Rebuilding the Wall
John Riddle, Cheshunt, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Neh. 3. 1 – 8.
Nehemiah faced a daunting task. We can get some idea of the situation from Sanballat’s question, ‘Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?’ Neh. 4. 2. But Nehemiah was a man of great conviction. It was more than dogged determination. He knew that he was carrying out the will of God. ‘Neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem’, 2. 12. It was that conviction that prompted him to say to the people, ‘Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem’, 2. 17. The response was admirable, ‘And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work’. Opposition in the form of laughter and scorn left Nehemiah undaunted, ‘The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build’, 2. 20. And it was not a case of ‘after all that’s said and done, there’s more that’s said than done!’ In chapter 3, the work of rebuilding commences.
Cyril J. Barber in his book, Nehemiah and the Dynamics of Effective Leadership, calls this chapter, ‘The Formula for Success’. He writes, ‘The problem we face as we look at this chapter - at the long list of names - is that we are tempted to turn the page and continue the story at Nehemiah 4. Yet, this chapter is one of the most important in the entire book! By noting repetitious statements, certain vitally important principles emerge. From these principles we will learn the secret of Nehemiah’s success’.
Recurring phrases in the chapter make it very clear that there was nothing haphazard about the work. It was not a case of everybody ‘doing their own thing’. There was an overall plan. Nehemiah didn’t just hope it would happen. He made it happen!
Note the phrases:
i ‘Next unto him’ or ‘next unto them’, ‘after him’ or ‘after them’
Everybody was working! The work involved fellowship, but it also involved integration. All had to work in view of each other. Otherwise there could have been some dangerous gaps in the wall! Quite obviously, Nehemiah must have planned his strategy well. He knew where each person or group would work, and he assigned the men from Tekoa, Gibeon, Jericho and Mizpah, etc., to sections of the wall where no residents were close at hand. Everybody knew where they belonged, and everybody knew their particular responsibilities. Some people were required to rebuild sections of the wall from scratch, and some were required to undertake repairs. For some, it was a case of labouring on their own doorstep. Others had a wider brief, see, for example, Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah, who rebuilt the valley gate and ‘a thousand cubits’, something over a quarter mile, ‘on the wall unto the dung gate’, v. 13. Whether it was a small project, or a large one, everything was vital. But everybody knew what his work entailed, see Rom. 1. 2a, 6-8; 1 Cor. 14. 40. Nehemiah co-ordinated his workmen in the same way that the Holy Spirit co-ordinates activities in the local assembly, see 1 Cor.12. 4a-11.
ii ‘Over against his house’ or ‘over against their house’
Nehemiah took advantage of convenience. He did not have people ‘commuting’ from one end of Jerusalem to the other. This would have wasted time, and reduced efficiency. C. J. Barber notes in his commentary that, ‘by arranging for each man to work close to his own home, Nehemiah made it easy for them to get to work, to be sustained while on the job, and to safeguard those who were nearest and dearest to them. This relieved each worker of unnecessary anxiety. It also ensured that each person would put his best effort into what he was doing’. J. Sidlow Baxter observes, ‘Nehemiah set each of the forty-two different work-groups to work on that part of the wall which was nearest to where its members themselves lived. This gave them a special interest in the work. Our first obligation for Christ is always to our own neighborhood’. This statement may not be completely accurate, bearing in mind help received from elsewhere, but the principle is absolutely right!
Men from different places and different walks of life worked together on the wall. There were groups: ‘the men of Jericho’, v. 2; the Tekoites, v. 5; individuals, men and women, v. 12; there were priests and Levites, see vv. 1, 17, 22, 28; there were rulers, see vv. 9, 12, 14-18. Amongst these were professional men: the goldsmiths, vv. 8, 31; the apothecaries, v. 8; the merchants, v. 31. There were also just ordinary people, lesser known people, but all known to God. It was a case of ‘labourers together’, 1 Cor. 3. 9, and, ‘with one mind striving together’, Phil. 1. 27. Let’s remember that whilst we should recognize job titles, professional qualifications, and other distinctions in the world, all these disappear in the assembly. We are simply ‘brethren in Christ’, Col. 1. 2.
Note the categories:
I The priestly men
The priests might have absolved themselves from responsibility for working on the wall by pleading their involvement with sacred things. But they actually took the lead in the rebuilding programme! ‘Then Eliashib (whose name means ‘God will restore’ or ‘whom God restored’) the high priest, rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel’, v. 1. The priests did not consider such manual work ‘beneath their dignity!’ There is something wrong with the Bible teacher who has little or no interest in gospel and Sunday School work, or the public preacher who would never think of distributing tracts. There’s also something wrong too with the preacher who considers that it isn’t his business to lend a hand with some of the less glamorous and mundane jobs in assembly life. Let’s remember that the Lord Jesus washed His disciples’ feet as an example that we should follow.
Having commended Eliashib and his brethren for taking the initiative in the work of reconstruction, it is sobering to notice that later in Nehemiah’s absence, Eliashib provided accommodation in the temple for Tobiah the Ammonite, ‘And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah. And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat-offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil’, 13. 4-5. Nehemiah describes it as ‘evil’, 13. 7, and so it is hardly surprising that one of this man’s grandsons married the daughter of Sanballat, another leading enemy of the people of God, see 13. 28.
So, the man who led the people in building the wall to keep Tobiah out later provided a haven for him in the temple! It could be said of him, as it could be said, sadly, of so many. ‘Ye did run well’, Gal. 5. 7. Thus, we are warned that however committed we are at the present to the work of the Lord we are always subject to failure and need to ‘take heed lest we fall’, 1 Cor. 10. 12.
ii The ruling men
Various rulers worked on the wall. There was ‘Rephaiah the son of Hur, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, he and his daughters’, vv. 9, 12, and ‘Shallum the son of Halohesh, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem’. The word translated ‘ruler’ here, is usually translated ‘prince’ in the Old Testament, although it has no royal implication. Rephaiah and Shallum were certainly ‘ensamples to the flock’, 1 Pet. 5. 3. But rulers from Beth-haccerem, Mizpah, Beth-zur, and Keilah laboured as well. Even rulers didn’t consider it ‘infra dig’ to get stuck into the work!
But Nehemiah did not succeed in motivating all the leaders. ‘And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord’, v. 5. We can be absolutely sure that there will be some of the Lord’s people who just don’t want to get involved, or at best, will do the job only halfheartedly. But it’s particularly sad when those people like to be known as leaders. Some people like to be ‘on the oversight’, but do very little in the assembly. Paul urged the Thessalonians to ‘know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake’, 1 Thess. 5. 12-13.
Nehemiah uses two very significant expressions in describing the Tekoite nobles: (a) ‘Their nobles put not their necks to the work’. D. Kidner in The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Ezra and Nehemiah calls it ‘a glimpse of petty pride rather than half-heartedness’. The unbending neck is a standard picture of this unbiddable attitude. Psalm 75 verse 5 says, ‘Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck’. Compare Priscilla and Aquila who were willing to expose themselves to risk for Paul’s sake, but the Tekoite nobles were not prepared to risk anything. (b) ‘of their Lord’. They were rather like Peter when he said, ‘Not so, Lord!’ Acts 10. 14. That was a contradiction in terms if ever there was one! In view of the bad example of their nobles, it is most gratifying to notice that the Tekoites didn’t stop work but they also ‘repaired another piece, over against the great tower’, v. 27. The Tekoites put their nobles to shame. In some assemblies, the leadership leaves a lot to be desired, but that does not mean to say that everybody else is therefore entitled to ‘throw in the towel’, and do nothing.
To be continued.
AUTHOR PROFILE: John Riddle is an elder in the assembly meeting at Mill Lane Chapel, Cheshunt, and serves the Lord in written and oral ministry throughout the UK where his gifts are much appreciated. He took early retirement from business as a pensions executive.