COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 12:43 Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off. 44 And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited. 45 And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son. 46 For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron.” (Neh 12:43-47)
The dedication of the wall is a formal event, yet is characterized by great joy. Two great companies have walked across the top of the total wall, meeting near the house of God. Everyone is acutely aware of the massive work that has been completed, and how they were able to do it through the Living God. The consciousness of the people has been enlivened, not only toward God Himself and His house and city, but also toward those whose work related to the Temple. At this time their thoughts are not occupied with their enemies, or with work unrelated to Jerusalem and its Temple. They are focused, perceptive, determined, and joyful. Our text affords an excellent example of power of faith.
GREAT SACRIFICES AND GREAT JOY
“ 12:43 “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.”
THAT DAY. What a day this was. All of the Levites were brought from their residents to Jerusalem for the dedication of the wall. They were to keep the dedication “with gladness,” which was attended with “thanksgivings,” “singing, “cymbals, psalteries, and harps” (27). The singers were all assembled (28-29). The priests and Levites had “purified themselves,” the “people,” the “gates, and the wall” (30). The “princes of Judah” had been assembled, and divided into two groups who went on top of the wall. Two great choirs were also appointed to give thanks. Ezra led one and Nehemiah the other. They covered the entire circumference of the wall, meeting at the house of God (31-42a). The singers lifted up their voice and “sang loud” (42b). Now the details of the dedication are provided.
GREAT SACRIFICES. Here the people followed the examples of those before them. When David prepared a tabernacle for the ark of the covenant, he dedicated it by offering burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord (2 Sam 6:17). When he purchased the threshing floor of Araunah on which the Temple was eventually built, he dedicated it with burnt offerings and peace offerings (2 Sam 24:25). When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he offered sacrifices “that could not be told or numbered for multitude” (1 Kgs 8:5). At the dedication of the second Temple, Zerubbabel followed the same example, offering 100 bullocks, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and 12 he goats (Ezra 6:17).
Now Nehemiah completes the dedication of the entire wall with sacrifices on a large scale – “great sacrifices,” or “many sacrifices.” NLT The occasion was a grand one, and forbade ordinary sacrifices. Unusual accomplishments through the power of God require unusual sacrifice and praise to Him. If there is a single blight extant among Christians, it is the dominating presence of “normal” and “average.” Apart from strictly organizational concerns, there is very little in the modern church, directed toward God Himself, that excels or is on a grand scale. That is a matter of concern, for those in Christ Jesus should have high points that far exceed those who labored under school master of the Law.
GOD MADE THEM REJOICE. Other versions read, “rejoicing because God had given them great joy.” NASB,NIV Rather than ascribing this great joy to the people themselves, Nehemiah traces it back to God. This means God gave them a cause to rejoice, as well as the ability and inclination to do so. He enabled them to make a vital association between the completion of the work and God Himself. That is something that cannot be taught or caused to happen by men. In the time of Jehosaphat, they returned to Jerusalem with joy, following the triumph over their enemies. It is said of that occasion, “for the LORD had made them to rejoice over their enemies” (2 Chr 20:27).
In Christ Jesus God can “fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom 15:13). This is a rational joy, in which God Himself is seen as the Cause of worthy accomplishments.
THE WIVES AND CHILDREN REJOICED. Everyone rejoiced, including the wives and children. There were not separate groups, as some are wont to have today. Rather, in the climate of thanksgiving and song, such holy associations were made as caused young and old to join in godly rejoicing. In this case, the children were not told to keep quiet, as was suggested by the chief priests and scribes of Jesus’ day (Matt 21:15).
THE JOY WAS HEARD AFAR OFF. The NIV reads, “The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” A similar thing took place when the foundation for the Temple was completed by Zerubbabel: “for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off” (Ezra 3:13). When the ark of the covenant was brought back among Israel, “all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again,” or “the ground shook.” NIV The sound arrested the Philistines, who said, “What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews?” (1 Sam 4:5-6). When Solomon was anointed king, “the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them” (1 Ki 1:40). Surely there is cause for greater joy among those who have been reconciled to God, whose iniquities are forgiven, and who have access to God Himself.
THEY REJOICED FOR THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES
“ 44 And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited. 45 And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.”
AT THAT TIME. Other versions read, “at the same time,” NKJV and “on that day.” NASB In addition to all of the things already accomplished, some additional appointments were made. The thanksgiving and singing of the people had enlarged their thoughts, moving them to make even more provisions for those more immediately involved in the work of the Lord. Notice, there is a total absence of brevity and convenience. The heart and soul of the people are caught up in the joy of the Lord, and it has made them perceptive, devoted, and with no regard for brief exposure to the things of God.
OVER THE CHAMBERS. These chambers were “the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits, and tithes.” NIV David had originally appointed people “over all the treasuries of dedicated things” (1 Chron 26:25). Solomon established four porters who were “over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God” (1 Chron 9:26). These are what Malachi referred to when he said, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house” (Mal 3:10). As we will find, these were supplies for the priests and Levites – the means whereby they were supported. The storehouse, or chambers, was not left open. It was managed by responsible people, who ensured the proper distribution of the supplies, much like the early deacons did in the sixth chapter of Acts.
PORTIONS FOR THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES. These brethren were also responsible for gathering the portions that had been allotted to the priests. Those serving in the Temple were not responsible for gathering their own resources. The people had already covenanted to provide for the priests and Levites (10:37-39). Knowing the tendency of the people, Nehemiah did not leave it up to them to remember what they had said, but appointed men to gather what they had promised to give. Paul followed the same practice in gathering monies for the poor saints that had been pledged by the churches (2 Cor 9:2-3).
THEY REJOICED FOR THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES. When their hearts were perceptive and rejoicing in the Lord, “Judah was glad on account of the priests and the Levites who were in their places.” BBE Those more immediately involved in the work of the Lord became more precious to the people, and their work was now a cause for great joy. They rejoiced to see their devotion, faithfulness, and how they gave themselves to their work.
Among the people with whom I have been identified, this is virtually unknown. Here and there, praise God, there are evidences of rejoicing in the servants of God, but it is exceedingly rare. Many places provide only meager resources for devoted servants, even though God specifies they are worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim 5:17). Such honor will only be afforded when the people rejoice in the work of His servants.
THE WARD OF THE PURIFICATION. Both the “singers and the porters” joined with the priests and Levites in keeping the ward, or “keeping the charge of their God.” NKJV That is, they did what they were appointed to do, in the proper manner, and with due regard for their surroundings. “The ward of purification” refers to the “service of purification,” NASB or “making things clean” BBE through various rites of purification. Elsewhere this is called “the purifying of all holy things” (1 Chron 23:28). This also included not allowing anyone but priests and Levites to “come into the house of God” (2 Chron 23:6). According to Ezekiel 44:30, all of these sanctified procedures would enable the blessing of God to “rest upon” the houses of the people.
We live in a day when the sense of purity has been greatly obscured. The conditions are more like the days prior to Nehemiah, than of those after Jesus was enthroned in glory.
DAVID AND SOLOMON. Procedures were set in place that reflected the values and commands of David and Solomon – David conceiving of the Temple, and Solomon building and dedicating it (1 Chron 23:11-28). Godly customs must be traced to godly men.
THE OLD ORDER AND PROVISION RESTORED
“ 46 For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron.”
Here we will find there were periods of time when God’s people were faithful to care for priests, Levites, singers, and porters. Both of the periods mentioned extended over several years, and reflected the sensitivity of the people to the servants of God. Throughout history, this has proved to be the exception rather than the rule. When Jesus walked among men, there was a select group of women who ministered to Him (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:2-3). Paul confessed that when he set out for Macedonia, only the church at Philippi shared with him in the matter of giving and receiving (Phil4:15-16). There is a sense in which the value of religious profession can be measured by the consideration the people give to those who labor in the Word and in the doctrine.
SONGS OF PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING. In the days of David the king, and “Asaph the chief” of the singers and musicians, there were “chief [leaders of] singers,” “songs of praise,” and hymns of NASB“thanksgiving unto God.” That is, there were leaders in these three areas – “directors for the singers, and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.” NIV A certain excellence and consistency was associated with praising and thanking the Lord. David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) had a deep desire for appropriateness and comeliness in everything given to the Lord. Once he exclaimed, “neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24). This same attitude pervaded everything he instituted in regard to the worship of God. Now, the people seek to recapture that same spirit, divorcing themselves from all mediocrity.
THE DAYS OF ZERUBBABEL AND NEHEMIAH. The “days of Zerubbabel” were the occasion of the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 6:16-22). The Temple was completed around 516 B.C., which was seventy-two years prior to the completion of the wall under Nehemiah (444 B.C.). In the time of Zerubbabel they “dedicated the house of God with joy,” and installed the priests in their due functions. But, alas, in the intervening years prior to Nehemiah, all of this had ceased, and the high regard for the servants of God had fallen by the way.
Now Nehemiah restores practices relating to the house and servants of God. All through “the days of Nehemiah,” holy practices were maintained. The tithes were gathered and brought into the house of God, then faithfully kept and distributed.
While this may appear to be a weakness, history has confirmed the need of leaders to elevate the awareness of the people to holy duties. It was in the days of Seth, whom Adam beget in his own likeness, that “men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). Beginning with “the days of John the Baptist,” aggressive souls began laying hold of the kingdom of God (Matt 11:12). What type of activity and mind-set marks the people of our day?
Even pure minds must be “stirred up by way of remembrance” (1 Pet 3:1; 2 Pet 1:13-15). Also, gifts given to men by God must be “stirred up” (2 Tim 1:6). Faithful followers of Christ were admonished to “continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43), and “continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22). It is good for us to aspire to have our days identified as ones in which faithfulness to God is more clearly perceived, and zeal for the Lord is better known.
PORTIONS EVERY DAY. The supplies for the servants of God were faithfully and consistently provided. “Daily portions” NRSV were allocated to the singers and porters. Earlier, we were told that king Artaxerxes had commanded “a certain portion” be given to the singers “every day” (11:23; Ezra 7:20-23). Now, however, the people have determined to do this in accordance with what holy men had set in place. The singers were relieved from all other duties, being employed in their work “day and night” (1 Chron 9:33).
HOLY THINGS SANCTIFIED. The “consecrated portion” intended for the Levites was set aside for them. This was “the tithes of the children of Israel” (Num 18:24,26). The people had covenanted to do this (10:37-38). Now we read that practice continued.
The Levites, in turn, set aside the portion designated for “the children of Araon.” This was “the tenth part of the tithe,” and was specified under the Law to be given to “Aaron the priest” (Num 18:26-28). Thus everyone had regard for the other. The people for the singers, porters, and Levites; and the Levites for the priests. This is an excellent example of the kind of unity produced by faith and joy. O, that more of it may be seen in our day.