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. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the musicians had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.
31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 as well as some priests with trumpets,and also Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zakkur, the son of Asaph,36 and his associates—Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani—with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the teacher of the Law led the procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the site of David’s palace to the Water Gate on the east.
38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped.
40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets— 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
44 At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon.46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.
(Nehemiah 12:27-47 NIV)
Previously we studied the process used to repopulate the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah also used that occasion to take a census of the priests, Levites, and singers by tracing everyone’s family roots back to the exiles that came to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel.
So why did Nehemiah take this headcount? This leads to our passage today – the dedication of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. By taking the census, Nehemiah identified all the families that had been set aside by the Lord to serve Him in the days of King David. Zerubbabel (and later Ezra) had pulled the family records and traced the history of the people to identify all who were of the lineage (family line) of the priests, Levites, and singers so they could participate in the dedication ceremony. Nehemiah then used those more recent records to make an “all hands” call to the descendants of those the Lord had appointed so many centuries ago.
The priests, Levites, and singers came from near and far to participate in the dedication ceremony. The leaders ceremonially purified themselves for the event, according to God’s Law (Exodus 19:10,14-15). This ceremonial purification involved washing their clothes and themselves and abstaining from sexual intercourse.
Once all the priests, Levites, and singers were gathered near the Temple, Nehemiah split them into two groups – two mass “choirs” if you will. One group was sent to the right of the Temple, the other to the left of the Temple. The two groups encircled the city and stood on top of the walls.
Most of the time we think of a choir performing in the front of a church or auditorium, facing the audience. On a few occasions, I have had the privilege of being in a worship service where the choir encircled or “ringed” the audience and sang their songs. It was truly a “surround sound” experience.
Now imagine that “surround sound” experience at a city level, with the “choir” of priests, Levites, and singers standing on top of the city walls and the people on the ground inside the walls singing along in their praises to the Lord! That is what happened that day.
Nehemiah noted that even though the event was a solemn dedication, there was “great joy” (v. 43), and the women and children were rejoicing and singing along with the choir! Truly the joy of the Lord is contagious, isn’t it? Nehemiah noted that the worship could be heard from far away.
Nehemiah also noted that there were many sacrifices offered to the Lord in the Temple, and the priests, Levites, and singers all received their allocation of food and provisions according to God’s Word.
It’s important to note that this dedication ceremony was to express their thankfulness to the Lord and show their faith in Him. The walls and gates were important, but their hope remained in God, not in the walls and gates.
May we rejoice in what the Lord has done in our lives and give Him thanks today.
Also, take some time to use your Biblically informed imagination and put yourself back in that day and in the dedication service. Imagine singing praises to the Lord along with the choir and the people on the ground, experiencing the joy of the Lord first-hand as an entire city worships the Lord together.
Do you have goose bumps yet?