Nehemiah 12
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Twenty-six verses of this chapter are given to the record of the names of priests and Levites. That fact itself is suggestive. It is indicative of the high place which the ministers of God held in the national estimation. We meet in these chronicles with the names of few men of comparative wealth, or rank, or soldierly ability; but the names of the ministers of religion are recorded, and are thus immortalised. Concerning these we may learn -

I. THEIR RELATIVE VALUE IN THE STATE. "Judah rejoiced in the priests and Levites that waited"- stood at their posts (ver. 44). The worth of the "non-productive classes" of the community, however high their social position, has been said to be less than that of the man who "makes two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before." But the worth of this last is surely less by far than that of him who makes a true thought to live and grow in the mind where one false fancy throve before, who plants right principles in the soul, who is the means of cultivating fruits of righteousness in the hearts and lives of men. A number of men scattered all over the land who live to circulate that sacred truth which leads men into and along the way of wisdom, and to draw the hearts of men into fellowship with a holy God, must be dying a work of truest patriotism, second to none that can be mentioned. Well might "Judah rejoice in the priests and Levites that stood at their posts" (or that waited), and treasure their names in her archives. Well may England rejoice in her ministers of Christ who stand at their posts and do the work he has placed in their hands.

II. THE PRINCIPLE OF THEIR APPOINTMENT (ver. 10). We are naturally struck with the expression (ver. 10), "And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib," etc. It brings before us - as indeed all these family names do - the hereditary principle adopted by God in the appointment of his ministers. The priestly and the Levitical office went from father to son. In that age, and under the system of religion appointed of God, there can be no doubt that this was the best possible principle. We have sad and striking instances, indeed, of its failure to secure purity and integrity. The cases of Eli and Samuel, whose sons "walked not in their fathers' ways," immediately suggest themselves. Yet there was an unquestionable spiritual force in this family arrangement. The sons and grandsons who looked back to their fathers, to their ancestors, as men that stood before God in his near presence, as men that taught Israel the sustaining, reviving, saving truths of religion, would gain a powerful incentive from the thought; and as they looked forward to their sons and their grandsons, to a remote posterity discharging the same sacred offices, a holy anticipation would join with a holy pride to keep them loyal to their faith and to their functions. With the Christian ministry the hereditary principle is in the background; it is a secondary, not primary, consideration. The first thing is fitness for the work, and the conviction that a man is personally called thereto by God's own Spirit. "Aptness to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2) and to serve in the various offices of the ministry of Christ, with that earnest desire to "do good and to communicate" which argues a heaven-born inspiration, must be the decisive thing. Nevertheless, there is room for the influence of the family principle here. Many of the very best ministers of Christ are sons and grandsons of those who thus served their God and their generation before them; and these have been worthier and abler servants of their age because they have drawn inspiration from their fathers' lives and labours. In this our time there is much of holy influence and power to gain from those who have gone before us, and much to give to those who shall come after us. We should aim to

(1) be worthy of our ancestors, and to

(2) supply an incentive and example to our posterity.

III. THEIR RECOMPENSE (vers. 44-47). So much did "Judah rejoice for (in) her priests and Levites" (ver. 44), that men had to be appointed "over the chambers for the treasures," first-fruits, tithes, and free-will offerings which the people freely brought to them. All those who held any sacred office - including those of the Levites who were singers and porters, and "who kept the ward," i.e. did their work (ver. 45) - received their recompense, and the people "sanctified" (set apart) "holy things" (their offerings to the Lord) to the Levites, and these gave their tenth to the "children of Aaron" (ver. 47). The Christian minister has his recompense, which is threefold.

1. It is present and temporal. "Sowing spiritual things, he expects to "reap carnal things" (1 Corinthians 9:11). He that is "taught in the word is to communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Galatians 6:6).

2. It is present and spiritual. In the approval of Christ his observant Lord; in the gratitude and affection of those whom he serves; in the excellency and success of his work - intrinsically the highest and best of all works; and in the opportunities it provides for his own spiritual culture.

3. It is future. The smile of the Master in the day when "every man has praise of God;" the greeting again of those rescued and strengthened on earth; the "rule over many cities" to be enjoyed by those who wisely employ their talents here. - C.

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 (ver. 43).


1. Thankfulness and praise in the remembrance of the past and in confident anticipation of the future. The people recounted the mercies of the Lord. Their dedication of the completed walls represented their preparation by the grace of God for his worship and service; their defence against assaults from without; their unity and order as a people. So ought all rejoicing to be well founded on the faith which has full possession of our hearts, and the consecrated religious life which maintains that faith in- practice.

2. Purification. We should keep our religious joy separate from the joy of this world, which is deceit and corruption. Our rejoicing must be "in the Lord." Nor should we forget that the pleasantness of God's house should be the chief support of a cheerful spirit. "They offered great sacrifices and rejoiced." The giving out of the heart in religious worship uplifts the whole strain of the life. A great expenditure of feeling in the pleasures of this world is exhausting to the nature, but religious emotion both purifies and exalts.

3. Fellowship. All rejoiced together - high and low, rich and poor, the strong men, the wives and children. The true joy is not solitary and selfish, but reveals the unity of kindred minds and sympathising hearts. Family life is elevated by the cultivation of the spirit of social worship and praise, both in the larger circle of the congregation and in the smaller of the household. All joys brighten in the atmosphere of religious joy. Salt of faith should be mixed with the various elements of earthly life to keep them from corruption.

II. A few hints to be gathered on THE METHOD OF PRAISE.

1. The gifts of nature should be sanctified and dedicated to religion. Possibility of a much higher development of the capacity of the Christian community. Musical ability a great responsibility. Importance of lifting up the expression of religious joy to a much higher stage, not by the increase of the sensuous element and mere ritualism, but by the thoughtful adaptation of the talents and acquirements of God's people to give a pure and beautiful form to the spirit of praise.

2. The element of worship must always be supreme. They offered sacrifices and rejoiced. Music must not usurp the place of higher things. Mere enjoyment must never be the motive. Nor is praise the only attitude of the believer's life. He appears in the temple as himself a sacrifice - body, soul, and spirit - unto God.

3. We must depend more or less upon the separation of individuals to be the leaders and helpers in giving expression to praise. Their support should be generous; their sanctification should be real. As much as possible the people of God should be independent of alliance with those whose dedication is not spiritual, but a mere secular engagement.

4. There was a recognition at Jerusalem of the labours and aims of holy men of former times. We should listen for the voice of the universal Church in our praise; then while it leads our chanting it exalts our ideal, and gives a wise variety to the form of our worship, keeping up the vitality and cheerfulness. - R.

Knowing all that we do know of God's ancient people, of the devoutness of their spirit, and their disposition to connect closely the human and the Divine, we should expect that the building of the wall round the sacred city would be followed by some religious service. The verses of the text give a graphic description of this interesting scene. The Levites who had been dispersed through the province were "sought out of all their places" (ver. 27), and the "sons of the singers gathered themselves together" (ver. 28) from "the villages round about Jerusalem" (ver. 29). It was a day of sacred joy, when gladness in the Lord rose to enthusiasm, and could only be poured forth in song and shouting. First, however, came the solemn ceremony of purification (ver. 30), the sprinkling of "water of separation"- a "purification for sin" (Numbers 19:9-13). This was sprinkled on the

(1) priests and Levites themselves,

(2) on the people, and

(3) on the wall: everything was to be "clean" and "holy unto the Lord."

Then came the twofold procession (vers. 31-40). In two divisions, starting from the same point, and going in opposite directions, they traversed the walls, Nehemiah beading one half of the princes of the people, and Ezra the other half; in both cases preceded by the "thanksgiving companies" (ver. 31), which played and sang as they marched. They met near the entrance to the temple (ver. 40), and there joined in the utterance of public praise, singing "loud thanksgivings to their God" (ver. 42). Then came "great sacrifices" (ver. 43) offered on the brazen altar by the priests, the people, during the procession and after the sacrifices, rending the air with shouts of great joy, women and children joining in the general gladness, "so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off" (ver. 43). The whole scene suggests thoughts to us of -

I. OUR PURIFICATION OF OURSELVES. If we ask, What is there in Christianity that answers to the purification of themselves and of the people by the priests under Judaism? (ver. 30), we answer that there are two ways in which we are now made clean.

1. "By the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" we are "cleansed from all iniquity." We are "justified by his blood" (Romans 5:9). Applying to our own souls' need the propitiatory work of our Redeemer, we ourselves are "made whole" in the sight of God; "we are washed,... we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 6:11).

2. By deliberate separation of ourselves to the service of God. Not the withdrawal of ourselves from the relationships in which we are called to stand or from the active duties which await our energy and skill, but the separation of our souls from the evil which is in the world, and a full dedication of our powers and our lives to the service of our Saviour. Thus are we purified.

II. THE ACCEPTABLENESS OF OUR WORK. The wall which had been built was purified as well as the builders (ver. 30). Our work which we have wrought for God and man needs to be made clean, pure, acceptable. It is thus rendered -

1. Through the work of the Divine Mediator. We ask acceptance of all we have done for Jesus' sake.

2. By the spirit of consecration we show in its execution.

(1) By entering upon it with a pure desire to honour Christ and bless our brethren.

(2) By doing it in a spirit of thorough loyalty to him and sympathy with them.

(3) By ascribing its success, when completed, to his gracious guidance and help.

III. OUR JOY. The joy of the Jews on this occasion was

(1) occasioned by a sense of deliverance and security; was

(2) sanctified by gratitude and devotion: they "gave thanks in the house of God" (ver. 40), and "offered great sacrifices" (ver. 43); and it was

(3) general and contagious: it extended to all classes and ages, and went far and wide beyond the city walls - it was "heard afar off" (ver. 43). Such should be the characteristics of our Christian joy; it also should -

(1) Be kindled in the heart by our deep sense of redemption and security through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

(2) Be sanctified by much thanksgiving and devotion. Gladness is never so pure and safe as when it takes the form of gratitude, and goes into the house of God to worship there.

(3) Extend to all those below us - the children, the servants, etc.; and all around us - be felt "afar off." - C.

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