Nehemiah 12 Role Call

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Questions: Why does it matter who did what when? What is the relation between spiritual and political leadership? Is there such a thing as a good tax? “Read More” to pursue answers in Nehemiah.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Nehemiah 12:1-47

Now these [are] the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra…

We jump back a bit for another of those lists which annoy casual readers of the BIble. Who are all these guys, anyway?

These were the leaders of the priests and their associates in the days of Jeshua.

The provocatively-named “Jeshua” appears to be the first post-exile high priest; apparently he and Zerubbabel started the reconstruction of Jerusalem that Ezra and Nehemiah finished. This section feels a bit like an Epilogue, or perhaps the Acknowledgements, or maybe even the Bibliography: it ties the book in which the existing standards and systems of authority. Especially if this refers to the original house of Ezra

In the days of Joiakim, these were the heads of the priestly families: of Seraiah’s family, Meraiah; of Jeremiah’s, Hananiah; of Ezra’s, Meshullam…

Certainly verse 22-23 feels like a footnote:

The Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, [were] recorded chief of the fathers: also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian. The sons of Levi, the chief of the fathers, [were] written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib.

Though 24-25 seems more like establishing current roles:

Mattaniah, and Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, Akkub, [were] porters keeping the ward at the thresholds of the gates. These [were] in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe.

However, just when it seems like the plot is degenerating into administrivia, the action picks back up:

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness , both with thanksgivings, and with singing, [with] cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.

Ah! Perhaps there is a purpose to all this historical digression; to recapitulate the process they went through to ensure all the Levitical families were represented at the dedication. Such a listing would have been not only a courtesy to those who were there, but also a memorial to those who came after.

And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall

An interesting connection between “dedication” and “purification”, reminiscent of the Beatitude. Intriguingly, the acts of the priests are followed by that of the princes:

Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great [companies of them that gave] thanks , [whereof one] went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate:

The key activity in all this, though, appears to be thanksgiving:

So stood the two [companies of them that gave] thanks in the house of God, and I, and the half of the rulers with me:

Accompanied by her two handmaidens, sacrifice and joy (who are in truth twin sisters, though one is dark and the other fair):

Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off

Given the rarity and dignity of such an assembly, it is perhaps unsurprising that Nehemiah uses it to fill (and honor) several offices:

And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited.

Hmm, maybe there’s more than convenience behind Nehemiah’s move. It sure seems like he’s using the enthusiasm over the Levite’s grand ceremony to institutionalize their support:

And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, [and] of Solomon his son. For in the days of David and Asaph of old [there were] chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God.

Ah, how vital it is to our soul that we should continually give thanks to God, yet how easily we let joy slip into ritual, and eventually into neglect. The editorial comment at the end seems more than a little wistful on that score:

And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified [holy things] unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified [them] unto the children of Aaron.

Prayer

O Father, you have done such great and marvelous things for me; surely it is both right and necessary to give you thanks, for the sake of my own joy if nothing else. Yet, I struggle to give you the portion you deserve, and neglect to feed the Levites of praise and jubilation in my own heart, that they might render their own portion in priestly worship. Teach me to align the spiritual, political, and economic areas of my internal life in worship to you, that I might bring spiritual, political, and economic renewal to the world around me. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is play on the phrase “roll call,” emphasizing the importance of the different roles Nehemiah calls people to fulfill.

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