Nehemiah 3:1-32 | The Builders Of The Wall


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The Builders Of The Wall

Nehemiah 3:1-32

Key Verse 3:1

“Eliashib 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.”

Co-working! Co-working can be defined in many ways, but maybe “working together towards the same purpose” best defines what coworking is. Co-working is a subject dear to the heart of our Lord and Savior Jesus. In every way possible, Jesus often worked to unite his disciples towards the same goal and purpose. During the three and the half years in which Jesus raised his disciples, he often taught them lessons and showed them examples of working together towards with the same heart and mind. On his last day with them, in his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed to God like this— “that they may be one as we are one.” “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (Jn. 17:11,21,22) Jesus dearly wanted them to be one, to act as one, to live as one. He often talked to them about loving each other and about uniting with each other as one. It wasn’t an easy teaching, nor an easy lesson for them to follow. But later on in the book of Acts we see them uniting, and thus becoming the model church for all time. Eventually, the subject of working together or co-working became a teaching the apostles passed on to the churches they established and prayed for. As long as they had the same purpose, working for the One who saved them by his grace, they put aside their differences, their personal likes and dislikes, and they stood as one. Because of their unity, they were able to advance the mission given them by the Lord, which was to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Nehemiah was given a mission to accomplish. In a sense it was an impossible mission, too big for one man to accomplish on his own. So he told them: “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” And they “replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work. (2:17-18) He calls it the good work because it was a work entrusted to him by God, and in turn he entrusted it to them. And they worked together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Co-working is a major factor in fulfilling the will of God, and in serving his purpose in our lives. When a fellowship of believers are divided, they cannot stand. The work entrusted to them will be stunted. But a church united in the Lord, can fulfill any mission entrusted to it by the Lord. There is much to learn from Nehemiah about the work of building and rebuilding. And besides prayer, there is coworking or working together at the top of the list.

Nehemiah had an enormous project to accomplish. He had a city wall to rebuild. Once that city wall of Jerusalem stood magnificent. Its view struck awe in the hearts of anyone who beheld it. Even invaders thought twice before attempting to break down those walls. At the time of the crusaders, when Saladin attempted to retake the city, months went by, and thousands of lives were lost before even a small breach was made in the wall, through which the invaders could enter. The history of the city and its walls is vast, spanning generations and generations of history. And its walls would not have been subject to destruction had the Israelites listened to God and obeyed his words. But they rebelled against him, and God gave them over to their enemies. And so the walls were not only breached at the time, but the enemy made sure that the walls were demolished. Nothing was left of these tremendous walls but bits and pieces of rock here and there, and a few standing broken down gates. When Nehemiah beheld the walls and surveyed them, he knew it would not be a small job, that it would require countless hands, and many months of working for the walls to go up again. They needed rebuilding. And chapter 3 is the story of those who rebuilt those walls.

When we read the chapter, there are some repeated phrases. “beside him” and “next to him” are repeated countless times. It is the theme of the rebuilding work. These words capture the spirit of the rebuilding project. It was a work that was done by a community of people working towards the same goal. We are sure that these people had their own differences. We are certain that they were as all people are, different from one another and in many ways. They had quarrels and disputes of their own. They were a city of folk divided by districts, some poor and some rich. Some worked for one cause while others worked for another. They were different. But they were the same when it came to their love for God and for his city. They agreed that they were God’s people endowed with God’s special grace, set apart for his glory. And when the time for working towards the rebuilding of the walls, they stood together with one heart and mind. Nehemiah repeats the phrase “beside him” and “next to him” because they worked not apart but side by side in this endeavor. When a people love their God and are convinced of the importance of the mission he has given them, they can work side by side, one beside the other, and one next to the other. It is a beautiful picture of the virtue of coworking, of working together towards the same goal. If Christians would learn this virtue, as a command given by the Lord, as a matter dear to his heart, any work given them, they can accomplish. We too must learn to put aside all our differences, for the sake of the Lord and his Gospel, and learn to work together, beside each other, one next to the other. In that way the work given to us can surely be accomplished rather than be in a constant limbo or appear stunted or hindered by our human differences. Nehemiah had spoken to them about the need to rebuild those walls. And they had stood together as one man next to the other, and had given themselves to the task of rebuilding.

Unity is always a key element, or virtue, in fulfilling the Lord’s work. But just the thought or desire for unity is not enough. Many may wish for unity. But wishing or praying about it is not enough. Unity surely requires some sacrifices and heroic deeds on the part of God’s people in the name or cause of unity. Just as chapter 3 is the story of those who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, so also it is the story of the sacrifices they made. Their sacrifices may not be evident at first glance. But when we look deeply into Nehemiah’s story we see many sacrifices and heroic deeds that contributed to the rebuilding of those walls. Here are the sacrifices some people made in the process of rebuilding the walls.

Read verse 1. “Eliashib 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.” The high priest is the first person mentioned who volunteered in this great work. The high priest was the first to put his hand to the work. Most people in high positions in the work of God think themselves exempt from the work. They would send out others to serve some cause of mission, but would refrain from doing so themselves, pretending that other things of greater importance demand their time and strength. But the high priest here put his hand to the work of rebuilding. Why was it important that he do so? He had to lay the foundation. He had to set the example. He had to pave the way for the mission to be done. In this Nehemiah also tells us that the high priest’s fellow priests worked with him to rebuild the sheep gate as well.

They had chosen to rebuild the sheep gave first. It was the gate through which sheep and other cattle were brought into the city for the spiritual sacrifices demanded by God to be made on a regular basis. The walls of the city were of grave importance! They provided security for the city and its inhabitants. They provided ease of mind for those who were constantly under threat of attack by enemies. But in truth there was nothing more important for the rebuilding than the sheep gate. It was the symbol of worship to God. The worship God demanded of his people was the priority of the high priests and his colleagues. Rebuilding it was even more important than the people’s sense of security. Worship to God which demanded the sacrifices of sheep at the time, was the priority to the people and their priests. The high priest deeply understood that. The people deeply understood that. The sheep gate had to be rebuilt. The sheep had to come through that gate before anything else could be done for the walls. The sacrifices had to be made. Worship of God had to be the first activity to be secured.

Look at verse 1 again. Twice the word “dedicated” is used. Once the gates were rebuilt and standing, they needed to be dedicated to God. So they dedicated the gate to God. They dedicated the worship to God. They dedicated the people who worship God. The dedication was as an offering and a prayer to sanctify the work to be done on the walls. These people knew the enormity of the work to be done. They knew that they needed God’s blessing to accomplish the impossible. They knew that God’s blessing would come when they dedicated the work, all the work, to God and to his glory. So they prayed and dedicated the sheep gate. It was the cornerstone of all the work to be done. In this we see two things. We see clearly that the servants of God must always be first to do the work given them by God to do. It’s a sacrifice they are required to make. And we also see that any work to be done for the Lord requires dedication. We must dedicate our life and ministry to the Lord so that God may bless the work we are doing in our life and generation.

In verses 2, 5 & 7 we see that he work was not only done by people who lived in the city of Jerusalem, but people came from all over the region in order to participate in the great work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The people of Jericho, the people of Tekoa and the people of Gibeon and Mitzpah all had a part of the wall to work on. The work on the walls of the city was not a selfish kind of work. it was not a work of convenience. Not only those who would benefit from the security of the walls of Jerusalem gave their hearts to the work. People from surrounding towns came to work on the walls, even though they did not live in Jerusalem. Why? Because it was a work done not for security or prestige, but a work done for the glory and honor of the God of heaven. The God they loved and his city were dear to their hearts. So they would make many sacrifices in order to rebuild those walls. They would take pride in their work as well, because whether they lived there or not, the city and the work belonged to God. it was God whom they were serving, and not the people of Jerusalem. It was God they were serving. This truth is so important for us. Most people, even in the Christian family will not do any kind of work if it does not benefit them personally, or unless they have an interest in the work to be done. It is a sad reality when that happens. Christians are called to serve the Lord, and the Lord has taught us to serve his purpose not out of convenience or for our benefit, but for his own glory. We must remember that.

Look at verse 12. “Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.” Here is a family whose name went down in history. Shallum’s family. We are not sure whether Shallum had any sons but we know that it did not stop him from participating in the work of rebuilding. In those days, all such tasks required men to do the work, especially in the laborious work of wall building. But it did not stop Shallum’s daughters. Perhaps Shallum did not want them risking their lives working on putting stone to stone. Perhaps he even offered his daughters for the work. But clearly those daughters of his were as brave and sacrificial as any other in the region. They did not want to be excluded from this high and noble task of serving God. They could not be priests, but they could surely put their hand to working. How precious they were. How great this family. A family who was determined to serve the work of God regardless of how dangerous the work was. It is fathers like this, and daughters like these through whom the work of God had happened in history. They are the ones who make history as well. God’s work does not require skill. God’s work requires sacrifice. Those who are ready to sacrifice, usually are the builders of the church and the ministry which this work so urgently needs. May God raise up many such Shallums and daughters as his in the work of building and rebuilding of our ministry.

Look at verse 5. “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” In the midst of countless people who worked on the walls, there were also those who did not want to work. Nehemiah mentions here the kind of people who refused to work. Nehemiah never obliged anyone to work on the wall. It was a volunteer work. the people had heard that it was the will of God to rebuild the wall, and they had responded, but not the nobles of Tekoa. Instead of coming to Jerusalem with the people of their own town, they sent workers to work on the walls of Jerusalem. They may have thought that they would be commended or thanked for sending men to work on the walls of Jerusalem. But Nehemiah saw their absence form a different point of view. They were nobles, who did not want to put their shoulders to work. they did not like to be supervised, so they did not want to work under the supervision of someone else. They were people of wealth and nobility. But there was nothing noble about them. They were proud. They were too lofty in their own eyes for the work to do done. They were foolish not to include themselves in the great work God was doing. Their names were left out, and only mentioned as those who would not work.

On the other hand, there were many others of equal status who did put their own shoulder to work on the walls. In this chapter there is yet another phrase that seems to be repeated. Six times the words “the ruler of such and such a distrct”. It seems that Jerusalem was divided into sectors even at the time of its ruined walls. It was a huge city of thousands. And it was divided by districts. But the rulers of those districts did not leave the work to be done by their underlings, as the men of Tekoa did. Rather they put their hand to work. Most people in high positions would not be too keen on working menial jobs. But these men were glad to work the wall. It may have looked like a menial job, but not to their eyes. There is no work of God in God’s history that is ever menial. Jesus had given his disciples the mission to have the people sit down before he was going to feed them with the five loaves and two fish. Compared with the great and awesome work of feeding 5000 men with five loaves and two fish, the work of having the people sit down in groups of 50 seemed menial. But it was not. It was the work Jesus had given them to do. And no work of God is every menial. There are always those in God’s history who would rather do something impressive and visible than to do something that will gain them no recognition or honor. But the man or woman of God always know that the smallest of God’s work is greater than any work done in this sinful world. The rulers of the districts were indeed great. They were great because they served alongside their fellow men, and workers. They coworked in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In that way the walls were rebuilt. They were rebuilt by the unity and the sacrificial spirit that overshadowed the hearts of all the people.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 summarizes the spirit of coworking and the significance of it. “ The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

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