The Choir Director’s Big Day (Nehemiah 12:40-47)

I have to have some fun with this passage today, as it really tickles a bone down deep inside me to read hear about choirs and musicians being honored and prioritized. When I set out into the world of education after high school, I thought that it was to such a position and career I was headed. Church choirs and orchestras were a big deal then. Contemporary worship was yet to be born. And even though my primary focus drifted from music to pastoral ministry even before I had graduated from college, serving as a minister of music with choral and orchestral conducting was still a primary part of what I would do in local churches for a handful of years. And it was exuberating I must say. And though I made my change away from traditional to contemporary worship with my eyes open many years ago, believing it would be the best way of reaching our culture and world, a part of me still loves the grand sounds of a large choir, orchestra and pipe organ.

The two choirs marched around the wall in opposite directions, meeting ultimately at the Temple. It may well be that they performed some sort of antiphonal singing – meaning a type of back and forth expression, or something with one group echoing the other.

The passage goes on to not only describe this day, but to also give detail as to how an ongoing system of support was arranged for the functioning of worship. Detailed arrangements were made that offerings would be provided to support the priests, Levites, and musicians. This was re-establishing what the Law had prescribed for the worship experience of the nation, something largely forgotten and alien to the experience of people who had been dispersed, along with their physical center of faith being destroyed.

What are the timeless truths that arise from an Old Testament passage such as this? Should we re-establish choirs and pay musicians to live in the church building? No, that’s not the ticket. We do need to take from this that God is to be worshipped and prioritized in all of life. Honoring him centrally in all we do needs to be the highest priority. Doing that together with others on the first day of the week is an important feature of this, and we should “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (as it says in Hebrews 10:25).

But as Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4, a day was coming when true worshippers would not be about doing it at a single place like Jerusalem, but that it would be in “spirit and truth.”  We don’t go to church to meet God at the specific place where his glory especially dwells, because we have in this church age the Spirit of God living in us. We don’t go to church merely to do church, we ARE the church and we gather to do more together than we can do alone – both in worship and service.

When the Israelites gathered and worshipped on this occasion, it says that the sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

As we live our faith and live a legacy, oh that it would be true of us that the “sound” and knowledge of the joy and reality of life in Christ would be very evident to the outside world. And may that be true of our church and our churches in this community! May it be that our relationships with God and with each other are the stuff that makes those yet to know Christ say to themselves, “Where can I sign up to be a part of something like that?”

12:40 – The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets— 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

44 At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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