by Dr. Doug Redford
Jan Scruggs served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as an infantry corporal and member of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. At some point after he returned to civilian life and after the war was over, he began thinking about a memorial of some kind to acknowledge the sacrifice of all who had served in Vietnam. His efforts resulted in the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., usually referred to simply as “the Wall.” Engraved on this wall are the names of the men and women who died during the Vietnam War or are still listed as missing in action or as prisoners of war. The total number of names on the wall comes to 58,267.
Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s wall—a wall that remained in ruins almost 150 years after the Babylonians demolished the city. No names were to be etched in Nehemiah’s wall; its purpose was not commemorative but practical—to provide security for Jerusalem and its residents. Names, however, are an important part of the record of the wall’s construction found in the book of Nehemiah. Chapter 3 “etches” for us in Scripture the names of those who participated in support of Nehemiah’s undertaking.
On the surface, these 32 verses may not appear to be the most riveting part of the Bible to read. The listing of these names, however, offers some valuable lessons for us as followers of Jesus who are committed to building his kingdom.
Nehemiah would not have thought it pointless to include these names in his account of rebuilding the wall. For him this may have been the most exciting and encouraging part of the book to write. It gave him an opportunity to recognize the contributions of all who helped him build the wall. He knew he could not complete such a task alone. He realized what a sacrifice he was asking all of these individuals to make and, furthermore, that he was placing their lives in great danger. (This becomes clear when one reads of the degree of opposition Nehemiah and his coworkers encountered.)
In Nehemiah 2:8 and 18, Nehemiah credits what he calls “the gracious hand of my God” for having provided what was necessary for him to be able to begin the rebuilding process. That gracious hand was (and is) frequently seen through human hands (and in some cases voices, feet, or finances).
Suppose each of us compiled a list of the people who have been instrumental in building us spiritually. Who would be included? You and I may never write a book as Nehemiah did in which we mention these individuals, but it is still a worthwhile project to complete. After making the list, we should thank God that his gracious hand was demonstrated through these people. We should thank them personally if they are still living and remember these names as Nehemiah remembered those who assisted him.
It is fascinating to read through chapter 3 and consider the variety of individuals and occupations represented by those who aided Nehemiah in building the wall. The chapter begins with a reference to “Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests” who “went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate.” They also proceeded to dedicate the portions that they built. Dedicating seems an appropriate task for priests, but we might not expect them to be so directly involved in the building itself. Apparently these men saw a need, responded to Nehemiah’s vision and direction, and stepped forward to help. According to verses 8, 31, and 32, goldsmiths, a perfume-maker, and some merchants also assisted in repairing sections of the wall. Quite a variety of assistants!
Verse 12 includes two interesting comments about a man named Shallum. The first is that he was “ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem.” As a man with some authority in the city, he could have refused to “get his hands dirty” doing something as menial as building a wall. But Shallum, though a ruler, was obviously a man with a servant’s heart. The second item highlighted is that he repaired a portion of the wall “with the help of his daughters.” Apparently Shallum had no sons (at least none are mentioned), but his daughters pitched in and supported their father’s efforts. Just think what memories they made together! It is hard to imagine that these girls ever forgot what they accomplished with their dad. Did they at one point etch their names somehow in part of the wall, as family members today sometimes write their names in a driveway before the concrete has a chance to dry? Perhaps Shallum and his daughters often returned to the site and recalled memorable stories of their family endeavor.
One of the phrases commonly used in Nehemiah 3 is “next to him/them” to describe the various builders and where they were positioned. The words say something about the cooperative effort required to complete this task. No one was superior or inferior to another person or group; everyone was on the same level. All joined hands and hearts in building the wall. It is a powerful example of how the church is to function as Christ’s body, working together in building his kingdom. Good and lasting memories are made when people come together on behalf of the Lord’s work.
Levels of Commitment
Verse 20 offers a positive example to imitate: a man named Baruch is described as having “zealously repaired another section” of the wall. Other participants within the chapter are characterized as simply those who “repaired” their part. Something was different about Baruch; apparently he brought much more passion and enthusiasm when he came to work. It was hard to miss, so much so that Nehemiah chose to comment on this man’s spirit in his record.
A similar New Testament example is seen in the way Paul wrote about Timothy’s attitude and the way in which he stood above others. Paul indicated to the Philippian church his intentions to send Timothy there to learn about the Philippians’ situation. He told them concerning Timothy, “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). Timothy, like Baruch, showed a spirit of devotion and service that was lacking in others.
On the other end of the spectrum is a group of men referred to as the “nobles” of Tekoa in verse 5. There it is noted that they “would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Why not? No answer is given in the text; the information is simply recorded. Did these nobles think that wall building was somehow beneath them? Did they view such work as the duty of the common people? Perhaps they were noble in the title they carried, but far from it in spirit.
One wonders what Nehemiah was thinking as he recorded the lack of effort from the nobles of Tekoa. Was he angry, bitter, or resentful? Perhaps his feelings bordered more on disappointment or pity. He may have felt sorry for these men, for they were missing out on a tremendous opportunity. They had the chance to be part of a great undertaking done to honor the Lord—and they refused to give themselves fully. They may have gotten out of doing some rather demanding work, but they also missed the joy that comes only to those who “put their shoulders” to the Lord’s work.
Each of us should pause to take inventory at this point and ask, “Who do I resemble more in my service to the Lord or in my heart for the Lord’s work—Baruch or the nobles of Tekoa?” Am I zealous or “zeal-less” in my attitude toward and involvement in the only work that is making an impact for eternity?
Our names will never be included in the record of sacred Scripture, as those in Nehemiah’s supporting cast were. But we are part of another cast—made up of those who are involved in another kind of building. We are participating in construction of the “holy temple” that consists of “living stones” who are added by their faith and obedience to Jesus (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4, 5). Paul viewed the Corinthian Christians as “God’s building” and saw himself as one of the “coworkers” building on the only true foundation, which is Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:9-11). Those who faithfully give themselves to building for eternity are promised a place in another kind of sacred record—the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27).
Dr. Doug Redford is a freelance writer and professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Will You Help to Rebuild?
Nehemiah’s mission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls was truly a cooperative effort. It also takes a cooperative effort for people to survive devastation today.
This year, we’ve seen a variety of natural disasters befall people, from the earthquake and tsunami of Japan in March to the abundance of tornados that hit the U.S., especially the South and Midwest, in April and May.
How have survivors moved forward? How can they rebuild not only physical structures but rebuild their entire lives?
They cannot do it alone.
Challenge yourself to make a two-part plan:
1. Prepare your heart to be available the next time a neighbor, family member, or friend needs your help. Pray that God would ready you for such a task.
2. Find out how you can offer support for survivors in Japan and/or the U.S. Perhaps it’s sending money or supplies to churches serving those areas. Perhaps it’s going there yourself to be a part of the action. Whatever you can do to help, the needs are still great.