Registration By Families
Nehemiah 7:1-5 (+ 6-73)
Key Verse 7:5a
“So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.”
Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem had been difficult. Attempts to hinder the work, together with threats against Nehemiah were made. But the work kept on going on and the walls kept on rising. And here is what Nehemiah writes after all the hindrances and the threats. In 6:15-16 he says, “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” The walls were up. It was supposed to be over. But it wasn’t. After the rebuilding of the wall, there was another rebuilding project to be fulfilled as well. It was time now for Nehemiah to rebuild the nation— the people of God. And that is the story of chapters 7 & 8. The rebuilding of a people— a nation! And the rebuilding project is in two parts.
Read verses 1-3. “After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.’” Nehemiah tells us that the first thing that he did after rebuilding the walls and setting the doors and the gates in place, was to appoint some people to a special service. That special service is made clear in chapters 7 & 8, the first part of which we will look at today. It is interesting who Nehemiah puts in charge of the new building project he was about to launch. Hanani his brother as well as Hananiah the commander of the citadel.” Two people in charge of the second building project Nehemiah was commissioned to undertake. He would still be the one responsible in the sight of God. But in choosing assistants he can rely on, whom does he choose and why? Nehemiah chose his brother Hanani who originally brought him the news about Jerusalem and the exiles, a man who was as devoted to God’s will as Nehemiah himself. And the other person is Hananiah the commander of the fortress. He was a soldier, a commander in charge of protecting and defending the citadel. But Nehemiah chooses him for the next project because as he tells us, he was a man of integrity— a man who feared God more than most men do. Nehemiah believed that the work of God is more secure in the hands of those with integrity— which those who fear God. They live not in the sight of men but in the sight of God. They are loathe dishonesty and are immune to material corruption and bribes. The project which Nehemiah was commissioned to carry out here, requires accuracy and absolute honesty, because it is related to worship. And in worship, holiness is of the essence.
Read verse 4.“Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.” Actually they had rebuilt some, but a large number of houses remained in ruins. The majority of the returned exiles, had devoted all their resources to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls. These people had major internal problems— problems as severe as oppression, slavery, homelessness and such— problems needing immediate attention. But remarkably they had devoted themselves one and all first to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls. Their action tell us several things about them. First, it reveals their obedience to the will of God. Second, it reveals how much they valued God’s work— putting God’s own interests above their own. Third, it reveals their hearts’ desire— their intent on fully returning to God. Fourth, it also reveals how much they longed for God to restore his glory among them. The rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls, was a testament to God’s promises— that God’s word of promise is true— that God was restoring them as a people belonging to God. They had serious internal problems. But they were ready to put aside their own problems and their own needs in order to see the Jerusalem walls rebuilt.
But when they devoted themselves, one and all, to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls, at the cost of their own comfort and needs, God did not ignore their sacrifices. In chapter 5, Nehemiah recognized the injustices done to them. And Nehemiah fought on their behalf against that injustice until justice was restored. Nehemiah fought injustice with his faith in God. He also fought the injustice with the truth of God— the truth that men ought to be guided not by their greed and self interest, but by the fear of God which compels them to act justly. As a result, their lives before and after God’s intervention was drastically changed. When they took care of God’s work, putting aside their own suffering and hardship, God too care of them in a remarkable way. The truth of God’s word in Matthew 6:33 cannot be clearer than in this historical incident. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Here were a suffering people seeking “first his kingdom and his righteousness” by devoting themselves to rebuilding the walls, where “all these things”, especially justice, was “given to them as well”. Truly then, any walls that God would build in our lives and around us— walls that testify to his glory and majesty— require sacrifices of us. And these sacrifices can only be made when we are ready to devote ourselves to God and to his work, rather than to solving our own problems.
And so the Jerusalem walls were built. But the whole purpose of rebuilding the wall was to rebuild the hearts of a people and a nation broken by their own sins. God’s purpose for his people had always been to witness to his grace and truth to the whole world. They were once a glorious instrument in the hand of God. They were once like an awesome and invincible wall like a beacon testifying to the glory of God. But at some point in history, they began to pursue their own ends and lost their purpose. Then they became useless to God. And that’s when God shattered them through conquest and exile. For generations they suffered at the hands of cruel oppressors. But in the end, God was ready to bring them back to himself. And they were ready to return to God. They were now ready to be built again into a bastion of faith and a testimony to God’s grace and truth to the world. It was time to rebuild their shattered and broken hearts. It was clear that they head been humbled. They had been remorseful over their sins against God. They had cried out to God in prayer for deliverance, and he had delivered them. The question is how do you rebuild a people and a nation and restore it to its original purpose? The story is in chapters 7 and 8.
Look at verse 4 again. “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.” After the wall was rebuilt Nehemiah looked and saw that the city of Jerusalem had walls but virtually no people to inhabit it. And he saw that the city was empty because the houses within Jerusalem remained in ruins. As administrator Nehemiah could have devised projects and initiated plans to rebuild the houses and thus to repopulate the city. Historically such projects have proven to be very effective. But he didn’t. And it doesn’t surprise us that he does not.
How does one rebuild a ruined nation? Look at verse 5. “So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there.” Nehemiah must have prayed as usual and God inspired his heart with a solution to another impossible task. To depend on God or not to depend on God is sometimes a matter of success or failure. To seek God’s counsel or not to seek God’s counsel sometimes is a matter of life or death. David was a man who sought God’s counsel in almost everything. But once in an urgent situation when his life was in danger, rather than seeking God’s counsel, he ran away to Philistine territories where he pretended to be a madman. David, a Goliath slayer hid behind the mask of a madman. We must not allow the urgency of our situation to deprive us of God’s counsel. God’s counsel is the best counsel we can receive in any and every situation.
How does one rebuild a shattered nation? Nehemiah was faced with a tremendous responsibility of rebuilding a nation. But the Israelites were scattered all over the province of Judah. Jerusalem, the capital city and the jewel of the nation looked like a ghost town— almost empty. Then God inspired Nehemiah what to do in order to rebuild these people— nation. God gave him the direction to assemble the nobles and officials as well as all the common people to register by families. Why did God inspire Nehemiah to assemble the entire Jewish assembly and register them by families?
First of all, Biblically the family has been the nucleus of the society and the instrument of God. In the beginning God himself created the family for his own purpose. He created the family to reflect his glory and to bring his blessing to the whole world. When the family is healthy and it holds purpose in God, then the society is healthy and can reflect God and serve his purpose. Without the family rooted in God, society would usually collapse. When the people of Noah’s time lost the purpose of the family, and used it to satisfy their own selfish desires, the family degenerated into something unholy. The people of the time considered this drift from God’s purpose a good thing. Heroes of old and men of renown were born to them. But the Bible tells us that when the family lost its purpose, the society collapsed under the weight of its own corruption and violence. Then the world ended on account of that. At first the Roman society was built on strict moral and ethical values. The society flourished as long as family values were upheld. But in the early Christian era, the Roman society was beginning to decay when they no longer kept the sanctity of the family. They experienced mass adultery, unfaithfulness, depravity, perversion and divorce. Then the Roman Empire or super-society collapsed into oblivion.
But from the ashes of the Roman society another society was rising which was composed of and built up by families of a different sort. These families were the Christian families that survived not only the fall of the Roman empire, but survived the rising and falling of many empires since. From within the decaying Roman society was arising an indestructible Society— a Christian society and culture— that is no longer defined by geographical or political borders but defined by a common confession of Christ, and a purpose to glorify and serve God. The Christian society which is made up of Christian families reflect the very purpose of the society or nation. To declare the wonders of the Lord to the whole world and to stand witness to God’s grace and truth.
When Nehemiah called families to assemble, both rich and poor, noble and commoners to register, it was also a reflection of God’s purpose for these people— for this society— for this nation called by God to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Nehemiah needed to register them by family in order to determined how these families were to serve God and his purpose. When we review chapter 7, it becomes clear what God’s purpose for them had been. It became clear why God inspired Nehemiah to register them. Nehemiah, by God’s will, needed to determine who among them were priests, Levites, singers, gate keepers and temple servants. Most of them had been associated with temple service. It is evident then that Nehemiah would resurrect the temple worship first and foremost. In rebuilding the people and nation, where would Nehemiah need to begin? He would begin by resurrecting the most essential and critical part of a society’s or people’s or nation’s existence— the worship of Almighty God. In order to rebuild the shattered nation, Nehemiah would call them to worship. And this was no casual come as you are sort of worship. Worship in the sight of God is a holy and sacred privilege for the people of God. Worship needs be done in God’s presence in God’s way. And in order to offer the proper worship to God, Nehemiah registered and selected families sanctioned by God to prepare and to offer the proper worship to God.
It is truly a marvel to know that while Nehemiah was concerned with Jerusalem being almost empty of people, he did not use his magisterial authority and skills to repopulate the city. He sought God and God showed him first how to rebuild the nation. He would first have to restore the worship of God— to bring the worship of God back to the core and center of these people and nation. The worship of God had not only been essential to the people and nation of God in history, but it has been the heart and the life of the people as well. When they genuinely loved and worshiped God, they had the light of God within them to shine on all other peoples. Where there was holy worship of God, the nation also found stability and security and succeeded in serving God’s holy purpose for the nation. But whenever they failed to put worship at the center and core of their lives, they always fell into sin and soon became like all other nations— godless and useless in fulfilling God’s purpose for them. Now they were returning to God. They had rebuild the walls of the city. It was time to rebuild them as a nation. And it must begin with holy worship of God. Nehemiah realized that when the temple worship was restored, and the people of God put temple worship first in their lives, then soon the city of Jerusalem would once again flourish and grow in population. For what is a city or nation and its great walls if that city or nation is without God! It is truly nothing.
The Christian family and Christian society have been most central to the health of any nation. And at the core of that Christian family and society must be the holy worship of God. As Nehemiah began to rebuild the people and nation by restoring temple worship, so also we must know that we cannot hope to maintain our families and society in we do not put worshiping God at the heart of our family and society. Before the advent of our Lord Jesus, temple worship required all kinds of people serving together to meet with God’s holy requirements and expectations. Still the people considered it an honor and privilege to be part of the worship service. But when our Lord Jesus came, he himself became the temple by which men can meet with God for worship. And worshiping God, as Jesus tells us, no longer requires special prescription but is purely a matter of spirit and of truth. But this is not a license to treating worship with contempt and according to our own comfort and convenience. Rather, we should hold the worship of God with reverence. When we do, then the society we live in is spared from the corruption and decadence which has been the demise of other societies.
God made the family to serve God’s purpose. And in Christ he joined family with family to create an invincible Christian family and society that can be the blessing on the whole world. May God give us reverence for worship— to put the worship of God at the heart of our family and life and society. And when the worship of God is at the heart of our life and family, may God strengthen us as a family in Christ and may he also use us to accomplish his purpose to spread the Gospel from this church family to the ends of the earth.