglect it. Thus, to fail to do these things would, in fact, be forsaking God’s house – a personal affront to the Lord.
The Lord has revealed that He takes note of those who neglect things with which He is identified. During the time of Haggai the prophet, around eighty years before the time of our text, God spoke to the issue of neglecting His house. “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” NKJV (Hag 1:4-5). Prior to Nehemiah, therefore, those who had returned to Judah had been busy preparing their own houses, but had forsaken God’s house, which was to be the center of their lives.
Legion is the name of those who willingly and deliberately “forsake” the house of the Lord! In this day of salvation, that “house” is the church, the body of Christ. As it is written, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). There are still people zealously attending to their own personal interests while the place of God’s dwelling is neglected. It is interesting that the Spirit uses the same kind of language in an exhortation to believers. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb 10:24-25). The fact that such an assembly is, in fact, the house of God, is seen in Christ’s own words. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mat 18:20).
While it is not appropriate to make laws to be bound on other people, it is comely to make a covenant before God NOT to neglect the house of God. It is good to determine to bring into “the assembly of the saints” (Psa 89:7) things that provide for the edification of and encouragement of believers, and the ongoing work of the Lord. Those in Christ Jesus ought not be upstaged by those of Nehemiah’s day. In the Son, we have received more, see more, and are promised more. Therefore, our resolves must not be inferior to theirs, or our determinations of lesser quality and magnitude than those they expressed. Although this is a rather elementary observation, it is scarcely known in our time.
THE HOUSE OF OUR GOD. There is a glorious confession in these words: “OUR God.” This is an Old Covenant equivalent of Jesus’ reference to the Temple as “My Father’s house” (John 2:16). Also, when young Jesus was found in the Temple, He said He was about His “Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). It is also a type of the New Covenant expressions “church of God” (1 Cor 1:2), “house of God”(1 Pet 4:17), “temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16-17) , and “God’s husbandry” and “God’s building” (1 Cor 3:9). It is where the Lord God resides – the place where He can be found, and where His blessings are enjoyed. It is where His servants serve Him, and the precious things of God are stored.
Now, with their hearts tender to the Lord, the people see the Temple differently than they had before. Before the Babylonian captivity, they had neglected this house. After the captivity had ended, they had allowed it to remain unoccupied and unused, even after it had been built under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Even after Ezra had restored the sanctity of Temple service and the importance of holiness, it was still not being honored in Nehemiah’s time. The people had endured hardship, and still did not remember God’s house. Their enemies had oppressed them, and the Temple treasury had still not been replenished. Now, in less than two months, the whole situation has changed. There is now zeal for the house of the Lord, and a public determination to be mindful of the Lord.