Nehemiah 11 & 12

Nehemiah 11/12: Where are All the People?

Did you ever play that children’s game with your hands:  Here is the church- here is the steeple, open the door and here’s the people ; or by clasping your hand a certain way- it can be – where are all the people?  This a problem Nehemiah and his leadership team faced in Jerusalem.  A physical problem of having rebuilt the walls of the city of Jerusalem, it now needed to be repopulated.

We could look around in our churches across the land today and wonder- here is the church; here is the steeple- open the doors and where are all the people? We need to rebuild and repopulate what once was the heart of our communities and cities. Let us look once again at the actions taken by Nehemiah and apply them to our situation today.

We are told in Hebrews 11 : “ For he(Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” God is a builder, an architect, a creator. When God the Son became flesh and dwelt among us, what earthly occupation did he choose? A carpenter, a builder of things.  When the Lord Jesus was approaching the time of his arrest and crucifixion, He told his disciples:  “ In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” The Ascended Lord Jesus is currently involved in preparing and building a place for us to reside in the New Jerusalem.

In fact, the church is built on the foundation of God’s Word of which the Lord Jesus is the chief cornerstone and we are the ‘ living stones.’ When the Lord Jesus came to earth, He came to build a bridge to span a chasm to a Holy God, we could not do for ourselves. He was the only one who could construct this bridge. He did it with an old rugged cross and a hand full of nails.

Unlike the fictional story of ‘The Field of Dreams’ in which Kevin Costner’s character is told ‘build it and they will come’; Nehemiah had to take the initiative to repopulate the rebuilt city. We must do the same  to build the church, or else we will have a church with a steeple, but open the doors and where are all the people? This is what the Great Commission is about- taking the initiative to populating the kingdom of God. For it was God who took the initiative to populate heaven, He sent His Only Son to seek and save the lost.

First , Nehemiah and his leadership team led by example. They settle in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one family out of every ten and live in Jerusalem. Others were allowed to stay in their own towns.  There were also those who volunteered out of a sense of duty to live in Jerusalem.

Our Heavenly Father in His wisdom has chosen to use believers to build His Kingdom on earth that will populate the New Jerusalem in the future. He expects us to do our share of the work. Ephesians 2:10 tells us: “ We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has ordained we should walk in.” The Great Commission applies to every believer.

Once again in the story of Nehemiah we encounter a long list of names. Let us pay particular attention to a couple of names for God is telling us He doesn’t care how you started life as we look at the descendants of Judah and Benjamin. ‘For God uses the foolish to confound the wise, the weak to shame the strong and the lowly things of the world, the things that are not, to nullify the thing that are, so that no one may boast before Him’.( I Corinthians 1)  God used   such people as a prostitute named Rahab and  the illegitimate son of Judah by Tamar, Perez, to accomplish His will. He used the undersized teenage shepherd boy named David to slay a giant, a little boy who gave the Lord all he had, a sack lunch, and  a group of 12 ordinary men of which one was a traitor to spread the Gospel and turn the world upside down. And from the tribe of Benjamin, God used a man named Saul of Tarsus who persecuted the church, having men and women arrested, thrown in prison and even executed. This man a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin would become the mighty apostle- Paul.

Now let us observe how the work of the ministry was divided. From the priests we will see three distinct groups carrying on three designated functions. God is a builder and a builder works by a blue print. There are tasks and duties as we will see for everyone.  The first group of priests which are 822 in number carry on  work for the temple. The next list which numbered 242 were heads of families and the third group which numbered only 128 are referred to in NIV as ‘able men’, and a more complete description in the KJV identifies them as ‘ mighty men of valor’. From that description we know these men were warriors.

How does this design and functions apply to us today?  Ever church, is like a body with different parts performing different tasks. Some of the body is more visible than others, but no more important than the unseen parts. A ministry is like a wheel within a wheel. Certainly there is the pastor and his staff of associates who are most visible. Then all through the church are those men and women who carry on the work of the church. They are in the nursery, they are teachers who teach the doctrine of redemption, who provide understanding of the scripture and how to apply it to one’s life. They exercise the gifts God has given them to build the body up in faith.

The next group who were described in the NIV as ‘ heads of families.’ This group represents deacons as well as those trained as counselors to see to the needs of the families in the flock. These needs might be physical needs during time of illness and include bringing food, running errands, mowing lawns, or helping the poor, orphans and widows.

The last division in this first group were the 128 able men or as the KJV refers to them: mighty men of valor. The warriors who were prepared to defend their city against attacks of the enemy. In the church today the great need is for prayer warriors who fight the battle on their knees in earnest prayer. For the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man or woman availeth much.

Next Nehemiah and his leadership team divided the Levites into two distinct groups with specific functions and activities. One group is described as being charge of the outside work of the House of God.  This could certainly include those who take care of the physical plant and grounds of the church. But I believe it also refers to those who do the outside work of the House of God, by carrying the hope of the Gospel to those outside the church in the apartments, trailer parks, prisons, jails and shelters.

The other group mentioned here are the musicians who provided thanksgiving and prayer. This was the music ministry led by a minister of music along with the choir. The music ministry of a church  is not for entertainment, although it is entertaining, it is to move us, inspire us and strengthen us. It prepares us for worship.

Then there are the gatekeepers. Today we have those who volunteer to open the doors, assist those who need help in and out of their cars, serve as ushers and provide security during services. We must also remember strait and narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life. We must make sure the Gospel, the Word of God our doctrine is kept secure by those who keep this gate intact.

So we see the wheels within the wheel that moves the body that makes up the House of God for as Solomon wrote in Psalms 127- except the Lord build the house, we labor in vain.

A pastor once printed this message in the church bulletin. The headline of the article read:  Church mourns the passing of one of its most faithful members and servants. The startling headline drew many members to read the article and find it contained a very uncomfortable truth.  The pastor in a ‘ tongue-in-cheek’ article proclaimed the church had lost its most faithful servant a person who was known for giving generously of their money, time and talent. Who had worked in the nursery, teaching, security, various committees and numerous other activities. We have long depended on this faithful servant who has now passed away. They were always there when we needed someone to volunteer. Their name was known by everyone in the church for every time we asked for help- they always recommended this person.  Let ‘ Someone Else “ do it.  And now “ Someone Else” has died and we are in mourning for we wonder if there is “Anyone Else” who will volunteer??

Do you realize how many people have volunteered to perform certain tasks in order for a worship service and teaching to take place on Sunday morning at WJBC?  There are those who come to take care of children in the nursery; people who run the audio, sound and record services for radio; all the musicians who have practiced, prepared and rehearsed, teachers who have studied the Word; members who arrive early to turn on lights, open doors, make coffee for their class; people who will provide security during the services; those who man the doors to help people in and out; members who attended GROW and wrote letters, made calls or visits to visitors; those who visited the sick in the hospital; or comforted those who had lost loved ones; and the pastor who has studied and prayed and prepared during the week to bring a message; and the staff who have performed tasks – all for one reason- that we might come and worship the Lord Our God in Spirit and Truth.

Sacrifices are required of us as believers.  Some of these people had to sacrifice by moving from their home towns to inhabit Jerusalem.  The Apostle Paul says in Romans 12: 1 –“ Therefore I beseech you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living  SACRIFICES,  holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.” Not just ritual acts but a person’s involvement of heart, mind, will and soul.  Here we see the lesson and God’s blueprint- if we are to rebuild what has fallen into ruin and maintain it we must give of ourselves.

Now as we look in chapter 12 of Nehemiah we see a dedication ceremony of the work that has been done to repair the walls and the gates. We are to offer the sacrifice of praise. Praise is a sacrifice- you might ask?  I thought praise was thanking God for all the good things He has done. It is and we must do that- but sometimes praise is a sacrifice because we do not feel like praising God, because circumstances are difficult. Many of the people there on this day 2500 years ago had been asked to sacrifice by moving their family and possessions from their home town to re-populate Jerusalem.  Personally I remember a time when I was going through cancer treatments and had been extremely sick with a blood infection and spent a week in the hospital. I was discouraged and now we were in Houston at M D Anderson about to find out what, if anything the treatments had done to eradicate the cancer. Gina said before we find out what has happened- we are going to get on our knees and praise God for all that He has done and allowed in our lives.  I did not feel like praising God for I did not know if I was healed or dying.  But if we believe the Word of God- we are told: “ And we know that ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose.” ( Romans 8:28)

The other sacrifice these people made 2500 years ago was the sacrifice of gifts. Are you using your gifts, not just financially, but are you using your spiritual gifts and talents to help, encourage or build others up?  For this is a sacrifice we are asked to make. Gina’s father, Houston Sipes was a talented musician. He possessed a rich bass voice and loved to sing. He was in the choir for over 40 years. Rarely missing a choir practice and his children remember him practicing his part at home, playing the chords on the piano and learning all the words. Later he used his talents and was instrumental in organizing the Barbershop quartets which entertained and provided enjoyment for many.  Houston loved to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

The dedication of the wall and gates included the choirs and the people singing praises to their God for the great things He had done.  It was a great celebration.  The leaders and the choirs divided into two large groups. Next they climbed on top of the walls. This after all was what they were dedicating so they took their places on the wall of the city. They then walked around the wall in opposite directions meeting at the House of God.

Their enemies had laughed at their efforts and said the wall would not hold the weight of a fox. Now two large groups walked confidently on top of the wall. Remember Nehemiah had told his enemy that ‘the God of heaven will give us success!”   Have we forgotten that truth?  Have we forgotten the One who began a good work will surely be able to complete it. Do we realize as Hudson Taylor did when we do God’s Work, God’s way , we will never lack for God’s supply?

The dedication of this mighty work said to the enemy and unbelievers- God’s Work will stand.

Here was physical proof right before their eyes of the power of God and the reality of faith.

May we learn the lesson of sacrifice which is necessary to rebuild and maintain what has fallen into ruin.

We are give of ourselves.

We are to give our praise- even when we do not ‘ feel’ like it. For we are to live by faith, not by feelings.

We are to give of our gifts to build up the body.

That is God’s blueprint and it still works today.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14