The Nethinim

Now the rest of the people—the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding— these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes. (Nehemiah 10:28-29)

The Nethinim

There is little known about a class of people called the Nethinim, which appear in the post-exilic books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Hebrew tradition suggests that Ezra wrote the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, which reference the Nethinim. Appearing only eighteen times in scripture, the Nethinim are included with the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, and singers of temple worship. The function of the Nethinim was the menial tasks of servitude in helping the priests and Levites carry out their work. These were the lowly servants doing the common labor jobs in temple worship. Someone had to do the undesirable jobs, and the Nethinim were tasked with the work.

The Bible tells the stories of great men like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah. Families like the sons of Jacob fill the pages of holy writ. Everyone knows the stories about the flood, the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, God giving the commandments to Israel, and the conquest of Canaan. David’s courage before Goliath is imprinted in the minds of everyone. Great prophets like Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah stir the souls of the people of God with power and victory. The return of Israel from bondage, the building of the temple, and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem complete the story of the people of God in the Old Testament. In the midst of all these great stories are a people called the Nethinim that God chose to preserve in the divine record. Their work was menial, hard, and lowly, but God knew them, and He kept their name for all generations to read and take note of.

Nothing escapes the eyes of the Lord. Without the divine record, the Nethinim would have never been known. Their knowledge in the world is firmly established in the record of God’s word. The work they did was not glorious or rewarding. It is doubtful that many Hebrews aspired to grow up and become a Nethinim. There were probably as many Nethinim who longed to be a Levite, priest, or someone of notable character. The lot of Nethinim was to serve, and God took note. Reading the Bible always brings fascinating revelations, especially when the nuggets of God’s hand strike across a page with a simple reference to the Nethinim. Who were they, and what was their story? So little is known about them, but after 2500 years, their names are still on the lips of those who read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

There are a lot of Nethinim in the church today. They may not have the more visible works in the church or names to be remembered. What is a joy to find are the quiet servants working in the kingdom doing what they can to help. It may be menial jobs of cleaning the building, printing and preparing class material, setting the Lord’s Supper in its proper place, working the vast array of electronics to carry the message to the world, mowing the grass, or sweeping off the sidewalks. There are many Nethinim that take food to the needy, help others make their doctor appointments, write cards and letters to the downtrodden, and show the glory of God by finding their place in the assembly every time the doors are open. God remembered the work of the Nethinim through the ages and knew the names of all His faithful who quietly go about their work in the kingdom. These modern-day Nethinim will not have their names listed in the Bible, but they do have their names written in the Book of Life. God knows who you are. Thank you.

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