(1) Repairing the Northern and Western Walls (3:1–15)
1Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zaccur son of Imri built next to them.
3The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. 4Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. 5The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.
6The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. 7Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah— Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. 8Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. 10Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. 11Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.
13The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah. They rebuilt it and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. They also repaired five hundred yards of the wall as far as the Dung Gate.
14The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.
15The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallun son of Col-Hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah. He rebuilt it, roofing it over and putting its doors and bolts and bars in place. He also repaired the wall of the Pool of Siloam, by the King’s Garden, as far as the steps going down from the City of David.
3:1 “Eliashib” was the grandson of Jeshua (Neh 12:10), the leader in the time of the construction of the temple. The priests, even the high priest, did not just direct others, but they themselves “went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate.” The Sheep Gate (cf. John 5:2) was near the northeast corner of the wall and near the temple area. It probably was so named because sheep destined for sacrifice usually were brought in there to the market.
There were two towers on the north wall since this was the only side not naturally defended by a steep hill. The “Tower of Hananel” probably was the same as “the citadel by the temple” in 2:8 (cf. 7:2). T. Eskenazi observes that this tower is mentioned in only two places outside Nehemiah (cf. 12:39): Jer 31:38 and Zech 14:10. The context of both these texts is the eschatological restoration of Jerusalem. Its mention in the ceremony of dedication in 12:39, “combined with the consecretation in Neh 3:1, gathers around it associations and expectations that extend beyond mere architectural information. Such clustering of associations casts the sanctification and the repair or restoration of the Tower of Hananel as the enactment of a larger theological-salvific vision.” Building the wall was part of the fulfillment of the word of Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1) and its completion would mean the restoration of the holy city (11:1, 18), despite the incompleteness of that restoration due to the continuing sins of the people.
When the people finished the whole wall, they had a dedication ceremony. This is the only section where a separate dedication is mentioned. T. Eskenazi believes that this amounted to the high priest’s dedication of the whole project and that it shows its religious significance. The walls, she argues, were regarded as an extension of the house of God.
3:2 This was a cooperative effort. People from all professions and trades helped, coming from many villages and outlying areas of Judah. In some cases the names of the leaders are not mentioned.
3:3 The “Fish Gate” was near the northwest corner, probably also called the Ephraim Gate (8:16; 12:39; 2 Kgs 14:13) and the Middle Gate (Jer 39:3). There probably was a fish market there at one time. It is thoght to have been near the location of the present-day Damascus Gate.
3:4 “Meremoth” was known to both Ezra and Nehemiah. “Repaired,” literally “to make firm or strong,” is used many times in the following verses. At times, especially in vv. 16–31, it is used even if the old wall was located at a different place and a completely new section of wall had to be built.
3:5 “Tekoa,” located southeast of Bethlehem, was the home of the prophet Amos. Since it was close to the area controlled by Geshem the Arab, perhaps the nobles who “would not put their shoulders to the work” were influenced by or afraid of him. Whatever their reason, it indicates that some of the Jews did not support Nehemiah’s plan.
3:6 The name “Jeshanah gate,” is often understood as an abbreviated form of “the gate of the old city” or slightly emended to read “the Mishneh Gate,” opening into the second (mišneh) district of Jerusalem on the western hill (2 Kgs 22:14; Zeph 1:10). It was near the northwest corner of the walled city.
3:7 Gibeon, modern El-Jib, was about six miles northwest of Jerusalem. Originally a Canaanite city that tricked Joshua into an alliance (Josh 9–11), it was made a levitical city in Benjamin (Josh 18:25; 21:17). “Mizpah,” probably the modern Tell en-Nasbeh, was located in the territory of Benjamin (Josh 18:26) about seven and a half miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was fortified by King Asa (1 Kgs 15:22), and Gedaliah governed there after the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kgs 25:23). Meronoth was probably nearby. “Places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates,” a difficult phrase to translate, is literally “to the seat of the governor of Trans-Euphrates.” Fensham translates “up to the quarters of the governor of TransEuphrates,” which gives the impression that the governor had a place to stay in Jerusalem. Mizpah probably was the governor’s residence when he visited the province.
3:8 Guilds such as “goldsmiths” and “perfume-makers” have been known since ancient Sumer. The social organization also must have included many other guilds such as potters and bakers, who may have contributed to the building project by working at their trade.
“They restored Jerusalem” may also be rendered, “They left out” or “abandoned [part of] Jerusalem” (the more common meaning; see NIV text note). If this is the intended meaning, it suggests that the builders left the course of the old wall at this point or that they left part of the former city outside the wall.
3:9 The word “district,” pelek, refers to the countryside near a town or city. The province of Judah was subdivided into smaller administrative areas. The Persians often left the administration of these units in the hands of the local people, so some of these may have been Jews who had not gone into captivity. Whatever their background, the involvement of rulers (cf. vv. 12–19)—along with priests, merchants, and people from outlying towns—shows an amazing cooperative spirit as well as Nehemiah’s administrative skill.
3:10 Naturally those with homes near the wall would have been most enthusiastic about making repairs in that area (cf. vv. 23, 28–30).
3:11 “Repaired another section” also can be translated “repaired a second section,” meaning that these men finished one section and then worked on another. A number of men and groups are named as doing the same. The ovens referred to in this verse (also 12:38) would have been either for baking bread or for firing pottery.
3:12 “Shallum,” as was Rephaiah in v. 9, was ruler of part of the countryside around Jerusalem. Some understand bĕnôt, “daughters,” as “small towns” and translate “he and men from small towns.” It is true that bĕnôt is used of “daughter” towns, but here the masculine suffix argues for the NIV translation. If Shallum had no sons, his daughters would have inherited his property (Num 27:1–11). This mention of women involved in the work again demonstrates the extent of Nehemiah’s support and his mobilization of the people.
3:13 Zanoah” was about thirteen miles southwest of Jerusalem. The “five hundred yards” was a long sector, which may indicate much of the old wall at that point was still in good condition.
3:14 “Beth Hakkerem,” the capital of a district of Judah, has not been identified with certainty. It may have been at Ramat Rahel three miles south of Jerusalem near Bethlehem, about five miles west of Jerusalem at Ein Karim, or at a site yet to be identified.
3:15 The “district” of Mizpah was distinct from the town and had its own ruler (see v. 19 and comments at 3:9). “The City of David” refers to the eastern hill, the original City of David, which was a small area south of the temple.
(2) The Construction of the Eastern Wall (3:16–32)
16Beyond him, Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of a half-district of Beth Zur, made repairs up to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool and the House of the Heroes.
17Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district. 18Next to him, the repairs were made by their countrymen under Binnui son of Henadad, ruler of the other half-district of Keilah. 19Next to him, Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section, from a point facing the ascent to the armory as far as the angle. 20Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21Next to him, Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired another section, from the entrance of Eliashib’s house to the end of it.
22The repairs next to him were made by the priests from the surrounding region. 23Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. 24Next to him, Binnui son of Henadad repaired another section, from Azariah’s house to the angle and the corner, 25and Palal son of Uzai worked opposite the angle and the tower projecting from the upper palace near the court of the guard. Next to him, Pedaiah son of Parosh 26and the temple servants living on the hill of Ophel made repairs up to a point opposite the Water Gate toward the east and the projecting tower. 27Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel.
28Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. Next to him, Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, the guard at the East Gate, made repairs. 30Next to him, Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. Next to them, Meshullam son of Berekiah made repairs opposite his living quarters. 31Next to him, Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and the merchants, opposite the Inspection Gate, and as far as the room above the corner; 32and between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and merchants made repairs.
The style of this section of the text is somewhat different from vv. 1–15. The most evident difference is that the landmarks are now primarily houses and other buildings instead of gates. Some scholars think they were originally two different lists; however, a better explanation is that the wall on the east side of the city did not follow the old wall but was built farther up on the crest of the hill.
3:16 Beth Zur was a town some thirteen miles south of Jerusalem and marked the southern limits of the province of Judah. The Nehemiah mentioned here is a different “Nehemiah” from the one we have been following. “The artificial pool” may have been the same as the King’s Pool of 2:14.
3:17–21 Hashabiah was a Levite who was ruler of his territory. The high priest’s house is mentioned in v. 20. On one side of the house the Levites built the wall (vv. 17–19), and the priests built on the other side (vv. 20–22). In 10:1–8 Baruch (3:20) and Meremoth (3:21) are listed among the priests.
As the NIV text note indicates, the Hebrew has “Bavvai” in v. 18, which is considered a scribal error for “Binnui.” Verse 24 says he also restored another section. Ezer probably was ruler of the city of Mizpah as opposed to the countryside (v. 15).
It must have been a great honor for Baruch (whose name meant “blessed”) to have been commended for zeal by Nehemiah (v. 20). His zeal for such “menial tasks” as building a wall for the Lord must have inspired those who worked with him.
3:22–27 “The surrounding region” (v. 22) must refer to the rural area around Jerusalem. The “court of the guard” (v. 25) is mentioned in Jer 32:2. “The hill of Ophel” was part of the east ridge between the City of David and the temple area (2 Chr 27:3; 33:14). It had been included in the city by Solomon.
Fensham suggests that “opposite the Water Gate” refers to a turn in the wall so that it was “opposite” the Water Gate. However, if the new wall was farther up the slope than the old wall, then “opposite” the gate may simply mean “up the hill” from that gate (“above” in v. 28 may be equivalent to “opposite” in v. 31). The “Water Gate” led from the palace-temple complex to the Gihon Spring (cf. 8:1, 3, 16; 12:37).
3:28–29 The text of 2 Chr 23:15 gives the impression that the “Horse Gate” was an entrance to the palace, but Jer 31:40 indicates it was a gate in the city wall.
“The East Gate” in v. 29 is related to “the east gate of the Lord’s house” in Ezek 10:19 (cf. also 11:1; 40:6, 10). It is thought to have been where the Golden Gate later stood.
3:30–31 There were chambers or rooms in the temple construction as indicated by Ezra 10:6 and Neh 12:44. Tobiah’s family was related by marriage to Meshullam (Neh 6:18), who even gave Tobiah the use of one of these rooms (13:4–9). “The Inspection Gate” in v. 31 is sometimes translated “Muster Gate” or “Watch Gate.” Blenkinsopp suggests it may have been “a designated point for assembly and review, perhaps for the temple or palace guard.”
Despite its mundane appearance, this chapter is more than a construction record. Although the walls and gates would serve a military purpose (cf. Neh 4), the book’s concern for separation from pagan influence suggests it also had symbolic significance (cf. 13:19–22). Rather than simply providing security, the walls encouraged in the people of God a sense of identity and distinctiveness. Their restoration also represented a reversal of the humiliation of defeat and destruction suffered because of Israel’s sin (cf. 2:3, 17). Like the restored temple, the rebuilt walls would assure the Jews of God’s redemptive presence among them. For the Christian, however, the continuing demonstration of God’s powerful and loving presence is the cross (Rom 5:5–11).
This chapter also contains important teachings for Christians today. One reason the work progressed was that everyone took part, from rulers and temple personnel to merchants and citizens with their families (cf. 1 Cor 12:4–13, 27–30). Even the people from the villages who lived a distance from Jerusalem also helped. They felt part of the community, even though they personally received fewer direct benefits. McConville suggests that “their co-operation on the walls is one of the Old Testament’s finest pictures of its ideal of Israelite brotherhood” (cf. John 17:21–23; 1 Thess 1:7–8; 2 Cor 8:3–5; 9:1–2). Even their enemies were amazed at the results (notice the same in Acts 2:43–47; 4:32). In order not only to survive but also to be effective in the midst of opposition from a hostile secular culture, the church must exhibit a cooperative spirit. Another reason for the Jews’ success was Nehemiah’s wise delegation of labor. He knew how to choose leaders and to delegate authority (cf. 2 Tim 2:2). Also, many built the part nearest their own house. A leader must take into account family and incentive factors in planning and delegating responsibilities (cf. Eph 4:11–13).
—New American Commentary