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Commentary: Nehemiah 12
12:1–7 With the Judahite-Benjaminite settlement of Jerusalem and the region now documented, the account offers a supplementary list of clerical personnel extending across multiple generations. The list is headed by those associated with the high priesthood of Jeshua (12:1, 7) during the first return under Darius I, sixteen of which (in varying forms) are found in the list of signatories to the covenant in Neh 10.
12:8–26 […] Notes concerning the recording of the Levites and priests (Neh 12:22–23) offer a further hint of the consuming interest (visible in these very lists) in documenting who did what in the days of the return, while 12:24 recollects those responsible not just for thanksgiving (cf. 11:17) but now also for “praise,” both of which are seen to have a Davidic connection (cf. Chronicles). The gatekeepers, familiar from 11:19, remind the reader of just how treasured the newly rebuilt temple and its precincts were for the returnees, while the intention of the final verse (12:26) may well be to indicate that the service of the Levites referred to in the previous verse was associated with the days of Joiakim and those later days in which Ezra and Nehemiah are to be found together (when Eliashib was high priest).
12:27–30 Given the numbers of Levites already in the capital (on the basis of the previous chapter), the summoning to Jerusalem of those from towns outside (12:27; cf. 11:3, 20) hints at the scale of the celebrations to come. Their distinctive contribution “rejoicing, with thanksgivings and with singing”—anticipated already in the foregoing lists (11:17; 12:24)—is elaborated upon here with the mention of musical instruments and indeed the recruiting of additional singers from the environs of the capital (12:28–29). That such preparations would include the purification of the Levites and the priests (12:30) is hardly unanticipated given the mention of this same practice in Ezra 6:20 at the dedication of the temple. […]
12:31–39 […] To facilitate the giving of “thanks,” Nehemiah forms two great companies, the first of which, composed of leaders, priests, and musicians, is led by Ezra (12:36). Nehemiah by contrast (12:38) follows the other half of the people (also giving thanks), with the two parting company from their starting point, likely at the Valley Gate. If this was their point of departure, one may well imagine Nehemiah surveying with some satisfaction the progress that had been made since he passed through the very same gate to inspect the ruined walls in the dead of night on his arrival in Jerusalem (Neh 2). […]
12:40–43 Proceeding on to the temple, the two companies take their places to give “thanks,” with the presence of the priests noted as well as the trumpets (12:41) and singers (12:42). Here, as at the dedications of the temple (Ezra 6) and the altar (Ezra 3), mention is made of both joyful celebration and the offering of sacrifices (Neh 12:43). […] The amplification of such joy is accomplished not only by means of repetition within the verse but also by mentioning that the noise was so loud that it could be heard at a distance, inviting comparison with the similar sentiment in Ezra 3:13. While there, in the early days of the restoration we see both rejoicing and regret; here in Neh 12, at the dedication of the wall, the sound is not a mixture of laughter and tears, but rather one of pure, unadulterated praise.
12:44–47 While the reader has already been informed of the people’s commitment to offer the first portions (10:35–37) and to bring them to the storerooms (10:38–39), the oversight of these chambers and their contents is mentioned as being established “on that day”—that is, the day of the dedication (12:27–43). […] Having also already detailed that the provisioning of the singers was royally mandated (11:23), a further note here describes the means of such provision (also for the gatekeepers), clarifying too the process of supplying for the needs of the clerical classes in terms of “hallowing or setting apart.” 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 55-57.
Bible Text: Nehemiah 12:1-47
1 These are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, 2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, 4 Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, 5 Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, 7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah. These were the chiefs of the priests and of their brothers in the days of Jeshua.
8 And the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, who with his brothers was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. 9 And Bakbukiah and Unni and their brothers stood opposite them in the service. 10 And Jeshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, 11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.
12 And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers’ houses: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; 13 of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; 14 of Malluchi, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; 15 of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; 16 of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; 17 of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; 18 of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; 19 of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; 20 of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; 21 of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethanel.
22 In the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, the Levites were recorded as heads of fathers’ houses; so too were the priests in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 As for the sons of Levi, their heads of fathers’ houses were written in the Book of the Chronicles until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. 24 And the chiefs of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers who stood opposite them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch by watch. 25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers standing guard at the storehouses of the gates. 26 These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra, the priest and scribe.
27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28 And the sons of the singers gathered together from the district surrounding Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; 29 also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30 And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.
31 Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. One went to the south on the wall to the Dung Gate.32 And after them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, 33 and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, 35 and certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets: Zechariah the son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, son of Asaph; 36 and his relatives, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went up straight before them by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, to the Water Gate on the east.
38 The other choir of those who gave thanks went to the north, and I followed them with half of the people, on the wall, above the Tower of the Ovens, to the Broad Wall, 39 and above the Gate of Ephraim, and by the Gate of Yeshanah, and by the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, to the Sheep Gate; and they came to a halt at the Gate of the Guard. 40 So both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half of the officials with me; 41 and the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; 42 and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. 43 And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
44 On that day men were appointed over the storerooms, the contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the Law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns, for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered.
45 And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.
Questions to help us go deeper
- What can I learn from the fact that the first thing the Levites did was to “[purify] themselves” and then “they purified the people” before they celebrated joyfully?
- What is the significance of Ezra the scribe leading the procession of celebration (v.36)? What is fitting about the scope of this event that took place to thank God? How is this an apt picture of the church?
- What does this passage say regarding how a church should function? What are the “daily portions” that I am to contribute to God’s church?