The Wrong Asaph – Nehemiah 11 and Friends [Totally Hip Gratitude]

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Today’s Passage: Nehemiah 11:17, 1 Chronicles 6:31-32, 39, Nehemiah 2:7-8

Nehemiah picks up where Ezra left off with the restoration of Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile. It primarily concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, and it contains a few instances of the word “thanks” near the end, so let’s take a look and see what we can learn about thankfulness.

There’s a lone instance in chapter 11, in the middle of one of those beloved Biblical roll calls. The text identifies one “Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer” (11:17). This guy’s job apparently was to start the thanksgiving, and I couldn’t help noticing he’s the great-grandson of Asaph. Could this be Asaph the Psalmist? I wondered. At work, contemplating the possibilities, I began making elaborate plans to look for instances of thanks in the psalms of Asaph and connect them to this verse, observing the roots of the tradition in which Mattaniah continued as the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer.

So of course it’s not the same Asaph.

After doing entirely too much research, I discovered that Asaph the Psalmist was a contemporary of King David (thanks, David reigned roughly around 1000 BC (thanks, Jewish Virtual Library), and the book of Nehemiah covers events in the late 5th century BC (that’s again). A gap of over 500 years is more than four generations; Asaph the Psalmist would have been long dead by the time Mattaniah was born. Nehemiah also mentions another Asaph, the keeper of King Artaxerxes’ forest, in Nehemiah 2:8. “Asaph” is apparently one of those names where you can’t assume every Asaph mentioned throughout the Bible is the same guy, any more than you can assume there’s only one Edward in the Encyclopedia Britannica. However, the name “Asaph” apparently doesn’t appear before Israel’s monarchical period, so it may well be that it became popular to name children for the well-known psalmist.

So we went down a rabbit hole today. Sometimes that happens when you’re poking around looking to find something new. We’ll take another shot at this topic tomorrow with Nehemiah 12, but in the meantime: aren’t you thankful we looked briefly into the various Asaphs of the Bible so we can sort them out?

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