Study Notes

Nehemiah 11:1-12:47


In Nehemiah 9 and 10, we saw that the people of Israel recognized their sin, repented of it, and entered into an agreement to walk rightly before the Lord from then on. Now, as we pick up in chapter 11, Nehemiah is documenting some details regarding population dispersion.

11:1-2 Jerusalem's Population Problem

As you recall from chapter seven, Nehemiah had previously made the comment that Jerusalem...

Neh. 7:4 ...was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built.

The population problem is still prominent at this point in the book. Let me explain why.

In an agrigarian society, you grow your own food to sustain yourself, and to sell or trade for other necessities. But when living in a city, you make your living by offering support systems to other city dwellers, and purchasing food from the agrigarian bunch. The city has to be populated enough to require your service and to generate the income necessary to buy the food. The catch-22 of city populations is that if no one is there, no one moves there. If no one moves there, no one is there.

There were also issues related to security. Walls or no walls, a large city with a small population is not easily defended, and the few living there would feel like sitting ducks.

So, in order to populate the city, lots were cast, choosing one out of every ten Israelite families to live in the city. Additionally, some others volunteered to live there, for which they were thanked by the people.

The Holy City

Notice that in verse one, Jerusalem is called "the holy city." This title shows that it has been specifically set apart for God's use. It is sacred, sanctified, and separate from all other cities. The only other city that receives this name in the Bible is the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of new heaven to the new earth after the original heaven and earth pass away (Rev. 21:1-2).

11:3 Their Own Property In Their Cities

Throughout the cities of Judah, the people were living in their own properties. If you are familiar with the Israelites' entry into the land of Canaan, you remember that God had given each tribe a portion of the Promised Land as an inheritance. Those sections of land were then divided by clans and families, according to their size (Num. 26:55-56).

Because they had kept such accurate genealogical records, they knew which section of land belonged to each family.

(11:4-19) Those Who Lived In Jerusalem

From here through verse 19, there is a list of those who lived in Jerusalem. While we won't be reading these 16 verses aloud, we also don't want to skip over them so fast that we miss the fact that there are several ministry job titles sandwiched in between some of these names.

For example, in verse eleven, Ser-aw-YAW is named as...

Neh. 11:11 ...the leader of the house of God

He was the one overseeing the entire temple operation - all of the ministries that took place. Don't forget that a public building this large had, in addition to the many ministries taking place, would have administrative requirements of scheduling, pay, and organization, plus oversight of physical ministries like janitorial, maintenance, and groundskeeping. This was no small task to keep everything up and running. Trust me, I know!

Verses 12 and 16 show us the next level of oversight: those who performed the work of the temple, and those who were in charge of the outside work.

Verse 17 tells us that Mat-tan-YAW was

Neh. 11:17 ...the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer...

The word "beginning" there means to be the first one, to start it up. A regular part of temple services was the giving of thanks in prayer. Mat-tan-YAW was the guy who started that part of the service.

Finally, in verse 19, we see the gatekeepers. These were not the guys at the gates in the wall around Jerusalem - those are "the gatekeepers of the city" (2Kgs. 7:10). These are "the gatekeepers of the entrance of the tent of meeting" (1Chr. 9:21), the guys who kept watch at the gates at each of the temple entrances (1Chr. 9:17-27), stationed in the thresholds as guards on all four sides.

Now, these weren't simply doormen. They...

1Chr. 9:26-29 ...were in an office of trust, and were over the chambers and over the treasuries in the house of God. And they spent the night around the house of God, because the watch was committed to them; and they {were} in charge of opening {it} morning by morning. Now some of them had charge of the utensils of service, for they counted them when they brought them in and when they took them out. Some of them also were appointed over the furniture and over all the utensils of the sanctuary and over the fine flour and the wine and the oil and the frankincense and the spices.

There are so many things that need to happen in the house of God that most people never think about.

11:20-21 The Temple Servants Living In Ophel

While many of the Israelites were spread all over the place, each in the cities of their inheritance, the temple servants were living in O-fel. Although this sounds like they were also living somewhere else, I should clarify that O-fel is a subdivision of Jerusalem, located in a ridge of hills inside Jerusalem just south of the temple area.

In other words, the temple servants were living their ministry. They were invested in it with their very lives.

Their leaders were Tsee-KHAW and Ghish-PAW. I believe these men's names are very telling of this ministry.

Tsee-KHAW means "parched." And those who desperately thirst after the Lord and serving Him are completely content to give their entire lives for ministry. Jesus asked Peter if he wanted to go away like most of the crowd had done. But Peter said to Jesus,

John 6:68 ..."Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life."

Desperately thirsting after the Lord, earnestly desiring to serve Him in the ministry. To be frank, those who aren't parched don't survive. If a live devoted to serving the Lord isn't in your heart, if you're not called to it, it's completely unbearable. Too many hours, and too much thankless work.

But if it is, then the reward of serving the Lord is unimaginable. And there we have the description in Ghish-PAW. His name means "caress." The closeness of Jesus to those who leave everything else behind to follow Him is the very caress of God. Jesus said,

John 15:15 "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends..."

They are rewarded. God says, "They've taken everything I've given them - their very lives - and giving it all back to Me." Those whose entire lives were dedicated to serving the kingdom of God were blessed in a special way, those who were parched for God experienced the caress of God.

11:22-23 The Overseer of The Levites

Neh. 11:2-232 Now the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Ooz-ZEE the son of Baw-NEE, the son of Khash-ab-YAW, the son of Mat-tan-YAW, the son of Mee-KAW, from the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God. For {there was} a commandment from the king concerning them and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day.

The overseer of the Levites was Ooz-ZEE, one of the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God.

The Sons Of Asaph Were The Singers

Music in worship has been - and continues to be - a controversial subject among many gatherings of believers. Some congregations have completely forsaken it, while other churches are making it the central point of ministry.

It is interesting that music had been a part of mankind since the ninth generation of mankind (Gen. 4:21), but the first song that the Bible mentions being sung as worship to the Lord was not recorded until after the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea (Exod. 15). From the Scriptures, it does not appear that music was nearly as prominent in worship before the days of King David. Being a skillful harp player with a huge heart for God, he began to organize and orchestrate music as part of the ministry services of the temple.

In 1Chronicles, he...

1Chr. 16:4-5 ...appointed some of the Levites {as} ministers before the ark of the LORD, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the LORD God of Israel: Asaph the chief, and second to him Zechariah ... with musical instruments, harps, lyres; also Asaph {played} loud-sounding cymbals

At that point, Asaph and his relatives were appointed by David as the official "givers of thanks" (1Chr. 16:7). The sons of Asaph became the singers and musicians who led the worship of God in the temple services.

I think the key is to understand that worship is not the style of music played in church. It is the act of revering the Lord, which is sometimes led through music and singing. If we keep that in mind, we will neither be guilty of forsaking it entirely, nor will we end up worshipping worship.

11:24 The King's Representative

Neh. 11:24 And Peth-akh-YAW the son of Mesh-ay-zab-ALE, of the sons of ZEH-rakh the son of Judah, was the king's representative in all matters concerning the people.

Even as life in Jerusalem was becoming somewhat normal, the fact that they were still under the dominion of Persia's King Artaxerxes in Babylon. But this mediator must have inspired great hope. For Peth-akh-YAW means, "Freed by Yahweh," Mesh-ay-zab-ALE means "God delivers," and ZEH-rakh means, "Rising." In every matter between the people and the king, they were reminded that God was on their side, a God Who arises to bring deliverance and freedom.

(11:25-12:26) More Lists

The rest of the chapter lists the farming villages in which the Israelites lived, while chapter 12 begins with a lists of the priests who came up with Zerubbabel. Finally, verses 10 through 26 detail the priests during the days of Yo-yaw-KEEM.

12:27-30 The Dedication Of The Wall

Now Nehemiah tells us about the huge production put together to dedicate the wall now that it is completed. First, they got the maximum numbers of participants by requesting that all of the Levites would attend, so that they would sing and play. They came from every direction, including Ghil-GAWL, GHEH-bah, and Az-MAW-veth.

Secondly, everything and everyone was ceremonially purified for the event.

12:31-43 The Two Choirs

Nehemiah orchestrated a big procession with two huge groups of singers and instruments on top of the wall, one walking along each side, and meeting together at the end of the city where the temple stood. This was a very large production with a whole lot of volume.

12:44-47 The Singers Receive Portions

On the same day as the dedication of the wall, men were appointed to collect the tithes and portions required by the Law of God. These would support those who were working full-time serving the Lord in the temple.

There are people who have a problem with church staff members being paid. "It should be all volunteer work. It's not right," they say. Well, everyone's entitled to their opinion, but God's opinion is the only one that matters in regards to the way a ministry operates. And His Word says,

Matt. 10:10 ...the worker is worthy of his support.

1Cor. 9:7 Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?

1Cor. 9:11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?

1Cor. 9:13-14 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the {food} of the temple, {and} those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

It is biblical, from both a New Testament and Old Testament perspective, to pay those who have given their entire lives to serve God.

Go to next study

Go to previous study