Nehemiah 12: 1-47
Key Verse 27b
“…and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication.”
We have been studying the book of Nehemiah, and are almost finished. In Nehemiah chapters 1-2, Nehemiah interceded for the broken-down city of Jerusalem, investigated its condition, and challenged people to help him rebuild the city for God’s glory. In chapters 3-6, the people worked hard to build up the wall, overcoming many obstacles. In Nehemiah chapters 7-10, the people of Israel dedicated themselves to God, taking responsibility for roles of service.
They repented their sins when they remembered all that God had done for them, and they made new commitments to God. In Nehemiah chapter 11, many leaders volunteered to relocate their homes to the city of Jerusalem. They began to take residence in the holy city that they had helped to build so that they could serve God’s work more closely. Now in chapter 12, the people dedicate their work and their city to God. Through today’s study, let’s think about how we can dedicate our work to God.
First, worship God through dedication and celebration (1-30)
We begin in verses 1-26 with a long boring list of names. There is just one point that I would like to make about these names. Verses 1-10 list faithful priests and Levites who had served God in the former generation of Jeshua. Verses 10-26 list faithful priests and Levites who served God in the second and later generations. Notice that most of the priests listed in verses 1-7 raised faithful leaders to carry on the priestly heritage, as listed in verses 12-20. It is apparent that they were successful in raising a second generation that was as faithful in loving and serving God as the first. Passing on our faith in God to a new generation is not something that is easy or automatic. Each generation is a new pioneering work of God in the hearts of young people. Let’s keep that in mind as we study the rest of the passage.
Let’s read verse 27. “At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.” The people gathered in Jerusalem to dedicate the wall which they had built. In chapter 3, we learned that everyone in the community participated in building the wall of Jerusalem. They included professionals and amateurs, priests and laymen, commuters and residents, men and women. Nehemiah and the builders overcame opposition, and by God’s help as well as a hard-working spirit and sense of unity, the people completed the wall in 52 days. Now they were ready to dedicate their work to God. Let’s think about how dedication and celebration are two aspects of worshipping God.
First let’s think about dedication. Verse 27 begins with the words, “At the dedication…” God created man to glorify him. Jesus is doubly worthy of our worship. Firstly, He created us and the earth and everything we have. He is the true owner of the world. Secondly, Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from our sins and to give us eternal life. All people worship something. If people don’t worship God, they worship created things. Some worship money and become greedy. Some worship a boyfriend or a girlfriend and become adulterous. Some worship themselves and lie or kill to build up their own ego. In our generation, sports stars and movie stars are practically worshipped as idols, and are given the time, money, and admiration that should be given to God. Romans chapter 1 explains that we ruin our lives when we worship created things rather than the Creator. The result is chaos and destruction, in a word, it is hell. But Nehemiah and the people of Israel had repented of their sins and recommitted themselves to God in chapters 8-11. They experienced the mystery of the true joy that God gives anyone who repents. They also found the joy of serving God through their various roles as priests, teachers, gatekeepers, musicians, etc. Especially, they wanted to dedicate the wall they had built to God. Each of us has resources in the world – a house, car, relationships, time, activities, influence. We should not worship these things; we should dedicate them to the Lord. We can dedicate our computers and TV’s so that we watch what pleases God and don’t look at the bad stuff. I read about a man who dedicated his car to God. He promised God that he would share the gospel with every person who rode in his car. Many new Christians came to know the Lord through his dedicated car. At West Loop, Martina dedicated her graphic design skills to God, making artistic flyers and publications. But she did not lose anything for her effort. Instead, God blessed her with an H-1 work visa and admission to the School of the Art Institute. In 1998, apartment rents in our neighborhood went beyond what I could afford. I knew that it was time to buy a house, but my family could not afford a down payment. I felt bad that I always had to depend on others, and could not afford to support others. I promised God that if he gave us a big house near our ministry, I would rent out one apartment to growing Christian disciples, and I would also grow as a good host. That same week, God provided a way for us to buy the house. I was reminded that when we seek God first, he provides all other things we need as well. We are not losing something when we dedicate it to God. Dedicated things are investments in God’s blessing. They glorify God, bless others, and bless ourselves too.
Next let’s think about celebration. Look again at verse 27b, “…and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication.” Why is joyful celebration necessary? 2 Thessalonians 5:16 says, “Be joyful always.” It is not easy to be joyful always. Joy is difficult to acquire and easy to lose. I find that it takes much Bible study and repentance to be able to receive heavenly joy from God, only to get upset about something and lose my joy again. One of the devil’s best weapons is to attack our joy. Without joy, we cannot bless others. Without joy, our testimony is not very influential. Without joy, we become too burdened to serve God and others. But God commands us to be joyful. God commands joy because God supplies all the resources that are needed for us to be joyful. He gives us the love, significance, hope, and forgiveness that we need so that we can be joyful. We learned in Nehemiah chapter 8 that God gives true joy when we repent our sins and seek him. Also, in chapter 9, the people remembered many things that God had done for them which they were thankful for. Especially, they wanted to celebrate that God had helped them to accomplish the great project of building the wall of Jerusalem. One thing that we can always be joyful about is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again to give us eternal life. Let’s celebrate all that God has done for us with joy and thanksgiving!
The end of verse 27 reads, “with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.” The people began their joyful celebration with music. The first thing they did was to seek out Levites and singers to play instrumental and vocal music to celebrate the dedication. This reminds me of how Ruben sought out Benji to join the praise band team at West Loop, so that we could have both a guitarist and a drummer at our worship service. Music is closely connected with joy. In fact, it has been said that you can tell how healthy a church is by hearing its music. Strong emotion is well expressed through music, especially joy. King David wrote 150 psalms to God expressing many different emotions. But after exploring some of his negative emotions, he usually found resolution in God and ended on a joyful note. Many of the psalms are joyful songs that were accompanied by music. Psalm 150: 3-6 reads, “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.” As a young boy, David learned how to play musical instruments. King Saul was impressed with David’s music and invited him to play at the palace. Sometimes Saul got demon-possessed. 1 Samuel 16:23 says, “…David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” David’s joyful and heart-moving music drove out all of King Saul’s demons. Music is the best way to express joy and celebration. In the 21st century, we can add electric guitars and keyboards to the list of praise instruments. But, whether or not we have instruments, we can at least sing melodies of praise to the Lord. If you can’t sing, then just hum.
Second, unity and diversity in God’s work (31-47)
Verse 31 begins, “I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks…” To dedicate the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah arranged two groups of people to make a procession. It appears that they actually went up on top of the wall that they had built, and they marched on it. The procession was a representation of dedicating their work and their city to God. They had dedicated their hearts and now they dedicated their work to God. There is deep meaning to the people’s action of marching around and even marching on top of the wall they had built. Often in the Old Testament, God instructed people to step out by faith. Abraham was a man of faith in God who lived before Israel became a nation. He was known as the Father of Faith. Once Abraham was discouraged that his Bible student, Lot, ran away to live on the wild side in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham probably felt like throwing in the towel on his life of faith at that moment. Then God encouraged Abraham by giving him a promise with a visual aid. God told him, “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you." (Gn.13:17) This was the land that would eventually become the nation of Israel. Through this visual aid of walking through the length and breath of the land, Abraham could get a solid understanding of the promise that God had given him. What had seemed to be a nebulous word of promise became a graphic and physical experience. Abraham’s stepping out was a representation of his faith to claim the land for God and for God’s promise. Again, in Joshua 1:3, God told Joshua, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” This was the same land that God had promised Abraham and also Moses. Joshua was not conquering the land for political reasons. He was claiming the land according to God’s promise and God’s purpose. Ultimately, God’s purpose for the promised land of Israel was for it to become the environment for Jesus the Messiah. God had helped Nehemiah and his people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, which was the capital of the nation of Israel. Now they stepped out to dedicate the city to God. Each of us has thought about our great project that God has given us for our lives. Many of us have begun to participate in building up West Loop ministry. We don’t need to have a physical procession, but let’s step out in faith to dedicate what we have done to God. If you have not yet started your great project of faith, then step out now to begin it.
In verses 31b-37, Nehemiah organized the first group of the procession. The people in the first group included half the leaders of Judah, along with many of the priests, whose names we can recognize from the beginning of the chapter. Ezra the scribe led this group. Ezra was the great Bible teacher from chapter 8 who preached six hour messages. The first group began the procession at the Dung Gate, proceeding to the Fountain Gate, and finally to the Water Gate. If you remember the symbolic meanings of the gates from Nehemiah chapter 3, the Dung Gate represented repentance, the Fountain Gate represented renewal, and the Water Gate represented the cleansing power of the Word of God. So, in the first group, we have half the leaders consisting mostly of priests, marching around the side of the city that was dedicated to Bible teaching and worship. We could call them the “Worship Team”.
In verses 38-39, Nehemiah organized the second group of the procession. The people in the second group were the other half of the leaders of Judah. Since their names and genealogies are not mentioned, it is likely that they were not priests that were required to be descendants of Levi. Rather, they probably included the governmental or mercantile leaders. They were followed by Nehemiah, the governor. The second group proceeded past the Gate of Ephraim, the Old Gate, the Fish Gate, the Sheep Gate, and the Inspection Gate. I don’t know what the Gate of Ephraim was for. But from Nehemiah 3, we can remember that the Old Gate represented the connection of old and new areas of the community, the Fish Gate represented Christian witness, the Sheep Gate represented sacrifice as well as seeking the lost, and the Inspection Gate was where work was evaluated. So, in the second group, we have the other half of the people including community leaders, marching around the side of the city that was dedicated to community involvement, witness, and collecting assessments. We could call them the “Outreach Team”.
Many congregations look to a single pastor to do most of the work of the church. But here at West Loop UBF, we all participate in God’s work. Like Nehemiah, we also have two teams: a Worship Team, and an Outreach Team. The Worship Team includes greeters, prayer servants, musicians, messengers, offering servants, and environment makers. The Outreach Team includes those who reach out to the campus and community through invitation, surveys, marketing, and other creative means. Let’s read verse 40a: “The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God…” So, I have a question: Have you taken a place in the house of God? Last week, Pastor Rhoel talked about the importance of volunteering and coming out of our comfort zones in order to grow as people of God. Today, after the message, Christy Toh will give a presentation with more information about our Worship and Outreach Teams, so stay tuned. Notice also in verse 40 that the two groups met together at the House of God and gave thanks. The two groups were not opposing factions. After dedicating their different aspects of God’s work, they met together in unity with thankful and joyful singing. Another two different groups in God’s work are men and women. Pastor Robert Lewis from the “Men’s Fraternity” DVD series said that women think “men are strange” and men think “women are weird”. Neither understands the other naturally, but in Christian marriage, the two are very complementary. Verse 43 says “the women and children also rejoiced.” This is evidence that families were happy. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” The influence of our joy in the Lord should attract people in the surrounding campus and community to come and check us out so that they may also know the Lord.
In verses 44 to 47, people were appointed to be in charge of the store rooms for the contributions, firstfruits, and tithes. Verse 44 states that “Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites.” The congregation was very appreciative of their leaders who did an outstanding job, and they trusted them as good stewards of their offerings. Verse 45 says that the leaders performed the service of God “according to the commands of David and Solomon” which means that these leaders lived according to the teachings of the Bible. In recent years, UBF was awarded with approval by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. That means that our leaders are recognized as being accountable for their management of the offering. Here at West Loop, we directly support missionaries that we know personally. Let’s be reminded to give some support to God’s work beyond our own congregation. Especially as we prepare for the International Summer Bible Conference at Purdue, please come to our Midweek Revival meetings here at the Bible House, and let’s pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who are coming from around the world.
Today we thought about two aspects of worship: dedication and celebration. Dedication is how we offer the gifts that God has given us in ways that please God. We can dedicate our homes, cars, possessions, and lives to God for his work of the gospel. Sometimes we need to step out in faith in order to claim God’s promise and purpose in our lives. We also dedicate our offerings for his world mission purpose. Celebration is how we express joy and thankfulness to God to recognize all that he has done for us. It is not always easy to be joyful, but we have many reasons to celebrate eternal life that we have in Jesus among many other blessings. We also lean that there are diverse ways of serving God, but we have unity of heart and purpose in Jesus.