Summary: Nehemiah has got them to agree to rebuild but now it needs to be organised. They get all the people involved in groups according to their ability though there are a few who refuse to get involved.
Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
When I was growing up, I spent my weekends and holidays working on our family farm. I’d come home from boarding school and straight away be put to work. There’d be a long list of jobs to do, like mowing the acre that was our front yard, or weeding the garden beds. And even if I managed to get all the other jobs done, there was always one that never seemed to end. That was fencing. There was always some section of fence that needed to be repaired or rebuilt or tweaked. Fencing was a never-ending job. I’d go out with Dad, day after day, working on one section, then moving along and working on the next section. Even though we only had a small property, I worked out that the external fences alone were about 5 kilometers long.
A similar task faces Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem at the start of chapter 3. Nehemiah’s arrived in the city, with permission from the King to rebuild the walls. He’s given a rousing speech and the people have responded with a resounding yes. But now the work begins. No doubt, the reality of the task before them sets in. The walls around Jerusalem were probably between 4 – 7 kilometers long. And if you recall from chapter 2, the walls weren’t in good nick. In his inspection tour, there was a whole section that Nehemiah couldn’t ride around. There would’ve been massive amounts of rubble all around the walls that would need to be cleared before work could even commence. And there wasn’t a massive workforce to get the job done. There were almost certainly less than a thousand people living in Jerusalem at the time. Chapter 3 only records about 30 groups of people onsite. The people of Jerusalem had their work cut out for them.
But amazingly we don't read of them grumbling or complaining. Instead this chapter records that the people threw themselves into the work. Everyone, or at least nearly everyone, got involved. It's easy to miss, but as you read through the list of names you see rich and poor, men and women, important and unimportant people working alongside each other. People from every level of society and every walk of life are mentioned in honour roll.
The first worker to get a mention is chapter 3 is Eliashib, the high priest. Along with him the other priests who would've normally worn ceremonial robes, roll up their sleeves and lead the people in the building project. They set to work rebuilding the section of the wall closest to the temple. And they rebuild the sheep gate, the entrance that sacrifices would've been brought into the city and the temple. And when they're done they dedicate their work to God. The chapter starts like this to show that there's more going on here than just building a wall. It's not about the bricks and the mortar, but about building up God's kingdom.
So it's no surprise that it wasn't just the stonemasons, the carpenters, and the labourers who built the wall, while everyone else just sat around and watched. We read of goldsmiths, perfumers and merchants getting involved. It might be that someone who knew what they were doing had to supervise them, telling them what stone to put where. Or maybe they just did menial tasks like carting away the rubble. But Nehemiah records their efforts. Their part in building the wall was just as important as everyone else's. The work wasn’t just left to just a chosen few.
Later on we read of various governors, rulers and leaders who put their hands to the trowel and get involved in the work. Imagine the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, or the members of the State Cabinet, turning up at the church building site and grabbing a shovel, digging foundations or manning the cement mixer. High and low, people got involved in the work.
Moreover, we read of people from surrounding districts coming in to lend a hand. The workforce mentioned in chapter 3 includes people from towns like Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah and Zanoah. There was no immediate benefit for these people. A wall around Jerusalem isn't going to keep Jericho safe. In fact, it would have cost them to leave their own homes and lands to go to Jerusalem and help with the work. But they too see that there's a bigger picture here. The people of Israel were inspired by vision and so they came together to build the wall. Its’ about being on board God’s building project.
But not everyone gets involved do they? In our own experiences, there’s always a few naysayers, a few people who hold back from the work. The same was true for Nehemiah. If we read the chapter carefully, we see that while the Tekoites came to lend a hand, their leaders stayed home. Verse 7 says they weren’t willing to get their hands dirty. We’re not told exactly why, but we can imagine they were too proud, too proud to stoop to manual labour, to take orders from Nehemiah, the foreigner, or just too proud to be out their mucking it out with common people. As we’ll see next week, this is only the start of the opposition that Nehemiah and the people will face. What’s surprising here is how the Tekoites respond. They don’t follow their leaders lead, but throw themselves into the work. Amazingly, they don’t just build one section of the wall, but in verse 27 they repair another section! It’s as if they want to prove to Nehemiah and the others that they’re worthy. They want to prove they understand that building the wall is ‘the work of their Lord.’