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The Administration of the City
Nehemiah 11 . The Distribution of the People.
Nehemiah 12 . The Dedication of the Walls.
Nehemiah 13 . The Discipline of the City.
THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE PEOPLE
The subject of Chapter 11 is the distribution of the people in the city and the province. As a result of this distribution Jerusalem is peopled by a certain number of the children of Judah (4-6), and of Benjamin (7-9); a considerable number of priests (10-14); some Levites (15-18); and the porters (19). Then in the province we find the residue of Israel, composed of priests, Levites and Nethinims (20, 21); the children of Judah (25-30); and Benjamin (31-35).
The distribution of the people throughout the Land is important when viewed in connection with the walls and the gates, which form the great subject of the Book of Nehemiah. For this distribution clearly shows that the walls were not erected to confine the people of God on the one hand, or to exclude them on the other. There were children of Judah and Benjamin, priests and Levites dwelling without the walls as well as within, and rightly so according to the ordering of God. We must remember that it was a nation that went into captivity, and not only the citizens of Jerusalem, and it was a remnant of this nation that returned.
To understand the necessity for the walls and gates we must bear in mind that, in the first instance, God delivered a remnant of His people from captivity and brought them back to the Land, under Zerubbabel, in order to build the house of the Lord ( Ezr_1:2 ; Ezr_1:3 ). But the house being built, it became a necessity to build the walls and set up the gates to maintain the sanctity of the house of the Lord.
The walls and gates were not erected in order that a few within the walls might claim exclusive right to the house of the Lord, or to exclude those without the walls having access to the house. Had those within put forward any such claim it would not only have been the height of presumption, but would also have been the gravest possible abuse of the walls and gates. It would have been using the walls and gates for the exaltation of themselves, the exclusion of many of the Lord's people from their privileges, and the denial of the rights of the Lord.*
*In the days of Ezekiel the inhabitants of Jerusalem actually claimed this ultra-exclusive position. They said to "all the house of Israel " "get you far from the Lord: unto us is this land given in possession" ( Eze_11:14 ; Eze_11:15 ). Thus it was claimed that those alone within the city possessed the privileges of God's people.
The twofold way in which Jehovah rebukes their assumption - their exclusive and self-satisfied claim - is significant. First the immediate result of this exclusive claim on the part of Jerusalem was that "the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city" (23). They lost that which they exclusively claimed, for God will not connect His glory with the spiritual pride and assumption of men Second, as to "all the house of Israel" - the excluded - the Lord says "Yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come" (16). This latter was but a provisional exercise of mercy and compassion (yet none the less real): for God's purpose is to have all His people "in the land of Israel" (17); separate from evil (18); united in heart (19); obedient to the word and in enjoyment of relationship with God (20). Ultimately as we know this purpose will be brought to pass.
So that neither could the inhabitants of Jerusalem lay exclusive claim to the privileges of the presence of the Lord (in fact the Presence departs from them), nor could the people of Jehovah be deprived of that Presence elsewhere when once that first glory had departed from Jerusalem.
Let us then clearly recognise that the people were brought back to the Land to build the house and that the walls became necessary, when the house was built, in order to maintain its sanctity. Without the walls the house could not be maintained in the holiness that becometh God's house for ever. Without the house the walls would only have enclosed a select company seeking their own exaltation by the exclusion of others. Rightly used the walls maintain the holiness of God's house and thus secure the privileges of God's house for all the people of God. If abused they simply become the badge of a party, and the security of a sect.
Thus the right apprehension of this portion of the Book of Nehemiah is of the deepest importance to those, who, in our day, have been delivered from men's systems, in order to seek, once again, to maintain the principles of God's house. Taking heed to the lessons of the story of this remnant, such would be saved from many pitfalls into which it is very easy to slip. We should indeed realize that without separation from evil it is impossible to maintain the holiness of God's house, but we should also realize the grave danger that exists of abusing the undoubted truth of separation in order to form a select company which excludes many of the people of God, denies the Lord His rights, and in the end loses the very truth of the house of God which a true separation from evil would maintain.
Such is the great lesson we can learn from the distribution of the people. The method of the distribution has also a voice for us, reminding us that if we seek to walk in the light of the house of God we must be prepared, like the remnant in Nehemiah's day, for circumstances of great weakness. The distribution by lot is a witness to this weakness. That such a method was necessary made manifest how small was the number that had returned to God's Land. Already we have learned that "the city was large and great and the people were few therein" (7: 4). And yet, if their numbers were small their zeal for the house of God was great. Thus it came to pass, that those outside the city - "the rest of the people" - in their desire to support the house and the city, resort to casting lots, and in self-denial give up every tenth man to live within the walls; and further express their good will by blessing those "that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem."
How different will it be in the coming day of Jerusalem's glory. Then indeed the city will still be "large and great," but no longer will the people be few. In that day the Land will be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants; and of the city, they will say, "The place is too strait for me that I may dwell" ( Isa_49:14-21 ). This indeed reminds us (to borrow the thought of another), that reformation, and restoration, and revivals, however bright and blessed, fall far short of the glory that is to come. There had been reformation in the days of the kings; there had been restoration in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and these restored saints had enjoyed their revivals, but whether reformation, restoration or revival it was ever in circumstances of outward weakness. Nor is it otherwise to-day. Christendom has also had its reformation; we too have witnessed restoration and revival, but ever in circumstances of weakness, for however wide God's ground may be, it will ever be too narrow for religious flesh; and though the house of God embraces all His people it will ever be but a "few" who will be prepared to walk according to its principles and thus enjoy its privileges.
Well for us if we recognise and accept the circumstances of outward weakness, for then we shall not be diverted from the path of separation because those who take the path are few in number. We shall then walk in the light of the glory that is coming, knowing that if we maintain the truth, and walk in the light of the house of God we are maintaining that which will come into full display in the new heavens and the new earth. There indeed we shall find the tabernacle of God in the beauty of holiness, but the weakness will have passed for ever. The weakness will pass but the house will remain. Does it not encourage and hearten us to remember that what we maintain in weakness will be displayed in glory?
Furthermore may we not say that even the walls and the gates are not permanent? They will indeed be ever necessary while the house of God is in an evil world. But the house will remain when the walls are no longer needed.
It is true the heavenly city has its jasper walls and gates of pearl, for though the city presents the Church of God all glorious, yet it presents the Church in relation to a world in which evil will still exist, even if restrained. But in vision John carries us beyond the millennial day into that fair scene, where all former things are passed away, he sees descending the holy city new Jerusalem. But what he actually sees in the new earth is, not a city, but the dwelling place of God. "Behold," said a great voice out of heaven, "the tabernacle of God is with men." The tabernacle of God is there but the city walls and gates are for ever gone. No walls will be needed where there is no evil to exclude. There will be no more separation for there will be no more sea.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 11". "Smith's Writings". https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent