Early Church; Sect of Judaism

The Church started with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, but for a number of years it existed as a sect of Judaism.  The message, directed by the mighty Power, focused on Jerusalem only.

SUMMARY

The first 30 years of the church can be divided into four phases.

The first phase commenced with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and ended when the church was scattered from Jerusalem through persecution (8:1).  Estimates of the duration of this phase vary from one year to four years.

During this phase God’s Holy Spirit worked mightily, performing many great miracles (2:43; 5:12-16; 6:8; 4:22; 5:18-19), giving courage to the apostles and power to their sermons. In a few years the church grew from the initial group of 120 to many thousands (2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7).  However, the church was confined to Jerusalem, consisted of Jews and Jewish proselytes only and functioned as part of Judaism.  Indications of the Jewish nature of this first phase are:

In Jerusalem – The church received the power of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (1:4).  The Jewish Council (5:21, 27) later declared “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (5:28).  This first phase of the early church closed with the comment: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (6:7).

Pentecost – God selected Pentecost to pour out His Holy Spirit.  On that annual festival devout Jews from all nations, who spoke the language of the nation where they were born, were gathered in Jerusalem (2:10, 5). God also gave His followers the ability to speak the languages of these foreigners, indicating God’s purpose to reach Jews from all over the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.  On that day 3000 Jews were added to the church (2:41).

Call to repentance – Peter, the primary spokesperson during this phase, did not hesitate to blame the Jews for the death of “Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst” (2:22-23, 36; 3:13-15; 4:10-11; 5:30), but he also called the Jews to repentance, teaching:

That God exalted Jesus to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior to grant repentance to Israel (5:31);

That, for Israel first, God raised up His Servant Jesus and sent Him to bless Israel by turning them from their wicked ways (3:26, 20) and;

That the promise of the Holy Spirit is for them (Acts 2:38-39; 3:19).

It is therefore clear that God did not reject Israel for killing Jesus.  God continued to give preference to Israel after Christ’s death.

Jewish Sermons – The sermons were entirely Jewish, indicating that it was intended for Israel alone.  Peter addressed his audience as “Men of Israel“ (2:22, 36) and quoted liberally from the prophets (2:17-21, 25-28; 3:18, 21-25).  Stephen’s defense before the High Priest and the council was also thoroughly Jewish, summarizing Israel’s history (Acts 7).

In the Temple – The church worshiped every day in the temple (2:46; 3:1, 8 and 3:11), where only Jews were allowed.  God gave them explicit instruction to preach in the temple (5:20, 25 and 42).  God gave a most significant miracle at the temple (3:1-10), attracting the attention of all the Jews worshiping in the temple, and giving Peter the opportunity to witness powerfully (3:19; 4:4).

In conclusion, during these first few years God limited the efforts of His Holy Spirit to Jews. The church grew extremely fast, but consisted of Jews only, continuing to live practically as Jews. Christianity at this time was a subset of (part of) Judaism, and the dramatic actions of the young church were still confined to Jerusalem.

DISCUSSION

For a period of forty days after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His chosen apostles (Acts 1:2), proving to them than He is alive (1:3).  At the end of the forty days He was taken up into heaven (1:2-3).

Just before He was taken up, He gave orders to His apostles (1:2) not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:4-5).  Ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, the remaining 120 followers of Christ (1:15) were all together in one place.  Suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind that filled the whole house. There appeared what looked like tongues of fire that came to rest on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages (2:1-4).

On that day and during the subsequent years God’s Holy Spirit worked mightily.  Many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (2:43; 5:12; 6:8).  A man that was more than 40 years old (4:22), and who was lame from birth (3:2), was healed at the temple (3:1-10).  The apostles were securely locked up in prison (5:18, 23), but an angel released them (5:19).  The people of Jerusalem “even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them” (5:15).  “People from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were … bringing people who were sick … and they were all being healed” (5:16).

The Holy Spirit gave courage to the apostles and power to their sermons.  The church grew from the initial group of 120 to many thousands in a few years.  On the day of Pentecost alone the followers of Jesus increased from 120 to more than 3000 (2:41).  “The Lord was adding to their number day by day” (2:47).  After the healing of the lame man at the temple there were more than 10000 believers (4:4).  Thereafter “all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (5:14; 6:1, 7).  This is amazing, considering that the Leader of the group was killed, but instead of His followers hiding away, the number of followers increased exponentially on the basis of the teaching of these “uneducated and untrained men” (4:13).  This shows the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, the church was limited to Jerusalem, consisted of Jews only and functioned as part of Judaism.  Indications of the Jewish nature of this first phase are:

IN JERUSALEM

Jesus explicitly told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit (1:4).  The Jewish Council (5:21, 27) later declared “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (5:28).  This first phase of the early church closed with the comment: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (6:7).

PENTECOST

The church received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, when devout Jews and proselytes from all nations were gathered in Jerusalem (2:10, 5).  These Jews and proselytes included, amongst others, Parthians, Medes, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans and Arabs (2:9-10).  They spoke the language of the nation where they were born.  They also heard the sound from heaven and came together to see what it is.  The Holy Spirit gave the believers the ability to speak the various languages of these people.  These foreigners were amazed to hear the 120, whom they knew were Galileans (2:7), speaking in their own foreign languages of the mighty deeds of God (2:11-12).

The fact that God chose Jerusalem and the day of Pentecost to pour out His Holy Spirit, and that He gave His followers the ability to speak the languages of these foreigners, indicate God’s intention to reach Jews all over the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.  On that day 3000 Jews were added to the church (2:41).

JEWS CALLED TO REPENTANCE

Peter, the primary spokesperson during this phase, did not hesitate to blame the Jews for the death of “the Holy and Righteous One”::

On Pentecost Peter said to the Jews: “Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man … you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (2:22-23) AND “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36).

In his speech in the temple, after the healing of the lame man, Peter said to the Jews gathered in the temple: “His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate … you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life” (3:13-15)

The next day, after they were jailed for teaching in the temple, Peter said to the “rulers and elders and scribes … gathered together in Jerusalem” (4:5, 8): “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone” (4:10-11)

The Jewish Council (5:27) later complained, “you … intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (5:28), but Peter reiterated “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross” (5:30).

But God did not reject Israel for killing Jesus.  Christ’s prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” was an expression of God’s heart. Israel still had the opportunity to repent (3:17-19).  Therefore Peter and the apostles preached repentance to the Jews:

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:38-39)

After the lame man was healed, Peter said to the Jews in the temple, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away” (3:19).

Not only did Peter preach repentance to the Jews; he preached repentance for Jews first.  He assured his Jewish listeners:

That “for you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (3:26);

That Jesus is ”the Christ (Savior) appointed for you” (3:20) and;

That “God exalted (Jesus) to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel” (5:31);

Paul often used the phrase “Jew first” (E.g. Rom. 1:16; 2:9, 10).  God, after the death of Christ, not only sent the gospel to the Jews first, but they will always have the first right to salvation.  “From the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:28).

JEWISH SERMONS

Peter’s sermons were entirely Jewish.  In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost he addressed his audience as “Men of Israel“ (2:22) and “the house of Israel” (2:36), and quoted both Joel (2:17-21) and David (2:25-28).  These references would have meant nothing to any Gentile standing around. The 3000 people who were saved that day would all have been Jewish.  His second sermon, in the temple, after the lame man was healed, was also entirely Jewish.  Several times he referred to the prophets (3:18, 21, 24-25), explicitly mentioning Samuel (3:24), Moses (3:22) and Abraham (3:25).

Stephen’s defense before the High Priest and the council was also thoroughly Jewish, summarizing Israel’s history (Acts 7).

IN THE TEMPLE

After Pentecost the 3000 believers were “day by day continuing with one mind in the temple” (2:46), where Gentiles were not allowed (Acts 2:46). The nearest the Gentiles could get was the Court of the Gentiles that surrounded the Temple.  “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer” (3:1).  “They were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico”, which was a specific part of the temple (compare 3:8 and 3:11).

God gave Peter to heal a lame man “at the gate of the temple” (3:2, 7).  This man “they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple” (3:2).  All the people knew him (3:10).  Since God had removed his deformity, the man was probably now, for the first time in his whole life, allowed to enter the temple.  He “entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (3:8).  With the man still “clinging to Peter and John” (3:11), and with all the people gathering around them, full of amazement (3:11), the miracle gave Peter the opportunity of testify in the temple, where only Jews were allowed.  God chose this location, which confirms that God’s efforts were still focused on the Jewish nation.  Peter urged them to “repent, so that your sins may be wiped away” (3:19).  Many believed, and the church grew to 5000 men (4:4).

After the apostles were jailed (5:18), an angel released them and told them to go and speak to the people in the temple (5:20), which they did (5:25).  The authorities arrested them again (5:26), “flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus” (5:40), but they just kept on preaching in the templeJesus as the Christ” (5:42).  Their worship still centered around the temple.  In their view they were the true Jews.

CONCLUSION

For a number years after Jesus’s death and resurrection God limited the efforts of His Holy Spirit to Jews.  During this first phase of massive growth the church consisted only of Jews, continuing to live like Jews.  Christianity at this time was a part of Judaism, and the dramatic actions of the young church were still confined to Jerusalem.  The later three phases provide additional evidence for this conclusion.

Key Phrases: Early Church, Holy Spirit, Acts 2, Pentecost, Jesus the Nazarene, Jewish origin of the church, Proselytes, Jews first, Jew first, First Church

NEXT: Judea and Samaria Phase

TO: Early Church Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Nehemiah – summary of book

This is a summary of the book of Nehemiah.  This book is important for the interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel.  Some propose that the decree of the king, which is recorded in Nehemiah, is the “word” of Daniel 9:25.

This book also describes an important part of Israel’s history.  Judea and its people were completely destroyed by the Babylonians.  But through Nehemiah and others God effectively gave Israel a new beginning.

THE KING’S DECREE

Hanani and some other men from Judah (1:2) told Nehemiah (1:1) that the Jews in Judea are in great distress and reproach, that the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and that its gates are consumed by fire (1:3).

When Nehemiah heard this, he “wept and mourned for days” (1:4).  He fasted and prayed (1:4) on behalf of Israel, confessing their sins (1:6).  He prayed that God would make him successful when he would appear before the king (1:11).  He was the king’s cupbearer (1:11).

In the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes (2:1) Nehemiah “took up the wine and gave it to the king” (2:1).  The king asked him, “Why are you sad?”  Nehemiah was very afraid and answered (2:2), “Let the king live forever.  Why should I not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” (2:3)

Then the king asked, “What would you request?” (2:4) Nehemiah responded, “If it pleases the king … send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it. (2:5) If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, (2:7) and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates and for the wall of the city.” (2:8)

The king granted to Nehemiah what was requested because the good hand of my God was on him (2:8).  The king also sent with Nehemiah army officers and horsemen (2:9).

OPPOSITION

The Samaritans—the Jews’ enemies (4:1-3)—were very displeased that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel (2:10).

Nehemiah did not tell anybody what God put into his mind to do for Jerusalem (2:12, 16).  He first went on an inspection tour and found the walls broken down and gates consumed by fire (2:13, 17).  The officials did not know where Nehemiah had gone; nor had he as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work (2:16).  Then he said to the Israelites: Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach (2:17).  He told them how the hand of God had been favorable to him and what the king said (2:18).  The Israelites agreed (2:18).

When Samaritans heard about these plans, they mocked the Jews (2:19), but Nehemiah said to them:

The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem. (2:20)

The Israelites divided the work amongst themselves.  Different teams worked on different parts of the walls and gates (3:1-32)

When the Samarians heard that the Jews were rebuilding the wall, they became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews (4:1, 2).  They said:

What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble? (4:2)  Even what they are building–if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down! (4:3)

Nehemiah prayed to God to punish the Samarians (4:4).  The Jews continued to work hard (4:6).  When the whole wall was joined together to half its height (4:6) the Samarians were very angry (4:7).  They conspired together to fight against Jerusalem (4:8).

The Jews prayed to God, and set up a guard day and night (4:9).  Nehemiah stationed men in the lowest parts of the wall; the exposed places (4:13).

Some Jews became discouraged when they heard what the Samarians planned (4:10-12).  When Nehemiah saw their fear, he spoke to them:

Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses (4:14).

Then all the Jews returned to the wall (4:15).

From that day on, half of Nehemiah’s servants carried on the work while half of them held weapons (4:16).  The builders did the work with one hand and held a weapon in the other (4:17), with their swords girded at their sides (4:18).  They even took their weapons to the water (4:23).

Because the Jews were separated far from one another while working (4:19), Nehemiah, arranged that they would call one another by means of trumpets in case of an attack (4:20).

They worked from dawn until the stars appeared (4:21).

Nehemiah ordered the people to sleep within Jerusalem so that they may also serve as guards by night (4:22).

TAXATION

Now there was a great outcry of the people against their Jewish brothers who are exacted usury from their fellow Jews for use of the land.  Apparently the nobles and the rulers exacted usury from their fellow Jews (5:7) for the use of the fields and vineyards, and apparently this with by command of the king (5:4).  Nehemiah held a great assembly against them (5:1-7) and spoke sternly to them (5:8-10).

He demanded that they “give back to their fellow Jews this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses … and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” (5:11)  They agreed (5:12).  Nehemiah “took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise” (5:12).   He threatened them that God would punish them if they do not fulfill this promise (5:13).  Then the people did according to this promise (5:13).

The governors before Nehemiah taxed the people (5:15), but during the 12 years that Nehemiah was governor in the land of Judah he never demanded the people to pay tax (5:14).  Nehemiah himself and all his servants worked on this wall.  He did not buy any land (5:16).  Nehemiah had to feed 150 people on a daily basis, besides visitors from the surrounding nations (5:17).  This required a large quantity of food (5:18).  Yet Nehemiah never taxed the people (5:18).

DECEPTION

When their enemies heard that the Jews had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time the doors in the gates have not been set up (6:1), their enemies invited Nehemiah to meet on the plain of Ono.  But they Nehemiah knew they were planning to harm him (6:2) and refused (6:3).  Four times they sent messages in this manner, and Nehemiah answered them in the same way (6:4).

Then their enemies sent a letter (6:5) saying that the Jews are planning to rebel, and that this will be reported to the king (6:6-7).  They again asked Nehemiah to meet them (6:7).  Nehemiah denied the accusations (6:8).  Their enemies were trying to frighten them (6:9).

One fellow Jew advised Nehemiah to meet with him within the temple, with all the doors closed.  He said that their enemies are coming to kill him at night (6:10).  Nehemiah also refused this (6:11).  He perceived that his enemies hired this Jew (6:12) to get Nehemiah to sin, so that they could reproach him (6:13).

Nehemiah prayed to God to punish their enemies (6:14).

WALL COMPLETED

The wall was completed in fifty-two days (6:15).  When surrounding nations saw it, they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of their God (6:16).

In those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah—an influential Samarian ruler—and Tobiah’s letters came to them (6:17).  Many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he had many important connections (6:18). They also spoke about Tobiah’s good deeds in Nehemiah’s presence and reported Nehemiah’s words to him (6:19).

When the wall was rebuilt and the doors set up, the Jews appointed gatekeepers, singers and Levites (7:1).  Nehemiah appointed Hanani—his brother, and Hananiah in charge of Jerusalem (7:2).  He instructed them to appoint guards and to guard the city carefully (7:3).  At that time the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built (7:4).

Then God put it into Nehemiah’s heart to enrol the people by genealogies (7:5). He found the book of the genealogy of those who first to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city (7:6, 7).  In total there were 42,360 (7:66) and also 7337 servants, 245 singers (7:67), 736 horses, 245 mules (7:68), 435 camels and 6720 donkeys (7:69).  Some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work (7:70-72).

Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities. (7:73)

REVIVAL

All the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they requested Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel (8:1).  Ezra brought the law before the assembly on the first day of the seventh month (8:2).  He read from it from early morning until midday; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law (8:3). Ezra stood on a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. Beside him stood his helpers (8:4).  When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God and the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands.  Then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground (8:6).  Also Ezra’s helpers explained the law to the people (8:7).  They read from the book—the law of God—translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.  All the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law (8:9).

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra and the Levites said to the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” (8:9) Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to their Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (8:10-11).  All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them (8:12).

FEAST OF THE SEVENTH MONTH

On the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra that they might gain insight into the words of the law (8:13).  They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month (8:14).  So they issued a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying,

Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written. (8:15)

So the people went out and made booths, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim (8:16).  The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them.  The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day.  And there was great rejoicing (8:17).

They read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. They celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance (8:18).

THE OATH

On the 24th day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them (9:1).  The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers (9:2).  They read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God (9:3).

The Levites stood on a platform and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God (9:4):

They praised the LORD God who made the heavens, the earth the seas and all that is in them, and gave life to all of them (9:5-6).

They recounted Israel history referring to Abraham (9:7), the land God promised him and to his descendants (9:8), the affliction in Egypt, their cry by the Red Sea (9:9), the signs and wonders against Pharaoh (9:10), the pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire by night, the laws (9:12), good statutes and commandments received at Mount Sinai (9:13), His holy Sabbath (9:14), the manna and the water from the rock (9:15).

When God instructed the Israelites to enter the promised land (9:15) they acted arrogantly and would not listen to God (9:16), appointing a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt.  They tell about the calf of molten metal (9:18), but that God did not forsake them (9:17, 19).  God gave His good Spirit to instruct them, His manna and water for their thirst (9:20)

For forty years He provided for them in the wilderness.  They were not in want.  Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell (9:21).  God also gave them the land (9:22).  God made their sons as numerous as the stars and brought them into the Promised Land (9:23).  God subdued before them the inhabitants of the land (9:24).  But they became disobedient and rebelled against God, killed His prophets who had admonished them and committed great blasphemies (9:26).

Therefore God delivered them into the hand of their oppressors.  But when they cried to God in their distress, God delivered them from their oppressors (9:27-28) and admonished them in order to turn them back to His law.

Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen sinned against God’s ordinances (9:29).  God bore with them for many years, yet they would not listen.  Therefore God gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands (9:30).  Nevertheless, in His great compassion God did not make an end of them (9:31).

They pleaded that the mighty and awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, consider the hardship which has come upon the Israelites from the days of the kings of Assyria to this day (9:32), confessing that God is just in all that has come upon them, for they have acted wickedly (9:33-37).

Then they made an agreement in writing (9:38).  All the people (10:28) took on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of GOD their Lord (10:29):

  • that they would not intermarry with the peoples of the land (10:30);
  • that they would not buy on the sabbath or a holy day;
  • that they will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt (10:31);
  • that they would annually contribute for the service of the house of their God (10:32-33);
  • that they would supply wood to the house of their God, to burn on the altar (10:34);
  • that they would bring the first fruits to the house of the LORD (10:35);
  • that they would bring the firstborn of their sons and cattle to the house of their God (10:36);
  • that they would bring the tithe of their ground to the Levites (10:37);
  • that the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of their God (10:38);
  • that they will thus we will not neglect the house of their God (10:39);

At that time the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities (11:1).  Some volunteered to live in Jerusalem (11:2).

DEDICATION OF THE WALL

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem all the Levites and the singers were brought to Jerusalem (12:27-29).  The priests and the Levites purified themselves, the people, the gates and the wall (12:30).  Two great choirs were formed (12:31).  The choirs followed two different routes through Jerusalem (12:37,38), with the people following them with trumpets (12:32, 35) and with the musical instruments of David the man of God (12:36).  And Ezra the scribe went before them (12:36).  Eventually the two choirs took their stand in the house of God (12:40) and they sang (12:42).  On that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy. The joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar (12:43).

On that day men were appointed over the stores and contributions and tithes for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites, for they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification (12:44-45).

On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God (13:1).  So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel (13:3).

Nehemiah had to go back to Babylon for a time.  During this time Eliashib, the priest, being related to Tobiah (a Samarian), had prepared a large room for him in the courts of the house of God (13:4-7).  When Nehemiah returned he threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room (13:8) and gave an order and they cleansed the rooms (13:9).

While he was away contributions to the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field (13:10).  Nehemiah reprimanded the officials and brought the Levites back to Jerusalem (13:11).  All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses (13:12).

SABBATHS

Nehemiah saw some working and buying on the Sabbath.  So he admonished them and the nobles of Judah (13:15-16-17).  He said: “Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” 13:18

Nehemiah ordered the gates of Jerusalem to be shut closed during the Sabbath and stationed servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the Sabbath day (13:19).  From that time on the traders and merchants did not come on the Sabbath (13:20-21).

FOREIGN WOMEN

In those days the Jews had married women from other nations (13:23).  As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah (13:24).  So I contended with them and made them swear by God not to intermarry with other nations (13:25, 27).  Nehemiah said:

Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things?  There was no king like him, and he was loved by God; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin (13:26).

Nehemiah purified the priesthood from everything foreign (13:28-30).

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

It is significant that the memoirs of Nehemiah stress that the work concentrated primarily on the wall and gates of Jerusalem, rather than on the city proper.  To understand this one needs to understand that in those days a city without a wall was no city.  The wall provided protection and formed the basis for the cooperation by the inhabitants towards their joint protection—maintaining the wall and gates and guarding the city.  A wall made them a city.  Only after the wall has been completed the restoration of the city could start in all earnestness.

Further important background information is that after the Jews were taken away to Babylon, the Samaritans claimed ownership of the land.  The Jews therefore did not rebuild the city in a vacuum.  There were other people that felt that they have a right to the city and the land (2:20).  This is evidenced by the frequent mention in the book Nehemiah of the opposition the Jews experienced (4:1-3, 7).

TO: General Table of Contents