Alright, now let’s get into our lesson for today. We’ll be studying Nehemiah chapters 11 and 12. That means we’re in the 2nd major act of the 2nd major section of the book of Nehemiah.
The 1st major section (chapters 1 through 6) dealt with Nehemiah coming to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. And that’s all I’ll say about it.
So, once he finished rebuilding the walls, we’re told that not many people lived in the city itself at the time. And for one reason or another this is a problem. What’s the solution?
Nehemiah has the people enroll by genealogies. Now, we’re not specifically told how taking a census of the people would really help fill Jerusalem with people. Perhaps it would remind the people of their lineage and heritage and create a mass movement to Jerusalem. And we did see the people come to Jerusalem last week in our lesson.
And when they were there they made some New Year’s resolutions – specifically, they vowed not to forsake God’s word or God’s place of worship.
So… the question is: did this fill Jerusalem with people? Let’s read 11:1-2.
And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities. 2 And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.
So we’re told in verse 1 that the rulers of the people lived in Jerusalem. That would indicate that up to that point, it was only the rulers who lived there. But then things changed. 1 out of 10 people moved to Jerusalem to join the leaders. So, did taking a census help fill Jerusalem with people? Well, yes I think so. How? Now the Jews knew who was officially among them. They could select a certain proportion of the people from their midst to live in Jerusalem. How else could they know that they were selecting 1 tenth of the people? I think the census helped with this process.
Now, only some of the people went to live in Jerusalem. And apparently that was sufficient. The text seems to speak only positively about this situation. The people who ended up living in cities outside Jerusalem blessed those who got to live in Jerusalem. And the ones who ended up moving to Jerusalem did so willingly, the text says. So there’s no ill-will. This is a fine arrangement. Not everyone needed to live in the holy city.
Now, we need to be prepared for a lot of lists in these two chapters. I admit that at first, lists in the Bible can seem to be a bit uninteresting. But I think they’re only uninteresting when you don’t know why God placed them where he did. I think if you actually understand the whys and wherefores of how those lists are placed, they can be very interesting. So with God’s help we’ll try to figure out why these lists are where they are.
We’ll start with the list that spans from 11:3-36. What is this list and why is it here? Let’s read 11:3.
Now these are the chief 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 Nethinims, and the children of Solomon’s servants.
So here we have those rulers that we saw in the first 2 verses of this chapter. You know – the ones who were living in Jerusalem. “The chief of the province.” And the rest of the people are still in their cities – even a good number of the ministers. Now, Nehemiah wants to enumerate the rulers who lived in Jerusalem. What portion of these leaders does he start with? Look at verse 4. Who are we talking about?
And at Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin. Of the children of Judah; […]
Nehemiah states that some of the people from the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived in Jerusalem. And he’ll get to Benjamin. But for now he’s going to list the leaders of Judah. Now, in this section Nehemiah gives the names of some people. I think these are the leaders. Then he gives the number of people who were with each of those leaders. Thus, though he’s mentioning the leaders by name, he’s also including the tenth of the people who lived in Jerusalem. And he enumerates the rulers from the tribe of Judah first starting in verse 4. In verses 4 through 6 Nehemiah mentions two men who were the sons of Perez, who was Judah’s son. There were 468 of these folks.
Then verses 7-9 cover what group?
And these are the sons of Benjamin…
— Benjamin. We have the names of three leaders of Benjamin. And then there were 928 of people with them. So that’s a list of Benjamites who lived in Jerusalem.
Moving on, verses 10-14 give us the names of the priests who lived in Jerusalem. I’ll just pull out a few facts about these folks – in this list we have the name of a man who was the leader of the Temple, we have others who performed the work of the temple, and we even have some valiant warriors! There were almost 1200 of these priests. And that’s all for the priests in Jerusalem. After the priests we have a list of the Levites. Remember, priests were a narrower group of folks who were descended from Aaron. The Levites were everyone who was descended from Levi’s other sons.
Verses 15-18 tell us about the 284 Levites living in Jerusalem. What did they do? Well, the text tells us that some of them were in charge of the work outside the Temple. They were basically groundskeepers and maintenance men. One of the leaders led the giving of thanks during prayer. That’s the Levites living in Jerusalem.
Next, according to verse 19 there were 172 gatekeepers.
Verse 20 tells us that the rest of the ministers were dispersed throughout Judah and Benjamin.
Except, according to verse 21, the Temple servants were living in Ophel. That makes sense. Ophel is the area just south of the Temple Mount. So if they lived there in that part of the city of Jerusalem, they’d be very close to the Temple. In fact the old entrance to the Temple Mount – which is now walled-up – faced the south toward Ophel.
And finally, verses 22-24 end this list by telling us of certain leading Levites. One of them was a son of Asaph, the famous singer. Another one of them represented the king. So, the total number of people living in Jerusalem was over 3,000 at that time – leaders and the tenth of the people. Well, now we know a good deal about the various people who lived in Jerusalem. Do we know anything about where the other Jews lived?
Yes. In verses 25-35 we have another list! This one describes the locations where Judah and Benjamin lived outside of Jerusalem.
The first section of that list consists of verses 25-30 where we’re given the names of the cities and towns around Jerusalem where the tribe of Judah dwelt. So it starts with Judah. Well, where do they live? In verse 30 we’re told that Judah lived as far south as Beer-Sheba. Where is that? Well, if you think of a map of modern Israel you might be able to think of where Israel’s western boundary with the Mediterranean Sea reaches its southern-most point. Just go due East from there to the middle of the nation of Israel and you’ll arrive at Beer Sheba. So that’s as far south as the Jews lived. Then we’re given their northern boundary. Judah lived as far north as the valley of Hinnom which marks the southwestern boundary of Jerusalem. So that’s the part of the list that gives us which cities Judah lived in.
Well, what about Benjamin? Verses 31-35 tell us where they lived. And that brings us to the end of chapter 11.