We have read of the building of the wall of Jerusalem with a great deal of fear and trembling; we have here an account of the dedicating of it with a great deal of joy and triumph. Those that sow in tears shall thus reap.
I. We must enquire what was the meaning of this dedication of the wall; we will suppose it to include the dedication of the city too (continens pro contento—the thing containing for the thing contained), and therefore it was not done till the city was pretty well replenished, Neh. 11:1. It was a solemn thanksgiving to God for his great mercy to them in the perfecting of this undertaking, of which they were the more sensible because of the difficulty and opposition they had met with in it. 2. They hereby devoted the city in a peculiar manner to God and to his honour, and took possession of it for him and in his name. All our cities, all our houses, must have holiness to the Lord written upon them; but this city was (so as never any other was) a holy city, the city of the great King (Ps. 48:2; Matt. 5:35): it had been so ever since God chose it to put his name there, and as such, it being now refitted, it was afresh dedicated to God by the builders and inhabitants, in token of their acknowledgment that they were his tenants, and their desire that it might still be is and that the property of it might never be altered. Whatever is done for their safety, ease, and comfort, must be designed for God’s honour and glory. 3. They hereby put the city and its walls under the divine protection, owning that unless the Lord kept the city the walls were built in vain. When this city was in possession of the Jebusites, they committed the guardianship of it to their gods, though they were blind and lame ones, 2 Sam. 5:6. With much more reason do the people of God commit it to his keeping who is all-wise and almighty. The superstitious founders of cities had an eye to the lucky position of the heavens (see Mr. Gregory’s works, p. 29, etc.); but these pious founders had an eye to God only, to his providence, and not to fortune.
II. We must observe with what solemnity it was performed, under the direction of Nehemiah. 1. The Levites from all parts of the country were summoned to attend. The city must be dedicated to God, and therefore his ministers must be employed in the dedicating of it, and the surrender must pass through their hands. When those solemn feasts were over (Neh. 8:1-9:38) they went home to their respective posts, to mind their cures in the country; but now their presence and assistance were again called for. 2. Pursuant to this summons, there was a general rendezvous of all the Levites, Neh. 12:28, 29. Observe in what method they proceeded. (1.) They purified themselves, Neh. 12:30. We are concerned to cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts, when any work for God is to pass through them. They purified themselves and then the people. Those that would be instrumental to sanctify others must sanctify themselves, and set themselves apart for God, with purity of mind and sincerity of intention. Then they purified the gates and the wall. Then may we expect comfort when we are prepared to receive it. To the pure all things are pure (Titus 1:15); and, to those who are sanctified, houses and tables, and all their creature comforts and enjoyments, are sanctified, 1 Tim. 4:4, 5. This purification was performed, it is probable, by sprinkling the water of purifying (or of separation, as it is called, Num. 19:9) on themselves and the people, the walls and the gates—a type of the blood of Christ, with which our consciences being purged from dead works, we become fit to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14) and to be his care. (2.) The princes, priests, and Levites, walked round upon the wall in two companies, with musical instruments, to signify the dedication of it all to God, the whole circuit of it (Neh. 12:36); so that it is likely they sung psalms as they went along, to the praise and glory of God. This procession is here largely described. They had a rendezvous at one certain lace, where they divided themselves into two companies. Half of the princes, with several priests and Levites, went on the right hand, Ezra leading their van, Neh. 12:36. The other half of the princes and priests, who gave thanks likewise, went to the left hand, Nehemiah bringing up the rear, Neh. 12:38. At length both companies met in the temple, where they joined their thanksgivings, Neh. 12:40. The crowd of people, it is likely, walked on the ground, some within the wall and others without, one end of this ceremony being to affect them with the mercy they were giving thanks for, and to perpetuate the remembrance of it among them. Processions, for such purposes, have their use. (3.) The people greatly rejoiced, Neh. 12:43. While the princes, priests, and Levites, testified their joy and thankfulness by great sacrifices, sound of trumpet, musical instruments, and songs of praise, the common people testified theirs by loud shouts, which were heard afar off, further than the more harmonious sound of their songs and music: and these shouts, coming from a sincere and hearty joy, are here taken notice of; for God overlooks not, but graciously accepts, the honest zealous services of mean people, though there is in them little of art and they are far from being fine. It is observed that the women and children rejoiced; and their hosannas were not despised, but recorded to their praise. All that share in public mercies ought to join in public thanksgivings. The reason given is that God had made them rejoice with great joy. He had given them both matter for joy and hearts to rejoice; his providence had made them safe and easy, and then his grace made them cheerful and thankful. The baffled opposition of their enemies, no doubt, added to their joy and mixed triumph with it. Great mercies call for the most solemn returns of praise, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem!