“Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities” (Nehemiah 11:1).
For teams that compete within the various major North American sports leagues, one important means of player acquisition involves a draft of eligible athletes. In this context, the word “draft” refers to “a selection or drawing of persons” and it represents an important part of any team’s potential success.
For instance, the various teams that comprise the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and Major League Soccer (MLS) all conduct annual drafts of the best eligible players in an attempt to strengthen their individual clubs. For some leagues, these annual player drafts have become great extravaganzas complete with fans and amateur scouts offering their opinions as to which players should be drafted by each individual team.
In Nehemiah chapter eleven we will go on to read about a very different type of draft. This draft was not designed to select players for an individual team- it was a draft that was designed to select those who would serve to repopulate the city of Jerusalem.
Of course, it may be difficult to understand why the leaders of that area felt compelled to institute a draft to rebuild the city’s population, especially considering all the work that had been done to rebuild and secure the city of Jerusalem. One answer can be found in Nehemiah’s comment from earlier within this book: “…the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not rebuilt” (7:4).
The main issue seemed to be related to the fact that the homes and businesses of Jerusalem were still in disrepair despite the efforts that had been made to rebuild the walls of the city. This limited the advantage of living within the city, while life outside the city’s perimeter offered the benefit of land for farming and livestock.
Therefore, an effort to bring additional residents into Jerusalem would help to spur construction, growth, and economic activity. Businesses would be established to serve the consumer needs of the newly established population and a sense of camaraderie would develop among those residents who sacrificed in helping to establish the city as a major population center once again. Nehemiah chapter eleven will detail this campaign to help restore the city of Jerusalem to a position of prominence one more.
“The leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people drew lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city. The remaining nine-tenths were supposed to live in the other cities. The people blessed everyone who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 11:1-2 GW).
Nehemiah chapter eleven provides us with a list of those individuals who willingly agreed to establish their residences within the city of Jerusalem or others who were selected through a type of lottery.
We’re first told that “…the rulers of the people lived at Jerusalem” (MKJV). These leaders helped set the right example for others to follow by willingly agreeing to settle within the city. The problem was that the city was still too large for the relatively few leaders who elected to live there.
Of course, the idea of an uncrowded city may sound very appealing to those who are familiar with the challenges of living in a highly populated urban area. However, a relatively large city with a relatively small population posed a significant security risk during that time. One commentator explains the situation with the following observation…
“To live in Jerusalem, you had to live knowing you were a target for the enemy. There were strong walls to protect you, but since Jerusalem was now a notable city with rebuilt walls, the fear was more from whole armies than bands of robbers. The old village was nice, but not in much danger from great armies.” (1)
This selection process involved the act of casting lots, an Old Testament practice that continued on a limited basis into the New Testament period (see Acts 1:26). The concept of casting lots referred to a method of determining God’s will in various circumstances and was practiced by such notable Biblical personalities as Aaron (Leviticus 16:8), Joshua (Joshua 18:10), and Saul (1 Samuel 14:42).
Scholars are unsure as to what exactly constituted a “lot” although some suspect that objects of stone or wood may have been used. One source explains why this method of determining God’s will remains something of a mystery today…
“After the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the casting of lots gradually fell into disfavor because more direct access became available to God’s people in and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In spite of the many references to casting lots in the Old Testament, nothing is known about the actual lots themselves. They could have been sticks of various lengths, flat stones like coins, or some kind of dice.” (2)
(1) Guzik, Dave Nehemiah 11 – The Citizens of Jerusalem http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/1611.htm
(2) Lots, Casting Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary
“Now the leaders of the people stayed in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots for one out of ten to come and live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the other nine-tenths remained in their towns. The people praised all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 11:1-2 HCSB).
While there is little direct information regarding the practice of casting lots, it appears that one lot out of every ten was marked or identified in some manner here in Nehemiah chapter eleven. If a family was chosen by lot, that family moved into the city along with the volunteers, local leaders, and others who were chosen by this method.
For the ten percent who were selected, this move to Jerusalem involved more than just the inconvenience of packing up an entire household and relocating from the country to the city. In addition to the potential danger posed by an invading army, there were any number of small-scale adversaries with an interest in hindering the city’s progress.
Remember that the effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s perimeter wall represented more than just a challenging and difficult construction project- the people who worked together to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem literally risked their lives to complete this work. As detailed previously in Nehemiah chapter four, these opponents had already sought to mount a sophisticated, multi-level, guerrilla style military attack to derail this effort.
While these adversaries may have been disheartened by the successful completion of this work, their opposition this effort to restore Jerusalem to a position of prominence surely remained unchanged. One commentary described these conditions by observing, “Since Jerusalem had been devastated and was the point of great contention between the Jews and neighboring peoples, it was not an attractive nor a safe place in which to live in the fifth century B.C.” (1)
Nevertheless, there were some who willingly chose to establish their residence within the city and this helps explain the response of the people who acknowledged these volunteers: “…the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem” (ESV).
In fact, an ancient historian named Flavius Josephus reports that Nehemiah felt so strongly about the need to repopulate the city that he even provided homes for some of those who chose to return: “But Nehemiah, seeing that the city had a small population, urged the priests and Levites to leave the countryside and move to the city and remain there, for he had prepared houses for them at his own expense.” (2)
(1) John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament 11:1-36 Populating Jerusalem pg. 481
(2) Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of The Jews, 11.5.8 http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-11.htm
“These are the heads of the province who dwelt in Jerusalem. (But in the cities of Judah everyone dwelt in his own possession in their cities—Israelites, priests, Levites, Nethinim, and descendants of Solomon’s servants)” (Nehemiah 11:3).
Nehemiah 11:3 begins a lengthy list of individuals who would go on to form the nucleus of the newly re-established city of Jerusalem. For example, verses four to six provide us with a list of those who hailed from the tribe of Judah. Verses seven to nine catalog those who were members of the tribe of Benjamin. Verses ten to fourteen detail the priestly representatives while verses fifteen to eighteen record a similar list of Levitical leaders. Finally, verse nineteen provides us with a list of gatekeepers who returned to establish their homes in Jerusalem.
Now anyone reading though these verses is sure to encounter the challenge of pronouncing some of these names. For instance, there are Shephatiah and Mahalalel listed for us in verse four, Maaseiah and Joiarib in verse five, Zichri and Senuah in verse nine, and others like Meshillemoth (verse thirteen), Bakbukiah (verse seventeen), and Meshezabel (verse twenty-four) as well.
While it may be amusing to listen to others attempt to read these barely pronounceable names, there are two good reasons to avoid speeding past the list of people found here in Nehemiah chapter eleven. The first reason involves the historical significance associated with these individuals. As noted by one source, this chapter provides us with a “…census roster that parallels 1Ch 9:2–21, a list of the first residents in Jerusalem after the return from Babylonia. About half the names in the two lists are the same.” (1)
The second reason coincides with a point made earlier regarding a similar list found in Nehemiah chapter seven. You see, many readers are inclined to pass over such Biblical records for they seem to represent little more than lists of obscure individuals who died thousands of years ago. But while these names may mean little to us, they do mean something to God.
Unlike the average person reading through this chapter today, God is intimately familiar with the day to day details associated with the lives of every person listed here in Nehemiah chapter eleven- and while these individuals may be unknown to us, they are well-known to Him.
If future generations come to look upon our lives in much the same way that we look upon the names found here in Nehemiah chapter eleven, we can take comfort in the fact that God knows who we are, just as He knows every person listed here.
(1) Hendrickson Bibles, Holy Bible: Zondervan New International Version Study Bible [notes on Nehemiah 11:3-19] pg. 706
“Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, was the leader of the house of God” (Nehemiah 11:11).
Before leaving this chapter, we should pause to focus upon one specific individual mentioned here. That person would be Seraiah, a man who is identified in the King James Version of this text as “the ruler of the house of God.”
In this capacity, Seraiah would have served as the chief administrator for temple operations. This was an important position for it entailed oversight responsibility for things like custodial operations, groundskeeping, maintenance, and general building superintendence among others.
While this may not sound like the most glamorous job description, Seraiah’s position was critical to the function of the temple. In a similar manner, it may be easy to observe the prominent roles held by ministers, worship leaders, or others within a modern-day church setting and lose sight of the important roles held by those who may serve in less-visible ministry positions.
For instance, those who manage the sound, lighting, and technical functions of a church service help enable a gifted minister to effectively communicate the Scriptures. Those tasked with the responsibility for building maintenance and groundskeeping serve to create an environment that honors God.
Others who are called to a Sunday School ministry strive to establish the foundation of God’s Word in the lives of future generations. Those who are involved in janitorial services work behind the scenes to secure the comfort and convenience of others.
In some instances, the people who serve in such ministries (and others like them) are barely known by many within the congregation. They generally work quietly and faithfully (often during off-hours) with little recognition. Thus, their true value may sometimes go unnoticed- that is, until they are no longer available to serve for some reason.
You see, people generally don’t notice when the sound is good, the landscape is maintained, the Sunday School teacher is well-prepared, or the lavatories are clean. However, people will definitely take note when those things no longer exist. Because of this it’s important to recognize that faithfulness is a far better standard of spiritual measurement than recognition from others.
Remember that it is our responsibility to faithfully serve God in the work He has given us to do regardless of how small or insignificant those tasks may seem to appear. As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 25:40, “…’I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me'” (GW).