Nehemiah 12: Restoring the City of God or How to Preach a List of Names -- By: Peter J. Gentry

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 09:3 (Fall 2005)
Article: Nehemiah 12: Restoring the City of God or How to Preach a List of Names
Author: Peter J. Gentry

Nehemiah 12:
Restoring the City of God or How to Preach a List of Names

Peter J. Gentry

Peter J. Gentry is Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Director of the Hexapla Institute at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served on the faculty of Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College and also taught at the University of Toronto, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Tyndale Seminary. Dr. Gentry is the author of many articles and book reviews and is currently preparing a critical text of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs for the Göttingen Septuagint.


During the last forty years I have heard many sermons on Nehemiah. Although the church has neglected the Old Testament in general, the Book of Nehemiah was not excluded by this practical Marcionism. Probably the attention it received was due to the fact that this is a part of the Old Testament that the average preacher or teacher felt could be easily understood. The book was eminently practical and applications were immediate, whether in terms of aiding and abetting a church building program, or finding principles to inspire a church in spiritual disrepair to work together in the face of various kinds of opposition from within and without and accomplish great things for God. Some have focused on leadership tips. I have not, however, heard a single sermon on Nehemiah 12. Its dry and dusty lists of unpronounceable names remained as opaque to understanding as other parts of the Old Testament and utterly irrelevant for the Christian church, unless one were to see a parallel between it and lists of charter members duly recorded and encased in the cornerstone of a church edifice: “Built to the Glory of God 1964.”

Such an approach, however, belies our claims for biblical inspiration and inerrancy and reveals, in practical terms, a low view of scripture. “Every word of God is perfect,” says Agur (Prov 30:5), and Nehemiah 12 is no exception. It is a powerful word from the Lord, especially for the church today. After briefly reviewing the historical and literary context of chapter 12 and devoting some attention to its contents, this brief study will seek to identify its message by correlating the chapter to the book of Nehemiah as a whole and to the entire flow of biblical theology.

Outline of Nehemiah 12

A. A New Generation of Leaders 12:1–26

1. Priests in the Homecoming Generation 12:1–7

2. Levites in the Homecoming Generation 12:8–9

3. High Priestly Line After the Exile 12:10–11

4. A New Generation of Priests 12:12–21

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