COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 12:31 Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies of them that gave thanks, whereof one went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate . . . And certain of the priests' sons with trumpets . . . with the musical instruments of David the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them. 37 And at the fountain gate, which was over against them, they went up by the stairs of the city of David, at the going up of the wall, above the house of David, even unto the water gate eastward. 38 And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and the half of the people upon the wall, from beyond the tower of the furnaces even unto the broad wall; 39 And from above the gate of Ephraim, and above the old gate, and above the fish gate, and the tower of Hananeel, and the tower of Meah, even unto the sheep gate: and they stood still in the prison gate. 40 So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God, and I, and the half of the rulers with me: 42 And the priests . . . And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer.” (Neh 12:31-42)
The record of the dedication of the wall continues, with great stress being placed on godly orderliness and a broad base of involvement. In a display of the total lack of convenience, the people are brought to the top of the wall, and the various places repaired in the building project are occupied. There is an acute awareness of the magnitude of this work, and the greatness of the God who gave them the will and the strength to complete it. Those on the walls will be divided into two groups. They will circle the top of the wall, meeting at the house of God, where the actual thanks would take place.
THE PRINCES OF JUDAH ARE BROUGHT TO GIVE THANKS
“ 12:31 “Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies of them that gave thanks, whereof one went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate: 32 And after them went Hoshaiah, and half of the princes of Judah, 33 And Azariah, Ezra, and Meshullam, 34 Judah, and Benjamin, and Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, 35 And certain of the priests' sons with trumpets; namely, Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph: 36 And his brethren, Shemaiah, and Azarael, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethaneel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them.
I want to draw attention to the orderliness of this dedication. There is nothing slipshod about it, for God is not glorified by such manners. The people are gathered in an well-conducted manner, and every part of the wall is covered. They will encircle the entire wall, meeting at the house of the Lord.
THE PRINCES OF JUDAH. These were the civic leaders of Judah. The Psalms inform us that they met in a council (Psa 68:27), thereby coordinating their leadership of Judah. Originally, when Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land, he carried “the princes of Judah” away captive (Jer 24:1). He even killed some of them (Jer 52:10). Nearly a hundred years before this, Hosea had indicted “the princes of Judah” for moving moral boundaries, and allowing wickedness to enter among the people (Hos 5:10). Now they are part of the renewal, and are brought to the dedication.
UPON THE WALL. The wall was large and wide enough for people to walk upon it. Thus the people are brought “up on top of the wall.” NASB They would occupy what they dedicated, not standing in some remote place.
TWO GREAT COMPANIES. Combining leaders, priests, and people, Nehemiah divided the mixed multitude into two great companies, each one to go around half the wall. Remember, this wall was probably about 4.7 miles in circumference. Also, note this is not a demonstration, but a dedication.
TOWARD THE DUNG GATE. We do not know specifically where the groups mounted the wall. However, the first great company, led by Ezra (v 36), moved to the right and toward the dung gate. “Half of the rulers” were included in this group (v 32). The “inhabitants of Zanoah” had repaired the wall leading up the dung gate (3:13), and Malchiah, a ruler of part of Bethhaccerem, had repaired the dung gate itself, putting its doors, bolts, and bars in place (3:14). How refreshing it must have been for these men to walk along the wall, beholding the work God had enabled them to complete.
WITH TRUMPETS. Certain of the priest’s sons were in the group, carrying their trumpets. Their names are not provided. Zechariah is mentioned in association with those who carried “the musical instruments of David.” It is, however, refreshing to read of the involvement of “the sons of the prophets” in the dedication of the wall.
THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS OF DAVID. The people were careful not to bring the musical instruments of Babylon or surrounding countries to the dedication. David has established 4,000 who “praised the Lord with the instruments” which he himself made for praising God (1 Chron 23:5). Those instruments included “psalteries and harps and cymbals” (1 Chron 15:16), which are also mentioned as part of this dedication, in verse 27. Psalteries were stringed instruments resembling a guitar, but larger and superior in tone. Harps were also stringed instruments, ranging from relatively small instruments to very large ones. This instrument was created by Jubal (Gen 4:21), and was David’s favorite instrument (Psa 43:4; 49:4). Some of the sons of Asaph “prophesied with a harp” (1 Chron 25:3). Cymbals consisted of two convex pieces of brass which are struck together.
EZRA THE SCRIBE BEFORE THEM. This group was led by Ezra the scribe, who had originally read the Word of God to the people (8:1-4), and gave the people an understanding of that word (8:13). Thus the people maintained a proper perspective, giving the leadership to the man who best knew the Word. One other thing, the wall they had built had to be strong enough to allow them to walk on the top of it.
THE OTHER COMPANY THAT GAVE THANKS
“ 37 And at the fountain gate, which was over against them, they went up by the stairs of the city of David, at the going up of the wall, above the house of David, even unto the water gate eastward. 38 And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and the half of the people upon the wall, from beyond the tower of the furnaces even unto the broad wall; 39 And from above the gate of Ephraim, and above the old gate, and above the fish gate, and the tower of Hananeel, and the tower of Meah, even unto the sheep gate: and they stood still in the prison gate.
Notice how all of the wall was covered with people. Ezra and his group moved to the right, proceding all along the wall. Verse thirty-seven is still describing the area covered by the group Ezra was leading.
THE FOUNTAIN GATE. Earlier this was called “the gate of the Fountain,” and was repaired by Shallun, who built it, covered it, and put up its doors, bolts, and bars (3:15). When Nehemiah first surveyed the deteriorated walls, he went by this gate, finding that area to be so disintegrated that there was no room for his beast to pass (2:14). That was about two months ago, and now the people behold a fully repaired gate.
THE STAIRS. At the Fountain gate, Ezra’s group found themselves opposite the stairs that led up to the city of David, elsewhere called “Zion” (2 Sam 5:7; 1 Kgs 8:1), and later came to be Jerusalem itself (2 Kgs 9:28). By these stairs the people ascended the Eastern hill, and once again mounted the wall.
THE HOUSE OF DAVID. This was called “the king’s high house” in 3:25. This is considered to be the palace of David himself, occupied over 500 years before this. What sacred memories must have flooded the hearts of the people as they walked near that house.
THE WATER GATE. The people moved across the wall to the “Water Gate,” which overlooked the Kidron Valley (3:26). The Nethinims, who were Temple servants, had made repairs on the wall to a point opposite of this gate (3:26). This gate was near to the Temple in which the Nethinims regularly served.
THE SECOND GROUP. Now Nehemiah’s group goes to the left, covering the other half of the wall. However, he follows the group, whereas Ezra went before the other group. Thus the body of people would end up with Ezra at the front, and Nehemiah at the back, as two great spiritual pillars.
BEYOND THE TOWER. These people moved on top of the wall from above the “tower of furnaces” to “the broad wall.” This tower had been repaired by Malchijah and Hashub. This was one of the towers in the middle of the wall, and was associated with “Baker’s Street,” mentioned in Jeremiah 37:21. The furnaces were used for baking.
THE BROAD WALL. This part of the wall was fortified by Hananiah, who was an apothecary (3:8). Only Nehemiah mentions this section of Jerusalem’s walls.
THE GATE OF EPHRAIM, OLD GATE, FISH GATE, TOWER OF HANANEEL, TOWER OF MEAH, SHEEP GATE. On the group stretched across the top of Jerusalem’s walls. They lined up above, or over, the gates of Ephraim, Old Gate, Fish Gate, and Sheep Gate. The latter gates had been repaired by Jehoiada, the sons of Hassenaah, and the goldsmiths (3:3,6,32). The area around the towers of Hananeel and Meah was repaired by Eliashib the high priest and the priests (3:1).
THE PRISON GATE. This is the only place this gate is mentioned, and is thought to be associated with “the court of the prison” mentioned in 3:25. That area was repaired by Palal. This gate is thought to be on the south-eastern corner of the Temple area.
Ezra’s group stood upon the wall on the North side of the Temple, and Nehemiah’s group stood on the South side of the Temple. They started out going to the right and to the left, but they ended up at the house of God.
How refreshing it must have been for them to stand upon the wall and behold what the Lord had done! It would certainly be conducive to thanksgiving. If people are ever going to be thankful, they must be given to see what the Lord has done. True thanksgiving and praise cannot be accomplished by mere obligation. Just as these people walked upon the wall prior to thanksgiving, so ought we to walk in heavenly places.
TWO COMPANIES GIVE THANKS, SINGING LOUD
“ 40 So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God, and I, and the half of the rulers with me: 41 And the priests; Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; 42 And Maaseiah, and Shemaiah, and Eleazar, and Uzzi, and Jehohanan, and Malchijah, and Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer.”
TWO COMPANIES. Two groups of people, but one purpose. They were united in their work, united in their hearing, united in their contrition and confession, and united in their covenant before God. It is no surprise, therefore that they are united in thanks.
IN THE HOUSE OF GOD. They had taken different routes, but they ended up at the house of God. They did not meet in the Temple proper, but in the general Temple area, elsewhere called “the courts of the house of God” where they had originally assembled to hear the Word of God (8:16). To properly give thanks, they did so where the Lord was more prominent. The text indicates that after moving in solemn procession across the top of the wall, they came down from the wall to stand in the house of the Lord. The NIV reads, “The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God.” Nehemiah then adds, “so did I, together with half the officials.” Once again, the unity of the people is evident. Their hearts were joined in the work, and now they are joined in thanksgiving.
THE PRIESTS. The priests also joined Nehemiah: “Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets.” NIV Other priests joined as well: Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer, so that there were at least fifteen priests with Nehemiah. It appears that all of these priests had trumpets. Very few of them are mentioned elsewhere. They obtained importance when it came to praising the Lord by giving Him thanks.
THEY GAVE THANKS. The language here is significant – particularly in view of current church trends. The text does not say they praised God, or that they worshiped God, but that they “gave thanks” – doing so with trumpets and musical instruments. Earlier in this chapter we read of priests who were appointed “to praise and give thanks” (12:24). Nehemiah appointed two great companies “that gave thanks” (12:31,38).
The giving of thanks postulates insight – that the work of the Lord has been seen to some significant degree. Paul describes certain prayers in the assembly as “giving thanks” (1 Cor 14:16). We are also told of the profitability of speech that is called “giving of thanks” (Eph 5:4). Whatever we do for the Lord is to be accompanied with “giving thanks to God and the Father” by Christ (Col 3:17). The “fruit of our lips” is described as “giving thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15).
It seems to me that there is a weakness in the professed church in this matter. This is, in my judgment, the result of a failure to emphasize the Gospel – “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). Thanksgiving cannot be offered to God appropriately where a fundamental ignorance of His Person and word exists.
Ponder these expressions: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph,” “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift,” Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (2 Cor 2:14; 2 Cor 9:15; Col 1:12). Such thanksgivings are the root of the tree of real thankfulness.
THE SINGERS SANG LOUD. “And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer” (42). Other versions read “loudly,” NKJV and “made their voices loud.” BBE The word “loud” literally means “to cause to hear.” The Psalmist exhorts, “Sing aloud unto God” (Psa 81:1). Again, “let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation” (Psa 95:1). Once again it is written, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King” (Psa 98:4-6). Isaiah admonished those who were singing to the Lord, “Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion” (Isa 12:5-6).
Numerous trumpets were being blown, cymbals were being sounded, together with the sound of stringed instruments and harps. With all of this, under the able leadership of Jezrahiah, the singers lifted up their voice with words of thanksgiving. Later we will hear that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off” (versed 43).
And ought not those who have experienced the “great salvation” of God be characterized by great and effective thanksgiving? Those who have been given much are to reflect that heavenly bounty in their insightful and fervent thanksgiving.