COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 12:27 “And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps. 28 And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi; 29 Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had builded them villages round about Jerusalem. 30 And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.” (Neh 12:27-30)
The wall has been completed, and provisions have been made for the city to be appropriately populated. Now, in thanksgiving and with resolution, the wall will be dedicated to the Lord. Like the original gathering during which the Law was read, the time when confession was made, and the time the covenant was made, all of the people will be involved. They all worked on the wall. They all heard the reading of the Law. They all wept and confessed. They all prayed. They all made a covenant. How appropriate, therefore, that they all take part in the dedication of the wall. The occasion will be formal, yet will be characterized by a high degree of liveliness – with instruments of music, singing, and rejoicing. The Lord worked mightily among them, encouraging their hearts, providing their needs, delivering them from their enemies, and enabling them to complete the work.
THE LEVITES BROUGHT TO JERUSALEM
“ 12:27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.”
There is a certain kingdom manner that we must behold in this text. Finishing the work given to God’s people is not the end of the matter. It must be dedicated, or deliberately given, to the Lord. It is imperative that the people have a lively sense of who is being served by the work.
THE DEDICATION OF THE WALL. One version reads, “the time came for the wall to be made holy,” BBE The word “dedicate” means to “consecrate.” Under Moses, the altar was “dedicated” (Num 7:10-11,84,88). Solomon also “dedicated” the altar (2 Chron 7:9). David “dedicated” his own house to the Lord, writing a Psalm for the occasion (Psa 30). The book of Hebrews refers to the dedication of first testament, saying it was not done “without blood” (Heb 9:18). In the beginning, there was the “dedication” of the altar and the first testament. Centuries later, the “dedication” of David’s house. Now, dedicating the wall.
All of this reveals an acute consciousness of God Himself. In each of these occasions the people were keenly aware of the God of heaven. The knowledge of him overshadowed both their work and their adversities, their blessings and their challenges. It seems to me that this is a mark of genuine spiritual renewal – a pervading cognizance of the Living God. Where this is not found, religious activity can be nothing but pretension.
THEY SOUGHT THE LEVITES. The Levites had returned to their homes after the special assemblies in which they participated (8:9-10; 9:1). These were the Levites who did not live in Jerusalem (11:15-18,22). The dwelling “places” of these non-Jerusalem residents were in Benjamin and Judah (11:36). This solemn occasion required the presence of all the Levites, and thus they sent to “bring them to Jerusalem.”
They were assembled in the place that had been blessed by God – the city where He had placed His name. We must learn from this that godly activities should be conducted in holy places. For those in Christ Jesus, those locales are “heavenly places,” where we have been raised to sit together in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6). From another perspective this is “in the faith” (Col 1:23) and “in the Spirit” (Rom 8:9), where the world is thrust into the background, and God and “the things of God” are brought into prominence. Any attempt to make a presentation to God that is made apart from these environs is not acceptable.
KEEP THE DEDICATION WITH GLADNESS. Other versions read, “celebrate the dedication with gladness,” NASB “celebrate joyfully the dedication.” NIV Earlier, there was a time for weeping and contrition of heart (8:9). There was also a time when the confession of sin needed to take place (9:2-3). But this was not in order at “the dedication of the wall.” This was something to be accompanied with great gladness.
This “gladness” would find its expression in thanksgivings, and singing “to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps, and lyres(psalteries, or stringed instruments).” NASB A similar approach was taken to the dedication of Solomon’s temple, which was no doubt considered in this arrangement (2 Chron 5:13). The people had been able to complete the wall in a short time, in spite of the determined and shrewd opposition of their enemies. The sentiments of the thirteenth Psalm surely prevailed at this time: “I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Psa 13:6).
“Gladness” involves insightful joyfulness and godly pleasure or delight. The musical instruments would assist the people to be glad, for they would be played unto the Lord. In their wilderness wanderings under Moses, the people were rebuked for “not” serving the Lord with “joyfulness and with gladness of heart” (Deut 28:47). The Psalmist admonishes the people, “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing” (Psa 100:1). The early church was so impacted by the grace of God that they even ate “their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46). The Gospel itself produces gladness, and is therefore called “glad tidings”(Acts 13:22; Rom 10:15). In Christ there is even the experience of being “glad with exceeding joy”(1 Pet 4:13). It is good that believers devote themselves to getting more gladness into their assemblies. Then there will be more dedication.
THE SINGERS GATHERED TOGETHER
“ 12-28 And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi; 29 Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had builded them villages round about Jerusalem.”
SONS OF THE SINGERS. These were a portion of the Levites. Hearing the summons, they “gathered themselves together.” When Solomon built the Temple, “the singers” played a prominent role. It is written, “Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets” (2 Chr 5:12). Notice, the same instruments are mentioned. Also observe that the “singers” were the ones who had instruments. Thus singing and musical instruments were joined together in the service of the Lord. At the dedication of the Temple, the “singers” lifted up their voice “with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music.” It is written that they all made “one sound,” and that, as a response from God, the house was “filled with a cloud” (2 Chron 5:13).
Here again we see the people returning to procedures that had been blessed by God. They did not seek to invent a new way of praising the Lord, or to impose the culture of Babylon, in which they had been captive for many years, upon their new service.
At some point, those who seek to worship and serve the Lord must think more in terms of what pleases God than what pleases themselves. It is possible to so walk in the Spirit that what pleases God becomes a source of unparalleled satisfaction and joy to us. In my judgment, this is not a common way of thinking, in what is called contemporary worship. There is far too much appeal to the preferences of men. However, the preferences of men have nothing whatsoever to do with what is “holy, and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1; Eph 5:10). The reaction of the people in our text confirms they had truly been blessed by the Lord, and that they knew it.
THE AREAS THEY OCCUPIED. The Levites, like savory salt, had been sprinkled throughout the country. They were located in the “countryside around Jerusalem,” NKJV the “villages of Netophathi,” “the house of Gilgal,” and the “fields in Geba and Azmaveth.” NASB
The “plain country” or “countryside” was the plains and valleys close to Jerusalem. This probably included the valleys of Hinnom and Jehosaphat (11:30; Joel 3:2), which were “close to Jerusalem.” The “villages of the Netophathites” are mentioned in First Chronicles 9:16, and were close to Bethlehem, which was approximately five miles from Jerusalem. The “house of Gilgal” is a phrase denoting “Beth-Gilgal,” and is so translated in later translations NASB,NIV,NRSV (“Beth” means “house”). Gilgal was the place where the Lord rolled away the reproach of Egypt from Israel (Josh 5:9). Scriptures indicate this was near to Bethel , which was 15-20 miles due North of Jerusalem. The “fields of Geba” were in the territory assigned to Benjamin (11:31). This was a city assigned to the Levites (Josh 21:17), and was 6-8 miles from Jerusalem. The “fields” were the region around that city. We do not know much about “Azmaveth” – only that forty-two people from this city returned from the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 2:24). It is called “Bethazmaveth” in Nehemiah’s listing (7:27).
ROUND ABOUT JERUSALEM. Our text states that “the singers had built villages for themselves round about Jerusalem.” NIV They chose to live close to the place where they ministered, thus enabling them to keep a better perspective of their calling. They also lived together, in holy clusters, which allowed for mutual encouragement.
Here again we see the manner of the Kingdom. Those who attempt to serve God from afar off, necessitating a significant adjustment, will not do well as servants of the Lord. It is essential that lives that are pleasing to the Lord be lived out in the proximity of His throne, with a lively awareness of His Person and His grace. This is living by faith (Heb 10:38-39) and walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:25). It is doing whatever we do “heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:17,23). Much religious activity is rendered impotent simply because the people have to come too far to become aware of the God they profess to serve.
THE PRIESTS AND THE LEVITES PURIFIED THEMSELVES
“ 30 And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.” To “purify” is to make or pronounce clean, make holy, and purge from all defilement. Under Moses, the altar was “purified” (Lev 8:15), and the Levites were “purified” as well (Num 8:21). No person, or anything dedicated to the Lord could be contaminated or defiled. “It was necessary,” the Spirit affirms, “that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified”(Heb 9:23). While many professed Christians remain unaware of this requirement, the people in our text were acutely aware of it. They knew that purification must go before dedication!
PURIFIED THEMSELVES. Note, in the purification there is no distinction between the priests and the Levites. Ezra uses the same kind of language in reference to the purification that took place earlier. “For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure” (Ezra 6:19). This purification was probably accomplished in a twofold way. First, through the ceremonies made known in the Law: “Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them. And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean”(Num 8:6-7). Second, by ridding themselves of any uncleanness of thought or deed. They were no doubt aware of the Divine requirement, “be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD” (Isa 52:11). Impure servants are not acceptable to the Lord, and those who are conscious of the Lord know it.
PURIFIED THE PEOPLE. The people themselves were also purified – set apart from the ways of the world. Remember that they have entered into a solemn covenant with the Lord. Therefore they proceeded just as Moses did when the first covenant was made between the people and God. When the people were preparing to confront God, Moses was told “Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes” (Ex 19:10). Later, having the book of the covenant in his hand, Moses “took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words” (Ex 24:8). The purification of the people may also have included sacrifices, prayers, and various washings, as done in Hezekiah’s revival (2 Chron 29:20-36).
PURIFIED THE GATES. The points of entrance into the city were also purified, dedicated to the Lord who had enabled them to be completed in the wall-building project (Neh 3:13-15). The restoration of these gates was part of that undertaking. By thus purifying the gates, a resolve was made to shut them on the Sabbath day (13:19,22), not allowing for commerce to take place (10:31). They would be God-honoring in who was allowed to go in and out of those gates, and when they did it.
PURIFIED THE WALL. The people had worked together on the wall, and finished it, “for the people had a mind to work” (4:6). However, the completion of the wall was not the end of the matter. Now that wall was to be dedicated, and thus it must be “purified.” The enemy had broken down the walls because of Judah’s sin (2 Kgs 25:10). Now the walls would be dedicated wholly to the Lord. Those who lived within these walls would thus be kept mindful that this was the city of God, in which the house of God was located.
CONCLUSION. This text once again confirms the genuineness of the work that has been reported. God was in the work. He stirred up Nehemiah, and inclined Artaxerxes to underwrite Nehemiah’s return to rebuild the walls. He granted wisdom to Nehemiah in order that he might set in order the things that were wanting among the people. He strengthened the hands of the people so they were not overcome by fear, but remained resolved to finish the work. The Lord had frustrated their enemies in their desire to thwart the work. He had moved the people to give ear to His Word, then touched the people with insight concerning their past, His promises, and His goodness. Thus they finished the wall in fifty-two days, wafted along in the work by the blessing and favor of Almighty God.
Wherever a genuine work for God exists, the presence of the Lord will be found. His blessing always precedes success in His work. Contrition over sin, godly determination, consistency in labor, and firm resolve always attends the presence of the Lord. Where these qualities are not present, the presence of the Lord is not being realized – even though He is “not be far from every one of us.”
Those who live by faith and walk in the Spirit will always have a mind for purity. They will have utter disdain for corruption, filthiness, and the garment spotted by the flesh. There is no real work of God that is not attended by these things.