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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 11

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verses 1-2

The Repopulating Of Jerusalem And Establishment Of The Holy City (Nehemiah 11:1-20 ).

The establishing of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’, a city cleansed of all defilement, was now seen as the first priority in order to fulfil the promises of the prophets (Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24). It was to be a purified city. And the walls of Jerusalem having been repaired and rebuilt it was seen as necessary for it to be fully inhabited by God’s people so that the city could be properly defended. This was essential, for if it was left as a virtual ‘ghost town’ it would undoubtedly attract unwelcome attention, especially as there were valuable things stored in the Temple which had to be considered, which would always be a temptation to outsiders. Furthermore there was also the danger that those who had previously sought to join with the worship in Jerusalem, but who were involved in idolatrous practises (Ezra 4:2-3; Nehemiah 13:4-9), would take the opportunity to infiltrate Jerusalem. Indeed whilst Jerusalem remained virtually uninhabited it spelt instability for the whole nation, and could well have proved an overwhelming burden to the new nation who would feel responsibility for it without being in a position to properly defend it. Nehemiah’s solution, in cooperation with the leadership, was that one tenth of all true Israelites should move from their cities and dwell in Jerusalem, with the prospective inhabitants mainly being chosen by lot.

Here we call to mind Nehemiah’s description of the situation in Nehemiah 7:4, ‘now the city was wide and large, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not built.’ There was thus nothing cheering about the prospect of moving into the city. Large parts of it were still in ruins, requiring work similar to that on the walls. And for those who moved in facilities would be few, apart from in those sections which had already been settled (e.g. by the Nephinim in the Ophel - Nehemiah 3:26). Chapter 3 does, of course, make clear that Jerusalem did have a number of inhabitants (Nehemiah 3:20; Nehemiah 3:23; Nehemiah 3:26; Nehemiah 3:28). But they were apparently relatively few, and confined to one part of the city. There were simply not sufficient men available to be able to defend the city.

And defence of the city was a primary purpose of the move. This is brought out by the fact that the description that follows contains hints of military overtones. It speaks of ‘men of valour’ (verses Nehemiah 8:14); ‘overseer/officer’ (Nehemiah 11:9; Nehemiah 11:14); ‘heads of families (or units)’ (Nehemiah 11:13); and divisions into tribes as protectors of the sanctuary (as in Numbers 1-2). This confirms that one purpose of the resettlement of Jerusalem very much had defence in mind. It was seen as necessary in order to ensure the protection of ‘the holy city’ (Nehemiah 11:1; Nehemiah 11:18; compare Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24), the city which was to be the foundation stone of the new Israel in its devotion to YHWH.

But there was another purpose, specifically brought out in Nehemiah 11:1. There Nehemiah speaks of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’, something emphasised again in Nehemiah 11:18. Now the term ‘holy city’ had a prophetic background. It depicted the city as purified and made holy, with every vestige of uncleanness removed (Isaiah 52:1). It had in mind the future fulfilment of the purposes of God in bringing about everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24). It depicted Jerusalem as the holy and pure city of God. And this was Israel’s vision at this time. Once Jerusalem was established as a purified city, free from all idolatry, surely God would begin to act on their behalf. It would be seen as a seal on the binding agreement that they had made with God.

Thus the re-establishment of a populated and religiously pure Jerusalem was not just seen as a political necessity, it could also be seen as being the first stage in bringing about the eschatological purposes of God. It had the ring about it of Haggai 2:21-22. God was about to work!

Indeed we could say that in this chapter we have a wonderful picture of how God would work in later times in establishing a people for Himself, for He has appointed another ‘holy city’, a heavenly city, a new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 12:22), which, as Revelation 21:0 makes clear, consists of all the people of God. It is founded on the twelve Apostles. It is protected by the people of God (the twelve tribes of ‘Israel’) who are its gates. That city too started off unpopulated. But God has populated it by choosing out a remnant for Himself, and everyone of them is named before Him, as in this chapter, for each is important to Him. It includes priests (intercessors), Levites (teachers), Singers and Musicians who lead the worship, Gate-keepers who watch for those who enter, Nethinim (humble servants), and ordinary men and women to defend the city, but all of them are chosen by God (Ephesians 1:4). So does history repeat itself, for God is the God of history.

Those Who Took Up Residence In The City.

We are now provided with a list of the names of those who repopulated the holy city. These joined with those who were already there (some of whose names are given in 1 Chronicles 9:0). Each of them was important to God, for they were chosen as His genuine people and in order that they might re-establish ‘the holy city’.

Nehemiah 11:1

‘And the princes of the people dwelt (settled) in Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts in the (other) cities.’

This verse connects back to Nehemiah 7:73, taking up where that left off. There we found that after the return the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and people of Israel ‘dwelt in their cities’. This indicates that they dwelt in many cities, but that would naturally include Jerusalem as Jerusalem would for some good number have been ‘their city.’ Now, however, there was to be a change in that situation. There was to be a wholesale movement into Jerusalem of both the princes of the people, and one tenth of the people who had previously dwelt elsewhere.

‘The princes of the people dwelt in Jerusalem’ does not mean that they were already doing so. Note how ‘dwelling in Jerusalem’ is mentioned twice in Nehemiah 11:1, and then in Nehemiah 11:2 and in Nehemiah 11:3, in the other cases clearly referring to ‘taking up dwelling’. Thus the princes are being seen as the first to live up to their responsibility by taking up dwelling in the city. This was fitting as it had now become the leading city of the district, and was the city of a new beginning in the purposes of God. Their example was then followed by a tenth of the inhabitants of Judah, many of them chosen by lot, who followed their example. The remaining nine tenths of the population remained in their towns and cities.

Note the stress on Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’. The idea was that it was now to be seen as central to the purposes of God and therefore as set apart to Him And it was to be kept free from idolatry (something that the new Israel had already made great sacrifices to ensure, e.g. Ezra 4:3 and its consequences). It was very much describing what they saw as a new beginning, for in the light of the uses of the term elsewhere the idea was that it was to be seen as initiating a new fulfilment of the final purposes of God, with the city being holy because it had been purged of all uncleanness (compare Isaiah 52:1). Not only the Temple was now to be seen as holy, but the whole city as containing the Temple, and as the centre of the new community of God’s people. And this was because, as their binding agreement had made clear, it was ‘stayed upon the God of Israel’. We can compare the use of the term in Isaiah 48:2 where men used the title because they claimed, hypocritically, that they stayed themselves upon the God of Israel.

The appellation ‘the holy city’ is found in Nehemiah 11:1; Nehemiah 11:18; Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 52:1; Daniel 9:24. In Isaiah 52:1 Jerusalem was spoken of as ‘the holy city’ in the terms of it being the city purified by God in the apocalyptic future, the city in which there would be no ‘uncleanness’. In Daniel 9:24 it was the city in which all transgression was to be dealt with and the final purposes of God brought to fulfilment. It symbolised therefore the eschatological purification and triumph. The people had high hopes for the new Jerusalem. This makes even more poignant the fact that later they would allow it to be used for Sabbath breaking (Nehemiah 13:15-22). It was the recognition of this fact that made Nehemiah so zealous to purify Jerusalem when it became tainted (chapter 13).

‘The rest of the people also cast lots.’ The casting of lots had been seen as a method of obtaining God’s will at least since the introduction of the Urim and Thummim. As we saw in Nehemiah 10:34 it was used to determine when the providers of wood for the altar would fulfil their duties. It was a Scriptural method at a time when God was seen as personally acting on behalf of, and with, His people. Consider, for example, Numbers 26:55; Joshua 7:14; Joshua 7:16-18; Joshua 14:2; Joshua 18:6; 1Sa 10:20-21 ; 1 Samuel 14:41-42, and the principle enunciated in Proverbs 16:33.

Nehemiah 11:2

‘And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell in Jerusalem.’

Some of the people, like the princes, had voluntarily offered themselves for the purpose of populating Jerusalem, in spite of the hardships involved, and the people ‘blessed them’. Every volunteer meant one less conscripted person, which was one reason why they blessed them. But to volunteer was also probably seen as a sign of special dedication to God. It was no soft option. It meant an upheaval in their lives and a new beginning. But they had a desire to be the founders of the new Jerusalem, with all its glowing promise. Indeed, so important was this move seen to be that, as with the building of the wall (chapter 3), we are now given a roll-call of those involved. Their names would pass down through the generations. In the same way we too will be called ‘blessed’ if our names are written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life, as potential dwellers in the New Jerusalem, for that city really will be holy.

Verses 1-36

The Establishment Of Jerusalem As The Holy City, Populated By True Israelites; Its Worship Conducted By Those Specifically and Provably Appointed By God; Accepted from God With Due Gladness And Praise; And Purified By the Removal Of All That Could Be Displeasing To God (Nehemiah 11:1 to Nehemiah 13:31 ).

The Book closes with a description of the restoring of Jerusalem as the holy city. This was accomplished by:

· Populating Jerusalem the holy city with members of the new true Israel who would defend it and (hopefully) maintain its purity (Nehemiah 11:1-36).

· Establishing the God-appointed leaders of worship whose genealogies demonstrate that they were of those appointed by God, maintaining the holiness of worship (Nehemiah 12:1-26).

· The celebration of gladness and thanksgiving for the completion of the wall and gates which made possible its being established as holy and the re-establishment of the system of tithes that ensured the maintenance of YHWH’s chosen appointees (Nehemiah 12:27-47).

· The purifying of the holy city from the defilements of Sabbath breaking and idolatry (Nehemiah 13:1-31).

Verses 3-4

The Names Of The Chief Men Who Took Up Dwelling In Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:3-20 ).

A parallel list of those who ‘dwelt in Jerusalem’ is found in 1 Chronicles 9:0, but it is widely different from this list, although having some parallels. We should note, however, that 1 Chronicles 9:0 does not say when the people that it lists began to live in Jerusalem, and it certainly contains the names of many not mentioned here (and vice versa). That may well be because the Chronicler was using information which informed him of who was living in Jerusalem prior to the time of Nehemiah, whilst Nehemiah is only recording the names of those who now took up residence in Jerusalem. Nehemiah may well be giving here the names of the children of Judah and Benjamin who moved into Jerusalem at this time, mainly ignoring the names of those who already lived in Jerusalem (as possibly given in 1 Chronicles 9:0). Thus it is noteworthy that in Nehemiah 11:1-9 of both Nehemiah 11:0 and 1 Chronicles 9:0 there are no parallels apart from the name ‘Sallu, the son of Meshullam’. But as there is good reason to believe that there were two men bearing this name, as the listing of their different ancestors demonstrates, there are really no parallels at all. The parallels only occur when we come to the priests and Levites. So 1 Chronicles 9:0 describes those who initially settled in the city during the period when it was unwalled. Nehemiah is now describing those who moved into the city now that it was walled, to join those described in 1 Chronicles 9:0 as already populating the whole city.

Nehemiah 11:3

‘Now these are the chiefs of the province who dwelt in Jerusalem,’

That is, the chiefs who began to live in Jerusalem from this time forward. They were willing to make a personal sacrifice for the good of the nation. They did it because of their loyalty to God, and as an example to others. A good deal of building work would have to take place to make Jerusalem habitable (‘the houses had not been built’ - Nehemiah 7:4), but again they probably ‘had a mind to work’. A dream was being fulfilled.

Nehemiah 11:3

‘(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).’

Meanwhile the remaining nine tenths of the people continued to dwell in their own cities, ‘every one in his own possession’, where they possessed houses and land, and this included priests, Levites and Temple servants. For this verse compare Nehemiah 7:73. It would therefore appear to be a deliberate attempt to connect up chapter 7 with this passage, demonstrating the unity of purpose of these people with the first returnees, and that the situation continued. But its importance in its own right is found in the fact that it demonstrates that the whole of Judah continued to be populated because it had been given to them by God, and that many priests, Levites and Temple servants dwelt outside Jerusalem. The people were there because it was ‘their possession’. It was the land given to them by God.

Nehemiah 11:4

‘And in Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin.’

The roll of honour of those who moved into Jerusalem is now given, and they are divided into their tribes. This division into tribes may indicate their protective role (consider the earlier ‘mustering of the tribes’ in Numbers and in Judges). They were there to watch over the city, just as in the Book of Numbers the tribes had watched over the Tabernacle.

Verses 4-6

Of The Children Of Judah (Nehemiah 11:4-6 ).

Comparison with the list in 1 Chronicles 9:0 indicates that there is not a single duplication. The names in each are totally distinctive. This demonstrates that they are referring to different times. The ones named in 1 Chronicles 9:0 may be those who had settled in Jerusalem, because it was ‘their own city’, prior to this time, with the ones described here seen as moving to live in Jerusalem at the instigation of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 11:4

‘Of the children of Judah:;

Nehemiah 11:4

‘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; 11:5 ‘And Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite.’ 11:6 ‘All the sons of Perez who dwelt in Jerusalem were four hundred, and sixty eight valiant men.’

It will be noted that of the sons of Judah only sons of Perez are specifically mentioned. This may, of course, be because when the lots were taken a choice was initially made between the sons of Zerah and the sons of Perez, and it was the sons of Perez who were chosen. And these were then chosen out of the sons of Perez. And/or it may be because the sons of Zerah were already there in considerable numbers (1 Chronicles 9:6), because it was their home city. The reference to ‘the Shilonite’ (or Shelanite per Numbers 26:20) takes Maaseiah’s descent back to Shelah, the son of Judah (Genesis 38:5; Genesis 38:26).

‘Maaseiah the son of Baruch the son of Col-hozeh.’ In Nehemiah 3:15 we learn of Shallun, the son of Col-hozeh, who was ruler of part of Mizpah, and oversaw the building of part of the wall. He may well have been Baruch’s brother. Note the title ‘valiant men’ which has military connotations (although admittedly it could mean ‘men of substance’). They were here as defenders of Jerusalem.

Verses 7-9

Of The Children Of Benjamin (Nehemiah 11:7-9 ).

Again when comparing with 1 Chronicles 9:0 there is not a single duplication. A Sallu, the son of Meshullam, is mentioned in both, but these were clearly popular Benjamite names and their antecedents reveal that the name refers to different men. Otherwise the names in each are totally distinctive. This demonstrates that they are referring to different times. Again the ones named in 1 Chronicles 9:0 may be those who settled in Jerusalem prior to the time of Nehemiah because it was ‘their own city’, with the ones described here seen as moving to live in Jerusalem at the instigation of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 11:7

‘And these are the sons of Benjamin:’

Nehemiah 11:7

‘Sallu 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.’ 11:8 ‘And after him Gabbai, Sallai, nine hundred and twenty eight. 11:9 ‘And Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second over the city.’

This Sallu, the son of Meshullam, was a different one than that in 1 Chronicles 9:7 as is demonstrated by his antecedents. That Joel was appointed as ‘overseer/officer’ ( 2 Kings 25:19; Genesis 41:34; Judges 9:28) may refer to his being given a military responsibility, and not one necessarily limited to Benjamin. Judah was his second in command. How this reconciles with the appointment of Hanani and Hananiah as having ‘charge over the city’ (Nehemiah 7:2) we are in no position to judge. This may well have been a specifically military appointment.

Verses 10-14

Of The Priests (Nehemiah 11:10-14 ).

From this point on there are closer parallels with 1 Chronicles 9:0. But this may simply be because the contributor of this information in Nehemiah included some as moving into Jerusalem on a full-time basis who were already ‘living in Jerusalem’ on a part time basis (as priests and Levites, etc), as described in 1 Chronicles 9:0. Then it had been on a secondary basis, with them also having homes elsewhere. Now they took up permanent residence. That he spoke in this way is clear from Nehemiah 11:16 where Berechiah is listed as ‘dwelling in Jerusalem’, whilst at the same time ‘dwelling in the villages of the Neophathites’. As priests many would have had dual residence so that the Chronicler could include them as resident in Jerusalem (on a partial basis), whilst Nehemiah could include them in his list because they now took up sole residence in Jerusalem. Taking up full time residence was an important step, for it meant that they were continually available, if needed, to defend the city.

Nehemiah 11:10

‘Of the priests:’

Nehemiah 11:10

‘ Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin,’

1 Chronicles 9:10 has ‘Jedaiah, and Jehoiarib and Jachin.’ These three seemingly resided in Jerusalem on a part time basis from the first, (as became leading priests), but now had come the time for them to take up full residence. Jehoiarib was seemingly Jedaiah’s father, and he had presumably died in the interim.

Jedaiah was a popular priestly name. One of the families of priests who returned with Zerubbabel was called ‘the sons of Jedaiah’ and a Jedaiah was one of the prominent priests who returned with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:6; Nehemiah 12:19). It was apparently a family name and had here been given to Jedaiah’s grandson, clearly a man of great importance. Jachin was earlier the name of the leader of the twenty first course of priests under David (1 Chronicles 24:17), and was thus a prominent priestly name. Here he too was seen as an important man and priest. The High Priest himself may be unmentioned because he already had full-time residence in Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 11:11

‘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,’

Also taking up full-time residence in Jerusalem was Seraiah the son of Hilkiah. 1 Chronicles 9:11 has ‘Azariah, the son of Hilkiah’, etc, but otherwise the same words. However, Seraiah and Azariah appear to be two names of the same person as is evidenced by comparison of Ezra 2:2 with Nehemiah 7:7 (the two names are consonantally close). As a chief priest of the high priestly family of Ahitub (Ahitub was the ruler of the house of God, that is, he was the High Priest (2 Chronicles 31:10; 2 Chronicles 31:13)) he would necessarily have had a residence in Jerusalem. Now he was taking up residence full time.

Nehemiah 11:12

‘And their brothers who did the work of the house, eight hundred and twenty two.

With these prominent priests came eight hundred and twenty two other priests who ‘did the work at the house of God’, presumably on a time on, time off, basis. Thus part of their time they had spent in their cities and part of their time in Jerusalem. Now they were moving into Jerusalem full time. We do not know for certain exactly what was involved in ‘doing the work of the house of God’ as distinguished from what the other priests did. But it may be that it was these who had responsibility for the maintenance of the cult worship in the Temple, while others had a preaching and teaching ministry, and various supervisory roles (such as watching over the gathering of the tithes - Nehemiah 10:38), or even a military role in protecting the holy city.

Nehemiah 11:12

And Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah,’

1 Chronicles 9:12 abbreviates this to ‘Adaiah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah’, giving only details of the name of his father, his clan and his sub-tribe. He too had dwelt part time in Jerusalem, but from now on would dwell there full time. The Chronicler mentions Maasai, the son of Adiel, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer who seemingly already had full time residence in Jerusalem.

It will be noted that Pashhur and Immer were two of the four priestly families who returned with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 7:40-41). The sons of Jedaiah may be seen as represented by Jedaiah and those who came with him (Nehemiah 11:10-11). The sons of Harim seemingly did not take up residence in Jerusalem, possibly because of the type of duties they fulfilled.

Nehemiah 11:13

‘And his brothers, chiefs of fathers’ (houses), two hundred and forty two.’

With Adaiah came 242 priestly heads of families, who like him had previously resided part time but now took up full time residence. However, as their being ‘chiefs of fathers’ (houses)’ contrasts with those who ‘did the work of the house (of God’ in Nehemiah 11:12, this may indicate that they were captains of priestly military units organised for the defence of the holy city. With the 822 mentioned previously, and the 128 mentioned in Nehemiah 11:14, this makes up 1,192 who now took up full time residence.

The Chronicler gives only one total, ‘1,760 very able men for the work of the service of the house of God’. The additional men presumably already resided full time, which would be why they are not included here.

Nehemiah 11:13

‘And Amashsai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer,’

Amashsai of the sons of Immer is not mentioned by the Chronicler. He may have included him in his 1,760 men (in view of the fact that he mentions Maasai of the sons of Immer as representing the sons of Immer), or it may be that up to this time Amashsai had no residence in Jerusalem. Now, however, he took up full time residence.

Nehemiah 11:14

‘And their brothers, mighty men of valour, a hundred and twenty eight, and their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim.’

And with him came 128 ‘mighty men of valour’ (which supports the idea that they formed military units), under their officer Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim. The priests thus provided Jerusalem with a permanently present force able to help in the protection of the city, something which they clearly saw as part of their duties.

This is a reminder that all of God’s people are called on to be both servants and warriors, walking in obedience with His will, and ever ready to defend the truth, ‘always ready to give an answer to all who ask concerning the hope that is in us’ (1 Peter 3:15). We are His servants and engaged in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18). And we do well if we volunteer to commit ourselves full time to God’s holy city.

Verses 15-18

Of The Levites (Nehemiah 11:15-18 ).

A number of Levites also took up permanent residence in Jerusalem in order to aid its new beginning. They would do so with high hopes.

Nehemiah 11:15

‘And of the Levites:’

Nehemiah 11:15

‘Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni,’

Shemaiah apparently had had part time residence in the city (1 Chronicles 9:14). And the Chronicler tells us that he was of the sons of Merari, one of the three sons of Levi (1 Chronicles 6:1). Now he moved into Jerusalem full time.

Nehemiah 11:16

And Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the chiefs of the Levites, who had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God,’

The non-mention of these by the Chronicler may be as a consequence of the fact that previously they had not resided in Jerusalem at all, or more likely because they were appointed after the time of which he wrote. They had become of primary importance because they had been given oversight of the ‘outward business of the house of God’ (in contrast with ‘the work of the house’ in Nehemiah 11:12.) This may indicate their responsibility for oversight of the gathering of the tithes, and, of course, of the new Temple tax, which would not require their presence in Jerusalem to any large extent, or it may also indicate responsibility for the outward fabric of the Temple, which would require their presence when necessary. The names of Shabbethai and Jozabad have already occurred in Nehemiah 8:7 as those of two Levites who helped the people to understand the Law.

Nehemiah 11:17

‘And Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the chief to begin the thanksgiving in prayer.’

Also now taking up full time residence in the city was Mattaniah, the son of Mica, the son of Asaph (Asaph was the song leader and musician in the time of David - 1 Chronicles 16:5; 2 Chronicles 5:12). He (either Mattaniah or Asaph, but most probably Mattaniah, as otherwise why mention him?) had overall responsibility over aspects of Temple worship including the offering of thanksgiving. He was ‘head of the beginning’ of the thanksgiving in prayer. Presumably it was his responsibility to initiate the commencement of the musical worship of thanksgiving.

Obadiah, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Jeduthun, mentioned in 1 Chronicles (Jeduthun was another song leader and musician from the time of David), was clearly already in full time residence in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9:16), and is therefore not mentioned by Nehemiah. (Alternately, of course, he may have died).

Nehemiah 11:17

‘And Bakbukiah, the second among his brothers, and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun.’

Bakbukiah is possibly the Bakbakkar of 1 Chronicles 9:15, and if so he changed his residency from part time to full time. By Nehemiah’s time he was second only to Mattaniah among the singers. (We can compare how in 1 Chronicles 16:5 the one who was second to Asaph was also noted). Abda, a prominent Levite and singer (we know he was prominent because his fuller genealogy is given) also moved full time to Jerusalem. Heresh, Galal (not Abda’s grandfather who bore the same name) and possibly Bakbakkar, if not identified as Bakbukiah, were already permanent residents in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9:15). Berechiah the son of Asa continued dwelling part time in the villages of the Netophathites (1 Chronicles 9:16).

Nehemiah 11:18

‘All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred and eighty four.’

Altogether there were now 284 Levites who were newly and permanently resident in Jerusalem, ‘the holy city’, and these no doubt included singers as such are mentioned above. They had great hopes for the future.

Verses 19-20

The Gate-keepers (Nehemiah 11:19 ).

The mention of the gate-keepers separately from the Levites does not necessarily mean that the gate-keepers were not seen as Levites. Only that they had a special role. Indeed Nehemiah 11:20 suggests that they were seen as Levites (they are not there mentioned separately from the Levites). 1 Chronicles 9:26 agrees. Nehemiah gives us minimal information about the gate-keepers, compared with 1 Chronicles 9:17-29.

In some ways the title gate-keepers gives a wrong impression. These men did not just watch the gates. They held a position of trust and had responsibility for the treasury and the chambers in the Temple (1 Chronicles 9:26), as well as the furniture and worship accessories (fine flour, wine, oil, frankincense and spices - 1 Chronicles 9:29). They had overall responsibility for the security of the Temple area.

Nehemiah 11:19

‘Moreover the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon, and their brothers, who kept watch at the gates, were a hundred and seventy two.’

Many of the gate-keepers had had part time residence in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9:22; 1 Chronicles 9:25 mentions the fact that many of the gate-keepers lived in villages and came into Jerusalem to perform their duties). Now these 172 came to reside there full time, under the leadership of Akkub and Talmon, in order to make their contribution towards the permanent safety of the holy city. Shallum, the chief gate-keeper, and Ahiman, already dwelt full time in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9:17; 1 Chronicles 9:19).

Nehemiah 11:20

‘And the residue of Israel, of the priests, the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance.’

This still left a residue, which included priests and Levites, living in the all the cities of Judah. We have learned earlier that this residue consisted of nine tenths of the men of Judah. We were not told what proportion of the priests and Levites resided there, but they were among the people as God’s representatives, teaching and guiding, and watching over the collection of tithes. This summary in Nehemiah 11:20 possibly ended the record from which this information was taken, unless we include Nehemiah 11:21. On the other hand what follows in Nehemiah 11:25 onwards expands on this verse (and on Nehemiah 11:3), and we must beware of applying what conforms to the modern mind with the methods of ancient writers. They may well not have been so systematic.

Verse 21

The Nethinim (Nehemiah 11:21 ).

We already know from Nehemiah 3:26; Nehemiah 3:31 that the Nethinim (given ones) dwelt in the Ophel. They were lower level Temple servants previously given by the kings for Temple service. They had probably largely been taken as prisoners of war, but were now fully integrated into Israel, and appeared to take pride in their status, as is demonstrated by the number who returned from Exile (Nehemiah 7:60). We must remember that they chose to return.

Apart from 1 Chronicles 9:2 they are not mentioned outside Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1 Chronicles, having there mentioned them, ignores them completely. They were thus clearly not highly regarded by the elite. Their already having residence in Jerusalem is why some see this as an added note, and not an integral part of Nehemiah 11:1-20. If they already dwelt in Jerusalem we would not have expected them to be included in a list of those who now took up residence. It could then be seen as simply adding to the picture. On the other hand it is possible that many Nethinim had resided outside Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 9:2 which may suggest so), in which case this is evidencing their change of residence also.

Nehemiah 11:21

‘But the Nethinim dwelt in Ophel. And Ziha and Gishpa were over the Nethinim.’

The Temple servants necessarily lived near the Temple. They lived on the Ophel, probably on the eastern or southern slope of the Temple Mount. They were under the leadership of Ziha and Gishpa. But some may previously have lived outside Jerusalem, coming in and temporarily residing when it was time for them to perform their duties. All now seemingly moved into Jerusalem permanently.

Verses 21-36

Information Concerning The Residence Of The Returnees (Nehemiah 11:21-36 ).

We now have added to the previous information, which has indicated those who took up residence in Jerusalem, various details concerning residence in Jerusalem and wider Judah.

Verses 22-24

Extra Details Concerning The Singers/Musicians (Nehemiah 11:22-24 ).

The singers/musicians have already been mentioned in Nehemiah 11:17. Now further details are given concerning them.

Nehemiah 11:22

‘The overseer also of the Levites at 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.’

Head over the singers/musicians was Uzzi, a ‘son of Asaph’. Asaph was the chief musician in David’s day (1 Chronicles 16:5). Uzzi, along with his fellow-musicians, had responsibility for the use of music in the worship in the Temple. His pedigree, which is listed, was impeccable.

Nehemiah 11:23

‘For there was a commandment from the king concerning them, and a settled provision for the singers, as every day required.’

If we translate like this these singers were maintained by the Persian royal house, ‘as every day required’. The king’s expectation would thus be that thereby God would be pleased and would bless the Persian kings. We can compare how they were also relieved from taxes (Ezra 7:24). The Persian kings went to great lengths to keep on the right side of the gods.

However, it may be translated ‘the command of the king was over them in the matters of every day’. It may therefor relate, not to provisioning, but to the duties required of them by the king as part of their worship, including the duty to intercede on behalf of him and his sons (see Ezra 6:10).

Nehemiah 11:24

‘And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king’s hand in all matters concerning the people.’

The kings of Persia took an interest in the religious affairs of their subjects (they wanted to ensure that their gods would honour the Persian royal family) and therefore had to hand a representative for Jewish affairs, at this time one named Pethahiah, who presumably lived at the Persian court but maintained a close watch on Jewish affairs on the king’s behalf.

Verse 25

Towns In The Former Judean Uplands (Nehemiah 11:25 ).

These towns in the former Judean uplands were on the whole outside the Persian Province of Judah, but had seemingly been resettled by the returnees. This is in no way an attempt to list all the towns in Judah. Rather the aim was to indicate how widespread God’s people were throughout the ancient land.

Nehemiah 11:25

‘And as for the villages, with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt in Kiriath-arba and its towns, and in Dibon and its towns, and in Jekabzeel and its villages,

‘As for the villages, with their fields.’ Probably better translated ‘as for the towns with their surrounding countryside.’ ‘Kiriath-arba and its towns’ indicated Hebron and its satellite towns (Judges 1:10), and by this time the area was at least partly Idumaean. The Edomites had occupied a southern Judah devastated by the Babyonian invasion, as they fled from the Arab invasion of Edom. Dibon is unknown, but is possibly the Dimonah of Joshua 15:22. Jekabzeel was probably south of Hebron in the Negeb, and so clearly in ‘foreign’ territory (that is, outside the Persian province of Judah). It is clear, therefore, that in order to take up residence in their native cities, some Jews had taken up residence outside of the Persian province of Judah, in cities which contained Jewish inhabitants who had not been much affected by the Exile.

Verses 25-30

The Dwellingplaces Of The Children Of Judah Outside Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:25-30 ).

Meanwhile, as Nehemiah 11:20 tells us, ‘the residue of Israel, of the priests and the Levites, were all in the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance.’ We are now therefore given details of some of these, demonstrating that they have again taken up God’s inheritance. They had not, of course, returned to an empty land. The poor of the land, who had been left behind by the Babylonians, and would have been numerous, would have taken possession of these cities (Jeremiah 39:10); as would Jews who returned, having fled before the invasion (Jeremiah 40:11), together with others who were taking advantage of an empty land, whilst most of southern Judah had been occupied by the Edomites as they fled from the invading Arabs. It would appear also that the Negeb still retained a substantial Judean population. Thus there was a good sprinkling of Jews throughout ancient Judah, although in many cases a lack of leadership. The returnees had settled among all these peoples.

It should be noted that this is not a comprehensive list of Judean cities. Bethlehem, for example, is not mentioned. It is rather intended to indicate the widespread nature of the land occupied by the returnees, and it is significant that a considerable number of the towns were outside the Province of Judah (Persian version). The first to be mentioned are ‘the people of Judah’. They ‘encamped’ from Beer-sheba in the extreme south, to the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem (compare Joshua 15:8). The use of the verb is interesting. It suggests either the newness of their arrival, or that they were like ancient Israel who ‘encamped’ around the Tabernacle. But the overall aim appears to be to indicate that God’s people once more occupied the whole of God’s land, not just the Persian province of Judah (Yehud). Beersheba, for example, was in the Negeb, well outside the province of Judah. Thus it is apparent that some of the returning Jews had settled outside the province of Judah, and yet were seen as a part of the revived people of God.

The use of the word ‘encamped (dwelt in tents)’ may well be intended to connect this description back to the wilderness period, when Israel literally all dwelt in tents. (Note how elsewhere the command for Israelite soldiers to return home is in terms of ‘return to your tents’ e.g. 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16; Judges 7:8). It was as though they were again encamped around God’s sanctuary, as they had been of old (Numbers 1-2). Behind the word may be a desire to emphasise that they were taking part in a new Exodus, seeing themselves as encamped and travelling towards the establishment of the kingdom of God, with ‘the holy city’ as its fulcrum. This would especially be so as many of the returnees were dwelling outside contemporary Judah (i.e. the Persian province). Or it may be that they saw Judah as encamped around the holy city, in the same way as in Numbers 1-2 the tribes encamped around the Tabernacle. (Such ideas recurred later at Qumran).

The impression of partaking in a new Exodus with a view to the establishment of the new kingdom of God is possibly brought out by the fact that certain cities are selected and listed very much as in the Book of Joshua, even using ancient names. Possibly it was seen as a new ‘conquest’. We must not, however, assume too much for there are far more names mentioned in the Book of Joshua than are mentioned here, and the Benjamite towns mentioned later are not on the whole mentioned by Joshua. On the other hand the ancient names may have deliberately been taken up by the returnees with this in mind. Consider how Kiriath-arba, the ancient name for Hebron, is used. The name may well have been revived by the returnees in order to emphasise their ancient roots.

The towns are listed in three groups which we may roughly see as:

· Towns in the former Judean uplands (Nehemiah 11:25).

· Towns in and around the Negeb ( Nehemiah 11:26-29 a).

· Towns in the Shephelah (Nehemiah 11:29-30).

The purpose is seemingly in order to indicate that Judah had been reoccupied as it was of yore. It is giving an impression of comprehensiveness, ignoring the fact that much of southern Judah was now occupied by the Edomites.

Verses 26-29

Towns In The Negeb And the Related Area. The Extreme South Of Former Judah (Nehemiah 11:26-29 a).

The Negeb (‘the Dry’) was the southernmost part of ancient Judah, its expansive area forming its southern border. It was on the whole pasture land, being semi-desert, with its towns built at ancient springs, although it had at times been more extensively farmed by the use of irrigation techniques. It would probably not have been so badly affected by the Babylonian invasion. The towns now described were all in that area.

Nehemiah 11:26

‘And in Jeshua, and in Moladah, and Beth-pelet,’

These cities appear to have been in the Negeb, and thus again outside the Persian province of Judah. Jeshua may be identical with Shema (Joshua 15:26) and Sheba (Joshua 19:2). Originally being called Shema, it would develop into Sheba, and finally into Shewa, with the Je (Yah) being added. For Moladah see Joshua 15:26; Jos 19:2 ; 1 Chronicles 4:28. It was probably east of Beersheba. Beth-pelet is unknown.

Nehemiah 11:27

‘And in Hazar-shual, and in Beer-sheba and its towns,’

Hazar-shual, mentioned in Joshua 19:2, is unknown, but was in the Negeb, along with Beer-sheba which was definitely so (Joshua 19:2; Genesis 21:31; Genesis 22:19). They were originally in Simeonite territory. Beersheba indicated the southernmost part of ancient Israel (‘from Dan to Beersheba’ - Judges 20:1; etc). It will be apparent that there was thus a good settlement of returnees (along with Jews who were wholly loyal to YHWH who had not gone into exile), in the Negeb region.

Nehemiah 11:28-29

‘And in Ziklag, and in Meconah and in its towns, and in En-rimmon,’’

For Ziklag see Joshua 15:31. It was the city over which David presided during his exile among the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:6), and he retained possession of it when he became king of Judah and then of Israel. It was in the south-west of former Judah near the border with the province of Ashdod (Philistia). Meconah was near Ziklag. It was either a border city of, or outside, the Province.

En-rimmon (meaning ‘spring of the pomegranate’) was also called Rimmon (Joshua 15:32; Joshua 19:7; 1 Chronicles 4:32). It may have been combined with Ain to form one small town (1 Chronicles 4:32). Originally in Judah’s territory (Joshua 15:32) it had soon transferred to Simeon (Joshua 19:7). It was probably fifteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Beersheba.

Verses 29-30

Towns In The Shephelah (The Western Lowlands) (Nehemiah 11:29-30 ).

The Shephelah was the name given to the low hills and valleys which separated the Coastal Plain from the Central Highlands. It was well populated.

Nehemiah 11:29

‘And in Zorah, and in Jarmuth,’

Moving northward to the northern Shephelah (lowlands), west of Jerusalem, we come to Zorah and Jarmuth. Zorah was in the lowland hills of Judah (Joshua 15:33), and associated with the stories about Samson (Judges 13:2). It was possibly the Zarkha of the Amarna letters. It was north of Azekah. Jarmuth was five kilometres (three miles) south of Beth-shemesh, eighteen miles west of Jerusalem. It was previously a large Amorite city before the conquest (Joshua 10:3; Joshua 15:35).

Nehemiah 11:30

‘Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and its fields, Azekah and its towns. So they encamped from Beer-sheba to the valley of Hinnom.’

Zorah, Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam and Azekah are all names echoing Joshua. They are seen as close together, along with a number of other towns, in Joshua 15:33-35. These may well have indicated the western border of the Province of Judah, or may even have been outside that border. Lachish was in the lowlands further south and outside the border.

For Zanoah see Nehemiah 3:13; Joshua 15:34. It was three kilometres (two miles) south of Beth-shemesh. The men of Zanoah were named as involved in the building of the walls (Nehemiah 3:13). Adullam was a former Canaanite city (Joshua 12:15), later fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:7) and referred to by Micah 1:15. It was midway between Jerusalem and Lachish. Lachish was a large Judean city in the southern Shephelah, outside the new Province of Judah, forty kilometres (thirty miles) south west of Jerusalem. Its capture by the Assyrians was seen as a notable achievement (their having failed to capture Jerusalem) and was shown on a relief sculpture in the palace of Nineveh. Azekah was in the territory of Judah (Joshua 15:35) and was north of Lachish, both cities being referred to in the Lachish letters as resisting the Assyrian invasion (see also Jeremiah 34:7) before finally succumbing (Isaiah 37:8). It was seen in Joshua as being on the extremity of Judah (Joshua 10:10-11; compare 1 Samuel 17:1), and was one of Rehoboam’s fortified border cities.

Verses 31-36

The Dwellingplaces Of The Children Of Benjamin (Nehemiah 11:31-35 ).

In contrast with the description of Judah, the cities and towns of Benjamin are detailed, although this may partly indicate how thoroughly Judah had been devastated during and after the capture of Jerusalem. The Benjamites had settled back into their cities and towns north of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah 11:31

‘The children of Benjamin also dwelt from Geba onward, at Michmash and Aija, and at Beth-el and its towns,’

Geba (meaning ‘a hill’) and Michmash are well known from the activities of Saul ( 1Sa 13:2-3 ; 1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 13:16; 1Sa 13:23 ; 1 Samuel 14:5; 1 Samuel 14:31). Geba was 11 kilometres (7 miles) north of Jerusalem, and was 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Gibeah. It was previously a Levitical city (Joshua 21:17). It was the site of Saul’s camp during his resistance to the Philistine invasion (1 Samuel 13:23). At one point it was the northernmost town in Judah (2 Kings 23:8). It was mentioned in Isaiah’s description of the Assyrian advance on Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:29). Today it is called Jeba. Michmash was 12 kilometres north of Jerusalem, and east of Bethel. It was a centre for the Philistines when they invaded Israel in the time of Saul (1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 13:16). It is mentioned by Isaiah as a stage in the advance of the Assyrian army on Jerusalem, the point at which they laid up their baggage (Isaiah 10:28). It was thus situated at a crucial point. It was on the pass between Bethel and Jericho. It is at present a ruined village called Mukhmas, on the northern ridge of the Wadi Suweinit. Nothing is known of Aija, although some identify it with modern Khirbet Haiyan. It was seemingly in the same area as Geba, Michmash and Bethel.

‘Bethel and its towns’ was well known throughout Israel’s history. It was about 19 kilometres (12 miles) north of Jerusalem and was known in some form to Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:7), but its site is not certainly identified. A good number of scholars identify it with Burg Beitin or Tel Beitin, but this, like most identifications, is uncertain. There are many tels in the area and there is no certain way of identifying them. All we can do is consider them in terms of the Biblical narrative. Its king was defeated by Joshua, although Bethel itself was probably not taken at the time. It was one of the two major religious centres of Northern Israel after the division of the kingdom following the death of Solomon, infamous for its idol worship (‘come to Bethel and transgress’ - Amos 4:4), the other being Dan. It became incorporated in Judah under Josiah, at which point Jerusalem then became the centre of the people’s worship.

Nehemiah 11:32

‘At Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah,’

Anathoth was a Benjamite city and the home town of Abiathar (1 Kings 2:26) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1). It was previously a Levitical city (Joshua 21:18). Its possible site (Deir-es-Sid) Isaiah 5:0 kilometres (3 miles) north east of Jerusalem. It was one of the areas affected by Nebuchadnezzar’s march on Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:30). Nob was another such affected area, and was the last stage prior to Jerusalem itself, indicating its nearness to Jerusalem (possible site Ras umm et-Tais). It was where David ate holy bread while on the run from Saul (1 Samuel 21:6), and where in retaliation Saul slaughtered Ahimelech and his priestly brothers (1 Samuel 22:9-19). Ananiah is possibly Beit Hanina, which is seven kilometres (between three and four miles) north-north-west of Jerusalem. As will be observed, these three towns were all within 7 kilometres (four miles) of Jerusalem, looking north.

Nehemiah 11:33

‘Hazor, Ramah.’

This Hazor (which simply means ‘village, settlement’) was not the well known Hazor mentioned in Joshua 11:1-13, but was rather a lesser known one found in Benjamite territory. It is possibly modern Khirbet Hazzur, north of Bethel. Ramah was a resting-place on the way north. It was near Bethel (Judges 4:5) and in the region of Gibeon and Beeroth (Joshua 18:25). It was one of the places in which the Levite planned to stay, with his concubine, and had he finally stayed there rather than in Gibeah (Judges 19:13-14). the history of the Benjamites might have been different. It was where Nebuzaradan gathered the prospective exiles after the fall of Jerusalem, and from where he released Jeremiah (Jeremiah 40:1-4). At one stage it was a border fortress of northern Israel (1 Kings 15:17). The non-mention of Mizpah, which was previously prominent in this area, may suggest that it had been laid waste by Nebuchadnezzar in retaliation for the death of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:6 to Jeremiah 41:3).

Nehemiah 11:33-34

‘ Gittaim Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat,’

These four towns, along with Lod and Ono, were in the northern Shephelah. Gittaim was the place to which Ish-bosheth’s captains fled in the time of David (2 Samuel 4:3). It is possibly modern Ras Abu Hamid. Hadid is named alongside Lod and Ono in Ezra 2:33; Nehemiah 7:37, and is probably to be identified with Adida (Septuagint Hadida) as mentioned in 1Ma 12:38 ; 1Ma 13:13 , which was described as "over against the plain." It was fortified by Simon Maccabeus. It is represented by modern el-Haditheh, about 5 kilometres (3 miles) north-east of Lydda. Zeboim is unknown but was presumably in the same area. Neballat is probably to be identified with modern Beit Nebala, 6 kilometres (4 miles) north-east of Lydda.

Nehemiah 11:35

‘Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen.’

Lod and Ono are always mentioned together. They are described as built by the Benjamites, in 1 Chronicles 8:12, and spoken of, together with Hadid, in Ezra 2:33; Nehemiah 7:37. They were presumably in ‘the plain of Ono’ (Nehemiah 6:2), in which Nehemiah’s opponents intended to trap him. This may be the same as, or contain, ‘the valley of the craftsmen’ (see also 1 Chronicles 4:14 RV margin). This latter may have obtained its name from woodworking activity carried out there in consequence of its nearness to Joppa, through which timber from Lebanon would be imported. Ono is probably to be identified with modern Kafr ‘Ana, which lies near Lydda.

Nehemiah 11:36

‘And of the Levites, certain courses in Judah (were joined/allocated) to Benjamin.’

Among these Benjamites as previously described were located a number of courses of Levites, who would be responsible, among other things, for gathering tithes, and teaching and guiding the people. As God’s servants they were called on to be flexible. YHWH Himself, together with the tithes, were the inheritance of Levi, not some earthly portion of land (Numbers 18:24; Deuteronomy 10:9).

This was not just an appended afterthought. It was a reminder that provision was being made for the fulfilment of the covenant provisions in Nehemiah 10:38-39. The responsibility of the Benjamites towards God was not to be overlooked. (Previously it had been stated that the residue of the Levites were in ‘all the cities of Judah’ - Nehemiah 11:20). It also serves as a connecting verse with chapter 12 where details concerning the Priests and Levites is given.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Nehemiah 11". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/nehemiah-11.html. 2013.
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