We often think of Nehemiah as the great builder. But his physical work and plans for Jerusalem and his people were simply the outworkings of far more important spiritual concerns. Nehemiah is a wonderful example of what a godly person should be—focused on God and others.
What is important to people is usually pretty evident. It’s what they talk about and spend their money on and devote their time to. It’s no different with writers, including the biblical authors. We should keep this in mind as we look at Nehemiah chapters 11–12, for they point to things that were very important to the man Nehemiah. We are going to watch a man—and the people he leads—make some wonderful decisions that reveal changed hearts and lives.
Chapter 11 centers on Nehemiah’s effort to repopulate Jerusalem. You may recall that back in chapter 7 Nehemiah began the process of enrolling people by genealogy. Based on a list of people who had returned to Judah much earlier with Zerubbabel, he assembled a list of people who were confirmed to be fully Jewish. Using this list, people are now selected to move into the sparsely populated city of Jerusalem.
The first two verses of chapter 11 describe what takes place:
Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem. And the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem the holy city, while nine out of ten remained in the other towns. And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.
Now understand that until the wall was completed, people were hesitant to live in the city. Remember, they are surrounded by enemies who have already threatened their lives and earlier had succeeded in tearing down Jerusalem’s walls (Nehemiah 1:3).
So, Nehemiah devises this lottery, so to speak, to choose one-tenth of Judah’s population to move into Jerusalem. We also discover a number of people mentioned here in verse 2 who step forward to volunteer to establish households in the city. They effectively step forward and say, “We will leave the countryside. We will uproot our families. We will leave our homes and relatives. We will move to the city of Jerusalem and see to it that the holy city thrives.”
You have to love and appreciate these volunteers. Frankly, there isn’t a ministry or a church on the planet right now that would be able to accomplish its mission without faithful volunteers.
We arrive here at a long list of names and places in the remainder of chapter 11; in fact, this list is going to extend all the way to chapter 12 and verse 26. Included in this list in verses 3-36 are those who came to live in Jerusalem, as well as the names of other villages in Judah that were inhabited. Then we are given the names of the priests and Levites who already had returned with Zerubbabel, here in chapter 12, verses 1 through 11. And finally, in verses 12 through 26, we are given the descendants of these priests and Levites who lived and served up to the time of Nehemiah.
This listing is Nehemiah’s way of honoring these men, who were eager to perform the service to which God had called them. You could call this the hall of fame, or better yet, the hall of faith.
Keep in mind, the reestablishment of Jerusalem as a secure city where the people can worship at the temple of the Lord is not just a matter of personal or national pride. In repopulating the city, we see the importance Nehemiah places on honoring God’s plan. This city is their central place of worship; it is where the temple is located. I find it very interesting that for the first time in the Bible—here in chapter 11—Jerusalem is called the “holy city” (verse 1).
Now as we come to Nehemiah 12:27, we find something else that is very important to Nehemiah: honoring God’s work. Here’s verse 27:
And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.
They have had a revival in the land, as we have already seen, and now there is this ceremony of dedication. Nehemiah writes in verse 31, “Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks.” One of these choirs is led by Ezra, the priest. More than likely he starts from the southwest corner of the city wall in one direction, while the other choir, with Nehemiah, circles the city in the other direction.
And they meet at the temple, where verse 42 says, “The singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader.” Evidently, Jezrahiah is the choir director for this incredible ceremony. The next verse tells us, “And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy.”
This dedication ceremony is marked by joy and thanksgiving to God. This was the work of God, and Nehemiah sees to it that the people honor the Lord for it.
Finally, the last few verses of Nehemiah 12 are devoted to what we might call some routine, housekeeping chores. It doesn’t sound all that exciting, but this was important as well. Verse 44 says:
On that day men were appointed over the storerooms, the contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the Law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns, for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered.
The storerooms mentioned here were built within the temple precinct to store all the contributions of grain and fruit and animals. Basically, this was the paycheck for the priests, the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers (see 1 Chronicles 25–26).
And the people gladly gave to support the worship system in Jerusalem. Verse 47 tells us:
All Israel . . . gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.
Now we are not living back here in the Old Testament, bringing animals and bushels of wheat for the priests to eat. But the principle remains: what we do with our finances profoundly reveals the condition of our hearts. I have heard it said that the most sensitive nerve in a man’s body is the one that runs from his heart to his back pocket, where he keeps his wallet.
Genuine revival—like we see here in the days of Nehemiah—is a surrender of your heart, a surrender of your life, a surrender of your will, and a surrender of your wallet to God.
But don’t overlook this fact: these people here in Jerusalem were not depressed; they were excited and joyful in their contributions. They were enjoying life once again.
Just imagine what we read here in verse 43: “The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”
They have never been happier! Listen beloved, we make a living by what we get; but we make life worth living by what we give.
Maybe you’re thinking, I need a revival like this one—one that impacts my heart and my finances and my perspective. So where do I start today?
Well, I love the story of an old English evangelist by the name of Gypsy Smith. Reportedly, he once told a man that in order for revival to begin, he needed to go someplace alone and take a piece of chalk with him. Then he should kneel down, draw a circle around him, and pray for God to send revival to everything inside that circle.
Frankly, every one of us ought to do that, every single day.
 Donald K. Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge (Victor Books, 1979), 101.