The unbelievably boring list of people returning to live in Jerusalem concludes in chapter 12. Then follows a boring description of the ceremony to dedicate the new walls. Levites throughout the land were invited to come and participate, and their names and duties (like who played what instrument and who sang in the choir) are related in exhausting detail. Who gives a …? The chapter concludes with a list of those assisting with performing services at the temple, which includes the line “The custom of having choir directors to lead the choirs in hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God began long ago in the days of David and Asaph.” (v 46). So I guess that’s where the modern church choir stems from.
The ethnic cleansing continues. Nehemiah finds a passage in the Book of Moses that says that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. (Hey, what about Ruth?) The reason goes all the way back to Numbers 22 (talk about holding a grudge!). When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly (v 3). But then Nehemiah discovers that one of the priests had allowed an Ammonite relative (one of the same guys who tried to stop the wall from being rebuilt) to camp out in a storage room in the temple. Nehemiah not only kicks the guy out, he demands that the room be ‘purified’.
Nehemiah continues on his rampage, chasing and reprimanding anyone who transgresses the promises the people all made only a couple of chapters ago (that didn’t take long, did it?). In particular, he is big on keeping the Sabbath. And then whaddya know, the people are intermarrying again, and not only that, but they have children who can’t even speak Hebrew! Nehemiah reacts by….. well, I’ll let him tell it: “I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land.” (v 25) Sure, that ought to fix it! But the final verses don’t make it exactly clear whether or not Nehemiah actually exiled the foreign women and split up the families they way Ezra did. Verse 30 just says “Thus cleansed I them from all strangers” (KJV); or “So I purged out everything foreign” (NLT). Pretty ambiguous. But Nehemiah is proud of his accomplishments, and ends the book with “Remember this in my favor, O my God.”