By Edward Dennett
THERE are two things in this chapter — First, the government of Jerusalem, of the city of God, together with provision for continual vigilance against the practices of the enemy (vv. 1-4); and secondly, the reckoning of the people by genealogy. (vv. 5-73.)
We learn from verse 1 that the doors had now been set up "upon the gates" (see Neh. 6: 1), and that everything in connection with the walls had therefore been finished. (Neh. 6: 15.) Following upon this, "the porters, and the singers, and the Levites were appointed" — a most interesting notice thus briefly indicated. The porters, it is almost needless to say, were the doorkeepers, on whom devolved the responsibility of admitting only such as had a lawful claim to enter the city, and of keeping out all who could not show the necessary qualification to be inside; in a word, they had authority over the opening and the shutting of the doors. They held a most important post, even as do also the doorkeepers of the present day. For while it is true, and must ever be insisted on, that every believer — every member of the body of Christ — has his place, for example, at the Lord's supper, the "doorkeepers" of the assembly have the responsibility of asking for the production of the evidence that they are what they claim to be. (See Acts 9: 26, 27; 1 Peter 3: 15.) Laxity or neglect in this respect has been productive of the most serious consequences in many an assembly, amounting in some cases to the destruction of all testimony for Christ, and leading to the positive dishonour of His blessed name. It is a matter therefore of the utmost consequence that only faithful and trusted men should do the work of "doorkeepers," especially in a day of common profession, when all alike claim to be Christians.
There were also "singers." Their employment may be gathered from another place. "These are they," we read, "whom David set over the service of song in the house of the Lord, after that the ark had rest. And they ministered before the dwelling-place of the tabernacle of the congregation with singing, until Solomon had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem; and then they waited on their office according to their order." (1 Chr. 6: 31, 32.) The Psalmist alludes to these when he says, "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee." (Ps. 84: 4.) Such was the occupation of the singers — praising the Lord "day and night" (1 Chr. 9: 33); a shadow of the perpetual employment of the redeemed in heaven (Rev. 5); a blessed service (if service it may be called) which it is the privilege of the Church to anticipate on earth while waiting for the return of our blessed Lord. (See Luke 24: 52, 53.) Lastly, there were Levites. Of their work it is said, "Their brethren also the Levites were appointed unto all manner of service of the tabernacle of the house of God." (1 Chr. 6: 48.) The gates and doors having been set up, and porters set in their appointed places, the Lord's portion is first thought of in the singers; and then come the Levites to perform the necessary service in connection with His house. The very order of the mention of these three classes is thus instructive, and shows, at the same time, how jealous Nehemiah was of the Lord's claims upon His people, and how carefully he sought, in his devotedness to the Lord's service, to acknowledge His supremacy, and to yield to Him the honour due unto His name.
These things having been arranged, he says, "I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many." (v. 2.) It is not clear, from the words themselves, whether this description applies to Hanani or Hananiah; but we judge it is to the former, for it will be remembered that it was this same Hanani who was used, with others, to bring the intelligence of the state of the remnant and of Jerusalem, which became, in the hands of God, the means of Nehemiah's mission. (Neh. 1) Understanding it so, nothing could more distinctly show Nehemiah's singleness of eye in his Master's service. Hanani was his brother, but he appointed him to this post, not because he was his brother, or a man of influence, but because "he was a faithful man, and feared God above many." In such ways, as well as by the divine directions furnished through the apostle Paul, the Lord teaches us what should characterize those who take the lead among His people; and especially those who occupy places of prominence or care in government. It is not enough that they are men of gift, or position, or influence; but they should be faithful — faithful to God and to His truth, and they should be distinguished by fearing, not men, but God, acting as in His sight, and upholding the authority of His word.
Nehemiah himself gave instructions for the exercise of vigilance and care over the city. First, the gates were not to be opened until the sun was hot. As long as darkness reigned, or any semblance of it, the gates were to be shut against "the rulers of the darkness of this world" (Eph. 6), for the night is ever the time of their greatest activity. As a contrast, we read of the heavenly Jerusalem that "the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there" (Rev. 21: 25.); i.e., they shall stand perpetually open, because evil and the powers of evil will have for ever passed away. Then, "while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them." The porters were not to leave their posts, or delegate their duties to others, but they themselves "standing by" were to see that the doors were both shut and barred. Many a house has been rifled because the shut door has not been "barred," and many a soul has permitted the enemy to gain an entrance because its several "doors" have not been made secure. It was not enough, therefore, since the enemy was in question, that the doors of the gates of Jerusalem should be shut; they must also be barred if the enemy was to be kept outside. We learn from this the imperative necessity of guarding the doors, whether of the soul or of the assembly. In the last place, they were to "appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his house." Two things of the greatest moment are here indicated. The first is, that not a single inhabitant of Jerusalem was exempted from the responsibility of exercising watchfulness over the interests of the city. Every one was to be in his watch. The watch was to be duly ordered, and all were to serve in their turn. Secondly, every one was to maintain the watch over against his own house; that is, to sum up the two things, all were concerned in keeping watch over the whole city, but the safety of the city was ensured if each kept watch over against his own house. This is evident, for if the head of every household kept the enemy — evil — out of his house, Jerusalem would be preserved in separation unto God. The whole city was necessarily what its several inhabitants made it. Would that this truth were apprehended in the church of God! The assembly, like Jerusalem, is composed of individuals, of many heads of houses, whatever the intimate bond of union subsisting between the members of the body of Christ; and its state, its public state (if this term is permissible), is simply the state of all. If therefore discipline for God is not maintained in the home, neither can it be in the church. Laxity in the one sphere produces laxity in the other. Worldliness in the one place will be worldliness also in the other. Hence the apostle writes, for example, that a bishop must be "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1 Tim. 3: 4, 5.) It would indeed savour of the boldest presumption for one whose own house was in disorder to arrogate to himself a place of rule in the assembly, and it would at the same time introduce the very evils of which his household was the theatre. If, on the other hand, the injunction of Nehemiah be attended to — each keeping watch and ward over his own house — the assembly would be the display of order, security, and holiness to the glory of God.
Next follows a note concerning the city itself. "Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded." This is undoubtedly a testimony of failure. The work of God for that day was building the walls of the city, and this, as we have seen, had been accomplished through the faith and perseverance of Nehemiah, spite of difficulties of every kind. The truth of God would therefore now be bound up with the maintenance of the wall, and the first three verses reveal to us the provision made for that end. But Nehemiah now informs us that though the city was large and great, the people were few therein. Now the testimony for any given day gathers — indeed, true testimony always gathers — to Him from whom it proceeds as its centre. Very few then had been gathered to that which went forth through Nehemiah. The trumpet had been blown for the calling of the assembly (Numbers 10), and through grace some had responded to its summons; but the mass of the people, as at the commencement of Haggai's ministry, were absorbed in their own things rather than the things of Jehovah. (See Phil. 2: 21.) Moreover "the houses were not builded" of those that were gathered. This first responsibility had been neglected, and would be therefore a perpetual source of mischief. When the children of the captivity first returned they began to build their own houses to the neglect of the Lord's house; and now when the time had come to build their own houses they neglected this. Such is man and such are the people of God, for when walking as men they are never in communion with the Lord's mind. They that are in the flesh, and the principle applies to the Christian if he is governed by the flesh, cannot please God. If any enquire how in the present day their houses are to be builded, Ephesians 5: 22, 6: 1-9; Colossians 3: 18, 4: I will answer the question. It is to establish the Lord's authority over every member of them, and especially to bring up the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Now that Nehemiah had given the necessary instructions for guarding the city from the intrusion of evil, he proceeds to the ordering of the people. But he is careful to relate that it was not his own thought. He says, "And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy." (v. 5.) This gives us a glimpse into the intimacy of his walk with God. It is "my" God, the One he knew as such in that relationship to himself, which faith and experience alone can recognize (compare 1 Chr. 28: 20, 1 Chr. 29: 2, 3; Phil. 4: 19); and it is the One in whose presence he so constantly dwelt, that he could instantly discern the thought which He put within his heart. And the object in view was to examine the title of the people to be in the place where they were. With the constant commerce going on between them and the enemy, and the alliances they had formed in forgetfulness that the Lord had chosen them out of all the peoples on the earth as His peculiar people, there would doubtless be many who could not show their genealogy, and hence had no claim to be numbered with Israel. Now that the wall was built, and the truth therefore of separation proclaimed, such a mixture within could no longer be tolerated. Those who occupied this holy ground, and claimed the blessed privileges of God's house, must have an indefeasible title, and this is the meaning of this next step of Nehemiah. The work in his case was not difficult, for he "found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first," etc. (vv. 5, 6 et seq.); and by this register it was easy to ascertain whether those within the sacred enclosure of the rebuilt walls or those who might seek admission were all of Israel.1
1 As the significance of this register of the genealogy of the people has been already given in our exposition of Ezra 2, it is not necessary to repeat it here. The reader is therefore referred to it to aid him in the understanding of the rest of this chapter, for, as will be perceived, Nehemiah 7: 6-73 is the repetition of Ezra 2.