This chapter marks a celebration for the people of Israel. They dedicated the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah formed two choirs that marched in different directions around the city. He led one, and Ezra led the other. They met at the temple. “And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”
This really brings the rebuilding work to completion. After the temple foundation was laid shortly after the Israelite exiles returned to Jerusalem, they had a similar celebration – “for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:13). Here in Nehemiah 12, they had finished the temple and now they also finished the temple walls. And the sound of their rejoicing again was heard “far away” – apparently from outside the city of Jerusalem.
We must keep in mind the people of God are supposed to be people of joy. As we follow God, the giver of life, we find ample reasons to rejoice. Even the hardships of life should point us to the glory of God, and we can rejoice even in them.
The angels showed up one night near Bethlehem and surprised some shepherds. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” And Jesus Christ – the one about whom those angels proclaimed – was a man of joy, and he promised joy to those who followed him. “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
The apostle Paul told the Philippian church, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He told the Thessalonian church the same thing: “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
Like God’s people of the rebuilt temple and the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem, we rejoice at the work of God. They rejoiced because they could see God moving to restore his people. We rejoice for the same reason. It’s all about the work and the glory of God.
And we have even more reason to rejoice – because we’ve seen the king, the new David. I noticed how many times the name of King David was used in Nehemiah 12. There was a careful connection being made between this celebration of the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem and King David, who established the city and who was “the man of God.”
The chiefs of the Levites were praising and giving thanks to God, “according to the commandment of David the man of God.” The people were celebrating “with the musical instruments of David the man of God.” One choir marched up “by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David.” And temple workers and singers and gatekeepers were put to work “according to the command of David,” and music was being made, just like “long ago in the days of David.”
The nation was careful to link this time of rebuilding in Jerusalem with the very beginning of the city – and with King David. Maybe the past was becoming the present, thanks to the movement of God. This is what restoration is all about. Ultimate restoration is when our relationship with God is put back together. That relationship is wrecked by sin and restored by the work of Jesus Christ, the new King David for whom the Israelites were waiting.
The people of Israel could look back over their shoulder to the foundations of Jerusalem and King David. We look backward even further because this plan of restoration started at the very beginning, and by the time it is finished off, it will be even more complete. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5).
And so we can rejoice. Our joy ought to be heard “far away.”
I suppose that means other people should hear our rejoicing from time to time. I suppose people who aren’t in the “city” should be able to hear us shout for joy. Think about this today. As a church – as the people of God – are we rejoicing? And how “far away” can our rejoicing be heard?