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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 11

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Several scholars link this chapter with Nehemiah 7, viewing the intervening three chapters as a unit; and it is true that Nehemiah 7:4 speaks of the fact that Jerusalem was a large area compared with the few people that lived in it. However, the unity of the Book of Nehemiah is apparent in the fact that every word of it pertains to the safety of the city of Jerusalem. The reading of the Mosaic law (Nehemiah 7), the extended confession and prayers of the people (Nehemiah 9), and the covenant of the people determined to obey God, ratified by an oath and a curse, and sealed by the leaders of the whole community (Nehemiah 10) - all of that was as intimately connected with the safety of Jerusalem as was the building of the wall itself, in fact, even more so.

Nehemiah was getting ready to dedicate the wall; and, in all probability, he had invited Ezra to be present for that occasion. Both Nehemiah and Ezra, were fully aware that all of Israel’s disastrous sorrows and defeats had come about solely because of their shameful neglect of the very things covered in these three chapters (Nehemiah 8-10). Those great leaders, seeing that the physical wall was built, sponsored and ordered the rebuilding of Israel’s spiritual wall as well. That was done in these intervening three chapters; and the dedication was very properly delayed until that was done. The Book of Nehemiah is a unity, logically and skillfully put together.

But what about differences in style, language, vocabulary, and other oddities in those intervening chapters? The widespread disagreement of scholars and their conflicting views regarding what they are pleased to call “the sources” of these chapters exhibit, “A diversity that may seem bewildering and lead to skepticism with regard to a critical approach itself.”(F1) Indeed, indeed! The simple truth is that by far the most rational and satisfactory understanding of the Book of Nehemiah is that of accepting it, first and last, and everything in between, as the production of Nehemiah.

That he included lists and events, words and sayings, that may have been originally derived from other sources than his own pen is obviously true; but so what? Is it not true with all authors? And, as we have often stressed, twentieth century scholars are simply too late, by entire millenniums of time, to be entrusted with their presumed prerogative of revising the Bible.

This eleventh chapter fits in perfectly with what precedes it: (1) the physical wall was built; (2) the spiritual basis of Israel’s safety was strengthened; and (3) now the population of Jerusalem needed to be increased as an additional element of their safety. Some of the critics would have proceeded differently; but this is the way Nehemiah did it.

“The artificial enlargement of capital cities by transferring inhabitants into them was common in ancient times. Tradition ascribed the greatness of Rome, in part, to this plan; and in 500 B.C., Syracuse became a great city in this way.”(F2) Rawlinson cited, “Megalopolis, Tigranocerta and Athens,”(F3) as other cities made great by this procedure. In this chapter, Nehemiah proceeded to build up the strength of Jerusalem in the same manner.

Verses 1-2


“And the princes of the people dwelt in Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one in ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts in the other cities. And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell in Jerusalem,”

“The circuit of the wall of Jerusalem at this time was about four miles,”(F4) and there were simply not enough people living in the city to defend a wall of that length. The unwillingness of the people to live inside an unwalled city had brought about this situation; but now that the wall was built, some volunteered to live there. That it was still considered dangerous, however, was indicated by the “blessing” of those who volunteered. Also, it could have been no secret, that their primary duty would be to defend the walls against any attack.

“Jerusalem the holy city” Jerusalem was called the holy city because the temple was located therein.

“The rest of the people cast lots” “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). “In the course of Jewish history, they east lots in the selection of persons (Joshua 7:16-18), for the distribution of lands (Numbers 26:25-26), and for determining the order in which persons should execute an office (1 Chronicles 24:5)”;(F5) and, in the previous chapter of Nehemiah, it is written that they cast lots to decide who would bring the wood for the temple, and when they would do so. And even in the NT, they cast lots to determine who would be numbered among the twelve apostles to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:26).

Verses 3-6


“Now these are the chiefs of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinim, and the children of Solomon’s servants. And in Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin. Of the children of Judah, Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the children of Perez: and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Colhozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of Shilonite. All the sons of Perez that dwelt in Jerusalem were four hundred threescore and eight valiant men.”

The emphasis among the Jews continued to be upon genealogy. In this enumeration of the children of Judah, they were all traced back to Perez, one of the twin sons of Judah by his daughter-in-law Tamar. All of those mentioned in Nehemiah 11:3-9, according to Cundall, “Were the rulers of the people (the chiefs) already living in Jerusalem.”(F6) Significantly, the descendants of Judah and of Benjamin are named separately.

Verses 7-9


“And these are the sons of Benjamin: Salu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah. And after him Gabbai, Sallai, nine hundred twenty and eight. And Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer; and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second over the city.”

This concludes the list of the princes (chiefs) who were already living in Jerusalem. There were 1,396 of these.

Verses 10-14


“Of the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin, Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the ruler of the house of God, and their brethren that did the work of the house, eight hundred twenty and two; and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelatiah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchjah, and his brethren, chiefs of fathers’ houses, two hundred forty and two; and Amashsai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, and their brethren, mighty men of valor, a hundred twenty and eight. And their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of Heggedolim.”

This list of the priests numbered 1,192.

Verses 15-18


“And of the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; And Shabbethiah and Jozabad, of the chiefs of the Levites, who had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God; and Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the chief to begin the thanksgiving in prayer, and Bakbukiah the second among his brethren; and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. And all the Levites in the holy city were two hundred fourscore and four.”

Verses 19-21


“Moreover the porters, Akkub, Talmon, and their brethren, that kept watch at the gates were a hundred seventy and two. And the residue of Israel, of the priests, the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance. But the Nethinim dwelt in Ophel: and Ziha and Gishpa were over the Nethinim.”

The total number of the men living in the holy city is thus numbered at 3,044, not including women and children, nor the Nethinim. Whitcomb also gave this number as 3,044.(F7) Ophel was indeed part of the holy city, having a wall of its own; and it was sometimes counted in, sometimes counted out of the city, as here. “These were augmented by a 10% levy drawn from the surrounding areas, and an unspecified number of volunteers (Nehemiah 11:2).”(F8)

Scholars disagree on the exact meaning of Nehemiah 11:1. Some take it, as did Whitcomb, to mean that the population was readjusted, so that ten percent of the returnees lived in the city, and ninety percent in the Outlying areas. If so interpreted, it would mean that, “The population of Judea had increased considerably during the previous century; because the 50,000 who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon included women and children.”(F9) The approximately 3,000 men in Jerusalem before this adjustment took place would mean that there were 30,000 Jewish men then living in Palestine, besides women and children. At a ratio of four to one, this would make the number of Israelites then in Judea about 120,000. Keil, however, wrote that, “The passage can have no other meaning, but that the population of Jerusalem was increased by a 10% fraction of the population living outside the city.”(F10) He admitted, however, that, “The statement, taken by itself, is very brief, and its connection with Nehemiah 7:5 not very evident.”(F11)

Verses 22-24


“The overseer also of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi, the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mica, of the sons of Asaph, the singers, over the business of the house of God. For there was a commandment from the king concerning them, and a settled provision for the singers, as every day required. And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the children of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king’s hand in all matters concerning the people.”

Artaxerxes was indeed a friend of Israel; and here we find that he had allotted a regular payment for the Levites and singers. He had already exempted them from all tolls, tribute, custom and taxes of every kind (Ezra 7:24); and his cooperation with both Ezra and Nehemiah in all of the things done for the Chosen People is the sine qua non of everything in both of these Biblical books. “Now he had even gone further and assigned an allotment from the royal revenue for the support of the persons mentioned here.”(F12) It is also of interest that the king showed in this action a definite preference for the Levites, as compared with the priests. Artaxerxes was probably aware of the general corruption of the priesthood, a corruption that merited and received a curse from Almighty God Himself (Malachi 2:2) because of their detestable immorality. The king must have been aware that, if any prayers were to be offered for, “the king and his sons” (Ezra 6:10), the Levites, not the priests, would be the ones who did it.

Verses 25-36


“And as for the villages, with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt in Kireath-arba and the towns thereof, and in Dihon and the towns thereof, and in Jekabzeel and the villages thereof, and in Jeshua, Moladah, and Beth-pelet, and in Hazar-shual and in Beer-sheba and the towns thereof, and in Ziklag and in Meconah and in the towns thereof, and in En-rimmon, and in Zorah, and in Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and the fields thereof, Azekah and the towns thereof. So they encamped from Beer-sheba unto the valley of Hinnom. The children of Benjamin also dwelt from Geba onward, at Michmash and Aija, and at Beth-el and the towns thereof, at Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, Hazer, Ramah, Gittaim, Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen. And of the Levites, certain courses in Judah were joined to Bethlehem.”

There is hardly a place-name in this list that is not loaded with many associations concerning events and persons mentioned in the long history of Israel; and it is impossible to note all of such connections here. Kiriath-arba, for example is Hebron; but during the long absence of Israel, it had again become known by its ancient name. As Hebron, it was one of the cities of Refuge; Ziklag is the city that the king of Gath gave to David; Anathoth was the home of Jeremiah; Nob is where Saul murdered the priests; Adullam was noted for a nearby cave where David was a fugitive from Saul; Lachish, the second largest city of Judea was taken by Sennacherib; the valley of Ono was the place to which Sanballat and Tobiah sought to lure Nehemiah to his death; Beer-sheba, the southernmost place in ancient Israel was frequently mentioned; Ramah featured prominently in the history of Ahab; “Lod, now Ludd, is the Lydda of Acts of Apostles; it was on the eastern edge of the Shephelah, about nine miles southeast of Joppa.”(F13) Bethel, another famous town, was where Jeroboam I installed one of his golden calves. “It is strange that Gibeon, Mizpah and Jericho are not mentioned, although they are listed in Nehemiah 3.”(F14) Perhaps this should alert us to the truth that this record is abbreviated.

This brings us near to the dedication of the wall, related in the next chapter; but Nehemiah was by no means finished with providing security and safety for Jerusalem. There yet remained the treacherous infiltration of the holy city itself by the godless Tobiah, aided and abetted by the High Priest himself; and that would be the subject of the final chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/nehemiah-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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