“Dedication of the Wall”
Lesson Text: Nehemiah 12:27-38, 43
Background Scripture: Nehemiah 12:27-43
Devotional Reading:Psalm 96
Nehemiah 12:27-38, 43 (KJV)
27And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.
28And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi;
29Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had builded them villages round about Jerusalem.
30And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.
31Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies of them that gave thanks, whereof one went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate:
32And after them went Hoshaiah, and half of the princes of Judah,
33And Azariah, Ezra, and Meshullam,
34Judah, and Benjamin, and Shemaiah, and Jeremiah,
35And certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets; namely, Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph:
36And his brethren, Shemaiah, and Azarael, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethaneel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them.
37And at the fountain gate, which was over against them, they went up by the stairs of the city of David, at the going up of the wall, above the house of David, even unto the water gate eastward.
38And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and the half of the people upon the wall, from beyond the tower of the furnaces even unto the broad wall.
43Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.
To examine how ancient Israel gave thanks for a great accomplishment through a joyous but formal praise service.
To understand how the celebration and worship in the text can be a model for a proper celebration of any ministry task successfully completed.
To plan a detailed celebration for the church of a past or possible future great accomplishment.
Time: 445 B.C.
What do you like to do when you are happy? Smile? Jump up and down? Shout? One thing I like to do is sing. But whether I sing or not, the people around me know when I am happy. They can see it on my face and by the way I act. As our lesson begins with this simple thought, the people are very happy. Something special is happing.
It is proper to celebrate when God has brought us to a place of achievement. The Holy Spirit has been careful to include in this account the many aspects that make up true celebration. One of the primary elements of true celebration is the expression of joy. It is amazing to see that some Christians never appear to be joyful. There are times of sorrow and sadness, of course, but Christians ought frequently to exude a sense of joy because they have something to be joyful about. Joy, of course, is not the same as happiness. Happiness is liking the present moment because it pleases us. But joy is much deeper and more long-range. Joy appreciates the past, the present, and the future, not because the circumstances are pleasing, but because the heart is right with God. The Israelites in today’s lesson were happy because the wall was finished. But they were joyful because God had helped them to finish it. Aware of God's love and acceptance, they therefore were joyful. (R. Stedman)
The topic that dominates the first half of the book of Nehemiah is the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and gates. That task was completed in 445 B.C., and it was an exceptional accomplishment. The Jews were accustomed to having workers and watchers on the walls of Jerusalem. Most cities in ancient time were surrounded by walls that protected and provided defense for the city. The walls would be high, thick and very strong. The top of the walls would be flat and wide enough to walk on or drive chariots on. From on top of the wall, city guards would walk the walls and could see what was going on both inside and outside the city. However, now Nehemiah assigned people to be worshipers on the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah 12 takes us to the dedication ceremony of those rebuilt walls.
The biblical writer is highly selective in his use of information to tell the story of the celebration, and piecing it together is not easy.
Today’s lesson is about two processionals that march “upon” therebuilt walls (Nehemiah 12:31). However, the starting point for these processionals is not stated.
An educated guess is that the starting place is the Valley Gate. This gate faced west, overlooking the Central Valley adjacent to the narrow City of David (the oldest section of Jerusalem). This is the gate where Nehemiah began and ended his nocturnal inspection after arriving in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:11-16). We will have more educated guesses to make regarding the locations of other named gates that the processionals crossed.
Immediately preceding today’s lesson text is an extended listing of the names and duties of priests and Levites who had returned to Jerusalem from exile. Levites play a vital role in today’s lesson, so a refresher on their origin and functions is in order. The designation Levites refers to descendants of the man Levi (Genesis 29:34; 35:23). All priests of Israel came from the tribe of Levi, although not all male Levites ended up becoming priests (Deuteronomy 17:9, 18; etc.; contrast 1 Kings 12:31).
The overarching task of the Levites was “to wait on the sons of Aaron [that is, the priests] for the service of the house of the Lord, in the courts, and in the chambers, and in the purifying of all holy things, and the work of the service of the house of God” (1 Chronicles 23:28; see extended description in vs. 29-32). A key Levitical function under this umbrella was that of musician, which is an important part of today’s study. Precedent for this function stretches back many centuries (1 Chronicles 6:1-31; 15:16-22; 23:1-5; 25:1-6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 7:6). Levites were still musicians in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:40, 41; 3:10, 11; Nehemiah 7:43, 44).
Dedication Preparation (Nehemiah 12:27-30)
1. Why was it important to Nehemiah to find and bring the Levites first to celebrate the dedication of the wall (Nehemiah 12:27-30)?
In ancient times as in modern, music is part of many great celebrations. The joyful expressions of thanksgiving planned by Nehemiah for the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem are to be accompanied by instrumental and vocal music. Because of the Levites’ skills as musicians, they are a necessary part of this celebration. The need to seek the Levites out of all their places should be understood in light of Nehemiah 11:20: “The residue of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, everyone in his inheritance.” Since not all Levites live in Jerusalem, it takes a lot of planning to ensure their presence at the ceremony to come.
These individuals had the instrumental musical skills necessary for a mass celebration (for example, leading songs of thanksgiving accompanied by music played oncymbals, psalteries, and harps).These three types of instruments mentioned match exactly the three noted in 1 Chronicles 15:16 and 25:1 regarding the days of King David. Cymbals are metal percussive instruments that are struck against one another (1 Chronicles 13:8; 15:16, 19, 28; Psalm 150:5). The psalteries are known from ancient drawings to be stringed instruments. They have a curved yoke and a sounding box shaped like a jar (Psalms 57:8; 71:22; 150:3). The harps are a kind of lyre having a rounded bottom and yoke-arms curved only slightly (Psalm 137:2).
This is not a complete listing of the musical instruments to be used (Nehemiah 12:35, 36). The main idea is that all these instruments are portable—they can be held and played as the people march on the walls. Some large psalteries have as many as 10 strings (Psalm 33:2), and these may not be included here.
Besides those Levites who can play musical instruments, singers from throughout the districts surrounding Jerusalem are called on to join the celebration (Neh. 12:28-29). Good singers are always appreciated!
Before the priests and Levites dedicated the recently completed walls, they conducted purification ceremonies (v. 30). These rituals were not concerned with physical cleanliness, but with spiritual preparation to be in God’s presence. The unspecified ceremonies may have involved washings by the priests and Levites and sacrifices for the people, the gates, and the walls (see Exod. 40:30-32; Lev. 14:49-53).
If we look back when Nehemiah first inquired about the condition of his homeland, he asked about both the people and the place (see Nehemiah 1:2). He did not celebrate the physical rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls until the people who would live within them had been spiritually rebuilt as well (chaps. 8-10). From this observation we see that bricks and mortar are never as important as hearts and lives. Even in our churches today, we need to keep in mind, as Nehemiah did, that every facility we build should advance the work of God in human hearts and lives.
What Do You Think?
What makes a celebration of thanksgiving memorable and meaningful to you?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Thoroughness of the planning | Nature of the event being celebrated | Personal participation | Other
Dedication Participation (Nehemiah 12:31-38)
The Procession of the First Choir (vs. 31-37)
2. How did the first thanksgiving choir proceed as they walked on the wall (Nehemiah 12:31-37)?
Nehemiah directed all of the community leaders of Judah to ascend the wall for the dedication (Neh. 12:31). He divided the priests and Levitical musicians into two large choirs. The Hebrew text literally says these choirs represented “two thanksgivings.” In other words, they embodied what they did. The choirs got in formation atop the wall and marched around the city: The first choir moved in a counterclockwise direction, and the other clockwise.
The starting point was the Dung Gate. This gate (mentioned earlier) was the city exit to the garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom on the southern tip of the city. Ezra the scribe led the first procession, followed by singers and instrumentalists (vs. 35-36). The political leaders brought up the rear (vs. 32-34). Old Testament compass points are determined by facing east. So, “on the right”(v. 31) means “to the south.” This choir rounded the southern tip of Jerusalem and processed north atop the eastern wall alongside the ancient City of David and his royal residence (v. 37).
What Do You Think?
What have you seen worship planners and leaders do to enhance the worship experience?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Use of visual media | Use of drama | Mixing various “moods” of music | Incorporation of silence | Other
3. How did the second thanksgiving choir proceed (Nehemiah 12:38)?
The second choir matched the first in makeup (Neh. 12:38). Nehemiah joined the other civic leaders at the rear. He did not lead this sacred procession because he was not a priest. The people also divided themselves in two masses and followed one or the other choir of thanksgiving around the wall. The second choir marched north atop the western wall, then east atop the northern wall (v. 39). At the “Prison Gate” (see 2 Kings 11:6, 19; Jer. 32:2), in the vicinity of the temple at the northeast corner of Jerusalem, the two choirs of thanksgiving met one another face-to-face and halted. When the Jews dedicated the walls of Jerusalem, purity preceded praise, and praise resulted in faithful service. Today, in our lives, dedication to God should not be isolated from personal purity or joyous service. We praise God best when our lives back up what our lips declare.
Dedication Praise (Nehemiah 12:43)
4. What did the leaders, priests, Levites and citizens do after the processional (Nehemiah 12:43)?
Nehemiah 12:40-42 (not in today’s text) notes the gathering of the two processionals “in the house of God” for singing after each completes its half-circuit of the city. Men, women, and children launched into an extended time of praising God for the joy He had given them and was giving them through His gifts of the city walls and the renewed covenant.
Sacrifices are not required at this ceremony, but they are freely and joyfully given nonetheless. Indeed, the emphasis in the verse before us is joy, with forms of the words rejoice and joy used five times. The picture is one of religious exultation accompanied by trumpets (v. 41). Passages such as Psalm 48:12, 13 may reflect such processional celebrations (compare Psalm 68:24-27).
This celebration seems to surpass the earlier ones for the temple (Ezra 3:13; 6:16) and the reading of the law (Nehemiah 8:12, 17). The people have had several weeks to rest from their wall-building labor (compare Nehemiah 6:15 with 7:73b and 9:1). There is nothing to hinder those present from praising God at the top of their lungs!
What Do You Think?
Should our worship be loud enough to be heard literally “afar off”? Why, or why not?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Appropriate witness | Zoning restrictions | Danger of high decibel levels (hearing loss) | Other
Where Is Our Joy Heard?
Nehemiah records that the celebration of dedication was so exuberant that it “was heard even afar off.” Exactly how far away was it heard? We aren’t told, but historical counterparts provide some clues. During the great frontier revivals of the early 1800s, the sound of the religious “exercises” was noted as being heard some miles distant. The same was recorded of the revival meetings during the Great Awakening of the 1740s.
In his “Concord Hymn” of 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to the first military engagement of the American Revolution as the “shot heard round the world.” This is literary license, of course, but the significance clear. Modern zoning restrictions and ordinances against “noise pollution” may restrict the volume levels of our worship services or even that of church bells. But any restriction regarding our joy being heard in the sense of a “shot heard round the world” is self-imposed. May people everywhere hear our joy!—J. B. N.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Let us not underestimate the power of assembling together to praise the Name of our Lord (Nehemiah 12:27-29; Psalm 133:1; Matthew 18:20).
2. Come prepared (both spiritually and physically) to use your gifts to the glory of God! (Nehemiah 12:30-39.)
3.Know your place “in the house of God” (Nehemiah 12:40).
4.Always let your joy be a witness to the world around you! (Nehemiah 12:43).
Celebrations, Then and Now
The ancient Hebrews knew how to celebrate! Today, we have more reason to do so, since Jesus has been raised from the dead and is now reigning at God’s right hand. The Jews of Nehemiah’s day celebrated a rebuilt wall; we can celebrate the fact that Jesus tore down a wall (Ephesians 2:14-18).
We should look for ways to celebrate in Christ. New buildings can be dedicated, milestones acknowledged, and teachers honored. Earthly celebrations in Christ can spur us to greater tasks of faith as we look forward to the great celebration by God of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2, 9). That celebration will never end.
Father, teach us to rejoice! May the Holy Spirit inspire us to great tasks of faith that call for great rejoicing when completed. In the name of our Lord Jesus, whom we celebrate always, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Great accomplishments call for celebration.