You might have found this chapter boring. Another list. This is a list of those who worked on the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah records their names, and sometimes he records their occupations – priests, goldsmiths, local rulers, merchants, gatekeepers, etc. Sons, daughters, and brothers were involved in the building project.
It wasn’t just Nehemiah who was responsible for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. There were many others, and Nehemiah was careful to write down their names – to record for all time those who took leadership roles in the rebuilding of the walls.
The description of the rebuilding work begins and ends at the “Sheep Gate.” I picture the city being closed up, encircled, with the Sheep Gate being the main point of entry.
That’s fitting, you know. Remember Ezra 1:1 and the importance of the book of Jeremiah to the Ezra/Nehemiah story. Jeremiah 50:6 says, “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold.”
A little later in that chapter, Jeremiah records this: “Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured him, and now at last Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has gnawed his bones. Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria. I will restore Israel to his pasture, and he shall feed on Carmel and in Bashan, and his desire shall be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and in Gilead. In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant” (Jeremiah 50:17-20).
Who says Nehemiah 3 is boring! There’s a lot going on here, if we care to look. Nehemiah described the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, and he used the Sheep Gate as his focal point. It seems he did this because God, as Jeremiah had predicted, was “restoring Israel to his pasture.” The nation has been “lost sheep,” scattered and straying from the fold. Here, the fold was being restored. The lost sheep would be brought back, and their desires would be satisfied.
And then there’s this whole piece about iniquity and sin not being found in Israel – “for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.” Again, everything points to Jesus Christ. About 500 years after Nehemiah’s rebuilding project, Jesus would die on the cross just outside those city walls at Jerusalem. But he would rise again. The forgiveness of sin and reunion with our Creator and Lord is central to the crucifixion and resurrection. Did you know your sins have been forgiven?
In Christ, we have a picture of the gathering of sheep. There is plenty of imagery for us in the gospels to consider on this point. I would just point out this one: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture'” (John 10:7-9). Actually, if you have time today, read all of John 10. I think you would find it fruitful.
And so Nehemiah subtly reminds us of the way in which Jeremiah’s prophecies were being fulfilled, and Nehemiah unknowingly points us to Jesus Christ.
I really like this chapter – Nehemiah 3. I like it because of all those builders. They really aren’t all that significant from the world’s perspective. They’re really forgettable people. And it seems the work they did was not all that significant either, again from the world’s perspective. “So you built a gate. Big deal!”
But you can imagine how God views them. Shallum was there. He was an important guy in Jerusalem. He ruled half the district of Jerusalem. And he repaired the wall near the Tower of the Ovens. Oh, and it wasn’t just him. His daughters were with him. They went out and worked on the wall. They sacrificed their time and energy and resources for the rebuilding of that wall. And as we know, it wasn’t just the wall that they were working on. They were helping to build the nation – the people of God. They were God’s “servants” (Jeremiah 2:20).
And when Jesus on Palm Sunday approached those walls on his way into Jerusalem, the people cried out and rejoiced and referred to Jesus as “King” – and the Pharisees told Jesus to make the people stop. What they were saying wasn’t appropriate. And Jesus said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). I like to think Jesus was talking about the stones of those walls – the very stones that people like Shallum and his daughters put into place. All of it was work that was aching for the arrival of the Messiah. Creation was eagerly waiting (Romans 8:19).
Finally, I couldn’t help but think of the people in my life who have done the work of “building.” These are people who put the gospel into my life. My faithful grandmothers are two of them. A pastor in Wichita, Kansas, in the church where I grew up – Charlie Greer – was another. Multiple other pastors and small group leaders and mentors are part of that. My favorite pastor – Chuck Terrill – is another. They diligently do the work of building. To the world, their work is insignificant. But their names are written down (Revelation 3:12-13).
So you might want to think about who those people are in your own lives. Who has been doing this work of building? Thank God for them and – if they are still with us – pray for them.