On The Job

Bible Book: Nehemiah  3
Subject: Work for the Lord;

Bernice Gallego was going through a bin of unsorted items at her antique shop in Fresno, CA, when she came across a little, faded picture of an old baseball team. She put the picture on eBay, and listed it for $9.99. Pretty soon, the rising bids indicated that Bernice had stumbled upon a treasure. She soon learned that the picture was the first card ever printed of the first professional baseball team ever assembled, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The card eventually sold for $75,000.[i]

At first glance, Nehemiah chapter 3 doesn’t look like much more than a long list of unfamiliar landmarks, unpronounceable names, and unknown people. It is like a crackled, faded picture of a long-forgotten team. Judging by the way most books on Nehemiah neglect or altogether ignore the third chapter, it is obvious that not everybody sees the value of it.

“Not every commentator on this book is impressed by Nehemiah’s record-preserving activities. One describes this list in chapter 3 as ‘intrusive’, another ‘a colorless memorandum of assignments’.”[ii] – Raymond Brown

While the third chapter of Nehemiah may not have the emotion of the first chapter, or the drama of the second chapter, it is not without its value, instruction, and relevance for our day.

If “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God”, then even a list like this has the living breath of God in it. There are lessons to learn from this record of the job site at Jerusalem.

Notice the truths we glean from Nehemiah’s memoir on the job. First of all, there is something to be learned from observing:


One of the things that makes chapter three so unattractive is the names that recorded throughout it. They are difficult to pronounce, and they are people with whom we are largely unfamiliar. These are not the Scriptures we find in devotional books, and these are not the characters on the flannel graph in children’s church.

Nevertheless, the Spirit has preserved for us these names, and there is certainly a reason. With that being said, what are we to do with this list of names, and others like that we find throughout the Bible?

I would suggest two things that we should take away from the people recorded here. First of all:

A. The anonymous should be strengthened by this list

While we may not recognize many or any of these names, it is encouraging to remember that God knows them. None of them were anonymous to Him. In fact, He thought enough of their identity to preserve for almost 2,500 years so that they are still being read today.

“One commentator has said, ‘God is a great believer in putting names down.’ …There are many chapters like this in the Scriptures. But that should really encourage us. It means that God has not forgotten our names either.”[iii] – Ray Stedman

If someone who belongs to the Lord and labors in His service begins to feel anonymous and lost in obscurity, they can take heart in the fact that their name has been recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life. God knows their name, even if no one else does!

Meremoth, Meshulam, and Melatiah may be unknown to us, but they were part of the work of God in their day, and the memory of them is never lost in the records of Heaven.

Reading over the list of people recorded here, while it is true that the anonymous should be strengthened by this, it is likewise true that:

B. The ambitious should be subdued by this

Though Malchijah and Hashub’s work on the “tower of the furnaces” (3:11) was certainly important, the fact remains that virtually no one has any idea who these men were. History has covered their lives with the dust of time, and though they are recorded in Nehemiah’s eternal book, they are largely forgotten by the vast majority of humanity.

The point is, no matter how ambitious someone might be; it is likely that within just a few decades of their death, almost no one will remember them. Sure, there are the few like Nehemiah, whose names are stamped into history, and are remembered throughout generations, but they are the exception.

For those who are ambitious to make a name for themselves this list is a reminder that time has a way of burying the memory of most men’s lives. Therefore, the only name we should seek to exalt is the name of Him who inhabits eternity. We should be ambitious to bring glory to the name of Jesus. His is the only name that will be praised throughout eternity.

There is something to learn, not only from the people recorded here, but notice also that we draw some important lessons from:


The most obvious lesson that we draw from this third chapter is the picture of teamwork and cooperation that is illustrated by the people of Jerusalem. Their partnership in carrying out the work is inspiring and instructive in this age in which autonomy and independence seem to be so prized.

“No one person could do the whole job, not even Nehemiah; but when everyone worked together, the most difficult task could be successfully completed. This is the pattern for today as well…”[iv] – Donald K. Campbell

We cannot do alone what God expects for us to do together. The imagery in the New Testament of the church as a body is an indication that without each other, we cannot do and be what Christ intended.

Notice a couple of lessons we draw from the partnership we see in this chapter. First of all, we note:

A. The diversity of the lives in this partnership

Chapter 3 begins by noting the work of the high priest and the priests. You certainly expect their participation in such a critical work. Then you read in verse 2, “And next unto him builded the men of Jericho…” Men who were not even residents of Jerusalem were situated next to the priests. Do you see the contrast?

Throughout the chapter we find more examples of this kind of diversity. In verse 5, you find the Tekoites at work. Again, these were people living in a nearby city, and yet they are teamed up in the same work with Levites (3:17). There were rulers and regulars, commanders and commoners, all working side by side to accomplish one task.

“They have contrasting personalities, complementary abilities and distinctive gifts. Their unity is essential but their individuality is valued.”[v] – Raymond Brown

The Church was not created to be a monochrome assembly of cookie-cutter Christians. God uses all kinds of people to build His kingdom. Uniformity may make a church feel safer, but it is a poor representation of the variety of people who will worship together in heaven.

In considering this partnership, note not only the diversity of the lives in this partnership, but notice also further:

B. The division of the labor in this partnership

Again, in a quite a contrast from most churches, we find the work of the wall being spread out among the entire group. You don’t have the unfortunate disparity in which 10% are doing 90% of the work.

Within the partnership, some did more work than others, but all did some of the work. No one (with the exception of the Tekoite nobles in verse 5) sat idly by and just watched as the wall was being built.

“The old idea that spiritual ministry is the task of the clergy and some few specially zealous layfolk, while the rest limit themselves to praying, paying, and looking after the church fabric and church meals, is…Spirit quenching in itself…The biblical principle of every-member ministry in the body of Christ must be recognized, and a place must be found in the church’s life for every God-given gift to be used in God’s service…”[vi] – J. I. Packer

So very often, the work doesn’t get done because people are afraid of losing power and position. However, Nehemiah spreads the work out, and as a result a formidable task is completed in an impressive 52 days. Could we get more done in the church if more people were put to work?

There is a third principle that we draw from this chapter. There is something to be learned not only from the people recorded here, and the partnership revealed here, but notice also that we draw some lessons from:


In this chapter, Nehemiah’s memoir carries us counter clockwise around the city, and describes the various gates and sections of the wall that were repaired by the various groups of the people.

In observing the work itself, and how it was carried out, we draw a couple of truths for carrying out the tasks that we face in our service for the Lord. First of all, we notice:

A. The work involved in the project

This is a chapter written with sweat, dirt, toil, and labor. It may be a boring chapter, but it is a blue-collar chapter. In reading, we must take note of the fact of the work. We can talk about the work of God as if it is something abstract and mystical, but in fact it is very often hard work! It requires time and dedication, effort and energy. Spiritual work suffers just as much from laziness as does physical work.

In considering this project, we note not only the fact of the work, but also the form of the work. At times, the work is described as “repairing”. At other times, the work is referred to as “rebuilding”. Both were needed. In places, the wall just needed gaps to be filled and top stones to be replaced. In other places, the wall had to be completely rebuilt from the ground up.

It is much the same way in the work of God. Some things need merely to be repaired, which can be accomplished by a change in leadership, or a refocus on a particular ministry. In some places, the work must be completely rebuilt, and new walls and new structures raised for the glory of God.

The work of God is not always exciting and glorious. At times the work can be tiring, tedious, and tasking.

Learning from the project recounted here, we see not only the work involved in the project, but also:

B. The wisdom indicated in the project

The Nehemiah’s name is nowhere found in this third chapter, his wisdom as a leader is scene in how the work was arranged. We find the people working on the portions of the wall that pertained their homes and residences. Nehemiah knew that the people would work carefully on that which was closest to them.

“Picking the right person for the job is essential in the task of delegation…[Nehemiah] placed people near their own homes (Neh. 3:23, 28)…This way no one had to commute to the other side of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was saving valuable time and energy.”[vii] – O.S. Hawkins

Overall, the wisdom of Nehemiah’s leadership in this passage points us to the importance of organization. While organization is worthless without the power of God, the power of God is not likely to be found on disorganization. I Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

“Neither the most powerful preaching nor the most exuberant display of spiritual manifestations will build up the local church without the organizational wisdom that set goals and devises means to ends.”[viii] – J.I. Packer

Obviously, if anything of spiritual value is accomplished, God gets the glory. However, God has saw fit to use men to do His work. This chapter is valuable because it points us to the potential of a group of people who can be unified in their efforts to accomplish a common goal. The Church is often so scattered and schizophrenic that it has a lot of motion, but not a lot of momentum.

However, when people work together toward the same goal, and God’s hand is upon their work, there is no limit to what they can accomplish on the job.


[i] Greenburg, Zack O’Malley, World’s Most Expensive Baseball Cards, 3/23/09, Forbes.com, accessed 2/13/10

[ii] Brown, Raymond, The Message of Nehemiah, (IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1998), p. 63

[iii] Stedman, Ray C., The Walls of Jerusalem Rebuilt, ldolphin.org, accessed 2/13/10, http://ldolphin.org//daniel/neh01.html

[iv] Campbell, Donald K., Nehemiah: Man in Charge, (Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1979), p. 27

[v] Brown, Raymond, p. 66

[vi] Packer, J.I., A Passion for Faithfulness, (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1995), p. 89

[vii] Hawkins, O.S., Rebuilding: It’s Never Too Late for a New Beginning, (Annuity Board, Nashville, TN, 1999), p. 69

[viii] Packer, J.I., 90