The Levites in the days of Eliashib (Neh 12:22-12:26)

“As for the Levites, in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, they were recorded as the heads of the ancestral houses. These were the priests until the reign of Darius the Persian. The Levites, heads of ancestral houses, were recorded in the Book of the Annals until the days of Johanan son of Eliashib. The leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua son of Kadmiel, with their associates over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of King David the man of God, section opposite to section. Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers standing guard at the storehouses of the gates. These were in the days of Joiakim son of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and in the days of the governor Nehemiah and the priest Ezra, the scribe.”

This is now a more up to date list of the priests around the time of Nehemiah. However, the list goes to King Darius II who died around 405 BCE. Nehemiah had come to Jerusalem around 446 BCE. It is possible that he lived until the reign of King Darius, but he clearly was a favorite of King Artaxerxes I. We know the names of the heads of the Levitical ancestral houses until the time of Johanan because they were recorded in a book at the Temple. This must have been like the lost books of the Annals of the Kings of Judah and Israel.   The leaders were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and another Jeshua. They gave praise in antiphonal singing as they were opposite each other. The gatekeepers were Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub, who also had control over the storehouses at the Temple. All of these people were in charge during the time of the high priest Joiakim and also during the time that Governor Nehemiah and the priest scribe Ezra were in charge. It is interesting to note that it is no longer is “I” but the 3rd person who is telling this story about Nehemiah and his times.

 

The Levites with Zerubbabel (Neh 12:8-12:9)

“The Levites returning were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, who with his associates, was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. Bakbukiah and Unno, and their associates, stood opposite them in the service.”

Jeshua was the high priest with Zerubbabel. The house of Jeshua returned with the original group in Ezra, chapter 2. There is no mention here of the Immer group, the Pashhur group, the Harim group, and the Hodaviah group. However, the Kadmiel group is mentioned here, while Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah are added here. Bakbukiah and Unno are new here also. They stood opposite them which might refer to antiphonal singers, but it is not definitive.

The Levites who sign the agreement with Nehemiah (Neh 10:9-10:13)

“The Levites were Jeshua son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel, and their associates Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Bani, and Beninu.”

Most of these 16 Levite names have appeared earlier in his book. Hodiah is mentioned twice. Only Rehob and Beninu are not mentioned elsewhere in this book. All the other Levites are mentioned from 2 – 5 times in this book.


The prayer of the Levites (Neh 9:5-9:5)

“Then the Levites Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said.

‘Stand up!

Bless Yahweh your God,

From everlasting to everlasting!

Blessed be your glorious name

That is exalted above all blessing and praise.’”

This is somewhat reminiscent of Psalm 78. These are the 8 Levites just mentioned in the preceding paragraph. However Bunni has become Hodiah and Chenani has become Pethahiah. They wanted the people to stand up and bless God because he is everlasting and glorious. Therefore Yahweh should be exalted above all blessings and praises.

 

The penitential worship of Yahweh (Neh 9:1-9:4)

“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads. Then those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their ancestors. They stood up in their place. They read from the book of the law of Yahweh their God for a fourth part of the day. For another fourth, they made confession and worshiped Yahweh their God. Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the stairs of the Levites. They cried with a loud voice to Yahweh their God.”

The traditional penitential posture was fasting and sackcloth, which was the cheap cloth that things were bundled in. This seems to have been separated from Yom Kippur, but nevertheless much like it. They separated themselves from all foreigners. Then they stood and confessed their own sins as well as the evils of their ancestors. A quarter of the day they were confessing sins and then a quarter of the day they were reading or listening to a reading from the book of the law of Yahweh. 8 of them stood on the Levite steps and cried out to Yahweh. 3 of them were the people who helped explain the law in the preceding chapter, Jeshua, Bani, and Sherebiah. In fact, Bani is mentioned twice, while the others are from the ancestral Levite families that returned. Chenani is only one mentioned here and nowhere else.

Reading from the book of Moses (Neh 8:4-8:8)

“The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had made for this purpose. Beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand. Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam stood on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people. He was above all the people. When he opened it all the people stood up. Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God! All the people answered. ‘Amen, Amen!’ They lifted up their hands. Then they bowed their heads as they worshiped Yahweh with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform or tower so that they could hear and see him. This was similar to the special bronze platform of King Solomon in 2 Chronicles, chapter 6.   He had 6 people on his right side and 7 on his left side. Of the 6 on the right side Maaseiah will be also one of those instructing the people. All the others just appear here although there are numerous other biblical people with the same names. On the left side, Pedaiah, Malchijah, and Meshullam had helped with the wall. Hashum and Zechariah were from important returning families, while very little is known about Mishael and Hashbaddanah. He opened the book, probably the Book of Deuteronomy, but it is not clear. Everyone stood up as he opened the book, much like Roman Catholics stand for the reading of the Gospel of Jesus. There was the great ‘Amen’ at the end of Ezra’s blessing of Yahweh. They lifted up their hands to pray and then bowed their heads to the ground, much like the Muslim prayer position. There was another group who helped the people to understand the law. They seem to be important Levite family members, especially Jeshua, Bani, Azariah, and Hanan. Only Jamin appears here and nowhere else, while Akkub was a gatekeeper. They gave an interpretation of the law so that the people could understand it. Some commentators indicate that this might have been a translation into Aramaic, since the book was written in Hebrew. However, it could have been a commentary also.

 

The twelve priests (Ezra 8:24-8:30)

“Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their kinsmen with them. I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the vessels. These were the offerings for the house of our God that the king, his counselors, and his lords as well as all Israel present had offered. I weighed out into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver and silver vessels worth a hundred talents. I also weighted out a hundred talents of gold, twenty bowls of gold worth a thousand darics, and two vessels of fine polished bronze as precious as gold. I said to them. ‘You are holy to Yahweh. The vessels are holy. The silver and the gold are a freewill offering to Yahweh, the God of your ancestors. Guard them! Keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests, the Levites, and the heads of families in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of Yahweh.’  So the priests and the Levites took over the silver, the gold, and the vessels, as they were weighed out, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.”

Ezra himself set aside 12 priests with 2 leaders, Sherebiah and Hashabiah. Sherebiah was a very important post-exilic priest. Hashabiah was important too but that was a common name shared by about 10 other people. Once again, notice the first person singular “I.” He weighted some silver and gold and then gave it to them. A talent was roughly the equivalent of small person about 125 pound. So that when you convert pounds to ounce you get a huge amount of silver and gold. 650 talents of silver would be worth about 10 million USA dollars today. The 100 talents of gold would be worth about 100 million USA dollars. This was quite a rich fortune, over 100 million dollars. This money was vowed to Yahweh. Thus these priests and Levites had to take good care of these precious items as they brought them to Jerusalem to the house of God there.