Stay Alert, Stay Vigilant – 3

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Scripture Text – Nehemiah 7

A city is much more than walls, gates, and houses; a city is made up of its people. In the first half of Nehemiah’s book, the people existed for the walls; but now the walls must exist for the people. It was time to organize the community so that the citizens could enjoy the quality of life God wanted them to have. God had great things in store for Jerusalem, for one day His Son would walk the city streets, teach in the temple, and ultimately die outside the city walls.

Establishing Citizenship – Continued

Please read Nehemiah 7:4-69 for some background on this section.

Our modern cities and towns are ethnic “melting pots,” but in ancient Jerusalem at that time, the important thing was to be a Jew and be able to prove your ancestry. Genealogies were “lifelines” that linked the Jews not only to the heritage of the past but also to their hope for the future. Not to be able to prove your ancestry meant second-class citizenship and separation from all that God had given to Israel (Romans 9:4–5). Nehemiah wanted to populate the holy city with citizens who knew they were Jews and were proud of it.

There are ten different groups listed here, starting with the leaders who returned with Zerubbabel. These twelve men may have represented the twelve tribes of Israel, even though ten of the tribes had been assimilated by the Assyrians when the Northern Kingdom was captured in 722 B.C. It should be noted that the “Nehemiah” mentioned here is not the author of this book, since these men lived nearly a century before. It appears that these were the elders of the people who helped Zerubbabel, the governor, establish the nation.

Next are listed the various families or clans and the number of people in each family who returned to the land. Verses 27–38 list the people according to their villages. It is interesting that the largest group in the entire list came from Senaah (verse 38), a town whose location is apparently still a mystery to this day. It must have been a large community if nearly 4,000 people came from there. The Hebrew word means “hated,” and some students and even theologians think it refers to a category of citizen and not to a place. These may have been the “lower classes” in the Jewish society. Whoever they were, they had worked on the walls (Nehemiah 3:3) and helped to restore the city.

It is worth noting that these returned exiles had maintained their identification with their native towns and villages. They knew where they came from and were not ashamed of it! Many people in our modern mobile population care little about family roots or even civic loyalty. Home is wherever one’s work is, no matter where your original roots were planted. Also, in spite of their local loyalties, these Jews put the good of Jerusalem first (see Psalm 137:1–6). It appears that in true patriotism there is no conflict between loving one’s home city and loving one’s nation, for both are gifts from God.

et longing for home

The temple personnel are listed next: priests, Levites, temple singers, gatekeepers, and the various temple servants. In the original return to the land, it was necessary for Ezra to send for Levites to serve in the restored temple (Ezra 8:15–20). Were the Levites so comfortable in Babylon that they were unwilling to serve in Jerusalem? Otherwise, why did Ezra have to send for them? Something to think about.

The temple servants, the Nethinim, had been organized by David to assist in the temple and may have been either prisoners of war or descendants of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:22–27), who relieved the Levites of heavy routine tasks, like cutting wood and drawing water. “Solomon’s servants” were also foreigners who labored for the king. That these non-Jews were willing to leave the secure life in Babylon for the difficulties of life in Jerusalem may indicate that they had come to trust the God of Israel. On the other hand, perhaps they were compelled to return by their masters.

The singes will most definitely play an important role in the life of the city. There are at least eighteen references to singers in the Book of Nehemiah and eight references to giving thanks to the Lord. There was not much singing during the exile, when the nation was out of fellowship with God (again see Psalm 137); but now they needed the musicians to maintain worship at the temple.

One group of people, including some priests, could not prove their genealogies. They were considered defiled until a priest could consult the Urim and Thummim. For the priests, this would mean being cut off from the temple ministry and the income it provided from the tithes and offerings of the people. But the Law of Moses made it very clear that only those whose family line was clearly in the family of Aaron could minister at the altar. Finally, there was a miscellaneous assembly of over 7,000 servants. Since the total number of the congregation was over 42,000, about one-sixth of the population was in servitude. Jewish masters must have been very kind to their servants for so many of them to want to travel with them to Judea.

To Be Continued

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Adaptation of excerpts from Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Determined, “Be” Commentary Series.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, NKJV © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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About Roland Ledoux

Pastor of Oasis Bible Ministry, an outreach ministry of teaching, encouragement and intercessory prayer from the Holy Bible, the written Word of God and author of the ministry website, For The Love of God. He lives in Delta, Colorado with his beautiful wife of 50+ years and a beautiful yellow lab whom they affectionately call Bella.
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