- First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi - https://www.fpcjackson.org -

The People Rose Up and Built

If you would turn with me to Nehemiah chapter 3; it can be found on page 399 in your pew Bibles, and we’ll pick up from where we left off last week at the end of Nehemiah chapter 2. We saw last week how Nehemiah traveled from Jerusalem to Susa in Persia to inspect the broken down city walls in Jerusalem. And we saw how he rallied the people there to get to work for the good of Jerusalem. And when we get to chapter 3 tonight, the work on the wall gets started. Someone has said that this one chapter contains a greater amount of information concerning the topography of ancient Jerusalem than all of the other Bible passages put together. And that may be a slight bit of exaggeration, but there are lots of places that are mentioned about Jerusalem in this chapter that we don’t find in other places in the Bible. And this chapter also contains a bunch of names, a lot of names. Names like Meremoth and Meshullam and Melatiah and Malchijah and other unfamiliar names. But rather than being merely a list of obscure and forgotten and hard to pronounce names, these names tell a story. These names tell a story of how God uses His people to carry out His plan of salvation. One writer put it this way. It says that, “This chapter underscores an important theme in Ezra and Nehemiah, and that theme is that the people of God as a whole, the people of God as a whole and not just the leaders, are vital for accomplishing God’s redemptive purpose.”

Sometimes you hear in the church that people talk about the 80/20 rule. It’s a way of saying that 80% of the work of giving and service and the work of ministry gets done by 20% of the people. The 80/20 rule, or whatever the percentages may be, it can sometimes be a source of frustration and burn out and general ineffectiveness within the church. It’s a problem that is a responsibility of the pastors and of the leaders and of the congregation as a whole. And this chapter, Nehemiah chapter 3, is a great example of what it looks like for God’s people as a whole to be engaged in the work of building God’s kingdom, the work of working for the good of one another and for the glory of God. And so let’s notice as we read this chapter tonight we’ll see three things. We’ll see the repair to the city, the good of the people, and the presence of God. But ultimately what we’ll see is how Jesus brings to fulfillment all of the blessings of the promises of God and how He sets us to work for the good of the New Jerusalem where our citizenship lies. So before we read God’s Word, let’s pray together.

Father, we come before Your Word with humility and with expectation tonight. We know that all Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching and rebuking and correcting and training in righteousness. And so we ask that You would do that for us tonight. Would You teach us and correct us and rebuke us and would You train us in righteousness that we would be fully equipped to serve You with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to bring glory to the name of Christ. Speak, Lord, for Your servants listen. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Nehemiah chapter 3:

“Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.

The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired. And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.

Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Gate of Yeshanah. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, the seat of the governor of the province Beyond the River. Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired. Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.

Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall, as far as the Dung Gate.

Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.

And Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it and covered it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David. After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the mighty men. After him the Levites repaired: Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, repaired for his district. After him their brothers repaired: Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah. Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress. After him Baruch the son of Zabbai repaired another section from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. After him Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired another section from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib. After him the priests, the men of the surrounding area, repaired. After them Benjamin and Hasshub repaired opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, son of Ananiah repaired beside his own house. After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress and to the corner. Palal the son of Uzai repaired opposite the buttress and the tower projecting from the upper house of the king at the court of the guard. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh and the temple servants living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower. After him the Tekoites repaired another section opposite the great projecting tower as far as the wall of Ophel.

Above the Horse Gate the priests repaired, each one opposite his own house. After them Zadok the son of Immer repaired opposite his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, repaired. After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah repaired opposite his chamber. After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, opposite the Muster Gate, and to the upper chamber of the corner. And between the upper chamber of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants repaired.”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

The Repair to the City

This chapter could be captured really in one simple sentence – “The people rose up and built.” The story could have moved from chapter 2 on into chapter 4 and really not missed a beat. It wouldn’t have affected the narrative in much way at all if Nehemiah had just said that, “The people rose up and built the wall.” But that’s not what happened. That’s not what he did. Instead, we have thirty-two verses of details; thirty-two verses of gates and doors and bolts and bars and about the names and families and occupations of the people who did the work. Why did Nehemiah do that? What do they tell us about the message of this book? Maybe you’ve heard before the Marshall McLuhan phrase that “the medium is the message,” which means basically that the way you say something communicates a message in and of itself. And so a text message is less personal than a phone call, and a phone call is less personal than a conversation in face to face. So you communicate something by the way that you communicate. The way you say something says something. And so for Nehemiah to tell us that the people rose up and built by including all of these names and all of these places, that tells us something. What does it tell us?

Well on the one hand, it tells us that this was a big job. This was a big task that the people undertook here in this chapter. You get a sense from reading all of these names and places just how broken down the wall was and just how bad the conditions were in Jerusalem just by reading the names and places. And it wasn’t just a section here and there. It wasn’t a little bit in need of repair. No, it was the whole city. Did you notice how this chapter started in verse 1? It started with Eliashib. Eliashib was the high priest and he began by building the Sheep Gate in verse 1. Then look down at verse 32. It tells us that the goldsmiths and the merchants repaired between the corner and the Sheep Gate. So from verse 1 the Sheep Gate, to verse 32 the Sheep Gate, this chapter is taking a full circle tour around the city of Jerusalem.

Now Jerusalem itself was not a very big city. There are some debates over how big the city was at the time of Nehemiah. One archeologist wrote an article recently that said that it was probably at this time around 160 acres in size. Now that is almost exactly the same size as the campuses of Millsaps College and Baptist Hospital put together. So if you were to go from State Street to West Street and from Woodrow Wilson to Fortification, that’s about the size of Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah. You could leave here tonight after the service and drive around that area. It would take you maybe five minutes. So that’s the size of Jerusalem. It’s not a sprawling and expanding type of city, but the wall around it was a significant architectural feat. Again, we don’t know for certain how big or the dimensions of the wall, but it was most likely in certain places between 15 and 20 feet thick. In fact, there’s a comment in Nehemiah chapter 12 that there were people that walked along the top of the wall. So it was big enough to have people walk along the top of it safely. And it was probably at least 20 feet tall. Now just to provide a little bit of context to the size of the wall, if you were to measure from the end of the balcony to the wall on the bottom of the sanctuary, that is about 15 feet or so. So that’s probably at least the width of the wall. And then if you were to measure from the floor of the sanctuary up to the top of the wall of the balcony, the balcony border, that’s again, about 15 or 20 feet. So you can think about the people in the balcony – it’s like they’re sitting on top of the wall of Jerusalem. That’s about the size of the wall that was being built here.

When you take into account the opposition that was up against the people who were building that wall, it is unlikely that anything like that could have been built or restored or repaired unless there had been an overwhelming response of the people to get to work and to do the task that they had been called to do. So the overall effect of reading all of these names and places is to impress upon us the scale of the work and the things that are at stake. What was at stake here? At stake in building this wall around the city was something to contribute to the peace or if you could use a Bible, Old Testament word, the “shalom” of the city. That’s the longing of the people, the citizens of this city – it’s that they would enjoy some peace and shalom together within the city. That is the longing of all of us here tonight. We long for shalom, for peace, for an overall wellbeing, for all things to be right between us and God and us and one another and us and the creation around us. The wall was meant to contribute in some way to the establishment of that sort of peace. And the wall was to keep out any sort of opposition or any sort of trouble, anything that was unclean, from coming into the city. The wall was to keep it out.

Now just as an aside, we’re at somewhat of a disadvantage reading this chapter because we, unlike the first readers of this passage, they could have heard these names and they would have known the families. They could have heard these gates and they would have known where they are. We can’t do that and we need some sort of recreation or an illustration to show us maybe what Jerusalem was like at that time. If you were to look at something like that – your Bibles, in fact, may have in the back a map that shows what Jerusalem could have looked like at various times throughout its history. It’s interesting to see that in every rendering of Jerusalem in the Old Testament up until Jesus’ time you have the wall, and outside the wall is Golgotha, Calvary, the cross. You see, Jesus went – Cory mentioned this last week – Jesus went to where the unclean, the enemy, the opposition, the evil was meant to be kept out. Jesus went there. He died there. He gave His life there. He was raised there in order to bring about the peace and the shalom that we all desperately long for. And that’s to come. We’ll look at more of that later. We’ll see a little bit more about what Jesus does in relation to the city wall and the people building. But for now, we see the people built. The people got to work building the walls.

The Good of the People

The magnitude of this task called for a full response from the people. And the good of the people called for that too. The good of the people demanded this sort of response. You cannot read this chapter – and as you sat there listening to it you can’t help but think, “That is a lot of names!” And that’s the point. These people gave an overwhelmingly positive response to the call to build the wall. Sure, it would have taken some planning and organization and preparing of the resources to put it together to get to work on the wall, but you get the sense from reading this chapter that the people jumped right into the work that was put in front of them. They responded together and they responded wholeheartedly. Even when you get to verse 5, there’s a hint of trouble. It’s just a hint. It says that, “the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.” Now even that does not take away from what is going on here. It actually highlights the fact that, on the whole, this was an almost unanimous response from the people to engage in the work that they had been called to do. One commentator says it this way. He says that, “It adds a touch of reality to what otherwise is an idealistic presentation of all the people in the great project.” This is an almost idealistic presentation that the people are responding so fully, so wholeheartedly to the work. They responded.

And they responded from almost every part of the community. You notice here that it was men and women, there were priests and Levites and there were government officials and there were goldsmiths and perfumers and merchants and gatekeepers and all of them have come together as one for one purpose. And there’s that refrain that you hear throughout the passage, as we read this chapter you may have heard it, where it says, “and next to him so-and-so repaired…and next to him and next to him…” or “after him and after him…” There’s this refrain that’s throughout this chapter. Verse 3 it says, “The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate…And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired.”

What’s that saying to us? It’s saying that each person is connected to the person next to them and each person’s work contributes to the wellbeing of the whole group. If there had been one weak spot in the wall, it would have meant that all of the people, the whole city, the whole group, would have been vulnerable in some way. This is an Old Testament example of what Paul writes about in Ephesians chapter 4 when he says that each part of the Church, each part of the body is to work together, which makes the body grow up so that it builds itself up in love. See, the people here in this chapter, they’re putting aside their own rights, they’re putting aside their own prerogatives to get together and to serve and to work for the good of the city and the good of others who are with them. Last week Cory mentioned, and he made the connection between sin and expressive individualism. That there was something about Adam and Eve’s sin that demonstrated an expressive individualism. And that’s what we see with sin, but that’s not what we see in this chapter. Is it? There’s no expressive individualism. No, it’s personal sacrifice for the sake of the good of the group.

In fact, we even see it from Nehemiah who is not listed in this chapter. Nehemiah is differential. He’s humble in this chapter. He’s not including his name among the workers. He’s showing that when he went to Jerusalem and he saw the damage and he recruited the people, he got to know the people. He knew who they were and where they were from and who their family was and he gave credit where credit was due. There’s something differential and humble even from Nehemiah in this chapter. There’s no individualism in seeking the good of Jerusalem. But you also notice that the people don’t lose their identity either. There’s no individualism, but they still have their identity. The individual still matters. That’s why their names are included and written down in the pages of Scripture. There’s dignity with each person in this group.

And doesn’t that say something to us about God’s care and concern for these people? God knows their names and their names are recorded in the pages of holy Scripture. And if God knows the names of people like Meremoth and Meshullam and Melatiah and Malchijah, can’t we be confident that God knows and cares for people with names like Bebo and Boopie and Weezie and Buz and maybe other names like Tom and Bill and Jane and Sue? Yes, God knows the names of His people. He cares for His people. Every member matters and every member matters for the good of the whole church. Just like here in this chapter, every worker matters for the good of the community and the good of the city.

The Presence of God

But actually, the real significance of this chapter is not with the names and it’s not even with the wall. The real significance of this chapter is with something that’s hardly even mentioned in this chapter at all. In Karen Jobes’ commentary on the book of Esther, if you remember the book of Esther, one of the things that sets the book of Esther apart is what? It’s that God’s name is not mentioned at any point in the book of Esther. And what Jobes’ mentions in her commentary on that book, she says that, “The great paradox of the book of Esther is that God is omnipotently present even where He seems to be most conspicuously absent.” He’s most omnipotently present even where He seems to be most conspicuously absent.

And there’s something about that in this chapter as well. God’s name, God’s name is not listed in this chapter. We do have something about the Lord or Adonai. It’s the general name for God in this chapter, but there’s also something else here, and that is that the focal point of this whole chapter, the whole city, is not mentioned explicitly in this chapter. It’s just between the lines of the narrative. It’s at the heart of Jerusalem. Now if we were to, again, go back to having a diagram, look at a map of the city of Jerusalem in this time. If we were to have a visual of what was going on there and what the city looked like, you can’t help but notice that the heart of the city, the most impressive structure in the city, is the temple. The temple is the reason for the city. The temple is the reason for Jerusalem because the temple represents the dwelling place of God. It represents the presence of God. It represents what Cory was talking about to our children – that God shows up and that God comes to be among His people. That is the goal of all of the covenant promises of God for His people – that He would dwell among them and He would be their God and they would be His people.

You see it in Exodus 29 and Leviticus 26 and you can hear in the promises of God in the Old Testament a restoration of the blessings that Adam and Eve had lost by their sin in the garden. The blessings of the presence of God and enjoying a relationship with Him. Those are the same things about which the prophets promised at the time of the exile. And Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 36, “I will cause the cities to be inhabited and the waste places to be rebuilt and they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’” Ezekiel is talking about a city that is restored and inhabited. And he says this in chapter 37 – “I will make a covenant of peace with them,” a covenant of shalom, “and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. He will set them in their land and multiply them in and His sanctuary will be in their midst.” He says, “My dwelling place shall be with them and I will be their God and they shall be My people.” Those are the promises of the prophets at the time of exile.

And when we read about, in this chapter, the Sheep Gate and the Fish Gate and the Valley Gate, and yes, even the Dung Gate, we have to realize that this wall surrounds something. This wall surrounds a city and it surrounds a people. And at the heart of both of those things is the temple of God. In fact, this passage only really matters, this chapter only really makes sense if we connect these names and these places to God’s overall plan of salvation. We have to follow the storyline that begins at the very beginning all the way until the end of the Bible and from start to finish. And that is that God is rescuing for Himself a people that they might, that we might enjoy His presence forever. The temple represents that presence of God among His people. That’s what we’re made for. That’s what salvation is all about. And there is no satisfaction for anybody in anything ever outside of knowing God and being with God forever.

We see hints of the temple’s significance in this chapter as the people repair the wall. For one thing, you notice in verse 1, who is it that starts the work? It’s Eliashib, the high priest. He’s the first one that gets to work in rebuilding this section with his brothers, the priests. Right away in this chapter there is a connection between the temple and the wall. There’s a connection between priest and project. And then we see that the priests built the Sheep Gate. And what did they do? Look at verse 1. They consecrated it. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred. Consecrated is a religious term. It comes from the word that means “holy.” And so there is something here, there is a recognition that the holiness of the temple extends to the walls that surround the temple. And as we go through the chapter, we see later on that the temple servants are at work and the priests are at work rebuilding their sections of the wall as well. It’s almost like there are subtle reminders all throughout this chapter that this wall building is not just a civil engineering project. No, it’s connected to something bigger and something better. It’s connected to the temple that is within the city.

If you remember, Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book. And Ezra is all about rebuilding the temple. And now Nehemiah is the next stage in that process. It’s about fortifying the city walls around the temple and around the people and to make a place for God’s name to dwell among them. We have to see in these people’s work their faith and their hope in the promises of God. They had a desire and an anticipation for what the prophets had foretold – for the city walls to be rebuilt, for God’s presence to come into the temple and for Him to dwell among them so that He would be their God and they would be His people. This, you see, is a work of faith in Nehemiah chapter 3. And one of the things that we saw last week in chapter 2 that Sanballat and others, that they opposed this work and it was said that they had no claim or no right to Jerusalem. These people did. These people had a claim and a right to Jerusalem, and yet they did not receive the promises and their expectations for which they hoped in their lifetimes. You see, neither Ezra nor Nehemiah tells us anything about the glory of God filling the temple in this time. There’s something about these books, about the book of Nehemiah, that’s anticlimactic.

And that’s because the hopes of Jerusalem, the hopes of the fulfillment for the Old Testament promises, would not come during their lifetimes. The hopes and the expectations would not come until the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the presence of God who took on flesh and dwelt among His people. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” And it says, “He was speaking about the temple of His body.” In Jesus, the fullness of deity dwells bodily. You see, that’s why we’re not looking to Jerusalem. That’s why we’re not looking to rebuild walls and rebuild temples in Jerusalem because Jesus is the true Temple. He has brought about all of the blessings of salvation through His life, death and resurrection. He restores us to God by faith and He fills us with the presence of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He makes us citizens of the New Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven, which is full of peace and justice and righteousness forever.

We come to the book of Revelation – what do we find? We find a description of the new heavens and the new earth and about the holy city, the New Jerusalem, and it comes down out of heaven from God. And what does John say? John says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be their God.” And what else does John say? He says there’s no temple in the city. Why is there no temple there? It’s because the Temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The glory of God is there and the nations gather there. And it says that the gates will never be shut and the unclean will be kept out and all those in the city will be those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. See, it’s to that city, it’s to the New Jerusalem that is above to which we look with hope and expectation. And it’s for that city for which we are called to work. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He says that, “The Gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed to all nations and then comes the end.” It’s through the preaching and the teaching of the Gospel, it’s through the work of discipleship and the ministry of the Gospel that God makes a place for His name to dwell. That’s a big task. That’s a huge task. And it demands that every Christian participate in the work of ministry. We need a wholehearted response, a wholehearted response of every citizen of the city of God for the work of God’s kingdom. No one staying on the sidelines. No one having a passive or a consumer mentality. Everyone looking for a job and a work to do.

If we’re going to raise children in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord, we need every parent engaged in that task. If we’re going to have marriages that display the grace of God and the love of God, then we need every spouse committed to the marriage. If we’re going to have worship that is joyful and compelling, we need every member here and worshiping and engaged in the worship of God. If we’re going to support the work of ministry around the world, the work of mission, we need every member giving to that work. And if we’re going to reach our neighborhoods and our community around us, if we’re going to love our city, then we need every person, every Christian praying and serving and loving our neighbors and welcoming the strangers who are among us. It’s a big job. It’s a huge job. And sometimes we get discouraged, don’t we? We get discouraged because of the mess that we see around us and we see what seems like little fruit from our efforts. But God calls us to serve Him together and He calls us to make His name known. By His grace, He has made us citizens of the new heavens and the new earth, of the New Jerusalem. He has given to us all of the blessings that are in Christ Jesus – “Yes” and “Amen” in Him. He has given those to us, and so we can persevere and press on and work no matter where God has called us, no matter what our role may be, no matter how insignificant it seems; God calls us to keep working for His glory and to build His kingdom because we have a city that has foundations whose maker and builder is God.

Let’s pray.

Father, we praise You for the work of the Gospel and the message of salvation. We praise You for Your love for us and for the privilege that You give to us to work in Your kingdom. We ask that You would help us to be faithful. Help us to be committed. And would You use us by Your Spirit to bring about Your glory. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.