An Enduring Legacy: “Celebrating an Outrageous God” – Nehemiah 12

injusticeHave you ever been OUTRAGED at an injustice you saw or heard about? Have you ever had to hold back anger or tears because someone you loved deeply was brutally taken advantage of – and there was little or nothing you could do to help? “Outrage” is a boiling over that comes when we encounter a seemingly immovable injustice… Our Creator encountered one in the Garden of Eden long ago – when men mutinied against His leadership – but there was something He could do. God answered one injustice with yet another – by allowing a sinless man to be beaten, and summarily executed for crimes He did not commit. Have we forgotten how outrageous that was? Not everyone has… There is a report of what happened to a tribe in the jungles of East Asia, when missionaries showed them the Jesus film a few years ago, reported by Ben Patterson. He wrote a few years ago:

It was a big deal when I was in Seminary and one of my friends was a missionary telling me about all that was going on with the Jesus Film. The movie was being shown as an evangelistic tool to people all over—in the desert, and in the jungles Not only had some of these people never heard of Jesus, they had never seen a motion picture. And on that one unforgettable evening, they saw it all—the gospel in their own language, visible and real. Imagine again how it felt to see this good man Jesus, who healed the sick and was adored by children, held without trial and beaten by jeering soldiers. As these East Asians watched this, the people came unglued. They stood up and began to shout at the cruel men on the screen, demanding that this outrage stop. When nothing happened, they attacked the missionary running the projector. Perhaps he was responsible for this injustice He was forced to stop the film and explain that the story wasn’t over yet, that there was more. So they settled back onto the ground, holding their emotions in tenuous check. Then came the crucifixion. Again, the people could not hold back. They began to weep and wail with such loud grief that once again the film had to be stopped. The missionary again tried to calm them, explaining that the story still wasn’t over, that there was more. So they composed themselves and sat down to see what happened next. Then came the resurrection. Pandemonium broke out this time, but for a different reason. The gathering had spontaneously erupted into a party. The noise now was of jubilation, and it was deafening. The people were dancing and slapping each other on the back. The Christ is Risen, indeed Again the missionary had to shut off the projector. But this time he didn’t tell them to calm down and wait for what was next. All that was supposed to happen—in the story and in their lives—was happening. SOURCE: Ben Patterson, “Resurrection and Pandemonium,” Leadership 4-13-04

What happened when people encountered the story of God’s outrageous love and sacrifice of His Son for men – people who knew NOTHING of the story? They DANCED. They CELEBRATED. They were OVERJOYED. They… WORSHIPED! Why? Because worship is the right response to properly reckoning Who God is, and what God has done for us!

Key Principle: Real worship is the celebration of WHO God is and what He has done!

In our series in Nehemiah, we are nearing the end. We enter chapter twelve, and the people are in a time of worship. The passage holds the key to the secret of a great testimony for God! Though it includes something as mundane as an historical interlude with name lists, it was provided by God in part to remind us Nehemiah’s priorities included the WORSHIP of His people (as becomes clear in places like Nehemiah 12:47) – not simply the physical security of the CITY WALLS, and the social ethos of a wounded people. Worship was a central issue to the great “wine steward become contractor” of the Bible. He knew worship needed to be restored, taught and encouraged. He recognized that worship provided a key to the testimony that allows others to hear from God – it is the JOY that comes from obedience to Him and a real encounter with Him! That is why he made a note that “joy” was “heard from afar” in Nehemiah 12:43.

Before we dive into the worship scene, it would be good for us to walk back through the story and recall how this scene became a reality for the people. We have learned incredible lessons from Nehemiah as we have studied together:

• In the beginning of the book, we saw that if God burdens your heart–He is about to work and wants to honor you by using you to work through.
• We watched as Nehemiah planned and recalled that faith is NOT a synonym for disorder or substitute for careful planning (Nehemiah 2).
• Shortly into the book, we noticed that when we move forward for God, the opposition came to the surface to fight back. We should expect trouble and hindrance in God’s building work, as we started to observe in Nehemiah 2:19.
• We examined Nehemiah’s assignments of practical work, and recalled there are laws of people work that God wanted us to recognize in the “job list” portion of Nehemiah 3.
• Next we saw the testing of a leader that began with his facing unjust and destructive Criticism (4:1-6). Next was…
• Test #2: Facing discouraging winds of gossip in the ranks of the ministry (4:7-23).
• That was followed by Test #3: the handling of broken spirits – people who were wounded by the behavior of others in Nehemiah 5:1-13.
• Another test followed – Test #4: the leader was tested by the temptation of “perks” he could enjoy to the detriment of the work (Nehemiah 5:14-19).
• When that failed, the enemy threw Test #5: open intimidation from political enemies of the work” (Nehemiah 6:1-9).
• Still another test followed – #6: an opportunity to be trapped in practical situational ethics and turn from reliance on God (Nehemiah 6:10-14) as the men tried to entrap Nehemiah and push him to do wrong.
• Finally the troubles relented, and the people began to learn about starting clean before God, as the principles in reestablishing the work by the Word were unfolded in Nehemiah 7.
• We looked carefully at some principles of revival (Nehemiah 8:1-8) as the Word was given and explained.
• We saw the people feel a sense of shame, and then need to be re-directed into celebration in a community clean-up – in their observance of God’s appointed times (Nehemiah 9:1-38).
• We watched as their leaders discovered the joy of prioritizing their walk with God in Nehemiah 9:38-10:39.
• We identified leaders who were willing to pay the price in Nehemiah 11.

Now we face the end of the story. It includes two scenes – one of WORSHIP and one of CORRECTION. This lesson zooms in on the response to God’s goodness – a joyful response that makes an impact on a lost world!. The entire chapter deals with the Priests and Levites and their work among the people. Like Elders and Deacons – these were the functional servants of God before the congregation.

The chapter divides simply:

• The first part of the narrative includes a record of the priests and Levites (12:1-26).
• The second part records the details of the holy processional on the walls of Jerusalem to dedicate the work they did (12:27-47). The purpose of the dedication was to refocus the reader on the purpose of the project – to regain safe worship in Jerusalem.

Look closely, for in the narrative, we can observe important principles of worship that help us reach out:


This looks like a shopping list of names broken into three groups:

Group #1: The first group was a record of those who returned with the original group under the order of Cyrus in 536, many years before Nehemiah was born (12:1-11) as recorded in the “Scroll of Zerubbabel” (in our Bibles as Ezra 1-7):

Nehemiah 12:1 Now these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, 2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, 4 Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, 5 Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah and Joiarib, Jedaiah, 7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah. These were the heads of the priests and their kinsmen in the days of Jeshua. 8 The Levites [were] Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, [and] Mattaniah [who was] in charge of the songs of thanksgiving, he and his brothers. 9 Also Bakbukiah and Unni, their brothers, stood opposite them in [their] service divisions. 10 Jeshua became the father of Joiakim, and Joiakim became the father of Eliashib, and Eliashib became the father of Joiada, 11 and Joiada became the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan became the father of Jaddua.

Scanning the list, you will note there are twenty-two names – connecting it with the twenty-four courses of priests of Davidic “courses,” from 1 Chronicles 24:7-18. Eight names match those of David’s time – probably priestly families that named sons after names of their priestly fathers. Sixteen of the names are the same as found in Nehemiah 10:2-8, with six absent from the list of Nehemiah 12. Perhaps six declined to seal to Nehemiah’s covenant given in Nehemiah 10.

Groups #2: The second group was the list priests of the second generation –the one led by Joiakim, the replacement priest to Jeshua of Zerubbabel’s generation.

Nehemiah 12:12 Now in the days of Joiakim, the priests, the heads of fathers’ [households] were: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; 13 of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; 14of Malluchi, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; 15 of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; 16 of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; 17 of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; 18 of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; 19 of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; 20 of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; 21of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethanel.

Groups #3: The third group of names appears to interrupt the list (that continues in 12:24). These verses interrupt the account of the Temple officers in the time of Joiakim, resumed in Nehemiah 12:24. This group appears to be a “drop in” insert to the text – a later addition from the time of Alexander the Great, to help fill in the gap for later Bible students. The “Darius” intended may be Codomannus, the adversary of Alexander the Great, as a contemporary with Jaddua – or perhaps his father.

Nehemiah 12:22 As 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. 23 The 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.

Continued from Group #2: The fourth list appears to belong immediately after 12:20, as the “second wave” of leaders of the Levites under Joiakim’s time:

Nehemiah 12:24 The 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. 25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon [and] Akkub [were] gatekeepers keeping watch at the storehouses of the gates. 26 These [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.

“Fascinating!” you are no doubt saying. “Thanks so much for unfolding that riveting list of names”….

Don’t despair if you find that section boring and mind numbing. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a godly person. At the same time, if you will give it but another minute, you may find there are important principles from this seemingly dry litany of historical names!

• First, we cannot please God in our work without a thankful spirit to those who have gone before in the work. Heritage IS important, history IS essential. When we forget those who have gone before us, we misunderstand the level of our own accomplishments. Modern worship is built on the worshippers of the past!

• Second, God thought rejoicing was so important He instructed a dedicated few to lead the children on Israel in singing and praise (12:8) and to guard a heart of worship (12:24).

• Third, people who draw others into worship are remembered by both God and men (12:23)! This is a special commission of men and women that God selects and recalls!

FOR THE BALANCE OF THE PASSAGE, LET’S RECALL THE PARADES OF THE PRESENT (that is, from his time – Nehemiah 12:27-47).

Let’s begin by recognizing that God loves celebration and joyful singing – if it is a response of our heart to His love and goodness to us!! Singing can be empty if it celebrates, as so many songs do, OUR lusts, OUR passions, and OUR desires. God wants our hearts – that includes our emotions – to be deeply engaged in our surrender to Him. We need not fear emotions as some believers have done in the past, but we need to use our emotional expression in a way that pleases Him.

Look briefly at six details that set the scene:

First, Nehemiah tells us of the PULLING IN THE PEOPLE to a time of dedication (12:27-29).

Nehemiah 12:27 Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs [to the accompaniment] of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth-gilgal and from [their] fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem.

Bear in mind that even though it is to be an emotional celebration, proper preparations are necessary. It is not wrong to plan, and even practice what God will do through leaders in worship. In fact, it is necessary! Don’t get caught up in the “it cannot be the work of the Spirit if there was a plan” mentality.

Second, he related the account of PURIFYING THE PROCESSIONAL (12:30).

Nehemiah 12:30 The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall.

God is invited when the lives of the worship leaders are cleansed and prepared. Sin left unattended in the lives of the leaders can, and often does, hinder the free work of God’s Spirit. It is not that God CANNOT work – it is that He is forced to do so with sadness.

Third, he recorded the PARTING OF THE PARADES (12:31).

Nehemiah 12:31 Then I had the leaders of Judah come up on top of the wall, and I appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate.

The people were led into worship and joyful response. The leadership directed each step of the way. When people are instructed by properly prepared leaders – spiritually and technically prepared – the joyful response is not quenched!

Fourth, he related the specific PATHS OF THE PARADING (12:32-40).

Nehemiah 12: 32 Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 and some of the sons of the priests with trumpets; [and] Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah [and] Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east. 38 The second choir proceeded to the left, while I followed them with half of the people on the wall, above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall, 39 and above the Gate of Ephraim, by the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard. 40 Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me;

The paths led both groups to join together in praise at the end. It is a good thing for leaders to praise God and give thanks for the work (v.40), and not simply praise the people or themselves. We lift people in a way that nothing else can do when we reach to the throne of Heaven with praise!

Fifth, he shared the names if the PEOPLE OF THE PROCESSIONS (12:41-42a).

Nehemiah 12:41 and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets; 42 and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah [their] leader,

Listen to the sound of these who were walking about and praising God! They interceded as priests led the way in the loudest praise! They had trumpets blasting and singers praising – what a day!

Sixth, all that noise led to a POWERFUL TESTIMONY OF THE PEOPLE (12:42b-44).

Nehemiah 12:43 and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar. 44 On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served.

The focus was NOT on the people’s teamwork, the dedication of the leaders, but rather on the goodness of the God that made the whole project possible. The louder they proclaimed this, the more the world heard them (v.43)! The secret to a powerful testimony was (and is) a heart filled with thanksgiving for God’s goodness!

• The world will not be changed by sour-faced believers that disagree with their moral innovations – they will see us energized with praise and wonder what we are doing!

• The lost do not want to prescription of a God that will bind them from satiating their lusts – but they will have their curiosity peaked when we are celebrating and praising His goodness continually.

• The excitement of true worship must energize our people in a day of rising darkness.

• The sounds of praise for God’s goodness must drown out the constant hum of our grousing and complaining for God’s name to be lifted among the nations.

• Missionaries must be sent with JOY of the message of freedom in the Gospel!

• Proclamations of testimony of God’s goodness should pervade the people of God!

Seventh, look at the closing words about the PRAISE OF THE PURIFIED (12:45-47).

Nehemiah 12:45 For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David [and] of his son Solomon. 46 For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, [there were] leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. 47 So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated [portion] for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated [portion] for the sons of Aaron.

Praise is a holy act before God, a tool that helps separate us to His purposes! Those who made it possible were deeply loved and cared for by the congregation – because they understood the importance of the work of worship.

Don’t make this mechanical – it is far more than that! God loves a good song a mighty praise to His goodness! The Bible records that God rejoices! (Zephaniah 3:17).

• Singing and praise are prominent in His Word.
• Creation evoked songs (Job 38:6.7), as did the coming of Jesus (Lk. 1.2).
• There will be trumpets blasting again, and shouts of praise at the return of the Savior (1 Cor. 15:52; Ps. 47:4.5; Rev.18:1-4).
• Spirit-filled believers are to be filled with this praise! (Eph.5).

Margaret Sangster Phippen wrote that in the mid-1950’s her father, British minister W.E. Sangster, began to notice some uneasiness in his throat and a dragging in his leg. When he went to the doctor, he found that he had an incurable disease that caused progressive muscular atrophy. His muscles would gradually waste away, his voice would fail, and his throat would soon become unable to swallow. Sangster threw himself into his work in the British home missions, figuring he could still write and he would have even more time for prayer. “Let me stay in the struggle Lord,” he pleaded. “I don’t mind if I can no longer be a general, but give me just a regiment to lead.” He wrote articles and books, and helped organize prayer cells throughout England. “I’m only in the kindergarten of suffering,” he told people who pitied him. Gradually Sangsters’s legs became useless. His voice went completely. But he could still hold a pen, shakily. On Easter morning, just a few weeks before he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter. In it, he said, “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice to shout, “He is risen!” — but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout. – (Sermon Central illustrations from a sermon by David Scudder, The Four Hallelujah’s, 10/25/2009).

Sanger knew that real worship is the celebration of WHO God is and what He has done!