After a short bit of backtracking to look at King Artaxerxes' decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, we're now returning to our verse-by-verse study of the book of Nehemiah. We've seen that Nehemiah has been given letters of safe travel and provision of timber from the king's forest, and sent with an army of officers and horsemen.
Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official are two enemies that will factor largely into the opposition that Nehemiah will encounter as he begins to accomplish the work of God. Their displeasure was for this reason: someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.
The devil's opposition to the people of God has continued throughout history without a break. He and those who follow him will always have a blind and irrational hatred for the Jews.
Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for three days before he inspected the condition of the wall and gates, and even then he did it by night. He didn't yet want the public to know what he was doing until he had both an accurate picture and an executable plan.
Just an observation here, but I think that looking at the devastated condition of the wall and gates in the daytime would have been simply overwhelming. But by night, each area he inspected was one area - doable, fixable, digestible. The old question, "How do you eat an elephant" is answered, "One bite at a time." With huge ministry projects, that's the only way I can fathom finishing - one step at a time.
A little at a time works both ways. In Proverbs six, there is a demonstration of this idea in two contrasts.
Prov. 6:6-11 Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest"- And your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your need like an armed man.
You can be like the ant, who accomplishes his task a small bit at a time, or like the sluggard, whose little naps here and there lead to his ruin.
This is the way things are supposed to happen in the kingdom of God. There is a huge need, an opportunity to minister, a work to be done. A man prays to the Lord, making himself available to be used of God. Then he says, "Everyone, God is leading us to do this - work with me!" And they get up and do it. Too often, the second or third step doesn't happen, and the wall stays demolished.
Sanballat and Tobiah are joined by GHEH-shem the Arab in opposing the work of the Lord. They mock, despise, and accuse in hopes of causing the Jews to fail. But Nehemiah stood strong and said that God would give them success. This is not the last we've heard from them, though. They are like satan himself, who, after tempting Jesus,
Luke 4:13 ...departed from Him until an opportune time.
In this case, the opportune time will be in chapter four.
And now we come to chapter three. Chapter three is infamous for one reason: it is one of those chapters of the Bible that people rarely read. You know how those are. You sit down to read the Bible, and you only get as far as Genesis five before you're tempted to start skipping. There are several others: Numbers chapter one is a long detail of the number of men in each tribe as they camped around the tabernacle in the wilderness. 2Samuel 23 spends half a chapter naming 37 of David's mighty men. And Nehemiah 3 basically outlines the work roster for the guys that were rebuilding the wall.
They are the least read chapters of the Bible, and yet I've found that these so-called "boring" chapters always prove to contain a vast amount of treasure in them. They often prove to hold valuable jewels, either in the form of a typological picture that shows Jesus Christ, a historical fact that unlocks a Scriptural mystery, or an applicational principle that we can apply to our lives.
For example, a hidden textual prophecy of Jesus Christ is found in that long genealogy in Genesis five. At first, it seems to be simply a listing of Adam's family tree down to Noah, and is often skipped. But in reality, that chapter contains a prophecy of the gospel. The meanings of the names of the ten men listed from Adam to Noah form a statement of prophecy in Hebrew. "Man appointed mortal sorrow. The blessed God shall come down teaching. His death shall bring the despairing rest."
Numbers chapter one is also often skipped, for it simply gives a census of the number of men in each tribe that camped to the north, south, east, and west of the tabernacle in the desert. But when you graph those numbers, an incredible picture appears - a massive cross mapped out in the wilderness!
There are also historical facts hidden in these "boring" chapters that are keys to unlock Scriptural mysteries. In 2Samuel 23, that long list of mighty men explains the reason that when David's son Ab-shaw-LOME launched a rebellion against his father, why David's trusted counselor, Akh-ee-THO-fel, was so willing to betray King David.
David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam. Chapter 23 reveals that Akh-ee-THO-fel was Eliam's dad! Akh-ee-THO-fel was Bathsheba's grandfather! David had committed adultery with his granddaughter, and killed his son's son-in-law! No wonder he was so willing to abandon him!
So there are good reasons not to skip the "boring" chapters of the Bible.
And now we've come to Nehemiah three. On either side of this chapter, there are so many great principles and teachings, it would be easy to skip over it because of its inherent "boringness." After all, it is simply a work roster detailing the men working on rebuilding the wall. But I see at least four applicational principles here:
First of all, verse five says...
Neh. 3:5 Moreover, next to (Tsaw-DOKE) the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters.
If Tekoa sounds familiar to you, it is probably because the prophet Amos was originally among the sheepherders from Tekoa (Amos 1:1). It was located about a dozen miles south of Jerusalem. The nobles of Tekoa did not support the work being done on the wall of Jerusalem.
What this literally says is that the nobles "would not enter the back of their necks into the service of the masters." In other words, they were of too high a standing to be servants, to actually get their hands dirty or break a sweat.
This is a reminder to me that there will always be those who should be working, but won't be. People named among God's people who are above serving, who won't support the work in the kingdom of God because they are too dignified and are of a higher breed. But their lack of support should never prevent us from putting our effort to the work. As a matter of fact, the Tekoites even made up for the lack of support by working on another section of the wall in verse 27.
And not everyone who was well to do refused to work. Look at verse eight:
Neh. 3:8 Next to him Ooz-zee-ALE the son of Khar-hah-YAW of the goldsmiths made repairs. And next to him Khan-an-YAW, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.
Ooz-zee-ALE the goldsmith and Khan-an-YAW the perfumer. These guys were probably very wealthy, with jobs that did not entail getting their thumbs smashed with hammers and sawing huge timbers for gates. And yet, they applied themselves diligently, restoring Jerusalem with their work.
Secondly, I see in verse twelve that...
Neh. 3:12 ...Shal-LOOM the son of Kha-lo-KHASHE, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
Those of you who are parents of kids that are grown or growing know that there are few things more rewarding in life than to work on a project with your kids. Whether it's making something in the workshop, fixing the car, or hanging a picture, when your kids work on it with you, it's a thrill. As a parent of both son and daughter, I can tell you that there's something even more special about Shal-LOOM's daughters helping him with the wall. Sons are half expected to work with you. But when you and your daughter are working side by side on something, especially for the Lord, there is something wonderful about it.
Also, I see a pattern developing throughout the chapter:
Neh. 3:10 Next to them Yed-aw-YAW the son of Khar-oo-MAF made repairs opposite his house...
Neh. 3:23 After them Benjamin and Khash-SHOOB carried out repairs in front of their house. After them Az-ar-YAW the son of Mah-as-ay-YAW, son of An-an-YAW carried out repairs beside his house.
Neh. 3:28-29 Above the Horse Gate the priests carried out repairs, each in front of his house. After them Tsaw-DOKE the son of Im-MARE carried out repairs in front of his house...
Neh. 3:30 ...mesh-ool-LAWM the son of Beh-rek-YAW carried out repairs in front of his own quarters.
As we read through the work rosters of the guys that were working on the wall, we notice something: Nehemiah had assigned many of them to work on the part of the wall that was right in front of, beside, or opposite their own houses.
This is a principle for leaders to follow, and workers to consider. You see, each of us in the kingdom of God have been called to do the work of the kingdom, to work on the wall. But often,we are assigned places to work that are far from where we live. Not geographically-speaking, but jobs that are far from where our hearts are.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned in leading is that when someone comes to me and says, "Pastor Ron, I want to get plugged into Calvary Chapel and serve," I shouldn't just automatically say, "Well great! We need fourth grade teachers in the third service! We need another person in the sound ministry! Let's get you changing diapers in the nursery!"
You see, if that's not where they live, if it's not where their hearts are, then they're going to get burned out. It's not the part of the wall that they're called to be working on, and they won't find satisfaction in the work.
If people are assigned to the wrong part of the wall, many will end up not working on the wall at all. So I have learned to respond to a volunteer, "Where do you live? Where's your heart? What part of the wall are you close to?"
Every person here is called to be working on the wall, to be volunteering to work in the kingdom of God. That might be changing diapers, or teaching Sunday School. But it may instead be flipping slides, interceding in prayer, working in the office, doing carpentry, pulling weeds, using your skills in photography, aviation, organization, or administration.
The leader's responsibility is to see if there is a section of the wall needing work that is close to home, close to the volunteers' heart. But I would also challenge you to volunteer. Are you working on the wall? If not, why not? Pray and see where you live, where your heart is. Then get with me or the head of a ministry and share with us where you live.
Fourth and last, if you're already working on the wall, seek the Lord as to whether it's the part you're supposed to be working on. Verse 20 tells us,
Neh. 3:20 After him Baw-ROOK the son of Zab-BAH-ee zealously repaired another section, from the Angle to the doorway of the house of El-yaw-SHEEB the high priest.
The word "zealously" there is "khaw-RAW," and it means to burn and be hot. So it can be translated as either zealous and earnest, or angry and furious. We don't know which one Baw-ROOK was as he repaired the wall with heat and burning.
May this have application to you as well. If you're working in ministry, volunteering in the church, or devoting time and energy to the kingdom of God, working on the wall with us, what kind of "hot" are you? Are you earnest and zealous to do the work? Or are you boiling and furious about it? Are you whistling and worshipping? Or are you grumbling and complaining?
It's possible that it's time to move to the part of the wall that you're really called to work on.