“They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away” (v. 43).
In Nehemiah 11:1–12:26, we find many lists of Jewish leaders, priests, and others who were present in the days of Nehemiah. These lists were vital for the postexilic community for the purpose of preserving its history and for later generations of Jews to trace their ancestry. We are not going to look at these lists in detail, but let us observe that the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi appear prominently therein. This reflects the reality of the postexilic situation where the continuing old covenant community was made up primarily of those three tribes. Passages such as 1 Chronicles 9:3 tell us that there were some members of the other tribes of Israel still among the people of God after the exile. However, most of the people not from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi were absorbed into Assyria after the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BC (2 Kings 17). The kingdom of Judah consisted mainly of individuals from Judah and Benjamin, as well as those Levites who remained loyal to the Davidic king and temple (1 Kings 12:21; 2 Chron. 11:13–17). Unlike those in the north, this group maintained its distinct identity through its exile in Babylon.
Nehemiah 12:27–47 describes the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, and it is a firsthand account by Nehemiah himself. That the people held a ceremony to dedicate the wall shows that the completion of this task ranked as a high point in the history of the old covenant community almost equivalent to the finishing of Solomon’s temple. After all, a dedication service was also held when the first temple was completed (1 Kings 8). Having a wall around Jerusalem would help keep out pagan foreigners who might corrupt the people, and it made the city more secure against invasion. Thus, the people, if they were to continue in faithfulness to the law of God, would be preserved as a holy people, distinct from the world as a light to the nations (Ex. 19:1–6; Isa. 42:6). The promise of a new day was at hand, and celebration was the right response.
Dedicating the wall of Jerusalem involved two groups of Jews walking on top of the wall, in opposite directions, and meeting up at the temple, where the people worshiped the Lord. The people offered great sacrifices and rejoiced on that day, “and the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away” (Neh. 12:27–47). When the people of God celebrate their salvation, it is a witness to the nations. Our joy in the Lord should be evident to those both far and near.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Are we known as people who rejoice in our salvation? We should be, and yet it is easy for us to take our redemption for granted, to focus on the difficulties of this life and the hardships we face. Yet, as Dr. R.C. Sproul frequently observed, although we never want to downplay or deny the troubles of this world, Christians should not be known as dour, joyless people. Instead, let us seek to rejoice in our salvation, to be encouraged that we belong to the Lord.