Summary: Whenever we get to long lists in the Bible, our eyes usually just skim through them, or we may just skip them. If we do this with Nehemiah 3, we will miss many good lessons.
The book opens up with Nehemiah learning of the bad news about the condition of the walls of Jerusalem and the condition of the people. Nehemiah showed in his questioning of his brother of the condition of God’s people and city and what followed what his priorities were as a servant of God. Not only did he humble himself with fasting and prayer, he wanted to be the one that God used bring a solution to the problem at hand.
But there are obstacles. The present king who Nehemiah is serving as cupbearer is Artaxerxes I, who we saw in Ezra 4 stopped the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, and that the walls in particular are mentioned 3 times in Rehum and Shimshai’s letter to Artaxerxes. Also, remember that Artaxerxes is the King. You cannot just speak to the king or enter into his presence uninvited without risking the loss of your life.
So Nehemiah needed the courage and boldness to speak to Artaxerxes, and that opportunity came at the beginning of chapter 2. God gave Nehemiah mercy in the sight of Artaxerxes. Nehemiah was fortunate that when Artaxerxes made the edict to stop the work on Jerusalem, he had in the edict the possibility of the work starting again by saying that the work had to stop until further notice from the king. So, Nehemiah, after praying to God asks for everything that he needed to get the job done, showing that not only had he been praying and fasting persistently over a 4 month period for the opportunity to speak with the king, he had been preparing for the work over that same period. He planned for God’s response to his prayer.
The King grants Nehemiah’s requests, and he goes to Judah, giving the letters of the king to the governors in the region. He goes to Jerusalem, where he spends 3 days examining the walls and planning for the work. In Nehemiah 3, we see some of the evidence of the amount of planning that went into the building of the walls. There was a lot of planning before the walls began to be built, possibly even where people would be working on the walls. We see organization in this chapter to make sure each section of the wall and each gate had people working on it. The list of workers seems to take us counter-clockwise around the wall. It begins at the sheep gate and the two towers on the north side of the city (v1) and circles around the city until it gets back to the sheep gate (v32).
OBSERVATIONS FROM THIS CHAPTER
1. One phrase that is repeated 15-20 times in this chapter is "next to him/after him." They are working right next to each other, working with one another (Ephesians 4, Romans 12). Having someone next to you can be an encouragement for you as you work.
2. These builders were not "professional" builders. There were people of all occupations were doing the work. These were not professional builders and carpenters. I was struck that no expert builders are listed. Instead, we see perfumers (v8), goldsmiths (v8, 31), temple servants (v26), merchants (v32), and the High Priest/priests.
3. There were many other leaders (other than the High Priest). officials, v9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. No one is too good to get their hands dirty. They are from other cities. Distance didn’t keep them from working. An official with his daughters- v12- an official and His daughters – women were working too! Everyone’s role is important.