If you are going to work for Jesus, you have to learn how to count and chronicle your support system!!!
Nehemiah 3:1–2 (NKJV) — 1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
Nehemiah 3 is exactly the type of passage that homiletics professors try to steer young preachers away from. Homiletical giant, Dr Fred Craddock, echoes this warning while he himself dives head first into Paul’s list of shout outs to the members of the Roman church in Romans 16 (See, When the Roll is Called Down Here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X20Sd8NKLsk).
Lists, genealogies and census data, roll calls and greetings, littered all through Scripture have been the death of many reading plans and stretches our faith in the declaration that “all Scripture is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17. What could be the profit in these lists?
To be honest, I dozed off more than a few times chronicling the list here in Nehemiah 3. Depending on how you count, Nehemiah had portioned off the punch list of things to do into 40 divisions that addressed separately, would lead to the renovation. It kinda reminds me of the list of things to do for Camp Pitch and tear down. I wonder how many times Nehemiah had to repeat where people were going before the actual work started?
I wouldn’t venture to read much further in this list than our Scripture reading. Normally the good lists in Scripture have some back story that breaks the monotony of ‘begats’ and ‘besides.’ Jesus’ genealogy for example has some colorful women sprinkled within the boring background to give life to a dead list but the folks here in Nehemiah 3, try as we may, all fall into the tragic three of narration: the anonymous, the obscure, and the invisible. There isn’t much here and we are prone to space out because we can’t appreciate the sacred significance of this list of names. We would need some type of time traveling device to get the truth of how this list impacted Nehemiah’s work back then because this list is boring to everyone except to those who’ve been there!
You see, this list becomes significant because it represents, in Nehemiah’s time, actual people who stepped up and labored for the good of generations to come. It is a list of those who responded to the pleas and were answers to prayers that the Harvest is plentiful but Laborers, they are few. It’s more than a list of walls and gates – it’s a roll call of faithful labor. To use an old word, it’s a list of folks dedicated to a vocation.
Today, we know about careers but how many of us have lost our sense of calling and vocation? In his book, The Minister As Diagnostician, Paul Pruyser argues that one of the ways in which pastors have a responsibility for assessing the health of their members is to look at each members sense of vocation. Pruyser writes, “A sense of vocation implies alertness to the demonic element in human nature and human affairs, and the desire to control it. Vocation is melioristic – it is putting one’s talents to work as a participant in the process that moves the universe toward increasing integrity” pg 71.
In other words, vocation involves enlisting on the side of good to halt the spread of evil while advancing the cause of the Kingdom. This is not legalism, working for our own salvation. Vocation is the spiritual service of the saved in establishing outposts of grace within a sea of rebellion against God’s rule. It really isn’t legalism because it’s focus is not on justifying self but in honoring God by preserving a legacy of faith. Vocation is work with a sanctifying lens that is measured in impact not size, in value not cost, in durability and not simply dimensions, and in faithfulness and substance not in flashiness and appearances.
Nehemiah embarks on his vocation and the wall is but a symbol to galvanize a broken and reproachful remnant to engage in a great work for God. Our vocation is inspired by God’s great acts of the past and fuels hope in God’s future redemption. This is accomplished by acknowledging the might acts of God in the past while carrying forward the plan of Salvation for our generation and securing a legacy of faith for the future. This is the sacred significance of this Nehemiah 3 list. It chronicles the leaders and the laborers who stood by Nehemiah and encouraged him for the difficult work, his vocation, that God had called him to do. When you are engaged in a holy vocation for God, it is a blessing to your soul to be able to count. Recently, my son picked up a fascination with numbers. I’m not sure if it’s memory, but he seems to be able to do basic addition at 3 years old. Yeah, I know what you are saying, and I will hold off the MENSA tests for now. But I find that discouragement often sets in for God’s laborers because we have lost the ability to count the anonymous, the obscure, and the invisible.
To get a good sense of the support for God’s work, we must learn to count the cloud of witnesses cheering us on.
Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV) — 1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Elijah in his discouragement felt he could only count on himself.
1 Kings 19:14–18 (NKJV) — 14 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 15 Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Have you ever been so depressed and discouraged that you felt like giving up because you were the only one left focused on your vocation for Jesus? We’ve all been there before especially when we have to deal with systems and dominions that are so entrenched that they can lose a few hundred false prophets. But Jezebel still lives: the head is still alive and so the body of confusion regenerates. God had to remind Elijah, to count the anonymous and you will find that there are 7,000 who are just as committed to this vocation as you are. It would be nice to meet them, but God encourages his weary worker with a cloud of anonymous witnesses some of whom I have to assume stood because Elijah stood. You can’t get weary in well doing because there are thousands you will never meet who will take their stand for God because you stood.
To get a good sense of the support for God’s work, we must learn to count the cloud of witnesses cheering us on. Abraham went out to get back his nephew and, on his way back from his victorious campaign, we see one of the most obscure characters phase into Abraham’s story drop a blessing and then disappear as quickly as he appeared.
Hebrews 7:1–3 (NKJV) — 1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
Genesis 14:18 (NKJV) — 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.
Melchizedek is a high priest of God, but we know nothing of his lineage and next to nothing about the man himself except that in a time of general apostacy, he held on to God and was able to bless the people of God. Some people who will be a blessing to your work, you won’t know where they are coming from nor where they are going but God used them to be an encouragement and they belong in your cloud of witnesses.
To get a good sense of the support for God’s work, we must learn to count the cloud of witnesses cheering us on. Elisha’s servant awakes to find himself trapped in a curfew.
2 Kings 6:15–17 (NKJV) — 15 And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
He is surrounded by the armies of Syria. The Syrians are doing house to house warrantless searches for the prophetic insurgent who thwarts the Syrian king’s threats by leaking his confidential chamber conversations. Elisha’s servant is scared, but Elisha is unmoved because he knows how to count the invisible. Just because laborers are invisible doesn’t negate their impact. The invisible has always been and will always be part of your support for engaging in your Godly vocation so count them in your cloud.
This list comes alive when we begin to see that everybody needs their cloud to cheer them on when engaged in a difficult vocation for Jesus. And here in Nehemiah 3, we have a rollcall for the faithful who through the rubble, rebuilt Jerusalem in their generation so that the plan of Salvation could move forward for all generations. This is a sacred list that mixes the anonymous, the obscure, and the invisible to encourage us in our vocation today as these folks encouraged Nehemiah in his vocation for God back then.
We sleep on Nehemiah’s list because we have lost the significance of the sacrifice of many who gave so much but who in the sleep of death have become anonymous, obscure, and invisible. We weren’t there to witness the moving End of Watch Call for that Generation dedicated to their vocation, but we can memorialize their sacrifice to inspire us to greater sacrifices in our generation. It could be that Nehemiah’s list isn’t as impressive written as it is on paper versus the stone engravings of our honored lists today. Yet, the same reverence is warranted for both.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a 2-acre (8,093.71 m²) U.S. national memorial in Washington D.C. It honors service members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War, service members who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia, and those service members who were unaccounted for (missing in action, MIA) during the war (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Veterans_Memorial).
Known simply as "The Wall" to the men and women who can find the name of a loved one inscribed on it, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists the names of those who fell during the Vietnam War. The names are arranged first by date, and then alphabetically. There are more than 58,000 names on more than 75 meters of black granite, memorializing those who died in service to that war (https://www.wearethemighty.com/history/why-names-added-vietnamwall?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1).
When a visitor looks upon the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, which is meant to symbolically bring the past and present together (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Veterans_Memorial). When you look in this passage, can you see the connection between past and present vocations, between what God has done and what God is doing? When you close your eyes and run your hands over the rock of God’s Word, do you feel the impressions etched throughout History? What name brings a tear in your eye as you see your own reflection in the past actions of those pioneers of faith?
You see, this wall of a passage should bring us to reflect on whether we have thrown our lot into meliorating the conditions of this earth or have we been crippled by spectatoritis. You see, I had to learn the significance of Nehemiah’s brokenness and confession in Nehemiah 1:5-11 and I found that it points out we can be ethical but if we aren’t engaged, we have become part of the reason God’s work lies in the ruins of reproach. And this marks the difference between Nehemiah’s tears and Pharisetical tears: the Pharisees cry at the memorials of the dead prophets while obstructing the work of the living prophets.
Nehemiah 1:1–11 (NKJV) — 1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, 2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, 6 please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. 8 Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; 9 but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ 10 Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. 11 O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.
Matthew 23:29–33 (NKJV) — 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? “Not only did Nehemiah say that Israel had sinned, he acknowledged with penitence that he and his father’s house had sinned…. Nehemiah humbled himself before God, giving Him the glory due unto His name. Thus also did Danie in Babylon. Let us study the prayers of these men. They teach us that we are to humble ourselves, but that we are never to obliterate the line of demarcation between God’ commandment-keeping people and those who have no respect for His law.” (MS 58, 1903)
Spectatoritis leaves us so drunk in our own personal success that we are numb to the church’s corporate failing. Nehemiah answered the call: will you? There are a cloud of witnesses waiting to work with you but you have to make the stand. And when you have done the work and you have time to reflect, who will be the names of your list? Can I make a few suggestions?
1. Chronicle the Consecration that Started the Work (Nehemiah 3:1)– Worship is so important that even our work is worship when we consecrate ourselves to God
Nehemiah 3:1 (NKJV) — 1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel.
2. Chronicle the Coordinated Contributions that may be anonymous, obscure, or invisible but that God will not forget – Welcome Home missing for the Missionary (Hebrews 6:10). We may fall asleep when we hear their names, but God does not forget.
Hebrews 6:10 (NKJV) — 10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
3. Chronicle the Critics who tried to stall the Work (Nehemiah 3:5)– It takes Grace to learn how to minimize the distractions of the malcontents and to not be so eaten up by rejection that we take our eyes off the mission. Designation – DNP (Personal Decision)
Nehemiah 3:5 (NKJV) — 5 Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.
Among the first to catch Nehemiah's spirit of zeal and earnestness were the priests. Because of their influential position, these men could do much to advance or hinder the work; and their ready co-operation at the very outset, contributed not a little to its success. The majority of the princes and rulers of Israel came up nobly to their duty, and these faithful men have honorable mention in the book of God. There were a few, the Tekoite nobles, who “put not their necks to the work of their Lord,” The memory of these slothful servants is branded with shame and has been handed down as a warning to all future generations. Ellen Gould White, Conflict and Courage (Review and Herald, 1970). 265
4. Chronicle the Commitment of those who picked up the load that others thought too demeaning to carry
(Nehemiah 3:27)– In every project, we pray for God to bless us with the devoted who will be committed to double duty. Nehemiah 3:27 (NKJV) — 27 After them the Tekoites repaired another section, next to the great projecting tower, and as far as the wall of Ophel.