Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Nehemiah 3 : How the People Worked

Nehemiah 3 is a collection of forty-seven brief stories of those people who rebuilt the wall.  Some of them are no more than a mention. Others describe in detail what part of the wall they built.
There are three principles we learn their stories.
First they began with their own private responsibility.
Each person concentrated on what they alone were able to do. 
There were plenty of reasons for not working. They could have said, for example, “This is not my kind of work.”
Eliashab the high priest is the first one mentioned. A priest works with his brain, not with his body. All day he looked after the temple and the spiritual needs of the people.  But in between his temple work he rolled up his sleeves and hauled brick with the rest of them.
Hananiah was a perfume maker. What does Max Factor or Givanchy know about masonry?  But that did not stop this man from building not one section, but two.  After he repaired one, he found out he liked it, and did another.
 The goldsmiths and merchants repaired another. They were specialists, but they did what they could. They put down their money counters and their little hammers and took up the trowel and laid brick.
They might have said, “We don’t have any orders. No one has told me what to do.”
The sons of Tekoa might have used that excuse. The only negative comment in the chapter was towards the noblemen of Tekoa.  They were too proud to work under the contractors.  But the men of Tekoa worked anyway, even without their leaders. When their leader failed, they kept on going. Like the perfumers, they built two sections!
The women could have said, “It’s men’s work!”
Some of them didn’t let their gender get in the way. Notice the daughters of Shallum. Shallum had no sons, so his daughters pitched in and did the work.  In a society where women were kept under veils, these girls tramped through the dust and lifted rocks like men.
They could have said, “It’s someone else’s property.  Let them do it.”
In verse 30, a man named Meshullam built in front of his living quarters. He lived in an apartment.  He was a temporary resident in Jerusalem, yet he worked as hard as anyone else. 
They could have said, “I’m too young.”
Again in verse 30, Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph took his own section of the wall. Where were his five older brothers? Little brother was building the wall.
When it comes to the rebuilding of the kingdom, setting up the spiritual walls and standards, we have all kinds of excuses. There are a hundred reasons for not praying. We can come up with all kinds of reasons for leaving our Bibles unopened, for not giving, not witnessing, or building bridges of forgiveness. But when we read of these people, and what they undertook it puts us to shame. Spiritual walls are more important than their physical walls.   We all have our place in its rebuilding.
  Spiritual walls run right through the center of our souls. They protect our homes, businesses, and our private lives. Our private walls affect the health of our church. To be responsible for our part of the wall means that we take responsibility personally for our own spiritual walk. 
The second principle is this, they linked arms.
Next to prayer, the most important thing we can do to rebuild our spiritual walls is to join with other believers. 
 Most people did the work of rebuilding the wall near their homes, but there were some exceptions.  First exception, was the high priest Eliashab.  He and his priests worked on the part of the wall near the temple. While they were building there, a man named Meremoth worked in front of the high priest’s home. Since the priests worked on another part of the wall, someone did his house for him. 
Another example is the men of Tekoa. They finished their part quickly.  So they went over and helped on another part of the wall.
People outside Jerusalem worked on the walls. The surrounding villages came to make sure Jerusalem was safe. They got nothing out of it, but they built anyway. 
 They couldn’t all do the same quality of work. Some of them finished their section, “laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place,” which is what contractors call today a “lock and key job.”  Others just did what they could, and other people had to come by with greater skills to put on the finishing touches.
As they built there was a wonderful mix-up of people of all status, gender and occupation. Perfume makers and goldsmiths worked along with priests and day laborers. Women worked with men. People helped each other out. Because of this, they had a wonderful time. God’s work needs to be done, even if we are the only ones doing it. But God’s work goes easier when God’s people link arms and work together.
After high school, I spent a summer working at a children’s camp. One lazy afternoon, the kids were bored; someone suggested we play Red Rover.  The children made lines by holding hands, and then called over one of the others to try to break the line.
The game went well for a while, until someone suggested that we counselors also play.
 I still have scars from it. Red Rover is not to be played by adults. It becomes about as genteel as football or rugby. When a two hundred pound man comes running at your line at full run, rest assured that you are going down. There is no way to stop him. 
We tried linking hands, but that didn’t work. Then, we linked elbows. If we linked our elbows and dug in our heels, a whole line of us could just stop one of those chargers. We got bruised and battered, but we didn’t go down. 
The devil tries to break our unity. He charges us at the places we’re weakest, which is where one’s work meets the other. But when we link arms and hold each other up, then we lock him out.  He can’t penetrate the wall when we cooperate. 
Third, we follow the Leader.
Little is said of the supervisors and architects, though they had to have them. A plan didn’t just happen. A plan must come from the top down, not the bottom up.
The vision to build the wall did not come from a committee. It came from God touching Nehemiah’s heart.  He conveyed that vision to others who drew plans, made work lists, and organized for success. Then the rest of Jerusalem carried it out. The supervisors were not more worthy than the workers, but they had a necessary specialty. In the lists the supervisors are barely mentioned, but they were essential. 
Doing God’s work, requires two essential elements. The first is leadership. We must have leaders who look to God for direction. Leaders must first look to God for their inspiration and be men of prayer and study. Without a clear vision of what God wants, leaders can easily led us to destruction. Revival always begins with leaders who have a passion for God.
More important than leadership, though is followership. People have to trust their leaders.  When God’s people wandered in the wilderness for forty years, it was not because Moses had sinned, but because the people did not follow. They wandered aimlessly, because they would not submit to their God appointed leader. It does not take forty years to walk across the Sinai desert. It takes about three weeks, if you know where you are going. But if you panic, and refuse to trust your guide, then you can wander for a long time.
If God’s people are wandering in the desert, it is not because God wants them there, but because either their people are not listening to their leaders, or their leaders are not listening to God. We must trust God to lead, and trust the leadership God gives us.  We must put aside our pride, our selfishness, and our vision of what the church ought to be, and follow the direction that God gives us. 
In order to be followed, though the leaders need to lead God’s way. How do God’s leaders lead?  If we look here, we can see some of its principles. 
They led by encouragement. Everyone is praised by name in this passage. The only criticism is against those who would not work at all.  Even if the effort was half-hearted or half-done, they received personal praise.  Good leadership encourages far more than it discourages.
They led by example. Everyone had a place on the wall. The leaders worked alongside everyone else. The leaders do not lead from the front, and nor do they lead from the back.
They led with grace. They trusted God’s grace in people’s lives. They did not stand over their shoulders telling them what to do but allowed each worker to do his job and thrive in it. They believed that God was leading each worker the same way that He was leading the leaders. As long as those workers stuck to the God-given plan, then there was freedom to do the work.   
What lessons have we learned? 
1.       Begin with ourselves.
2.       Link arms.
3.       Follow the Leader.

Spiritual walls are built in the same way physical walls are built.  Buildings of bricks and mortar are important, but not as important as building a kingdom of the spirit and of grace.  Let’s follow the Leader.  Always ask ourselves, what does God most want for us. Keep focused on that task, and God will bring us victory.

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