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Commentary On The Book Of Nehemiah 5-7

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Problems Facing The Poorer People (5.1-5).

The three examples that follow are representative of a whole range of problems rather than being specific, but underlying them are the problems that the poor faced, especially when there was drought or famine. Compare the situation in the time of Haggai over seventy years previously (Haggai 1.6, 10-11). These poor consisted of day-labourers who had no land (see Matthew 20.1-15), and subsistence farmers with meagre strips of land.

5.1 ‘Then there arose a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brother Jews.’

The taking of the adult males to work on the walls left many families, which were already struggling to survive, in a parlous situation. (A similar situation would arise during warfare). They would have to depend on the labours of their wives and children. This would explain why the wives are particularly mentioned as being vociferous. They were bearing the brunt of the situation. Thus the families were complaining about the harshness of their fellow-Jews who were taking advantage of the situation to increase their own wealth, rather than obeying the Law which said, ‘you shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor in your land’ (Deuteronomy 15.11).

5.2 ‘For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters, are many. Let us get grain, that we may eat and live.”

The first complaint is on behalf of those who were starving because they could not afford to buy food. Their breadwinners, who would normally be acting as day-labourers for wages, were not available, and yet they still had to support large families. Losing them for even a period of less than two months was disastrous. They needed grain simply so that they could eat it and survive. There is no mention of them possessing land. We must therefore assume that they were landless.

5.3 ‘Some also there were who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, and our vineyards, and our houses. Let us get grain, because of the drought.”

The second group did own a small amount of land. But they were subsistence farmers, struggling to produce enough to eat. However, the harvest had been poor, and their adult males had neither been present to help with the meagre harvest, nor to act as part-time labourers, earning wages so as to supplement the little that they produced. Thus in order that they might obtain food to eat, and grain which would have to be sown to produce the following year’s harvest, they had mortgaged their tiny fields and vineyards. Repayments were becoming due and in order to pay them they would have to sell some of their children into debt-slavery (verse 5), or lose their land, which would then put them in the position of the first people.

5.4 ‘There were also those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute on our fields and our vineyards.’

The slightly larger fields and vineyards of the third group had also not been productive because of the drought, and the position had been made worse because their adult males were not there to help but were taken up with building the walls. Thus they had had to borrow money to pay the king’s tribute, based on land ownership, thereby mortgaging their future. These loans would have to be paid back, seemingly with interest (which was actually forbidden - Exodus 22.25; Leviticus 25.36-37; Deuteronomy 23.19-20), and this would have to be paid out of future produce. Financially things were difficult.

5.5 ‘Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought into bondage (already), nor is it in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

All three groups were concerned about the possibility of eventually having to sell their children into debt slavery, whereby their children would become unpaid servants, with payment for their services being given up front as the ‘purchase price’ of the young virtual slave. This slavery would last for seven years (Exodus 21.2-11; Deuteronomy 15.12-18). And this was being done to them, not by foreigners, but by their fellow-Jews who were of the same stock as they were. Indeed some of their daughters had already been brought into such bondage (girls would be sold first as they were not so useful in the fields). Nor could their parents do anything about it as their fields and vineyards were under the control of others, either through sale or mortgage, with the result that there was no other way of obtaining money.

Nehemiah Expresses His Anger, Admits His Own Part In Causing The Problem, And Propounds A Solution (5.6-13).

When Nehemiah heard their pleas, he was angry, both with himself and with others. He immediately recognised that he and other comparatively wealthy Jews had, probably mainly inadvertently, but some out of sheer greed, been overlooking the needs of the poor. Now he called on them to put this right. The fact that the wealthy responded so readily does suggest that most of their behaviour was unthinking. Nehemiah calls partly on the teaching of the Law about usury (claiming back extra on top of basic loans, something forbidden in Exodus 22.25; Leviticus 25.36-37; Deuteronomy 23.19-20) and partly on the contradictory nature of their behaviour. This latter point was based on the fact that they had generously paid to redeem their brothers from slavery while in Babylonia, and were doing the same in Judah, but were now themselves enslaving those same brothers, and others like them.

It is true that the Law did require that at the end of every seventh year all debt should be ‘released’ (Deuteronomy 15.1 ff), and that all Hebrew slaves should also be released (Exodus 21.2-11; Deuteronomy 15.12-18), but we do not know how far these requirements were being fulfilled. And it did not solve the current situation. Thus Nehemiah went a step further. He called on the wealthy, in view of the circumstances, to make that release immediately. And it was to their credit that they were willing, even though it might be that many were willing simply in order not to lose face before their fellows.

5.6 ‘And when I heard their cry and these words, I was very angry.’

The sad tales that came to him made Nehemiah angry, both with himself and with others. How could they have overlooked the needs of the families of those who had worked so willingly on the walls, presumably without pay? And how could they have overlooked a genuine situation of such extreme poverty? It is always the problem of the comparatively well off that they do not appreciate the position of those at the lowest levels of poverty. They just assume that they will get by, as they do themselves.

5.7 ‘Then I consulted with myself, and contended with the nobles and the rulers, and said to them, “You exact usury, every one of his brother.” And I held a great gathering against them.’

As a consequence Nehemiah first of all examined his own conscience, (‘he consulted with himself’) for he recognised that he had been equally guilty of ignoring the situation, by lending money to the poor on interest. And then he argued with the wealthy among the people, the aristocrats and rulers, and pointed out that they were doing the same. They were ‘exacting usury from their brothers’, contrary to the Law. And he organised ‘a great gathering’ where the matter could be considered. He knew that men were more disposed to charity if it was required of them in public.

5.8 ‘And I said to them, “We after our ability have redeemed our brothers the Jews, who were sold to the nations; and would you even sell your brothers, and should they be sold to us?” Then they held their peace, and found never a word.’

He then called on them to consider the contradictory nature of their behaviour. While in Babylonia they had paid good money to redeem from slavery fellow-Jews who had been enslaved by foreigners, so that they could return with them to the land, and they had also paid local foreigners a redemption price for Jewish slaves in the land, and yet they were now themselves in the contradictory position of enslaving those same brothers, and others like them, selling them to themselves. Did they consider that this was pleasing to God?

This idea of the deliverance of Jewish slaves out of the hands of foreigners was prescribed in the Law, although the principle there was applied to those ‘in the land’ where the idea of the year of Yubile applied, and the idea was that those ransomed would then serve off their debt as hired servants, not as slaves (Leviticus 25.47-55). It was, however, a practise that had been extended to include the ransom by generous Jews of any Jews in foreign hands.

Nehemiah was heard out in silence. All felt guilty. They recognised their own inconsistency, so much so that not one spoke up in his own defence. They acknowledged that they had no excuse for what they had been doing.

5.9 ‘Also I said, “The thing which you do is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God, because of the reproach of the nations our enemies?”

He stressed that what he and they were doing was not good. Should they not rather be fearing God, recognising that by their behaviour they were bringing the reproach of the nations round about, ‘their enemies’ previously mentioned (4.7), on themselves and on their God? They were proclaiming that their God was different from the gods of the nations, even from the YHWH of the syncretists, and yet they were demonstrating by their behaviour that it made no difference to the way that they lived, thus giving the impression that their God was in fact no different after all.

5.10 ‘And I likewise, my brothers and my servants, do lend them money and grain. I pray you, let us leave off this usury.”

To his credit Nehemiah did not excuse himself. He and his retinue (his ‘servants’, those who were helping him to run the country), and even his own relatives (his ‘brothers’) were equally guilty of such behaviour, lending money and grain in order to obtain a return on them. They were following Persian and Babylonian ways. As they had, however, only been in Judah a short time, they could not actually have caused much hardship as the loans must have been very recent. But he admits that the intention had been there. By this means he took away the offence that otherwise his words may have caused. He was not being ‘holier than you’. It should be noted that this practise was not forbidden in itself, only when it was with regard to fellow-Jews (Deuteronomy 23.20). Thus he calls on them to cease the practise, as he intended to do. It was to be a permanent arrangement for the future, not a temporary measure.

It should be noted that this does not condemn the modern commercial practise of lending money on reasonable interest. But it does suggest that personal loans to fellow-Christians and relatives, and to those in real poverty, to meet personal need, while being willingly given, should not be offered on the basis of obtaining a return.

5.11 “Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their fields, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the grain, the new wine, and the oil, that you exact of them.”

Nehemiah now calls on them, therefore, to restore to those from whom they had exacted them, their fields, vineyards, oliveyards and houses, together with any liability for interest and return of capital. It was to be a kind of instantaneous year of release and year of Yubile, with all debts cancelled, and all property restored, in order to start the new nation off on the right basis now that Judah was an entity in itself (albeit in the Persian empire).

Some see ‘the hundredth part’ as possibly the interest for one moon period, indicating an interest of 12%. If so, this had seemingly been generally agreed previously, and was in fact in terms of those days, very generous. We know that during the Persian period nearer to 20% was usually exacted by money lenders, and often much higher. Nevertheless Nehemiah called for it to be cancelled. In other words that part of the loans which had not yet been repaid were to be looked on as gifts, and the interest being exacted had to be cancelled.

But this may be a little too technical. The description may rather suggest a different rate. It may well be that each moon period they were expected to return one hundredth part of the money, thus slowly paying off the loan, plus one hundredth part of whatever was produced.

5.12a ‘Then they said, “We will restore them, and will require nothing of them, so will we do, even as you say.”

To the credit of the wealthy Jews their response was positive. They would restore all property, cancel all debts, and cease exacting interest, in accordance with Nehemiah’s suggestion. Any who had reservations on the matter, as there would almost inevitably have been, were seemingly ashamed to go against the generosity of the majority. We can understand how this would have given the workers on the walls a new impetus, and how it would have raised Nehemiah’s authority among the poor (the majority). It will be noted that nothing is said about the provision of food for the poorest (verse 2) but that was not part of the long term deal which was being recorded here. Provision was no doubt made for that. It could hardly have been overlooked.

5.12b ‘Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they would do according to this promise.’

Nehemiah then called on them to confirm what they had promised on oath before the priests. This made the whole thing legally binding. From then on they could not go back on it. This was not a sign that he did not trust them, but a making of the whole arrangement legal, removing any qualms that anyone might have, and any danger of anyone later changing their mind. It made the arrangement firm and sure. Were anything to arise in the future these priests and their fellows would also be the judges.

5.13 ‘Also I shook out my lap, and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, who does not fulfil this promise. Even thus be he shaken out, and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen,” and praised YHWH. And the people did according to this promise.’

Nehemiah then made a symbolic act by ‘shaking out his lap’ (we would say ‘turned out his pockets’) declaring ‘so may God shake out from their house and from their work any who does not fulfil his promise’. Personal items were carried in a fold of the cloak, held in by a belt. It was these that he shook out as a prophetic gesture. Such an overt act was seen as sealing whatever had been spoken, and as guaranteeing the carrying out by God of any penalty.

That those gathered did not see it as a rebuke, but as a sealing of the position comes out in their response. All were in agreement and all said ‘Amen’ and praised YHWH. They clearly saw it as a new beginning, and rejoiced in a new unity. Dissension among them had been removed. And finally we are assured that all the people did as they had promised. All cooperated in carrying out Nehemiah’s proposals.

Nehemiah Continued On As Governor In The Same Spirit That He Had Exhorted On The Wealthy, Refusing To Allow His Position To Be A Charge On The People (5.14-19).

It is probable that having fulfilled his original intention of restoring the walls of Jerusalem Nehemiah returned to the king accompanied by his escort, and this may well have resulted in his preparing a report which makes up a large part of the first section of the book of Nehemiah. But it appears that the king then appointed him as Governor over Judah, a position which he held for twelve years. This may well have been because there had been unrest in Egypt under Inaros, followed by a rebellion by Megabyzus, the then governor of Syria (in 449 BC), with the consequence that the king wanted to ensure Judah’s loyal support in such a sensitive area at such a crucial time, especially now that Jerusalem had been fortified. It could well be that he wanted to ensure that Jerusalem was in safe hands, providing a steadying influence in the area.

In what is probably a section added to his earlier report Nehemiah now goes on to describe how he himself during that twelve years sought not to be a financial burden on the Jewish people. He was clearly, as we would expect of a person in his high position, a very wealthy man, and he was prepared to use that wealth in the service of God by ensuring the financial stability of His people. As a consequence he did not call on the normal perquisites available to a Persian governor. And in true Nehemaic fashion he calls on God to witness that fact for his good.

5.14 ‘Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even to the thirty second year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brothers have not eaten the bread of the governor.’

This is our first indication that Nehemiah was appointed governor, and it is interesting to note that in spite of the fact that Nehemiah speaks of earlier governors (verse 15), none, apart from Sheshbazzar in Ezra 5.14, are mentioned as such either in Ezra or Nehemiah (nor are we told what Sheshbazzar was ‘governor’ of, the returnees or the district). It has been suggested that this was because, since the previous attempt to build the walls of Jerusalem, Tobiah had been acting as deputy governor, under the governorship in Samaria of Sanballat. This could well explain their hard feelings towards Nehemiah, and would tie in with Tobiah’s cosy relationship with leading men in Judah (6.17-19). Zerubbabel was called governor by Haggai, but he is not called governor in Ezra. This does, however, demonstrate the danger of an argument based on silence. If we had had Ezra alone we would not have seen Zerubbabel as sole governor as he constantly acts in unison with others.

We are not told whether Nehemiah was appointed as governor from the start. The suggestion that he had appointed a time to the king for his return (2.6) would militate against the idea. Thus it may well be that after the completion of the building of the walls he returned to Persia, only to discover that the king wanted him to return as governor because of the political situation, a post which he then held for twelve years. And he points out here that over that whole period of twelve years he and his family had not ‘eaten the bread of the governor’, that is, had not called on the people of Judah to provide him and his house with food in the way that a governor would usually expect.

5.15 ‘But the former governors who were before me were laid a charge on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.’

This was in contrast to former governors who ruled before him, who were a charge on the people and took from them food and drink as well as forty shekels of silver, presumably yearly. Given that their food and drink was also supplied to them forty shekels of silver was a goodly sum. These former rulers of Judah may or may not have held the same full governorship that Nehemiah enjoyed, but whether they did or not, they had been rulers of the people and responsible to the Persian authorities. The term ‘governor’ (pecha) is a general one and is therefore not decisive. But it would seem that these governors took advantage of their position, so that even their ministers and advisers (‘their servants’) were also a charge on the people. Nehemiah, however, refrained from all this because he was ‘God-fearing’. He is a good example of the Old Testament equivalent of a man who loves God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and his neighbour as himself.

5.16 ‘Yes, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land, and all my servants were gathered there to the work.’

His attitude was demonstrated by the fact the he continued to work on the wall until it was completed, as did his ‘servants’. Nor did he acquire any land by any means whatsoever. He was not out to enrich himself.

5.17 ‘Moreover there were at my table, of the Jews and the rulers, a hundred and fifty men, besides those who came to us from among the nations who were round about us.’

And all this was in spite of the fact that, in accordance with recognised Persian custom, he continually entertained numerous guests at his table. Thus he constantly welcomed at his table 150 prominent Jewish officials, including their rulers, as well as important officials from nations round about, thus maintaining the prestige of the empire.

5.18 ‘Now what was prepared for one day was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine. Yet for all this I demanded not the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy on this people.’

He makes clear what this involved. Every day one ox and six choice sheep were slain and prepared for the banquet, together with numerous birds. And every ten days the wine cellar was restocked. Yet in spite of these charges on his purse he made no demands on the people by claiming ‘the food of the governor’, because he recognised the financial burdens that they were carrying. Seemingly he met the whole out of his own family estates. He was in complete contrast with the general run of rulers who used their offices in order to obtain whatever they could get.

5.19 “ Remember to me, O my God, for good, all that I have done for this people.”

And he did it consciously out of love for God. Thus he called on Him to remember for good all that he had done for God’s people. This was the only reward that he sought, to please God and be approved by Him. Note that 13.22 makes clear that he did not thereby think that he was earning God’s favour. He was fully aware that he was dependent on His mercy.

Nehemiah Outsmarts His Adversaries Until The Walls Are Completed (6.1-

Work on the walls had meanwhile being going on apace with the result that it was finally completed apart from the setting up of the huge doors in the gateways. It was a crucial time, for once the gates were completed and closed Jerusalem would be totally protected. As a consequence his adversaries now attempt new methods of discrediting him. Their focus has now turned from trying to discourage the people of Judah in general, to seeking to dispose of Nehemiah himself in one way or the other. They have clearly recognised that it is he alone who has maintained Judah’s morale, and is the obstacle to their achieving their ends of a continually weak and vulnerable Judah.

The chapter divides into three parts:

  • Attempts by Sanaballat and Geshem to dispose of or discredit Nehemiah generally (6.1-9)
  • An attempt by Sanballat and Tobiah to make him act in such a way as to reveal himself as a coward, fearful of his adversaries (6.10-14).
  • The final completion of the wall and an indication of Tobiah’s influence among the Jews and his attempts to undermine Nehemiah (6.15-19).

Judah’s Adversaries Learn That The Wall Is Completed Apart From The Gateways (6.1).

6.1 ‘Now it came about, when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah, and to Geshem the Arabian, and to the rest of our enemies, that I had built the wall, and that there was no breach left in it, (though even to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates),’

The news reaches all the adversaries spoken of in 4.7 that the walls had been completed apart from the gateways, where the doors had not yet been completed and hung. It would cause them no little dismay. It indicated that Jerusalem was once again about to become a power in the land, and that it was now secure. It could no longer be subjected to intimidation. No longer could unidentified armed raiding bands enter it at will. Now it would require investment of a fortified walled city. And that was something that no official in the Persian empire would dare unless they could prove treason. This resulted in a change of tactics on their part. It was no longer a question of discouraging the builders. They recognised that it was now time to dispose of or discredit Nehemiah once and for all before it was finally too late. .

6.2 ‘That Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together in (one of) the villages (or ‘in Hakkephirim’) in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me mischief.’

For this purpose Sanballat, governor of Samaria, and Geshem, king of Kedar and paramount chief of the Arab tribes, came together to plot against him. They called on Nehemiah to meet them at Hakkephirim (or ‘the villages’) in the plain of Ono so as to discuss matters. This was on the north west border of Judah and equi-distant from the cities of Jerusalem and Samaria. But it was also remote enough for things that happened there to be covered up. ‘Sons of Ono’ had been among the first returnees from Babylon (2.33). Nehemiah sensed a trap and determined not to go (‘they sought to do me mischief’). Why else meet in such a remote part of Judah where he would be vulnerable? Furthermore were he to take his armed escort with him it would leave Jerusalem partially defenceless.

6.3 ‘And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a huge (a hugely important) work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?”

So he sent messengers pointing out that he was very busy with finalising the defences of Jerusalem and therefore could not come down. What he was doing was hugely important. Why should he stop the work in order to come down to them? If they wanted to speak to him, why could they not come to Jerusalem?

6.4 ‘And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same way.’

But his opponents were very determined and sent the same message four times. Each time, however, Nehemiah made the same reply. This response to the summons clearly indicates that Nehemiah was not subordinate to Sanballat, whatever may have been the case with past governors. And their very persistence indicates that there was evil work afoot, otherwise they could have suggested a change in venue.

6.5 Then Sanballat sent his official to me in the same way the fifth time with an open letter in his hand,’

When their attempt failed Sanballat then tried to increase the pressure. He sent his fifth message as an open letter, unsealed. This would mean that anyone could read it, which in view of its contents indicates that Sanballat wanted what was in it to become widely known. He was seeking to build up suspicion against Nehemiah.

6.6 ‘In which was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says it, that you and the Jews think to rebel, for which reason you are building the wall, and you would be their king, according to these words.”

In this letter Sanballat indicated that rumours were rife among the nations that suggested that Nehemiah and the Jews were about to rebel against the Persian empire, and that that was also the opinion of Geshem (Gashmu is simply an alternative name for Geshem). Indeed, they saw that as the reason why they were building the walls of Jerusalem. It appeared to them that Nehemiah wanted to set himself up as king. After all that was precisely what the satrap Megabyzus had tried to do four years earlier. The idea was to frighten Nehemiah into responding to their invitation. They reasoned that he would want to refute the rumours personally. What they failed to consider was that for him to respond to such a letter would itself appear suspicious. It would suggest that there were some grounds for the rumours.

They were not, of course, party to the information that we have, that Artaxerxes had given specific permission for this so as to honour Nehemiah’s ancestors (2.5-6). Otherwise it might indeed have looked suspicious. Nor probably did they realise that Nehemiah was such a favourite of the king.

With the letter being sent as an open letter they were, of course, guaranteeing that even if such suspicions had not yet arisen, they very soon would. Men would nod wisely as they considered the refortification of Jerusalem. Thus they would be able to vindicate their words.

It has been questioned as to whether Sanballat would use a term like ‘nations’ (goyim), which had strong Jewish connections, but term is also found in the Mari dialect of Akkadian (goyum/gawum), whilst in the Scriptures it has a wider significance than that of just ‘Gentiles’. There are therefore no solid grounds on which to reject its use by Sanballat.

6.7 “And you have also appointed prophets to preach concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, ‘There is a king in Judah’, and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.’

They also accused him of appointing prophets who were proclaiming in Jerusalem that ‘there is a king in Judah’. Their words may well have been based on distorted knowledge of the fact that Haggai and Zechariah had seemingly proclaimed something similar (e.g. Haggai 2.4-9, 21-23; Zechariah 2.8-12; 6.1-13; 9.9-10; 14.16). They were clearly aware of the important part played by prophets in Judah’s politics (e.g. Samuel; Nathan; etc.) and even in Samaria’s own politics (Elisha).

However, their threat to report the matter to Artaxerxes gave them away. If they had really believed what they were saying they should already have reported the matter to Artaxerxes, or at least have taken major steps to discover their genuineness. The claims were hardly insignificant. It will be noted that they nowhere suggest that they have any proof. It is quite apparent that they were simply hoping that he would take fright and respond to their request for consultation.

6.8 ‘Then I sent to him, saying, “There are no such things done as you are saying, but you pretend them out of your own heart.”

Nehemiah replied boldly. He answered them by declaring that what they were saying was purely their own invention, and that it was all a load of nonsense. He was clearly sure of his own ground. Indeed, it would be very unlikely that Nehemiah had not sent messages to the king reporting his progress on the work, and he may well have indicated some of the opposition that he was facing. He would have been keeping the king well informed of the situation. He would thus suffer no qualms at their threats. What he would be concerned about was that their words might discourage the people of Judah.

6.9 ‘ For they would all have made us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened from the work, that it be not done. But now, (O God), strengthen you my hands.”

That he saw through their tactics comes out in these words. They were trying to frighten the people of Judah who would remember Artaxerxes’ reaction the last time that they had tried to build the walls (Ezra 4.7-24). To Nehemiah Artaxerxes was a friend, but to the people he was a dread monarch. Thus were they trying to weaken their hands so that they would not go ahead with the finalising of the defences. And so he prays that God will strengthen his hands as he continues to encourage them.

An Attempt is Made To Make Nehemiah Play The Coward, And To Cause Him To Commit Sacrilege (6.10-14).

Shemaiah was clearly a recognised prophet (verse 12, compare also verse 14) and thus an invitation by him for Nehemiah to visit him because he was ‘shut up’ or ‘restrained’ would not be suspicious, especially as he probably claimed that he had a word for him from YHWH. He probably claimed to be ‘shut up’ or ‘restrained’ because he was involved in fasting and prophetic, even ecstatic, meditation. His prophecy, like much prophecy, is given in prophetic verse. This may have been in order to convince Nehemiah of its genuineness. The gist of it was that Nehemiah’s enemies were sending assassins to slay him so that he should hide himself with him in the Temple where they would not dare enter.

Alternately he may have wanted to give Nehemiah the impression that he had shut himself up in his house because he too was in fear of assassination. This idea can be seen as supported by his suggestion that they both hide in the Temple. But that very suggestion was an attempt to lull Nehemiah into not being averse to the idea. If a prophet could do it, why not him?

Either way it seems clear, either that he hoped that Nehemiah’s sense of superiority would make him ignore the fact that strictly he was forbidden to enter the Temple, or that he himself could make him feel that a word from YHWH overruled such a prohibition. After all Ezekiel had declared that there would be a place for ‘the prince’ within the Temple (Ezekiel 44.3; 46.1-2). Why not then Nehemiah? Indeed, both he and Nehemiah’s enemies may well have thought that a cosseted favourite of the Persian court might easily dismiss what he saw as a few ‘Jewish idiosyncrasies’, thus bringing him into disrepute with the priests. He and they would have been unaware of what a godly man he was

Nehemiah was appalled for two reasons. Firstly at the thought that he should hide himself away like a coward, and secondly at the thought that he should defile the Temple. If he did such things how could he ever face the people? They had no place to hide from the threats that surrounded them, nor would the priesthood overlook his sacrilege in entering the Temple building. Indeed, nor would God. It was then that he recognised that this had been an attempt to discredit him and entrap him.

6.10 ‘And I went to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabel, who was shut up. And he said,

“Let us meet together in the house of God,
Within the temple,
And let us shut the doors,
Of the temple.
For they will come to slay you.
Yes, in the night will they come to slay you.”

That Nehemiah went to visit Shemaiah the prophet (‘he has pronounced this prophecy against me’ - verse 12) at his house suggests very strongly that there was a religious reason for Shemaiah being unavailable. It suggests that his being ‘shut up’ was for prophetic reasons. He was probably claiming to be receiving a word from YHWH which prevented him from leaving his house. Superficially his prophecy sounded genuine. He was suggesting that Nehemiah take refuge with YHWH because YHWH had revealed that assassins would come by night to kill him. It sounded very plausible.

But it contained two fallacies, the first that Nehemiah should behave like a coward, in spite of his strong bodyguard, giving the impression to the people of a man concerned only to save his own life, hiding like a refugee in the Temple, and secondly because to enter the Temple so that its doors could be shut behind him would be an act of gross sacrilege. No one could legitimately enter the house of YHWH apart from a legitimate son of Aaron (Numbers 18.7).

6.11 ‘And I said, “Should such a man as I flee, and who is there, who, being such as I, would go into the temple to save his life (or ‘and live’)? I will not go in.”

The godly Nehemiah saw the fallacies immediately. ‘Should such a man as I flee?’ How could he ever hold up his head again if he fled from the danger of assassins? It would make him contemptible. And how could he, being what he was, enter the very Sanctuary of YHWH even ‘to save his life’? It was forbidden by YHWH. he was not a son of Aaron. He refused on both accounts.

The alternative translation ‘and live’ may be preferable (both are possible). How could someone who was not a son of Aaron go into the Temple and live? It was asking to be struck down.

6.12 ‘And I discerned, and, lo, God had not sent him, but he pronounced this prophecy against me, and Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.’

And it was then that it dawned on him that God had not sent Shemaiah, but that he had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat to pronounce this prophecy with a view to him disgracing himself. It was all part of the plot to discredit him. The unusual order ‘Tobiah and Sanballat’ (it is usually Sanballat and Tobiah) suggests that in this attempt Tobiah was the prime mover. And this is not surprising. It was seemingly he who had the most influence in Jerusalem (compare verses 17-19). Sanballat was simply backing him.

6.13 ‘ For this reason was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me.’

They had hired Shemaiah for that very reason, so as to use a prophecy which professed to be from God, so as to make him afraid, in order that he would fulfil the terms of the prophecy (‘do so’), shaming himself, and sinning grievously against YHWH by entering the forbidden area of the Temple. Theoretically no one but Shemaiah would ever know. But it was quite clear that he would report to his masters who would gladly spread an evil report by means of which they could bring reproach on Nehemiah.

6.14 “Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and also the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.”

Once again a prayer marks the end of a part (compare verse 9). Nehemiah calls on God to remember what Tobiah and Nehemiah are doing, and deal with them accordingly. And he calls on God to remember Noadiah, the prophetess, and the remainder of the prophets, who had all seemingly tried to make him afraid. It is clear, therefore, that Shemaiah has been the last of a number of prophets and prophetesses who had attempted to mislead him and catch him out. It is quite clear that Tobiah had powerful influence in Jerusalem.,

The Walls Are Finally Completed Along With their Gateways and Doors To The Chagrin Of The Surrounding Nations (6.15-16).

6.15 ‘So the wall was finished in the twenty fifth (day) of (the month) Elul, in fifty two days.’

The wall was completed on the 25th day of Elul (in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes), fifty two days after the work commenced. It was a remarkable achievement, even granted that some part of the walls had only needed repairing. In consequence Jerusalem was once more a fortified city. The Jews could once again lift up their head in pride at what God had done. Their previous reproach had been removed.

6.16 ‘And it came about, when all our enemies heard of it, that all the nations who were about us were afraid, and were much cast down in their own eyes, for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.’

And the consequence was that when the news reached the ears of their enemies as described in 4.7, all the nations over whom their enemies ruled were awestruck and felt demeaned, for they recognised that the work had been wrought by God, the very God Whom they had been decrying (4.2). From Nehemiah’s viewpoint they were humbled to think that Judah had such a great God.

The Fraternisation Of Many of The Jewish Aristocracy With Tobiah (6.17-19).

It is quite clear from these verses that Tobiah must have had something to do with the Jewish aristocracy before the arrival of Nehemiah, (and we have already seen the influence that he had over some of the prophets) and the best explanation would be that he had previously been acting as deputy governor over Judah. This would explain his good relations with the Jewish aristocracy, and his hatred of Nehemiah who had made him redundant. It is the best explanation for the good feeling towards him among the aristocracy, and the fact that Meshullam had given his daughter to him as wife. Furthermore that good feeling must signify that he had not been a bad governor, at least as far as the Jewish aristocracy were concerned. As a syncretistic Yahwist, as his name shows, he had probably fallen in line with Jerusalem’s way of worship, at least when he was in Judah.

Thus the Jewish aristocracy remained in communication with him, and he with them. And they also tried to recommend him to Nehemiah because of the good deeds he had done while acting governor of Judah. They seemingly saw Nehemiah’s attitude towards him as unfortunate. They were probably unaware of things revealed to Nehemiah by his spy system, and by personal letters from Tobiah.

These same men had in the main worked assiduously on the wall. Meshullam the son of Berechiah, for example, is mentioned in 3.4, 30. He had possibly done a double stint. Thus they were apparently not antagonistic towards Nehemiah, although not agreeing with his strict attitude. They seemingly passed information both ways.

6.17 ‘Moreover in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and (those) of Tobiah came to them.’

Here we learn that the nobles of Judah were in continual two way correspondence with Tobiah, presumably on a friendly basis.

6.18 ‘For there were many in Judah sworn to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah to wife.’

And their friendliness was partly based on the fact that Tobiah had married into a respectable Jewish family, having become the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, one of the ‘sons of Arah’ who had returned with Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel. Shecaniah must have been an important and influential man because Tobiah’s relationship to him had resulted, presumably because he had been brought into the family, in many in Judah becoming sworn to him (unless this relates to trading relationships, or even sworn friendships). Tobiah had also ingratiated himself with Eliashib the high priest (13.4). Furthermore Tobiah’s own son, Jehohanan (whose name also indicates a nominal Yahwist) had married into the family of the influential Meshullam, son of Berechiah, the wall builder (3.4b, 30). He was thus well connected Jewishly speaking. It is possibly to his credit that, while he was not averse to making a fool of Nehemiah, he was not mentioned with respect to the attempt to do away with him (6.2). But he had certainly been antagonistic towards Nehemiah from the beginning (2.10). And strictly speaking, as an Ammonite, he was not acceptable as a true Yahwist (13.1; Deuteronomy 23.3-5).

6.19 ‘Also they spoke of his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to put me in fear.’

The Jewish aristocrats praised Tobiah to Nehemiah, no doubt hoping to win him round. They also reported Nehemiah’s words to Tobiah, which would certainly not win him round, and explains why Tobiah and Sanballat were so well informed about Jewish affairs. Tobiah, however, took a different attitude towards Nehemiah, sending him threatening letters. Nehemiah’s position was therefore very difficult, as he sought to maintain working relations with the aristocrats, while at the same time dealing with Tobiah.

The Wall Being Built Nehemiah Takes Steps To Ensure The Safety Of Jerusalem (7.1-3).

The walls having been rebuilt, and the doors in the gateways being in their place, what next remained was to ensure their proper control so that Jerusalem would be safe from band of marauders. This required proper supervision of the gates, and control over when they should be opened.

We must remember that at this time Jerusalem itself was relatively sparsely populated. The main inhabitants were priests, Levites and Nethinim (Temple servants - 3.26), who were necessarily there in order to maintain the proper functioning of the Temple. Thus when Nehemiah set about arranging for a guard he naturally looked for men experienced in such guard duties, and who better than the men who were experienced at controlling the gates of the Temple, ‘the gatekeepers’ (7.45; Ezra 2.42)? However, in view of the extra burden being placed on them, others were required to supplement them, and for this purpose he called on the services of the Levites, men who were concerned about the security of the Temple, and experienced at administration and control.

Furthermore he wanted strong men to have overall control, and so he appointed his brother Hanani, whom he knew that he could trust implicitly, and the worthy governor of the fortress in Jerusalem, who was a devout man who truly feared God. To them he gave instructions o when the gates should be open and shut.

7.1 ‘Now it came about, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed,’

The wall being built and the doors being set in place in the gateways, Jerusalem was at last secure, but it was important that experienced and trained men be given responsibility for the gateways. And to this end he appointed experienced Temple gatekeepers ( 1 Chronicles 9.17-19; 26.12-19). These were then supplement by singers and Levites, who were organised bodies capable of administering and controlling, as the gatekeepers from then on had double duties (to guard the Temple and the city). Note the unusual order, ‘gatekeepers, singers and Levites’, (contrast 7.42-45), giving the gatekeepers precedence. The singers come second because on the whole they were Levites who would live in Jerusalem, at least when on duty, and were thus always available. They would be further supplemented by other Levites, but most of these would be more widespread in order to carry out their duties of gathering and storing the tithes (Malachi 3.10), and guiding the people. Both singers and Levites were experienced at administrating and controlling, and were men of reliability who had a special concern for the security of the Temple. The singers, being Levites, would also have engaged in the normal activities of Levites. This may not have been a permanent arrangement, but rather one which solved the immediate demands. Once the city was fully functioning, specialist gatekeepers could be trained.

7.2 ‘That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the governor of the fortress, charge over Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.’

In order to govern Jerusalem and ensure its safety he required men whom he knew that he could rely on. So over Jerusalem he set his brother, Hanani, a man whom he knew well as a reliable man and one whom he could trust implicitly, and Hananiah who was governor of the fortress in Jerusalem. The latter he knew to be a faithful man, and one who wholly loved and feared God. Being already resident in Jerusalem because of his duties, and being experienced in security matters, he was ready to hand. They would be responsible for the security of Jerusalem. This was not to supplant ‘the rulers of the half districts of Jerusalem’ (3.9, 12), for they were not responsible for administering Jerusalem itself, but the whole area around Jerusalem.

The fortress was to the north of the Temple and may well have been partly garrisoned by Nehemiah’s escort, supplementing the guards already there. But while there were no walls it had been unable to give Jerusalem proper protection, probably concentrating more on securing the Temple against raids.

Some have seen Hanani and Hananiah as the same man, translating as ‘my brother Hanani, even Hananiah the governor of the fortress’, for Yah was often dropped from a name. However, ‘And I said to them’ in verse 3 militates against this.

7.3a ‘And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until (or ‘while’) the sun be hot, and while they stand (on guard), let them shut the doors, and bar you them.

This is best read as indicating that during the danger period when men were having a siesta, as is common in hot countries, the gates should not be opened (the main troops would be having a siesta), and that at other times between sunrise and sunset they should be kept shut and barred, but ready to be opened. These were unusual steps, but arose from Nehemiah’s sense that his enemies were not to be trusted. There would, of course, be a small door within the doors through which men could pass more easily. It does not seem likely that the gates would only be opened at the time when the sun was hot (approaching midday), as by then half the day would have gone by, whilst there are many examples in history of a city being taken by surprise by being attacked at siesta time.

Many, however, do see it as indicating that the doors should not be opened until approaching midday, again for safety reasons. But it is difficult to see why midday, the time of siesta, should be a good time to open them. In either case Nehemiah was taking special precautions.

Gates were normally opened at sunrise, and closed at sunset, so that those in the city could go about their business. But Jerusalem was not as yet a normal city and Nehemiah was fearful that his enemies might try to take advantage of the present situation when Jerusalem was largely unoccupied, and was thus being cautious.

7.3b ‘And appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his house.’

As well as giving instructions with regard to the guarding of the gates Nehemiah also called on Hanani and Hananiah to set up a general system of watches around the city walls. These watches were to be made up of the ordinary inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were to organise watches adjacent to their own homes. The walls had presumably been built in a way which enabled this, with watch posts on the walls, whilst some houses would have been part of the walls and could themselves act as watch posts. The Jews tended to split the night into three watches (Judges 7.19; Luke 12.38).

Nehemiah Recognises That Jerusalem Needs To Be Reinhabited By People Of Reliable Descent And In The Process of Investigating The Ancestry Of The Rulers And The People Discovers An Old Record Containing Details Of The First Returnees (7.4-73).

The next thing that needed to be done was to reinhabit Jerusalem, for while it was still sparsely inhabited, and partially in ruins, it was always going to be vulnerable. But it was important that the new inhabitants should be genuine Israelites, and to that end Nehemiah began to look into the genealogy of the rulers and the people. He thus gathered the people together for that purpose. This turned attention to the genealogical records kept in the gate-houses of cities as they kept a record of their inhabitants, and it was in the course of this that he discovered, possibly in one of the gate-houses of Jerusalem, or possibly in the Temple, the list of the earliest returnees from Babylon who had arrived in Judah in response to the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1.2-4).

This list is very similar to the one in Ezra 2, but the differences are such that they are not likely simply to be due to copying errors. Indeed, this list in Nehemiah appears to be one made some time after the list in Ezra 2, for meanwhile Sheshbazzar had seemingly died. In Ezra 2.2 Sheshbazzar must be included (from 1.11) to make up the names of the leaders to twelve names, symbolising the twelve tribes. Here in 7.7a another name is added (Nahamani) to make up the twelve. This list is probably, therefore, an updating and revising of the original list cited in Ezra, made when Zerubbabel took over on Sheshbazzar’s death. This is confirmed by the fact that the list here in Nehemiah is regularised in verses 26-31 by the continuous use of ‘men of’ (contrast Ezra 2.21-29). It is hardly likely to have happened the other way round in copying.

But why should Nehemiah include this list in his report to the king? The answer is probably so as to link what he had achieved in building the walls of Jerusalem with those who had returned to Jerusalem and Judah under the decree of Cyrus, and had built the Temple. He was making clear that the king was benefiting those whom Cyrus had previously determined to benefit. It was their sons who were being protected and defended.

On our part we should not just pass over these lists without thought. They bear witness to God’s detailed interest in His people. They remind us that every one of them is recorded before God. In a sense it is a list of the redeemed.

  • 1). It indicates that God is interested in individuals and that he knew the tribal names and numbers of everyone who returned. It is a reminder to us that we too, if we are truly His, are all numbered by God, and that our names are written in Heaven (Luke 10.20). He has chosen us individually in Christ before the world began (Ephesians 1.4) and recorded our names in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 13.8; 21.27), and that is why we are ‘written with the righteous’ (Psalm 69.28; Malachi 3.16).
  • 2). It was a record of those who were most faithful among God’s people, and not one of them was forgotten before God, even down to the lowliest slave. It is the Old Testament equivalent to the roll of honour in Hebrews 11. Out of zeal for God, and a desire for His glory, these people left their comfortable lives in Babylonia for a country that many of them had never seen, in order to rebuild there God’s Temple, and re-establish there God’s people. It was not an easy path that they chose. They would face famine and hardship, disease and violence. They would at times be reduced as a consequence almost to poverty, in spite of their grand houses. But they did it because they felt that God had called them. They knew that it was what He wanted them to do.
  • 3). To the Jews such a list was of deep interest. It stressed the connection of the new Israel with the old, and the preservation of family names and descent. Indeed, it is probable that many of the returnees on returning took new names for themselves, based on the past, deliberately connecting themselves with their history. It was bringing out that God was restoring His people to the land, a people whose antecedents had been clearly demonstrated. These were the very people who had been removed from the land decades before.

The list commences with the names of twelve leading men, ‘princes’ of Israel. The intention was almost certainly that they symbolised the twelve tribes of Israel all of whom were represented among the Jews, for many had moved to Judah for religious reasons, or because of their loyalty to the house of David, or as refugees.

Following these names we find listed the names of the families which returned from Babylon following the decree of Cyrus. These were all able to demonstrate from their genealogies that they were true Israelites, i.e. could trace themselves back to pre-exilic times. This is in contrast with those who could not do so (verses 61, 64). One importance of this would come out when they sought to claim back family land.

A comparable list can be found in Ezra 2.1-70. There are, however, interesting differences and in our view it is difficult to explain them all simply in terms of copying errors, although the possibility of those in some cases must not be discounted. A far better explanation for some, if not all, of the differences is that the two lists represent the list of returnees as prepared on different dates during the first months of arrival, the second one being updated as a result of information submitted from the various clans, because of the arrival of further exiles (e.g. the sons of Azgad, compare 7.17 with Ezra 2.12). In this updated listing account would be taken of deaths and comings of age, and further arrivals and departures. If Sheshbazzar died in the period between the two lists we have a good explanation as to why his name was replaced in the twelve by Nahamani (7.7). Indeed, his death and the subsequent appointment of Zerubbabel may have been a major reason for the updating of the list as the position of the new Israel was consolidated. This would suggest that the original list was the one in Ezra, with that recorded here being the updated one. (Compare also how ‘men of --’ and ‘sons of --’ is regularised in this list in Nehemiah in contrast with that in Ezra). It is probable, however, that the writer in Ezra had made slight adjustments when copying the list that he had access to. One example is the omission of the name of Sheshbazzar in Ezra 2.2 because he had already mentioned him as bringing these people up to Jerusalem in Ezra 1.11.

Such a detailed list should not surprise us. It was normal practise in ancient days for cities to keep a roll of its citizens, a roll which was constantly updated due to both deaths and births, or coming to manhood. What is more likely then than that the returnees would decide to maintain a comparative list of adult males who were seen as true Israelites, and subsequently update it, although in the summary form shown here? (That at least one such list was made is demonstrated both here and in Ezra 2). In this case the same basic framework would be retained from list to list as it was encompassing those who had returned from Babylon, with the original list being updated, no doubt on the basis of submissions from the different family groups. That being so the cases where comparative numbers differ by a small amount, something which occurs a number of times, could simply indicate that meanwhile some men had died, or some had reached manhood, or a combination of the two. The larger differences could mainly be explained, either in terms of new arrivals (e.g. in the case of Azgad), or in terms of departures due to dissatisfaction with the situation pertaining, or in terms of pestilence or violence which in some cases gave a high proportion of deaths and could wipe out whole communities. Where numbers alter by a round 100 this could simply be due to a group of new arrivals (or departees) being assessed by some submitters as ‘a hundred’, i.e. a fairly large unit, this being used for convenience in some cases (different approaches may have been taken by different submitters), without there being a strict count, or it may have been a convenient approximation (for not all groups would have had people in them capable of dealing with large numbers). The final total numbers (which are well above the sum of the individual numbers in all sources), would remain sacrosanct and would not be altered. (It should, however, be pointed out that many scholars assume both lists to be the same, with differences mainly accounted for by scribal errors).

The Pattern Of The List.

The list follows a clear pattern:

  • Introductory material (7.6-7).
  • Number of the men of the people of Israel, enrolled by family association (7.8-24), and enrolled by place of domicile (7.25-38).
  • Number of priests (7.39-42).
  • Number of Levites (7.43).
  • Number of singers (7.44).
  • Number of gatekeepers (7.45).
  • Number of the Nethinim and number of the children of Solomon’s servants (7.46-60).
  • Number of those whose genealogies could not be proved (7.61-62).
  • Number of the priests whose genealogies could not be proved (7.63-65).
  • Sum Totals (7.66-69).
  • Summary of gifts for the building of the Temple (7.70-72).
  • Conclusion (7.73).

As to when the list was compiled there are indications, such as the listing of some by residence, and the reference to ‘every one to his city’ (verse 6), that it was certainly after they had arrived in Judah and settled down. Furthermore the Tirshatha (Persian for ruler) is already seen as active in verse 65. It may well, therefore have been a few months after the arrival of the first group, once others had joined them. But the fact that no priest had arisen with Urim and Thummim (verse 65) might be seen as confirming its early date, in that Jeshua would shortly become such a ‘priest’ (High Priest). We do not, however, know if Urim and Thummim were used after the Exile. We have no evidence of it. But we do know that decisions were made by lots, which was a similar method (10.34; 11.1), and it is very probable that this was done by the priests. This therefore demonstrated that they had again begun to discover God’s guidance by sacred lot.

The list would appear to have been compiled by asking the different groups to submit their numbers. This would explain the different designations and descriptions as each group defined themselves in their own way.

The Reason For The Discovery Of The List (7.4-5).

7.4 ‘Now the city was wide and large, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not built.’

The walls having been completed, and the doors having been hung in the gates, Nehemiah now turned his thoughts onto the question of the lack of inhabitants in Jerusalem. It was a large city, but few were there living there permanently and most of the houses were in ruins.

7.5 ‘And my God put into my heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it:

So God put it into his heart to gather the leaders and the people together in order that their genealogies might be confirmed. This was presumably with a view to causing Jerusalem to be inhabited with people of true Jewish descent. And in giving this matter further investigation he discovered in a record office the list already mentioned, that of those who had returned from Babylon with Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel. In it was written as follow:

The Original List Discovered By Nehemiah In The Records Office, Possibly In Jerusalem (7.6-73).

It is apparent that the list in Ezra was the first list of returnees made after their arrival in Judah, and that this is a second list, closely patterned on the first list, probably made on the accession of Zerubbabel to the governorship. This second list was updated in terms of comings of men to adulthood, deaths, arrival of more returnees, and possibly the return of a few disillusioned groups to Babylon. It ends with the triumphal statement that by the seventh month, that great festal month, all the returnees were, in as far as it was possible, established in their own cities. All would know of the significance of the seventh month, for during it was celebrated the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. It was a ‘red letter’ month.

7.6 ‘These are the sons of the province, who went up out of the captivity of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and who returned to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one to his city,’

The opening heading of the record indicated that it was a list of the males in the district of Judah who had returned from the captivity, who had previously been borne off by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. They had returned to their own cities. But these cities would in the main also have been inhabited by syncretistic worshippers of YHWH, and these had been refused permission to worship in the new Temple.

7.7a ‘Who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah.’

Prominent in this list are Zerubbabel, who became governor of Judah after Sheshbazzar died, and Jeshua the High Priest. See Ezra 3.2, 8-9; 4.2-3; 5.2.

The returnees had arrived under their twelve leaders, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, whose names were as listed. The comparable list in Ezra show them as, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah, to which we should add Sheshbazzar to make up the twelve. The aim of presenting twelve leaders may have been in order to echo the Exodus (Numbers 1.1-16). There are a number of seeming differences between Ezra and Nehemiah, but it would have been quite normal Jewish practise for them to have taken new names, indicating a new beginning (compare how Saul became Paul). Thus sryh (Seraiah) is a variant of ‘zryh (Azariah). Compare for this 11.11 with 1 Chronicles 9.11. R‘lyh Reeliah) becomes r‘myh (Raamiah). Mspr (Mispar) becomes msprth (Mispereth) with th being the plural ending. Rehum becomes Nehum, a comparable switch of N to R being witnessed in names like Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar).

The Number Of The Men Of Israel (7.7b-38).

7.7b ‘The number of the men of the people of Israel,

This proud claim demonstrates that the returnees saw themselves as the foundation of the new Israel. They were the true Israelites, in contrast with the syncretists who had remained in the land, although any in the land who could demonstrate that the were genuine exclusive Yahwists were welcomed among their number (Ezra 6.21).

These are divided up between those who are enrolled by family association (verses 8-24, and those who are enrolled in terms of their cities (verses 25-38).

Those Enrolled By Family Association (7.8-24).

These submitted their numbers in terms of their clan. Those named would have been heads of clans centuries before, to whom the clan looked back with respect and awe. Compare 11.13 where a ‘son of Immer’ (verse 40) is given a fuller genealogy. And there are indications that prominent returnees may have reverted to the names of their ancestors as a sign of their new beginning and the re-establishment of Israel. Note the names of those who signed Nehemiah’s covenant (although it may have been signed in the clan name).

7.8 ‘The sons of Parosh, two thousand one hundred and seventy two.’

A further group of the sons of Parosh arrived under Ezra in 458 BC (Ezra 8.3). A few of the sons of Parosh were among those who took idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.25). They seemingly assisted in the building of the walls of Jerusalem (3.25). One of their number was among those who signed Nehemiah’s covenant as one of the chiefs of the people (10.1, 14)

7.9 ‘The sons of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy two.’

A further group of these returned under Ezra (Ezra 8.8).

7.10 ‘The sons of Arah, six hundred and fifty two.’

In Ezra 2 the number is given as seven hundred and seventy five. This may indicate that some had returned to Babylon in disillusionment, or that meanwhile one hundred and twenty three had died through plague or massacre. Life was not easy in the new Israel.

7.11 ‘The sons of Pahath-moab, of the sons of Jeshua (and) Joab, two thousand, eight hundred and eighteen.’

The sons of Pahath-moab (which means ‘governor of Moab’) were divided into two sub-clans,, the sons of Jeshua and the sons of Joab. The increase by six as compared with Ezra 2.6 might indicate those who had since become adults, less possibly some who had died, or alternately it could be that a few sons of Pahath-moab had later arrived with a party which was mainly made up of sons of Azgad (verse 17). Further sons of Pahath-moab would return with Ezra (Ezra 8.4). Hashub, a ‘son of Pahath-moab’ was named among those who oversaw the building of the walls of Jerusalem (3.11). Pahath-moab is the name of one of the signatories of Nehemiah’s covenant (10.14), although it may have been signed in the name f the clan. Some of the sons of Pahath-moab took idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.30).

Seemingly their ancestor Pahath-moab had been governor of Moab under one of the kings at a time when Moab was under Israel’s jurisdiction.

7.12 ‘The sons of Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty four.’

Further members of the clan arrived with Ezra (Ezra 8.7), while others took idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.26). One of their number, Shecaniah, was prominent in dealing with this latter problem. ‘Elam’ signed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.1).

Further on in the list Elam Acher (or ‘the other Elam’) is mentioned (verse 34), although there it appears to represent a town. Coincidentally the number returning there is also one thousand, two hundred and fifty four, and this is repeated in Ezra 2 demonstrating that if it is incorrect the error occurred very early on prior to the lists being used in Ezra and Nehemiah. But such remarkable coincidences have occurred in history so the number may well be correct. However, LXX has one thousand two hundred and fifty two in verse 34. On the other hand this may simply have been influenced by their not being willing to accept the coincidence. There are a number of possible explanations:

  • 1). That it is simply a remarkable coincidence
  • 2). That the compiler of the list wanted to enter the same clan/family in two places, one under family name and the other under district, indicating that he had done this by using the term ‘the other’. (The numbers were not intended to be added up).
  • 3). That the compiler had asked for lists from both the family of Elam and from the town of Elam, with the submitter achieving this either by numbering the Elamites and halving the total, applying one half to the family and the other half to the town, or by submitting the same total in respect of each.
  • 4). That a copy of the list was made very early on (prior to its use in these records) with the copyist consulting the original list and in one case selecting the wrong total as his eye ran down looking for Elam.

7.13 ‘The sons of Zattu, eight hundred and forty five.’

Sons of Zattu were involved in marrying idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.27) and one was a signatory to Nehemiah’s covenant (10.14). In Ezra 2 the number is nine hundred and forty five. Once again this may be the consequence of some becoming disillusioned and returning to a securer life in Babylon, or be the result of deaths by pestilence or violence. The round ‘one hundred’ might suggest that in this case the one who submitted the alteration used ‘a hundred’ in the regular way of signifying a fairly large group, without being exact (compare Exodus 18.25; Deuteronomy 1.15), this being subtracted from the original total.

7.14 ‘The sons of Zaccai, seven hundred and sixty.’

This may be the same as the family of Zabbai (qere Zaccai) in 3.20, in relation to the repairing of the wall, and may be connected with the family of Bebai, one of whose sons was named Zabbai, who were involved with idolatrous foreign wives in Ezra 10.28.

7.15 ‘The sons of Binnui, six hundred and forty eight.’

Binnui is called Bani in Ezra 2.10. In the earlier Ezra list we are told that they numbered six hundred and forty two. The numbered members of the family had clearly increased by six, probably due to more becoming adults during the period. Or some may have arrived with the sons of Azgad.

Bani was the name connected with one of the wall builders in 3.17 who was named Rehum, the son of Bani; and of a chief of the people who signed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.14).

It was also the name of a Levite who helped the people to understand the Law in 8.7; of a Levite involved in worship in 9.4 ff.; of a Levite who sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (10.13); and of one whose son was an overseer of the Levites at Jerusalem (11.22). It was thus a popular name.

The sons of Bani were involved in taking idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.29), as were other ‘sons of Bani’ (Ezra 10.34), one of those sons was named Bani and another Binnui (10.38). The difference in name is minimal, the one being an alternative of the other.

7.16 ‘The sons of Bebai, six hundred and twenty eight.’

Ezra 2 has six hundred and twenty three, indicating another increased family, this time by five. A further group of the sons of Bebai arrived with Ezra (Ezra 8.11), while one who was named Bebai sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (10.15). There would later be mention of a town called Bebai (Judith 15.4).

7.17 ‘The sons of Azgad, two thousand three hundred and twenty two.’

The name means "strong is Gad". Ezra 2 has one thousand, two hundred and twenty two, an increase here of eleven hundred. This suggests that a further party of the sons of Azgad had arrived after the list in Ezra was made, but prior to this list. Further sons of Azgad arrived with Ezra (Ezra 8.12). An Azgad is named among the leaders who sealed Nehemiah’s sure covenant ( 10.15).

7.18 ‘The sons of Adonikam, six hundred and sixty seven.’

Ezra 2.13 numbers them at six hundred and sixty six . The name means "my lord has risen up". There is thus an increase of one, possibly due to one more coming of age than possibly died. Further sons of Adonikam arrived with Ezra (Ezra 8.13).

7.19 ‘The sons of Bigvai, two thousand and sixty seven.’

Ezra numbers them at two thousand and fifty six. There is thus an increase of eleven. Once more this could be an increase through men coming of age (less deaths), and/or as a result of some who had come with the later arrival of the additional sons of Azgad. A further seventy two males would arrive later under Ezra (Ezra 8.14). Bigvai was one of those who sealed Nehemiah’s sure covenant.

7.20 ‘The sons of Adin, six hundred and fifty five.’

The name means ‘adorned’. Ezra 2 numbers them at four hundred and fifty four, an increase here of one, probably as a result of a coming of age (or a combination of deaths and comings of age). A further group, led by Ebed, the son of Jonathan, arrived with Ezra (Ezra 8.6). An Adin also was one of those who sealed the covenant of Nehemiah (10.16).

7.21 ‘The sons of Ater, of Hezekiah, ninety eight.’

‘Of Hezekiah’ distinguishes the sons of Ater here from the sons of Ater who were gatekeepers (verse 45). We cannot identify the Hezekiah. An Ater was a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah (10.17).

7.22 ‘The sons of Hashum, three hundred and twenty eight.’

In Ezra 2 they number two hundred and twenty three. There is thus an increase of one hundred and five. Possibly some had arrived from Babylon with the later arrival of sons of Azgad, or they may have come in their own party. Sons of Hashum were involved with idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.33).

7.23 ‘The sons of Bezai, three hundred and twenty four.’

In Ezra 2 they number three hundred and twenty three. There is thus an increase meanwhile of one. Bezai was a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah (10.18). In Ezra 2 Bezai, along with Jorah/Hariph, comes before Hashum.

7.24 ‘The sons of Hariph, a hundred and twelve.’

In the Ezra 2 list these are given the name ‘sons of Jorah’. Jorah (‘autumn rain’) was probably Hariph’s (‘harvest time’) alternate name. An Hariph was a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah (10.19).

Those Enrolled By Domicile (7.25-38).

We now come to those families who submitted their numbers in terms of domicile. This may simply have been as a consequence of the choice of the particular submitter, or it may have been though custom. Or, indeed, it may have been because it was easier to prove connection with a pre-exilic town than it was to prove family connection. It may be significant that most of the towns are Benjamite towns, whilst the exception, ‘Bethlehem and Netophah’, are very close to Benjamite territory. It will be noted that in Ezra 2.21-29 some submitters spoke of ‘the sons of --’ while others spoke of ‘the men of --’. Each was then listed as submitted. Here these descriptions are regularised so that verses 26-33 (compare Ezra 2.21-29) are all listed as ‘men of --’, with what follows being ‘sons of --’. This suggests again that the list in Nehemiah comes later than that in Ezra. It is difficult to see why the regularised pattern should have become disorganised, but easy to see why someone should seek to regularise the pattern.

It should, however, be pointed out that in what follows most, but not all, of the towns and cities are identifiable. Some therefore see these verses as a mix of domicile and family connection.

7.25 ‘The sons of Gibeon, ninety five.’

In Ezra 2 these are listed as ‘sons of Gibbar’. Gibbar means ‘hero’. Here they are called ‘sons of Gibeon’. This may have been because of the connection of the sons of Gibbar with the city of Gibeon, in which case this list in Nehemiah appears to transfer them to the list of those enrolled by domicile which now commences. But that that might not be so is indicated by his continued use of ‘sons of’ in this verse. However, compare verses 34-38 where ‘sons of’ are connected with the name of cities. Thus Gibeon would may well be an alternative name for Gibbar.

7.26 ‘The men of Beth-lehem and Netophah, a hundred and eighty eight.’

Ezra 2.21-22 lists the to towns separately, numbering one hundred and twenty three from Bethlehem, and fifty six from Netophah. There is thus here an increase of nine, due to men reaching adulthood, less deaths, or possibly more arriving with the Azgar party.

Bethlehem (of Judah) was a town nine kilometres (five miles) south of Jerusalem. The name means ‘house of food (bread)’. It was the town in which David was reared, and one of the places in which Samuel offered sacrifices. Depending on how we see Gibeon, this is the first mention of an incoming group in terms of its town. The listing here of the sons of Bethlehem and the men of Netophah as one group may suggest that at the time of this second list one submitter submitted the increase in the number of the two groups as a combined figure, necessitating the conjunction of the two in the list.

Netophah was seemingly also in Judah and was the birthplace of two of David's heroes, Maharai and Heleb (2 Samuel 23.28, 29), and also of Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, one of the captains who came to offer allegiance to Gedaliah (2 Kings 25.23; Jeremiah 40.8). In 1 Chronicles 9.16 "the villages of the Netophathites" are mentioned as the dwellingplaces of certain Levites, whilst in 12.28 they are the dwellingplaces of some of the "sons of the singers." Being placed in the list in Ezra between Bethlehem and Anathoth it would appear to be in the vicinity of Bethlehem, something confirmed by the uniting of the numbers here. The change to ‘the men of --’ was possibly the consequence of the description used by the one who submitted the numbers. Others said ‘the sons of --.’

7.27 ‘The men of Anathoth, a hundred and twenty eight.’

Anathoth was a town which lay between Michmash and Jerusalem (Isaiah 10.30), in the territory of Benjamin, being about three kilometres (two and a quarter miles) north east of Jerusalem. It was assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21.18). It was the native town of Abiathar (1 Kings 2.26), and of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1.1; 11.21 ff, etc.), and it was in the vicinity of Anathoth that Jeremiah bought a field in order to demonstrate that land would once more be bought and sold in Judah (Jeremiah 32.7 ff). Two of David's distinguished soldiers, Abiezer (2 Samuel 23.27) and Jehu (1 Chronicles 12.3), also came from Anathoth. As we gather here, it was again occupied by Benjamites after the return from the Exile (compare 11.32, etc.). It is identified with `Anata, which is currently a small village of some fifteen houses but which contains remains of ancient walls.

7.28 ‘The men of Beth-azmaveth, forty two.’

In Ezra 2 they are called ‘the sons of Azmaveth’, but the name here suggests the name of a town. Azmaveth was the name of one of David's 30 mighty men (2 Samuel 23.31; 1 Chronicles 11.33), and of the father of two warriors who joined David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12.3). It was also the name of a descendant of Jonathan, the son of Saul (1 Chronicles 8.36; 9.42), and of one who was set over David’s treasures (1 Chronicles 27.25). No town of this name is known, but there may well have been such a town, (in those days people were often named after the town with which they were connected).

7.29 ‘The men of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty three.

The only difference between this and the reference to it in Ezra 2 is that here we have ‘the men of --’ whilst Ezra 2 has ‘sons of’. Indeed as we have seen the list here in Nehemiah regularises all the references in regard to cities in Ezra 2.21-29 to ‘the men of --’. These three cities (the first as Kiriath-jearim - the city of the forests) were members of the Gibeonite confederacy (Joshua 9.17), and were in Judah/Benjamin (Joshua 15.60; 18.14, 25, 26; Judges 18.12). Kiriath-jearim was on the border of Judah and Benjamin, and was also known as Kiriath-Baal) (Joshua 18.14-15). In Joshua 15.9-11 it was also known as Baalah. It had clearly been a sanctuary of the Canaanite god Baal. It was in Judah, although if we identify it with Kiriath, it was also seen as in Benjamin (Joshua 18.28). It was in Kiriath-jearim that the ark rested for twenty years (1 Samuel 7.1-2). The prophet Uriah, who was martyred by King Jehoiakim in the days of Jeremiah, was born there (Jeremiah 26.20). The site is as yet unidentified. Chephirah and Beeroth were both in Benjamin (Joshua 18.25, 26).

7.30 ‘The men of Ramah and Geba, six hundred and twenty one.’

Ezra 2 has ‘sons of’. Ramah (‘the height’) was Ramah of Benjamin, near Bethel, in the area of Gibeon and Beeroth (Joshua 18.25). It was here that the Levite and his concubine planned to rest for the night on that tragic occasion (Judges 19.13). Deborah the prophetess lived close by (Judges 4.5). Here Baasha of Israel built a fortress, which Asa of Judah demolished (1 Kings 15.17, 21-22). It was here that Nebuzaradan gathered the people being taken into exile after the fall of Jerusalem, and from which Jeremiah was released (Jeremiah 40.1). Geba (‘a hill’) was in Benjamin, eleven kilometres (seven miles) north of Jerusalem. Its modern name is Jeba. It was assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21.17; 1 Chronicles 6.60), and from its slopes Jonathan, with his armour-bearer, revealed himself to the Philistines in a daring attack (1 Samuel 14.1 ff.). It was fortified by King Asa (1 Kings 15.22) as on the northern border of Judah (2 Kings 23.8). From here came some of ‘the sons of the singers’ who sang at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem (12.29). Both Ramah and Geba are described as occupied by the sons of Benjamin in the time of Nehemiah (11.31, 33).

7.31 ‘The men of Michmas, a hundred and twenty two.’

Michmas was also known as Michmash. It was a town in the territory of Benjamin, and its settlement by Benjamites after the exile is confirmed in Nehemiah 11.31. It was apparently not of sufficient importance in the time of Joshua to secure mention in the list of cities given in Joshua 18.21 ff. Michmash first appears as occupied, along with the Mount of Bethel, by Saul with 2,000 men, at the time when Jonathan, advancing from Gibeah, smote the Philistine garrison in Geba (1 Samuel 13.2). To avenge this injury, the Philistines came up in force and encamped in Michmash (1 Samuel 13.5, 16), from which they sent out ‘spoilers’. Saul and Jonathan with 600 men meanwhile held Geba, which had been taken from the Philistine garrison (1 Sam 13:16). During the Assyrian advance on Jerusalem in Isaiah 10.28, they ‘laid up their stores at Michmash, crossed the pass, and spent the night at Geba’. Thus the two sites are fairly close to each other. Michmash is represented by the modern Mukhmas, which is about 12 kilometres (7 miles) North of Jerusalem.

7.32 ‘The men of Beth-el and Ai, a hundred and twenty three.’

The list in Ezra 2 shows one hundred more. This reduction in numbers here may have been due to an outbreak of pestilence or violence, or it may have been caused by some who were dissatisfied with the situation and returned to Babylon. The ‘hundred’ may not have been an exact number. The submitter may well have simply used ‘a hundred’ as a round number signifying a fairly large number (a thousand, a hundred and a ten were often used to indicate groups of different sizes regardless of actual number, see Exodus 18.25; Deuteronomy 1.15). This would then be used to alter the number as given in the earlier Ezra list to produce the number in Nehemiah. The settlement of Bethel by the Benjamites is confirmed in Nehemiah 11.31.

Ai was east of Bethel, but close enough for both to be seen from a mid-point (Genesis 12.8). Bethel and Ai were the first two towns that the Israelites encountered when they went up the pass after destroying Jericho. Ai was taken but, while Bethel’s army was defeated, Bethel was probably not captured at that time (Joshua 8). Their sites are disputed although we can assess that Bethel (formerly called Luz) was about 19 kilometres (12 miles) north of Jerusalem. Abraham built an altar and offered sacrifices in its vicinity (Genesis 12.8). It was in its vicinity also that Jacob had his dream of the steps leading up to Heaven. It is named as a border town in the lists of both Joseph (Ephraim) and Benjamin (Joshua 16.1-2; 18.13), and was possibly initially shared by the two tribes. The Ark rested there for a time in the early days (Judges 20.18), and it was included in Samuel’s circuit as judge (1 Samuel 7.16). After the division into Judah and Northern Israel it became an important shrine in Northern Israel, and was roundly criticised by the prophets for its idolatrous associations (1 Kings 12.29 ff; Amos 7.13). It became part of Judah in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 23.15).

7.33 ‘The men of the other Nebo (or ‘Nebo Acher), fifty two.’

Ezra 2 speaks simply of ‘the sons of Nebo’. This second list names it as Nebo Acher (or ‘the other Nebo’), and refers to ‘the men of --.’ This difference in name may suggest that what is found in Nehemiah may have been the submission of a different submitter, who used different terms. The town possibly had the longer name of Nebo Acher to distinguish it from Nebo in Reuben (Numbers 32.3, 38). From its position here it would appear to have been a Benjamite town. It may be represented by Beit Nuba, 19 kilometres (12 miles) northwest of Jerusalem.

7.34 ‘The sons of the other Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty four.’

Compare verse 12 for an ‘Elam’, and see the note there. That may be why it speaks of ‘the other Elam’. On the other hand verse 33 spoke of ‘the other Nebo’ or ‘Nebo Acher’, so that Elam Acher may, on the same basis, be the name of a town. Certainly from its position here Elam Acher would appear to be the name of a Benjamite town (a Benjamite of the name is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8.24), even though at this point the writer has reverted back to ‘the sons of --’. The references to ‘the sons of Jericho’ and ‘the sons of Lod, Hadid and Ono’ appear to confirm that he is still speaking of domicile.

7.35 ‘The sons of Harim, three hundred and twenty.’

‘Sons of Harim’ are mentioned among those who married idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.31), and we find an Harim among those who sealed Nehemiah’s covenant (10.27), although it may be that it was sealed in the family name. In 3.11 Malchijah, son of Harim, is mentioned as one of the wall-builders. These ‘sons of Harim’ may well, however, have been named after their town. Such a town is not mentioned elsewhere, but it may have been a small one.

7.36 ‘The sons of Jericho, three hundred and forty five.’

This confirms that the writer is still thinking in terms of towns. Jericho was probably named after the god Yarich. It was in the Jordan rift valley in Benjamite territory (Joshua 18.21), at the bottom of the pass that led up to Jerusalem, and was known as ‘the city of the Palm Trees’ (Deuteronomy 34.3; 2 Chronicles 28.15). It was the first ‘city’ captured by Joshua after crossing the Jordan. Elijah had a school of the prophets there (2 Kings 2.5). The men of Jericho, which was by then only a small town, assisted Nehemiah in the building of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3.2).

7.37 ‘The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred and twenty one.’

In Ezra 2 this description comes after the sons of Jericho, and the ‘sons’ number seven hundred and twenty five. The difference is no doubt due to deaths being more than comings of age. Life was very precarious. Ono and Lod with their ‘towns’ are said to have been ‘built’ (fortified?) by Shemed, a Benjamite (1 Chronicles 8.12). The towns lay in the Shephelah (lowland hills), perhaps in ge ha-charashim, "the valley of craftsmen", and their habitation by Benjamites after the Exile is mentioned in 11.35. As we have seen it was in one of the villages in the plain of Ono that Sanballat and his friends vainly tried to inveigle Nehemiah into a conference in order to do him harm (6.2). Ono is represented by modern Kefr `Ana, which lies to the Northwest of Lydda. In the New Testament Lod appears as Lydda. Here the apostle Peter visited the saints and healed the palsied Arenas, and from here he was summoned by messengers from Joppa on the death of Dorcas (Acts 9.32 ff).

7.38 ‘The sons of Senaah, three thousand nine hundred and thirty.’

In Ezra 2 the number was three thousand six hundred and thirty. This suggests that a fairly large party of them accompanied the later arrivals of the sons of Azgad, or came in their own caravan, the increase possibly being of three ‘hundreds’ using the non-numerative significance of ‘a hundred’. In 3.3 the name occurs with the definite article, ha-senaah, referring to wall builders. The people may be identical with the Benjamite clan Hassenuah (1 Chronicles 9.7).

Some cavil at the number on the grounds of its size, but it is not so large as to be impossible, if we compare, for example the sons of Pahath-Moab who number two thousand eight hundred and twelve. Archaeology suggests that the Benjamite towns appear to have suffered less at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and Senaah, probably in the Jordan rift valley (it comes after Jericho), was not in the direct path of his advance. This may help to account for the numbers who had survived and been exiled.

The Enrolling Of The Priests (7.39-42).

The priests are here divided up into four courses, in contrast with the twenty four courses pertaining under David (1 Chronicles 24.1-19). But these four courses would eventually in the future be divided up into twenty four under the names of the old courses. The number of priestly families returning amount as a whole to four thousand, two hundred and eighty nine, roughly a tenth of the total of forty two thousand, three hundred and sixty who returned, and an even larger percentage of the named families. This was to be expected as they had a greater incentive for returning to Jerusalem. There would be a further addition to priestly numbers when some returned along with Ezra (Ezra 8.2 ff).

7.39a ‘The Priests:’

The Priests are separately designated as a group. These were able to demonstrate their ancestry, and therefore their legitimacy to act in the forthcoming Temple.

7.39b ‘The sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred and seventy three.’

Jedaiah (‘Yah knows’) was the head of the second order of priests in the time of David (1 Chronicles 24.7). On the other hand ‘of the house of Jeshua’ possibly indicates that a different Jedaiah was in mind, one who was descended from Jeshua, the head of the ninth order of priests (1 Chronicles 24.11). Jedaiah was a very popular name among the priests. For example, two Jedaiahs are named as priests who came with Zerubbabel from Babylon (12.1, 6-7), who were chiefs of priests in the days of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, the High Priest under Zerubbabel (12.1, 7; Ezra 3.2, 8). Furthermore two Jedaiahs as family names are found in the list of priests who were ‘heads of fathers’ houses’ in the days of Joiakim who succeeded Jeshua as High Priest (12.12, 19, 21). In this regard we should note that there was a tendency for names to be passed on to grandsons. A Jedaiah is also named as one of the priests who later took up dwelling in Jerusalem (11.10; 1 Chronicles 9/10). A Jedaiah (presumably one of those mentioned in 12.6-7) was involved in the symbolic crowning of Jeshua the High Priest as ‘the Branch’ in Zechariah 6.10, 14.

‘Of the house of Jeshua.’ This would usually indicate that he was a descendant of Jeshua (compare Exodus 2.1; 1 Samuel 25.3; 1 Chronicles 2.55; 2 Chronicles 31.10). Jeshua (‘Yah saves’) was such a popular name that certain identification of this one is impossible to us, although it probably in this context looks back to the Jeshua who headed the ninth order of priests in 1 Chronicles 24.11.

Jeshua was a very popular name. Jeshua was the name of a Levite who lived in Hezekiah’s time (2 Chronicles 31.15). Jeshua the son of Jozadak was the name of the High Priest alongside Zerubbabel (e.g. Ezra 3.2; Zechariah 3; etc), and in this very same list a Jeshua is the son of Pahath-Moab (7.11), whilst another is a head of a Levite family (7.43). Another Jeshua had, along with others, oversight of workmen restoring the Temple in the early days of the return (Ezra 3.9), whilst still another, a Levite, was among those who helped the people to understand the Law in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (8.7). It was this latter who, along with others, led worship, and called on the people to worship (9.4-5), and may have been the father of ‘Jozabad, the son of Jeshua’, whom, along with others, received the silver, gold and vessels for use in the Temple (Ezra 8.33). Jeshua, the son of Azaniah, was one of those who sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (10.9). Nehemiah 12.10 refers to a Jeshua who came up with Zerubbabel (see Ezra 2.40 above), while a further Jeshua, the son of Kadmiel, is referred to in 12.24 as present at the dedication of the walls in the time of Nehemiah. The famous Jeshua the son of Nun is mentioned in 8.17.

7.40 ‘The sons of Immer, one thousand and fifty two.’

Immer was the name of the sixteenth order of priests in David’s time (1 Chronicles 24.14). Two ‘sons of Immer’, Hanani and Zebediah married idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.20). Zadok, the ‘son of Immer’, (probably a relatively contemporary one) who lived in Jerusalem, helped in the building of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (3.29). Also living in Jerusalem was Amashsai, the son of Azazel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, a line (which probably only included prominent ancestors) that evidences the fact that Immer was long dead (11.13; compare 1 Chronicles 9.12). Jeremiah 20.1 speaks of a ‘Pashhur, the son of Immer’ living before the Babylonian Exile. In 7.61 we learn of a place in Babylonia which was called Immer, the returnees from which could not prove their genealogy.

7.41 ‘The sons of Pashhur, one thousand two hundred and forty seven.’

Pashhur, which means ‘one who splits, one who cleaves’, was a common Jewish name. This is the only name among the four which does not directly tie up with the courses of priests in David’s time. Six ‘sons of Pashhur’ married idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.22). A Pashhur, or someone who signed in the clan name, also sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah in 10.3.

We have already seen that a Pashhur who was ‘the son of Immer’ lived before the Babylonian Exile, and treated Jeremiah the prophet very badly (Jeremiah 20.1-3). There was also at that time a Pashhur, the son of Malchijah (Jeremiah 21.1; 38.1; Nehemiah 11.12), and a Gedaliah the son of a different Pashhur (Jeremiah 38.1) who were also antagonistic towards Jeremiah. However, none of these indicate the Pashhur who was the source of the clan name. All that they demonstrate is that Pashhur was a common Jewish name likely to have been borne by a clan chief.

7.42 ‘The sons of Harim, one thousand and seventeen.’

Harim was the name of the third order of priests in the days of David (1 Chronicles 24.8), and this probably indicates their descent from him. In Ezra 10.21 the ‘sons of Harim’ covenanted to put away idolatrous foreign wives, and in 12.15 they are listed among the priests who ‘went up with Zerubbabel’. A priestly Harim seals the covenant of Nehemiah, or someone does it in the family name (10.27).

We have already had ‘sons of Harim’ referred to in verse 35, but they were of a non-priestly family, and there Harim was possibly a town. Some of ‘the sons of’ this Harim also married idolatrous foreign wives (Ezra 10.31), whilst one sealed the covenant of Nehemiah (10.27).

Malchijah, the son of Harim, was one of the wall-builders in Nehemiah, but we do not know to which of these two families that designation refers.

The Enrolling Of The Levites (7.43).

Compared with 4,289 priests who returned, only 74 Levites returned, to which we might add the 148 singers (128 in Ezra 2) and the 138 (139 in Ezra 2) gate-keepers, making 360 (341 in Ezra 2) in all, although it would appear that the writer of the list did not include the singers and gatekeepers as Levites, although he may have assumed that his readers would know that they were Levites. These small numbers tie in with the fact that when Ezra later gathered those who were returning with him he says, ‘I viewed the people and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi’, a situation which he set about remedying (Ezra 8.15). The Levites were clearly not enthusiastic about returning. This is partly explicable by the fact that as the Levites only assisted the priests in the Temple, it was something that was not so appealing as being a fully fledged priest (as Ezra 8.15 confirms), and partly by the fact that the priests would have been exiled in large numbers as people of importance, whilst the Levites may well have been seen as ‘the poor of the land’, and thus not exiled in large numbers. The lowly state of the Levites as compared with the priests is brought out in Ezekiel 44.10-31. It is clear from Ezekiel 44 that the Levites bore a large part of the blame for the encouragement of idolatrous worship in pre-Exilic days.

7.43a ‘The Levites.’

Details are now given of the generality of Levites, who would assist the priests in worship, who were among those who returned. This will then be followed by the more specialist singers and gatekeepers, who may not at this time have described themselves as ‘Levites’, although they were originally. We must be careful, however, not to read too much into silence. The musicians are clearly seen as Levites in 3.10, a short while later.

7.43b ‘The sons of Jeshua, of Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodevah, seventy four.’

The two orders of Levites who returned are the sons of Jeshua, (the son of Azaniah - 10.4) and the sons of Kadmiel, who was ‘of the sons of Hodaviah’. Ezra 2.40 reads, ‘the sons of Joshua, of Kadmiel of the sons of Hodaviah’, an alternative rendering of the name. The addition, “of the sons of Hodevah,” is applied to Kadmiel, in order to distinguish him from other Levites of a similar name. Kadmiel appears to be a typically Levite name. The Jeshua and Kadmiel mentioned here were heads of father’s houses in the past.

According to Ezra 3.9 Jeshua and Kadmiel were chiefs of two orders of Levites in the times of Zerubbabel and Joshua, who had oversight of the workmen of the house of God. These chiefs may originally have been given these names, or they may have taken the name of their ancestors in celebration of the return from Exile. Two men of the same names (probably grandsons. At this time the naming of grandsons after their grandfathers was common practise) played their part in the ceremony of praising God for the return (9.4-5), and in sealing the covenant of Nehemiah (10.9) and these names reoccur as names of orders of Levites in 12.8. In the MT a ‘Jeshua the son of Kadmiel’ is mentioned in 12.24.

With regard to Hodaviah, there is no mention of the sons of Hodaviah in the lists of Levites in Chronicles. It was, however, the name of one of the heads of the half-tribe of Manasseh on the East of the Jordan (1 Chronicles 5.24), and of a Benjamite, who was the son of Hassenuah (1 Chronicles 9.7). It was also the name of a son of Elioenai, and a descendant of David (1 Chronicles 3.24). Thus it was a regular Jewish name.

The limited number of Levites is revealing. The Law gave them nine tenths of the tithes, but that was because when the Law was given the numbers of Levites were very large. This is clear evidence against the suggestion that the Law of Moses as we have it was mainly composed by Ezra, as used to be suggested.

The Enrolling Of The Singers/Musicians (7.44).

The singers were a special order of Levites (seen as such in 11.15-17; Ezra 3.10-11; but seemingly not designated as Levites here) who according to 1 Chronicles 6.31-32 had been responsible for leading the singing and musical accompaniment in Tabernacle and Temple worship. Asaph is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6.39. It would appear that of the singers/musicians, only the sons of Asaph, i.e. members of the musical group of Asaph, returned at this stage. Thus in Ezra 3.10-11 we read that at the laying of foundations of the new Temple ‘they set --- the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals to praise YHWH, after the order of David the King of Israel’ (see 1 Chronicles 15.16-22).

In 11.17 three singers are mentioned, Mattaniah, a ‘son of Asaph’, who was the leading one to give thanksgiving in prayer, Bakbukiah, who was the second, and Abda, a ‘son of Jeduthun’. Many see this as indicating that there were by that stage three orders of singers in view of the fact that in 2 Chronicles 5.12 in the time of Solomon the three orders of musicians were stated to be Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun. This would make Bakbukiah a ‘son of Heman’, although in 1 Chronicles 9.15 his ancestry is ignored, as here. So as with the later twenty fours orders of priests this may well have been an artificial arrangement. In Israel/Judah adoption was a common form of descent (indeed a large proportion of Israel and Judah were only children of Abraham by adoption).

7.44a ‘The Singers:’

Possibly more accurately we must see them as the musicians, for part of their privilege was to play the cymbals and other instruments (1 Chronicles 15.16).

7.44b ‘The sons of Asaph, one hundred and forty eight.’

Ezra 2 gives us one hundred and twenty eight. The increase occurring in the time between the two lists may be due to comings of age, or to further singers returning with the sons of Azgad (see on 7.17).

It would appears that of the three orders in the time of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5.12) only ‘sons of Asaph’ had returned at this stage. It is, of course, always possible that of the musicians only sons of Asaph had been exiled. In Ezra 3.10-11 the lead in singing and playing was taken by Mattaniah, a ‘son of Asaph’. In 11.22-23 we learn of ‘the sons of Asaph, the singers, over the house of God’, and they were seen as so important that ‘the king’ (Artaxerxes) gave commandment concerning them, and they had a settled provision as every day required. The kings of Persia took a deep interest in looking after those who played their part in the religious ritual of their subjects and their various gods. They wanted the gods on their side.

The Enrolling Of The Gatekeepers (7.45).

The Gatekeepers were another special order of Levites. In 1 Chronicles 9.17 we are informed that in earlier pre-Exilic days the gatekeepers included ‘Shallum and Akkab and Talmon, and Ahiman and their brothers. Shallum was the chief’. These were the ones who dwelt in Jerusalem. Others dwelt in their own towns and could be called on at special times (1 Chronicles 9.25). The gatekeepers were responsible for opening the Temple doors each morning; watching over the chambers and treasuries; having charge of the vessels of service; and having responsibility for the furniture, the vessels of the sanctuary, the fine flour and wine and oil, and the frankincense and spices (1 Chronicles 9.26-30).

7.45a ‘The Gate-keepers.’

Details are now given of the ‘gatekeepers’ that is those who had overall responsibility for watching over the security of the Temple. The list in Ezra 2 speaks of them as ‘the sons of the gate-keepers’. The compiler of the later list shortened this to ‘the gate-keepers’ to bring it into line with the other related headings. This is another example of ‘tidying up’ which confirms that the list here is later than that of Ezra 2.

7.45b ‘The sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, one hundred thirty and eight.’

The number of gate-keepers has reduced by one compared with the list in Ezra 2, no doubt due to comings of age and deaths. The gatekeepers are listed in six orders, and in the case of three of them (Shallum, Talmon and Akkab) their descent is from the gatekeepers mentioned above who dwelt in Jerusalem. Of the remaining three (Ater, Hatita and Shobai) we know nothing positive. Their descent was no doubt from those who dwelt in the towns outside Jerusalem. As we saw in verse 16 there were other ‘sons of Ater’, but they were distinguished as being ‘of Hezekiah’. They were non-Levities.

The Enrolling Of The Nethinim (7.46-56).

The Nethinim (given ones) probably had their initial origin in the Gibeonites who were forced to become ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ for the Tabernacle (Joshua 9.27). Whoever they were they were seen as ‘given to God’. (Compare the same description of the Levites in Numbers 8.16 where the word is ‘nethunim’). They would later be supplemented by prisoners of war and other slaves, as Ezra 8.29 makes clear when it speaks of them as ‘those whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites’. Others were no doubt ‘given’ later by various kings. The Nethinim are distinguished in the list from ‘Solomon’s servants’ (verse 57), but included with these in the final total of two (verse 60), they thus clearly had similar functions. Nevertheless their status was such that they were exempt from taxes (Ezra 7.24), had their own quarters in Jerusalem (Ezra 3.26, 31), and took the oath connected with the sure covenant of Nehemiah (10.28-31).

With regard to the Gibeonites, many of them had probably merged into Israel and would no doubt for this purpose at some stage have become of those who were circumcised. They might well therefore have been relieved from the most onerous duties, being replaced by prisoners of war and slaves. But there were certainly others who retained their identity as Gibeonites, and they clearly had an element of freedom (2 Samuel 21.2-9). And this at the time when David introduced the prisoners of war and slaves into the Temple. No doubt the slaves and prisoners of war, being required to work in the Temple, were also circumcised, and that not all of them saw their position as humiliating and undesirable comes out in the fact that so many of them chose to return from Exile as compared with the generality of Levites (verse 43), although we do not know how far they were free to choose. Further Nethinim would return with Ezra (Ezra 8.29). The Nethinim had their quarters in Ophel (‘eminence’), a district in Jerusalem near the Temple and near the old Water Gate (3.26; 11.21). The only mention of them outside Ezra/Nehemiah is in 1 Chronicles 9.2.

7.46a ‘The Nethinim:’

The families of the Nethinim are now listed. There are thirty two of them (in Ezra 2 thirty five), and therefore, in view of the small total number (verse 58), there were a limited number in each family. This ties in with them as not having a long ancestry. The number of non-Israelite names is very illuminating. As both lists, Ezra 2 and Nehmiah 7, give the same number for ‘the Nethinim and the servants of Solomon’ it would appear that the three families which dropped out (Akkub, Hagab, and Asnah) were either accidentally omitted, or were counted as part of three of the other families. (Note how Hagab closely relates to Hagaba).

As has been stated, whilst having a lowly place among the Temple personnel, these, along with the Levites, singers and gatekeepers, were exempted from taxes (Ezra 7.24), had their own quarters in Jerusalem (3.26, 31), and took the oath connected with the sure covenant of Nehemiah (10.28-31). Slight differences of the names in the Ezra 2 list are noted in brackets.

7.46b ‘The sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth,’
7.47 ‘The sons of Keros, the sons of Sia (Siaha), the sons of Padon,’
7.48 ‘The sons of Lebana, the sons of Hagaba, the sons of Salmai (Shamlai),’
7.49 ‘The sons of Hanan, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar,’
7.50 ‘The sons of Reaiah, the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda,’
7.51 ‘The sons of Gazzam, the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah.’
7.52 ‘The sons of Besai, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephushesim (Nephisim),’
7.53 ‘The sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur,’
7.54 ‘The sons of Bazlith (Bazluth), the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha,’
7.55 ‘The sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah,’
7.56 ‘The sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha.’

Tabbaoth, possibly the people of Tabbath (Judges 7.22). Meunim (compare 2 Chronicles 26.7) and Nephisim (compare 1 Chronicles 5.19) may well be the names of enemy tribes (note the plural ending) from which these were captured. The sons of Akkub, Hagab and Asnah are omitted here, possibly because they were seen as sub-families. For Salmai Ezra 2 has Shamlai (such deliberate transpositions were common with names). For Nephusheism Ezra 2 has Nephisim, a related alternative name. The other variations relate only to differences of form.

The Enrolling Of The Sons Of Solomon’s Servants (7.57-60).

The fact that the total of these was combined with the total of the Nethinim (verse 60) suggests that they had similar duties. We have no specific knowledge of whether they had different duties, although two of the names (the scribes and the gazelle keepers) may suggest that these had a more practical function. The title ‘servants’ is not necessarily derogatory. Those who were the highest in the land could be called ‘servants of the king’. They are not mentioned outside the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, nevertheless it cannot be doubted that they had been in existence in the pre-Exilic period. We have no mean of knowing how, or whether, their duties differed from those of the Nethinim. They are probably included in the exemption from taxes of Ezra 7.24, and may well, when on duty, have resided in Ophel like the Nethinim.

It is, however, clear that once the Temple was built on its comparatively huge scale (as compared with the Tabernacle), more ‘servants would be required, something which Solomon no doubt ensured either by the use of foreign captives, or by forcing the Canaanites into such service, having duly circumcised them. Gradually the positions, possibly invidious at first, would have come to be seen as honoured ones. Service in the Temple would have been seen as the highest form of service

7.57a ‘The sons of Solomon’s servants:’

The families of the sons of Solomon’s servants are now listed (Ezra 2 differences shown in brackets).

7.57b ‘The sons of Sotai, the sons of Sophereth (Hassophereth), the sons of Perida (Peruda),’
7.58 ‘The sons of Jaala (Jaalah), the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel,’
7.59 ‘The sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the sons of Amon (Ami).’

As shown there are slight, but immaterial, differences in form between these names and those in Ezra 2. Sophereth (scribes) was previously Hassophereth (‘the scribes’, adding the article). Peruda becomes Perida, Jaalah becomes Jaala, Ami becomes Amon. They are probably simply due to variant spellings. The names Sophereth (Hassophereth) meaning ‘the scribes’ and Pochereth-hazzebaim meaning ‘the gazelle-keepers’ may indicate something of their special duties.

7.60 ‘All the Nethinim, and the sons of Solomon’s servants, were three hundred and ninety two.’

A combined total is now given of the Nethinim and the sons of Solomon’s servants. Their ‘families/clans’ were clearly limited in size.

The Enrolling Of The Non-Priests Who Could Not Prove Their Descent From Israel (7.61-62).

These appear to have been settled in the Babylonian cities described although the names of the cities mentioned are nowhere testified to in Babylonian records. This is not, however, surprising as few small cities and towns are. The fact that they stand out as those who could not prove their descent demonstrates how careful Jewish families were to keep records of descent. The main problem that would result from this would be the proving of their right to land in Israel. As they were presumably circumcised they would have the same rights as proselytes to take part in the worship of YHWH, and to be adopted as Israelites (Exodus 12.48). Indeed the fact that they are listed demonstrates their acceptability to the other immigrants already listed, but it is noteworthy that their names do not occur later in Ezra/Nehemiah. They were not called on to seal the covenant, or to supervise the building of the wall in Jerusalem, and so on.

7.61 ‘And these were they who went up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon (Addan), and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses, nor their seed, whether they were of Israel:’

The Babylonian towns or districts mentioned are not testified to in inscriptions and records, apart from here. Note the two things that these returnees could not do, they could not trace their father’s houses in Israel, and they could not prove that they were descended from Israelites. This would appear to confirm that the previous names have been names of pre-Exilic father’s houses.

The variation between Addon and Addan parallels the similar differences in personal names, and may suggest that they arose because the two compilers pronounced names differently, as people of different dialects do today.

It may well be that these particular people were in fact the product of earlier exiles with the consequence being that they had been in Babylonia for a long time. Thus the only method they had of attempting to demonstrate their Jewishness was by the naming of Babylonian cities or districts known to have received exiles from Israel/Judah, combined of course with the fact that they were circumcised, worshipped in synagogues and observed the Sabbath.

7.62 ‘The sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, six hundred and forty two.’

The name Delaiah was a good Israelite name. It was the name of a descendant of David in 1 Chronicles 3.24, of the leader of the twenty third order of David’s priests (1 Chronicles 24.18), and of one of the princes who pleaded with Jehoiakim not to destroy the roll containing the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36.12, 25). It was also the name of the father of the wary Shemaiah in 6.10. But it was, of course, in itself, no proof of Israelite ancestry.

In contrast Tobiah and Nekoda are not found directly as Israelite names. Tobiah (‘Yah is good’) certainly has connections with Yahwism, but as far as we know was borne only by the Ammonite deputy of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria (2.10; 4.7; 6.1, 14, 17), who was probably a Yahwist of the debased (idolatrous) kind (Ezra 4.2), for he named his son Jeho-hanan (6.17). Nekoda is the name of the father’s house of one of the Nethinim (verse 50), but that may have been a foreign name.

The Enrolling Of The Priests Who Could Not Prove Their Ancestry (7.63-65).

Far more important was the situation of the priests who could not demonstrate their ancestry, for this excluded them from priestly office, and from reception of priestly benefits such as the tithe, and the parts of offerings and sacrifices particular to the priests. They would also presumably be liable to pay taxes. The exclusion was necessary because for a non-Aaronide to participate in the priesthood would have been seen as a major sacrilege (compare Numbers 16). The risk could not be taken.

7.63a ‘And of the priests:’

Those now mentioned are distinguished from the non-Priests mentioned above. These claimed to be sons of the priests, but could not demonstrate the fact.

7.63b ‘The sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name.’

The name Hakkoz was a good priestly name being borne by the seventh order of David’s priests (1 Chronicles 24.10). It was also the name of one of Judah’s descendants. But clearly this family could not prove its ancestry. However it may well have done so later, for in Ezra 8.33 we read of ‘Meremoth, the son of Uriah the priest’ who may have been the same as ‘Meremoth, the son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz’ (3.4, 21). On the other hand that may have been a different Hakkoz, or a different Meremoth.

Barzillai was a wealthy Israelite, a Gileadite, who assisted David during the rebellion of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 12.31-39). But he was not an Aaronide. The argument of the sons of Barzillai was that they were Aaronides, but that the Barzillai in question had taken the name of his wife’s family, presumably for inheritance purposes. It is clear that at this time the name change was preventing proof of his ancestry. A second consideration might also have been that having inherited wealth he had disqualified himself as a priest in view of the fact that the priest’s only inheritance was to be YHWH (Numbers 18.20). The name Habaiah is not testified to in the Old Testament, but, of course, incorporates the name of YHWH.

7.64 ‘These sought their register among those who were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found, therefore were they deemed polluted and put from the priesthood.’

It would appear that records of ancestry of the priests had been taken to Babylon by the captives, or may even have been memorised and written down once they arrived there and that when these were consulted no trace could be found of the above families. We can compare with this how the ancestry of the kings of Scotland going back many generations were so memorised, and were repeated at the coronation of kings. A similar example was found among the Arabs. Someone who was visiting an Arab encampment described how an Arab got up and related the history of his forebears going back forty generations, and commented that there were others in the assembly who obviously could have done the same, telling who married and who begat whom, and where they lived, and frequently what they had done, and where they wandered. He said it sounded exactly like a chapter of genealogy out of the Bible. In consequence of their failure to prove their ancestry they were considered ‘polluted’ (not proven as Aaronides and therefore unfit to serve) and therefore excluded from the current priesthood. They would, of course, be accepted as Israelites on the same basis as those above. As they were presumably circumcised they would have the same rights as proselytes to take part in the worship of YHWH, and to be adopted as Israelites (Exodus 12.48). It is striking that no number is given in respect of these. Their status as priests was pending.

7.65 ‘And the governor (Tirshatha) said to them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, until there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim.’

The Tirshatha was clearly in control of matters, and it was his decision, not to exclude them for ever, but to exclude them from eating of the priest’s portions until their position could be determined by the use of the Urim and Thummim, utilised by ‘a (High) Priest’. The Urim and Thummim were the sacred lots carried in the High Priest’s breastpouch (Exodus 28.30; Leviticus 8.8; see also Deuteronomy 33.8-10; Numbers 27.21). These would appear to have given the answers of ‘yes’ or ‘no answer’ (no example is known of a specific ‘no’ being given as an answer). See for example 1 Samuel 14.41; 23.9-12; 28.6; and compare their probable use in Joshua 7.16-18; 2 Samuel 2.1. We know of no example of their use after the early monarchy, but that may simply have been because the kings preferred other methods.

The Urim and Thummim (the names beginning with the first and last letters of the alphabet) may have been pieces of wood or stone marked in such a way as to be able to read an answer from them when they were either withdrawn from the pouch, or tossed on sacred ground. Their mention here would, however, appear to indicate that a situation when they would be used might be expected within a reasonable period (certainly the sacred lot is used later - 10.34; 11.1). If this list is a second list, made in the time of Zerubbabel, who had replaced Sheshbazzar, as compared with an initial list in Ezra 2 it would appear that the Tirshatha in question was Zerubbabel (or possibly Sheshbazzar if the decision was made very early on). We can compare the fact that the Tirshatha appears to have been able to decide the use of the Urim and Thummim with the fact that Joshua could do the same through the High Priest (Numbers 27.18-21).

‘The Tirshatha.’ This would appear to be a Persian title meaning ‘governor’. Indeed Sheshbazzar was probably officially appointed as Tirshatha, with ‘governor’ (Ezra 5.14) being an interpretation of it. The term is also used of Sheshbazzar (7.65, 70) and Nehemiah (8.9; 10.1).

The Sum Total Of The Returnees (7.66).

7.66 ‘The whole assembly together was forty two thousand, three hundred and sixty.’

The sum total of the returnees who represented Israel comes to 42,360. The adult male returnees enumerated above come to 31,089 (Ezra 29,818), plus whatever number the defrocked priests came to. That leaves just over 11,000 to be accounted for. They may have been made up of the under age males. But in view of the fact that in the next verse female slaves and female singing women are counted, and in the following verses domestic animals are numbered, it would be quite remarkable if the female members of Israel were ignored. Indeed it would have been a direct insult. Thus we may see them as represented in the remaining 11,000 (with under age children being ignored). If it then be argued that 11,000 females hardly suffices when there are 31,000 males we can reply, firstly that many of the males might well have left their families behind, intending to bring them to Judea once they had satisfactorily settled and were confident that they would be able to feed them, and secondly that many of the males who made the decision to come might well have been unmarried. It was the unmarried ones who would be more prepared to take the risks involved in returning. Indeed this lack of females might well have been part of the cause of a number of them marrying foreign wives. But, of course, there would also be Israelite women who had remained in the land who would also be available, who were, however, mainly syncretistic.

Both this list in Nehemiah and the list in Ezra, in spite of its differences, give the same total. But that is probably because the number of returnees in the initial immigration having been fixed, that was the number that was retained as having become sacrosanct. It is probable that in the second list the women were not specifically counted, but simply allowed to make up the number.

Enumeration Of Their Slaves (7.67).

7.67 ‘Besides their male slaves and their female slaves, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred and thirty seven, and they had two hundred and forty five singing men and singing women.’

The only difference from Ezra 2 lies in the fact that Ezra 2 gives a round number of two hundred singing men and women. This again confirms that the list in Ezra was prior to that in Nehemiah. By the time of the second list, either more singing men and women had arrived, or they had been more accurately numbered. Another alternative is that the two hundred in the first list refers to men singers, the women singers not being numbered until the second list.

These male and female slaves were additional to the assembly of Israel. This very much points then to the fact that these were foreign slaves. Israelite servants would have been counted as part of the assembly. The singing men and women would not be Temple singers, already counted in verse 44, but singers for the purpose of entertainment in wealthy households and for purposes of mourning (compare 2 Samuel 19.35; Ecclesiastes 2.8; 2 Chronicles 35.25). They were presumably also slaves. Thus the total number of slaves was by this time approximately seven thousand, five hundred and eighty two. These would not be Israelite slaves. Such were forbidden in Israel (Leviticus 25.39-41). The ownership of these slaves points to a certain initial level of wealth in the restored community, although this would soon be depleted by famine and robbery (Ezra 4.4, 23; Haggai 1.6, 9-12; 2.16-17).

Enumeration Of The Beasts Of Burden (7.68-69).

7.68-69 ‘Their horses were seven hundred and thirty six; their mules, two hundred and forty five; their camels, four hundred and thirty five; their asses, six thousand seven hundred and twenty.’

These are possibly enumerated as evidence of wealth, or because they were seen as having faithfully served the needs of the community on their journey. The camels and asses especially would have been necessary in order to carry the possessions of the emigrants. The horses and mules would have been for the most important to ride on (the horses for the outriders). It is noteworthy that cattle, sheep and goats are unmentioned. This would tend to support the idea that there was in this statement an indication of their gratitude to God in providing them with means of transportation. It was an indication that God was with His people. He had not allowed them to struggle on without help.

It would not be felt necessary in revising the list to renumber the beasts of burden. They did not form a part of the covenant community. It was sufficient to indicate God’s satisfactory provision.

Contributions Towards The Treasury For The Temple (7.70-72).

It is at this point that this list differs considerably from the one in Ezra 2. This may have been because Sheshbazzar now being dead, his portion could be enumerated, whilst while he was alive he did not want it known. Or it may simply be that the writer in Ezra 2 simply abbreviated the list in his possession, and rounded up the numbers, considering that that was what really mattered. Ezra certainly appears to have altered the text of the original list in order to lay greater emphasis on the building of the Temple which almost immediately follows on his enumeration.

Thus here in Nehemiah the total gifts, as detailed, amounted to forty one thousand darkemonim of gold, fifty basins, four thousand seven hundred pounds of silver, and ninety seven priests’ garments. This contrasts with sixty one thousand darkemonim of gold, five thousand maneh of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments in Ezra 2, where, however, there are no details. Apart from the gold this looks very much like a rounding up of the numbers (four thousand seven hundred to five thousand, and ninety seven to one hundred). The extra gold in Ezra may well have included the gold sent by the king of Persia towards the erection of the Temple, which would then have amounted to twenty thousand darkemonim, or the gifts earlier contributed by some who had remained in Babylon (Ezra 1.4, 6). As ‘darics’ did not arise until the reign of Darius, darkemonim (drkmn) may indicate drachmas, or even an unknown weight, although the writers may have updated the weights.

7.70a ‘And some from among the heads of fathers’ houses gave to the work.’

One main purpose in coming to Jerusalem was to rebuild the Temple and re-establish the cult, including offerings for the king of Persia (Ezra 1.2-4). Thus once having arrived in Judah the heads of fathers’ houses together with the people, would contribute towards the work. Here the heads of fathers’ houses are then revealed as including the governor. It is probable that the list in Nehemiah ( the statesman) is nearest to what was in the original lists, as compared with Ezra the priest who was more concerned to stress that the building of the Temple was in mind. Thus Ezra 2.68 adds, ‘some of the heads of fathers’ (houses), when they came to the house of YHWH which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to set it up in its place’, before giving the final totals of the contributions.

7.70b ‘The governor gave to the treasury a thousand darkemonim of gold, fifty basins, five hundred (maneh of silver), and thirty priests’ garments.’

The generosity of the governor is first outlined. He gave to the treasury (with the building of the Temple in mind) a thousand darkemonim of gold, fifty basins (not mentioned by Ezra), five hundred (maneh of silver), and thirty priests’ garments. The original text reads ‘five hundred and thirty priests’ garments’ with no mention of silver. But as we would expect a mention of silver (compare verse 71-72), and that number of priestly garments would be excessive, what we have described is probably what was in mind. It may be that something accidentally dropped out of the text, or it may simply be that the words were intended to be assumed.

7.71 ‘And some of the heads of fathers’ (houses) gave into the treasury of the work twenty thousand darkemonim of gold, and two thousand, two hundred maneh of silver.’

Some of the other ‘heads of fathers’ (houses) gave in total twenty thousand darkemonim of gold, and two thousand two hundred maneh of silver, a generous offering. The description ‘some of’ may indicate that there was a lack of generosity among other heads of fathers’ (houses), or it may simply mean that the remainder made their contributions along with the rest of the people.

7.72 ‘And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand darkemonim of gold, and two thousand maneh of silver, and sixty seven priests’ garments.’

The rest of the people gave ‘twenty thousand darkemonim of gold, and two thousand maneh of silver, and sixty seven priests’ garments.’ The garments would have been made and embroidered with the help of the women.

Thus a goodly sum was provided for the building of the Temple along with basins and priests’ garments. The priests’ garments would be very necessary in view of the fact that the seventh month was approaching, when the feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated.

7.73 ‘So the priests, and the Levites, and the gatekeepers, and the singers, and some of the people, and the Nethinim, and all Israel, dwelt in their cities, and when the seventh month was come, the children of Israel were in their cities.’

This confirms what was said in verse 6 that all returned to their own cities (which for some would include Jerusalem). The people are listed in terms of previous designations:

  • The priests.
  • The Levites.
  • Some of the people. ‘Some’ may have in mind that the remainder were still in exile, or simply that some did not choose to dwell in cities, or that some could not dwell in their cities because they were already fully occupied (e.g. by the Edomites in the south) or more likely that some could not identify which were their own cities e.g. those who were unsure of their ancestry.
  • The singers and the gatekeepers and the Nethinim (with the son of Solomon’s servants included with the Nethinim, as they were in the totals).

All these, apart from those who chose not to do so, or could not identify their cities, dwelt in their cities. Thus ‘all Israel’, as summed up in the previous descriptions, were in their cities. The return was complete. Israel was once more in place in accordance with God’s allocation after the conquest. The summary is a cry of triumph. Israel has been restored! And they are back in their old cities.

Then it is stressed that when the next great Feast came following their arrival (the seventh month was a red letter month in the Jewish calendar, containing the Feast of trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles) they were all in their cities. This feast was a celebratory feast, and the point is that when it came they had good reason for celebration.

While the order of those mentioned has been regularised here, with the native Jews first, followed by the Nethinim, the whole summed up as ‘all Israel’, the verse pretty well parallels that in Ezra, which confirms that these words were in the original lists. Indeed with verse 6, verse 73 forms an inclusio.

The emendation made by some English translations, placing ‘in Jerusalem’ after ‘some of the people’ (in accordance with 1 Esdras) is unnecessary. It goes without saying that some would take up residence in Jerusalem if they ‘returned to their own cities’, but the emendation was made simply because of a failure to understand the phrase ‘some of the people’, so that it was felt that it needed to be explained.

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