Pulpit Commentary - Nehemiah 12:1 - 12:26

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Pulpit Commentary - Nehemiah 12:1 - 12:26

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


LIST OF THE LEVITICAL AND PRIESTLY FAMILIES WHICH RETURNED FROM BABYLON WITH ZERUBBABEL (Neh_12:1-9). This list receives elucidation and, to some extent, correction from two others:—

1. That of the priestly families whose seals were set to the covenant (Neh_10:2-8); and,

2. That of the heads of the priestly courses under the high priest Joiakim (Neh_12:12-21). The number of the names in each of the three lists is almost exactly the same (twenty-two or twenty-one); the names are for the most part the same; and they are given nearly in the same order. That they are the names of families appears most distinctly from the third list (Neh_12:12-21).


Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel. See the comment on Ezr_3:2. Jeshua. The high priest of Zerubbabel's time. Seraiah. Compare Neh_11:11 with the comment on that place. The original Seraiah was the high priest murdered by Nebuchadnezzar (2Ki_25:18-21). Jeremiah and Ezra, who gave name to the second and third course, must not be regarded as the prophet or the scribe so named, but as persons of whom nothing more is known to us.


Malluch is rolled "Melicu" below, in Neh_12:14; but the reading of "Malluch" is confirmed by Neh_10:4. Hattush. It is curious that Hattush is omitted from the third list (infra, Neh_10:12-21). He appears, however, in the first (Neh_10:4), as well as here.


Shechaniah Rather, "Shebaniah," as the name is given in Neh_10:4 and Neh_12:14. Rehum. Rather, "Harim," which is found in Neh_12:15, and also in Neh_10:5. Compare, moreover, Ezr_2:39; Neh_7:42. Meremoth is probably correct, though altered to Meraioth in Neh_7:15, since we find Meremoth in Neh_10:5.


Iddo is probably correct, rather than "Obadiah," which we find after Meremoth in Neh_10:5, since "Iddo" recurs in Neh_10:16. Ginnetho. Rather, "Ginnethon"(see Neh_10:6; Neh_12:16). Abijah. This would seem to be the course to which Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, belonged (Luk_1:5).


Miamin is confirmed by Neh_10:7, and is therefore to be preferred to the "Miniamin" of Neh_10:17. Maadiah "Moadiah" (Neh_10:17), and "Maaziah" (Neh_10:8) are not so much different names as different ways of spelling the same name. The same may be said of Bilgah and "Bilgai" (Neh_10:8).


And Joiarib. The introduction of the conjunction "and" here, and here only, in this list separates off very markedly the last six names from the first sixteen. A similar division is made in Neh_12:19. The reason for the division seems to be that these last six courses, though including some of the very highest priestly families, as those of Joiarib and Jedaiah (1Ch_24:7; Ezr_2:36; Neh_7:39; Neh_11:10), for some reason or other, did not seal to the covenant, whereas the other sixteen courses did so. Jedaiah. The double occurrence of this name (in Neh_12:6 and Neh_12:7) would naturally raise a suspicion of corruption; but the two Jedaiahs are confirmed by Neh_12:19, Neh_12:21.


These were the chief, etc. It may be suspected that this is properly the heading of another list, parallel to that in Neh_12:12-21, which gave the names of the actual heads of the courses in Jeshua's time.


Moreover the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, etc. Here again families are probably intended, as in Ezr_2:40; Ezr_3:9; Neh_9:4, Neh_9:5, etc; though it is possible that the founders of the families actually returned with Zerubbabel. Jeshua, Binnui, and Kadmiel appear as the leading Levitical families at the sealing of the covenant (Neh_10:9). On Mattaniah see the comment upon Neh_11:17.


Bakbukiah and Unni. Bakbukiah's position with respect to Mattaniah has been already mentioned (Neh_11:17). "Unni" appears, in this place only, as a Levite of Zerubbabel's time. Were over against them in the watches. i.e. "ministered in their courses, as the others did, and kept their stations over against them in their turns of attendance, which are called their 'watches' or wards" (Bp. Patrick).



That this is the line of descent in the high priestly family of the time sufficiently appears both from the names themselves, and from the position assigned to those who bore them in Neh_12:22, Neh_12:23, Neh_12:26. Whether all of them actually exercised the high priest's office is left uncertain in Scripture, but satisfactorily established by Josephus. The six names cover a space of at least 205 years—from the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, b.c. 538, to the submission of Jerusalem to Alexander the Great, b.c. 333, which gives very long generations, but still such as are historically possible. Jeshua was certainly high priest from b.c. 538 to b.c. 516. He may have been succeeded by his son, Joiakim, about b.c. 490. Joiakim had certainly been succeeded by his son, Eliashib, before b.c. 444 (Neh_3:1); and Eliashib was probably succeeded by Joiada about b.c. 420. Joiada's high priesthood may be assigned to the period between b.c. 420 and 380; Jonathan's to that between b.c. 380 and 350. Jaddua might then hold the dignity from b.c. 350 to 330, or later, and so be brought into contact with Alexander the Great. It is questioned whether in that case Nehemiah can have written the present passage, and certain that he cannot have done so unless he lived to be at least 131 years of age. As this is exceedingly improbable, it is best to suppose, either that the whole list was placed here by Malachi, or at any rate that that prophet added the clause, "and Jonathan begat Jaddua."


Jeshua. The "Jeshua" of Neh_12:1, not of Neh_12:8—the high priest of Zerub-babel's time (Ezr_3:2, Ezr_3:8; Ezr_4:3; Ezr_5:2, etc.). Begat Joiakim. The high priesthood of Joiakim falls into the interval between the first part (chs. 1-7.) and the second part (chs. 7-10.) of Ezra. He is only mentioned in this chapter (verses 12, 26). Eliashib is first mentioned in Ezr_10:6, but he does not appear as high priest until after Nehemiah reaches Jerusalem (Neh_3:1). On his close connection with Tobiah see Neh_13:4, Neh_13:5, Neh_13:28. Joiada is called Judas by Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 11.7, § 1). His term of office lasted, according to Syncellus and the Paschal Chronicle, thirty-six years.


Jonathan, or "Johanan," as the name is given in Neh_12:22, Neh_12:23, became high priest about b.c. 380, according to Syncellus and the Paschal Chronicle, and held the office for thirty-two years. Josephus, who calls him "Jannseus" (= John), says that he murdered his own brother, Jeshua, in the temple, because he was endeavouring to supplant him in the high priesthood through the influence of the Persians. Jaddua is mentioned as high priest at the time of Alexander's entrance into Jerusalem by Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 11.8, § 5) and Eusebius. The story of Alexander's having previously seen him in a dream is not generally credited. He is said to been high priest for twenty years, and to have outlived Alexander.



Joiakim must have been contemporary with Xerxes, and consequently have been high priest at the time when the very existence of the Jewish people was threatened by Haman. It is curious that we have no record of his high priesthood, nor of the condition of the Palestinian Jews at the time, beyond the slight hints furnished by this chapter. These hints seem to imply that under him special attention was paid to the formation of lists, especially of the chief priests and Levites, and that the temple service was celebrated with great exactness and regularity (Neh_12:24-26). The present list is particularly valuable, as enabling us to check that with which the chapter opens, and as establishing the family character of the names whereof that list is made up.


Of Seraiah, Meraiah. It will be observed that the family names of the priestly, courses follow the order of the same names in Neh_12:1-7, and exactly accord with them, excepting in minute differences of spelling, and in one omission—that of the name of "Hattush.' It might be supposed that the family of Hattush had died out; but this is contradicted by its reappearance among the signatures to the covenant (Neh_10:4); the omission here would therefore appear to be accidental.


Of Miniamin Rather, "of Miamin" (see Neh_12:5). The name of the head of the course in Joiakim's time has, by the carelessness of a copyist, fallen out.


And of Joiarib. The conjunction "and' occurring here, exactly as it does in Neh_12:6, once only in the whole list, and before the same name, shows that the two documents (Neh_12:1-7, Neh_12:12-21) are from the same hand. That the hand is that of Nehemiah, or a contemporary, seems to follow from the fact that no reason can be assigned for the division, or for the low place in the lists of the names Joiarib and Jedaiah, except the failure of these families to set their seals to the covenant (see the comment on verse 6).



These verses appear to constitute a late insertion. They interrupt the list of high church officers in the time of Joiakim, which is commenced in Neh_12:12 and not concluded till Neh_12:26. By their mention of Jaddua as high priest, and of "Darius the Persian" as contemporary king, they betray a writer who lived at least as late as b.c. 336, or nearly a century after the time of Nehemiah's religious reforms. The facts put on record by this writer are not of very much importance. They seem to be simply these:—

1. That the practice of accurately recording the heads of the priestly and Levitical courses, which Nehemiah has noted as belonging to the days of Joiakim, was continued under his successors, Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, down (at any rate) to the accession of Darius Codomannus; and,

2. That in the case of the Levites the lists were inserted into the book of the chroniclesnot our "Book," but that larger one, of which ours is in the main an abbreviation—down to the time of Johanan, the son (or, rather, grandson) of Eliashib. It has been supposed that the writer originally accompanied these statements with lists that have been lost, but this does not appear to be probable.


In the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua. See comment on Neh_12:10, Neh_12:11. In the reign of Darius. Rather, "to the reign." The "Darius" intended is beyond all doubt Codomannus, the adversary of Alexander the Great, who was contemporary with Jaddua. The lists went on under the four high priests down to the time when Darius Codomannus was king of Persia. It is not said that they then ceased. The Persian. Some suppose an antithesis here between this Darius.and "Darius the Mede" of Daniel (Dan_5:31; Dan_11:1). But this is unlikely, since there was nothing to recall that unimportant personage to the thoughts of the writer. Others, with better reason, suggest a tacit allusion to the transfer of empire from Persia to Macedon, and think the date of the passage must be subsequent to b.c. 331, when the kingdom passed away from Persia


Even until the days of Johanan. Why the practice of inserting the names in the book of the chronicles ceased at this date it is impossible to say, unless it was that the chronicles themselves ceased to be compiled. There certainly appears to be a long gap in the authentic Jewish annals between the close of the Old Testament canon and the composition of the First Book of the Maccabees. Johanan, the son of Eliashib. The "grandson" really, as appears by Neh_12:10, Neh_12:11.



That family, rather than personal, names are here intended is sufficiently shown in the final summary of Neh_12:26, since the same individuals cannot have flourished under Joiakim and also under Nehemiah. The actual names—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Hashabiah, Shersbiah, etc.—are all found as family names.


Hashabiah. See above, Neh_9:5; Neh_10:11. Sherebiah. Compare Neh_9:4, Neh_9:5; Neh_10:12; Neh_12:8. Jeshua, the son of Kadmiel. For ben, "son," we should probably read "Bani," a common Levitical name (Neh_9:4, Neh_9:5; Neh_10:13), in which case the passage would run as follows:—"And the chief of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, with their brethren," etc. To praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David. Compare 1Ch_15:16; 1Ch_23:5; 1Ch_25:3, etc. Man of God is an epithet not often applied to David. It occurs, however, again in verse 36, and also in 2Ch_8:14. Ward over against ward. Antiphonically—division over against division.


Meshullam and Obadiah are new as Levitical names; but the remaining names of the passage are well known. Talmon and Akkub are among the porters of David's time (1Ch_9:17), and are mentioned in Ezr_2:42; Neh_7:45; Neh_11:19. Bakbukiah and Mattaniah occur in Neh_11:17 and Neh_12:8, Neh_12:9; but as families of singers, rather than of porters, in those places. Keeping the ward at the thresholds of the gates. Rather, as in the margin, "at the treasuries." It is thought that the chambers above the gateways may have been used as storehouses or treasuries.



Ministers in God's temple.

These lists, once so important, are to us little more than fragmentary relics of a vanished system. They remind us how all that is external decays and passes away. They may, however, also suggest to us truths which abide and retain their worth throughout all ages.

I. THE VARIETIES OF MINISTRY IN THE HOUSE OF GOD. Here, high priests, priests, Levites; chiefs and subordinates; singers and musicians; gate-keepers and guards of treasure-houses. In the Christian Church, pastors, preachers, evangelists, deacons, teachers of the young, etc. In the Church, in the wider sense, all are to minister in some way; secular relations and employments are to be deemed sacred; "Holiness to the Lord" stamped on everything (see Zec_14:20). In all, God may be served more really than by the high priest of the old covenant, if he were content with only outward ministration. And each, performing his appointed ministry faithfully, is acceptable to God.

"All works are good, and each is best

As most it pleases thee;

Each worker pleases when the rest

He serves in charity;

And neither man nor work unblest

Wilt thou permit to be."

II. THE RIGHT OF MINISTRY. In the case of the ministers of the temple this was hereditary. Hence the importance of the genealogies. Under the gospel, as the service is spiritual, the ministers must be spiritual also. No ordination or appointment can make an unregenerate man a true minister of Christ, though it may give him authority to take part in the external services of the Church which appoints him. Such a man may, indeed, do good; but so does the devil, through the overruling power and grace of God. In like manner, all who would employ themselves in spiritual ministration of any kind, in the Church or in private life, should seek first to have the Spirit in their own hearts; and all who have the Spirit are priests of God for some service.

III. THE SHORT DURATION OF EACH MINISTER'S WORK ON EARTH. If no other cause bring it to an end, death will. A motive to diligence and fidelity. "Work while it is day." A motive also for care to obtain, and to exercise in the earthly ministry, those spiritual qualities which insure an eternal sacred service in the heavenly temple.

IV. THE SUCCESSION OF MINISTERS. If "one generation passeth away," "another generation cometh." The Jewish priesthood was perpetuated by the natural processes. More worthy of note and of thanksgiving is the unbroken succession of godly men from age to age in such a world as this, and of men qualified and willing to undertake the more difficult and arduous ministries. The One ever-living Head of the Church, the One ever-abiding Comforter, assure us that this will ever be the case. Stall the labourers are few, and constant prayer should be presented to "the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest."

V. THE UNCERTAINTY OF FAME. Many of the most excellent live and die unnoticed, and their names are found in no record; and many of the recorded names are not of the most worthy—they may be in the register for quite other and inferior reasons. Besides, the recorded names soon become little more than names; and when it is otherwise, those who once owned them are not benefited by the distinction. The honour which comes from men cannot then be the chief reward of good service. Let us not seek it, but seek to act our part well, looking for the unfailing rewards which God bestows.

VI. THE GREAT INFERIORITY OF THE MINISTRIES OF THE TEMPLE IN COMPARISON WITH THOSE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. "The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than" the greatest prophet; but prophets were superior to priests, and the humblest Christian is, therefore, superior to the greatest priest of the Old Testament, as he is, indeed, to the greatest mere official in the Christian Church. He is a priest of a higher order; has greater privileges, approaches nearer to God, can offer really "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ," and has the true qualification for spiritual service to his brethren. For he has that "unction from the Holy One," without which, whatever external office is filled, no spiritual ,functions can be exercised. But high above all others is the one great High Priest of our religion. All, and surpassingly more than all, that the whole order of priests of the law were in the national, external sphere, Christ is in the spiritual and eternal. All that they and their ministrations represented as types, he has become and accomplished. What they could not effect by the whole of their sacrifices from age to age he effected by the one offering of himself. In his qualifications for priesthood, combining sinless holiness and tenderest sympathy with sinners; in his nearness to God; in the efficacy of his priestly acts, he stands alone. He offered once for all the only atoning sacrifice; and by fulfilling all that was typified by the old sacrifices and priesthood he abolished them.

Neh_12:9, Neh_12:24

Sacred singing.

Its place in public worship at the tabernacle and the temple, from David onward, if not earlier. The careful arrangements made for conducting it. Its place in the Christian Church, in which it was prominent from the first. Pliny's testimony.

I. Its DESIGN. Not the glorification of poets, organists, or choirs, or the musical entertainment of the people; but—

1. The united praise of God. Of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This chiefly, not this only, or many of cur best hymns would have to be condemned.

2. The benefit of the congregation. Of the Christians worshipping, and of others present. Promoting devout feelings, and impressing great truths on the heart. In Eph_5:19; Col_3:16, a distinctly didactic purpose seems, notwithstanding adverse criticism, to be reeognised.

II. The QUALIFICATIONS it requires. Besides the physical and the musical, and far above them in nature and importance.

1. Understanding of what is sung (1Co_14:15).

2. Faith. In the object of worship, the truths uttered, the Mediator (Heb_11:6; Heb_13:15).

3. Devout feelings. Reverence, humility, gratitude, love, joy in God.

4. Unity with fellow-worshippers (Rom_15:5, Rom_15:6). Mutual harmony is essential to harmonious praise. Anger, envy, alienation, hinder united worship, spoil the best singing.

III. The DUTY OF THOSE WHO PROVIDE FOR OR CONDUCT IT. Such as (Col_3:12) are "over the thanksgiving" are to regard themselves not as performers exhibiting their own skill, but as ministers of Christ and the congregation, to worship with their brethren, and aid them in worshipping God. The composition and choice of hymns and tunes, and the style of playing and singing, are all to be subordinate to this end. If this seem to require of composers, organists, and choirs some sacrifice of credit, it confers on them a far higher dignity than they could otherwise reach, and secures them a richer recompense now and hereafter.


1. To take part in the worship. In heart, if not with voice.

2. To unite, if capable, in the singing itself. The singing at the temple appears to have been chiefly choral; that of the Christian Church should be congregational. All are as Levites, "to praise and to give thanks," unless physically incapacitated. The benefits of the service depend much on the union of the many in it.

3. To qualify themselves, therefore, as far as possible for the exercise. That "with one mouth" (Rom_15:6), as well as "one mind," all may "glorify God." The subject requires more thought and care by ministers and congregations than it sometimes receives.


Neh_12:1-26, Neh_12:44-47

Ministers of the Lord.

Twenty-six verses of this chapter are given to the record of the names of priests and Levites. That fact itself is suggestive. It is indicative of the high place which the ministers of God held in the national estimation. We meet in these chronicles with the names of few men of comparative wealth, or rank, or soldierly ability; but the names of the ministers of religion are recorded, and are thus immortalised. Concerning these we may learn—

I. THEIR RELATIVE VALUE IN THE STATE. "Judah rejoiced in the priests and Levites that waited"—stood at their posts (Neh_12:44). The worth of the "non-productive classes" of the community, however high their social position, has been said to be less than that of the man who "makes two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before." But the worth of this last is surely less by far than that of him who makes a true thought to live and grow in the mind where one false fancy throve before, who plants right principles in the soul, who is the means of cultivating fruits of righteousness in the hearts and lives of men. A number of men scattered all over the land who live to circulate that sacred truth which leads men into and along the way of wisdom, and to draw the hearts of men into fellowship with a holy God, must be dying a work of truest patriotism, second to none that can be mentioned. Well might "Judah rejoice in the priests and Levites that stood at their posts" (or that waited), and treasure their names in her archives. Well may England rejoice in her ministers of Christ who stand at their posts and do the work he has placed in their hands.

II. THE PRINCIPLE OF THEIR APPOINTMENT (Neh_12:10). We are naturally struck with the expression (Neh_12:10), "And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib," etc. It brings before us—as indeed all these family names do—the hereditary principle adopted by God in the appointment of his ministers. The priestly and the Levitical office went from father to son. In that age, and under the system of religion appointed of God, there can be no doubt that this was the best possible principle. We have sad and striking instances, indeed, of its failure to secure purity and integrity. The cases of Eli and Samuel, whose sons "walked not in their fathers' ways," immediately suggest themselves. Yet there was an unquestionable spiritual force in this family arrangement. The sons and grandsons who looked back to their fathers, to their ancestors, as men that stood before God in his near presence, as men that taught Israel the sustaining, reviving, saving truths of religion, would gain a powerful incentive from the thought; and as they looked forward to their sons and their grandsons, to a remote posterity discharging the same sacred offices, a holy anticipation would join with a holy pride to keep them loyal to their faith and to their functions. With the Christian ministry the hereditary principle is in the background; it is a secondary, not primary, consideration. The first thing is fitness for the work, and the conviction that a man is personally called thereto by God's own Spirit. "Aptness to teach" (1Ti_3:2) and to serve in the various offices of the ministry of Christ, with that earnest desire to "do good and to communicate" which argues a heaven-born inspiration, must be the decisive thing. Nevertheless, there is room for the influence of the family principle here. Many of the very best ministers of Christ are sons and grandsons of those who thus served their God and their generation before them; and these have been worthier and abler servants of their age because they have drawn inspiration from their fathers' lives and labours. In this our time there is much of holy influence and power to gain from those who have gone before us, and much to give to those who shall come after us. We should aim to

(1) be worthy of our ancestors, and to

(2) supply an incentive and example to our posterity.

III. THEIR RECOMPENSE (Neh_12:44-47). So much did "Judah rejoice for (in) her priests and Levites" (Neh_12:44), that men had to be appointed "over the chambers for the treasures," first-fruits, tithes, and free-will offerings which the people freely brought to them. All those who held any sacred office—including those of the Levites who were singers and porters, and "who kept the ward," i.e. did their work (Neh_12:45)—received their recompense, and the people "sanctified" (set apart) "holy things" (their offerings to the Lord) to the Levites, and these gave their tenth to the "children of Aaron" (Neh_12:47). The Christian minister has his recompense, which is threefold.

1. It is present and temporal. "Sowing spiritual things, he expects to "reap carnal things" (1Co_9:11). He that is "taught in the word is to communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Gal_6:6).

2. It is present and spiritual. In the approval of Christ his observant Lord; in the gratitude and affection of those whom he serves; in the excellency and success of his work—intrinsically the highest and best of all works; and in the opportunities it provides for his own spiritual culture.

3. It is future. The smile of the Master in the day when "every man has praise of God;" the greeting again of those rescued and strengthened on earth; the "rule over many cities" to be enjoyed by those who wisely employ their talents here.—C.