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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Nehemiah 12

 

 

Verses 1-9

List Of The Leading Priests And Levites Who Went Up With Zerubbabel From Exile (Nehemiah 12:1-9).

The list is divided into two parts, the names of chiefs of the priests, and the names of the (leading) Levites. These were the priests and Levites whose genealogies had been demonstrated (Nehemiah 7:64; Ezra 8:15-20).

Nehemiah 12:1

‘Now these are the priests and the Levites who went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua:’

Note how it is emphasised that among the returnees were a substantial number of priests and Levites. Thus the worship of the new Israel is seen to have been established on a sound foundation, being in the hands of those authorised by God. As happens so often Zerubbabel, and Joshua the High Priest, are named together (compare Haggai 1:12; Haggai 2:2; Haggai 2:4; Ezra 3:2; Ezra 3:8; Ezra 4:3; Ezra 5:2), and there may be the underlying thought that the foundation of the new Israel was to be seen as established on the houses of David (Zerubbabel was a ‘son of David’) and Aaron (Joshua/Jeshua was a ‘son of Aaron’).

Nehemiah 12:1-7

The Chiefs of The Priests Who Went Up With Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:1-7).

Here we are given the names of the chiefs of the priests and their brothers who returned from exile with Zerubbabel ‘in the days of Jesuha (the High Priest)’. It is being made clear that the priests of the new Israel are firmly vouched for as being of genuine descent (compare Nehemiah 7:64). It will be noted that these names are largely paralleled in Nehemiah 12:12-21 where they are (as we would expect) the ‘fathers’ of the chiefs of priests in the time Joiakim the High Priest, i.e. the next generation. Apart from understandable variations (Hebrew names were flexible) the names are the same except that Hattush is not mentioned in Nehemiah 12:12-21, for reasons we can only surmise. Possibly he was childless. A Hattush is included in Nehemiah 10:2-8 as a priestly signatory to the covenant, which may exclude the idea that the family had died out, but we must remember that Hattush was a fairly common name. That Hattush spoken of there may have been a relative signing in the name of the family. See also, for example, Nehemiah 3:10 where a Hattush was supervising repairs on one part of the wall. See also 1 Chronicles 3:22, of a descendant of David; and Ezra 8:2 of a prominent returnee with Ezra.

The names of ‘the chiefs of the priests and their brothers’ are now given:

Nehemiah 12:1

‘Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,’

Nehemiah 12:2

Amariah, Malluch, Hattush,

Nehemiah 12:3

Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth,

Nehemiah 12:4

Iddo, Ginnethoi (or in some MSS Ginnethon), Abijah,

Nehemiah 12:5

Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah,

Nehemiah 12:6

Shemaiah, and Joiarib, Jedaiah.

Nehemiah 12:7

Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah.

Some of the twenty two names parallel those in Nehemiah 10:2-8 where they were names of signatories to the covenant of Nehemiah (a generation or so later). This could partly have arisen from the fact that the signatories signed, not in their own names, but in the name of the clan. It may also partly have arisen because of the popularity at that time of the custom of giving the names of grandfathers to their grandsons. But both lists include names which are not in the other. Thus seven name mentioned here (Iddo and the last six names) are not found in the list of signatories in Nehemiah 10:2-8, whilst the latter includes six other names, viz Passhur, Malchijah, Obadiah, Daniel, Baruch, Meshullam, which are not included here.

Nehemiah 12:7

‘These were the chiefs of the priests and of their brothers in the days of Jeshua.’

It is stated specifically that those named here lived in the days of Jeshua the High Priest, although whether they had changed their names, taking the clan name, is something of which we cannot be sure. It is difficult from our viewpoint to see why the phrase ‘these were the chiefs of the priests’ has had added on ‘and of their brothers’. It may suggest that not all those mentioned were seen as chiefs of priests (compare the similar use of Levites in Nehemiah 12:8-9). Possibly ‘of their brothers’ refers to the last six names distinguishing them in some from the remainder (note the ‘and’ which occurs before the names of the last six, which distinguishes them from the remainder). These six are not mentioned as signatories of the covenant. They might not thus have been officially recognised ‘chiefs of the priests’. They may have been included here because attempts were being made to increase the number of priestly courses until they reached twenty four, as they did towards the end of the Persian period, and as they were in the days of David. Eventually towards the end of the Persian period the number of courses of priests would again be twenty four, as they would be in the time of Jesus. The names Joiarib and Jedaiah may have been taken by those named in order deliberately to connect them with the Davidic courses of priests. They are the first two names in that list (1 Chronicles 24:7-18). But the fact that there are only twenty two names here confirms the early nature of this list. It is significant that it is not specifically conformed to the Davidic pattern. Rather it arose through necessity.

When we remember that at the return only four priestly clans were mentioned (apart from those who could not prove their ancestry), viz. Jedaiah, Immer, Passhur and Harim (Nehemiah 7:39-42), it is clear that the number of priestly houses was increasing, probably with a view to the requirements of Temple worship and service. Jedaiah and Harim (if identified also as Rehum, with a transposition having taken place of the first two consonants. Hebrew names are fluid. Compare Nehemiah 12:3 with Nehemiah 12:15. But this is by no means certain) are names mentioned above. But there is no mention of the names of Immer and Passhur, which may be explained by the division into sub-clans. Immer is also unmentioned in Nehemiah 10:1-8. The whole situation is undoubtedly complex, and many suggestions have been made by commentators, too numerous to deal with simply.

Nehemiah 12:8-9

The Levites Who Went Up With Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:8-9).

We are now given the names of the Levites who went up with Zerubbabel. These are all recognised Levite names, clearly passed on from one generation to another, which means that we have to be careful in the Book of Nehemiah about identifying who is who. But the important point here is that there were genuine Levites of true descent, available to carry on the work of God in the new nation in accordance with God’s ordinance. Not for this new Israel the error of appointing ‘strange priests and Levites’ as northern Israel had done long before (1 Kings 12:31).

Nehemiah 12:8

‘Moreover the Levites:’

Nehemiah 12:8

‘Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, (and) Mattaniah, who was over the thanksgiving, he and his brothers.’

These chief Levites returned with Zerubbabel. They have names which occur over and over again in Ezra/Nehemiah. Thus this Jeshua had no direct connection with the High Priest of that name, but was rather a chief Levite. He was connected with the building of the new Temple and the commencement of its activities in Ezra 3:9. The Jeshua mentioned in Nehemiah 7:43; Ezra 2:40 was either his clan ancestor, or himself. It was a descendant of his who signed the covenant, either in his own name or, as clan-leader, taking the name of the clan (Nehemiah 10:9), and was presumably the Jeshua who helped the people to understand the covenant (Nehemiah 8:7), and who, with others, interceded on behalf of the new Israel (Nehemiah 9:4-5). This Jeshua is described as ‘the son of Azaniah’. A Jeshua is mentioned in Nehemiah 12:24, but he was ‘the son of Kadmiel’ (although see on that verse).

Binnui was another popular Levite name. His descendant, who also bore the same name, also signed the covenant (Nehemiah 10:9), and assisted in the building of the wall (Nehemiah 3:24) and if the same as Bani (a good possibility in context, the difference in the Hebrew names being slight), helped the people to understand the covenant (Nehemiah 8:7), and interceded on behalf of Israel (Nehemiah 9:4-5). Descendants of both Jeshua and Binnui helped to receive from Ezra the gold and silver vessels for the house of God (Ezra 8:33). Men with, or connected with, the names Bani and Binnui had to rid themselves of idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10:29-30; Ezra 10:34; Ezra 10:38) but there is no reason for connecting them with this Binnui, and Bani was a very common name used by people of all tribes (2 Samuel 23:36; 1 Chronicles 9:4; Ezra 2:10).

This Kadmiel likewise passed on his name to his descendants. The Kadmiel mentioned in Nehemiah 7:43; Ezra 2:40 was either this Kadmiel or his ancestor, and it was this Kadmiel who, along with Jeshua, was connected with the building of the new Temple and the commencement of its activities in Ezra 3:9. One of his descendants (either having been given the name or having taken the name) signed the covenant (Nehemiah 10:9), helped the people to understand the covenant (Nehemiah 8:7), and interceded on behalf of the new Israel (Nehemiah 9:4-5). A Kadmiel was the father of the Jeshua mentioned in Nehemiah 12:24, which see. It is noteworthy that Jeshua, Binnui and Kadmiel, in that order, are constantly the first names spoken of when the Levites are described, the exception being Nehemiah 12:24 for a reason we consider easily explicable.

Sherebiah was another common Levite name. Here it referred to a chief Levite who arrived with Zerubbabel, of whom nothing further is known. One of his descendants signed the covenant of Nehemiah, either in his own name, having himself been given the family name, or in the family name (Nehemiah 10:12). This descendant also caused the people to understand the Law (Nehemiah 8:7), and made intercession for the new Israel (Nehemiah 9:4-5). There can be no certainty as to whether he is linked with the Sherebiah of Nehemiah 12:24. In Ezra 8:24 one of the chiefs of the priests was named Sherebiah, but that demonstrates nothing more than the popularity of the name, especially in the tribe of Levi.

Judah is nowhere else spoken of as a chief Levite or family head of the Levites, but the name was common among the Jews (compare Nehemiah 12:34), and we should note a Levite named Judah who had to put away his idolatrous foreign wife (Ezra 10:24). Furthermore mention is made in Ezra 3:9 MT of ‘the sons of Judah’, this Judah also being a Levite. We can also compare Judah the son of Hassenuah who was a Benjamite (Nehemiah 11:9). Some seek to relate the name Judah to the very similar Hodiah who is often referred to as one of the leading Levites in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 9:5; Nehemiah 10:10; Nehemiah 10:13), but there are no solid grounds for doing so. It may, however, relate to the Hodaviah of Ezra 2:40. In view of the lack of mention elsewhere of these leading Levites in the time of Zerubbabel (apart from sparse mention in Ezra 3:9), there are no good grounds for seeking to see their names in terms of later times. They were probably rather obtained from contemporary records. It would indeed be this fact that gave the argument of the chapter solidity (the argument that worship in the new ‘holy city’ was being carried on by those who were of genuinely valid ancestry).

Mattaniah, who was over the thanksgiving, may relate in some distant way to the Mattaniah who was an ancestor at least four removed of Uzzi the Levite, who was an overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:22). He may indeed have been the grandfather of ‘Hanan the son of Zaccur the son of Mattaniah’ (Nehemiah 13:13) who was connected with the Temple treasury distributions, but it is not certain. His connection with the Mattaniah who was the chief to begin the thanksgiving in prayer in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 11:17), was probably ancestral. This latter would serve to confirm that ‘over the thanksgiving’ indicate a central role in worship The Mattaniah in Nehemiah 12:25, who was a gate-keeper, was therefore a distinct person, despite his being in parallel with a Bakbukiah (compare Nehemiah 12:8-9). The ‘he’ of ‘he and his brothers’ probably refers to Mattaniah, ‘his brothers’ thereby bringing in the wider Levite family.

So in all cases the later repetition of these names simply emphasises the custom of passing on the family name from grandfather to grandson, and a possible tendency for the beginners of the new Israel to take the names of their leading ancestors in recognition of that new beginning. What is underlined is that these were genuine, true-born Levites, which is the purpose of the whole passage.

Nehemiah 12:9

‘Also Bakbukiah and Unno, their brothers, were over against them according to their offices.’

Additional to the six leading Levites mentioned were Bakbukiah and Unno, described as ‘their brothers’, that is, fellow Levites. These two were important, but not as important as the six. They stood out more because of the positions they held than directly because of ancestry. The Bakbukiah of Nehemiah 11:17 was probably the direct descendant of the Bakbukiah mentioned here. But Bakbukiah is probably not the Bakbukiah of Nehemiah 12:25, who was a gate-keeper and ‘kept watch at the storehouses of the gates’. The name Unno (Unni) is unknown elsewhere except as applied to Levite musicians from the time of David (1 Chronicles 15:18; 1 Chronicles 15:20).

The suggestion that Nehemiah 12:8-9 were based on Nehemiah 12:24-25 has little to commend it except for the coincidence of popular names. Those in Nehemiah 12:8-9 were Levites at the time of the return. Those in Nehemiah 12:24-25 were Levites at a later date. Both lists would be obtained from contemporary records. The differences are as striking as the coincidences at a time when repetition of names were popular. Thus the first list includes Binnui, Judah and Unno, not mentioned in the second list, whereas the second list has Hashabiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub, not mentioned in the first list. Furthermore the Kadmiel of the first list, named alongside Jeshua, does not equate with the Kadmiel of the second list who was the father of Jeshua. The coincidences may simply reflect the popularity in certain Levite circles of the names in question over this period, partly based on the past, and the custom of naming a grandson after his grandfather. It is noteworthy that Bukkiah (now Bakbukiah) and Mattaniah were also linked in David’s day (1 Chronicles 25:4).


Verses 1-26

Details Concerning The Priests And Levites Who Returned With Zerubbabel, And Those Who Subsequently Developed (Nehemiah 12:1-26).

The importance of the genuinely appointed Priests and Levites to the new Israel and to the new Jerusalem as the holy city is now emphasised by providing details concerning their connection with the return, and their subsequent development. It is being emphasised that God had made provision for the continuation of orthodox worship in ‘the holy city’, including the maintenance of the High Priesthood. The passage may be divided up into:

· The chiefs of the priests who went up with Zerubbabel, whose genealogies had been verified (Nehemiah 12:1-7; compare Nehemiah 7:64).

· The Levites who went up with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:8-9).

· The maintenance of the High Priestly line (Nehemiah 12:10-11).

· Subsequent chiefs of priests in the time of the high priest Joiakim (Nehemiah 12:12-21), thus down to the time of Nehemiah.

· Brief note regarding when the records of priests and Levites were made (Nehemiah 12:22-23).

The chiefs of the Levites in the days of Joiakim the high priest, who was contemporary with Nehemiah and Ezra (Nehemiah 12:24-26).


Verse 10-11

The Genealogy Of Jeshua The High Priest Who Went Up With Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:10-11).

Central to the success of the new Israel, and the establishment of the holy city as holy, was the succession of High Priests. Jeshua (Joshua), along with large numbers of priests, had already been able to demonstrate his genealogy, as Nehemiah 7:64 assumes. As the son of Jozadak (Ezra 3:2), or Jehozadak, his genealogy is given in 1 Chronicles 6:1-15, and was therefore clearly available. The succession from Jeshua is therefore now outlined, although it is not stated that they all actually acted as High Priests (we have to consider those who might have been excluded by some disability but who might have passed on heirship to their sons).

Nehemiah 12:10-11

‘And Jeshua begat Joiakim, and Joiakim begat Eliashib, and Eliashib Joiada, and Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua.’

Joshua arrived with Zerubbabel in around 538 BC, and was still High Priest in 520 BC, whilst Eliashib was High Priest in the days of Ezra/Nehemiah in and around 445 BC. If the genealogy is complete (which may not be so for genealogies regularly omitted names) this would indicate a long tenure for Joiakim (although we do not know when Jeshua died). This is not, however, impossible, and is supported by the fact that his tenure is related to the days of Ezra and Nehemiah in Nehemiah 12:26.

Following Jeshua Joiakim was High Priest, and he is the one who is important for what immediately follows (Nehemiah 12:12-22. See also Nehemiah 12:24-26). He was then followed by Eliashib who was High Priest when the walls were rebuilt (Nehemiah 3:1). Eliashib was a grandfather by the time of Nehemiah’s second visit, and at that stage had an adult grandson (Nehemiah 13:28). He was succeeded by Joiada, one of whose sons married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (Nehemiah 13:28). This indicates that Joiada’s eldest son Jonathan was apparently a mature adult whilst Sanballat the Horonite, the contemporary of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 2:19), was still alive.

If the genealogy is complete Jonathan begat a son Jaddua, who would presumably have been born by the time of the listing, and could thus have been known to an ageing Nehemiah as the heir-apparent to the High Priesthood. It is not stated that he was High Priest at the time of writing (or indeed that he ever became High Priest). Thus it is not impossible that this genealogy was recorded by Nehemiah. Alternately, if Nehemiah was the author of the whole book, the words ‘and Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua’ may have been added at a later date in order to update the sequence. A slight indication of this may be that ‘begat’ is missing after Eliashib in the MT (although included in some manuscripts), which may suggest that at one stage the genealogy only reached Joiada. (This assumption is, however, not strictly necessary for them to fit into Nehemaic authorship). But the important point in context is that this list demonstrates the legitimacy of the continuing High Priesthood.

Note On Jaddua.

The importance of identifying Jaddua lies in the light that that identification would throw on the earliest date by which the Book Of Nehemiah could have been completed as it now stands. It could not have been completed before Jaddua was born. On the other hand the main part of the book may have been written earlier, with the reference to Jonathan and Jaddua being added later.

But on the face of the genealogy here, assuming no gaps, this Jaddua was probably born around 432 BC. He was the first-born son of Jonathan who was a mature adult at the time spoken of in Nehemiah 13, when his younger brother had already married Sanballat’s daughter, that is around the thirty second year of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 13:6), thus around 432 BC. At this stage Nehemiah was certainly still alive and active. Nehemiah would thus have seen Jaddua grow up.

Furthermore the High Priest at the time of one Elphantine papyrus dated 407 BC speaks of Johanan as High Priest, and there is no real justification for equating Jonathan with Johanan. How Johanan fits in with the above genealogy we have therefore no way of knowing. Perhaps he was the son of Jaddua. Or Jonathan may have had some impediment preventing him from being High Priest so that his uncle Johanan became so instead (Nehemiah 12:23), he then being followed by Jaddua.

A complication is introduced by a reference in Josephus to a Jaddua, son of Johanan, who was High Priest in 351-331 BC when Alexander the Great had contact with Jerusalem. But in view of our lack of knowledge of the genealogy of the High Priests after this time there is no real reason why that Jaddua may not have been the grandson of the Jaddua mentioned here in Nehemiah 12:11. Indeed, if he had lived to a great age, he could even have been this Jaddua, with ‘son of Johanan’, simply signifying that he took over the High Priesthood from Johanan.

End of note.


Verses 12-21

The Priests Who Were Heads Of Fathers’ Houses In The Days Of Joiakim, Son Of Jeshua (Nehemiah 12:12-21).

We now have listed priest who were head of father’s houses at some point during the High Priesthood of Joiakim, the son of Jeshua. This is the next generation from those above, something that is indicated by introducing them in terms of their ancestry. It is probable, but not necessary, that the naming is of father and eldest son. However, strictly speaking, only descent is indicated. The slight differences between the names of the ‘fathers’ given here, and those given in Nehemiah 12:1-7 merely indicate that Hebrew names were flexible. They are not necessarily due to copying errors, but rather indicate that the two lists have different primary sources, those sources having been obtained from the records office. Had one been copied from the other we would have expected the names to be the same, nor would we have anticipated the introduction of Hattush in Nehemiah 12:1-7. But it is noteworthy that once again the last six names are introduced by ‘and’ (for which see explanation above on Nehemiah 12:1-7), which confirms a distinction between the first named and the last six.

The fact of an inclusio, - ‘and in the days of Joiakim were’ (Nehemiah 12:12) - ‘these were in the days of Joiakim --’ (Nehemiah 12:26) may suggest that Nehemiah 12:12-26 are to be seen as a whole unit, although it is not impossible that some material was inserted (e.g. Nehemiah 12:22-25), with ‘these were in the days of Joiakim’ in Nehemiah 12:26 referring strictly to Nehemiah 12:12-21.

Nehemiah 12:12

‘And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers’ houses:

Nehemiah 12:12

‘Of Seraiah, Meraiah;’
12:12c ‘Of Jeremiah, Hananiah;’
12:13a ‘Of Ezra, Meshullam;’
12:13b ‘Of Amariah, Jehohanan;’
12:14a ‘Of Malluchi, Jonathan;’
12:14b ‘Of Shebaniah, Joseph;’
12:15a ‘Of Harim, Adna;’
12:15b ‘Of Meraioth, Helkai;’
12:16a ‘Of Iddo, Zechariah;’
12:16b ‘Of Ginnethon, Meshullam;’
12:17a ‘Of Abijah, Zichri;’
12:17b ‘Of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai;’
12:18a ‘Of Bilgah, Shammua;’
12:18b ‘Of Shemaiah, Jehonathan;’
12:19a ‘And of Joiarib, Mattenai;’
12:19b ‘Of Jedaiah, Uzzi;’
12:20a ‘Of Sallai, Kallai;’
12:20b ‘Of Amok, Eber;’
12:21a ‘Of Hilkiah, Hashabiah;’
12:21b ‘Of Jedaiah, Nethanel.’

The unusual ‘of Miniamin, of Mohdiah, Piltai’ in Nehemiah 12:17 b (we would expect a name after Miniamin) may either indicate that the name of the ‘son’ of Miniamin has dropped out, or that the names of the sons of both Miniamin and Moadiah was Paltai, or that Miniamin died without an heir and Moadiah being related to him, produced an heir for him through the law of levirate marriage, who was named Paltai. On the information given the number of courses at this stage was twenty, a reduction on the previous twenty two. But if men died without male seed that could have occurred. Once more then the writer makes clear that the Jerusalem priesthood is of genuine descent. It is an interesting possibility that Zechariah the son of Iddo in Nehemiah 12:16 a is a reference to the prophet Zechariah.


Verses 22-26

The Levites Who Were Heads Of Fathers’ Houses In The Days Of Joiakim the Son of Jeshua And Of Nehemiah The Governor And Of Ezra The Priest (Nehemiah 12:22-26).

It is now pointed out by the writer that the information concerning the chiefs of the Levites in the time of Joiakim, necessary to complete the full picture, was obtained from subsequent records. This would serve to confirm that the previous information supplied was obtained from contemporary records.

Nehemiah 12:22

‘As for the Levites, in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, there were recorded the heads of fathers’ (houses), also the priests, in the reign of Darius the Persian.’

This rather complex statement can be seen as explaining that in order to complete the pattern ‘priests/Levites of the first generation, priests/Levites of the subsequent generation’, resort had to be made to records which were not contemporary for details concerning the Levites, although such contemporary records were available for the priests. The writer is thus honest enough to inform us that, unlike the previous information, the details concerning these Levites in the days of Joiakim (Nehemiah 12:26) were not obtained from contemporary records, but from records made in subsequent generations, namely in the time of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan and Jaddua, whilst the records concerning the priests were made in the days of Darius the Persian.

To deal with the last first. The description ‘the Persian’ is comparatively rare, and Darius the Persian is probably called such here in order to distinguish him from Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:31). Compare Daniel 6:28 where Cyrus is called ‘the Persian’ in order to distinguish him from Darius the Mede. Thus reference here is to Darius I (522-486 BC), who, as the writer indicates, was not Darius the Mede, but Darius the Persian. This would make the records concerning the priests contemporary.

With regard to ‘the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua’, this phrase suggests that the records from which the material concerning the Levites was taken, were made in subsequent generations. This is the one incontrovertible fact (if such can be said to exist). And this is especially so as Nehemiah 12:26 suggests that Joiakim, Eliashib’s father, continued on until the days of Nehemiah. What is not clear is the period covered by ‘the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua’.

At first glance it might appear that these names were simply repeating the information given in the above genealogy of Jeshua the High Priest, but that this is not so is evident from the fact that Jonathan is not mentioned here, while a Johanan is introduced. There is no good reason for suggesting that Johanan is simply an alternative name for Jonathan. On the other hand we do know that a Johanan did become High Priest at a date early enough to enable him to be in authority when in 407 BC letters were written from the unorthodox Jewish community in Elephantine concerning the destruction of their Temple. Johanan may thus have been Jonathan’s uncle, for it may be he who is elsewhere called ‘Johanan the son of Eliashib’ (Nehemiah 12:23; Ezra 10:6). It may be that he became High Priest because Jonathan suffered from some deficiency, and Jaddua was not yet of age.

On the other hand Nehemiah 12:23 limits the writing of these records as ‘even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib’. Taken at face value this would exclude the idea that the Jaddua here mentioned was subsequent to Johanan, and would confirm that Johanan was Joiada’s brother, for Joiada was also the son of Eliashib (Nehemiah 13:28). It may thus be that Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua were brothers.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Eliashib also appears to have had a brother named Johanan (1 Chronicles 3:24), whilst on top of this there may also have been another Eliashib connected with the Temple who was ‘over the chambers of the house of God’ (Nehemiah 13:4), so that the Johanan of Ezra 10:6 may have been the son of this Eliashib. And just to add to the complications there was also an Eliashib who was one of the singers in Ezra 10:24, so that it is just possible that the Johanan in Nehemiah 12:23, in a verse referring to Levites, was his son.

It would appear to us that the most likely solution is that Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua were brothers, and all sons of Eliashib. But it is no more than that. What is certain is that for the present nothing reliable can now be built on the mention of these names, other than the indication that the records were made after the days of Joiakim, Eliashib’s father.

Nehemiah 12:23

‘The sons of Levi, heads of fathers’ (houses), were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib.’

This would appear to be confirming that the information concerning the Levites now to be described was obtained from records made up to the time of Johanan, the son of Eliashib, which may mean up until the time of his High Priesthood, for the writer’s contemporaries would have known that Johanan became High Priest. This would serve to confirm our solution suggested above.

The phrase ‘the sons of Levi, heads of fathers’ is interesting. In Ezra/Nehemiah the phrase ‘sons of Levi’ only elsewhere occurs in Ezra 8:15, where it continues the idea of ‘sons of --’ from the previous verses. The usual designation is ‘the Levites’. Here, however, it may simply be used precisely because ‘the Levites’ had already headed the previous sentence. The phrase as a whole parallels ‘priests, heads of fathers’ in Nehemiah 12:12. Both these facts suggest (although not conclusively) that Nehemiah 12:23 was part of the original passage from Nehemiah 12:12 to Nehemiah 12:24, rather than being an insertion.

Nehemiah 12:24

‘And the chiefs of the Levites:

The names of the chiefs of the Levites in the days of Joiakim are now given.

Nehemiah 12:24

‘Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers over against them, to praise and give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch next to watch.’

The names of the chiefs of the Levites who returned with Zerubbabel were ‘Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, Mattaniah, who was over the thanksgiving, he and his brothers’ (Nehemiah 12:8). This may be their given names or they may have taken their ancestral names in view of the new beginning. The names of the leading chiefs of the Levites who signed the covenant (or their ancestral names) were ‘Jeshua, the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel’ (Nehemiah 10:9), who were possibly third generation. They were the leading Levite chiefs in the time of Nehemiah. This verse may therefore be seen as indicating that, of the three chiefs mentioned here in the time of Joiakim, Hashabiah was Jeshua’s son, Sherebiah was Binnui’s son, and, as stated, Jeshua was Kadmiel’s son. ‘Sherebiah, Judah and Mattaniah who was over the thanksgiving, he and his brothers’ were now seen in terms of ‘their brothers over against them’ who ‘praise and give thanks’.

This suggestion takes into account both the confirmed order of the chiefs of the Levites (why should Jeshua otherwise have slipped to third) and the unexpected ‘son of Kadmiel’, and makes perfect sense.

Some have suggested that ‘ben-Kadmiel’ is a copying error for ‘Binnui, Kadmiel’. But the ‘and’ before Joshua supports the MT text, for ‘and’ regularly appears before the last name in a list. Furthermore where Jeshua the son of Azaniah (Nehemiah 10:9) is spoken of he regularly heads such lists, whereas here this Jeshua comes last. In view of these facts we accept the text as it stands. And we should note that under the alteration theory the absence in Nehemiah 12:24 of the name of Binnui is equally striking. If he is constantly of the three why is he not mentioned there? Furthermore the relegation of Jeshua to third place would be equally striking if he were not stated to rather be a Jeshua who was the son of Kadmiel. Elsewhere the name Jeshua always heads Levite lists (e.g. Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 10:9; Nehemiah 12:8).

The truth is that the names are in fact all common Hebrew names which were regularly given (we can compare John and Peter in my day), which is why when the father’s name is lacking the names can be easily confused. For example, in Ezra 8:24 ‘Hashabiah and Sherebiah’ were the names of chiefs of priests who returned with Ezra, whereas in Ezra 8:18-19 we have reference to Levites named Sherebiah and Hashabiah. There are no good grounds, apart from the coincidence of the names, for connecting those priests with these leading Levites. Nor are there good grounds for connecting them with the two mentioned here. Thus we see these coincidences as simply an indication of the popularity of certain names among the descendants of Levi. Indeed, the names Hashabiah and Sherebiah also appear as leading Levites (among a number of other names) at the signing of the covenant, but clearly as inferior to Jeshua (Nehemiah 10:11-12). It would, of course, have been helpful if the writer had given their fathers’ names in order to identify them. But unfortunately he did not.

For the phrase “to praise (and) to give thanks according to the commandment of David the man of God” as connected with Levites see 1 Chronicles 16:4; 1 Chronicles 23:30; 2 Chronicles 5:12-13. or the phrase ‘watch next to watch’ compare 1 Chronicles 26:16 where it is used of gatekeepers. There is clearly an attempt here to confirm that all now goes on as it did in the time of David. It is a new beginning, recreating the old ideal. It may also indicate an expectancy that shortly a new ‘kingdom of David’ would arise as anticipated by the prophets (e.g. Hosea 3:5; Jeremiah 30:9 Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24).

The description of David as ‘the man of God’ is rare in Scripture (here, Nehemiah 12:36 and 2 Chronicles 8:14) and always occurs in connection with the worship of the Temple. It brings out that David’s great prophetic inspiration expressed itself in musical worship. It was in the Psalms that his prophetic inspiration was revealed (compare Mark 12:36).

Nehemiah 12:25

‘Mattaniah, and Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, Akkub, were gatekeepers keeping the watch at the store-houses of the gates.’

It is an open question here as to whether we should see the first two or three names as to be tacked on to Nehemiah 12:24 as named singers, with a full stop coming after Obadiah (or even after Meshullam), with Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub then being seen as the gatekeepers. Compare how in Nehemiah 11:17 we have mention of Mattaniah, Bakbukiah and Abda (Obadiah) as worship leaders, although at a different time. But in view of the constant proliferation of the same names for different people it can only be a conjecture. Compare how Meshullam occurs regularly as referring to different people (Nehemiah 3:4; Nehemiah 3:6; Nehemiah 8:4; Nehemiah 10:7; Nehemiah 10:20; Nehemiah 11:7; Nehemiah 11:11; Nehemiah 12:13; Nehemiah 12:16; Nehemiah 12:33; Ezra 8:16; Ezra 8:25). Talmon and Akkub are the names of different generations of gatekeepers in Nehemiah 7:45; with Ezra 2:42; and Nehemiah 11:19; with 1 Chronicles 9:17.

Nehemiah 12:26

‘These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe.’

‘These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak.’ This is emphasising the end of an inclusio which began at Nehemiah 12:12. Note the assumption that Ezra and Nehemiah operated alongside each other.

The peoples mentioned in the passage from Nehemiah 12:12 onwards, played their part in the days of Joiakim, the son of Jeshua, in other words in the next generation after the return. This coincided with the arrival of Ezra and Nehemiah, although by that time they would be old, and the third generation would be coming through as depicted in the signing of the covenant. There is no real substance in the argument that ‘in the days of Nehemiah’ signifies that Nehemiah was dead. It is simply a reminder that the days of Joiakim (who was dead), coincided with the days of Nehemiah. The writer, whether Nehemiah or someone else, is simply repeating the pattern.

The writer has thus demonstrated that, from the return onwards, Israel has been served by a genuine priesthood, whose genealogy was known, which operated in accordance with the Law of Moses, something especially brought out in chapter 7 where those who could prove their genealogy were the ones who alone could conduct the worship of the Temple.


Verses 27-29

The Levites Are Sought Out To Play Their Part In The Celebrations (Nehemiah 12:27-29).

The emphasis at the commencement of the passage on the calling together of all the Levites from all around Judah brings out that the celebratory nature of the events is being emphasised. The prime emphasis is to be on joy and gladness, thanksgiving and singing. The aim was to make the celebrations a time of ‘gladness -- thanksgivings -- singing’ (Nehemiah 12:27).

This can be seen as an echo of Isaiah 51:3,‘YHWH has comforted Zion, -- joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of singing’. And it is especially an echo of Jeremiah 33:11, which specifically had in mind the return the return from captivity, seeing it as a new deliverance,‘the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, -- the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to YHWH of Hosts, for YHWH is good, for His mercy is for ever,” who bring thanksgiving into the house of YHWH, “for I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first, says YHWH”.’

Now that the return had taken place, the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, and Jerusalem had been separated to pure worship, it must have appeared as though these words had been fulfilled, and that the gladness and thanksgiving and singing spoken of were now required. And this was something in which the Levites excelled. They were at the very heart of the vocally expressed worship of Israel. Here the ‘singers (musicians)’ were seen very much as Levites (compare 1 Chronicles 6:31-48).

Nehemiah 12:27

‘And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with stringed instruments.’

The occasion of the celebrations was the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem. This probably therefore came well before the events described in chapter 11 (the largescale repopulation of Jerusalem), and may well even have led up to them. This timing explains why the Levites were still on the whole widely scattered around Judah. They were ‘sought out of all their places’ and brought to Jerusalem for the celebrations precisely because the dedication was to be a joyous occasion centred around vocal worship, and this was one of the fortes of the Levites. It was to be a time of expressing gladness and thanksgiving by musical means. As this was to be in the form of processions it brings out that all the musical instruments described were hand held. A psaltery was a many-stringed instrument.

Nehemiah 12:28-29

‘And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain round about Jerusalem (or ‘from the circle of Jerusalem’), and from the villages of the Netophathites; also from Beth-gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had built themselves villages round about Jerusalem.

So the singers gathered themselves together both from the area circling around Jerusalem, and from places round about. The villages of the Netophathites consisted of the settlements around Netophah, generally thought to have been about 5 kilometres (3 miles) south-east of Bethlehem (see Nehemiah 7:26; 1 Chronicles 2:54; Ezra 2:22), and thus south of Jerusalem. Beth-gilgal may well have been the well-known Gilgal near Jericho, and therefore east of Jerusalem. Geba and Azmaveth were Benjamite cities a few kilometres north east of Jerusalem. So they came from all quarters, for the singers had established themselves in villages around Jerusalem, in view of the necessity to provide for themselves (Nehemiah 13:10).

Some see ‘the circle’ as a technical term for part of the Jordan valley, and see in it a reference to people living in the Jordan valley near Jerusalem.


Verses 27-31

THE PURIFYING OF THE HOLY CITY (Nehemiah 12:27 to Nehemiah 13:31).

The prophecies concerning Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ had in mind the coming eschatalogical age, and its consequent purification (Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24), and there can be little doubt, in view of the hopes expressed in the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, that this age must have been in mind as Jerusalem was so triumphantly re-established. Thus the writer ends his book with a description of the purification of Jerusalem, both religiously and practically, the details of which are found in Nehemiah 12:27 to Nehemiah 13:31. This would be seen as necessary, in preparation for that age, for in that age the city was to be holy and wholly ‘clean’ (Isaiah 52:1). These passages are united together by vague time notes (beyom, beyamim) which connect them together, and they cover both the Godward side and the manward side of its purification. Whilst the time frame is foreshortened, and the time notes are imprecise, this section covers various aspects of its purification during the lifetime of Nehemiah. Each section, apart from the initial one, commences with the words beyom or beyamim, and sections 3-6 end with the statement ‘remember me --.’ On this basis we may divide it up as follows:

1) The religious purifying of the city at the time of the celebrations over the completion of the wall (Nehemiah 12:27-43).

2) The re-establishment of offerings and tithes for the support of the priests and Levites who were the pure, uniquely chosen servants of YHWH and appointed to the service of the Temple, thus ensuring its purity of worship in accordance with God’s requirements. Introductory words ‘at that time -- (beyom)’ (Nehemiah 12:44-47).

3) The purifying of the true Israel and the Temple, by the exclusion of idolatrous foreign elements in accordance with the Law of Moses (Nehemiah 3:1-9), and by establishing the God-ordained Levitical order (Nehemiah 13:10-14). This included the exclusion of the Ammonite Tobiah who had wormed his way into the Temple precincts, and had thereby taken over the chambers intended for the storing of tithes and offerings (Nehemiah 3:4-9). In consequence it was seen as necessary to purify the Temple chambers.

The consequent re-establishment of God’s chosen servants the Levites in their responsibilities with regard to the Temple and its worship, something which had failed because of the failure of Israel to respond to the tithing system. The result would be that once again tithes would flow into God’s house providing for His servants, a condition of God’s future blessing (Malachi 3:10-12). Introductory words ‘at that time --’ (beyom). The passage ending with a ‘remember me --’ statement (Nehemiah 13:1-14).

4) The purification of Jerusalem by restoring full observance of the Sabbath (another requirement for future blessing - Jeremiah 17:19-27), the gates to be guarded by gatekeepers who had been purified. Introductory words ‘in those days’ (beyamim), with the passage ending with a ‘remember me’’ statement (Nehemiah 13:15-22).

5) The removal of those who had idolatrous foreign wives from Jerusalem, thus preventing the watering down of their religious heritage, and ensured the continuing purity of the cult. Introductory words ‘in those days (beyamim) --’ , with the passage ending with a ‘remember me --’ statement (Nehemiah 13:23-29).

6) Nehemiah’s summary of what he had achieved: the purifying of Jerusalem from all religiously foreign elements; the successful establishment of the God-determined priesthood and the Levitical order in order to ensure the purity of the cult; the ensuring of the means of offering sacrifices through purifying fire; and the ensuring of the supply of the holy firstfruits, this finally closing with a ‘remember me --’ statement (Nehemiah 13:30-31).

We should note how much of what is described here is a direct enforcing of the provisions of the ‘sure agreement’ of Nehemiah 10:29-39 which stresses separation from foreign influence especially in respect to marriage (Nehemiah 10:30); observance of the Sabbath (Nehemiah 10:31); supply of the wood offering (Nehemiah 10:34); the bringing in of the firstfruits (Nehemiah 10:35-37); and the gathering of the tithes (Nehemiah 10:37-39).


Verses 27-43

Purifications And Celebrations At The Dedication Of The Wall (Nehemiah 12:27-43).

Having established the newly walled Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ (Nehemiah 11:1), properly inhabited by a people who were fully faithful to YHWH (chapter 11), and having demonstrated the proper succession of a genuine priesthood in accord with the Law of Moses, who would keep the city ‘holy’ (Nehemiah 12:1-26), the writer now describes the purifications and celebrations which took place at the dedication of the wall, thereby underlining the holiness of Jerusalem. This was something in which the Levites would have a prominent part as leaders of worship and singing. This was one reason why it had been necessary to demonstrate that, as well as the priests, the Levites operating in Judah, and especially in Jerusalem, were genuine descendants of Levi (compare how important it had been to Ezra to ensure that he brought with him genuine Levites - Ezra 8:15 ff). Only such could truly celebrate YHWH’s doings.

The in-depth purifications (Nehemiah 12:30) were an essential part of the ceremony. The vision of Jerusalem as the ‘holy city’, clothed in beautiful garments and totally separated to God, as described in Isaiah 52:1, demanded such purifications. Jerusalem was being prepared like a bride for her husband (Isaiah 49:18; Isaiah 61:10). She was to be His purified messenger to the world (Isaiah 52:9-12).

It is noteworthy that at this point the narrative returns to the first person singular, a feature last seen in chapter 7, indicating that Nehemiah is the main source of the material being presented. But while this suggests that chapters 8-12 were not a part of Nehemiah’s initial record (often called the Nehemiah Memoirs), it does not necessarily exclude him from being the ‘author’ of the whole, using contemporary sources. It simply indicates that whether the writer was Nehemiah or someone else, he called on other sources besides the Memoirs in order to build up the picture presented.

We must, however, ask as to why the celebrations concerning the completion of the wall, which quite possibly took place shortly after that completion (although not necessarily), should have been placed at this point following chapters 8-11. It would have fitted well after Nehemiah 7:3. And the answer unquestionably lies in the message that the writer wishes to get over. For, whenever the celebration took place, he saw it, not only in terms of the completion of the walls, but also in terms of the renewal of the covenant, and of the establishment of Jerusalem as the holy city spoken of by Isaiah and Daniel. That was what was made possible by the completion of the walls. It was intrinsic within it, and was what Israel were so delighted about. Jerusalem was once more theirs as the earthly dwellingplace of YHWH.


Verse 30

The Preparatory Purifying Of All Involved (Nehemiah 12:30).

The presence of the priests is assumed. For unlike the Levites, who were dependent on the then non-existent tithes (Nehemiah 13:10), the priests would have been continually provided for from their appointed share in the offerings and sacrifices. All would be involved because now a great purification exercise was necessary. This was to be the holy city.

Nehemiah 12:30

‘And the priests and the Levites purified themselves; and they purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.’

So the Levites having gathered from their towns and villages, the priests and Levites purified themselves. We do not know exactly how this purification was performed, but it might have included such means as offering sacrifices and offerings; bathing themselves ceremonially; being sprinkled with the water of purification (water containing the ashes of a heifer - Numbers 19); washing their clothes; and abstaining from sexual activity (compare Exodus 19:10; Exodus 19:14-15; Leviticus 16:28; Numbers 8:6-8; Numbers 8:19).

They then proceeded to purify the people, possibly by offerings and sacrifices (compare Exodus 24:8), and the wall and gates of the city (compare possibly Leviticus 14:49-53). This latter was confirmation that the city was now seen in a new light. Their hope was that the kingdom of God was now present among them (Psalms 22:27-28; Psalms 47:8 compare Haggai 2:22). The King reigned (Psalms 93:1; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1). They believed that a purified Jerusalem would be the beginning of great things as YHWH acted on their behalf. So they were putting on its beautiful garments, with the intention of its remaining pure (Isaiah 52:1). This is the emphasis of this section. The purification of the people would have followed a similar pattern to that of the purifying of priests and Levites, although not being as intensive. The purification of the gates and the wall may have followed the pattern of the purification of buildings and have been by the sprinkling of blood-sprinkled water, and the releasing of birds (Leviticus 14:49-53).

Then, all being purified, there began the great ceremony of praise and thanksgiving. In a sense Jerusalem was seen as reborn.


Verses 31-37

The Composition Of The First Company Who Went Towards The Dung Gate, The Fountain Gate And The Stairs Of David (Nehemiah 12:31-37).

It is almost certain that the processions commenced from the Valley Gate, through which Nehemiah had previously gone to examine the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:13). This was in the West wall, and was roughly equidistant from the East gate of the Temple which would be the final destination, both when going round the wall clockwise and when going round anticlockwise. This is confirmed by the fact that the first procession then proceeded towards the Dung Gate which was at the southern end of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:31 b), whilst the other procession moved towards the tower of the furnaces, and the broad wall (Nehemiah 12:38), which were northwards of the Valley Gate. For the relevant geography see chapter 3, especially Nehemiah 12:11-14.

Such giving of praise to YHWH as they walked around the wall of Jerusalem was not unique to this occasion. Psalms 48:12-14 may be seen as suggesting that such processions regularly took place on some festal occasions;

‘Walk about Zion,

And go round about her,

Count her towers,

Mark well her bulwarks,

Consider her palaces,

That you may tell it to the following generation,

For this God is our God for ever and ever,

He will be our guide even unto death.’

It will be noted that the purpose for doing this in the Psalmist’s case was so that they might be aware of what God had done for them in order that they might proclaim His glory to others. They were surrounding Jerusalem with praise, thereby calling down God’s blessing on it.

Nehemiah 12:31

‘Then I brought up the princes of Judah on (or ‘beside’) the wall,’

Nehemiah now returns to the first person singular as he continues on the story of the completion of the wall with a description of this final act of dedication. The last reference in the first person singular was Nehemiah 7:5 but that had included the details provided in Nehemiah 7:6-73. In chapter Nehemiah 8:1 to Nehemiah 12:30 he is referred to in the third person. But that does not necessarily mean that he did not write the whole book, only that the material in that section was obtained from different records available to him rather than from his own account of the building of the wall, records which he did not materially alter.

Here he describes how he gathered ‘the princes of Judah’ to the wall in order to commence the celebration. This refers not only to the aristocrats of the tribe of Judah, but to all leaders of the nation in wider Judah, including Benjamin. He was gathering together the aristocrats of the whole nation, a nation which as we have seen, extended far beyond the Persian province of Judah. Whether they gathered on the wall and proceeded to march round the top of the wall, or gathered beside the wall and marched round the walls in that way, we do not know. The Hebrew text can indicate either.

Nehemiah 12:31

And I appointed two great companies who gave thanks and went in procession; (of which one went) on the right hand on the wall toward the dung gate:’

Gathered with the aristocrats were the singers and musicians who had been summoned, and the whole were divided into two groups each of which would march in the opposite direction to the other, one anticlockwise, the other clockwise, giving thanks musically as they marched. One of the groups thus initially marched southwards in the direction of the Dung Gate. It would appear that the singers and musicians led the way, praising God as they went, and that these were followed by Hoshaiah and half the aristocrats of Judah. These included seven leading priests (including Ezra) who blew their priestly trumpets (an instrument exclusive to the priests). It would have been a stirring and moving sight. The other group, following a similar pattern, went northwards towards the tower of the furnaces and the broad wall.

Nehemiah 12:32

‘And after them went Hoshaiah, and half of the princes of Judah,’

We do not know who Hoshaiah was. He was clearly one of the chief leaders of Judah, and possibly deputy to Nehemiah himself. Following him was the group consisting of half the aristocrats of ‘Judah’. But it is a nice touch that, whilst we learn later that Ezra led the procession (Nehemiah 12:36), no doubt as an official appointee of the King of Persia, here we are informed that the aristocrats were led by a high official of Judah

Nehemiah 12:33-35

‘And Azariah, Ezra, and Meshullam, Judah, and Benjamin, and Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, and certain of the priests’ sons, with trumpets.’

And along with them marched seven leading priests, together with other priests (unless we translate as ‘even certain of the priests’ sons’, the phrase being explicatory of the seven), all blowing sacred trumpets. The names of the seven are given, and as there were also seven in the other party (Nehemiah 12:41) we have no real reason to doubt the accuracy of the report. Azariah, Meshullam, Shemaiah and Jeremiah were also named as signatories of the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:2; Nehemiah 10:7-8). Ezra we know of (see also Nehemiah 12:36 b) and he is presumably mentioned after Azariah (a parallel name to Ezra) because of Azariah’s superior status in the priestly hierarchy. There is no reason why Judah and Benjamin should not have been the names of priests, although they are not mentioned elsewhere as priests. But whilst Ezra is named as second in status from a priestly point of view (he came from a noble priestly family) it was he who led the way as the official representative of the King of Persia (Nehemiah 12:36).

Nehemiah 12:35-36

‘Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph; and his brothers, Shemaiah, and Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God,’

Following the aristocrats and the priests came the chiefs of the singers and musicians, nine in number. These bore the kind of musical instruments prophetically validated by David, as a ‘man of God’, for worship. This included Zechariah, the son of Jonathan, whose ancestry traced back to Asaph, the leading musician in David’s day, together with eight other named leading Levites. Their names are given. The fact that none are specifically paralleled among the signatories to the covenant in Nehemiah 10:9-13 suggests that there they had signed the covenant in the name of their wider Levite family and not in their own name. It will be noted that there were seventeen Levite families who signed the covenant, whilst in these processions there were eighteen leading Levites. A leading Levite who was not a head of family must presumably have been co-opted in order to even out the numbers. (But see in this regard the comment on Nehemiah 12:42)

Nehemiah 12:36

‘And Ezra the scribe was before them.’

Leading the procession, and the aristocrats and chief priests, but probably following the leading singers, came Ezra the Scribe (already mentioned in Nehemiah 12:33), no doubt due to his official position as an appointee of the King of Persia. Whilst Azariah was superior in the priestly hierarchy he was lower than Ezra in political status. He may well have marched alongside Hoshaiah.

Nehemiah 12:37

‘And by the fountain gate, and straight before them, they went up by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, even unto the water gate eastward.’

Having reached the Dung Gate, this procession rounded the southernmost point of Jerusalem and then proceeded northwards up the eastern side of the wall, coming first to the fountain gate, and then to the stairs of the city of David (Nehemiah 3:15). Marching onwards they came to the part of the wall by the one-time palace of David, and then to the water gate (Nehemiah 3:25-26). These were all well-known landmarks. The assumption must be that from there they proceeded to the Temple. The part of the wall from here to the sheep gate (the gate through which the other procession entered) does not appear to have featured in either procession, discounting the idea that a strict attempt was made to encircle Jerusalem for some numinous or quasi-magical purpose.


Verses 31-43

Those Taking Part In The Ceremony Are Divided Into Two Great Companies Who Proceed To Circumnavigate The Wall, One Company Going One Way And The Other Company The Other (Nehemiah 12:31-43).

Nehemiah now divided the representatives of Judah (i.e. the new Israel) into two great companies who together would give thanks as they circumnavigated the wall, one company going one way and the other the other. We cannot be sure whether they actually walked on top of the wall, or whether they walked alongside the wall (the Hebrew is not clear on this). But while the details may not be fully clear the ceremony followed an established pattern:

· First in each case went a company of those who gave thanks (Nehemiah 12:31; Nehemiah 12:38). These may well have been composed of the singers and musicians who had been gathered together as previously described in Nehemiah 12:27-29.

· These were then followed, in the one case by Hoshaiah (Nehemiah 12:32), and in the other by Nehemiah ( Nehemiah 12:38; Nehemiah 12:40). Hoshaiah was clearly a man of great importance, a leader of the Jews, possibly deputy to Nehemiah.

· Hoshaiah was then followed by half the ‘princes’ of Judah (Nehemiah 12:32), and Nehemiah by the other half (Nehemiah 12:40). By the princes of Judah are meant, not the leaders of that tribe, but the aristocrats of greater Judah, including Benjamin. They included the aristocrats and clan leaders of the whole community of the new Israel.

· These were then followed in each case by seven prominent named priests, possibly accompanied by other priests, who blew the trumpets (Nehemiah 12:33-35 a, 41).

· After them came the leading named Chief Musicians, Zechariah (Nehemiah 12:35 b) and possibly Jezrahiah (Nehemiah 12:42), who in each case were accompanied by eight leading Levitical musicians singing loudly (Nehemiah 12:36; Nehemiah 12:42).


Verses 38-43

The Two Companies Meet And Great Sacrifices Are Offered (Nehemiah 12:38-43).

The other procession was led by ‘those who gave thanks’ (the singers and musicians) followed by Nehemiah himself, leading the other half of the aristocrats, seven named leading priests and nine named leading Levites, exactly paralleling the first procession. This went northwards from the Valley Gate, following the west wall and then turning along the northern wall, until it reached the Sheep Gate from whence it would proceed to the Temple.

The fact that the company led by Nehemiah is given less prominence tends to confirm that we have here an extract from Nehemiah’s own record. Anyone else would surely have given him greater prominence.

Nehemiah 12:38-39

‘And the other company of those who gave thanks went to meet them, and I after them, with the half of the people, upon the wall, above the tower of the furnaces, even to the broad wall, and above the gate of Ephraim, and by the old gate, and by the fish gate, and the tower of Hananel, and the tower of Hammeah, even unto the sheep gate: and they stood still in the gate of the guard.’

The second procession was led by ‘those who gave thanks’ (the singers and musicians) who were followed by Nehemiah and ‘half the people’ (i.e. the aristocrats including priests and Levites - see Nehemiah 12:40-42). These proceeded northward from the Valley Gate, past the Tower of the Furnaces (Ovens), reaching the Broad Wall. Then onwards past the Gate of Ephraim (not mentioned as rebuilt in chapter 3 and possibly therefor a ruin). Reaching the north-west corner they turned eastwards, and passed along the north wall by the Old Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of Hammeah, until they reached the Sheep Gate (for these compare Nehemiah 3:1-11). They then proceeded to the gate of the guard. This was probably within the city giving entrance to ‘the court of the guard’ so well known as the place where Jeremiah was restrained (Jeremiah 38:13; Jeremiah 38:28). It was probably here that they awaited, and met up with, the first procession (they ‘stood still’ there), before proceeding to the Temple.

Nehemiah 12:40

‘So stood the two companies of those who gave thanks in the house of God.’

The two companies were now united together for the purpose of giving thanks in the house of God. This was towards the end of a long day of continual worship. And there, in and around the outer court of the Temple, they worshipped YHWH because of all that He had done for them, and all that they believed that He was going to do for them. It would have been a time of great expectancy. And why should it not have been so? Jerusalem was now purified and defensible. It was ‘the holy city’, the city through which YHWH would do great things.


Verses 40-42

The Make-up Of The Second Company (Nehemiah 12:40-42 b).

Not yet having given the details of the make-up of the second company the writer now fills us in on the details. As well as the choir that led the way (‘those who gave thanks’), the second company in procession was made up of :

· Nehemiah.

· Half of the aristocrats of wider Judah.

· Seven leading priests along with their priestly trumpets.

· Eight leading Levite singers, possibly under the supervision of a ninth, Jezrahiah their overseer.

This followed the pattern of the other company, but whereas that was led by Ezra the Scribe and Hoshaiah, this one was led by Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 12:40

‘And I, and the half of the rulers with me;’

In the lead (although behind the choir) was Nehemiah, and he was followed by half the aristocrats, leading priests and leading Levites.

Nehemiah 12:41

‘And the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets,’

The seven leading priests in this procession are named. Of these only Maaseiah (Maaziah) and Miniamin (Mijamin) are recorded as signing the covenant, although others may have done so under the family name. The blowing of trumpets was the prerogative of the priests.

Nehemiah 12:42

‘And Maaseiah, and Shemaiah, and Eleazar, and Uzzi, and Jehohanan, and Malchijah, and Elam, and Ezer.

Together with them were nine leading Levites, the eight named in this verse and Jezrahiah who oversaw them in the same way as Zechariah had overseen those in the other procession (Nehemiah 12:35). If seen in this way these Levites were ‘the singers’ of Nehemiah 12:42 b. An alternative possible interpretation is found under Nehemiah 12:42 b.

Nehemiah 12:42

‘And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer.’

If ‘the singers’ were the eight prominent Levites, then Jezrahiah was their leader and made up a ninth, tying in with the nine leading Levites in the other group headed by Zechariah the son of Jonathan (Nehemiah 12:35-36).

An alternative is to see this as indicating that Jezrahiah was not one of the leading Levites, but led the singers who went ahead of the company, for we would expect mention of the singers. Whilst in some ways spoiling the symmetry, this interpretation limits the leading Levites to seventeen, tying in with the number of leading Levite families in Nehemiah 10:9-13.


Verse 43

The Culmination Of The Celebrations Which Took Place In The Temple (Nehemiah 12:43).

The processions on or about the wall having been completed the people gathered in the Temple area and offered large numbers of sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. These would then, of course, have been partaken of, and there would be a great feast as all the people, men, women and children joined in the rejoicing and celebrations. They had a new sense of Jerusalem as the holy city, and of the presence of YHWH acting on their behalf.

Nehemiah 12:43

‘And they offered great sacrifices that day, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy, and the women also and the children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.’

These sacrifices would inevitably include burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin, but in the main they were probably sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving of which all could partake, and it is clear that there were a great many of them. Indeed this was necessary in order to provide meat for the feast. But they would be offered with joyful hearts and a real sense of gratitude to God. Note the emphasis on the fact that everyone was gathered, even women and children, for which compare Ezra 10:1, although there it was in penitence.

So great were the crowds, and so loud the praise from such a great multitude, that ‘the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off’. Compare for this Ezra 3:13. Note the emphasis. ‘They rejoiced -- God made them rejoice with great joy -- the women and children rejoiced -- the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off’. Joy was at the centre of their worship. As a consequence everyone around knew that God had done great things for His people, and that they were correspondingly grateful and filled with joy.


Verse 44

The Establishment Of The Temple Treasury, And The Chambers To Contain The Heave-offerings, Firstfruits and Tithes That Were Offered To YHWH, Their Restoration, And The Exclusion Of All Who Religiously Defiled Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:14).

Equally of importance with the celebrations over the completion of the wall, were the arrangements made to ensure that Jerusalem continued to be the holy city, set apart to YHWH, purified from all that religiously defiled, and fulfilling its function as the YHWH’s earthy dwellingplace, and as the store-city of all that specifically belonged to YHWH (that which had been set apart for Him and given to Him in accordance with the Law). To the mundane mind the building of the wall of Jerusalem had made it a defensible city suitable to be the capital of Judah, and thus an achievement in itself, but to the religious mind what the wall indicated was a new beginning of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ which was the centre of true Yahwism.

This portion (Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:14) is distinguished by being fashioned on a clear chiastic pattern, as follows:

A Appointment of men over the treasure and store chambers (Nehemiah 12:44 a).

B The store chambers were for the treasures, heave-offerings, firstfruits and tithes (Nehemiah 12:44 b).

C All Judah rejoiced over the priests, and over the Levites who waited (before God) and gave them their portions as every day required (Nehemiah 12:44 c-47).

D In accordance with the Law of YHWH concerning the Moabites and Ammonites all who were religiously tainted were separated from Israel (Nehemiah 13:1-3).

E Eliashib who was the priest who was appointed over the chambers, provided a chamber for Tobiah the Ammonite, a chamber which had previously been used for the storage of those things which had been given to God (Nehemiah 13:4-5).

F All this happened when Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem, having returned to the king’s court, probably at this stage stationed at Babylon (Nehemiah 13:6).

E Nehemiah learns what Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah with a chamber in the courts of the house of God (Nehemiah 13:7).

D Tobiah the Ammonite was cast out of the Temple chambers which were cleansed and restored to their proper use (Nehemiah 13:8-9).

C The portions of the Levites had not been given to them with the result that the house of God was forsaken by its servants who no longer waited before God (Nehemiah 13:10-11),

B All Judah brought the tithes to the treasuries (Nehemiah 13:12).

A Appointment of men over the treasuries (Nehemiah 13:13-14).

Note that in A men were appointed over the treasure and store chambers, and in the parallel men were appointed over the treasury. In B the store chambers were for various things including the tithes, and in the parallel all Judah brought tithes to the treasury. In C the portions were given to the priests and Levites as every day required, and in the parallel their portions were not given to the Levites. In D all who were religiously tainted, including the Ammonites, were separated from Israel, and in the parallel Tobiah the Ammonite was cast out of the Temple chambers which had to be cleansed. In E Eliashib provided a chamber for Tobiah, ad in the parallel Nehemiah learned of it. Centrally all this happened whilst Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem


Verses 44-47

Men Appointed Over The Storage Chambers In The Temple And Arrangements Are Made For The Gathering Of The Offerings And Tithes For The Sustenance Of The God-ordained Priests And Levites (Nehemiah 12:44-47).

In recognition of the new status of Jerusalem, and as a continuation of their expressions of thanksgiving towards God, a new impetus was given to the gathering of offerings and tithes for the priests and Levites. This is not to be seen as just an idea that was tacked on. It was central to the expectancy of the renewal of the Kingdom. It was seen as vitally important that in the holy city, where YHWH reigned in splendour, (whilst very much not being limited to that city, for it was recognised that ‘even the heaven of heavens could not contain Him’ (Psalms 93-99; 1 Kings 8:27)), those set apart to God’s holy purposes and service should be fully provided for in accordance with the Law of Moses, so that they could give their full time to His service. And we should note that significantly there is here a deliberate reference back to the times of David, thereby emphasising that this was all to be seen as an important part of the reconstitution of the Davidic Kingdom, with David’s city at its head.

The connection with the previous celebrations is clearly brought out by the opening words, ‘on that day, at that time’ (beyom). The emphasis is on the fact that what is now to be described was to be seen as springing directly out of the loyalty and dedication to God revealed in those celebrations (compare also Nehemiah 13:1).

This emphasis on the tithes and offerings as an important evidence of loyalty to God, and as a precursor to future blessing from God, is heavily underlined in the nearly contemporary prophecy of Malachi, which may even have been written at this time. There the prophet, in expectation of great things to come, calls on God’s people to renew their loyalty to God and pay Him His dues. Indeed he makes clear that without this there could be no glorious future (Malachi 3:7-12). One of the signs of God’s evident working is that His people become generous with their material things, all of which belong to God. Thus this establishment of tithes and offerings was all a part of the expression of their loyalty, and an ensuring of the ministry of the priests and Levites chosen by God for that purpose, thus ensuring the continual holiness of the city and its eschatological future.

Analysis Of Nehemiah 12:44-47.

· Men appointed over the Temple store-chambers in order to gather the heave offerings and tithes (44a).

· Judah rejoiced for the priest and the Levites who stood (before YHWH), and kept the charge of God, and the charge of purification, and the charge of the singers and gatekeepers according to the commandment of David and Solomon (45)

· For in the days of David and Asaph there were chief singers and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God (46).

· The portions for the singers and gatekeeper, and the tithes for the Levites and priests, were set apart as required (47).

Nehemiah 12:44

‘And at that time (or ‘on that day’) were men appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the heave-offerings, for the first-fruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them, according to the fields of the cities, the portions appointed by the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites who stood (before YHWH).’

Beyom (on that day, at that time’) is not necessarily intended to be seen as precise. ‘Yom’ could equally mean ‘day’ or ‘duration of time’, although it may be that the celebrations immediately precipitated the actions described. But it is unlikely that they commenced at the end of that very busy day. Rather they would take time to implement. Compare also Nehemiah 13:1. Indeed the later beyamim ‘in those days’ suggests that these time frames are vague and approximate. The aim of these connecting phrases is in order to demonstrate what follows as an essential part of the purifying of the renewed Jerusalem.

So it was as a consequence of the initial religious purifying of Jerusalem that men were appointed (by the people of Judah) to oversee the Temple treasury, and to watch over the gathering of the heave-offerings, the firstfruits and the tithes. The idea is that what was God’s should be gathered efficiently and should be kept holy. For men to be over the treasury and the store-chambers was not new. Consider for example those described in Ezra 8:33. See also Nehemiah 10:38. But this would appear to have in mind a new initiative taken in order to ensure efficiency in the service of God.

‘To gather into them, according to the fields of the cities, the portions appointed--.’ It is apparent from this that they were given the responsibility of gathering in the tithes in a systematic manner, for these were the portions appointed by the Law for the priests and Levites. We have no indication anywhere of how systematically his had been done in the past, but at times when tithing was practised it must have required a great deal of expended time for the Levites to gather in the tithes from every farm, and ensure that they received the correct proportion, and as Nehemiah 10:38 indicates this was overseen by the priests. Thus it was a regular procedure. But now this was done happily because the whole of Judah were rejoicing in their God-chosen representatives before YHWH. There was renewed hope for the future, and the contribution of the Levites was seen as being of great importance.

Thus one of the firstfruits of the revival was a renewed activity of setting apart of the chambers in the Temple for their holy purpose. But sadly, as spirituality waned, and when Nehemiah’s eagle eye was not present, those very chambers would be taken over and utilised for another, quite unholy purpose (Nehemiah 13:4-5), something which a returning Nehemiah had to remedy. The purity of Jerusalem had to be maintained, and it was this that Nehemiah saw as his main accomplishment (Nehemiah 13:30-31).

The heave-offerings, the firstfruits and the tithes were the portions appointed by the Law for the maintenance of the God-chosen priests and Levites. It was as a direct result of these that they were able to carry on their full-time ministry, and they were essential for that purpose. That is why they were so important in maintaining the holiness of the holy city.

The ‘heave-offerings’ were that part of the offerings which was ‘heaved’ or ‘waved’ before YHWH as His portion, and thus available only to be partaken of by the priests. The ‘firstfruits’ were that portion of produce set apart as YHWH’s in recognition that they held the land from Him. That too was partaken of by the priests. ‘The tithes’ were one tenth of all produce (both of animals and of grain) which was to be set apart, both for the Levites, and for the poor, with a tenth of a tenth being made available to the priests.

‘For Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites who stood (before YHWH).’ It is significant that the same word (‘rejoiced’) is used of Judah’s attitude towards the priests and Levites as was used of their celebrating the completion of the wall (compare Nehemiah 12:43). Both were occasions of great joy. They were exultant that the holy city had been established with a holy priesthood. For the phrase ‘stood before YHWH’ see Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:7; Ezekiel 44:15; 2 Chronicles 29:11.

Nehemiah 12:45

‘And they kept the charge of their God, and the charge of the purification, and (the charge of) the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.’

The ‘they’ here possibly refers to those appointed over the store-chambers, who would of course be priests and Levites, or it may refer to the priests and Levites generally. They gladly kept God’s charge, faithfully fulfilling their responsibilities in order to fulfil God’s Law, including His charge concerning offerings and sacrifices and other methods of purification, and His charge concerning the singers and gatekeepers in accordance with the requirements laid down by David, and his son Solomon, for which see 1 Chronicles 23-26. This is especially significant in that, once Nehemiah was absent at the court of the Persian king, the people failed to completely fulfil this responsibility (Nehemiah 13:10), and had to be called into line. In 1 Chronicles 23:28 the ‘purifying of holy things’ was seen very much as an important part of the service of ‘the sons of Levi’.

Many would translate as ‘as did the singers and the gatekeepers’, including them as fulfilling their responsibility with regard to ‘the charge of God’.

Nehemiah 12:46

‘For in the days of David and Asaph of old there was a chief of the singers, and a song of praise and thanksgiving unto God.’

Here the writer stresses that there were indeed in David’s day, and in the days of Asaph his choirmaster, a chief of singers and ‘a song or praise and thanksgiving’ that is there was a choir that sang praises to God. There being a ‘song of praise’ after mention of a chief singer, is demonstrative of this latter fact. The song of praise would arise from his choir. The double emphasis on David suggests that very much in mind was the fact that they were continuing on with the ministry of the kingdom. Now that Jerusalem was once more the holy city they were hoping for a new David to arise, to lift God’s people to new heights.

Nehemiah 12:47

‘And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the gatekeepers, as every day required: and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.’

He then stresses that from the very moment of the return from captivity to the present time, even if only spasmodically when a leader with impetus arose (in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah), the due portions were given to the singers/musicians and the gatekeepers, in accordance with their requirements, and tithes were set apart for the Levites, who in their turn set aside a tenth of the tithes for the priests. There is a deliberate portrayal of the ideal prior to our learning what happened when the people were left unsupervised by a godly leader. But as no credit for this could specifically be given to Nehemiah there is no prayer from Nehemiah that God will remember what he has done.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Nehemiah 12:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/nehemiah-12.html. 2013.

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