COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 12:1 “Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua . . . These were the chief of the priests and of their brethren in the days of Jeshua. 8 Moreover the Levites: . . . which was over the thanksgiving, he and his brethren. 9 . . . were over against them in the watches. 10 And Jeshua begat . . . 11 And Joiada begat . . . 12 And in the days of Joiakim were priests, the chief of the fathers: of Seraiah, . . . of Jeremiah . . . 13 Of Ezra . . . of . . . 14 Of Melicu . . . 15 Of Harim . . . 16 Of Iddo . . . 17 Of Abijah . . . 18 Of Bilgah . . . 19 And of Joiarib . . . 20 Of Sallai . . . 21 Of Hilkiah . . . 22 The Levites in the days of Eliashib . . . were recorded chief of the fathers: also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The sons of Levi, the chief of the fathers, were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. 24 And the chief of the Levites . . . with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, ward over against ward. 25 . . . were porters keeping the ward at the thresholds of the gates. 26 These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe.” (Neh 12:1-26)
Here the Spirit provides a list of the priests and Levites who returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity. Under Divine direction, the return was instigated by Cyrus the Persian (2 Chron 36:23), and led by Zerubabbel (made governor of Judah – Hag 1:1), and Joshua (high priest – Hag 1:1). This is a summation of the priests by their chiefs, or heads. In this lesson we will note the precision with which the lineage of the priests was reckoned. A comparison will then be made with the manner of life in Christ Jesus. The introductory manner of the old Covenant will be confirmed, as well as the uniqueness and superiority of life in Christ Jesus.
THE PRIESTS THAT WENT UP WITH ZERUBBABEL
“ 12:1-7 Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua . . . ”
THE PRIESTS. The phrase “the priests and he Levites” is mentioned thirty-two times in Scripture. Seven of those references are in Nehemiah (7:73; 8:13; 11:3.20; 12:1,30; 13:30). The “priests and the Levites” are always central figures in things pertaining to God. In times of spiritual decline, “the priests and the Levites” tended to be neglected – thrust into the background of the spiritual life of the Israelites. During the revival of Hezekiah, he again brought these men into prominence (2 Chron 29:4; 31:2). Josiah did the same during the awakening of his time (2 Chron 35:18).
There are twenty-two priests named in this passage. They were not the only priests, but were the chief ones – probably the heads of the various courses, or groups of priests that served together. David established twenty-four courses of priests for the various duties of the house of the Lord. There were “governors of the sanctuary” and “governors of the house of God” (2 Chron 24:5-20).
It appears as though two courses of priests were lost during the Babylonian captivity. Yet, when you consider the captivity lasted for seventy years (606-536 B.C.), it is most remarkable that the priestly order remained in tact to any measurable degree. We have little information about the activities of the children of Judah during that captivity. The only known prophets during that time were Jeremiah (627-580 B.C.), Habakkuk (609-597 B.C.), and Ezekiel (593-571 B.C.). Jeremiah is thought to have written his lamentations around 586-583 B.C. Daniel lived during the entire period. Yet, during those hard times of chastening, the priestly order maintained their identity, even though they were not functioning in the Temple, as they were intended to do.
WITH ZERUBABBEL AND JOSHUA. Our text uses the name “Jeshua,” which is a transliteration of the name – “Yeshua,” which is “Jesus” in the Greek. These men are mentioned together a number of times because they were key figures in the return to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel was made “the governor of Judah,” and was “the son of Shealtiel” (Hag 1:1,14; 2:2,21). “Jeshua,” or “Joshua,” was the “high priest,” and was “the son of Josedech” (Hag 1:1,12,14; 2:2,4). He is the one the prophet Zechariah saw “standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” (Zech 3:1-10). A most remarkable prophecy was given to this high priest of the coming Redeemed – “My servant the BRANCH” (Zech 3:8).
When Cyrus proclaimed he had been commissioned by God to rebuild the Temple, these men surfaced, together the remnant of the people. It is written, “And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Haggai 1:14).
Both of these men are related to the rebuilding of the Temple following the Babylonian captivity. The work was long and tedious, and their spirits grew weary. Yet, the Lord sustained them through Haggai the prophet. The Lord moved him to say to them, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:4).
We do not know the age of these two men, but we can conclude something about their character. Regardless of their age, their entire lives had probably been lived in the Babylon captivity. We do not know if the Jews had a special place assigned to them in Babylon , as they did in Egypt (the of land of Goshen). We do know there was a general spirit of despair that dominated the captives, as revealed in the 137th Psalm. However, both of these men were stirred from within to do the work of the Lord, even though they had spent a long time in desolation. They were also able to receive encouragement from the prophets to finish the work given to them. It is written that they “began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (Ezra 5:2). The prophets are said to be Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 6:14).
THE LEVITES THAT WENT UP WITH ZERUBBABEL
“ 8-26 Moreover the Levites . . . which was over the thanksgiving . . . were over against them in the watches . . . the chief of the fathers . . . also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The sons of Levi, the chief of the fathers, were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. 24 And the chief of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, ward over against ward . . . 25 porters keeping the ward at the thresholds of the gates. 26 These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe.”
THE LEVITES. Remember, these are the men who went up with the priests, Zeruabbabel, and Joshua the high priest. You will notice that the Levites are always associated with activity. They did not merely occupy a nonobjective position. “The Levites” are mentioned at least 245 times in Scripture. While they were identified with “cities”(Lev 25:32), “families” Num 3:20), and “cattle” (Num 3:41), their primary activity related to the house of God. Under Moses they were appointed “over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle” (Num 1:50). Later it is said they were “appointed unto all manner of service of the tabernacle of the house of God” (1 Chron 6:48). The Levites were “over the chambers and treasuries of the house of the Lord” (1 Chron 9:26). They also “kept the doors” of the house of God (2 Chron 34:9). Behold the emphasis God placed on things pertaining to Him.
Over the thanksgiving. Our text also mentioned they were “over the thanksgiving.” Some of their brethren stood opposite of them to encourage and support them during this activity (12:9). Before the captivity it was said of the “singers, chief of the fathers of the Levites,” that they “were employed in that work day and night” (1 Chron 9:33). The previous chapter revealed that Mattaniah was the appointed leader to “begin the thanksgiving in prayer” (11:17).
To Darius the Persian. Mention is made of the priests who existed “in the days of Eliashib” (12:22). This is the man who was high priest during the time of Nehemiah, when the wall was being built (3:1; 13:4). The named Levites (Joida, Johanan, and Juddua) were “recorded,” or registered, during the reign of Darius the Persian. This is not the king called “Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:5,24; 6:14). That king lived before the events of our text. This Darius is generally thought to be Darius Codomannus, the last king of Persia, who was conquered by Alexander the Great. He reigned somewhere in the vicinity of 331 B.C. Eliashib the high priest was around 444 B.C. when the wall was completed. That means these priests were recorded in the official register nearly two hundred years after Zerubbabel had led the expedition back to Jerusalem (536 B.C.).
These priests (Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua), were successive priests, and not simultaneous ones. In fact, these were the progeny of Eliaship the high priest. We read of that generation, “Eliashib begat Joiada, and Joiada begat Jonathan (an alternate name for Johanan), and Jonathan begat Jaddua” (Nehemiah 12:10-11). We see, then, a marvelous consistency in the priesthood – passing from one generation to another.
To praise and give thanks. The conscientiousness of the people is most edifying. They carefully followed “the commandment of David the man of God.” That commandment is recorded in First Chronicles 25:1-26. Our text says they established the praise and thanks “ward over against ward.” 24 The NIV provides a picture of what was involved: “and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God” (Neh 12:24). It is as though one group responded to the other one with a refrain. This kind of procedure is seen in the 136th Psalm, where the refrain is “for His mercy endureth forever,” which is repeated twenty-six times.
This procedure, instituted in Zerubbabel’s day, spanned several generations. Joiakim was the father of Eliashib (12:10). They extended down to Nehemiah’s time, and his contemporary Ezra. O, that such consistency could be experienced in our day.
BORN OF THE FLESH VS BORN OF THE SPIRIT
“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6)
AN OBSERVATION. A word must be said here concerning the uniqueness of the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant (which was a fleshly covenant) taking part in the service of God hinged upon one’s fleshly genealogy. Notice how often this is mentioned in our text: “And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib, and Eliashib begat Joiada, and Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua (10-11), “of Seraiah . . . of Ezra . . . of Melicu . . . of Harim . . . of Iddo . . . of Abijah . . . of Bilgah . . . of Joirib . . . of Sallai . . . of Hilkijah . . . of Eliashib . . . the sons of Levi . . . the son of . . . the son of . . . the son of . . . the son of” (12-26).
NOT SELF APPOINTED. When it came to the high priest, no man took this honor “unto himself.” Rather, he was called and appointed by God Himself (Ex 28:1 Heb 5:4). The Levites were also “chosen” by God and appointed to their office (Num 8:15; 1 Chron 15:2). For fifteen hundred years, this procedures was in place. If someone with an improper blood line wanted to be a priest, it simply was not possible. They could not take the honor upon themselves. They had to have the proper genealogy.
THE NEW COVENANT MANNER. Now, in Christ Jesus and under the New Covenant, participation is no longer based upon fleshly genealogies. It is based upon birth – but not an earthly birth. As it is written, “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). There are no spiritual advantages to our earthly bloodline.
When it comes to Divine acceptance and service in the courts of the Lord, “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom 9:8). There is a birth of the flesh, and there is one of the Spirit – and one cannot mingle with the other. Neither, indeed, can one be converted to the other. As it is written, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
DIFFICULTY. The difficulty is that we have a part that is “born of the flesh,” and one that is “born of the Spirit.” These two natures are incompatible, and are engaged in a perpetual and unending conflict. The “flesh,” that can be traced back to Adam, “lusts against the Spirit,” which comes from God. They cannot be reconciled, and introduce frustration into our lives (Gal 5:17).
Some, confused by this dichotomy, imagine that such a condition disqualifies them for Divine service. However, this is not a proper assessment. In Christ Jesus, the qualifying factor is found in the Spirit, not in the flesh. In fact, those who are “in the flesh cannot please God,” and are consequently excluded from the work for which we have been created in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:8).
There are certain things in our text that confirm we can honor and serve God, even in this frustrating circumstance. If the Israelites could maintain their basic affiliation while they were in captivity, what possible circumstance can keep the children of God from maintaining theirs? If benefits can be passed from one fleshly generation to another, why cannot they be passed from one spiritual generation to another? If the one to whom a person was related in the flesh sanctified them for Divine service, how much more will relation to the Son of God qualify us for the work of he Lord.
SOMETHING ELSE TO SEE. Although the children of Judah had a great many facets to their life, when they were thinking soundly, the stress was placed upon things pertaining to God. Their main building was the Temple. The main city was Jerusalem. The primary land was Canaan. The principal person was the high priest. The primary people were the Levites. The main speakers were the Prophets. The basic activity was serving the Lord. When it came to building a wall, the one around Jerusalem was the main one. When it came to ensuring adequate and consistent provisions, the Levites were the consideration. When it came to singers, those who sang in the house of the Lord were the focus.
In these things a certain manner of thought is revealed. Wherever God has revealed Himself, and wherever that revelation has been received and embraced, He has always become the dominant consideration. There are no exceptions to this. Because of this circumstance, the validity of an individual’s religious service is measured by their spiritual birth, and the degree of prominence that is given to the Lord Himself.