Recently my husband purchased a documentary on World War II, entitled The War1. As I watched it with him, I was reminded in a powerful way of the precious freedoms I enjoy because of the noble effort of so many anonymous men and women. Countless thousands rose to the challenge of their time and sacrificed their personal comfort, convenience and many, their very lives that others might enjoy the benefits of freedom.
In the late nineties, this same powerful emotion moved me as our son served his country in Iraq. He was a Navy rescue swimmer; their motto, “So that others might live”. During that time I was deeply impressed by the countless thousands who had gone before him in defense of our nation’s freedom – many who never returned. How grateful I was (and am) to those families who gave their father, brother, son, mother, sister, or daughter for the greater good of the nation. But to most of us, all those people remain anonymous.
In the present chapters of our study in Nehemiah, we have more lists of names which we are tempted to skip because they seem unimportant. I would venture to say that hardly anyone is moved by the names listed. They are the anonymous people who’ve gone before – but they are far from unimportant and should not be forgotten. These, and many more like them, are the ones who make it possible for us to enjoy the rich freedoms of our Judeo/Christian heritage. They are the unknown souls who sacrificed personal comfort and convenience for the sake of the greater good.
Most of us are anonymous servants in the cause of Christ. We are unknown in life and our efforts are frequently unrecognized by others. Once we’re gone, we and our work will soon be forgotten as others take our place. But that does not mean that our self-sacrificing service is insignificant. It is not.
It should be remembered that anonymity is only horizontal and always short-lived because it’s only felt in relation to others in this life. In our vertical and eternal relationship with God, there is no anonymity. There is no person or work done for Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that will be considered insignificant, inconsequential, trivial, or unimportant. God knows exactly where you are and what you are doing for His sake. He is well aware of the sacrifice you are making, the time and energy it takes, and what it is costing you and your family – and none of it is forgotten by Him.
DAYS ONE through THREE: Nehemiah 11:1-24
A. In order to appreciate the significance of the sacrifice made by the people listed in Chapters 11-12, we must review what we’ve learned about the condition of the city. Following the accomplishment of his primary objective – the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall- Nehemiah seeks to consolidate the work. He begins by appointing leadership and establishing internal security. Review Nehemiah 7:1-4.
1. Who did Nehemiah appoint as leaders and what were their qualifications? It should be noted that though they both held positions of importance at the time, no further mention is made of either one.
2. What responsibility and authority did Nehemiah delegate to these men?
3. What was the condition of the city?
4. According to Nehemiah 11:1a, what group currently lived in the city?
B. The condition of the city leads us to ask the question, “Why?” In most countries, walled and gated communities are highly desirable properties – exclusive and expensive. Why wouldn’t more of these Jews want to move into such a prestigious place? Why wouldn’t everyone want “Jerusalem” listed on the third line of their personal addresses?
1. To answer these questions let’s consider the fact that Jerusalem had been uninhabitable for close to 160 years (70 years of captivity + 90 years back in the land before the wall was rebuilt). Remember the bombed cities of WWII – piles of debris and rubble everywhere? That’s what Jerusalem was like (4:10). Just accomplishing the daily routine would be enormously difficult.
2. Therefore, it was just easier to move to the ‘suburbs’. In the intervening years between the time the Jews had returned from the captivity and the rebuilding of the wall, well-established communities with comfortable homes had grown up around Jerusalem.
3. These ‘suburbs’ were not only nice places to live, they were safe. In the event of an enemy attack, the suburbanites had a community of trusted friends and family to help defend their lives and property. And they could flee to the mountains, hide out and live off the land if necessary. In contrast, Jerusalem was always a target, making the threat of harm always greater within the city. In addition, it would be very difficult to navigate the debris in Jerusalem and make a hasty escape especially with women and children.
4. So, repopulating the city was a problem. It was not a ‘featured’ property in the local real estate market – it would be a hard sell. What method is mentioned in 11:1 (NIV) to begin the process of repopulating Jerusalem? How does Proverbs 16:33 assure us that the method was not a matter of luck or indiscriminate? What similar method is used from time to time in the U.S. military?
C. As we observe the first 24 verses of Chapter 11, there are five groups who helped to reestablish the life of Jerusalem, making it a viable place to live. Most of the people in these groups are anonymous, yet their contribution to God’s cause at the time was invaluable.
1. First group– The Volunteers (vs.2-9): What information is given to us in verse 2 about this group? Among the 9/10th’s who remained in the suburbs, some were motivated from within their hearts to ‘volunteer’ for ‘duty’ within the walls of the city. The Hebrew word used for ‘volunteer’ has as its root meaning the “uncompelled, free movement of the will for divine service or sacrifice. It was used especially of volunteer soldiers.”2 The word describes the inner magnanimous state of those who give of themselves freely for the greater good of others and out of love for God and the things of God. Had it not been for these generous souls, the work of God would not have gone forth in that place.
I belabor this point because it reminds me of so many of you. In much the same way, you have responded to the inner motivation of the Holy Spirit, pulled up your stakes, folded your tent, and left safe and secure surrounding to move to a place few would consider worthy of their lives. How easy it is to feel the weight of anonymity in those remote places of the world.
Yet, God knows where you are. More importantly, .He knows the love that prompted you to make the sacrifice. An important principle we all need to keep in mind is in Hebrews 6:10. Record this verse and tattoo it on your mind. It is part of the arsenal with which to fight the attacks of the enemy who still effectively uses the discouragement of anonymity to dishearten and/or destroy the work of God in some isolated place.
2. Second group– The Priests (vs.10-14): Besides those who voluntarily moved into the city, the priests are there as well. What did they do and how many of them were there? Within this group, two smaller groups are mentioned. What phrase is used to describe the smallest group and what do you think it means? How might that particular gift-set be used?
3. Third group– The Levites (vs.15-18): What responsibilities did this group have? How many are listed in the group? Who gets special mention within the group and why? In your estimation, how important is this particular work? Read through Philippians 1:3-11. Imagine someone, even the Lord, praying this prayer over you. What does that do for your soul? All of us are supposed to pray but some have a special ministry of prayer. Do not hesitate to seek the help of these special servants of God in the work you do. Though they often remain anonymous, residing in a quiet place of solitude, their ministry is indispensable. It is powerful, effective, and vitally important without which nothing of eternal value can be accomplished.
4. Fourth group– The Gatekeepers (vs.19-21): Previously discussed in Chapter 7:2-3.
5. Fifth group– The Singers (vs.22-24): Who was the overseer of this group? Who was his ancestor and what do you remember about him from previous Bible knowledge? (More about this important ministry in the next chapter.)
D. One dear friend reminded me that some parts of the Bible only take a rake to uncover great truths while other parts require a backhoe! For the sake of clarity, let underscore what we’ve unearthed with the backhoe.
1. Whatever your particular giftedness, its valuable in God’s sight. Resist the temptation to measure your usefulness on a horizontal plan – that is never wise. All that matters is your vertical relationship to God. What you do from the inward motivation of love for Him and love for others will be accurately accessed and rewarded. That’s a promise to always keep in mind. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10)
2. God’s reward is based on faithfulness to one’s task. It is never dependent on the size or public acknowledgment of one’s work. Read Matthew 25:14-30 and note the basis of reward in God’s economy. How are you encouraged by these truths? Again, it good to journal these principles along with supporting texts and review them from time to time. These records can be especially helpful when you come under enemy attack and find yourself feeling discouraged.
DAY FOUR: Dedication of the Wall (12:27-43)
A. Have you ever noticed how aptly the Bible describes the Christian life as being a difficult endeavor? Jesus first informed us that it would be so when He said, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:38) In like manner, the Apostle Paul urged his son in the faith, Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith.” (I Timothy 6:12) Paul further admonished Timothy to “keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (II Timothy 4:5) In addition, Paul says of himself “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:7) In this sampling of texts, we can readily see that those who choose to follow Christ are in for some trouble. The life devoted to Christ is hard and fraught with difficulties that those devoted to self never suffer. Nevertheless, after the long hard battle, God sees to it that times of refreshment do follow. Indeed, how joyous those times are! One friend described it as “a beautiful road”. Nehemiah 12 records for us one of those joyful times.
B. After Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, the wall protecting the city was completed in just 52 days (Chapter 6) followed by a revival of the people (Chapter 8-10). The city had begun to be repopulated through drafting one in ten to live within the walls. Others volunteered to move into the city motivated by their generous spirit. Now the time to dedicate the wall had come.
C. In preparation for the ceremony, the Levites who lived elsewhere were brought to Jerusalem.
1. What was to be their part in the celebration?
2. What kind of attitude was required?
3. What does this say about the importance of a happy, positive attitude for those who lead? How does such an attitude make others more willing to follow and cooperate?
4. One thing I’ve noticed about leaders who remain positive during stressful times is that their joyful disposition is contagious. Cheerful leaders are able to inspire others to tackle seeming impossibilities. I’ve also seen the confidence level of an entire group increase because of the optimistic outlook of the leader. However, a genuinely joyful attitude cannot be generated from without – it must come from within. And I believe it is more a function of our faith and spiritual maturity than any natural tendency. Bright, confident, happy leaders have learned to place their faith in God, do their best and trust God for the outcome.
D. The next step in preparation of the ceremony was the purification of the people (v.30). There is an important principle to remember about this; the purification of the priests, Levites, people, the gates and the wall, did not come during or after the ceremony but before. The leaders and people dedicated themselves first to God before dedicating their work to Him.
1. In a dictionary look up the word ‘dedicate’ and choose one or more definitions that fit our purpose.
2. Read II Corinthians 8:1-5. What similar principle do you find in Nehemiah 12:30 and II Corinthians 8:5? How might this be considered a key to spiritual success?
3. It should be noted that the priests and Levites were the first to purify (or dedicate) themselves. This is fitting and a principle to be practiced by anyone in leadership. You cannot lead anyone further than you yourself have gone. Purity in the pulpit promotes purity in the pew! Likewise, purity in the parents produces purity in their progeny (Proverbs 22:6). (This is not a hard and fast rule but a principle that is true more often than not.)
4. The method of purification probably involved such things as various washings, fasting, practicing sexual abstinence and offering certain sacrifices for sin. Today, the practice of spiritual disciplines such as fasting, prayer, solitude, etc. can be very stimulating as one seeks to draw near to God and rededicate their life to Him. In what way might you benefit from the practice of one or more of these disciplines as you seek to draw near to God?
DAY FIVE: The Dedication of the Wall (vs. 31-43)
A. It’s interesting to note that at this point in the narrative the personal pronoun ‘I’ is once more used. Again we are reminded of the greatness of Nehemiah’s leadership. He rose to the occasion to rebuild the wall but stepped aside to allow Ezra, the spiritual leader, to lead in the renewal of the people. At the point of the dedication of the wall, Nehemiah resumes his leadership role… and rightfully so.
1. Read verses 31-43 and describe the details of the celebration.
2. What significance do you find in that both choirs came together at the house of God (v.40)?
B. Obviously, the choirs, singing, and musical instruments (v.27) played an important part in the celebration.
1. In all likelihood they sang the psalms that recounted God’s providential care and blessing upon His people. (In Chapter 9, we studied an example of this kind of psalm.) Some possibilities might have been Psalm 48, 78, 105, and 106. Choose one or more of these and read them with the same spirit observed in these joyful people.
2. In both the Old and New Testaments, singing that expresses joy in who God is, what He has done, and our relationship with Him predominates. Ours is a joyous religion and gives us great cause for singing. Pastor Chuck Swindoll has written this encouragement, “Don’t stop singing! Sing this afternoon. Sing on your way home from work! One of the most exuberant expressions of a happy heart is a singing mouth.”3
3. Read again verse 43. Underline the repeated word ‘rejoice’ or ‘joy’. Where does this kind of spiritual joy originate? In like manner the joy that we as Christians possess is a manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit (See Galatians 5:22-23).
4. Can you think of a time when you felt the supernatural joy of the Holy Spirit and someone else noticed (v.43c)?
As we conclude these two chapters, I hope that you will see that joy is not dependant on the circumstances of your life and/or ministry. Whether you are living in the limelight or anonymously serving in a smaller sphere, you can have constant joy. It’s a matter of keeping your vertical focus on God and what He is doing through you. When that focus is trained on those around you, or worse, turned inward, you can be sure that your joy will be diminished proportionately. How much more effective in all areas of ministry might we be if our personalities were permeated with the same joy that so characterized the Jews on the wall of Jerusalem that day.
1. Ken Burns, The War (Hollywood, CA: Public Broadcasting Service, 2006).
2. Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. The Complete Word Study, Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1994), p.2338.
3. Charles R. Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick (Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1978), p.188.
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