Nehemiah 11+12

Introduction

Under Nehemiah’s leadership, the people have rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. Then they met in the city and listened to Ezra and the Levites as they read and explained God’s word to them. They also celebrated the Feast of Booths and rejoiced before the Lord for bringing them back from exile to the Promised Land. Then they met together to confess their sins and the sins of the forefathers and to seek the Lord’s help. And last week we read how they renewed the covenant which the Lord has established with his people in the days of Moses at Mount Sinai. And so, many years after Sinai, the people met on Mount Zion to renew the covenant and to promise the Lord once again that they would follow the law of the Lord and obey carefully his commands and regulations and decrees.

What came next? What was the next thing which needed Nehemiah’s attention? Back in chapter 7 we read that while the city was large and spacious, few people were living in it. So, that’s the next thing that needed his attention. Having rebuilt the city wall, Nehemiah now needed to fill the city and to repopulate it. God’s holy city had to be filled with God’s holy people. And that’s what chapter 11 is about, because it lists the family names of those who agreed to live in the city. And then, in the first half of chapter 12, we have a list of the priests and Levites who were able to serve in the temple of the city. And then, in the second half chapter 12, we read how they all celebrated the completion of the wall.

These chapters therefore point forward to the great hope that God gives to everyone who believes in his Son, because God has promised to bring his believing people into the heavenly Jerusalem, the true holy city, where they will dwell securely forever and forever. Though these chapters seem to be nothing more than a long list of names of people we don’t know, nevertheless the fact is that these chapters speak to us of our eternal inheritance which Christ has accomplished for us by his death and resurrection; and which becomes ours whenever we believe in him; and which we will take possession of and enjoy forever whenever he comes again. So, let’s turn to this passage now.

Chapter 11

According to verse 1 of chapter 11, the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. As for the rest of the people who had returned from exile, they cast lots in order to choose a tenth of the people to live in the city.

You’ll notice that Jerusalem is referred to here as the ‘holy city’. It was the holy city, because it had been set aside by God from all the other cities of the world to be his chosen dwelling place. And now the holy city — which had been chosen by God — was to be filled with his holy people.

Casting lots might suggest that the choice of who got to live in Jerusalem was entirely random, so that whether you were chosen or not was all down to the casting of the lot or — we might say — it was all down to the roll of the dice. We think of casting lots and rolling dice as being entirely random.

However, in the Bible we see how God’s people understood that the outcome of the lot was in the hands of the Lord. After all, he controls all things — doesn’t he? — including the casting of lots and the roll of a dice. ‘The lot is cast into the lap’, we read in Proverbs, ‘but its every decision is from the LORD’. He’s the one who determines what the outcome will be. And therefore, casting lots like this was a way to determine the will of the Lord; and those who were selected to live in Jerusalem could say that the decision was the Lord’s. That’s perhaps why it says in verse 2 that they volunteered to live in the city: having been selected by lot, they went voluntarily, without having to be forced, because this was clearly God’s will for them.

Notice too that a tenth of the people was chosen to live in Jerusalem. That recalls what we read last week about how the people agreed to give a tithe or a tenth of their produce to the Levites who served the Lord in the temple. Well, in a similar sort of way, the families who were chosen to live in Jerusalem were a tithe of the total population, set aside from the rest of the population to live in the city.

According to verse 2, the rest of the people commended, or praised, those who agreed to live in the city. After all, to live in the city, may have been a privilege, but it also meant you had to give up living on the family farm. It might have been harder to make a living in Jerusalem compared to when you were on the family farm, because you had less land to grow crops and to rear livestock. Nevertheless, despite the disadvantages, these men went voluntarily to live in the city.

In verses 3 to 19 we have a list of the provincial leaders or the heads of households who settled in Jerusalem. Some are from the tribe of Judah; some are from the tribe of Benjamin; some are priests and some are Levites and some are gatekeepers. The number of men associated with each leader is given in verse 6 and in verse 8 and in verse 12 and 13 and 14 and in verse 18 and 19. The biggest group are the priests, followed by the Benjamnites. The total number of men is 3,044. If you include wives and children, the total of new residents may have been between 10 and 15 thousand.

In verses 20 to 36, we read that the rest of the people lived in their ancestral property. That is, they lived in the inheritance assigned to them in the days of Joshua when the Lord allocated the land by lot to each of the clans. The ancestral property of some of them — that is, those listed in verse 21 to 24 — was in Jerusalem itself. But the ancestral property of the rest was in and around the towns of Judah.

Verses 1 to 26

Verses 1 to 26 of chapter 12 are a list of priests and Levites who could serve in the temple. The names come from different time periods: from the time of the first return from exile until the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. And so, in verse 1 it mentions the time of Zerubbabel; and in verse 11 it mentions the days of Joiakim; and in verse 22 it mentions the days of Eliashib and others; and in verse 26 it mentions again the days of Joiakim and the days of Nehemiah and Ezra.

For many people today, tracing their family tree is a hobby and the results don’t mean much. But when it came to priests and Levites, it was vital that they got it right, because only those who were from the tribe of Levi could serve as Levites; and only those who were descended from Aaron could serve as priests. So, the Lord had made clear in his law that only those who were from the tribe of Aaron could bring sacrifices before him in the temple; and the Levites were appointed by God to assist the priests.

Anyone else who tried to approach the Lord in his temple would cause the Lord’s wrath to break out against them. Isn’t that what happened to Korah in Numbers 16? He was a Levite, but he wanted to serve as a priest. And as a result of his sinful rebellion — trying to take for himself the right to serve as a priest — the Lord opened the ground beneath him and his family and he and his family were destroyed. Only those who had been appointed by God could serve as priests and Levites. And so, it was vital that whoever wished to serve in the temple could prove their ancestry and show that they were from the right family. And so, these lists were kept carefully, so that it was easy to determine who could serve and who could not.

Verses 27 to 47

In verses 27 to 47 of chapter 12 we have the account of the dedication of the wall. The Levites were brought to Jerusalem from all their towns and villages to lead the celebration, because they were musicians and singers. According to verse 30, before the celebrations could begin, the priests and Levites had to purify themselves. They also purified the people and the gates of the city and the wall of the city. Laws about how to carry out this kind of purification ritual are found in the books of Leviticus and Numbers; and it normally involved offering sacrifices and washings with water.

The main point to notice here is that everyone and everything needed to be purified that day. Of course, washing with water only removes physical dirt from our bodies; and it cannot remove the guilt of our sins. But by means of this ceremonial washing, God was willing to regard his people and the city as being clean and pure and holy in his sight.

Nehemiah tells us in verse 31 that he had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. And then he appointed two choirs to give thanks. One was to walk along the wall on one side of the city; the other was to walk along the wall on the other side of the city, One choir was followed by Hoshaiah and seven priests and other priests blowing trumpets and a group of leaders; the other choir was follow by Nehemiah himself and seven priests and other priests blowing trumpets and another group of leaders as well as the people. And so, we’re to imagine these two great choirs, walking around the wall of the city, playing and singing, blowing trumpets, and filling the air with the sound of praise and thanks to Almighty God, who had rescued them from exile and who had brought them back to the holy city, just as he said he would.

The choirs marched along the wall and both ended up in the temple. According to verse 43, they offered great sacrifices to the Lord that day, and rejoiced together, because the Lord had given them great joy. The women and children also joined in. And the sound of rejoicing could be heard far away.

Some of the commentators say that this scene recalls what happened whenever Kind David brought the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem, which we read about in 1 Chronicles 15. On that day, singers and musicians made a joyful noise as the processed into Jerusalem. And they too offered many sacrifices to the Lord. Just as they did in David’s day, so in Nehemiah’s day, the people praised the Lord and offered sacrifices to the Lord.

In the final part of chapter 12, we read that men were appointed to oversee the storerooms where contributions and firstfruits and tithes were kept. Just as the people had promised in chapter 10, they did indeed support the work of the temple by bringing all that was required for the daily offerings and by providing the priest and Levites with all that they required for their daily needs. And all that they bought was kept safe in these storerooms.

Application 1

All that we read in these two chapters is a foretaste in history of the great inheritance which God has in store for his people in eternity.

Picture in your mind what we have in these two chapters. There a list of God’s people who have been brought in to live in God’s holy city, which is surrounded by a strong wall. And the people have been washed and cleansed and purified. And in the midst of the city, there’s the temple, which is God’s dwelling place. And all the people in the city are praising God and they’re rejoicing before him, because God has given them great joy.

Can you picture it in your mind? Well, that’s a foretaste in history of your inheritance, the inheritance which Christ purchased for you by his life and death and resurrection. He laid down his life as the ransom to set you free from condemnation. And he was raised to give you life. And having been exalted to the right hand of his Father in heaven, he’s now preparing a place for you. And when the time is right, he will gather together all of his people; and he will bring you — if you trust in him — to the true holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, where you will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever and forever in glory. And together with all of God’s people and the angels, you will praise the Lord and rejoice before him, because of the great joy he has given you forever.

What a day it will be! What a day it will be, when Christ comes again to gather his people — chosen in Christ from all eternity — and to bring us at last into the presence of the Lord. All the troubles and trials of this life will be over; all sorrow and suffering will be gone; and you’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest and safety and joy in God’s holy city.

Do you see? By enabling Nehemiah to rebuild the city and by enabling him to repopulate the city, the Lord was giving his people a foretaste of our everlasting inheritance in the presence of the Lord. And so, he was revealing to the world the great hope he gives to all who trust in his Son.

Application 2

But, of course, since it’s only a foretaste, the picture we have here is not complete; and it needs to be filled out by other things which we read in the Bible.

For instance, in Nehemiah 11 the total number of men who were chosen to live in the city was only 3,044. If you include wives and children, the total number of new residents may have been between 10 and 15 thousand. But when we turn in our Bibles to Revelation 7, where the Apostle John received a vision of heaven, what did he see? He saw a great multitude of people that no-one could count. And it’s a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language. Not just Jews, but people from every nation. And John saw that this great multitude had been brought into the presence of the Lord to be with him forever. In the days of Nehemiah, the city’s population was between perhaps 10 and 15 thousand people. But in the end, there will be in the presence of the Lord a great multitude that cannot be counted. And, of course, not one of God’s people will be missing, but all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. All those for whom Christ died will be there. And that’s your inheritance, if you’re trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And in this historical foretaste of our eternal inheritance, we read the names of priests and Levites who purified themselves and who purified the people, before they began to praise the Lord. And in those days, that meant they washed themselves with water. But again, when we turn to Revelation 7 what do we find? When John saw that great multitude of people from every nation, he saw that they too have been washed, so that the robes they were wearing were white. But they hadn’t been washed with water, but with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By his blood, shed on the cross, the guilt of your sins is washed away and removed forever. Water cannot really cleanse us from our sins, but Christ’s blood is able to remove all your guilt, all your shame. It’s able to remove every trace of sin, so that in the eyes of God — who sees all things — you are pure and clean. Washing with water in the days of Nehemiah was only a sign, a symbol, of the true washing which only the Lord Jesus is able to give. And if you’re trusting in him, then he will wash away all your guilt.

And, of course, if you’re trusting in him, that means that he’s your High Priest. Here in Nehemiah 12, we read the names of all these priests and Levites. And there were lots and lots of them, because they kept dying. But again, what we read here in Nehemiah, was only a foretaste of the real thing. And the real priest is Christ, who died, but who was raised to live forever. And forever and forever he appears before the Father in heaven on behalf of his people to plead with God for them and to ask for their forgiveness and for the help they need. That too is your inheritance, if you’re trusting in Christ the Saviour.

And in this historical foretaste, there was a wall around the city. And the wall around the city was to keep out all that was unclean and it was to keep the people inside safe. But, of course, as we read last week, their pagan neighbours — who did not care about obeying the Lord — would come into the city to buy and sell on the Sabbath Day; and to tempt God’s people to break the Sabbath Day. And we know that in days to come, the city would once again be invaded by their enemies.

But in Revelation 21, John saw a vision of the real holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, and it was surrounded by a great, high wall. And the gates of the city were guarded by angels; and nothing impure was allowed to enter it, nor anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. The only people who will be allowed into the presence of the Lord will be those who belong to Christ; and who have been washed and cleansed by his blood. Everyone else will be shut out, which means there will be no one to tempt God’s people to evil; and there will be no one there to hurt them. They will be kept safe forever. And if you’re trusting in Christ, then that’s your inheritance.

Of course, there’s one major thing missing from this historical foretaste. There’s one major thing missing. Or better, there’s one major person missing. In Nehemiah 11 and 12, we read about the people, and the priests and the Levites. But there’s no king, is there? There’s no king. God has promised that his Anointed King would come. But he’s not there in Nehemiah 11 and 12. But when the time was right, God sent his Anointed King to Jerusalem. And when he came the first time, he came to Jerusalem, gentle and riding on a donkey. And at that time, when he came to Jerusalem, he came to suffer and to die for his people.

But he’s coming again one day, isn’t he? And when he comes again, he’ll come in power and with glory to gather his people from every corner of the world. And he’ll lead his people in a great procession into the presence of the Lord in glory, where his people will live with God forever and forever. And that’s your inheritance, if you’re trusting in him. If you’re trusting in Christ the King, who died for sinners, then he’s coming for you. And he will lead you in a great and joyful procession into the presence of the Lord. And you too will be numbered among that great multitude of people from every nation. And you too will wear a white robe which has been washed and made clean in the blood of the Lamb. That’s your inheritance, if you’re trusting in Christ the King.

Conclusion

What we read here in Nehemiah 11 and 12 might just seem to be a long list of names of people we don’t know. But it’s foretaste in history of your everlasting inheritance, if you trust in Christ. And whenever we gather here on Sundays, it too is a historical foretaste of our everlasting inheritance, because here on Sundays, we have God’s pardoned people who have gathered in the presence of God to praise his name. And as we gather here, you should turn your thoughts upwards to heaven, to Christ your Saviour, who has promised to come for you and to lead you in a joyful procession into the presence of the Lord to be with him forever in glory.