I have chosen to use “The Message” as the Bible translation for this chapter.
Thanks to the late Dr. Ray Stedman, long-time pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, and author of several books. The Ways God works, Principles of Reconstruction. webmaster@RayStedman.org
At first reading this chapter seems to be very dull. A chapter with all of those impossible to pronounce names. What could we possibly get out of all of those names? With just a little digging we will find some insights and truths that are applicable to us today.
God saw fit to record these names that mean absolutely nothing to us. But they meant something to God, and that’s what ultimately matters. If you’re getting upset because no one in the church notices all that you do, your focus is in the wrong place. Look to the Lord, whom you are serving. And remember Hebrews 6:10: “For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.”
In Chapter 1:3-4, the news that Nehemiah received in Shushan was, “The exile survivors who are left there in the province are in bad shape. Conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders.’ When I heard this, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God-of-Heaven.”
At the time of this writing the city of Jerusalem had been without its wall for 160 years. The Israelites had spent 70 years in captivity, and 90 years passed before Nehemiah arrived to begin rebuilding the wall. As you may know the only protection that ancient cities had against their enemies was a wall. Jerusalem’s wall was a pile of debris, a huge rubbish heap, and there were very few inhabitants.
Now they have a wall, two and one half to four miles long, forty feet high and eight feet thick. They are no longer in fear of attack from their enemies. Jerusalem is a ready-made, safe, clean, beautiful, and well-defended, city, but the people, by and large, have moved outside of the city into the suburbs. Remember this is a capital city, the heart of the nation, a very important center of commerce and religious activity. The leaders lived within the city, but the rest of the population, the common everyday folks lived in other surrounding cities. Nehemiah knew that a city must have a population to have economic and familial vitality, so he instituted a draft to repopulate Jerusalem. This chapter deals with Nehemiah’s actions in repopulating the city.
“The leaders of the people were already living in Jerusalem, so the rest of the people drew lots to get one out of ten to move to Jerusalem, the holy city, while the other nine remained in their towns. The people applauded those who voluntarily offered to live in Jerusalem.” (Verses 1,2).
Those who moved had to pull up roots where they were already established, give up their acreage in the country, and move into what quickly became a somewhat crowded city. Based on the number of men who moved to the city (3,044), there were about 10,000, conservatively estimated, who moved into the city, with a total population of 100,000 Jews in the land Although it was inconvenient and less desirable in some ways to move from the country to the city, these people were willing to live where God wanted them to live in order to serve His purpose.” –Stephen J. Cole, Flagstaff Christian Fellowship.
There are two lists of names, one from Judah and one from Benjamin:
“These are the leaders in the province who resided in Jerusalem (some Israelites, priests, Levites, Temple staff, and descendants of Solomon’s slaves lived in the towns of Judah on their own property in various towns; others from both Judah and Benjamin lived in Jerusalem): (Verses 3,4 MSG).
In this list of names of the descendants of Judah, one man is singled out, his name is “Perez,” “The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem numbered 468 valiant men” (Verse 6). He was one of the sons of Judah, conceived with his daughter-in-law, an illegitimate child. The story of his birth is in Genesis 38. At his birth it was found that the mother was about to bear twins, and his brother started to emerge first. The midwife tied a scarlet string around his finger to indicate he would be the oldest of the twins, but then the baby pulled his arm back and the other twin came out first. He was named Perez, which means “breaking out.” But following this rather shadowed beginning he went on to become one of the great heroes of Judah. His descendants are traced in almost every generation since. Even here in Nehemiah, some 400 years after Judah lived, Perez is regarded as one of the heroes of the nation. His descendants are called “valiant men.” It shows that God can and does use anyone, regardless of their humble beginning.
There were 468 “valiant men” from Judah who volunteered to live in the city, and 928 men from Benjamin. The family of Benjamin provided twice as many men from this small tribe as those from larger tribe of Judah. The sordid history of Benjamin is given to us in the book of Judges. The last few chapters of that book tell a sorry tale of people who fell into sexual sin and began to practice homosexuality. It was a terrible disgrace and stain on the life of Israel.
Two important men came from the tribe of Benjamin:
Saul, the first king of Israel was a Benjamite. He was a great disappointment for though he began well he ended his forty-year reign in bitter, acrimonious, angry rebellion against God. He finally took his own life on a battlefield.
There is another Saul, however, in the New Testament, who also came from the tribe of Benjamin. This is Saul of Tarsus, who is better known to us, of course, as the Apostle Paul.
What do we learn from this? It suggests the New Testament truth that God can use anyone! That “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34 KJV). He doesn’t care how you started out in life, it does not ruin your chances for success in his eyes by beginning at the bottom. God can cleanse people and use them in mighty and wonderful ways. He chooses, we are told, the obscure, the once tainted, the rejects of life. He loves to pick up those kinds of people and do wonderful things with them.
“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
Let me share the story of Raul Ries. He grew up in Mexico City with his Mexican-Spanish parents. Raul’s mother was repeatedly abused by her husband. Raul developed a hatred for his father, and he vowed to kill him one day. To escape the abuse, Raul’s mother moved the family to California. However, the seeds of violence and anger had already taken root in Raul’s life.
His anger intensified during his tour in Vietnam where he witnessed the atrocities of war. Upon his return to America, he fell in love with Sharon, a Christian woman with whom he had been corresponding during his time in Vietnam. After their marriage and the birth of their first two children, Raul’s affections turned away from his wife and towards other women. Sharon could no longer tolerate his unfaithfulness to her, so she decided to leave Raul and take the children with her. As Sharon and the children were about to leave the house, Raul came home. Aware of her plans, he flew into a rage and grabbed his rifle. With the intent of killing Sharon and the children, he smashed the television screen with the butt of his rifle. Instead of breaking the screen, the television turned itself on. The program being aired was a Bible sermon by Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa. Raul aimed his rifle at the pastor’s face, but instead of pulling the trigger, he became mesmerized by the gospel message of love and forgiveness. This was the moment of Raul’s transformation. He immediately gave his life to Christ, and he asked God to forgive him of his violent lifestyle. God answered his prayer. Raul’s tumultuous marriage to Sharon was healed, and a third child was born. He is now the Senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Golden Springs, which has a weekly attendance of over fifteen thousand people, with a Bible College with schools in California, Chile, and Colombia.
Verses 11-24 is a picture of God's provision for ministry within the city of Jerusalem. If you have a capital city filled with people, then you need a ministry within it to maintain the spiritual strength of those people.
There was a total of 1192 priests. They fall into three groups:
Verse 12, 822 of them willingly volunteered for temple work. (For the offering of sacrifices, presenting offerings, and performing rituals). They ministered to the spiritual life of the people.
Verse 13, 242 men, “heads of families.” They had a ministry of counseling families, especially set aside to minister to the families of the priests
Verse 14, 128 “Valiant men,” apparently Certain priests were also warriors. They fought in the battles that Israel engaged in from time to time in defense of the city.
A second division includes 284 Levites:
Verse 16, “Two of the leaders of the Levites who were in charge of the outside work of The Temple of God.”
Verse 17, Those who had charge of the worship, singers, “The son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer.”
Verse 19, The gatekeepers, “Security guards: Akkub, Talmon, and their associates who kept watch over the gates: 172 men. They correspond, of course, to the ministry of ushers who watch the doors. That is exactly what the word means. They are watchers who look out for people and serve them. This is a ministry that God himself, through the king and the priests, had set up there in Israel.
Verses 20-24, There are still other ministries mentioned here: “The Temple staff (servants), the chief officer over the Levites in Jerusalem, the singers who led worship in The Temple of God. The singers got their orders from the king, who drew up their daily schedule, Zerah son of Judah, represented the people’s concerns at the royal court (the king’s representative to the people).”
We have listed several groups of people. We don't even know their names, oh, we know some of their names, but we don't really know who they are. What we are seeing is that these people, even though no one knows about them in scripture, God blessed them for their sacrificial voluntary giving when it cost them everything.
These are people who willingly worked in God’s ministry, in God’s house, people who willingly gave themselves to others. “Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!” (1 Peter 4:7-11).
“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all…I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is…”(1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
These were people who prayed and led worship. Ever hear of a man named “Mattaniah the son of Micha, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the leader who began the thanksgiving with prayer?” He led on his knees! Asaph was often mentioned in the Psalms. He was the great grandfather of Mattaniah.
Verses 25-36 lists the names of the many cities of Judah and Benjamin. These cities were widely scattered around Jerusalem, from the coast to the Jordan valley. Beersheba, which is mentioned, was probably 50 to 60 miles from the capital city. The Benjamite cities were north and west of Jerusalem, and the Judean cities were south and west. But all are mentioned as towns to which the capital could look for support in times of trouble.
This a message about people who willingly follow God.
These people had willing hearts to do whatever God wanted them to do, and each functioned in their own unique capacity. Jesus says, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:24,25 NLT).
“Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn from following the Lord this day…” (Joshua 22:29).
We admire people who follow God!
Did you ever hear of a man named Brother Brewer? He was ninety-years-old when I became a Christian, so he has been with Jesus for a long time. Who is Brother Brewer? He was in charge of a Sunday School bus route at the Olivet Baptist Church in Lynwood, California. Every Saturday morning he walked the bus route lining up kids to ride on Sunday morning. He was a real encourager of young Christians.
Did you ever hear of a woman named Mrs. Arthurs? She, too was part of Olivet Church. She was a great student of the Bible. A Jehovah Witness knocked on her door one day, he was in her nineties at the time. She quoted Galatians 1:9. ”if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” She chased him down the street shouting, “You’re cursed, You’re cursed. What a woman!
Did you ever hear of a woman named Joyce McCann? I was her pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Dundalk (Baltimore), Maryland. Joyce was the secretary for my adult Bible class. You have never seen a more dedicated woman. When she was pregnant, she prayed that her baby would be born on Monday, so she wouldn’t have to miss church on Sunday. And God answered her prayer!
Did you ever hear of a man names Dr. James O. Combs? He was the pastor of the Olivet Baptist Church, Lynwood, California. The year was 1958, Marlena (my wife) and I were living in Downey, California. I was working in a shoe store, drinking heavily and gambling my pay check away every week. I knew most of the bookies in the Los Angeles area. I spend every weekend and every dollar gambling every weekend. Well, Marlena accepted an invitation to visit Olivet Church. She rededicated her life to Christ they very first service (she was already a believer). Then she started praying for me! I would get mad and go get drunk. So she made an appointment with Dr. Combs to come to talk with me. To make a long story short, that Wednesday morning in October, Dr. Combs came. We were leaving when we met him coming down our street. I tried to get out of going back home, but thank God I went! There on my knees, in the middle of my living room floor, that faithful servant of God showed me the way to God. God called me into His ministry that day.
How does this apply to us today?
Chuck Swindoll gives us the following outline:
1) Your gifts make you valuable, although not necessarily famous.
2) Every labor done in love is remembered by God.
3) Our final rewards will be determined on the basis of faithfulness, not public applause.
”Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).