Nehemiah: Census Lists

Sermon by on February 1, 2009

Nehemiah 11:1-12:26

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The Lord’s Day

February 2, 2009

Nehemiah 1l:1-12:26

“Census Lists”

Dr. Derek W. H.

Now turn with me if you would to the book of Nehemiah, and
tonight we are in chapter 11 and down to verse 26 of chapter 12. We’ve got a
long reading ahead of us tonight. I thought it best to take these lists in one
go. There are four lists in these two chapters. I suppose today if we were
writing something similar to what Nehemiah was writing in a secular world, these
would be things that you would put in an Appendix at the end of a book. But
there’s a reason why Nehemiah has seen fit, by the guidance and direction and
oversight of the Holy Spirit, to put it right here in the words of God.

The four lists in chapter 11…the list begins at verse
4 and all the way down to verse 24…and what we have are a list of names and
families of those who volunteered to move back into the city of Jerusalem.
(That’s 11, from verse 4 all the way down to verse 24.) And then from verses
25-36 of chapter 11, you have a list of towns and villages where ninety percent
of the population lived. Then in chapter 12, we have two further lists. They are
both lists of priests and Levites. In the first eleven verses you have a list of
priests and Levites who came back a hundred years before Nehemiah, at the first
return under Zerubbabel and Jeshua. And then in verses 12-26 of chapter 12, you
have another list of priests and Levites. And we’ll see a connection — and a
very important connection — between that first and second list.

Well, this is God’s word. Before we read it together,
let’s look to God in prayer.

Our Father, we would not presume tonight to
dictate to You how You should write the Bible to give to us. We accept it as
Your word, and we do so without question: a word that is able to make us wise
unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. And now as we
read this section of Scripture together, we ask for the blessing and the
illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Help us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly
digest, and help us amidst it all to see something of our Savior. We ask it for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Nehemiah 11:1 — 12:26

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.

the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.

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

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;

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.

the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men.

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;

after him Gabbai and Sallai, 928.

the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second
in command of the city.

the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin,

the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth,
the son of Ahitub, the leader of the house of God,

their [a]kinsmen
who performed 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,

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,

their brothers, valiant warriors, 128. And their overseer was Zabdiel, the son
of Haggedolim.

from the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of
Hashabiah, the son of Bunni;

Shabbethai and Jozabad, from the leaders of the Levites, who were in charge of
the outside work of the house of God;

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 brethren; and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun.

the Levites in the holy city were 284.

the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon and their brethren who kept watch at the gates,
were 172.

rest of Israel, of the priests and of the Levites, were in all the cities of
Judah, each on his own inheritance.

the temple servants were living in Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of
the temple servants.

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.

there was a commandment from the king concerning them and a firm regulation for
the song leaders day by day.

the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was the king’s
representative in all matters concerning the people.

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

in Jeshua, in Moladah and Beth-pelet,

in Hazar-shual, in Beersheba and its towns,

in Ziklag, in Meconah and in its towns,

in En-rimmon, in Zorah and in Jarmuth,

Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and its fields, Azekah and its towns. So
they encamped from Beersheba as far as the valley of Hinnom.

sons of Benjamin also lived from Geba onward, at Michmash and Aija, at Bethel
and its towns,

Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah,

Ramah, Gittaim,

Zeboim, Neballat,

and Ono, the valley of craftsmen.

the Levites, some divisions in Judah belonged to Benjamin.

Chapter 12

these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of
Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,

Malluch, Hattush,

Rehum, Meremoth,

Ginnethoi, Abijah,

Maadiah, Bilgah,

and Joiarib, Jedaiah,

Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah. These were the heads of the priests and their kinsmen
in the days of Jeshua.

Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah who was in
charge of the songs of thanksgiving, he and his brothers.

Bakbukiah and Unni, their brothers, stood opposite them in their service

became the father of Joiakim, and Joiakim became the father of Eliashib, and
Eliashib became the father of Joiada,

Joiada became the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan became the father of Jaddua.

in the days of Joiakim, the priests, the heads of fathers’ households were: of
Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah;

Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan;

Malluchi, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph;

Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai;

Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam;

Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai;

Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan;

Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi;

Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber;

Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethanel.

for the Levites, the heads of fathers’ households were registered in the days of
Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan and Jaddua; so were the priests in the reign of
Darius the Persian.

sons of Levi, the heads of fathers’ households, were registered in the Book of
the Chronicles up to the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib.

heads of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel,
with their brothers opposite them, to praise and give thanks, as prescribed by
David the man of God, division corresponding to division.

Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub were gatekeepers keeping watch
at the storehouses of the gates.

served in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the
days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest and scribe.

Well, thus far God’s holy and inerrant word.

Turn back with me to chapter 7 and verse 4, because
in a sense chapters 11 and 12 pick up the story of something that Nehemiah has
told us in verse 4 of chapter 7:

“The city was wide…” [this is Jerusalem]…“The city was wide and large, but the
people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.”

Now since telling us that, Nehemiah has explained what has
gone on over the last month or so: how a genealogical table was discovered of
the names and family tribes of those who came back at the time of Zerubbabel and
Jeshua, a hundred years in the past; how Ezra had called them together in
Jerusalem and had read the Law of God in their hearing; how they had celebrated
Passover; how they had been engaged in an act of covenant renewal, giving
themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. A month or so has gone by, and Nehemiah
is now in chapter 11 picking up that theme that God had put it on Nehemiah’s
heart to repopulate the city of Jerusalem.

The city walls had now been built. The next section
that we’ll be looking at is the dedication of the walls of the city. But what
good is a city, even with fine defensive walls, if no one lives in it? And for
that matter, how could the temple with all of its administration (daily services
— morning and evening services, weekly celebrations, monthly celebrations,
festivals at certain parts of the year — all of that requiring an enormous
infrastructure) accommodate thousands of people who would gather at certain
points in the city? The city needed to be alive. It needed to be thriving. There
needed to be in a measure some city planning and engineering. That’s why you
have to love Nehemiah! He’s a civil servant. He’s a civil servant of the Persian
king to be sure, but he’s a civil servant who’s engineering — socially
engineering as well as civil engineering.

This morning in Sunday School a couple of us were
looking at a wonderful passage in Jeremiah 29. We won’t turn there now; I’ll
tell you what it’s about. It’s a wonderful passage in which one of my all-time
favorite verses occurs. In Jeremiah 29:11,

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and
not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Some of you have that verse, I’m sure, on a
photograph…painting…bought from some bookstore somewhere…probably adorns your
walls. It’s a wonderful verse, and you probably read that verse thinking of —
oh, some idyllic setting somewhere. Well, the context of Jeremiah 29 is Jeremiah
is writing a letter to exiles who have just been taken into Babylon. And God is
ordering His people in Babylon to get married, to settle down, to build for
themselves homes, to urge their sons to marry, to urge their daughters to get
married–in a pagan city and a pagan culture. And God is saying, ‘I will be with
you. I want you to be a beacon for hope in a pagan city.’ Well, that’s Jeremiah

It was an easier call to go back to Jerusalem. If God
wants His people to be a shining light in a pagan city, how much more does He
want His people to be a shining light in the holy city? Jerusalem is God’s city.
This was a city like no other city. This was the city where God was present.
This is where His Shekinah glory was to be found, above the mercy seat in the
temple in Jerusalem. And he’s calling upon His people to go back to the city, to
engage in city life.

Now imagine. It looks as though the vast majority
were living out in the country. Who wants to live in the city? They’d got used
to an agrarian way of life, growing wheat and barley, and olives and who knows
what…chickens [no pigs, of course!]…but sheep by the plentiful. It was a
difficult task. Not as difficult as the call to go to Babylon and be a shining
light, but it was a difficult task.

Commentators are divided about the relationship of
verse 1 and 2. In verse 1, we read that they cast lots. All the way down to Acts
1, you read about casting lots. And then after Pentecost there’s no more casting
lots. Once the Holy Spirit comes, and once God gives us the full canon of
Scripture, it seems now that guidance is not to be by casting lots. But the Jews
believed in providence. They believed that “the lot is cast into the lap, and
the outcome is of the Lord.” (Proverbs 16.) You have to have a firm belief in
providence to think that casting lots was God’s guidance, that God was so in
control that even the falling of a stone or a piece of wood one way or another
would be determinative of God’s will. They cast lots. And then in verse 2 we
read, “…the men who willingly offered to live…” Now some commentators think
there were some chosen by lot and others who volunteered, and the majority of
commentators seem to go in the other direction — that there was a casting of
lots, but those upon whom the lot fell willingly complied. They went
voluntarily. They went gladly. They went willingly into the city.

The first thing that we see here,
then, is this piece of civil and social engineering.

I am fascinated about what’s going on
downtown. Some of you are involved in it, I think–building hotels, building an
infrastructure to revitalize a decaying city. It’s happening all over cities in
the South, and elsewhere in the country, I’m sure. And where it works, it’s a
wonderful thing to watch. Well, in part, Nehemiah 7:4 tells us they hadn’t
built or they hadn’t reconstructed housing in the city. This was a piece of
social engineering to revitalize the city of Jerusalem…to do it, of course,
because the purposes of God were involved. And they did it. One in ten went back
into the city.

The second thing I want us to
see is community.
Did you notice — how could you not notice? — as we read
this list, or these lists, of names “the father of…the son
of…children…grandchildren”? There’s community here. There’s family here. What
you see in what is otherwise a dry and boring list of names…see beyond that and
see family. See generations of families who are committed to the Lord and
committed to His word. Behind this list of names lies nights and nights of
patient teaching of children, of rearing little ones in the fear and admonition
of the Lord; of what Psalm 145 says, that “one generation shall commend the
works of God to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” As one generation
declares to another…yes, God has punished them, and God has sent them into
exile. It was what He had threatened in Deuteronomy 7, but God had been faithful
to them, too. And now that they were back in Jerusalem, they could trace
generations of belief and generations of faith as God in His mercy came in
blessing upon families who were committed to family life and family devotion.
It’s a beautiful thing. You know, those lists in chapter 12…they look like dry
and dusty lists…lists of priests and Levites at the time of the first return in
537 BC, and another list of priests and Levites a hundred years later in 444
B.C. But they’re the same names. They are the same families. A hundred years
later, that family is still praising God, still worshiping God.

There’s a beautiful thing here in this congregation.
I love it when Ligon says, “My father was a Presbyterian ruling elder.” I love
it when he says that. I can’t say that. I’ve been grafted into the olive tree. I
can’t trace a single member of my family that professed faith. Not a single one.
Some of you can trace your parents, and your grandparents, and your
great-grandparents, and some of you are concerned about your children. And see
here this beautiful picture of covenantal faithfulness: God has been faithful to
His promise. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

The third thing I want us to
see is submission.
Submission. Look at what Nehemiah says in verse 2 of
chapter 11: that they went willingly. Whether these are the same ones that had
been chosen by lot, the point is they went willingly. They submitted to God’s
will. They submitted to hardship and change. I imagine some of these families
living out in one of these towns or villages 40-50 miles from Jerusalem with
their little small holding, and land and grass and chickens, and children
playing out in the street…and now they’re going back to Jerusalem, to inner city
life. A smaller house. You can imagine the realtors saying “spacious
accommodation” and it’s just a little apartment with no running water and no
sanitary conditions. Behind the simple words “they went willingly” there must
have been enormous sacrifice, not just for them (the names here) but wives and
children, committing themselves because they saw it as the will of God.

There have been families from this church who have
gone and planted some of the PCA churches here in town. They went willingly.
They sacrificed their comfort and ease to help others because they saw it as
God’s will. Volunteers. Willing volunteers because they saw a need. There have
been families — one returning tomorrow, I think — who…they are about to go to
another country with their children, because they see it as God’s will. They’ve
been gripped by the guidance of God upon them and their families. And they’ve
said, “Lord, whatever it is You’re asking me to do, I do it with all my heart. I
do it as unto You.” I’ve known bankers and accountants who have retired from
their work early, given up six-figure sums, to help struggling missionary
organizations to put their house in order. They saw it as God’s will,
sacrificing much of their ease and comfort for the sake of the kingdom of God.
There’s a beautiful picture here of submission and of willingness.

The fourth thing and last thing is
variety of ministry.
Oh, I had such fun looking at these names this
afternoon! Verse 1 of chapter 11, leaders in Jerusalem; verse 3 of chapter 11,
leaders in the provinces who joined the leaders who are in Jerusalem. Leaders.
Leaders showing example. Leaders giving a testimony to others. They went first.
They volunteered for the task.

In verse 9 of chapter 11, you see a reference to an
overseer, and then in the same verse, “second over the city.” There were
overseers, and then there were those who were second. It’s probably talking
about folk who would need to take care of streets, and sanitary conditions, and
building regulations within the city. In verse 16 of chapter 11, you have those
who are engaged in “outside work”–who knows what that is? Fixing the outside of
the temple? The equivalent of painting and fixing drainage, and who knows what?
People who worked with their hands. In verse 11 of chapter 11, you have
reference to Seraiah, the “ruler of the house of God”—probably a reference to
the high priest. And in verse 17, Mattaniah, the Levitical leader of praise–the
Bill Wymond of this passage! And in verse 22, singers and choristers. And in
verse 24, and again another reference in chapter 12, to one set of choristers
singing or responding to another set of choristers, perhaps because there were
two choirs responding in responsive singing to one another, leading in the
praise and leading in the worship. All kinds of people — leaders, and those who
are second in command, and those who worked with their hands, and those Levites
who led in the singing in temple services day by day and week by week.

You remember what Paul says in Ephesians 4, that the
church grows only as each member jointly works together. It’s a beautiful thing
that God gifts us all differently, one doing one task and another doing another
task, and the whole coming together to form God’s beautiful church.

Well, may God bless to us this reading of these
otherwise four dusty lists, but behind it is the purpose of God and the coming
of the Lord Jesus.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for the Bible. We thank You
that it is always new and always fresh, and we pray that You would hide it now
within our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord’s

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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