COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 11:4 “And at Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin . . . All the sons of Perez that dwelt at Jerusalem were four hundred threescore and eight valiant men. 7 And these are the sons of Benjamin . . . nine hundred twenty and eight. 9 And Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer: and Judah the son of Senuah was second over the city. 10 Of the priests . . . 12 And their brethren that did the work of the house were eight hundred twenty and two . . . 13 And his brethren, chief of the fathers, two hundred forty and two . . . 14 And their brethren, mighty men of valor, an hundred twenty and eight: and their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of one of the great men. 15 Also of the Levites . . . of the chief of the Levites, had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God. 17 And . . . the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer: and . . . the second among his brethren . . . 18 All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred fourscore and four. 19 Moreover the porters . . . that kept the gates, were an hundred seventy and two.” (Nehemiah 11:4-19)
CHILDREN OF JUDAH AND CHILDREN OF BENJAMIN
“ 11:4a And at Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin.” There were already inhabitants in the city of Jerusalem, but they were not sufficient. All of them will not be listed in this text. Rather, the principal leaders and inhabitants of the city will be cited. We know from later verses that several Levites lived there also (vs 10-19).
It is important to note how they went about populating the city. It is obvious that they had a high regard for the original division of the land of Canaan, together with its cities. Remember, they had been exposed to an extensive reading of the Law. This no doubt included the record of Israel entering into Canaan, as well as the apportionment of the various parts of the land, together with its cities, towns, and villages. As is always the case, the Word of God has clarified what is to be done, and the people have believed it.
In keeping with the first assignment of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, the children of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin are mentioned. When entering into Canaan, the city was equally divided between these two tribes – Judah being the largest, and Benjamin among the smallest (Josh 15:63; 18:28) – only Dan was smaller than Benjamin. Later, the children of Ephraim and Manasseh also dwelt there (1 Chron 9:3).
All of the inhabitants of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin did not reside in Jerusalem. Each tribe had received numerous other cities they were to inhabit. The tribe of Judah was also given over 112 other cities, with their towns and villages (Josh 15:20-62). We are told that Judah was never able to drive the Jebusites out of the city of Jerusalem, even though the city properly belonged to them (Josh 15:63). The tribe of Benjamin received 26 cities, with their towns and villages.
Judah: The military census under Moses was 74,600 (Num 1:27). When entering Canaan, its census was 76.500 (Num 26:22). Famous men from this tribe include Bazaleel, chief craftsman in the building of the tabernacle (Ex 31:2), Caleb (Num 13:6), David, and Solomon (Matt 1:3-16). The Lord Jesus was also from this tribe, and is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5).
Benjamin: The military Census under Moses was 35,400 (Num 1:37), of the smallest of all of the tribes. When entering into Canaan, the census of this tribe was 45,600 (Num 26:41). When Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, was chosen to be king over Israel, he said, “And Saul answered and said, Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel?” (1 Sam 9:21). Paul the Apostle was also from this tribe (Rom11:1; Phil 3:5).
In Ezra’s day, when the captives of Babylon began returning to Jerusalem under the edict of king Cyrus, it was the chief of the fathers of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin that were stirred up by God to build His house (Ezra 1:5). When Ezra restored purity among the people the men “of Judah and Benjamin” gathered together in Jerusalem (Ezra 10:9). Now, in Nehemiah’s time, there is a return to the ancient order. The divisions of the land and cities that were originally made are being honored.
Two principals are mentioned from the tribe of Judah, together with the six generations before them First, “Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalaleel, of the children of Perez.” Perez is the Phares of Christ’s genealogy, who was a son of Judah, begotten through Tamar (Matt 1:3; Luke 3:33). Second, “Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Colhozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of Shiloni.” Shiloni is considered to be a descendant of Shelah, who was among Judah’s youngest sons, born to him by a daughter of a Canaanite (Gen 38:2-5).
Of the tribe of Benjamin, Sallu is listed, together with his genealogy. There is no Scriptural record of this particular family tree. We know from this text, that it was traced back to Benjamin.
Notice that the smallest tribe had the most people living in Jerusalem. Of Judah, there were 468, and of Benjamin 928 – nearly twice as many as those of Judah. Thus, when it came to the city of Jerusalem, the last became first, and the first became last (Ml 10:31). That is a great encouragement for the “few” to become the “many” in the things of God.
THOSE RELATED TO THE HOUSE OF GOD
“ 11,12,16,17 . . . ruler of the house of God . . . did the work of the house . . . had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God . . . principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer . . .”
In this text there is some insight into the nature of Kingdom work. While it is not my purpose to outline a strict spiritual regimen, it is important to see the kind of activities that have historically been associated with the work of the Lord. These are shadows of the greater realities that we enjoy in Christ Jesus.
THE RULER OF THE HOUSE. Among the priests was a man named Seraiah. He as the “ruler,” or “leader,” NASB or “supervisor,” NIV of the Temple. This did not have to do with the spiritual matters in the Temple, for the High Priest was the ruler in matters “pertaining to God” (Heb 5:1a). The High Priest did not answer to any of the other priests. His primary role was the offering of “gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb 5:1b).
This ruler was over the Levites, or the body of chosen ones who assisted the priests. Originally, this office was fulfilled by Eleazar, one of Aaron’s sons. “And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary”(Num 3:32). In the days of Jehosaphat Amariah the chief priest was over the general priests “in matters of the Lord”(2 Chron 19:11). During the reign of Hezekiah, and by his commandment, Azariah was “the ruler of the house of God” (2 Chron 31:13). During the days of the Apostles reference was made to the “captain of the Temple” (Acts 4:1; 5:24).
The affairs of “the house of God” were of utmost importance. Nothing must be allowed to defile the place of the Temple, or the holy work that was carried out therein. Also, no distractions could be allowed that would draw attention away from the sacred routines, or interfere with what the servants of God were doing. “Things pertaining to God” are always vital, and nothing must be permitted that makes them difficult to fulfill.
THE WORK OF THE HOUSE. Among the priests were those who “performed the work of the Temple.” NASB Years earlier, among the inhabitants of Jerusalem there were 1,760 heads of priestly families who “were able men, responsible for ministering in the house of God” NIV (1 Chron 9:13). In our text, the number was only half that size, yet still impressive – there were 822 priests who actually “carried out the work of the Temple.” NIV
Later in Nehemiah, we read of the establishment of twenty-two courses of priests who served with thanksgivings, and with singing, and with cymbals, and with harps (Neh 12:1-27). Dividing that into the total of 1,192 priests, that would mean between fifty and sixty priests were doing the work of the house of God at any one time. The Temple was a place of intense spiritual activity.
OUTWARD BUSINESS. “Shabbethai and Jozabad,” who were “of the chief of the Levites, had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God,” the “outside work of the house of God.” NASB This was business not performed within the confines of the Temple itself. It could relate to the maintainance of the exterior of the Temple, bringing in wood (Neh 10:34), and water (Josh 9:27), and the gathering of appropriate monies (Neh 10:32).
This arrangement was much like that recorded in the sixth chapter of Acts. Here was the first example of “outward business” in the church. It had to do with the just daily distribution among widows. Just as it was not appropriate for the priests of Nehemiah’s day to such work, so it was not right for the apostles to “leave the Word of God and serve tables” (Acts 6:2). Holy men of good report were chosen to be over that “outward business,” just as proper men were chosen to supervise unpriestly duties necessary for the Temple.
BEGIN THE THANKSGIVING. Mattaniah, whose lineage went back to the chief musician Asaph, was “the leader who began the thanksgiving with prayer.” NKJV He is understood to have been the leader of the choir. Later Nehemiah again mentions this man, associating his ministry with songs of praise. “For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God.” (12:8,46). Thus, thanksgiving began by praying in song. See with what care the various appointments were made. Also, remember, these were people dwelling in Jerusalem.
UNUSUAL AND GIFTED MEN
“ 6,9,14,19 . . . valiant men . . . over the city . . . mighty men of valor . . . that kept the gates” The first priority was the Temple, which sanctified the city. Now that the various ministries have been appointed for the Temple, the city itself is considered, as well as other aspects of serving in the house of the Lord. It is the place where the Temple and its related service to God was found, and therefore provisions must be made for its protection.
VALIANT MEN. The men of Judah who dwelt in Jerusalem, sons of Perez, were 468 in number, and were all “valiant men.” The word “valiant” means strong, able, and active. They had heart, but were also strong, virtuous, and gallant. Like the men of Zebulun they “could keep rank,” and were “not of a double heart” (1 Chron 12:33). They were well qualified to defend the city against its enemies. The smallness of their number did not deter them. We would liken them to the Green Berets – crack troops that could do the work of many men.
OVER THE CITY. Of the sons of Benjamin, Judah was “second over the city,” or “second in command of the city.” NASB In our day, we would call him the deputy mayor, or deputy governor. He was next in authority to Joel, who was over the children of Benjamin. It is to be understood that this refers to the protection of the city, not to spiritual matters, its business, commerce, or legal provisions.
MIGHTY MEN OF VALOR. Among the 1,192 priests were 128 “mighty men of valor, or “valiant warriors.” NASB Because these were from among the priests, it is to be understood that they were unusually capable of carrying out the work of the Lord. They also were able to defend the city, if required to do so. These men parallel those mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:13: “a thousand and seven hundred and threescore; very able men for the work of the service of the house of God.”
The work of the Lord, and being “set for the defense of the Gospel” (Phil 1:7) requires an able and valiant spirit. Some, because of the measure of grace they have received, excel in these qualities, as those of our text. Moses excelled as a leader and a servant. David excelled as a shepherd, a warrior, a king, and a psalmist. Paul excelled as an Apostle. Timothy excelled as a young man.
These men excelled as priests. Their gifts and abilities, as well as their heart and spirit, were more capable, and therefore special mention is made of them. In a day when mediocrity has been popularized within the church, it is good for all believers to aspire to spiritual greatness. As a young child Jesus excelled, and as an older lady Anna excelled. You should be encouraged to stand out among your peers in Christ Jesus.
KEPT THE GATES. These were the “porters,” and there were 172 of them who lived in Jerusalem. During the time of king David, there were 4,000 porters – gate keepers who ensured no enemy came into the gates, and no one left with goods that belonged in the city. They were divided into groups and given specific gate assignments (1 Chron 16:1-19). These were of a military order, and were not simply monitors of the gates of the holy city. Should infractions occur, they were to take appropriate action. When a stranger approached the city, they called to the porter (2 Sam 18:26; 2 Kgs 7:10), stating their case and requesting that the gate be opened to them.
Jesus referred to John the Baptist as “the porter,” who opened the gate of access for Jesus to come to His sheep (John 10:3). He also said He Himself was like a man who had taken a long journey, leaving to every member of His household “his assigned task.” NIV He said He “commanded the porter to watch”(Mark 13:34). “The porter,” in this case, is like one acquainted with the ways of Lord, who is able to discern the times. As the coming of the Lord draws near, he is to sound out the word with boldness.
A MARVELOUS PICTURE. Here we have a marvelous confirmation of the criticality of the work of the Lord. Kingdom work demands the very best from everyone involved in it. The church itself, as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), must be both diligent and sober in every facet of its responsibilities. A spirit of casualness among the people of God is lethal, just as surely as it would have been among the inhabitants of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day.
Those who are able to perceive the pitiful condition of the church of our day can profit much from a consideration of Nehemiah. There is much rubble to be removed, and a wall to be built and fortified. There is work to be done in the sanctuary, and on the things that surround it as well. Able bodies and valiant souls are needed to live in the confines of the “city of God,” faithfully fulfilling their appointments for the glory of God.