‘What is the significance of 12:1-26? Well, basically, you have two historical generations of priests and Levites here, 12:1-9 over against 12:12-21,24-26 (with emphasis in vv. 24-26 on praise and guard duty). So what do we have? Folks who are still serving in the worship of sacrifice and praise and vigilance as did an earlier generation. Is it not thrilling to see the true worship of God continuing in a subsequent generation? Is it not marvelous, as God’s people, to show ourselves as part of a whole history of devotion in our own time?’ (Dale Ralph Davis)
‘Continuity is again a major interest here. Unexciting as the first half of the chapter is, it has a point to make by its refusal to treat bygone generations as of no further interest. And if history-writing inevitably distorts reality by its concentration on outstanding people and on the forces of change, here is something to redress the balance.’ (Kidner)
Davis concludes: ‘We are non-biblical, then, if we despise or ignore the record of those who have served Yahweh before our own time.’
1 These were the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and with Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, 2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, 4 Iddo, Ginnethon, Abijah, 5 Mijamin, Moadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, 7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah. These were the leaders of the priests and their associates in the days of Jeshua.
There are 22 names in vv1-7. They are mostly family names, rather than the names of the individuals. Since the original number of priestly divisions was 24 (1 Chron 24:7-19) it may be that the full number had not yet been restored.
This list is of the first generation after the exile, and is to be compared with Neh 12:12-21 (a subsequent generation), and Neh 10:2-8 (Nehemiah’s generation).
Their associates – Although some are mentioned by name, many others are not. ‘The story of Christian work and witness over the years is something far more enriching than a record of great names and remarkable events. It is about millions of unremembered but committed believers, ordinary church members, forgotten ministers, evangelists, tract-distributors, Bible Class leaders, Sunday School teachers, sick visitors, caterers, cleaners, door stewards and, most important of all, undaunted intercessors.’ (Brown)
Brown illustrates the importance of faithful ‘associates’: ‘William Wilberforce could never have achieved what he did for the freedom of slaves had it not beeen for years of arduous back-room work by Thomas Clarkson. The researcher in Wesbech was a vital as the partilamentarian in Westminster. Without a reliable person behind him, constantly obtaining vital information, the reformer’s work would have been impossible.’ Spurgeon never did learn the name of the Methodist preacher under whose preaching he was converted.
‘The apostles knew the strategic importance of supportive colleagues, and their letters frequently testify to their invaluable contribution and encouraging practical help.’
8 The Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and also Mattaniah, who, together with his associates, was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving.
9 Bakbukiah and Unni, their associates, stood opposite them in the services.
10 Jeshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada,
11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.
12 In the days of Joiakim, these were the heads of the priestly families: of Seraiah’s family, Meraiah; of Jeremiah’s, Hananiah; 13 of Ezra’s, Meshullam; of Amariah’s, Jehohanan; 14 of Malluch’s, Jonathan; of Shecaniah’s, Joseph; 15 of Harim’s, Adna; of Meremoth’s, Helkai; 16 of Iddo’s, Zechariah; of Ginnethon’s, Meshullam; 17 of Abijah’s, Zicri; of Miniamin’s and of Moadiah’s, Piltai; 18 of Bilgah’s, Shammua; of Shemaiah’s, Jehonathan; 19 of Joiarib’s, Mattenai; of Jedaiah’s, Uzzi; 20 of Sallu’s, Kallai; of Amok’s, Eber; 21 of Hilkiah’s, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah’s, Nethanel.
As previously noted, this list (vv12-21) uses family names, rather than the names of individuals.
22 The family heads of the Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua, as well as those of the priests, were recorded in the reign of Darius the Persian.
23 The family heads among the descendants of Levi up to the time of Johanan son of Eliashib were recorded in the book of the annals.
24 And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, 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.
‘The point of referring to David and Asa means that the people of Judea should follow the prescribed order already established in the past.’ (ECB)
25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub were gatekeepers who guarded the storerooms at the gates.
26 They served in the days of Joiakim son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest and scribe.
The emphasis throughout is on continuity, through the best part of a century.
27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.
At this point (or perhaps at v31), we are back with the memoirs of Nehemiah. ‘His voice was last heard directly at 7:5, where he introduced the list of the first homecomers; after that, the editor took up the narrative, speaking of Nehemiah in the third person (8:9; 10:1; 12:26).
‘The people had been dedicated (chaps. 8–10); now it was time to dedicate the work that the people had done. This is the correct order, for what good are dedicated walls and gates without dedicated people?’ (Wiersbe)
‘Note that the emphasis was on joyful praise on the part of all the people. Singing is mentioned eight times in this chapter, thanksgiving six times, rejoicing seven times, and musical instruments three times.’ (Wiersbe)
Packer comments: ‘Singing was the order of the day. So it is constantly in the worship prescribed in both Testaments.’ And he quotes Boice as saying:-
‘This is not true of other religions. Many use repetitive chants. In some, clergy sing. But generally the religions of the world are grim things.… Christians write hymns … choruses … oratorios. Why is this? Obviously because Christianity is itself joyous. It is a response to the great acts of God on our behalf, particularly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which secured our salvation.’
Packer adds:- “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God,” writes Paul (Col. 3:16). Do we sing enough? Enough to sustain our own joy in salvation? Enough to give God the honor and appreciation that is his due? How much singing to God have we done today—did we do yesterday—shall we plan to do tomorrow?
Brown notes that although Christians agree on the importance of worship, they do not have a common mind regarding its character and form. We debate – often vehemently – theses such as participatory worship, charismatic worship, ecumenical worship, inter-faith worship, contemporary worship, and so on. But in all this discussion we are too prone to seek what most pleases ourselves rather than what most honours God.
‘People throughout the world are tireless in their pursuit of different religious exercises – adoring idols, kneeling on hard floors, abstaining from food, beating their bodies, mechanically turning prayer-wheels, lighting candles, reciting repetitive mantras, embarking on sacrificial pilgrimages – all because they passionately believe these acts are “helpful” for relieving their guilt, shedding their anxieties, obtaining their pardon, registering their allegiance and guaranteeing their security.’ But, however helpful these activities may seem, we must turn to God’s word for clear guidance on this crucial subject of true worship.
28 The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites,
29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem.
30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.
Dale Ralph Davis notes the care that was taken to prepare for the celebration that followed the completion of the wall. ‘This sort of approach stands in direct opposition, not ritually but in principle, to modern evangelicalism, where the last thing one seems to find amid all the chatter and good cheer is this serious preparation. Our approach is casual rather than careful.’
Of the preparations for festivities recorded in vv27-30, Kidner remarks that ‘if the New Testament emphasises what is inward and spiritual in worship, it has a place too for the natural means of encouraging and stirring us. Our Lord went to Gethsemane fortified not only by prayer but by a ceremonial meal and corporate singing, matters which engage not only the spirit but the body and the senses.’
31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, towards the Dung Gate.
Here (vv31-43) is a description of a ‘processional embrace of the city and its walls. It was an extended thanksgiving and a re-consecration, a claiming of these stones for Israel and for God’ (Kidner). Compare Psa 48 (esp. vv12-14).
Davis quotes Stan Evers: “What memories must have flooded into the minds of the Jews as they walked the walls on which they had spent so much time and energy!”
What a contrast between Nehemiah’s furtive night-time reconnaissance of the walls (Neh 1:12ff) and this triumphant procession! And what is to be made now of Tobiah’s taunt in Neh 3:3!
Each of the two large choirs processes in the opposite direction (cf. v38).
32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 as well as some priests with trumpets, and also Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his associates—Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani—with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the scribe led the procession.
‘This special service of dedication would have been a failure were it not for a man who had been dead for over 500 years. That man was King David. It was David who had organized the priests and Levites (v. 24; 1 Chron. 24:7–19) and written many of the songs for the temple choirs (Neh. 12:46). He had also devised musical instruments for use in worship (v. 36; 2 Chron. 29:26–27). David had served his generation faithfully (Acts 13:36), but in doing so, he had also served every generation that followed! In fact, it was David who captured the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and made it his capital, the City of
‘David (2 Sam. 5:6–10). It was also David who had provided the blueprints and much of the wealth for the building of the temple (1 Chron. 28:11–19). “He who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17, NKJV).’ (Wiersbe)
37 At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.
38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall,
39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped.
‘Some of the landmarksof verses 38f were mentioned in 3:1-11 and 28-32, in the account of the repair work. Every inch of these ramparts had its special memory for one group or another’ (Kidner).
This was a memorable procession. ‘the processions rivet their minds and imaginations to the work and pain and ordeal they had endured — and yet at the same time it was all an act of worship. The purpose was thanksgiving; the focus was not on “our achievement” but on “God’s enabling.” But circling the wall added concreteness and vividness to this thanksgiving. It gave particularity to their worship. They retraced “on location” (like a Reformation tour of Scotland?) God’s work through them, and offered praise to him for it.
‘The Puritans seemed to have a knack for this “memorableness.” Walter Pringle told his children the exact places where certain things happened to him, such as his first experience of prayer “at the north-east of Stitchel Hall.” Years later he committed his newly born son to God “at the plum tree on the north side of the garden door.” Faith revels in and flourishes on such memories; it delights to crunch along the top of a wall that God kept them building in the face of ridicule and threats.’ (Davis)
40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials,
41 as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets—
42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah.
43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
‘As is often pointed out, there are five occurrences of the root samach(be glad, gladness) in verse 43. Stan Evers points to the occasion of Ezra 3:13, where there was much weeping with the joy; here, however, God has entirely taken the sadness away! This is yet another instance of Psalm 30:5 (“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning”).’ (Davis)
‘The emphasis on their joy in v 43 is unparalleled in its intensity, a healthy reminder of the biblical truth that the prospect of such joy may legitimately serve to strengthen us during times of hardship (cf. Rom. 5:2–5; 8:18–25; Heb. 12:2).’ (NBC)
‘This was now the third time in Israel’s history that their shouting was “heard afar off.” The soldiers shouted when the ark of the covenant came into their camp (1 Sam. 4:5), but that eventually led to shameful defeat. When the temple foundation was laid nearly a century before, the workers shouted for joy; but their joy was mingled with sorrow (Ezra 3:8–13). The shout from Jerusalem during this dedication service was unalloyed joy, to the glory of the Lord; and because of this record in the Word of God, that shout has been heard around the world!’ (Wiersbe)
44 At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites.
At that time – indicates that Nehemiah took good advantage of the energy and elation of the thanksgiving to make provision for continual worship and service.
‘The joy and delight in those who led in worship (Neh. 12:44b) led to action that would insure the proper continuity of worship. See Numbers 18:21-32 for the portions referred to in verse 47. Kidner puts it nicely: “It is one thing to shout on a great occasion, but another to offer the sacrifice of praise continually and to make realistic provision for the church’s needs.”’ (Davis)
‘Unlike a fairy story, however, this ‘happy ending’ [=12:27-43] does not mark the conclusion of the book. The text hurries on (At that time, 12:44; On that day, 13:1) to deal with matters which we might too quickly dismiss as mere routine, namely financial provision for the regular temple services (12:44-47) and purification of the congregation in obedience to the law of God (13:1-3). Without such routine, the author seems to imply, the joy of a single day can never be sustained. Although it is usually the highpoints of success which impress themselves on the memory, the true gauge of spiritual progress in the individual as much as in community life is the extent to which what might be passed by as ‘the normal’ has been transformed. The form of the narrative at this point emphatically asserts that without such progress in regard to the ordinary, the climaxes and celebrations will fade all too quickly into tarnished memories.’ (NBC)
‘Here we are taught the importance of ongoing, non-special obedience. It is too easy to neglect or despise this. Paul Johnson, in his Intellectuals, tells how Tolstoy loved to “perform” but cared little for common duties. For example, he was not moved to pay off debts he owed to poor people. There was no “visibility factor” in such mundane matters, no heroics to put on display.’ (Davis)
45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the singers and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon.
‘This special service of dedication would have been a failure were it not for a man who had been dead for over 500 years. That man was King David. It was David who had organized the priests and Levites (v. 24; 1 Chron. 24:7–19) and written many of the songs for the temple choirs (Neh. 12:46). He had also devised musical instruments for use in worship (v. 36; 2 Chron. 29:26–27). David had served his generation faithfully (Acts 13:36), but in doing so, he had also served every generation that followed! In fact, it was David who captured the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and made it his capital, the City of David (2 Sam. 5:6–10). It was also David who had provided the blueprints and much of the wealth for the building of the temple (1 Chron. 28:11–19). “He who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17, NKJV)…They conducted the worship, not according to their own ideas, but in obedience to the directions given by David and Solomon.’ (Wiersbe)
46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the singers and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.
47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.
‘The Christian can reflect that his Provider has a better memory than the men of Judah (see 13:10)’ (Kidner).
‘Nehemiah 8–12 showed us something of God’s work of revival, and the extraordinary passion and power of people’s devotion when revival has touched their lives. Repentance, which humbles, and praise, which excites, are still the two activities which, with God’s blessing, lead most directly into spiritual renewing, and joy and self-giving are still the two activities in which spiritual renewing most naturally expresses itself. We see it all here, and the story should stir us to seek a similar quickening for ourselves.’ (Packer)