Bible Commentary: Nehemiah 11

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Nehemiah 11

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The People of Jerusalem and Other Towns of Judea 

In chapter 5, Nehemiah had been concerned with the lack of people living in Jerusalem and a census was taken of the Jews of Judea with that concern in mind. Now we see that this was to provide the groundwork for a redistribution of the population so as to move more people into the capital. Nehemiah's solution was to "tithe" from the outlying areas—directing a tenth of the people from around the country to relocate to Jerusalem.

This was determined by lot (Nehemiah 10:1)—as was the responsibility for the wood offering in the previous chapter (Nehemiah 10:34). "The casting of lots, small stones or pieces of wood, was viewed by the Jews as a pious way of determining God's will. Thus Nehemiah left the choice of those who should move to Jerusalem up to God. The practice was used in choosing portions of the land to be occupied by the original conquerors of Canaan in Joshua's time" (Lawrence Richards, The Bible Reader's Companion, 1991, p. 320).

Yet notice from verse 2 that those who moved did so as a willing offering of themselves. To uproot from family and friends and move to a distant place to forge new friendships and a new life is never an easy thing. Yet, they were willing to move for the sake of serving God, just as people through the ages have done (and still do) to serve God's work and purpose.

Verses 3-24 list various residents of Jerusalem and some of their responsibilities. Verses 25-36 then list people in outlying areas. As in other passages regarding the people of Judea following the Babylonian Exile, we can see here that only two tribes of Israel are represented besides the priests and Levites—Judah and Benjamin. The people of the tribe of Judah dwelt in 17 towns and their surrounding villages. The Benjamites lived in 15 towns. "The limits of the Judean settlement after the return from Babylon have been confirmed by archaeological evidence; none of the YHD-YHWD (the official designation of the Persian province of Judea) coins have been found outside the area demarcated by these verses" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 25-30).