When we come across long lists of names and genealogies in the Bible, we are often tempted to glance or skip over them. Such a list is found in Nehemiah 3 where we have a chapter dedicated to naming the builders of the walls of Jerusalem. However, if we skipped over Nehemiah 3, we would have missed out on a very precious chapter of Scripture. In your devotions this week, make it a point to read this passage. Who were these people and what did they do? Why is it important for us to know about them? What comfort does this list hold for us? Let us examine these questions.
In Nehemiah 1-2, Nehemiah learns that the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem were in a sorry state. They were “in great affliction and reproach” and the walls remained in ruins and the gates burned. Grieved, Nehemiah prays to God for the forgiveness and deliverance of the people. He seeks, and is granted a commission by Artaxerxes the king, to whom he was cupbearer, to rebuild Jerusalem.
Arriving at Jerusalem, Nehemiah rests for three days, surveys the ruins, and presently calls the people to the work. Seeing the necessity and opportunity for the work, God moved them to respond: “Let us rise up and build.”
What follows is a description of the work and who was appointed to it. Starting at the Sheep Gate, the work goes full circle, to the Fish Gate, the Old Gate, the Valley Gate, the Dung Gate, the Fountain Gate, the Water Gate, the Horse Gate, the East Gate, the Muster Gate, and ending back at the Sheep Gate. From the chapter, we can learn a number of things about the people who worked on the wall.
First, the builders were of diverse backgrounds. There was the high priest and his brethren, rulers of various towns and common folk (who in the Tekoites case, came to the work even when their nobles refused). There were goldsmiths, apothecaries, and merchants. Not only men but also women came to the work, and we read in verse 12 that the daughters of Shallum repaired along with their fathers. We also see a hint of the catholicity of the later New Testament church—the men of Gibeon were found working at the wall, people who were not historical children of Abraham but who God grafted into Israel (Joshua 9-10). The work of the Church brooks no respect of persons. Yet we find that though they are so apparently disparate, they are unified in the work; they built side by side, not each according to their own way and desire, but in such a way that the whole wall could be joined in one congruent work.
Second, we can see that they were wholly devoted to the work. In relation to the diversity mentioned above, we find that the builders came from many different towns and cities. Leaving their homes and families, their farms and businesses; the people realised that the work was so important that it needed to take precedence over their daily routine. They did not say, “It is too far away! That is a job for those who live nearer”, or “My business or my farm needs me; maybe next time.” As many were not inhabitants of Jerusalem, they had little to gain personally from the rebuilding of the city’s defences; but they recognised that the work was more important than their own personal interests. At tremendous personal sacrifice, the people came to the work on the wall. Third, the work itself was diverse, but the people worked willingly at their appointed stations, whatever they were. Some, like the Tekoites, whose rulers declined to come to the work, were zealous and able enough that when their piece was done, they repaired another part as well, as did Meremoth the son of Urijah. Although all the work was arduous, some builders had the appointment to build at relatively notable and beautiful places, like the various towers and the pool of Siloah. But what about the other parts of the wall? What about places like the Dung Gate? The Dung Gate was the way by which all of the sewage and rubbish of Jerusalem was taken out, not a glorious but certainly a smelly place to be. It might not have been to us a particularly desirable section to be allotted.
In our own lives as members in God’s church, are there labours that we consider to be beneath us, or do we only esteem some work and not others? When we think of the work of the church, do we remember only those who serve in the offices and on prominent committees, but fail to recall those who clean the common areas, sanctuary and toilets of the church premises faithfully during the week, every week? In Nehemiah 3, we find that the lowly work of the repairing of the Dung Gate was no obstacle to Malchiah the son of Rechab, the ruler of part of Beth- haccerem. When called upon for that work, he said to Nehemiah, “Set my name down here; I will build where the Lord requires,”
Fourth, in the names of the builders listed, we can observe some of the intense spiritual struggles that attended the work in their personal lives. In Nehemiah 3:30, a certain Meshullam, the son of Berechiah is mentioned building the wall. Later in the book, in Nehemiah 6:18, we find that this same Meshullam’s daughter was married to Johanan, the son of the enemy, Tobiah. While Meshullam worked at the walls of Jerusalem, members of his own family were fiercely opposing the work and doing their best to ensure it failed—his, was a house divided.
We, too, sometimes see this in our own lives. The builders of the wall were not distant and mythical people granted extraordinary faith or powers to build the wall amidst fierce opposition. They were ordinary men and women like us, struggling with the same sins, fears and doubts, and facing the same troubles in their families and personal lives. The faith that works in us was the same faith that ran through the builders—the same faith that strengthened Abraham, David and all other famous saints and pilgrims. And by the grace of God, in spite of great personal troubles, Meshullam’s name is found written in this registry of God’s servants who faithfully attended to the repairing.
Though at first sight it looks like just another long list of names, yet there are valuable truths for us to observe and consider here in Nehemiah 3. I hope that as we consider this text together in this article, something will strike us as to why this chapter is so precious to the children of God. Nehemiah 3 is a registry of Christians who built the wall of Jerusalem, and if you search closely, you will find your own name written there. No, not in Nehemiah 3 itself, because Nehemiah 3 is but a small excerpt of the true book in which all the names of those who have faithfully attended to the building of the walls of the true, spiritual church through all the ages are carefully written. Not in their own strength, but by the grace of God alone, these faithful men and women built the wall of Jerusalem. If we are true servants of Jehovah and build faithfully in the church, our names will never be blotted out from this registry.
What is our response to the call of our leader—not Nehemiah, but Christ Himself—who calls: “Come, let us build up the walls of Jerusalem”? Is our work in the church marked by the unity and zeal of the builders in Nehemiah’s day, or by strife, envy, backbiting, carelessness and slothfulness? How are you and I building in the Church of Christ?
And finally, we see that the builders are used by God to perform a great and shocking work. “So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, that they were much cast down in their own eyes, for they perceived that this work was wrought of God.” (Nehemiah 6:15-16) In spite of great obstacles to the work, the wall building project did not fail, but was in fact completed in such a speed that it was clear even to the enemies that God’s hand was in it, and they were utterly defeated by the mere witnessing of its completion.
So shall it be, when our Lord returns again on the clouds of glory, when the work of the Church on this earth has been completed. Satan and all the wicked who presently scorn and persecute the Church and her builders will see her marvellous glory. In spite of the sinfulness and failures of her members, her works are made perfect by the blood of the Lamb—and the work is truly wrought of God. That is the comfort of Nehemiah 3 for us— our works are sanctified and wrought by God alone, and our names are forever written in the registry of God’s servants. May God thus give us the grace to work faithfully in the building of His Church.
Come, let us build!
Written by: Chua Lee Yang | Issue 38