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Nehemiah: Chapters 7-13
The greater part of this chapter, from verse 6 to the end, consists of the register of the genealogy, which has already been considered in our study of the book of Ezra (chap. 2), and which we need not again go over here.
This might seem to leave very little that is new for our present concern; but a careful examination of the five opening verses will reveal much on which we may meditate with profit, as being of marked importance at the present serious moment of our history as saints and servants of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. The more Nehemiah’s record is examined, the more it will be seen that every sentence is pregnant with instruction for these closing days of the dispensation of grace. “Written aforetime,” they were, nevertheless, “written for our learning;” and we shall be blessed indeed if we carefully appropriate and earnestly practice the lessons they convey to us.
“Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed, that I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem; for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many” (vers. 1, 2). There are several matters of moment to occupy us in these two verses. Tfre wall, we have seen, speaks of separation-both from the world and its evil and to the Lord the God of Israel. The gates speak, not of unscriptural exclusion that has no heart for those who are of the one family, but of fellowship, admitting to the privileges to be enjoyed within the walls all who have divine title to enter, and barring out all others. And this suggests the importance of Nehemiah’s appointment of porters, or gate-keepers. He was not indifferent as to who came or went. The business of the porters was to act as watchmen of the gates, permitting only such to come inside as could give evidence of their right so to do.
In applying this to the ordering of the assembly, it is easy to see what an important place the porter occupies. Suppose a company of believers, gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in separation from worldly and ecclesiastical evil: how long will its purity and holy character be maintained if people are allowed to come and go as they will, without true, godly care as to their new birth, their behavior, the doctrines that they bring, or the associations they go on with? Hence the need of the sometimes unpleasant service of the porter.
I do not mean that certain ones should be appointed as inquisitors of those applying for fellowship; rather, that all should be duly exercised before God as to who are received to the holy and exalted privileges of Christian fellowship. In the breaking and eating of the loaf, and the drinking of the cup, we not only set forth the Lord’s death, and fellowship with Him who thus gave Himself for us, but we thereby manifest our communion or fellowship with those participating with us in this solemn observance. And how can there be fellowship if there be not confidence and unity? Therefore the folly of declaring that “We examine no one: each must judge himself: none are accountable to others.”
Such principles are subversive of Christian communion. We are called upon to discern those who, with us, partake at the table of the Lord. “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one” we are commanded “not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11). But must we not then examine those called brothers if we are to be obedient to this scripture? And again, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine” (i.e., the doctrine of Christ), we are told to “receive him not into your house, nor greet him, for he that greeteth him is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jno. 10, 11, N. T.). But if the gates be left wide open, and the porter asleep, or off duty, who shall hinder persons-either themselves bringing the evil teaching, or contaminated by known association with it-forcing their way in, to the defilement of the whole company? Hence the need of godly care in receiving to Christian fellowship.
It is sometimes said, “We receive all who are Christ’s.” But do any really mean this? Who dares pronounce as to those who are Christ’s? “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). We make a great mistake when we attempt to give oracular decisions as to so momentous a matter. We are only called upon to examine the profession, the life, the doctrine, and, as a matter of course, the associations of the applicant for fellowship. Even then, when all due care has been exercised, a self-deceived one or a deceiver, may be unwittingly permitted to creep in (Jude 1:4), to cause serious trouble later; but if there were no porter-service at all, who can conceive the state of things that would soon exist! The world itself is not so foolish as to leave its ports of entry unguarded. It is certainly far easier to allow any who desire to come in unchallenged; but it is neither for their blessing nor the peace of the assembly, not to speak of the glory of the Lord. So it would have been easier in Nehemiah’s day to have opened the gates at dawn and left them open till nightfall, with no watchful porter to question persons de- siring to enter; hut in that case, how much of the work we have been considering would have gone for nothing!
The porter at the gate was therefore a person of great importance in Jerusalem, and only discreet and cautious men should have performed this service. And what answers to this in the Christian assembly is the exercise of godly, thoughtful care as to who are permitted to share in the holy things committed to the people of God. Fellowship is worth too much to be frittered away by mere sentimentality. It has been said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”-and we might say it of Christian fellowship also, which is soon dissipated if the porter’s service is overlooked.
The second order established by Nehemiah was that of the singers. And they too may give occasion for fruitful meditation. The spirit of praise is the spirit of power. A rejoicing assembly will be one where God is free to work, and will become a channel of blessing to those without. In Israel the singers were a distinct company, separated from the body of the people. But the New Testament contemplates no such incongruity as a choir-surpliced or otherwise-to lead the praises of the assembly. The Lord Jesus Himself is the Leader, and all believers are exhorted to “sing with the spirit and with the understanding also.” “Speaking to your- selves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart unto the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19, Ephesians 5:20). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another; in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). In these verses we have clearly set forth the singers, the song, and the accompaniment. All believers are the choristers. The accompaniment is not the grand pipe organ or the delightsome-orchestra, but something sweeter far in the ears of God-the melody that rises from a heart filled with His grace.
We may distinguish psalms from hymns. The former would more properly be expressions of praise. To praise is to psalm. (See Psalms 105:2, margin). A hymn is rather an ascription of the perfections of Deity; it expresses the highest point of worship, magnifying God, not because of His works in our behalf, but of His matchless perfections. A spiritual song would be different from either of these. It might be a recital of God’s12 ways or of the believer’s experience.
When gathered in assembly we come together as singers. There the Lord takes His place in the midst to lead our worship and praise, as it is written, “In the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto Thffe” (Hebrews 2:12). Thus, as occupied with Him, His death and the fruit resulting therefrom, praise well becomes each saint. This is not to legislate against every other spiritual exercise, but it is surely what is characteristic.
And now we turn to consider the third class mentioned in the first verse. These are the Levites, or ministering servants of God. Of old one tribe alone were Levites. But in this dispensation, just as all gathered saints have porter-responsibility upon them, and all are to be singers, so all are servants. “To every man his work” is the Lord’s word for each. But Levite-service may also speak of public ministry, and this of course is not general, but a special responsibility placed upon those who have been gifted accordingly-yea, who are themselves gifts given to the assembly for the edification of the body of Christ.
Such service must be exercised in direct responsibility to the Lord. The Church does not appoint ministers of the Word. Christ as Head alone appoints, and by the Spirit qualifies. The Church tests those who come as ministers by the message they bring, comparing it with the word of God. If it be according to what is there revealed it must be accepted. If contrary to the teaching of Scripture, both teacher and doctrine are to be refused.
There is room in every scripturally-gathered company of saints for all divinely-given ministry. The true Levite will find a welcome there. But, after all is said and done, there is no infallible court on earth that can decide whether or no a man is a gift to the assembly. The only rule is that of Proverbs 18:16: “A man’s gift mak-eth room for him.” Hence, if one fancies he is called to expound the Word, and his ministry is not appreciated, he need not abuse the saints, but should rather consider that among them at least his gift has not made room. He may be a minister to others, but not to them. If assured of his divine call, let him patiently go elsewhere; but let him also carefully consider whether he may not be boasting himself of a false gift, and so cause shame at last, because of the emptiness of his ministry (Proverbs 25:14). To serve as a Levite in this special sense, one must be in living touch with God, speaking from a full heart of what has stirred his own soul; otherwise his ministry will be barren and profitless. We shall see the Levites doing their God-appointed service in the interesting scenes of the next chapter.
In the second verse now before us we read of two men placed over Jerusalem. We may be as- sured it was not nepotism that led Nehemiah to appoint his own brother Hanani as one of these. To have done this because of relationship would have been most offensive. On the other hand relationship must not hinder when spiritual qualification is evident. Of Hananiah, his coadjutor in this service, it is said that “he was a faithful man and one that feared God above many.” Blessed words of commendation are these! Would that they might be rightfully applied to many more of us! What honor could be greater than to be designated faithful by the Lord Himself on His judgment-seat.
These last-mentioned men had authority over the porters, and to them Nehemiah commands: “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them, and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one to his watch, and every one over against his house” (ver. 3).
Two things concern us here. First:-Entrance into the city was to be in broad day-light. People were not to be permitted to slip in, in the dark. This may have a voice for us. Let all assembly matters especially as concerning reception and excision be open and above-board: nothing under-handed or hidden should be tolerated. Second:-Watchfulness was still required of all. It was not enough to have official porters. All were to be watchmen for the good of all. “What I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch!” As long as we have anything to maintain for God down here we need to be on the watch-never off guard for a moment, lest our wily foe introduce what will cause lasting sorrow and disaster.
The city was large and great, we are told-that is, the space enclosed by the walls; but the people were few, and the houses were not builded. The wall enclosed all that had originally been marked off as the city of God. But the remnant were feeble, and care would be needed to maintain the place taken. In view of giving each one his proper portion Nehemiah now investigates the registry made when the first company came up. It was no new work he was engaged in. He is but carrying on what had been commenced some years before. The original record is therefore examined, and all ratified by the governor. As we have already gone over this register we need only refer the reader to the remarks made in the notes on the 2nd chapter of Ezra.
Its appearance here shows how completely Nehemiah had identified himself with the work which the Spirit of God had wrought through Zerubbabel and Joshua. He was one with them, and together they sought the glory of the God of Israel. Let this have a voice for all who have ears to hear.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Nehemiah 7". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany