Nehemiah 3

Today’s reading is Nehemiah 3:1-5Open Link in New Window.

Here is today’s reflection by Helen.

This week, we carry on through the book of Nehemiah. We looked last week at Chapter 2—you will remember that Nehemiah, heartbroken to hear of the destruction of the city, received help from the Persian King Artaxerxes to begin a massive building project in Jerusalem. He made an 800 mile journey, inspected the city and made a plan for the work. You’ll recall the initial opposition from Sanballat, Tobiah and Gesham—local rulers with vested interests who did not want to see a neighbouring state regain too much power. Imagine them today, lurking resentfully as we watch the rebuilding taking place.

So, this week chapter 3—described in one of the commentaries I read as a ‘preacher’s worst nightmare’. I could see why when I first looked at it—name after name after name of those employed in rebuilding various section sof the wall and descriptions of what was repaired which are particularly challenging to me as I have virtually no special awareness. But I like a challenge. And having studied the chapter, I think there is plenty for us to ponder.

When I first read Nehemiah chapter 3, this picture came into my mind. It’s a picture of the German Trummerfrauen—translated as ‘rubble women’. In the aftermath of the second world war, with millions of men imprisoned or dead, these women laboured to clear the estimated 400 million cubic metres of rubble and debris across 62 German cities. and reconstruct buildings in devasted cities across their country. A different place and a different context to our reading today, but I can sense something of the determination, sticking power and intense energy which runs through this 3rd chapter of the book of Nehemiah.

As we move to the building site, a picture of the wall with the gates which are repaired in this chapter. Significantly, we start at the Sheep Gate. We hear that the High Priest sets and example by getting his hands dirty, along with the other priests. The Sheep gate was highly significant—it was the gate through which the sheep were brought on their way to be sacrificed in the temple. It’s specifically mentioned 400 years later in John Even today there is a sheep market in Jerusalem near the sheep gate.

It’s significant that this gate is specifically mentioned as being dedicated—maybe that’s because through the dedication of this first gate rebuilt by the priests, the people were recommitting the whole city to God. The excitement is tangible. This isn’t just any wall—this is the wall which protects the place where they could once again live out their faith and serve God as a testimony to the nations.

Let’s take an imaginary tour round the building site—here it is—the repairs are generally described in an anti-clockwise direction. Let’s pause to watch Shallum repairing the wall with the help of his daughters. Like many others on site, he is ruler of a ‘half district’—splitting up the districts was a Persian strategy to ensure that no one grew too powerful. We see how some of those working on the wall don’t speak with a Jerusalem accent—like Hasabiah who has travelled from Keilah, 15 miles away. Look at Meremoth who finishes his bit of the wall in Verse 4 and then instead of taking a well-earned break goes off to help somewhere else in v21. We note how many of the workers have been tasked with repairing sections of the wall in front of their own houses—Nehemiah knows that they will be particularly invested in this—he’s not mentioned directly in this chapter, but we can be sure that he is going round project managing. We pause to speak to some of the men working on the wall and discover that they have many different trades—we meet goldsmiths, merchants, priests. All working together. We note the team work—the wood and stones being carried onto the site, the sawing and carving, the hammering as doors and bolts and bars are put in place. We also see the nobles of Tekoa in their fine clothes who consider the work beneath them and don’t want to get dirty.

We can now fast forward around 400 years—these same fountains, pools and gates are the ones which Christ would come to know in his earthly life. Jesus will come in through the East Gate and will exit through one of the gates on his way to calvary. And praise God—we know how that story ends.

We know that around 40 years after the crucifixion, the walls which Nehemiah’s builders had repaired were breached—and the city and the temple was destroyed by the Romans under Titus. But scripture points us towards a New Jerusalem revealed in the vision of John in the book of Revelation—the city where Jesus will dwell for ever with his people—the ultimate fulfilment of God’s plan for restoration with humanity. Like the city in Nehemiah’s time it has 12 gates, but these gates are made of pearl. But it has no temple, for as John tells us, ‘I did not see a temple in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple. The city does not need the sum or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of the Lord gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its might and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it’. That, my friends, is our New Jerusalem—our ultimate spiritual home.

Let’s finish by going back and watching the builders. Like Nehemiah, they really, really care about that wall—about the city where they worship. That challenges me. How much do I care about the state of the church—about the fact that in this country adult weekly attendance at C of E churches has declined by 24% for adults and by 47% for children in the last 20 years? How much do I care about friends and family who are heading towards an eternity without God? There’s rebuilding to be done and we all have a part to play. I pray that God will show us this week how he wants us to build—maybe through responding to a need, through a word of witness, or through spending more time with that great master builder, Jesus. I believe that when we start building, he’ll help us lift the bricks! Let’s pray every day that God will use us in his great building project. May he send us out in the power of the spirit to live and work—and build—to His praise and Glory. Amen.

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