Nehemiah 3 is an interesting chapter, one of those chapters in the Bible that, at first glance, seems not to have any relevance or application for us who live in Oklahoma City in 2020. Some Bible commentaries do not even address the chapter. In Chuck Swindoll’s popular book, “Hand Me Another Brick,” a leadership book based on the book of Nehemiah, Swindoll leaves Nehemiah 3 out altogether. Yet, the truth of the matter is, Nehemiah 3 has some of the most profound lessons of any lesson taught in the entire book. We’re going to talk about them this morning.
As you study Nehemiah you will notice that the chapter is filled with names, towns, and professions–all of whom worked together to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem. I want to show you a couple of pictures of the wall in Nehemiah’s day so you can get an idea of what it was like. The wall of Nehemiah’s day was not the wall you see on TV or that some of you have seen in person. It was about 1.5 miles long and not nearly as massive as the wall we see today.
This past week, as I’ve become more familiar with the people who rebuilt the wall with Nehemiah, the Lord has flooded my mind with those the Lord has used and is using to continue to build His ministry here at Britton Christian Church. I’ve only heard stories of those who came before me, those who were serving the Lord in the first 80 years of the history of this church, but I’ve got a long list of those I get to serve alongside now and those I’ve known who have gone home to be with the Lord during the past 30 years.
Men and women. Boys and girls. Young and old alike. People from every walk of life. People who never graduated from high school and those who have more degrees than a thermometer. Those with deep pockets and those who are working multiple jobs just to try and make ends meet. People whose skin is the lightest shade of pale, the deepest shade of mahogany, and every shade in between. Folks from every political persuasion. What in the world is it that could not just hold such a diverse group of people together, but cause them to actually love and serve one another? The answer is really quite simple, it is the same thing that held the diverse believers in Ephesus together. In the letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he wrote,
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:15-16 NIVO)
…“Your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.” It is what God has done for us in Jesus that gives us such a desire to glorify, honor, and serve Him. It is because of what God has done for us in Jesus that draws us together and stirs within us a love for one another than transcends any and all differences we have with one another. This is so important, vitally important, and we will see the same principle at work in our lesson for today.
1 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zaccur son of Imri built next to them. 3 The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. 4 Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. 5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. 6 The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. 7 Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah– Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth– places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. 8 Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. 10 Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. 11 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters. (Nehemiah 3:1-12 NIVO)
We won’t read the entire chapter, but I did want to give you a sample of the flavor of the work crew. What a list of names! At first glance there just doesn’t seem to be anything here, but you need to know that some of God’s greatest treasures are found in this chapter.
The entire chapter is focused on the rebuilding of the wall, but there’s not one master carpenter, civil or construction engineer, or stone mason listed in the bunch. Here’s another fascinating find hidden in these verses: We must remember that the wall being rebuilt was the wall around Jerusalem, but there are people who don’t live in Jerusalem who came to help.
In studying Nehemiah 3 this past week I have discovered a new hero of mine, Dr. Viggo Olsen. I had never heard of him in my life, but my admiration in a week’s time has gone through the roof. Dr. Olsen was born in Nebraska, went to medical school to become a doctor, and hoped to one day practice at the Mayo Clinic. He and his wife were not Christians, but on their way to Viggo’s internship in Brooklyn, they stopped to visit his wife, Joan’s parents, who had become Christians while she was in college. They shared their faith with Viggo and Joan, but they really didn’t have any interest, although they did make the commitment to study the Christian religion and the Bible and attend a church in Brooklyn once they arrived.
Long story short, Viggo and Joan, after examining the claims of Jesus and the teachings of the Bible, made the decision to become a follower of Jesus. Viggo had set his sights on winning a highly sought after fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. While they were waiting to hear if he would be chosen, Viggo and Joan’s faith grew like wildfire. A lady in their church said, “Now that young Dr. Olsen has become a believer, he will no doubt become a missionary.” The thought had never entered Viggo’s mind, but it planted a seed that began a struggle within him. He and Joan wrestled with what God was calling them to do. Viggo wrote, “The more we thought, meditated, and prayed about the possibilities … the more medical missions seemed a live option.” Then came the day that he knelt before God and accepted the call to be a missionary doctor. Three days later the critical test came, a letter from the Mayo Clinic letting him know he had been accepted for a fellowship in Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Viggo and Joan didn’t waver.
They spent the next 33 years in Bangladesh serving the people, sharing the Gospel, and working with the sick and dying. The Olsen’s had been in East Pakistan, later known as Bangladesh, for almost ten years when a devastating cyclone and tidal wave drowned 500,000 people, in 1970. Then, in 1971, a bloody civil war claimed 3 million lives. Pakistan gave East Pakistan her independence and 10 million refugees returned to the new nation of Bangladesh.
Dr. Olsen and his friend, Dr. Knighton recognized the pressing need for housing in the area where they were serving. They partnered with young people from Wheaton College in Chicago. Dr. Olsen raised the money, recruited volunteers, and organized the work plan to rebuild and repair thatch-roofed huts for the people. The college kids arrived from Chicago and were trained in how to construct the thatch-roofed houses. Then, the work began. For the next ten weeks Dr. Olsen and the college volunteers worked to the point of exhaustion. They used 8,934 miles of bamboo to help construct 6,578 complete thatch-roofed houses and repair 3,499 others–far more than their goal of 4,000. What’s really fascinating is that Dr. Olsen, a medical doctor with no experience in construction, found his inspiration in Nehemiah 3. Dr. Olsen wrote about what what he read in Nehemiah 3,
I was struck that there were no expert builders in the Holy Land brigade. There were priests, priest’s helpers, goldsmiths, perfume makers, and women, but no expert builders or carpenters were named. (Viggo Olsen)
If you take a look at the entire chapter of Nehemiah 3 you will find all kinds of people who make up the crew that will rebuild the wall. There are forty-one leaders of the work crews mentioned. Cyril Barber points out that there are “priests and Levites, rulers and common people, gatekeepers and guards, farmers and ‘union men’–goldsmiths, pharmacists, merchants–temple servants and women.”
We know that the people of Jerusalem had a vested interest in rebuilding the wall, but if you read through the chapter you will find people from surrounding villages and towns like Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, Zanoah, Beth Hakkerem, Ben Zur, and Keilah also came to Jerusalem to help.
Another interesting thing you will find if you dig deep into Nehemiah is the brilliant strategy Nehemiah put into action. For some of the people, Nehemiah assigned them a portion of the wall that was next to their house or a section of the wall that was important for the job they carried out in Jerusalem. Take a look at Nehemiah 3:23 with me and I’ll show you what I mean.
23 Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. (Nehemiah 3:23 NIVO)
If you and I were living with our family near a gap in the wall, would it not make sense to assign us the portion of the wall that is closest to us? You better believe that makes sense.
If you will go back to the very first verse with me I’ll give you another example. Eliashib was the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem. He and his fellow priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate. Take a look at verse 1.
1 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. (Nehemiah 3:1 NIVO)
The Sheep Gate was near the northeast corner of the wall and near to the temple area. It got its name because this is the gate where the sheep supplied for sacrifices at the temple entered the city.
Now, I’m not certain that Eliashib and his fellow priests had no idea how to swing a hammer, use a trowel and mortar, or use a speed square, but I wouldn’t want any of the preachers I know, including myself, to build a gate at my house. The fact that they were working on the Sheep Gate, which was so important to their work, would have been a great motivating factor for them to do their best. Did you notice what they did? They “dedicated” it. The Hebrew word means, “consecrate, to make holy, sanctified, set apart.” It’s a remarkable statement. The temple was holy, but a gate? Absolutely because the work was done for the Lord, for His glory and honor. And it wasn’t just the Sheep Gate that was declared “holy,” it was the entire wall. The work the people did was holy to the Lord and the work you and I do, whatever work that is, it is to be done for the glory of our great God. Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth.
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIVO)
Eliashib and the priests set the tone for the rest of the workers, none of whom were skilled, but they were willing. Well, I should say, most of the people. There was one group of people found in verse 5 that sticks out like a sore thumb. Read Nehemiah 3:5 with me.
5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Nehemiah 3:5 NIVO)
This chapter could not be more beautiful when you learn about the wide variety of people from every social status of society working side-by-side to build the wall around the city for the glory of God…and then there’s those folks. Why did they refuse to put their “shoulders to the work?” Nehemiah doesn’t tell us, but I’ve been around long enough to know it could have been any of a variety of reasons. They were “nobles,” they hired that kind of work done. They would never get dirt under their fingernails. Sweat? Are you kidding me?! Or it could be that they offered their own plan on what they thought Nehemiah should do and they didn’t get their way. Church folks moan and fuss over some of the dumbest things. The color of the new carpet can cause a family to decide to find another church. There’s so many possible reasons why the nobles of Tekoa refused to join in with the others, but God has an incredible sense of humor does He? God made sure their decision was recorded for all of eternity.
There are two more important lessons we must talk about before we finish our study this morning. For years now there has been lots of talk about working within our area of giftedness. There are “Spiritual Gift” tests that you and I can take to find out which gifts God has given us and that can give us direction on where we should go to work. Make no mistake about it, God does give every one of us gifts to be used to serve Him as we serve His people. Paul wrote to the people in Rome,
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:6-11 NIVO)
You all are so gifted and many of you are using your gifts to serve and honor the Lord. Sometimes God gives us opportunities that are right in our wheelhouse, but there are other times that He provides opportunities for us and we feel so inadequate, so unqualified, and yet the opportunity has come from God and we should get to work. Nehemiah is a great example and so are all of these priests, perfume makers, goldsmiths, merchants, and Shallum and his daughters.
There are folks who volunteer in the nursery because you have little ones, you have a vested interest in the care of our children here at Britton Christian Church, just like those who repaired the wall right next to their houses. But there are others of you whose children have long grown-up and moved out, but God may be calling you to invest in the lives of our children. There are countless other opportunities that come our way here at BCC to serve others and honor the Lord. They may or may not lie within your area of giftedness, but if you make yourself available to the Lord, He will use you to bless the lives of others and He will be glorified as well.
There’s another important lesson I’ve learned this past week that I want to share with you in hopes that it will challenge you as much as it has me. One of the biggest hurdles for me is busyness. I’m busy. You are busy. We are all busy. Whenever an opportunity comes our way we oftentimes think one of two things: First, I don’t know anything about that so someone else would probably be a better fit to do “that,” whatever “that” is. Second, I would love to help, but I’m just so busy right now. Maybe later.
Do you think the people named in Nehemiah 3 were busy? There’s no doubt about it, but at the end of Nehemiah 2, after Nehemiah had told them his plan to rebuild the wall, they sensed God’s hand at work and said, “Let’s do it! Let us rebuild the wall!” No skills in construction, no time, but they sensed God’s call so they set other things aside for a time so they could devote themselves to the opportunity God had set before them.
The older I get the more I am convinced that I need to give my life to those things that will outlast me. So much of our society is focused on getting all they can for themselves and not on giving as much as they can to that which is eternal. Let me close with a story that vividly illustrates what I’m talking about.
David Livingstone was born in Scotland. He went to medical school and felt the Lord was calling him to Africa as a medical missionary. He had a childhood friend who, when he learned that David was going to leave behind the comforts of home and go to Africa to share the Gospel while taking care of the sick said, “I’m going to stay in London and get rich; you can go to Africa.” The friend did stay in London. He got rich and lived in luxury while David spent thirty years in Africa and became one of the most dearly loved missionaries of all time.
When Dr. Livingstone died and they brought his body back to England and buried him in Westminster Abbey, huge crowds turned out to pay their respects. The childhood friend of David’s was standing off from the crowd…wiping tears. The man was grieving the loss of his friend, but he was grieving something else as well. As the man listened to the words being spoken about all of the work of his friend in Africa, Dr. Livingstone, he said, “I put the emphasis on the wrong world.” The man had worked hard all of his life to get all he could while Dr. Livingstone had worked hard his entire life to give away all he had in serving the Lord by serving His people. It is so important that you and I don’t put the emphasis on the wrong world.
Nehemiah and those who came forward to go to work were investing in something that would long outlive themselves. They took what they had and they put it to use for the glory of God and the blessing of the city. That’s my prayer for all of us at Britton Christian Church. Use what you have, the gifts, time, and finances the Lord has blessed you with to build something that will long outlive you. Jesus said,
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NIVO)
As we get ready to leave here today I want to ask you, “Where’s your treasure? What is most important to you in all of life?” If it is anything other than your relationship with Jesus then I want to urge you this morning to make a change, redirect your path, and ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Won’t you come forward and give me your hand as you give Jesus your heart?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 15, 2020