Jerusalem was a city that was built upon mountains. When the walls of that city were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the walls were not pushed in but out. The stones, massive, weighing tons, rolled down into the valley below, digging furrows, so that, from the top one could look down upon a field strewn thick with boulders. Each one of these boulders had to be hauled up, cleaned, reshaped, and fitted back into the wall.
In Nehemiah 4:10, 11 we read, “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall. And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.”
It was a field of devastation. There were no cranes, no diesel engines, no construction companies. We do not read that any of the builders that Nehemiah employed in the building of the walls were masons. There might have been a few. But we read that they were priests and perfume makers and policemen and businessmen.
Further, there was a need for skill. The foundation had to be firm, the walls plumb. Sections of the wall needed to be joined and fit together, for if the wall was not connected, what good would it be? It required muscle, sweat, unity, cooperation, skill. It was a great work.
Nehemiah, you remember, came to Jerusalem after hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were yet in devastation. He has appeared among the people of God and issued the call: “Come, let us build.” And the people of God, by God’s grace, have now responded under Nehemiah’s firm leadership: “We will arise and build.” So they strengthened their hands in the God of heaven and said, “He will prosper us. Therefore we his servants will arise and build.”
Nehemiah 3, though one might be inclined to skip over it because it is filled with names that are hard to read, is nevertheless one of the most precious chapters in God’s Word. There you see the people of God of all ages, of all occupations, without contention, without pursuing separate interests, without bickering, side by side doing the work of the Lord. Why?
We read in Nehemiah 4:6, “The people had a mind to work.” The work of the Lord, by the grace of the Spirit, lay near to their heart. And God caused that work to be so dear that it crushed all of their self-interests. And, by the Spirit of God, in thankfulness, they started up and they builded, side by side, family by family, engaged in the great work of building the walls of Zion.
Do you build the wall of Zion, even over against your own house (Neh. 3:10)—your family, your children, your marriage, the walls of your own personal godliness, the walls of the church of which you are a member? Is the truth of God dear and precious to you? Is it evident in your life that the things of Christ and the things of the church and of the gospel lay claim to your heart—that you have a mind in you to work, to dedicate yourself to the great work of God in time, which is in the church of Jesus Christ? May the Scriptures, as we look into Nehemiah 3 today, so cause us to say, “Put my name down there. Record my name as one who built next to so-and-so, next to my brother. And the wall of Zion—that we were engaged in the great work of the Lord.”
Our theme is: The people had a mind to work.
I said that if you looked at Nehemiah 3, you might be tempted to brush over it. But you should read that chapter with the same reverence that you read Hebrews 11, the chapter on the heroes of faith. None of these men and women who are mentioned in Nehemiah 3 will you find in Hebrews 11. But the same faith that was present in the heroes of faith, those heroes of faith who wrought righteousness, obtained promises, and out of weakness were made strong—that same faith was living in the people mentioned in Nehemiah 3. This is God’s registry of builders. It is not a registry of those who tear down in opposition to Him, of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander (I Tim. 1:20), who have put away the faith. God has such a record of false teachers, you know, a registry of deserters, of those who have forsaken. But here in Nehemiah 3 we have a registry of faithful builders in the kingdom of God.
If we study this registry, we find out some very important truths.
First of all, we see that the building of the walls under the leadership of Nehemiah began with the example of the high priest, who set down clearly the priority. This is verse 1 of the chapter. The religious leaders, the high priests, were the ones who set the example, they led the way. They are the very first ones recorded to take up the work. The high priest and his brethren rose up. They got the ball rolling under the leadership of Nehemiah.
So let it be. Elders, deacons, and ministers are required to do more than just talk. Their life is to be their sermon.
And notice, not only were the priests the ones to show an example of setting spiritual things first in their life and of giving themselves wholly to the Lord, but they also set the priority. The high priest built the sheep gate. That is where the work of the wall began. And, if you read the chapter, you find that the work goes circular, all the way around, and it ends up back at that sheep gate. The sheep gate was the place where the animals of sacrifice entered the city. It was directly related to the temple, to the worship of God. It was the very heart of the worship of God. They began at the right place.
Note, second, the diversity of the builders. If you read Nehemiah 3 you will see that the builders came from eight different locations, some up to twenty miles away. Only fifty percent were residents. They came from Tekoa, from Gibeon. They were inhabitants of Zanoah, from Mizpah, from Bethzur, and from Keilah. They all had their own farms to till, their vineyards to prune, and their workshops to run. They had no direct benefit themselves from the walls of Jerusalem. They did not say, “Yes, you have this function and this activity and this work of the church, but I’ve got my own things to do. I’m too busy for the church’s needs. I have important things. And, besides, what am I going to get out of it?” That was not the spirit of these men.
They were from every walk of life. There were goldsmiths, and apothecaries (that is, perfume-makers). There were merchants and rulers and even daughters (v. 12, a man had his daughters working with him laying brick). They did not say, “Well, what can I do? I’m not skilled. I’ve never seen a trowel in my life. My hands are soft and those bricks are rough. I’m a perfume-maker. I mix liquids in my laboratory. What am I going to do?” No, they said, “Now, as a perfume-maker, I’ll mix mud on the scaffold.” Or, “As a goldsmith, I will apply my skill in cutting to the reshaping of the stones.” Or, “As a daughter, I’ll go with my Dad and I will be engaged in this work.” What an example to us of wholehearted commitment as families to the cause of God.
Note with me, third, the selflessness of the builders. Merchants left their business. Farmers left their fields. The mind-set was one of self-abrogation. Self was not important. That comes out especially in the mention of the dung gate, if you read verse 14. All of the work, of course, was arduous. But some of them would offset that difficult work in the knowledge that they were building some very notable places—some places of high profile—the old gate through which Melchizedek entered, the wall of the pool of Siloah, the wall over against the sepulchers of David, the tower of the king’s house. But there were other places that did not have this high profile and were not glamorous. Someone had to build the wall over the dung gate—over the sewage canal. I can imagine the day when Nehemiah was handing out the contracts or assigning the portions of the wall that must be built by each family. He said, “Dung gate.” And we read that a man called Malchiah the son of Rechab, the ruler of part of Bethhaccerem—he built it, he stepped forward. It was a smelly work. It was unpopular. It had to be done for the glory of God. And he did it.
Note with me in the fourth place, the unity of the builders. They constantly are referred to this way: Next to them built…. What man here does not know, from experience in his daily occupation, how jealousy and personal ambition and envy can hamper, delay, and all but ruin his projects—when workers look cross-eyed at each other. But there was a unity among these Jews in which they took into account each other. They loved each other and they loved the cause.
Then, note the zeal of the builders. Not all were engaged in this work. We read in verse 5 that the nobles of Tekoa would not put their necks to the work of the Lord. They were proud, they were arrogant. They said, “Oh, this is beneath our dignity.” So it was not perfect. But, nevertheless, there were builders that had exceptional zeal. The Tekoites were mentioned as those who repaired not only one portion of the wall, but repaired more than one portion of the wall. They came, evidently, to Nehemiah, and said, “We’re done. Where else can we help? Who else can we help? We did our quota, but we’ve got strength. We can do more.”
Then, note finally the graciousness of God toward the builders. Some of the workers on the wall had a checkered past and some of them had a troublesome present. There was a man called Meremoth, the son of Urijah, the son of Koz (v. 4). His grandfather had been put out of the priesthood for the sin of marrying a strange wife. His father had been restored. And now Meremoth, the grandson, is distinguishing himself. We read further of a man called Meshullam. He is engaged in the work. But it is his daughter who has married the son of Tobiah, and Tobiah is the enemy. His daughter, daughter-in-law to Tobiah, is reporting every word of Nehemiah to Tobiah and is trying to promote the work of Tobiah in stopping the construction of the wall. So here is a man whose family was not behind him. This was very troublesome to him. But he continued in the work. The sins of the fathers do not prevent God’s grace from working in the present. And the troubles and sorrows of the present do not disqualify one from the work of the Lord.
What vital living lessons.
I trust that as we went over that brief review of the work of the Lord in the building of the walls, you were making much personal application—that the Holy Spirit was busy actively applying the Word. You do not just sit mindlessly under the Word of God, do you? You hear God’s Word for application, do you not? You understand that Nehemiah 3 is not just the record of the past, but that this Scripture is the Word of the present, always the Word of the present. Do not say, “Oh, what that would have been like to see that and to talk to those guys!” You, child of God, are there. How are you building?
The lessons are, first of all, the forgetfulness of self in the presence of a passion for the accomplishment of the great work of God. The great work of God is the cause of His church. The gospel, the covenant, evangelism, building up, sending forth the Word of God—the great work that comes to us, children of God, is a weight that must crush self.
Beloved, when the needs of the wall are shown to you, the needs of God’s people, then inside of us must shrink “Me,” “My,” and “Mine.” Self must shrivel up in the presence of the great work of God’s kingdom of His dear Son.
Self-denial. Jesus said, “If any man come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” If your honor, if your way, if your will, if your pleasure is the most important thing to you, do not count on being used of God for any good purpose in the building of His kingdom. Do not count on being involved in anything that really matters. You want to build up your marriage—forget about yourself. You must have the great vision of the Lamb of God and His wife the church at the table of communion in heaven.
You want, young people, to work this year? You want, young people, to have a time of fellowship? Do not sit in the discussion thinking about how you come off and what other people think about you and that what you said sounds dumb. Oh, but if you are going to be engaged in spiritual work with each other, you have to see the great, wonderful work of the Lord. Oh, for the Holy Spirit to give us a great vision of the work of the Lord.
Note, second, the lesson of the unity of the workers. Building in the kingdom of Christ is not like building the tower of Babel. It is the confusion of tongues there—speaking past, through, and about each other—gaining ascendancy over the other. But the building of God’s church on every level is to be characterized by unity—a peace—away from seeking each one to do his own part, to the eye of the joining of the wall. The strength of Nehemiah’s day was unity. It would have been doomed if the ranks were filled with rancor, bitterness, accusation, and suspicion.
Division is the most tragic evil in the life of the church. The wall must be joined if it is to be a wall. Apart from unity, there is no success in building. Too often we are busy building. We are busy building our piece of the wall. We want to build our piece of the wall thick and high and better because those other people in the church are just not as faithful as we are. We say, “My kids, my spiritual life, my church in this denomination is really the backbone of the church.” We look askance at the builders united in the confessions with us—others who are different from us. We do not see the need that the wall be joined.
What good is a strong section of the wall—high and thick—if it is not joined to the other sections of the wall? The devil passes through the gaps in the wall and he laughs and pushes it down from inside. You are not a liberal if you seek the unity of the builders of the church in the truth of God. No church can be independent. No church can be conservative, biblical, and faithful by itself. A believer is not strong standing alone. Young people, you are not strong if you stand alone. You must be joined to the church in truth.
Note with me the lesson of the sobriety of the builders. They did not perform shoddy work. They did good work. It was not shoddy work in catechism. It was not shoddy work in their spiritual life. There was a sobriety, there was a care about the work.
What a glorious truth! And what a glorious thing it is to be involved in the building of the kingdom of God. Not that we want to have a tower named after us. But we desire that God use our weak and sinful labors to accomplish a glorious purpose in the building of Jerusalem, His church. We desire to be faithful servants.
Therefore the Word of God comes to us today to be busy at our place on the wall; busy in our home teaching our children; busy serving our wife, serving our husband, leading our children, spending time with them; busy in the church, faithful as elders and deacons, faithful as church members; faithful in the Christian school; faithful at work, doing all that the Master has set before us, witnessing of the gospel. All these mighty works—wherever God has placed you, be it at David’s gate or at the dung gate; be it at the sheep gate or at the old gate; be you a mother, a husband, a wife, a parent, a believer, a pastor, a young person, a child, an elder or a deacon—in the church, we stand in one faith next to each other. I next to you. And our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Let us hear the leader, Jesus Christ, who has come among us: “Come, let us build. Deny yourself. Stand in the unity of the truth. Desire skill and wisdom in the Word of the Lord.” The triumph is sure. The city of God will be built. Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem, by God’s grace alone, will descend out of heaven. Come, then, let us build. And may God Himself give to us a mind to work.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. And we pray for its blessing now today upon our hearts and upon our souls. We pray that we may be united and stand united in humility and in faithfulness to Thee and to Thy glorious cause, that the truth of Thy Word may be above all things precious to us. And that, in the face of that truth, we may truly humble ourselves and be busy building for Thy honor and for Thy glory. In Jesus’ name do we ask and pray these things, Amen.