Introduction: The Jews previously lived lives defined by division, darkness, rebellion, and despair. With the rebuilt Jerusalem, they could now look forward to a united identity under God. In many ways, this chapter also provides hope for believers today. Believers today frequently find themselves divided by different religious traditions, ethnicities, languages, cultures, and countries. But believers also have hope through Jesus when they live under His leadership as a united people. The hope and purpose that Jesus offers include: (1) new beginnings, (2) spiritual unity, (3) guidance, (4) sanctification, (5) purity, (6) purpose, and (7) faithfulness.
First, the Jews with the faith to live in the newly rebuilt Jerusalem received God’s blessings. Today, believers with faith in Jesus are offered both a new beginning in Him and the hope of eternal life with Him in the new Jerusalem in heaven. Second, after the Jews’ divisions and exile, God referred to the reunited Jews as one people under the nation of Israel. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus also promises to unite His people under His reign. Third, God appointed the priests to guide His people. Through the Spirit, Jesus also promises to guide His people. Fourth, God’s leadership plan for the united nation included an important role for the Levites, who were set apart for His use. Jesus also calls upon His people to be set apart to serve Him. Fifth, God’s plan for the united nation included a role for the Levites to guard the new Temple, the heart of the Jews’ worship, from the corruption that previously plagued both Northern Israel and Judah. Jesus calls on His people to be pure by guarding their hearts. Sixth, God’s plan for the united nation also included separate duties for the Levites to serve and worship Him. Jesus has also created believers with the purpose of serving and worshiping Him. Finally, God was faithful to keep His promises to repopulate the cities, towns, and villages of Israel. Jesus is also faithful to keep His promises to you. In return, He desires for you to be faithful in your walk with Him.
God’s blessings for the people of faith willing to settle in the new Jerusalem. With the walls rebuilt, the leaders and a tenth of the population settled in the Jerusalem: “1 Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities. 2 And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.” (Neh. 11:1-2). With the use of lots, the Holy Spirit guided the selection process. Those with the faith to settle in the new Jerusalem received God’s blessings. Their faith was vital for Jerusalem’s long-term development: “It wasn’t enough to see the city walls rebuilt and the spiritual renewal of the people of Jerusalem; now they concerned themselves with getting more people into the city. For a city to prosper and be great, it must be populated. And for more than seventy years, Jerusalem had been nothing but a ghost town. Now, over the last eighty or so years, it has been repopulated, with a new temple built (under Ezra) and the walls rebuilt (under Nehemiah). But the city still needed more people. Nehemiah also knew the bigger the population of Jerusalem, the greater the resources for defense and strength in battle. He didn’t rebuild the walls just to see some conquering army come and break them down again!” (David Guzik on Neh. 11).1
Nehemiah’s faith and obedience inspired the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem2
The people cast lots to live in Jerusalem3
Jesus offers you the blessing of a new beginning in Him. Like those pioneering Jews, God offers every believer the blessing of a new beginning: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.”’ (Jo. 3:7). As a new creation, Jesus provides every believer the opportunity to live a transformed life: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek. 36:26; Jer. 24:7). As a new creation, you are called upon to walk a transformed life: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him--” (Col. 3:10). “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Ro. 6:4). Are you living a transformed life as a new creation?
Jesus offers every believer with faith a chance to dwell in the new Jerusalem. The Jews with the courage of faith to live in the new Jerusalem received God’s blessing (Neh. 11:2). Today, any believer with faith in Jesus receives the blessing of joyfully dwelling with Him forever in the new Jerusalem in heaven: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”’ (Rev. 21:2-4). This will also fulfill prophecies in the book of Isaiah: “And the redeemed of the LORD will return and come to Zion with joyful shouting, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Is. 35:10; 51:11). “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.” (Is. 65:18-19).
The union of the tribes as one nation. While the pre-exile community of Jews lived in separate territories, the Jews who returned to Jerusalem lived together as one nation: “3 Now these are the heads of the provinces who lived in Jerusalem, but in the cities of Judah each lived on his own property in their cities—the Israelites, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants, and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. 4 Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem. From the sons of Judah: Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; 5 and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite. 6 All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men. 7 Now these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah; 8 and after him Gabbai and Sallai, 928. 9 Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second in command of the city.” (Neh. 11:3-9; 1 Chr. 9:2-9). Although representatives of all 12 tribes returned from exile, representatives of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi returned in the largest numbers. While they all previously lived in separated territories by tribe, they now lived together in the rebuilt Jerusalem under the united name as “Israelites” (Neh. 11:3; 1 Chr. 9:2). To show God’s concern for each of His peoples, He recorded here the genealogical records of many of the returning peoples. Because the Jews’ unfaithfulness caused their exile, the leadership focus of the new nation would be the priests (Neh. 11:10-14; 1 Chr. 9:4-9) (Aaron’s descendants), the Levites (Neh. 11: 15-18; 1 Chr. 9:13-34) (who assisted in worship), and the temple servants (Neh. 11:3; 1 Chr. 9:2). Many believe that they were gentile Gibeonites who first agreed to serve under the Levities during Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land (Josh. 3-4, 23; Ezra 7:24; 8:16-20; Neh. 10:28). During the days of Ezra, they helped to restore worship in the second Temple. From the returning tribe of Judah, there were 690 chief men who descended from Uthai (aka “Athaniah”), the Shilonites, and the Zarhites who first resettled Jerusalem (Neh. 11:4-6; 1 Chr. 9:4-6;). From the returning tribe of Benjamin, there were 956 chief men who descended from Sallu, Elah, and Meshullam, who also resettled Jerusalem (Neh. 11:7; 1 Chr. 9:7-9; 2 Sam. 2:8; 21:1-14). Thanks to one of these lines of brave setters, the apostle Paul was able to trace his lineage back to the tribe of Benjamin almost 450 years later (Ro. 11:1). These Jews were the “first who lived in their possessions.” (1 Chr. 9:2). They took back the inheritance that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants.
Find unity in the body of Christ under the Holy Spirit. The Jews previously saw themselves as divided by their tribes and their different traditions. But God showed that He meant for them to be united as one people. Believers also have different backgrounds and traditions. Many choose to define themselves by their differences. Under the Holy Spirit, however, God gives every believer the chance to live united as part of the body of Christ: “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Ro. 12:5). “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17). “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12). “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;” (Eph. 4:4). Are you living to support the needs of the greater body of Christ or your own needs?
The priests who guided the reborn nation. God recorded the priests who faithfully served to help the Jews rebuild a more faithful and obedient nation: “10 From the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin, 11 Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the overseer of the house of God, 12 and their kinsmen who did the work of the temple, 822; and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah, 13 and his kinsmen, heads of fathers’ households, 242; and Amashsai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, 14 and their brothers, valiant warriors, 128. And their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim.” (Neh. 11:10-14). The Bible records that were 1,760 “valiant warrior” priests to guide the reborn nation (Neh. 11:14; 1 Chr. 9:10-13). In addition to providing a means for the people to atone for their sins, the priests also guided the people. The High Priest at this time was Ahitub. The leaders under him included Jedaiah, Jehoiarib, and Jachin (Neh. 11:10-13; 1 Chr. 9:10-11). Chronicles previously traced the genealogy of these priests (1 Chr. 6:12-13). The line of these valiant priests would lead to John the Baptist’s father and mother, Zechariah and Elizabeth. These 1,760 men were very able as they served the Lord and guided the people out of their spiritual darkness (Neh. 11:11-14; 1 Chr. 9:13). The phrase “valiant warriors” (Neh. 11:14) is also translated as “mighty men of valor.” (Josh. 1:14; Jdgs. 6:12; 1 Sam. 16:18). They applied their skills with faith and courage to serve God. If you faithfully serve Jesus, you also have no reason to fear.
Let God guide all your actions. God gave the Jews the priests to guide their actions. After Jesus died, He gave believers His Word and the Holy Spirit to guide our actions. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (Jo. 16:13). “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). “Commit your works to the LORD and your plans will be established.” (Prov. 16:13). Are you reading the Word and praying for God’s guidance?
Be a source of guidance for others who are lost. Jesus is the light of the world: “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”’ (Jo. 8:12). His light is also inside of every believer. He therefore calls upon believers to share His light to guide others: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” (Matt. 5:14). “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” (Prov. 4:18). Are your actions a light to the lost around you?
The Levites were also set apart to serve God and the nation. God also recorded the other leaders from the tribe of Levi who faithfully set themselves apart to serve: “15 Now from the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; 16 and Shabbethai and Jozabad, from the leaders of the Levites, who were in charge of the outside work of the house of God; 17 and Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer, and Bakbukiah, the second among his kinsmen; and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. 18 All the Levites in the holy city were 284.” (Neh. 11:15-18; 1 Chr. 9:14-16). These Levities descended from Levi’s third son Merari and his descendants. Six leaders (the number of man) are mentioned including (1) Shemaiah, (2) Shabbethai, (3) Jozabad, (4) Mattaniah, (5) Bakbukiah, and (6) Abda (Neh. 11:10-19). According to Nehemiah, there were 284 Levites in Jerusalem and Netophah, which was outside of Bethlehem and within 5 miles of Jerusalem (Neh. 11:15-18). Among other things, the Levites were to be set apart for God’s use to help the people (Nu. 3:11-13).
Be set apart for God’s use. Like the Levites, God calls upon you to be set apart for His use: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself; the LORD hears when I call to Him.” (Ps. 4:3). “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9). “[A]nd He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:6). Have you kept yourself holy and set apart for God’s use? If you remain dirtied by sin, it is harder for God to use you.
The Levites also had an appointed role to guard against spiritual corruption. The varied and specific roles for the Levites included guarding God’s Temple from the corruption that previously plagued worship in both Northern Israel and in Judah: “19 Also the gatekeepers: Akkub, Talmon, and their kinsmen who kept watch at the gates, were 172.” (Neh. 11:19; 1 Chr. 9:17). According to Chronicles, “23 So they and their sons had charge of the gates of the house of the Lord, even the house of the tent, as guards. 24 The gatekeepers were on the four sides, to the east, west, north and south. 25 Their relatives in their villages were to come in every seven days from time to time to be with them; 26 for the four chief gatekeepers who were Levites, were in an office of trust, and were over the chambers and over the treasuries in the house of God. 27 They spent the night around the house of God, because the watch was committed to them; and they were in charge of opening it morning by morning.” (1 Chr. 9:23-27). Among other things, they were responsible for securing the four entrances to the Temple. They guarded the treasury. They also ensured the people’s access to the Temple during daylight hours. These Levites all received God’s blessings that He gave to the former High Priest Phinehas, the son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron (Nu. 3:32). God blessed Phinehas for his zeal in protecting the Jews from spiritual contamination from temple prostitution (Nu. 25:7). Because of his many acts of valor, God promised that Phinehas’ descendants would have a perpetual priesthood: ‘“Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’”’ (Nu. 25:12-13). Today, Jesus is the one who purifies you and helps to guard your heart.
Be pure and holy because God is pure and holy. Like the Levites, God wants you to be pure and holy: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’” (Lev. 19:2; Ex. 22:31; 1 Pet. 1:16; Ep. 1:4). “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). You can help to keep yourself pure by guarding your heart the same way the Levities guarded the Temple: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23). “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.” (Dt. 4:9). Job protected his heart by creating a covenant with his eyes: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; How then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:11). Are you taking steps to guard your heart from evil?
The Levites outside of Jerusalem also served. The Levites who lived outside of Jerusalem served in areas including Temple service and leading the people in worship: “20 The rest of Israel, of the priests and of the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, each on his own inheritance. 21 But the temple servants were living in Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of the temple servants. 22 Now the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mica, from the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God. 23 For there was a commandment from the king concerning them and a royal command for the singers day by day. 24 And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was the king’s representative for every matter concerning the people.” (Neh. 11:20-24; 1 Chr. 9:33-34). According to Chronicles, everyone had an assigned role. Some maintained the instruments needed for worship. Others sang. Others provided the fine flour, wine, oil, frankincense, and spices that were used for worship (1 Chr. 9:28-32). Here, Nehemiah adds that they also served throughout the land wherever God needed them. They served God with humility wherever He called them to go. They also led the people in worship services with both joy and gratitude.
Use your gifts for God’s service. Like the Levities, every believer has a purpose. Believers are called upon to serve as God’s co-builders of His Church: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). To be a co-builder of His Church, God has given every believer gifts to serve Him: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Pet. 4:10). “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Ro. 12:6-8). “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Eph. 4:11-12). “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. . . . .4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:1, 4-7). Every person’s gift is needed in the body because no one person has them all (1 Cor. 12:13-27). There is also no gift labeled “spectator” within the Church. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Col. 3:23). Are you using your gifts for Christ?
Be obedient by engaging in the good works that God created you for. God called every believer by name before the foundation of the world to do good works for Him: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10). “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21). If you claim to be obedient to God, are you responding by volunteering your time, talent, and treasure to help God’s Church?
The Jews who settled in towns and villages. God also kept His Word to repopulate the cities, towns, and villages of Israel: “25 Now as for the villages with their fields, some of the sons of Judah lived in Kiriath-arba and its towns, in Dibon and its towns, and in Jekabzeel and its villages, 26 and in Jeshua, in Moladah, and Beth-pelet, 27 and in Hazar-shual, in Beersheba and its towns, 28 and in Ziklag, in Meconah and in its towns, 29 and in En-rimmon, in Zorah, and in Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and its fields, Azekah and its towns. So they camped from Beersheba as far as the Valley of Hinnom. 31 The sons of Benjamin also lived from Geba onward, at Michmash and Aija, at Bethel and its towns, 32 at Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, 33 Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, 34 Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, 35 Lod, and Ono, the Valley of Craftsmen. 36 And from the Levites, some divisions in Judah belonged to Benjamin.” (Neh. 11:25-36). Most of these cities and towns were part of the territories previously granted to Judah (Josh. 15:1-62).
The cities and towns that Nehemiah helped to settle4
God’s fulfillment of His promises to restore the Jews. Some might wonder why God would list off every city name in such meticulous detail. Although most don’t know these names today, they demonstrate God’s faithfulness. In addition to promising to free the Jews, God promised through Jeremiah to restore those who sought Him out and return them to the Promised Land: “10 For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’” (Jer. 29:10-14). God fulfilled this promise. These towns and villages, God would one day restore all the lands of Israel.
God also has dwelling places waiting in the eternal Promised Land. Jesus also promises that every member of the body of Christ will receive a dwelling place in heaven. No believers will be left behind: “In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (Jo. 14:2). Thus, even if you lose your possessions on Earth, your eternal inheritance cannot be taken.
God’s Word is true and is always fulfilled. The Bible proclaims that God’s Word is true and always comes to pass: “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;” (Dt. 7:9). “Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.” (Josh. 21:45). “Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant.” (1 Kgs. 8:56; Is. 48:3; 42:9; Jer. 33:20-21; 2 Chr. 21:7). “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thess. 5:24). He is faithful even when you are not (2 Tim. 2:13). No other holy book can make similar claims. If you are thankful for God’s faithfulness, be faithful to Him.