V Is For Vigilance Nehemiah 7a
Stephen Caswell © 2000
Restoration - An Inside Job
In a remote Swiss village stood a beautiful church. It was so beautiful, in fact, that it was known as the Mountain Valley Cathedral. The church was not only beautiful to look at--with its high pillars and magnificent stained glass windows--but it had the most beautiful pipe organ in the whole region. People would come from miles away--from far off lands--to hear the lovely tones of this organ. But there was a problem. The columns were still there--the windows still dazzled with the sunlight--but there was an eerie silence. The mountain valley no longer echoed the glorious fine-tuned music of the pipe organ. Something had gone wrong with the pipe organ. Musicians and experts from around the world had tried to repair it. Every time a new person would try to fix it the villagers were subjected to sounds of disharmony--awful penetrating noises which polluted the air.
One day an old man appeared at the church door. He spoke with the sexton and after a time the sexton reluctantly agreed to let the old man try his hand at repairing the organ. For two days the old man worked in almost total silence. The sexton was, in fact, getting a bit nervous. Then on the third day--at high noon--the mountain valley once again was filled with glorious music. Farmers dropped their plows, merchants closed their stores--everyone in town stopped what they were doing and headed for the church. Even the bushes and trees of the mountain tops seemed to respond as the glorious music echoed from ridge to ridge. After the old man finished his playing, a brave soul asked him how he could have fixed the organ, how could he restore this magnificent instrument when even the world's experts could not. The old man merely said it was an inside job. "It was I who built this organ fifty years ago. I created it--and now I have restored it. That is what God is like. It is He who created the universe, and it is He who can, and will, and is in the process of restoring it.
The walls were completed, the gates were restored, and the enemy was subdued; but Nehemiah’s work was not finished by any means. Like the Cathedral, the city looked fine but the people inside needed restoring. On top of this Nehemiah had to protect the city from the enemy. Ephesians 6:13, And having done all, to stand. Nehemiah had been steadfast in building the walls and in resisting the enemy, and now he had to be steadfast in consolidating and conserving the gains. A city is much more than walls, gates, and houses; a city is people. It was time to organize the community so that the citizens could enjoy the quality of life God planned for them. God had great things in store for Jerusalem. His plan of redemption for all mankind hinged on this important city. After Nehemiah had repaired the walls he sought to restore the people. Today's passage is divided into 3 sections.
I.Enlisting the Leadership II.Establishing the Citizenship III.Encouraging the Worship
Firstly Enlisting The Leadership
Nehemiah 7:1 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.
The words appoint and gave charge of are key words in verses 1 to 3. Nehemiah appointed responsible leaders to important civil and religious positions.
Nehemiah 7:2 That 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.
Like all good leaders, Nehemiah knew he couldn’t do the job alone. One of his first official acts was to appoint two assistants, his brother Hanani and Hananiah, who was in charge of the citadel. The citadel was a fortress in the temple area, guarding the north wall of the city, which was especially vulnerable to attack. Hanani and Hananiah would work with Rephaiah and Shallum, rulers of districts in the city. Why was Nehemiah convinced that these men would be good leaders? They had two wonderful qualities: They were faithful to God and they feared God. Dr. Bob Jones Senior, often said, The greatest ability is dependability. If we truly fear the Lord, we will be faithful to do the work He has called us to do. When leaders fear people instead of fearing God, they end up getting trapped and that leads to failure.
b. Singers, Levites, Priests, & Temple Servants
1. The singers encouraged the people in their worship of the Lord. They praised the Lord in song, proclaiming His greatness and His goodness to them. The Book of Psalms contains many of the songs that they sung. They practiced these songs. Verse 44 tells us that 148 sons of Asaph served the Lord as singers. The singers played an important role in the life of the city. There are at least eighteen references to singers in the Book of Nehemiah and eight references to giving thanks to the Lord. There was not much singing during the exile, when the nation was out of fellowship with God. But now the musicians encouraged the people in their worship at the temple. Their ministry was important to the nations spiritual life.
Ephesians 5:18-20 says: And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. The Levites served the Lord in a number of ways. They primarily served in the temple. But they also had roles as judges and civil leaders within the community. They taught God's Law to the people. As leaders and teachers they had an important ministry applying God's Word to daily living. The priests ministered in the temple by presenting sacrifices and prayers on behalf of the people. Over 4,000 priests are recorded in chapter 7. Praise, prayer, God's Word and fellowship have always been vital to the health of God's people.
Acts 2:42,47 speaks of the early Church. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
3. The Nethinim are listed in verses 46 to 60 along with the sons of Solomon's servants. The Nethinim carried water and wood to the temple. These were needed for cleansing purposes and offering sacrifices. Joshua assigned the Gibeonites this task when he enslaved them. The sons of Solomon's servants were foreigners enlisted for work by Solomon. For these two groups to return from exile seems to indicate that they had come to trust the God of Israel. They served in a very practical way even though it was behind the scenes.
c. Gatekeepers & Guards
7:3 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.
Gatekeepers. What good are strong new gates if nobody is guarding them and controlling who enters and leaves the city? What good are walls if the gates are open to every foe who wants to enter the city? The gatekeepers were given specific instructions as to when to open and close the gates. To open the gates early in the morning would only invite the enemy to come in while the city was asleep and unprepared. To close and lock the gates without the guards on duty might give enemy agents opportunity to slip in unnoticed.
Guards. Nehemiah also had appointed two kinds of guards, watches: Those to patrol the walls at specific stations and those to keep watch near their own houses. Since many of the people had worked on areas of the wall near their homes, Nehemiah now challenged them to guard the areas they had built. With guards at the gates, watchmen on the walls, and a solid neighborhood watch, the city was safe from outside attack. All of this has a message for us today. If God’s people don’t protect what they have accomplished for the Lord, the enemy will come in and take it over.
We need guards at the gates, faithful men and women who will not allow false Christians to get in and take over the ministry. Jesus is the only way. [pluralism] Anything that changes the message or weakens our motivation to get the message out is of the devil and must be opposed. We need watchers on the walls to warn us when the enemy is approaching. Christian parents need to guard their homes lest the enemy gets in and captures their kids. The Great Wall of China was penetrated by the enemy at least four times, and each time the guards were bribed. Gates and walls are only as good as the people who guard them.
Good leadership is required for God's work to progress. Nehemiah wisely appointed suitable men into leadership. He appointed singers to encourage the people in their worship. The Levites taught God's Word and served as civil leaders. The priests offered sacrifices and prayers up on behalf of the people. Others served by drawing wood and water. The gate keepers and guards kept watch over the city. These appointments were necessary to help restore God's people. In the Church, there is a task for everyone! There is music ministry and singing. The ministry of teaching children, youth and adults. Administration and serving. We must all keep watch for the enemy's attack! What task are you performing in the Church?
Secondly Establishing The Citizenship
Nehemiah 7:4-7 Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not rebuilt. 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: 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. Those who came with Zerubbabel were Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, and Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:
a. For Residence
This section parallels Ezra 2:1–64 with minor changes or updates. However it was God who put it in Nehemiah's heart to complete this citizens register. He wanted Jerusalem to be filled with qualified citizens. Jerusalem was a special place for God's people. The holy city must not be filled with pagans. Reading this long list of difficult names might be boring to the modern student, but these people were God’s bridge from the defeats of the past to the hopes of the future. These Jews were the living link that connected the historic past with the prophetic future and made it possible for Jesus Christ to come into the world.
Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 are to the Old Testament what Hebrews 11 is to the New Testament: a listing of the people whose faith and courage made things happen. The important thing is not to count the people but to realize that these people counted. In leaving Babylon, they did much more than put their names on a list. They laid their lives on the altar risking all to obey the Lord and restore the Jewish nation. They were pioneers of faith who trusted God to enable them to do the impossible.
Our modern cities are ethnic melting pots; but in Jerusalem at that time, the important thing was to be a Jew and be able to prove your ancestry. This meant that your parents were Jews. You entered the nation through birth. Genealogies were lifelines that linked the Jews not only to the heritage of the past but also to their hope for the future. Not to be able to prove your ancestry meant second-class citizenship and separation from all that God had given to Israel. Nehemiah wanted to populate the holy city with citizens who knew they were Jews and were proud of it. The Lord wanted Jerusalem's residents to be zealous to Him.
b. For Service
Nehemiah 7:63-65 And of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai, which took one of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite to wife, and was called after their name. These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim.
One group of people, including some priests, could not prove their genealogies. For the priests, this meant being cut off from the temple ministry and the income it provided from the tithes and offerings of the people. But the Law of Moses made it clear that only those whose family line was clearly in the family of Aaron could minister at the altar. The Governor wisely prevented them from ministering to the Lord and eating the consecrated food until God's will could be determined through the Urim and Thummim. Nehemiah only allowed God's people to minister in Jerusalem. This rule applies to the Church today. We must enlist only believers for service in God's work. Those who don't have a personal relationship with the Lord are not qualified to minister in His Church. God's house must be built by believers not unbelievers. Unbelievers need to be saved first then enlisted to work!
This applies to the Lord's table. The Lord's Table is reserved for those who know and love our Lord Jesus Christ! We keep the feast in remembrance of Him. But how can an unbeliever remember someone that they have never personally known? They can't!
Let me ask you this, If you had to prove your genealogy in order to get into God’s city, could you do it? God keeps a register in heaven of His citizens; it is called the Lamb's Book of Life. You are heading for one of two destinies, heaven or hell. Only those who belong to God’s family can enter heaven. Your name is recorded there after you are born into His family. To enter God’s family you must be born again, by receiving Jesus Christ as your own Savior. This alone guarantees your entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem. John 1:12-13 says: But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Are you a child of God? Is your citizenship recorded in heaven?
Thirdly Encouraging The Worship
Nehemiah 7:70-73 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. 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.
Citizenship and leadership together can make a state, but it takes worship to make that state into a godly nation. John Stuart Mill wrote, The worth of a state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it. But the worth of the individual depends on his or her relationship to God, and this involves worship. If individual godliness declines, the morality of the nation declines. A few things indicate what kind of relationship people have with God.
People who love the Lord and want to serve Him express this in free will giving. They recognize that God owns everything and He has blessed them. So they give back something of His blessing to them. Many Jews were thankful to God for bringing them back to the land and enabling them to rebuild the walls. So they gave from grateful hearts. The parallel passage in Ezra 2:68–70, tells us that some of the Jewish leaders gave generously to the temple ministry. But Nehemiah informs us that the governor and some of the common people also gave offerings to the Lord. It was only right that the leaders set the example. James S. Hewlett said this: A budget is a theological document. It indicates who or what we worship.
A thousand drams would be 19 pounds of gold, and 20,000 drams would be about 375 pounds. The people gave from the rich down to the poor. Many gave! But all of this money would have been useless were it not for the God-appointed ministers at the temple: the priests, Levites, singers, and helpers. The money given supported God's appointed servants.
It was now the seventh month, October-November, when Israel was expected to celebrate three Feasts. The Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:23–44]. There could have been no better time for Nehemiah to call the people together to honor the Word of God, confess their sins, and dedicate themselves and their work to the Lord. What began with Nehemiah's concern (Neh. 1) led to construction (Neh. 2–3) and conflict (Neh. 4–6); and now it was time for consecration (Neh. 7–12).
In chapter 8 the people came together to worship the Lord at these feasts. They wanted to glorify Him and learn His ways. The same should be true of us. We should desire to come into God's house and worship with His people. Hebrews 10:25 says this: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
Worship - A Holy Day -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon
When a gentleman was inspecting a house in Newcastle, with a view to renting it as a residence, the landlord took him to the upper window, expatiated on the extensive prospect, and added, You can see Durham Cathedral from this window on a Sunday. Why on a Sunday and not any other day inquired our friend, with some degree of surprise? The reply was conclusive enough. Because on that day there is no smoke from those tall chimneys. Blessed is the Sabbath to us when the earth-smoke of care and turmoil no longer clouds our view. Then our souls often behold the goodly land, and the city of the New Jerusalem.
As we serve the Lord, we must always do our best; but without His help and blessing, even our best work will never last. We must depend on the Lord and seek His help continually. Psalm 127:1 says: Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. Nehemiah knew that there was a desperate need for the people to come back to the Lord and turn away from their secret sins that were grieving Him. Nehemiah sought to restore Israel to God.
Why is giving an important part of God's worship? Because it is one way of showing our gratitude to God for all he has given to us. It also provides for God's servants. Why is it important to meet together to worship God? Can't we just worship the Lord at home? No! If we won't worship God we are out of fellowship with Him and His people because of sin.
One of the key lessons we can learn from this long chapter is that people are important to God. God wants to restore people with broken lives. He wants to give them fruitful lives. The church is living in a day of reproach, and there are ruins all around us that need to be rebuilt. There is always a new beginning for those who are willing to pay the price.
This chapter also reminds us that God keeps accounts of His servants. He knows where we came from, what family we belong to, how much we gave, and how much we did for Him. When we stand before the Lord, we will have to give an accounting of our lives before we can receive our rewards; Do you want to be able to give a good account. Then serve Him faithfully!
A third lesson we must learn is that the Lord is able to keep His work going. The first group of Jewish exiles left Babylon for Judaea in 538 B.C. and, in spite of many difficulties and delays, rebuilt the temple and restored the worship. Eighty years later, Ezra and another group returned; and fourteen years after that, Nehemiah arrived and rebuilt the walls and gates. John Wesley was right when he said that God buries His workers but continues His work. We must not be discouraged! We must continue in the work depending totally on Him!
Finally, and most important, we must all be sure that we know we are in the family of God. No matter how much they argued or protested, the priests without legitimate genealogies could not enter the temple precincts and minister at the altar. God is not impressed with our first birth; what He wants is that we experience a second birth and become His children. If your name isn't recorded in heaven, you can't enter it. Have you be born again?
1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.