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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Nehemiah 11

 

 

Verses 1-36

PART III.

ENLARGEMENT OF THE POPULATION OF JERUSALEM, WITH THE NUMBER OF THE ADULT MALES, AND THE NAMES OF THE CHIEFS. VARIOUS LISTS OF PRIESTS AND LEVITES AT DIFFERENT PERIODS (Nehemiah 11:1-36; Nehemiah 12:1-26).

EXPOSITION

THE nexus of Nehemiah 11:1-36. is with Nehemiah 7:4, Nehemiah 7:5. Having spoken in that place of the insufficiency of the population of Jerusalem, Nehemiah now proceeds to explain the steps which he took to remedy it. He made, it would seem, a census of the entire nation, and required each town and district to transfer one-tenth of its population to the capital The men in the various localities determined among themselves by lot who should stay and who should go, and Nehemiah no doubt made the necessary arrangements for the reception of the newcomers at Jerusalem. Forced enlargements of capitals by transfers of this kind were not uncommon in the ancient world, where the strength of states was considered to depend very greatly upon the size and predominance of the capital. Thucydides attributes the greatness and prosperity of the Athenian community to an artificial enlargement of the population of Athens which he ascribes to Theseus. Other notorious instances are those of Syracuse, Megalopolis, and Tigranocerta. In Jerusalem at this time the special need of an increase in the number of the inhabitants was probably the defence of the walls. These had been rebuilt on the ancient foundations,—their circuit was not much less than four miles,—and to man them in case of attack, a large population was necessary. From a comparison of the numbers given in this chapter (verses 6-19) with those of 1 Chronicles 9:9-22, it may be gathered that the result of Nehemiah's arrangements was to give Jerusalem a population of about 20,000 souls.

Having been led, in speaking of this matter, to give a sort of catalogue of the chief dwellers at Jerusalem (verses 4-19), and another of the country towns and villages occupied at this time by those Israelites who had returned from the captivity (verses 25-35), Nehemiah is induced to insert, at this point, certain other lists or catalogues which he regards as worthy of being put on record. These lists are four in number, and occupy Nehemiah 12:1-47. as far as Nehemiah 12:26. They comprise—

1. A list of the priestly and Levitical houses which returned with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:1-9);

2. A list of the high priests from Jeshua to Jaddua;

3. A list of the heads of the priestly courses in the time of the high priest Joiakim; and,

4. A list of the chief Levitical houses at the same period and afterwards.

Such lists possess at the present day but a very slight and secondary interest. Their formation, however, and safe preservation were, at the time, essential for the continuity of the nation's history, and the maintenance of the priestly order in purity, and without admixture of laic elements. On the genealogy of the high priests more will be said in the special comment on the passage.

Nehemiah 11:1

The rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the residence of all the nobles from the first (see Nehemiah 2:16); no increase could be made in this element of the population. Nehemiah had to look lower, and to obtain his new settlers from the ranks of the "people." The people … cast lots. No doubt under direction. The Jews had frequent recourse to the lot for the determining of doubtful matters, believing, as they did, that "the whole disposing thereof was of the Lord (Proverbs 16:33). Divine sanction had been given, in the course of the Jewish history, to the use of the lot for the selection of persons (Joshua 7:16-18; 1 Samuel 10:19-21), for the distribution of lands (Numbers 26:25, Numbers 26:26), and for the determination of the order in which different bodies should execute an office (1 Chronicles 24:5; 1 Chronicles 25:8). In the democratic states of Greece it was used widely to determine between candidates for an office. One in ten. Ewald supposes that this was to be the proportion between the population of Jerusalem and the whole population of the country, and ascribes the fixing of the proportion to Zerubbabel. But there is no statement to this effect in either Ezra or Nehemiah, and the brief narrative of this verse seems to imply the addition of a tenth part of the country population to the previous population of Jerusalem, rather than the establishment of any definite proportion between the two. Nine parts. Literally, "nine hands," as in Genesis 43:34; Genesis 47:24.

Nehemiah 11:2

The men that willingly offered themselves. Besides those on whom the lot fell, a certain number volunteered to change their residence and to transfer themselves and families from their country homes to Jerusalem. The people called down blessings upon them for their patriotism.

Nehemiah 11:3

These are the chief of the province. A comparison is in the writer's mind between the Jews of Palestine and those of the great Persian capitals, Babylon and Susa, to which, as a Persian official, he himself properly belongs. Compare Nehemiah 1:3 and Ezra 2:1. That dwelt in Jerusalem. i.e. "that were entered in Nehemiah's census among the inhabitants of Jerusalem after the transfer of population had been made." The names which follow appear in most cases to be personal, but a certain number of them are names of families. In the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession. It follows that those who removed from the country districts to Jerusalem quitted their "possessions, often, it may be, exchanging riches for poverty, a comfortable house for one half in ruins (Nehemiah 7:4), and the life of a small landed proprietor for that of an artisan or hired labourer. Hence the "blessings" called down by the people on those who volunteered (verse 2). Israel. Compare 1 Chronicles 9:3, where we find that among those who had returned were mere-bers of the two great Israelitish tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. On the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants, see the comment on Ezra 2:43, Ezra 2:55.

Nehemiah 11:4

At Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin. It is not meant that all the dwellers in Jerusalem were of these two tribes, since among them were certainly Levites (Nehemiah 11:10-19), Ephraimites, and Mansesites (1 Chronicles 1:1-54. s. c.), together with Nethinims (Nehemiah 11:21) who were of no tribe, and probably some representatives of all or most of the other tribes (see the comment on Ezra 2:70). But the present purpose of Nehemiah is to mention especially the Jewish and Benjamite chiefs. Athaiah, or Uthai, as the name is given in 1 Chronicles 9:4. The son of Uzziah. The ancestors assigned to Athaiah here and in 1 Chronicles 9:1-44. are wholly different, with the single exception of Pharez or Perez, the son of Judah. Both lists are of course abbreviations of a far longer one, and it has happened that the two writers have in no ease selected for mention the same name.

Nehemiah 11:5

Maaseiah is called "Asaish" in 1 Chronicles, and designated simply as "the Shilonite, or descendant of Shelah, the youngest son of Judah. Zechariah, the son of Shiloni. Rather, "the Shilonite." The word ben, "son," has been intruded into the text by a copyist, who thought that "Shiloni" was a personal name.

Nehemiah 11:6

Valiant men. Or, "fighting men"—men able to bear arms and serve in the wars.

Nehemiah 11:7

And these are the sons of Benjamin. A verse equivalent to 1 Chronicles 9:6 would seem to have fallen out here. Nehemiah cannot have intended to leave out the descendants of Zerah, who formed more than one-half of the Jewish element in the population of Jerusalem, and furnished 690 fighting men. Sallu the son of Meshullam. Compare 1 Chronicles 9:7. The other names in the genealogy are different, the two writers singling out for mention different ancestors.

Nehemiah 11:8

Neither Gabbai nor Sallai is mentioned in Chronicles, where the Benjamite chiefs inferior to Shallu are Ibneiah, Elah, and Meshullam (1 Chronicles 9:8). Nine hundred and twenty-eight. Nine hundred and fifty-six, according to Chronicles (1 Chronicles 9:9). Probably in one place or the other the figures have suffered corruption.

Nehemiah 11:9

Their overseer. Probably the commandant of the city under Nehemiah. See 2 Kings 25:19, where pakid has this sense. Judah … was second. Next in authority to Joel.

Nehemiah 11:10

Of the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin. Rather, "Of the priests, Jedaiah, Joiarib, Jachin." The word ben, "son," has once more accidentally crept in. The writer here passes from personal to famfiy names. Jedaiah and Joiarib were two of the chief priestly families, and are usually mentioned together (1 Chronicles 24:7; Nehemiah 12:6, Nehemiah 12:19, etc.). Jachin was a priestly family of much less distinction, descended probably from the head of the twenty-first course in David's time (1 Chronicles 24:17).

Nehemiah 11:11

Seraiah (called "Azariah" in 1 Chronicles 9:11) designates the high priestly family of this time, as in Nehemiah 10:2; Nehemiah 12:1, Nehemiah 12:12. The "Seraiah" who gave name to it was probably the high priest taken prisoner by Nebu-zaradan, and put to death (—2 Kings 25:18-21). The son of Hilkiah. Really the grandson (Ezra 7:1). The son of Meshullam. Or "Shallum" (ibid. Nehemiah 12:2). The ruler of the house of God. i.e. the high priest; or, rather, the family which furnished the high priests at this time. The actual high priest was Eliashib, the son of Joiakim, and grandson of Jeshua (see Nehemiah 12:10; Nehemiah 13:4).

Nehemiah 11:12

Their brethren that did the work of the house. The priests of ordinary rank, who—divided originally into twenty-four, but now apparently into twenty-two, courses (Nehemiah 12:2-7)—had the care of the temple service in turn, amounted to the large number of 1192 persons, of whom between fifty and sixty would be employed in some work connected with the service at one time.

Nehemiah 11:14

Their brethren, mighty men of valour. Not "men of great courage," as Bp. Patrick explains, but "very able men for the work of the service of the house of God," as our translators render the parallel passage of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 9:13). Zabdiel, the son of one of the great men. Rather, as in the margin, "the son of Haggedolim."

Nehemiah 11:15, Nehemiah 11:16

Also of the Levites: Shemaiah. Compare 1 Chronicles 9:14. Shemaiah was a descendant of Merari. Together with Shabbethai and Jozabad (1 Chronicles 9:16), he had the superintendence of the outward business of the house of God; or, in other words, of its worldly affairs and money matters. As in the Christian Church a special order was appointed "to serve tables" (Acts 6:2-5), so in the Jewish the secular business of the temple was intrusted to a few carefully-selected persons of the inferior order of the ministry, who were known to have a special capacity for such matters (see 1 Chronicles 26:29).

Nehemiah 11:17

Mattaniah … was the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer. i.e. the "leader of the choir," or "precentor.'' Bakbukiah was second to him among his brethren; i.e. was his chief assistant. Abda (or "Obadiah," 1 Chronicles 9:16) held the third place.

Nehemiah 11:18

All the Levites … were two hundred fourscore and four. The small proportion borne by the Levites to the priests, which has been already noticed (see comment on Ezra 8:15), is here again apparent. They do not quite amount to one-third of the priests.

Nehemiah 11:19

The porters, Akkub, Talmon. On these familiar names, see the comment upon Ezra 2:42. An hundred and seventy-two. In 1 Chronicles 9:22 the number is said to have been 212.

Nehemiah 11:21

The Nethinims dwelt in Ophel. See above, Nehemiah 3:26 Ophel, the southern prolongation of the temple hill, was a sort of suburb of Jerusalem, sometimes reckoned as part of the city, sometimes as distinct from it. It was a convenient position for the Nethinims, who were employed in menial offices about the temple. Ziha seems to represent the leading Nethinim family (Ezra 2:43; Nehemiah 7:46).

Nehemiah 11:22

Properly, the whole of this verse forms a single sentence, and should run as follows:"And the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem, Huzzi, the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micha, of the sons of Asaph the singers, was over the business of the house of God." As Shabbethai and Jozabad "had the oversight of the outward business" (Nehemiah 11:16), so the internal business was under the superintendence of Huzzi, or Uzzi. Uzzi appears as taking part in the dedication of the wall (Nehemiah 12:42).

Nehemiah 11:23

For it was the king's commandment concerning them. Artaxerxes, it appears, had assigned a certain stipend from the royal revenue for the support of such Levites as were singers, and this stipend had to be paid to them day by day. It is suggested as the grounds for this special favour—

1. That the Levites engaged in the choral service were regarded as those especially who prayed "for the life of the king and of his sons" (Ezra 6:10); and,

2. That the singing Levites who returned from Babylon, being so few in number (128), had to be constantly on duty in the temple, and so needed a regular daily stipend. The nexus of this verse with the preceding one imp!ice that the payment in question was an important part of the internal business of the house committed to Uzzi.

Nehemiah 11:24

Pethahiah … of the children of Zerah. We have here an indication of the imperfection of the preceding catalogue, which has mentioned no descendants of Zerah among the Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, but made them all sons of Perez (Nehemiah 11:6). As already observed, a verse equivalent to 1 Chronicles 6:9 must have fallen out between 1 Chronicles 6:6 and 1 Chronicles 6:7 of this chapter. The exact office borne by Pethahiah cannot be determined; but he evidently held a confidential position, which made him an intermediary for certain purposes between the Persian king and the Jewish people. Perhaps he received and forwarded petitions and complaints.

Nehemiah 11:25

And for the villages. Or, "And, as regards the villages." The writer here at last passes away altogether from Jerusalem, and proceeds to speak of the country population of Judaea. This was chiefly located in villages or hamlets, to each of which was attached a territory suitable for cultivation. The principal of these settlements are now enumerated, and will be found to comprise seventeen places belonging to Judah, and fifteen belonging to Benjamin. Of these thirty-two, a considerable proper tion had subordinate hamlets attached to them. Kirjath-arba, or Hebron. During the captivity the old name had reasserted itself (see Joshua 14:15). Dibon is not the important Moabite town whence came the famous "Moabite Stone," but the city anciently called Dimonah, which is coupled with "Kabzeel" and "Moladah" in Joshua 15:21-26. Jekabzeel is no doubt the ancient "Kabzeel" (Joshua 15:21).

Nehemiah 11:26

Joshua is a place not mentioned anywhere but here. Moladah occurs in Joshua 15:26; Beth-phelet, no doubt the same as Beth-palet, in Joshua 15:27.

Nehemiah 11:27

Hazar-shual and Beer-sheba are united in Joshua 15:28, and were no doubt near together. Hazar-shual means "the village of foxes."

Nehemiah 11:28

Ziklag is celebrated as the town given to David by Achish king of Gath (1 Samuel 27:6), and soon afterwards taken by the Amalekites (ibid. 30:1). Mekonah is a name which occurs only in this place.

Nehemiah 11:29

En-rimmon, "the spring of Rimmon," is to be identified with the "Ain and Rimmon" of Joshua 15:32—two neighbouring villages, which ultimately grew into one. Zareah is no doubt the "Zoreah" of Joshua 15:33, which was in the Shephelah, or low coast tract. Jarmuth is the town of Piram, who warred with Joshua (Joshua 10:3-27). Like Zareah, it lay in the low coast tract (Joshua 15:35).

Nehemiah 11:30

Zanoah and Adullam appear in close connection with Jarmuth in Joshua 15:34, Joshua 15:35. Zanoah was not a place of any importance, but Adullam, near which was David's cave, is often mentioned. It had its own king in the time of Joshua (Joshua 12:15), was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:7), and remained a city of some strength under the Maccabees (2 Macc. 12:38). Lachish is a place even more celebrated than Adullam. Its king, Japhia, warred with Joshua (Joshua 12:3-16). It was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:9). Amaziah took refuge there when conspiracy threatened him at Jerusalem (2 Kings 14:19); and Sennacherib "besieged it with all his power" (2 Chronicles 22:9). Azekah is joined with Jarmuth and Adullam in Joshua 15:35. Like Adullam and Lachish, it was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:9). They (i.e. the children of Judah) dwelt from Beer-sheba to the valley of Hinnom. The southernmost and the northernmost parts of Judaea are here mentioned.

Nehemiah 11:31

The children also of Benjamin from Geba dwelt at Michmash. Rather, "Also the children of Benjamin dwelt from Geba to Michmash, and Aija, and Bethel," etc. Geba was reckoned an extreme city of Benjamin towards the west, and consequently occurs last in the first list of Joshua (Nehemiah 18:24). Its proximity to Michmash and Aija (Aiath) appears in Isaiah 10:28, Isaiah 10:29. All three places were in the near vicinity of Bethel.

Nehemiah 11:32

Anathoth was on the road from Geba to Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:30), and was a Levitical city (Joshua 21:18). Nob was still nearer to the capital, which could be seen from it (Isaiah 10:32). It was famous for the massacre of the priests by Doeg (1 Samuel 22:18, 1 Samuel 22:19). Ananiah is mentioned only in this place.

Nehemiah 11:33

Hazor occurs as a Benjamite city here only. Ramah is the famous town, now er-Ram, so often mentioned as a little to the north of Jerusalem (Joshua 18:25; 4:5; 1 Kings 15:17; Isaiah 10:29; Jeremiah 31:15). Gittaim is mentioned as a Benjamite town in 2 Samuel 4:3.

Nehemiah 11:34

Hadid is joined with Lod and Ono in Ezra 2:33 and Nehemiah 7:37. It is probably the modern Haditheh, three miles east of Ludd or Lod, in the Shephelah. Zeboim is not elsewhere mentioned as a town, but we hear of a "valley of Zeboim" in 1 Samuel 13:18, which seems to have lain east of Michmash, in the bleak country towards the Jordan. Neballat is not elsewhere mentioned.

Nehemiah 11:35

Lod, now Ludd (called in the Acts of the Apostles Lydda), was at the eastern edge of the Shephelah, or low maritime plain, and about nine miles to the S.E. of Joppa. Unimportant during the early times, it became a place of considerable note under the Maccabees (1 Macc. 10:30, 38; 11:28, 34, 57, etc.), and so continued till the taking of Jerusalem by Titus, soon after which its name was changed to Diospolis. Ono is first mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8:12 in combination with Lod, with which it is also joined in Ezra 2:33 and Nehemiah 7:37. We do not know how it came to be called "the valley of craftsmen."

Nehemiah 11:36

Of the Levites were divisions in Judah and Benjamin. The exact sense is obscure, but we may gather from the passage that a certain number of Levites were dispersed among the Benjamite cities. They were not now numerous enough to have any cities to themselves.

HOMILETICS

Nehemiah 11:1-36

Town and country. Variety in unity.

Nehemiah had been some time before (see Nehemiah 7:4, Nehemiah 7:5) impressed with the necessity of increasing the population of Jerusalem, and had taken preliminary steps; but other more pressing matters had intervened. He now proceeded with his design. His purpose was, that of the whole population one-tenth should inhabit the metropolis, and he arranged that the additional families to dwell there should be determined by lot. First, however, opportunity was given for volunteers to offer themselves, and many appear to have done so (verse 2), and gained for themselves the blessing of the people, who would have to supply a proportionately smaller number by the determination of the lot, each one's chance of being called upon to break up his home and remove to Jerusalem being consequently lessened. It is difficult to understand how such an artificial increase of a city's inhabitants could be successfully and permanently accomplished; bow, for instance, people from the country, chosen promiscuously, could accommodate themselves to life in the city; how suitable employments could be found for them, and how they could be supported during the period of transition. But this is not a solitary instance of the kind in ancient times (see note in 'Speaker's Commentary'). The necessity of increasing the population of Jerusalem appears from what is said in Nehemiah 7:4; and the building of the wall would have been of little value otherwise. As the metropolis, and as "the holy city," it was alike important that it should be well peopled. Following the brief notice in Nehemiah 7:1 and Nehemiah 7:2 of the steps taken for this purpose, we have in the rest of the chapter an account of the inhabitants, first of the city, and then of the country. It sets forth the variety in condition, avocations, etc. of the people, who yet were one both as a civil and a religious community; and may be employed as suggesting to us the variety in unity of the Christian Church.

I. There is VARIETY.

1. As to locality. As here some dwelt within the walls of Jerusalem, near the temple, the rest were scattered about the country; so the Church is scattered throughout the world, in every variety of situation, and comprises people of almost all languages, etc.

2. In occupations and functions. In Israel, the rulers and the ruled, craftsmen and agriculturists; and about the temple itself, priests, Levites, and Nethinims; singers, gate-keepers, etc. So in the Church. Every separate Church, which is really such, has its own special work; and within each Church every member has his own aptitudes and functions (see Romans 12:4 8), arising from the diversities of nature, education, grace, and office.

3. Of advantages and disadvantages. For livelihood, culture, religion. The city, the country town, the village, the mansion and the cottage, all present a mixture of both. Nearness to the house of prayer and religious instruction is one of the greatest advantages, and should be more considered than it often is by those who are choosing a residence; but when duty calls to a different position God can afford compensations for the loss. In like manner, of the various forms of Church order and life, no one monopolises all advantages, no one is without some special function.

4. Of characteristics. Every nation, every class in each, has its own peculiarities; every kind of employment stamps those engaged in it with some specialty of body or mind; yea, every individual differs from every other. We need not, then, be surprised that in religion there should be so many varieties; that even the members of the one Church of Christ should differ so widely. Differences in nature, education, social position, the time and manner in which the religious life is awakened, the influences under which it comes, the peculiarities of the Church, the minister, etc; all have their part in producing and perpetuating diversities of thought, life, etc. But notwithstanding so great diversity—

II. There is UNITY.

1. Of race. All Israelites were of one family, descended from common ancestors. So all Christians have one Father, and have been born again by one Spirit.

2. Of faith and life. The Jews, when worthy of the name, were one in their religion, trusting and worshipping the same God, living according to the precepts of the same law. In like manner all true Christians are essentially alike in faith and character. The family features may be detected, notwithstanding their unlikeness in many respects. Genuine Christians of very different and possibly opposing Churches are more like each other, and more really united, than each is like, or united to, the untrue members of his own Church.

3. Of relationships. The Jews in city, town, or village were bound together by their common relation to their civil and religious rulers, their temple and their God, and their mutual relations and dependence as parts of one nation. So Christians are all one in Christ Jesus, having one God, one Saviour and Lord, living under the same rule and the same system of laws, enjoying the same care and protection, forming, whether they will or not, one body, the body of Christ, in which every member is joined to and dependent upon every other.

4. Of end. "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise." Such was the Divine purpose in respect to Israel; and such it is in respect to Christians. All are called to accomplish this end, and in their various ways they subserve it (see 1 Peter 2:9).

III. THERE ARE DUTIES ARISING FROM THIS VARIETY IN UNITY.

1. Contentment of each with his own position. Whether in the city or the country, every Israelite might feel himself one of the Divinely-favoured people, a valuable member of the community if honestly doing his duty, and able to attain the great ends of life. Similarly, Christians may well be content with their various lots within the Church. Not, indeed, with a contentment that forbids inquiry and aspiration after fuller light and higher privilege, or such changes as may result therefrom; but with a contentment which will prevent repining and restlessness, and secure the fulfilment of the duties and the enjoyment of the advantages within reach. Each should love his own branch of the Church, seek to be a good member of it, and gain all the good he can from it. In respect to locality too, the dwellers in cities and towns and those in the country need not envy each other. God can be found and salvation realised everywhere. God's temple is wherever is the contrite, believing, and praying heart; and wherever two or three meet in the name of Christ (Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 18:20).

"While place we seek, or place we shun,

The soul finds happiness in none;

But with my God to guide my way,

'Tis equal joy to go or stay.

Could I be cast where thou art not,

That were indeed a dreadful lot;

But regions none remote I call,

Secure of finding God in all."

2. Mutual esteem and affection. Christians should recognise that they belong to one great society, of which every true Christian is a member; and learn to detect the essential features of a Christian, and honour all who possess them, whatever their subordinate peculiarities. He is a poor Christian who cannot say with St. Paul, "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."

3. Mutual helpfulness. The country is as essential to the town as the town to the country. "The king himself is served by the field." The peasant can even teach the citizen much of which he is ignorant. So Christians (individuals and Churches) can and ought to be helpers of each others' knowledge and faith, holiness and joy; and none should be above receiving the assistance which others can render.

4. United action. As the people of Israel, from town and country alike, united to build the wall of Jerusalem, and repel the common enemies, so should Christians of every name be ready to unite in all ways possible and expedient, in order to promote the common good, to defend and propagate the common faith, and subdue all that is opposed to it; and thus to increase the one glorious kingdom to which they all belong, and magnify him whom they all alike adore and love.

5. Willingness of individuals to undertake more than their obvious share in labours or sacrifices for the common good. Like those who "willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem" (Nehemiah 7:2).

6. Finally, let us each take heed that he really is one of "the Israel of God," to whichever tribe or section he may belong, and wherever his lot may be cast.

Nehemiah 11:2

Volunteers.

"And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves," etc. A large part of the work done for the good of the community is done by volunteers—men and women who ': willingly offer themselves" to do what in the abstract has no more claim on them than on others; and do it gratuitously. This is especially seen in the various departments of service in connection with religion and charity. Church officers, Sunday-school teachers, visitors of the poor, etc. Amount and value of their labours. Imagine them to cease! Notice—

I. WHENCE VOLUNTARY DEVOTEMENT TO PARTICULAR CHRISTIAN SERVICES SPRINGS. It may, doubtless, arise in some cases from unworthy motives; but we speak of true Christian willingness as directed towards this or that branch of service.

1. Earnest piety and benevolence in general (see on Nehemiah 3:20). Without which no service is truly Christian.

2. Felt aptitude and ability for the work chosen. Well is it when this feeling is not a delusion, and the willing are really the able; well also when the able are the willing, and so the work is not left to pious incompetence.

3. Special inclination for it. Which may arise from the congenial nature of the work, or the associations to which it introduces, or the special opportunities it is believed to afford for getting as well as doing good.

II. THE REWARD OF THOSE WHO DISPLAY IT.

1. The commendation of others. "The people blessed," etc. The expectation of this should not be a principal motive, if only to prevent disappointment. For though a measure of it is usual, it is not always bestowed; and the opposite treatment is possible. Some who will do nothing themselves occupy themselves in reflections on those who are employed in good works. Others, however, will commend; some from hearty appreciation—the appreciation of gratitude from those who receive benefit, of sympathy from those of like mind, who are themselves at work, or who would, but cannot, devote themselves to such service, and rejoice that others both can and will. Commendations of less value will perhaps come from another quarter, i.e. from some who are too selfish or indolent to do their part; but feel more at ease in their negligence from knowing that others are generous and active. To praise them is felt as all but equivalent to cooperating with them, and it is a great deal cheaper. If commendation from others is altogether wanting, there will be—

2. The pleasure of doing good. That satisfaction which springs from a sense of doing our duty, that delight which is inseparable from the exercise of benevolent affections, and that which arises from the perception of good done.

3. Personal benefit. Growth in goodness and nobleness. Increased likeness to Christ and to God.

4. The Divine commendation and recompense.

Nehemiah 11:16

Church officers.

"The oversight of the outward business of the house of God." What this business was in and about the temple. What it is in Christian Churches: care of the buildings, management of the finances, etc. The "oversight" is now exercised by church-wardens, deacons, treasurers, etc; according to the customs of each Church.

I. THE POSITION WHICH THIS "OUTWARD BUSINESS" OCCUPIES.

1. It is subordinate to the spiritual. For the sake of the latter it exists, and in order to its promotion should always be managed.

2. It is' essential to the spiritual. As in this world the body to the action of the soul, or food and raiment to piety and virtue. Preachers must be fed and clothed and housed; congregations cannot meet at stated times without buildings, nor in comfort unless the buildings are bared for and money spent on them. Neglect of the outward will tell unfavourably on spiritual life and growth. Due care for it is promotive of these, as it enables ministers to preach, and congregations to hear and worship, with undisturbed minds. Very useful and honourable, then, is their office who have "the oversight of the outward business of the house of God."

II. THE QUALITIES REQUIRED FOR THE DUE DISCHARGE OF ITS DUTIES. Besides the uprightness required in every kind of business.

1. Devoted love for the house of God. Awakening the desire to do all that is possible to secure the due order and the effectiveness of its services, and producing the conviction that it is an honour to be employed even in its humblest ministrations (see Psalms 84:10). Such love will make the officers of a Church examples to others (as they should be) of generosity and activity.

2. Sympathy with, and kindly regard for, those engaged in spiritual ministrations. Arising from a high esteem of their work as we]l as their character, and impelling to every effort to facilitate their labours, and secure them such honourable and sufficient maintenance as will free them from all anxiety about worldly matters, and enable them to give themselves with undivided heart to their work. Inducing also care to maintain a good understanding between the pastor and the flock, and preserve the former from annoyance and needless interruption.

3. Diligence and fidelity in their work. The contrast between the style in which men holding office in the Church transact their own business, and that in which they transact the business of God's house, is often very striking and discreditable.

4. The capacity for leading and stimulating their fellow-worshippers. There is often in a congregation much latent ability, and willingness too, to serve the Church by gift or labour, which need only to be called forth. One man with the power to call them forth may totally change for the better the condition of affairs.

5. Withal, indisposition to magnify their office unduly, or go beyond its bounds (see Romans 12:3 seq.). Finally, ministers and congregations enjoying the services of such officers have much reason for thankfulness and praise.

HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD

Nehemiah 11:1-36

The true centralisation.

We separate the nation from the world not to surround it with a false patriotism which means self-interest, but that in the fulfilment of the Divine purpose and law we may be the greater blessing to mankind.

I. The true centre of the life of the community is THE RELIGIOUS CENTRE. Jerusalem as the sacred city. The secular and religious are not opposed. The man of God is the true man. There is no true strength and prosperity where there is an inversion of the Divine order. Put the centre where it ought to be. There have been men who have sanctified the earthly life in its highest forms by their recognition of the supreme claim of religion.

II. WILLINGNESS is the only sure foundation on which the Church's glory can rest. We may appeal to Divine direction in the selection of our spiritual leaders; but it is those who willingly offer themselves who should be called to occupy the foremost places at Jerusalem.

III. While there is a boundless variety in human capability, there is a possibility of DISTRIBUTION which shall find room for all. The highest wealth and faculty should be gathered to the centre. The Church of God should present to the world the most conspicuous examples of sanctified genius and faithfully-used opportunity.—R.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Nehemiah 11:1, Nehemiah 11:2

Duty: its peril, its excellency, and its reward.

We learn from Nehemiah 7:4 that "the city was large and great, but the people were few therein." Less than 50,000 inhabitants were scattered over Judaea; but these would not have been too many to have occupied Jerusalem itself. It was a matter of the first importance that the metropolis should be well supplied with those who would worship in her courts, and with those who would guard her walls. It was therefore the aim of Nehemiah and other patriotic men to promote a migration from the outlying towns and villages to Jerusalem. "The rulers dwelt there," and they were anxious that many more should come in to swell the population. This ingathering supplies us with three lessons.

I. THAT THE PLACE OF PRIVILEGE IS THE POST OF DUTY AND OF DANGER. Jerusalem was "the holy city" (verse 1). It was "the city which God had chosen;" the place of his special manifestation; the spot where, as nowhere else, he could be approached and worshipped. Thither all who feared his name and sought his favour came with their offerings; there they presented the best they could bring on his altar, and bowed before his face. But this "holy city," where the holy people might be well pleased and be rightly proud to dwell, was

(a) some special obligations, and

(b) some peculiar perils.

II. THAT DUTY MAY BE DONE WITH VARIOUS DEGREES OF WORTHINESS AND ACCEPTABLENESS. There were two ways by which Jerusalem was replenished. They "cast lots to bring one of ten to dwell" there (verse 1); others "willingly offered themselves" (verse 2)—they volunteered without being drawn. Looking at this procedure as a matter of morals, we should certainly estimate the action of the latter more highly than that of the former. These did well, but those did better. It was a right and an acceptable thing for men with their wives and families to leave their homes where they were doing well, and where they preferred to stay, in order to act up to their agreement with their fellows; it was a worthier and a more acceptable thing for others not to wait for this moral compulsion, but to offer themselves, and go of their own accord from the village where they were prosperous, comfortable, and out of the reach of attack, to live in the city where hardship and danger might look them in the face. With us, as with them, duty is done with different degrees of Divine approval. Secular duty, that of the business or the home, may be done faithfully but unreligiously, or it may be done conscientiously because religiously, all being done not as unto man only or chiefly, but "unto the Lord" (Ephesians 6:7). Sacred duty may be done as a matter of obligation only, or it may be discharged with willingness, even with an eager delight, because the purest and highest aims are kept well in view of the soul. The same acts, outwardly measured, are of very different weight in worthiness, tried in the balances of God. And sometimes of men, for it is true—

III. THAT DISINTERESTED DEEDS WILL OFTEN DRAW DOWN THE BENEDICTION OF OUR KIND. "And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves, etc. (verse 2). The inhabitants of Jerusalem evidently discriminated between those who were actuated by the more, and those governed by the less, generous inducements; and to the former they accorded hearty thanks—they "blessed them." Concerning popular appreciation, it is well to learn from the experience of the past, or we shall suffer injury and loss. We must

We should

(a) pitch our life so high that, if needful, we can do without it, "seeking the honour that cometh from God only," and satisfied with that.

"Men heed thee not, men praise thee not;

The Master praises;—what are men?"

And yet we should

(b) so live that we may fairly hope to earn the benediction of our kind. While some skilful, selfish men have reaped the honours due only to disinterestedness, more often selfishness shows its cloven foot, and is contemned. And while some generous souls have lived and died unappreciated, more often kind-heartedness and self-forgetting love win an answering affection, and draw down the blessing of those who are enriched. For good as well as evil, "with what measure ye mete," etc. (Matthew 7:1). "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure," etc. (Luke 6:38). Live a life like that of Job, and you will be able to say as he said, "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me" (Job 29:11).—C.

Nehemiah 11:3-36

Three elements in the Church of Christ.

In the first verse of this chapter Jerusalem is called "the holy city;" as such it was the type of the Church of Christ. In three respects it bore to the Christian Church a real and close resemblance.

1. It was a separated city; separated and fenced from surrounding idolatries and immoralities.

2. It was a distinguished city; distinguished by

3. It was a commissioned city; charged to hold and preserve a certain deposit of sacred truth against all the world. The Church of Christ is a body

I. THE ELEMENT OF ORDER. There were dwelling in Jerusalem "the rulers of the people" (Nehemiah 11:1). Concerning these rulers, we are told who was "overseer" of the "sons of Benjamin" (Nehemiah 11:9); who was "overseer" of the priests (Nehemiah 11:14); who also of the Levites (Nehemiah 11:22); we are told who was precentor, "the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer" (Nehemiah 11:17); who had "the oversight of the outward business of the house of God;' (Nehemiah 11:16), and who of the internal business (Nehemiah 11:22). Everything was obviously ordered most carefully, and every one had his post at which to rule or serve. The "order" of the Church of Christ is something which has given rise to most serious differences and disputes—alas! to much bitterness and bloodshed. There are advocates of

But whatever the form which the Christian Church may take, whatever its method of organisation, order should always be conspicuously present. "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33). Everything is to be done "in order': (1 Corinthians 14:40). There are two complementary duties a Christian man may set before him: one,—the bringing about, in an orderly way, that form of Church organisation which, after diligent study and patient observance, he considers to be after the will of Christ; the other,—the taking his place in that particular Church of which he is a member, and filling it faithfully and peacefully. He who, in the name of order, brings about contention brings down on himself the condemnation of his Master (1 Corinthians 11:16).

II. THE ELEMENT OF VARIETY. Beside the governor were "rulers of the people" (Nehemiah 11:1) generally; and, particularly, priests (Nehemiah 11:10), and Levites (Nehemiah 11:15), and porters (Nehemiah 11:19), and singers (Nehemiah 11:22); and, still more particularly,

III. THE ELEMENT OF UNSUSPECTED STRENGTH. To the eye of flesh Jerusalem seemed weak enough at this time. If we include "the residue of Israel" that were in the cites of Judah (Nehemiah 11:20), and those in the villages with their fields (Nehemiah 11:25), all in the outlying provinces of Judah and Benjamin, they make but a very feeble band compared with other places then or with other communities now. How easily might they have been crushed and extirpated by the Persian power, so far as human calculations go. Yet they were the Church of God on earth, the custodians of his holy oracles, the chosen company from which should come forth the Divine Redeemer, and from which should go forth the Divine mission that is to transform the world. The Church of Christ may still seem small as compared with the "un-possessed land" of heathendom; individual Churches may seem weak in the midst of an all-surrounding and overtowering iniquity; but "God is in the midst of her;" his" right hand" is On her side. There is an unsuspected strength in the truth she holds, in the weapons she wields, in the cause of which she is the champion. In ways and by means quite unsuspected by her enemies, and equally unexpected by herself, God will make his Church his agent for the redemption of the world.—C.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Nehemiah 11:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/nehemiah-11.html. 1897.

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