“Then he brought me
Into the inner court.
On the outside
Of the inner gateway
There were chambers
For the singers
In the inner court.
One was at the side
Of the north gate.
The other at the side
Of the east gate,
Finally, the bronze man took Ezekiel into the inner court itself. There were two chambers in this inner court for the singers or cantors. One was by the north gate facing south, while the other was at the east gate facing north.
“Now before this, the priest Eliashib, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, was related to Tobiah. He prepared for Tobiah a large room, where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil. This was given by commandment to the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests.”
There was a strange relationship between the high priest Eliashib and Tobiah the Ammonite leader in Samaria. One of the grandsons of Eliashib, a son of the priest Joiada, married a daughter of Sanballat the Moabite, who was a fellow leader with Tobiah at Samaria. Tobiah had married the daughter of the Jewish priest Shecaniah. His son Johanan had married the daughter of Meshullam who was one of the main builders of the wall. This information was in chapter 6 of this book. Thus he had a strong relationship with the Jews at Jerusalem since they were part of his family. Both the Moabites and Ammonites were not allowed in the Assembly of God as in the preceding paragraph. Thus, the fact that Tobiah had a special room in the Temple court would seem outrageous, especially since this was supposed to be a storage place for frankincense, grain, wine, and oil for the Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and priests.
“On that day men were appointed over the chambers for the stored things, the contributions, the first fruits, and the tithes. They were to gather into them the portions required by the law for the priests and the Levites from the fields belonging to the towns. Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. They performed the service of their God. They performed the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of King David and his son King Solomon. In the days of King David and Asaph long ago, there was a leader of the singers. There were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. In the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah all Israel gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers. They set apart that which was for the Levites, while the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.”
People were appointed to watch the storage chambers. They were to oversee the contributions of the first fruits and the tithes. They were to gather the portions for the priests and the Levites from the various towns. All the people of Judah rejoiced over their priests and Levites who ministered to Yahweh with their service. The singers and the gatekeeper followed the commands of King David and King Solomon. There was a song leader to lead the songs of praise and thanksgiving. Everyone gave their portions so that all the singers, gatekeepers, Levites, and priests were compensated.
“The rest of Israel, and the priests and the Levites, were in all the towns of Judah. All of them were in their own inheritance. But the temple servants lived on Ophel. Ziha and Gishpa were over the temple servants. The overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi son of Bani, son of Hashabiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Mica, of the descendents of Asaph, the singers, in charge of the work of the house of God. There was a command from the king concerning them. A settled provision for the singers was required every day. Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, of the descendents of Zerah, son of Judah, was at the king’s hand in all matters concerning the people.”
The rest of the people lived in their own towns with their own inheritance. It is hard to figure out their inheritance since they returned from captivity with what they had. Did they get back their family inheritance? The Temple servants lived on the Ophel hill. Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of them. The overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi. He was a descended from Asaph, the singer, so he was in charge of the singers. The singers were to be provided for each day. It says the king commanded this, but the king was in Persia. There was no king in Jerusalem. Perhaps Nehemiah and Ezra were acting in the name of the king, but it is not clear. Another descendent of Judah from the Zerah line was Pethahiah who someone was the king’s hand in all this. It is not clear what his connection to the King of Persia was.
“The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, and the temple servants joined with the leaders. All the people who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, joined with their kin and their nobles. They entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses, the servant of God. They were to observe and do all the commandments of Yahweh our Lord, his ordinances, and his statutes.”
While the leaders had signed and sealed the document, the other priests and Levites, as well as the gatekeepers, singers, and temple servants agreed to the same thing. They would observe the commandments of Yahweh given to Moses, the great servant of God. In fact, all the people who separated themselves from the peoples of the land, with their whole family were to make an oath to walk in God’s Law. They would obey the ordinances and statutes of Yahweh. Thus we have a new community organized around the Law of Moses, Yahweh’s law.
“When the wall had been built, I had set up the doors. I set up the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites that had been appointed. I gave my brother Hanani charge over Jerusalem. I made Hananiah the commander of the citadel. Hananiah was a more faithful man as he feared God more than many. I said to them. ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their watch posts and others before their own houses.’ The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few. No houses had been built.”
The last things to be built were the doors by the gates. Once they were set up, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites took over. The command of Jerusalem went to Nehemiah’s brother Hanani. It seems like Hananiah is also his brother but it is not clear. He certainly was a God-fearing man. Nehemiah gave them orders not to open the gate until the sun was hot, either late morning of midday. Even then he wanted a guard to keep the doors shut and bars on the door. He wanted people from Jerusalem to be the guards. Then he realized that not many people lived in Jerusalem. Very few houses, rather than no houses had been built in Jerusalem. After all, some people had restored the wall opposite their homes. Even here it says that they posted watches by their own houses. All in all, this was a lot of activity for less than 2 months time. Notice there was not any big celebration when it was completed.
“I, King Artaxerxes decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever the priest Ezra, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, up to one hundred talents of silver, one hundred cors of wheat, one hundred baths of wine, one hundred baths of oil, and unlimited salt. Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, or wrath will come upon the realm of the king and his heirs. We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on any of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.”
The king of Persia also says that the Israelites under Ezra can raid the treasury of the Province Beyond the River with its headquarters in Samaria. However, there is a limit to how much silver, wheat, wine, and oil they may have, but salt is unlimited. If they do not let things be done for the house of the God of heavens, wrath may come upon the king and his descendents. He also said that the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and servants were to be tax exempt. They did not have pay any tribute, custom or toll. This Persian king is quite generous and favorable to Ezra and his people.
“This Ezra went up from Babylon. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that Yahweh the God of Israel had given. The king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of Yahweh his God was upon him. Some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants also went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. They came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. On the first day of the first month the journey up from Babylon was begun. On the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem. The gracious hand of his God was upon him. Ezra had set his heart to study the law of Yahweh, to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
Ezra had been born in Babylon. It is precisely this scribe Ezra who will initiate the title or group of people called “scribes.” These were the writers, copiers, and interpreters of the Hebrew Scriptures about the Law of Moses, and Yahweh. At the same time, he was like a prophet since the hand of Yahweh was upon him. Some priests and Levites, singers and gatekeepers, as well as Temple servants went with him. There is no specific number given, since it seems like a small group, not like the large group some 80 years earlier. They were leaving in the 7th year of King Artaxerxes, about 458 BCE. Their trip took about 5 months. God was with them so that nothing untold happened. Ezra wanted to study the Law of Yahweh, follow it, and teach it.