Nehemiah chapter seven is the longest chapter within this book and marks something of an interlude within this Biblical narrative.
You see, the first six chapters of Nehemiah are largely devoted to the account of Jerusalem’s reconstruction and the effort to rebuild the wall that surrounded the once-decimated city. In final six chapters we’ll learn how God orchestrated the spiritual reconstruction of those who lived within that area as well. Situated in between these two sections is Nehemiah chapter seven.
Although the work of rebuilding had been now completed, Nehemiah still had a few remaining items left on his “to do” list. For example, Nehemiah’s position of authority in Jerusalem was never meant to be a permanent appointment and it was virtually impossible for a single person to run the day to day operations of the city. So one of the first items at the top of Nehemiah’s agenda involved securing new leadership to assist with the city’s municipal oversight.
Nehemiah’s post-reconstruction plan also included new operational procedures to help ensure the city’s safety and security. Finally, Nehemiah recognized the need to stabilize and grow the city’s population. He will begin to address these action items here within the first six verses of chapter seven but first, there was something else that was even more important…
“Then it was, when the wall was built and I had hung the doors, when the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed” (Nehemiah 7:1).
Now that the reconstruction work had been finished, the time had come to establish the spiritual foundation of the city: “the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed” (HCSB). We’ll discuss the gatekeepers in greater detail a bit later but for now, lets pause to examine the other two groups mentioned here: the singers and Levites.
As their name implies, the singers were those who led others in songs of praise and worship to God. Since the singers were included among these first group of appointments, we can say that Nehemiah must have considered the worship of God to be an item of primary importance.
The “Levites” were descendants of Levi (a member of one of the original tribes of Israel) who served as assistants to the priests. While the priests and Levites each shared a common ancestry through Levi, only the descendants of Moses’ bother Aaron were permitted to become priests according to Exodus 29:9.
So by choosing to focus upon these spiritual appointments first, Nehemiah made certain to ensure that Jerusalem’s renewal got off to the right start.
“…I gave the charge of Jerusalem to my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the leader of the citadel, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many” (Nehemiah 7:2).
After working to establish a good spiritual foundation within the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah next sought to address the need for responsible civil leadership with his next two appointments: “I put two men in charge of governing the city of Jerusalem: my brother Hanani and Hananiah, commanding officer of the fortress…” (GNB).
If Hanani’s name sounds familiar, then it may be due to the fact that his original report concerning Jerusalem’s devastated condition prompted Nehemiah to seek God regarding the city’s restoration. Now while it may be easy to assume that Hanani secured this position on the basis of the fact that he was Nehemiah’s brother, there is another, more important reason behind his selection.
You see, this verse mentions Hanani along with another individual named Hananiah. While the wording used in this passage makes it somewhat difficult to determine if one or both men are described within this text, the basis for Nehemiah’s choice is very clear: “…he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do” (NIV).
With this in mind, its safe to say that neither Hanani nor Hananiah secured these positions through their political, business, or family connections. Instead, these men were appointed to these offices in recognition of their God-honoring character. In other words, Hanani and Hananiah were faithful men of integrity who could be counted upon when they were needed- that’s why Nehemiah selected them for these leadership positions.
As found in the original language, the word used for “integrity” expresses the general idea of reliability, truthfulness, stability, and firmness. (1) This concept is further illustrated by the use of words such as “faithful” (ASV), “honest” (ERV), or “trustworthy” (GW) in various modern-day translations of this passage.
So this passage indicates that Hanani and Hananiah were men who were dependable, responsible, and consistent- and these qualities undoubtedly stood in stark contrast to those who were more willing to say and/or do whatever seemed to be in their best interest at the time.
So how can we develop similar God-honoring qualities of faithfulness, integrity, and dependability in a day and age where many seem to doing whatever seems to best for themselves as well? We’ll examine some potential answers to that question next.
(1) H571 ’emeth Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions
“I put my brother Hanani in charge of Jerusalem, along with Hananiah, the commander of the fortress, because Hananiah could be trusted, and he respected God more than most people did” (Nehemiah 7:2 CEV).
Although Nehemiah was permitted to take a leave of absence from his royal duties to oversee the Jerusalem rebuilding project, he was expected to return to the citadel of Susa and resume his position as the king’s cupbearer when those efforts were complete. This can be inferred from the king’s response to Nehemiah’s original request to undertake the work in Jerusalem: “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” (Nehmiah 2:6 NLT).
So in advance of his eventual return to Persia, Nehemiah appointed two individuals to assume responsibility for Jerusalem’s municipal leadership: his brother Hanani and a second man named Hananiah. This decision was based (at least in part) on Hananiah’s faithfulness and respect for God, two qualities that were undoubtedly exhibited by Hanani as well.
These characteristics provide us with opportunity to consider how we might demonstrate a similar degree of faithfulness and respect for God in our lives today. For instance, one way in which we might follow this good example is through the quality of the work we produce. No matter what our responsibilities may entail, a God-honoring work effort sets the right example for others to follow and reflects well upon our relationship with Christ.
Remember that a Godly person is someone who should generally be recognized as person of excellence. Of course, this is often easier said than done for a commitment to excellence may sometimes mean doing things the right way instead of the fast way. It may mean stepping up to address a difficult or challenging situation when it would simply be easier to do nothing. It may involve dozens of small decisions on a daily basis that cumulatively help to determine if we are demonstrating genuine integrity and respect for God or something else.
No matter what our work may involve, everyone can seek to be a person of excellence in carrying out his or her responsibilities. In the New Testament book of Ephesians we’re told, “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Ephesians 6:7 NLT).
While it can often be difficult to work with enthusiasm (especially when faced with some of the more mundane tasks of life), this perspective can help infuse even the most seemingly pointless task with genuine meaning and significance as we seek to honor God with our efforts.
Even though Jerusalem’s perimeter wall had been successfully rebuilt, that didn’t necessarily mean that everything was OK…
“And I said to them, ‘Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot; and while they stand guard, let them shut and bar the doors; and appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, one at his watch station and another in front of his own house'” (Nehemiah 7:3).
While Jerusalem’s perimeter wall afforded an important measure of security, Nehemiah understood that the wall encircling Jerusalem would not be sufficient to protect the city by itself. So Nehemiah also sought to establish a rotational schedule of guard units to help defend against any attempts to scale the newly rebuilt wall or tunnel beneath it.
However, Nehemiah took these security measures one step further by establishing what amounted to a civil defense force: “…each homeowner who lived near the wall must guard the section of wall next to his own home” (TLB). This strategy would supplement the efforts of these individual guard units and provide the additional incentive associated with the protection of one’s own home, family, and property.
The gatekeepers who lived within the walled cities of the Old Testament period customarily opened the gates at sunrise and closed them again at sunset. In part, this was done to accommodate various merchants and permit them to enter a city, prepare their merchandise, and be ready to do business when the residents of that city arose to start the day.
However, Nehemiah instituted some special instructions to help eliminate any potential security threats associated with these merchants or anyone else who might seek to enter the city: “I issued instructions to them not to open the Jerusalem gates until well after sunrise, and to close and lock them while the guards were still on duty” (TLB).
By waiting until later in the day to open the gates, the city would be better prepared to defend against a potential enemy attack. One commentator also notes a spiritual application that might be gleaned from this decision as well…
“Though the wall was now finished, Nehemiah did not cease taking precautions… This is teaching us that we must never let down our guard. How many men of prominence in the Christian life have we seen fall in their later years because they let down their guard and ceased to do battle with the enemy!” (1)
(1) Stedman, Ray Don’t Vacillate — Perpetuate! http://www.raystedman.org/old-testament/nehemiah/dont-vacillate–perpetuate
“Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not rebuilt” (Nehemiah 7:4).
In addition to his security concerns, Nehemiah encountered another issue in addressing Jerusalem’s post-restoration agenda: “The city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not been rebuilt” (CJB). One commentator relates the problem facing Nehemiah in the following manner…
“Although in Jerusalem’s history, it had been a major population center, since the return from the Babylonian captivity, there just weren’t enough people living there. After all, who would have wanted to live in the city whose walls were demolished? For now, it was a big place with just a few people…” (1)
A growing population would undoubtedly lead to more commerce, better security, and a greater sense of community and fellowship- and this was something that God prompted Nehemiah to address….
“Then my God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the rulers, and the people, that they might be registered by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of those who had come up in the first return, and found written in it” (Nehemiah 7:5).
In 21st century terms, we might say that God inspired Nehemiah to conduct a census. A Biblical census was a type of survey that was used to count various individuals for tax purposes (Exodus 38:26, Luke 2:1-5), national origin (2 Chronicles 2:17), or military eligibility (2 Chronicles 25:5).
However, not all censuses were undertaken with the proper motivation, for at least one Biblical census was apparently generated by an inappropriate sense of pride (see 2 Samuel 24). Perhaps this explains why Nehemiah made a point to mention the fact that “…God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families” (NIV).
In this instance, a census would help determine the number of people who were potentially available to live within Jerusalem. The first step in this process involved consulting the available historical records: “…I found records of those who had been the first to return to Jerusalem from Babylon Province. By reading these records, I learned that they settled in their own hometowns” (CEV).
What follows next is a register of people that were listed within these documents. This list begins in verse eight and extends into verse sixty-seven where it continues with a catalog of animals as well. We’ll consider the relevance of this lengthy genealogy for modern-day readers over the next few studies.
(1) Daniel, Ron Nehemiah 7:1-8:8 http://www.rondaniel.com/library/16-Nehemiah/Nehemiah0701.php
“These are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his city” (Nehemiah 7:6).
Nehemiah 7:6-69 features one of the many examples of Biblical genealogies. A genealogy is a record of the ancestral descent of a person, family, or group and is often referred to as a family tree today. For example, this section provides us with information on the leaders, priests, and Temple assistants who lived during this period. We are given the names of these individuals along with the identity of the people group to which they belonged.
So this genealogy features three important things: who the person was, what the person was (where applicable), and the family affiliation of that person. For example, Nehemiah 7:13 tells us that there were 845 sons (or descendants) of Zattu included within this census. Verse sixteen tells us that there were 628 sons of Bebai. Verse seventeen counts 2322 sons of Azgad, and so forth.
Now its probably safe to say that most 21st century readers will not be very impressed by the fact that there are 628 descendants of Bebai listed within this passage. (1) The reality is that people are probably more inclined to skip over the kind of historical record found here in Nehemiah chapter seven.
You see, we are often tempted to skim over these Biblical genealogies because the names listed within them don’t mean very much to us. For the overwhelming majority of modern-day readers, these Biblical genealogies represent little more than groups of obscure individuals who died more than twenty centuries ago.
In light of this, we may ask, “Why are these names listed here at all? It seems to be a waste of time reading through all these historical genealogies.” While such questions may seem to have some validity, they overlook an important point: although these names may not mean very much to us, they do mean something to God.
You see, these individuals are not just anonymous faces in a sea of humanity. They are not simply names recorded on an ancient scroll or carved into a archaic clay tablet. Each person listed within this genealogy is unique among the untold numbers of human beings who have ever existed – and they each meant something to God.
We’ll discuss why every modern-day reader should grasp the significance behind this truth next.
(1) With the possible exception of anyone who may actually be named Bebai
“Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it” (Nehemiah 7:5 ESV).
When reading through the various genealogies found within the Old and New Testament Scriptures, we may sometimes wonder why these lists were included within the Bible at all.
To answer that question, it first helps to remember that a large and growing family was viewed as a sign of God’s divine favor in the Biblical era. This was especially important in a culture where the record of one’s lineage was more than just an interesting hobby- it represented an important legal and historical account.
For example, a genealogical record was essential when it came to certain spiritual appointments. Since the descendants of Moses’ bother Aaron were exclusively permitted to serve as priests (Exodus 29:9), it was important to maintain accurate historical records. As mentioned later within this chapter, those priests who could not validate their genealogical histories were actually barred from ministry until their identities could be verified.
But let’s consider this question from a more personal perspective. For instance, let’s say that someone wrote your name on a piece of paper, placed it in a jar, and buried that jar in the ground. Lets then say that someone else comes along and digs up that jar containing your name in the far distant future. Given these parameters, what significance would your name hold for a member of that future generation?
Well, the reality is that your name would probably mean as much to a member of that future generation as the people listed within these Biblical genealogies mean to us today. As far as those future individuals are concerned, all your hopes, dreams, and aspirations passed away with you when you died.
One thousand years from now, our own names will be very much like those listed here within Nehemiah 7:6-69 with one critical exception- God knows who we are. Our existence is significant to Him, even if it is significant to no one else.
These genealogies seem boring because we have no personal connection with the people listed within them- but God does. God knows who these people were- and He knows who we are as well. And because of this, we will never find ourselves relegated to the status of an obscure name on the yellowed pages of an old obituary.
“So my God gave me the idea to call together all the nobles and leaders of the city, along with the ordinary citizens, for registration. I had found the genealogical record of those who had first returned to Judah. This is what was written there” (Nehemiah 7:5 NLT).
The lengthy genealogy found within Nehemiah 7:6-69 also provides us with an opportunity to consider another personal application. You see, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them” (Ecclesiastes 1:11).
To illustrate the truth of this Scripture, lets take a moment to consider those family members who have preceded us. While some may know very little (if anything) about their family, others may be able to provide many details about parents, grandparents, or other family members.
For those who know something of their family history, lets consider our great-grandparents, the parents of our grandparents. How many of us know anything about their generation? But lets go back even further to the parents of our great-grandparents- how many of us even know their names? Unless we’ve done some genealogical investigation, there’s a good chance that most of us know very little about those family members who preceded us less than a hundred years ago.
This essentially means that all of the day-to-day details of our ancestor’s lives passed away with them. They live on today only in the memories of those who knew them personally and perhaps a few old letters, photographs, or recordings. But this sad reality doesn’t only apply to people of other generations for what is true for them will be true of us as well.
While today’s age of social media may allow us to document our lives at great length, eventually there will be no one left to speak of our lives from their own personal experience- or much as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “No one remembers the people of long ago; and those to come will not be remembered by those who come after them” (CJB).
While this may represent a depressing reality, we might find some encouragement in the fact that the choices we make today will go on to shape and influence the events of tomorrow. Since our actions today will impact the future of tomorrow, our lives hold real significance (for better or worse) depending on the choices we make. We’ll talk more about the importance of this idea on a practical and spiritual level next.
“Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it” (Nehemiah 7:5 ESV).
In Nehemiah 7:6-69 we find a long historical record of those who had returned to the region of Judea following their release from captivity in the nation of Babylon. Although it may be tempting to speed past this list of barely pronounceable names, this record is significant in the fact that these individuals helped write the history of those who followed.
While this list may seem to represent little more than a long, boring genealogy, it actually provides us with an important reminder: much like those who returned to Jerusalem to Babylon, every human being is writing his or her own history for future generations today.
For example, our choices, our words, and our actions (including those we fail to take), will all become part of our own personal history and the histories of others. This may help to explain why the New Testament book of Ephesians tells us, “…be very careful how you live. Don’t live like foolish people but like wise people. Make the most of your opportunities because these are evil days. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord wants” (Ephesians 5:15-18 GW).
In a general sense, these Scriptures should serve to remind us that we influence the lives and destinies of others by the things we say and do. Much like the list of individuals found here within Nehemiah 7:6-69, our choices today will help shape and influence future generations as well.
Those who are alive today are building a legacy for those who follow- just like the people listed here within Nehemiah chapter seven. Because of this, every day carries meaning and significance for the present and the future. As we’re reminded in Romans 2:6-8…
“God will reward each of us for what we have done. He will give eternal life to everyone who has patiently done what is good in the hope of receiving glory, honor, and life that lasts forever. But he will show how angry and furious he can be with every selfish person who rejects the truth and wants to do evil” (CEV).
So every human being is writing history each day, just like those who are mentioned here within Nehemiah chapter seven. The question is, what kind of history are we writing?
“These are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his city” (Nehemiah 7:6-7).
The genealogical record contained within Nehemiah 7:7-69 is almost identical to another list that is found within the Old Testament book of Ezra (see Ezra 2:1-67). However, a comparison of these two lists also reveals a number of spelling, numerical, and personnel differences as well.
For example, the groups of individuals numbered in Ezra chapter two totals 31,089 while the number of people found within Nehemiah chapter seven only adds up to 29,818. Ezra 2:28 identifies 223 people from the towns of Bethel and Ai while Nehemiah lists only 123 people from those towns. Finally, Ezra refers to “…the people of Magbish” in Ezra 2:30 while Nehemiah fails to mention these individuals at all.
So how can we account for the differences that exist between these two Biblical genealogies? Well, one commentator provides us with some additional insight on that question…
“Nehemiah determines to put together a register of all of the families living in Judah at that time. In order to accomplish this, he relies heavily upon the register made in the time of Ezra and the first return of Jewish exiles. Therefore, the list which follows is very similar to the one found in Ezra 2:1-61.
The few differences can be accounted for by keeping in mind the length of time that had transpired between the events of Ezra and those of Nehemiah, and the realization that family lines had evolved and changed over those years, as well as the frequency with which names were changed or spellings were altered over time in ancient Middle Eastern records. (For instance, “Sia” in Nehemiah 7:47 is the same individual as the man named “Siaha” in Ezra 2:44.
Also, Ezra compiled his list in the province of Babylon, and it was made up of those who had at first made known their choice to return to Judah with the exiles. However, it is likely that not all who put their names on the list actually returned, and that there were some who at first did not respond to the call but chose to do so after the list was compiled. That is likely why there are a few differences in number between the two registries. (1)
(1) Caldwell, Bob Nehemiah 7 The Wall Completed
“And some of the heads of the fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury one thousand gold drachmas, fifty basins, and five hundred and thirty priestly garments.
Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses gave to the treasury of the work twenty thousand gold drachmas, and two thousand two hundred silver minas. And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand gold drachmas, two thousand silver minas, and sixty-seven priestly garments” (Nehemiah 7:70-72)
Its difficult to translate the equivalent worth of the currencies mentioned within this passage for modern-day audiences. Since the relative value of silver and gold fluctuates on a daily basis, an accurate value given today may be widely inaccurate tomorrow.
Nevertheless, its probably safe to say that most people probably have little or no idea regarding the relative worth of a drachma or mina today so an attempt to illustrate the value of these gifts for 21st century readers might be helpful.
A “drachma” was a ancient unit of coinage that may have been named after Darius the Mede, a leader who is prominently mentioned within the Old Testament book of Daniel. A “mina” was a term used in ancient times to denote both a measure of weight and a coin (1)
Twenty thousand gold drachmas carried the equivalent weight of about 375 lbs (roughly 171kg). At $1200.00 USD per ounce, this would yield a approximate value of $7,200,000 USD. Two thousand minas of silver weighed about 2500 lbs (or 1134kg). At $18.00 USD per ounce, these gifts would equate to about $720,000 USD in a modern-day system of currency.
In addition to these monetary offerings, other gifts were provided as well. The basins mentioned here referred to the vessels used to contain the blood of the sacrificial offerings. We’re also told that 597 gifts of priestly apparel were given as part of this effort. Given the description of these vestments as found in Exodus 28, its safe to say that these garments were probably were not easy or inexpensive to produce.
So these individuals were clearly generous in support of this work. As mentioned earlier, a burden for the work to be done, a belief that God was leading the pursuit of that work, and the tangible evidence of God’s endorsement were important factors that helped motivate this impressive level of support- and its clear that this attitude continued among the people well after the actual work of rebuilding the wall was complete.
(1) Caldwell, Bob Led by God, Not Man
“So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the Nethinim, and all Israel dwelt in their cities. When the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities” (Nehemiah 7:73).
The seventh month of the year marked a special and important period on Israel’s national calendar This reference to the “seventh month” here in Nehemiah 7:73 would correspond to the September-October period on a modern-day calendar. It also coincided with three national holidays for the nation of Israel: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Trumpets is perhaps best known today as Rosh Hashanah and marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. The Day of Atonement is also known as Yom Kippur and represented the only day of the year where the High Priest was permitted to enter the innermost part of the Tabernacle -the Most Holy Place- to make a sacrificial offering for the sins of the nation.
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot) commemorated the interval that followed Israel’s release from Egyptian slavery, the forty year period of time when the people of the nation traveled through the wilderness before entering the land that God had promised to provide for them. During this festival, the people of Israel constructed temporary shelters made from the branches of various leafy trees to commemorate the period when they lived in such dwellings following their departure from Egypt.
So this passage serves to illustrate an additional benefit that emerged from this effort to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. While the restoration of this wall helped provide Jerusalem with the dignity and respect that a capital city of that period deserved, this effort also yielded a spiritual benefit that went far beyond the reconstruction of this physical structure- it established a foundation that helped facilitate the worship of God and the observance of His Laws.
As a result of Nehemiah’s God-initiated effort to restore the wall of Jerusalem, the people of Israel now had a place where they could safely gather, worship together, and focus their attention upon their relationship with God. This was especially important when it came to these periods of national observance.
In fact, we will see a prominent spiritual renewal begin to take place over the next few chapters of the book of Nehemiah as the people of Israel gather together to worship God and dedicate themselves to the ministry of His Word.