COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 11:1 “And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities. 2 And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem. 3 Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants.” (Nehemiah 11:1-3)
Having made a covenant with the Lord, and sealed it with both signature and vow, the time has come to put their words into action. The first work is to populate “Jerusalem the holy city.” With its deterioration, its population had also greatly diminished. The vows of the people cannot be carried out if the holy city is unpopulated. However, the citizenry of Jerusalem must not be selected randomly, nor will the city be made available to vagrants and people who have no interest in the affairs of the city where God has placed His name. Nor, indeed, will they populate Jerusalem with the kind of mind-set revealed at the building of the tower of Babel. Inhabitants will be brought into city with the covenant in mind that they have just made. Occupants must be there that will contribute to the timely and consistent fulfillment of their solemn vows. There must also be a keen interest in the protection of the city, and the unique activities that were fulfilled in it.
CHOOSING WHO WOULD DWELL IN JERUSALEM
“ 11:1 And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities.”
Nehemiah had recorded the situation at Jerusalem. “Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded” (7:4). Now he sets out to resolve that situation. Before he did this, there had to be agreement among the people to serve the Lord and reclaim their spiritual heritage. Without this, the city of Jerusalem could not have its proper significance. A “holy city” and an unholy people do not mix. A register of the qualified people has already been prepared (7:15), and they now proceed.
First, note the orderliness with which they go about populating the city. There is a total absence of randomness that allows for disinterest among the people. They do not hire a social strategist who is purported to know how to populate cities. There is no dependence upon the world in any of its forms, from government to the worldly wise. The city is not thrown open to just any people. This is “the city of God” (Psa 46:4; 87:3), and only His people will be allowed to dwell in it. Once the Lord said of Jerusalem, “the city which I have chosen to put My name there” (1 Kgs 11:36). We will now find that there were also people among the Jews who, so to speak, chose to put their name there.
THE RULERS OF THE PEOPLE. Other versions read “leaders of the people,” NKJV emphasizing the manner of Divine government. Among the people with whom God has identified Himself, “rulers” are leaders – men who bring His people to their “desired haven” (Psa 107:30). That is, they are men who know God’s will for the people, and wisely and considerately lead the people into that will. Thus Moses led the people to Canaan. Aaron led the people in things pertaining to God. Joshua led the people into Canaan. The Prophets led the people into a consideration of their ways and their God. John the Baptist led the people in preparing for the Messiah. In the body of Christ, people are admonished to follow the faith of their “rulers,” not their dictates (Heb 13:7).
Nehemiah 2:14 suggests that the rulers may have been living in Jerusalem from the first. It is fitting that the rulers dwell in Jerusalem – the center of activity for the people of God. By residing there, the rulers confessed this was the central place of activity for the covenanted people – the place where God’s house was situated. That is what made it “Jerusalem the holy city.” It thus was the place where their office ought to be executed – in the presence of the Lord. They were also providing an encouraging example for the people, who had grown accustomed to seeing a vacated Jerusalem lying in shambles.
CASTING LOTS. As suggested in previous lessons, the casting of lots was an admission that a sure course of action was not known. Thus, in what appeared to be something of chance, the people relied upon the Lord to direct their paths. As it is written, “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov 16:33). This is how the promised land was divided (Num 26:55), and Mathias was chosen to fill Judas’ bishopric (Acts 1:26). The people did not rely upon their own wisdom in this matter.
“The rest of the people” were those who were not already living in Jerusalem – which was most of the people. Although several thousands of Jews had returned to Judah, very few were living in Jerusalem because it was in shambles and “the houses were not builded.” This is also the first place in Scripture where the words “the holy city” occur.
ONE OF TEN. A cross section of the people will move into the city – in fact, a tithe of the people, “one out of ten.” NIV These people would not only be required to move into the city, but build houses in which to dwell. Although these people would be afforded the privilege of living in “the holy city,” their occupation would require much effort on their part. Here is an obvious foreshadowing of the lives of those who are in Christ Jesus. Although residing in a state of blessedness, yet believers must build themselves up “in the most holy faith” (Jude 1:20), lay up for themselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:19-20), and lay up for themselves “a good foundation against the time to come” (1 Tim 6:19).
OTHER CITIES. Some versions read, “remained in other cities,” NASB and “stay in their own towns.” NIV The “other cities” it is to be understood, were in Judah, and not surrounding heathen countries. The Septuagint version emphasizes this: “THE other cities.” Nehemiah 7:73 makes quite clear that the “children of Israel” settled in “THEIR cities.” Verse three also confirms these were “cities of Judah.” No one was at liberty to live outside of the promised land itself, even though some had been living near their enemies (Neh 4:12). Similarly, in Christ, there are “heavenly places” to be occupied (Eph 1:3; 2:6).
A SPECIAL BLESSING TO BE HAD
“ 2 And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.” Other versions read, “And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem,” NASB/NIV “The people praised all those who volunteered to live in Jerusalem,” NJB and “And the people commended everyone who volunteered to resettle in Jerusalem.” NLT
THE PEOPLE BLESSED. What accord and single-mindedness there was among the people! It was not Nehemiah who blessed this group of people, nor the rulers, but the people themselves. Such reactions to godly choices are not common.
Most of the time, a person blessed the people. Moses and Aaron “blessed the people” (Lev 9:23). David did the same (2 Sam 6:18). The priests and the Levites also blessed the people during the revival of Hezekiah (2 Chron 30:27).But here, the people do the blessing. After Solomon had dedicated the Temple he “sent the people away.” At that time we have the only other record of the people doing the blessing. It is written that they “blessed the king, and went unto their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the LORD had done for David His servant, and for Israel His people” (1 Kgs 8:66). Something of the same spirit characterizes the people in our text. It was a time of gladness and perception, of thankfulness and of praise. Under the Old Covenant, such occasions were exceedingly rare. They ought to be common in this “day of salvation.”
By saying “the people blessed,” our text means they praised, congratulated, and thanked the souls of reference. They recognized that what they did was comely and brought honor to God. Those who are conscious of God will also be aware of the value of decisions made for His honor and glory. Where the latter is lacking, there is not a dominating cognizance of the Living God.
THEY VOLUNTEERED. These people did not have to be assigned by the casting of lots. It appears that as the selection procedure was set in motion, these people leaped forward, presenting themselves as willing occupants of “the holy city.” They did not demand to live in Jerusalem, seeking to impose their preference upon the people. Rather, they volunteered, confirming they were willing to take up occupancy in Jerusalem.
Willingness is a most comely trait, and is always duly noted by the God of heaven. When an offering for the tabernacle was taken, it was from every man who gave “it willingly with his heart”(Ex 25:2). The Lord is said to have avenged Israel when “the people willingly offered themselves” (Judges 5:2). When materials were gathered for the construction of the Temple, everyone “offered willingly” (1 Chron 29:6), doing so “with a perfect heart” (1 Chron 29:9). One of David’s top three military men, Amasiah, “willingly offered himself unto the Lord,” together with 200,000 “mighty men of valor” (2 Chron 17:16). When Cyrus called for a return of the Jews to Jerusalem, the people “willingly offered” of their goods (Ezra 1:6). Paul affirmed that if he carried out his commission “willingly, I have a reward”(1 Cor 9:17). Elders are admonished to fulfill their office “willingly”(1 Pet 5:2).
The point to be seen is that willingness is the standard of the Kingdom of God, even though it has always been unusual among those professing His name. In the 100th Psalm, David the prophet declares, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power” (Psa 110:3). This means the absence of willingness is owing to a rejection of God’s power. Men may boast of their free will, and human rights, but no man is free enough to reject God’s empowering grace without paying the price for doing so. When one assesses the state of the modern church, these observations become quite alarming. Willingness to sacrifice self-will in the interest of God’s will is not at all common. Yet, this is what the Lord Jesus did in order to secure our salvation (Lk 22:42), thereby establishing the priority of this mind-set.
The imposition of Divine will. Ultimately, the will of the Lord will be imposed upon all recalcitrant souls. Those who refuse to believe are told, “he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Those who do not know God and obey not the Gospel are told Jesus will come “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 1:8). All who insist on feeding their flesh are promised, “he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). While these words may not be pleasant for some to hear, it is necessary that they be said.
In the meantime, we do have an opportunity to present ourselves to God as a “willing sacrifice”(Rom 12:1-2). In order to assist us to be willing, the “glorious Gospel of the blessed God”(1 Tim 1:11) announces the gracious intentions of God through Christ Jesus. The truth of the matter is that we have infinitely greater reason to be willing to occupy “Jerusalem that is above,” than those of our text did to move into Jerusalem in Judea.
DWELLING IN THE CITIES OF JUDAH
“ 3 Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants.”
CHIEF OF THE PROVINCE. Here Judah is called a “province.” Ezra records those returning to Judah as “children of the province” (Ezra 2:1). Nehemiah did the same (Neh 7:6). Ezra also refers to “the province of Judea”(Ezra 5:8). Nehemiah himself had been appointed “governor in the land of Judah” (Neh 5:14). Jeremiah also refers to Gedaliah, “whom the king of Babylon hath made governor over the cities of Judah” (Jer 40:5). Zeruabbabel had also been made “governor of Judah” by a heathen king (Hag 1:1).
In this text, the province is Judah, but the word “chief” is understood to be plural. Other versions read “heads,” NKJV “leaders,” NIV “chiefs,” RSV “chief men,” DOUAY and “officials.”NLT These “chiefs” resided in Jerusalem, and are identified in verses four and five.
In the beginning, when the land was given to Israel, Judah was not a “province,” and its leaders were not appointed by heathen kings. In fact, there were no “governors” over the land until after the Babylonian captivity. Prior to that, there were governors of houses (1 Kgs 18:3), cities (1 Kgs 22:26; 2 Kgs 23:8), and over the various tribes (1 Chron 1:2). But now, because of the Babylonian captivity, and in the name of the king of Persia, Judah had been reduced to a province – not of the promised land, but of Persia.
There is inestimable loss when the people of God are chastened for their waywardness. Even though the God chastens His people for their “profit,” and in order that they might be “partakers of His holiness” (Heb 12:10), chastening is not to be understood as the appointed means to spiritual heights. Such a thought is a delusion, lending itself to the persuasion that one can sin in order that “grace may abound”(Gal 6:1). Chastening is more “that we should not be not condemned with the world,” than that we should realize a more profound walk with the Lord (1 Cor 11:32). Although this is a most difficult thing to expound without causing despair on the one hand, or presumption on the other, yet the heart must be willing to consider these things. Sin does have its penalty.
IN HIS POSSESSION. People did not, independently of their appointed inheritance, simply choose where they wanted to live. They lived in their own possession and city. The original assignment was made by Joshua, according to the Lord’s command through Moses (Num 26:55-56; Josh 13:6; 14:2; 23:4). Actually, the choice was made by God through the casting of lots. It was therefore the responsibility of the people to occupy what had been given to their fathers. This was one of the reasons for the census that was taken by both Ezra (Ezra 2) and Nehemiah (Neh 7).
In Christ Jesus, it is imperative that every member live where the Lord has placed them within His body. It is revealed that God has “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him” (1 Cor 12:18). That place, or ministry, is to spiritual life what occupying their own possession and city was to the Jews of our text. If the enemy has lured us away from our kingdom slot, or if we have been chastened because of our own unfaithfulness, it is essential that we get back to where we belong. That is part of a person being restored (Gal 6:1), or doing the “first works” (Rev 2:5). At no point is it justifiable for a person in Christ Jesus to be less involved than he was before, or to occupy a smaller portion of the heavenly places than was once occupied. This is a particularly weak point in the church of our day. All manner of professed believers are living beneath where they once were, to say nothing of where they could be, by the grace of God.
IN THE CITIES OF JUDAH. The cities were the ones from which the Jews were expelled in the Babylonian captivity, and which they were assigned by lot. The people were to return to them, repair them, and inhabit them. There is no question but that this required considerable effort. The inhabitants that did not live in Jerusalem – or the nine-tenths that remained – are said to be “Israelites” (the common people), “the priests” (who served the Lord), “the Levites” (who served the priests), “the Nethinims” (who served in the Temple), and “the children of Solomon’s servants” (servants of those remaining in the land, of whom Solomon made servants, 1 Kgs 9:21). Those working in the Temple served by course, or at appointed times and in sequence (10:34). One tenth of these groups lived full time in Jerusalem. The remaining ones lived in adjacent cities until their time arrived to serve. During that time, they remained in the Temple (10:39). Verse 20 of this chapter clearly states that “the residue of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah , every one in his inheritance.” They lived were they had been appointed.