COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 11:20 “And the residue of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance. 21 But the Nethinims dwelt in Ophel: and Ziha and Gispa were over the Nethinims. 22 The overseer also of the Levites at Jerusalem was Uzzi .Of the sons of Asaph, the singers were over the business of the house of God. 23 For it was the king's commandment concerning them, that a certain portion should be for the singers, due for every day. 24 And Pethahiah . . . was at the king's hand in all matters concerning the people. 25-29 And for the villages, with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt at Kirjatharba . . . Dibon . . . Jekabzeel . . . Jeshua,Moladah, and at Bethphelet . . . Hazarshual . . .Beersheba . .. Ziklag . . . Mekonah . . . Enrimmon . . . Zareah. . . Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam . . . Lachish . . . Azekah . . . And they dwelt from Beersheba unto the valley of Hinnom. 31-32 The children also of Benjamin from Geba dwelt at Michmash, and Aija, and Bethel . . . Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, 33 Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, 34 Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, 35 Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen. 36 And of the Levites were divisions in Judah, and in Benjamin.” (Nehemiah 11:20-36)
The people are restoring the ancient order, determined by God, and carried out by Joshua. First, Jerusalem is being populated appropriately, then the people are occupying their designated and rightful inheritance in the land of Canaan. This is being done city-by-city. The whole of the land of Judah is being re-occupied. Keep in mind, we are dealing with the land of Judah and the kingdom of Judah. This is the kingdom that was judged in the Babylonian captivity. God had called for judgment against “Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah” (Jer 1:15). We are reading of the recovery from that 70-year judgment. Recovery is detailed, tedious, and disciplined.
THE RESIDUE OF ISRAEL, THE PRIESTS, AND THE LEVITES
“ 11:20 And the residue of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance.” Other versions read, “the rest of Israel.”
THE PERSPECTIVE. Our text provides us a godly perspective of the people. It had been determined that “one out of ten” of the people would live in Jerusalem (Neh 11:1). This proportion excluded “the rulers of the people,” who were already dwelling in the holy city, as well as 3,024 people who were also of Judah and Benjamin, including priests, Levites, and porters (verses 4-19). This was, by far, the minority of the people. Yet, the vast majority of the people are called “the residue,” or “the rest.” Those who lived in Jerusalem were numerically the smallest, but the most significant in the Divine economy.
This same type of language is used several other times in Scripture. When Gideon was directed to take ten thousand fearless military volunteers to the water for a test, only three hundred of them passed, lifting the water to their mouths with their hands. It is said of the remaining 9,700, “all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water”(Judges 7:6). When accounting for the few Israelites who believed on Christ, the Spirit said, “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom 11:7).
God places the emphasis upon those associated with Himself. Among the nations, Israel was primary, and the rest of the world secondary (Deut 7:6; Amos 3:2). Among the Israelites themselves, the people in Jerusalem were the most prominent. Now, in our time, within the world, the body of Christ is the most significant of all people. Among them, those who separate themselves from defilement and “walk as dear children” are the most favored (2 Cor 6:17-18; Eph 5:1).
THE RESIDUE OF ISRAEL. Why are the people referred to as “Israel” if it is the kingdom of Judah that was judged and is now being restored? “Judah” described the people from the political viewpoint, and from a tribal view as well. Twenty-five times “Judah” is mentioned, in the kingdom sense, in the book of Nehemiah (1:2,; 2:5,7; 4:10,16; 5:14; 6:7,17,18; 7:6; 11:3,4,9,20,24,25,36; 12:8,31,32,34, 36,44; 13:12,15,16,17). There are also three tribal references to “the children of Judah” (11:4,25; 13:16), and one to “the children of Benjamin” (11:4). Nine times they are called “children of Israel” (1:6; 2:10;7:73; 8:14, 17; 9:1; 10:39; 13:2). Here are the three perspectives. Concerning the Abrahamic promise, they were “children of Israel,” or traced back to Jacob. Viewing them as associated with the twelve sons of Jacob, or the heads of the various tribes, they were “children of Judah” and “children of Benjamin.” Viewed as a kingdom, they were “Judah.”
Here, “the residue of Israel”does not include the ten tribes who were politically “the kingdom of Israel”(1 Sam 15:28). Rather, this is viewing “the rest of the people” are seen as the offspring of Jacob, son of Abraham, to whom the land of Canaan had been given (Neh 9:7-8).
All people are the same when it comes to their sinnerhood – the natural view: “for there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But over and above nature, there is a difference in people, and we do well to recognize it. It is true that in Christ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Those, of course, are all natural distinctions that do not transfer into the Kingdom of God. However, in Jesus, there are “diversities of gifts . . . differences of administrations . . . diversities of operations” (1 Cor 12:4-6), “measures of faith” (Rom 12:3), and gifts of priority (1 Cor14:5). These things are prefigured, or seen in shadow, in the text before us.
THE PRIESTS. These are the priests who did not reside in Jerusalem. Nehemiah has already accounted for 1,192 priests that were living in the holy city (11:10-14). The remainder dwelt in the other cities of the land. Joshua had given thirteen cities and their lands to “the children of Aaron, the priests” (Josh 21:19).
THE LEVITES. The Levites were originally “over the tabernacle of the testimony”(Num 1:50).Later they were “over the treasures,” and “the dedicated things” (1 Chron 26:20), while others were “scribes, officers, and porters”(2 Chron 34:13). According to the command of the Lord, the children of Israel gave the Levites 48 cities (Josh 21:41).
APPOINTED OVERSEERS AND KEY PEOPLE
“ 21-24 But the Nethinims dwelt in Ophel: and Ziha and Gispa were over the Nethinims. The overseer also of the Levites at Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micha. Of the sons of Asaph, the singers were over the business of the house of God. For it was the king's commandment concerning them, that a certain portion should be for the singers, due for every day. And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabeel, of the children of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king's hand in all matters concerning the people.”
Notice the details in the record of the distribution of the people. One gets a sense of the precision associated with inhabiting the promised land. There was no homesteading, or selecting of land according to the will of the people. The land was divided according to the Word of the Lord.
THE NETHINIMS. The word “Nethinims” is a transliteration, confirming the uniqueness of the term. Some versions refer to them as “Temple servants” NASB,NIV,NRSV, RSV,NJB,NLT Most of the other versions read “Nethinims.” They were originally appointed by David to be of service to the Levites. At the time of Ezra, he appointed 220 of them, and “all of them were expressed by name”(Ezra 8:20). In the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, Nethinims returned to Jerusalem with the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites (Ezra 7:7). They lived in Ophel, as also stated in 3:26. This was a fortified area near to the East side of the wall (2 Chron 27:3; 33:14). It is understood that was the steep southern projection from the mountain on which the Temple stood. McClintok-Strong These people lived close to the Temple, in which they were devoted servants. Ziha and Gispa were in charge of the Nethinims. Ziha himself was a Nethinim who returned with Ezra (Neh 7:46). We know nothing more of Gispa. Their role confirms that the Nethinims served in an orderly manner, fulfilling their duties with focus and objectivity.
THE LEVITES AT JERUSALEM. The Levites who resided in Jerusalem also had an overseer. Uzzi is listed among the priests in 12:42. His father was Bani, who was among the Levites who led the people to understand the Law (Neh 8:6-7). Among both the Nethinims and the priests, the overseers came from their own number.
THE SINGERS. Asaph was the head of the singers and instrumentalists (1 Chron 16:5; Neh 12:46). Several of the Psalms were written by Asaph, and delivered to the chief musician to be set to music (Psa 75:1; 76:1; 77:1; 80:1; 81:1). Other psalms are identified as “a psalm of Asaph” (50:1; 73:1; 79:1; 82:1). The “sons of Asaph” were his descendants, and were called “the singers” (2 Chron 5:12; 35:15; Ezra 2:41).
Here they are said to be “over the business of the house of God.” Other versions read “in charge of the service of the house of God,” NKJV and “singers responsible for the service of the house of God.” NIV The “business of the house of God”is the opposite of the “outward business” which was overseen by Shabbethai and Jozabad” (11:16). Behold the prominence of singing and praise in the Temple. This parallels the teaching and admonishing that takes place among the household of faith through singing (Col 3:16).
AT THE KING’S HAND. This was Artaxerxes, who through Divine direction, had arranged for a daily salary for the singers, also forbidding the taxation of the priests, Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of the house of God (Ezra 7:21-24). The singers also prayed regularly for “the king and for his sons” (Ezra 6:10). Pethahiah no doubt oversaw these matters, as well as other issues relating to the normal life of the people.
AN APPLICATION. There is a principle to be seen here: God determines where and how people are to live. This is seen in both nature and grace. In the natural sense, it is written, “From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” NIV (Acts 17:26,27). In the spiritual sense, “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired”(1 Cor 12:18). The body of Christ functions in an orderly manner, with various parts and members ministering, as they are being superintended by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:7-11).
CITIES, VILLAGES, FIELDS, AND THE LEVITES
“ 25-36 And for the villages, with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt at Kirjatharba . . . Dibon . . . Jekabzeel . . . Jeshua . . .Moladah . . . Bethphelet . . . Hazarshual . . . Beersheba . . . Ziklag . . . Mekonah . . . Enrimmon . . . Zareah . . . Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam . . . Lachish, . . . Azekah . . . they dwelt from Beersheba unto the valley of Hinnom. The children also of Benjamin from Geba dwelt at Michmash, and Aija, and Bethel, and in their villages, and at Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen. And of the Levites were divisions in Judah, and in Benjamin.”
THE CHILDREN OF JUDAH. During the days of Rehoboam, the kingdom of Israel was divided. The united kingdom was ruled by Saul, David, and Solomon. When Rehoboam refused to lighten the burden Solomon had imposed upon the people, ten of the tribes revolted, becoming a separate entity. The two tribes that remained, Judah and Benjamin, comprised the “kingdom of Judah” (2 Chron 11:17), while the ten tribes were known as the “kingdom of Israel” (1 Kgs 21:7). The “children of Judah” are the members of the tribe of Judah, which was the largest of the tribes.
Well over 100 cities were given to the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:20-62). Now several of those cities are mentioned as places where “some of the children of Judah dwelt.” Many of these cities and towns are mentioned in association with the original distribution of the land (Josh 15:27-29; 18:21-28). The great number of them helps us to realize more fully what was involved in inhabiting Canaan, and driving out its inhabitants. It is one thing to clear wandering nomads out of the land. But there were also hundreds of cities from which inhabitants were to be expelled. These were to be occupied by the Israelites.
With villages and fields. Other versions read “daughter-towns,” BBE “hamlets,” DARBY and “small towns.” DARBY When Israel was told to occupy the land, houses and cities that had no wall around them were to be considered as fields. “But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be counted as the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubilee” (Lev 25:31). The cities, therefore, we understand to be central with walls around them. The villages, small towns, and fields were settlements associated with those walled cities, the walled cities being treated like headquarters and central places of commerce, protection, etc. Judah was to occupy all of their inheritance – not just the walled cities, but the villages and fields as well. Both the greater and the lesser were to be possessed
From Beersheba to the valley or Hinnom. Beersheba was the southwestern boundary of Canaan. The valley of Hinnom ran through Jerusalem, and was the border between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, and was on the South side of Mount Zion (Josh 15:8). The tribe of Judah, therefore, began to inhabit a fairly sizeable portion of the land allotted to them.
THE CHILDREN OF BENJAMIN. Geba was the extreme city to the West, and thus was mentioned last in Joshua’s distribution (Josh 21:17). Anahoth was a Levitical city (Josh 21:18). Nob was the city famous for the slaughter of the priests of Doeg (1 Sam 22:18-19). Several of the other towns that are listed are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture (Ramah – 1 Kgs 15:17, Gittaim – 2 Sam 4:3, and Hadid – Ezra 2:33).
Valley of Craftsmen. We do not know the origin of the expression “the Valley of Craftsmen.” It might have been an area that lent itself to the use of craftsmen, with timber, stones, ore, and the likes. Scriptures do mention a certain valley where craftsmen congregated. A man named Joab is referred to as “Joab, the father of the valley of Charashim; for they were craftsmen” (1 Chron 4:14). The word “Charashim” means “craftsmen,” and no doubt refers to the same valley referenced in our text. We know from Scripture that “sons of the prophets” tended to dwell together, some in Bethel and some in Jericho (2 Kgs 2:3,5). Craftsmen appear to have also followed this practice. This would make for mutual encouragement, and sharpening one another’s skill.
It should be apparent from our text that the work of the Lord is multifaceted, and covers a wide range of activities. The shadow of our text confirms that everything centers in the Lord Himself, as in the Temple. Those who labor in the Word and the doctrine are in the heart of the activity. Reaching beyond the center point, there are vast areas to be occupied by the people of God for the glory of God. Like Israel, the church has come short of inhabiting all that has been given to it. Many major areas of occupation are now occupied by the heathen. It is time to reoccupy realities given to us.