The first two chapters of the book of Nehemiah provide us with a number of valuable insights that can help us address the problems and challenges of life in a Biblical, God-honoring manner. In addition, Nehemiah's response to the news of the conditions in his ancestral homeland can also help show us the way to identify, verify, and move forward on God's calling.
So with that, the physical work of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was finally about to begin.
"This is how the city wall was rebuilt. The High Priest Eliashib and his fellow priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate, dedicated it, and put the gates in place. They dedicated the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel" (Nehemiah 3:1 GNB).
There is a tendency on the part of some commentators to associate New Testament imagery with the various portions of the wall mentioned here in Nehemiah chapter three. While it may be possible to derive some benefit from that approach, Nehemiah chapter three is probably best understood in a much more foundational way.
You see, the basic message of Nehemiah chapter three will center upon the simple concept of doing something that needs to be done. It will chronicle the actions of a group of thirty-eight named individuals (and many more unnamed) from all areas of life who each took part in an effort to fix something that needed to be put right.
This concept of "getting the job done" brings to mind an appropriate passage from the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians...
"The important thing to remember is that our
remaining time is very short, [and so are our opportunities for doing the Lord's
work]... happiness or sadness or wealth should not keep anyone from doing God's
Those in frequent contact with the exciting things the world offers should make good use of their opportunities without stopping to enjoy them; for the world in its present form will soon be gone" (1 Corinthians 7:29-31 TLB).
Much like the Apostles who shunned the idea of leaving the word of God to wait on tables (Acts 6:1-7), Nehemiah chapter three will also serve to remind us of the importance of identifying, focusing upon, and completing the area of work that God has assigned to each of us. As one commentator observes...
"It is significant that God keeps a careful record of all those who serve Him; this is seen in the listing of those who repaired the walls and gates... God has given different work assignments to believers today. He has equipped us with various gifts and abilities appropriate to our calling, and He knows who is not really involved and who is doing double duty. "Each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is" (1Cor 3:13). (1)
(1) Believer's Bible Commentary William MacDonald pg. 484-485
"Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel" (Nehemiah 3:1).
In reading through Nehemiah chapter three, it appears that Nehemiah developed a well-organized rebuilding plan for Jerusalem's perimeter wall. That plan delegated the work to individual groups who were then tasked with a specific area of responsibility. This list of work assignments began at a section known as the Sheep Gate where Eliashib, the high priest, led the rebuilding effort. It then continued counterclockwise from that point.
While this strategy helped make success achievable for the diverse group of individuals who were involved in this project, we should keep in mind that these assignments were far from easy. For example, we may get the impression that the work involved in rebuilding Jerusalem's wall meant little more than laying a few bricks. The reality however, was that the task facing these individuals was enormously difficult.
Here's how one commentator illustrates the amount of work involved in this effort...
"Commentators differ over the size of the city at this time and therefore over the length of the wall Nehemiah was to build. But even by the most modest estimates, the circumference of the city was one and a half to two and a half miles. Moreover, the destruction was great, and the stones to be reassembled were massive. This was not a case of a group of workers merely constructing a garden fence, a brick wall, or even a large earthwork fortification.
The blocks that had been tumbled down into the valleys below were of great weight, and these had to be exposed and then hauled back up to the site of the wall and reassembled. This required many workers, diverse skills, and even, we may suppose, a certain amount of lifting and moving machinery... Not only was the task itself overwhelming, but it also had been attempted before and had been given up..." (1)
So the list of forty-two wall sections mentioned here in Nehemiah chapter three begins with the entranceway that was used to bring sheep into the Temple. This section of Jerusalem's wall played a vital role in the Old Testament sacrificial system in which the death of an appropriate substitute was accepted by God in order to atone (or "make up") for the sins of the people.
We'll see why Nehemiah may have chosen to begin with this section next.
(1) James Montgomery Boice, quoted in Nehemiah 3: “The Work On The Wall Begins With Each Working On The Wall By His Own House” Jim Bomkamp
"Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel" (Nehemiah 3:1 NIV).
Its no coincidence that Nehemiah chapter three begins by recounting the efforts of the High Priest and his associates in rebuilding Jerusalem's wall, for these spiritual leaders provide us with an important principle to remember: a good leader is someone who leads by example. Their response is especially important when we stop to consider the influence we exert upon others within our social circle.
One of the best illustrations of this idea can be found in the example of a once-close friend with whom we've lost touch. You see, most of us can probably point to an example of someone who has changed after developing new friendships or relationships with others. In some instances, it may almost seem as if we are speaking with a different person when we make contact with such individuals again. These changes can often be explained by the fact that our friendships and relationships help shape our character and personality for better or worse.
For their part, Eliashib and his colleagues exerted a positive influence upon others in leading by example. For instance, Eliashib was not too "holy" to get his hands dirty and assist in this rebuilding effort. We should also note that Eliashib was probably not a young man during this time. Nevertheless, we're told that he "...rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate" (ESV). In doing so, these leaders set a God-honoring example for others to follow.
Nehemiah 3:1 also tells us that these men "dedicated" or "consecrated" their work in the rebuilding these gates and walls. This word "consecration" refers to something that is set apart for God and it implies that these men were not working in an undisciplined or haphazard manner; they clearly desired to honor God with their efforts.
However, there is an old adage that says, "its not how you start but how you finish that counts." Unfortunately, we'll later see how Eliashib will go on to align himself with others who were not concerned with Jerusalem's best interests. So despite his great start here in Nehemiah chapter three, this spiritual leader will actually go on to finish very poorly.
"Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built. Also the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars" (Nehemiah 3:2-3).
The remainder of Nehemiah chapter three will go on to list eight different gates and adjoining sections of wall along with the people who were responsible for repairing those areas. The eight gates that we'll see listed in this chapter are the sheep gate, the fish gate, the old gate, the valley gate, the dung gate, the fountain gate, the water gate, and the horse gate.
Now it may be easy to wonder why so many of these gates are listed. The answer is that Jerusalem had once been a large and important city. As such, it required a number of different gates to accommodate the many roads that converged there. In addition, the wall portions on either side of these heavy wooden gates were often built taller and wider to accommodate the construction of watchtowers. Therefore, these gate areas likely occupied a significant portion of this rebuilding effort.
In peacetime, the
"city gate" often served as the center of urban activity. The gate
was generally built as an arched entranceway with room for seats on both sides
of the arch. As mentioned previously, the "gate" of a city was the
location where commercial transactions often took place as well as an area where judges
sat to render legal decisions.
The city gate also functioned as a public forum, a place where people could gather to talk and discuss the events of the day. In addition, the gate served as a marketplace, a high-traffic area where vendors could display their wares to potential customers. So it was critical from a military, commercial, and municipal standpoint to get these gates repaired and secured as quickly as possible.
One of the roads into Jerusalem entered the city through the Fish Gate (see 2 Chronicles 33:14). It is thought that a fish market existed near this gate where merchants from the Sea of Galilee and other fishing areas entered to sell their goods. This portion of the wall (the area next to Eliashib and his crew of priests) was the specific work area that was assigned to the men of Jericho.
This piece of information helps demonstrate the organizational effort that Nehemiah put into this project: everyone had a specific assignment and area of responsibility as evidenced by the fact that the term "next to them" (and other, similar terms) appear 28 times within this chapter.
"And next to them Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, made repairs. Next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs. Next to them Zadok the son of Baana made repairs" (Nehemiah 3:4).
It seems that Eliashib and his fellow priests were not the only ones to set a good example in this effort to rebuild Jerusalem's wall, for Meremoth (mentioned here in Nehemiah 3:4), will later go on to accept a second assignment to help complete this project. (1)
Another good (and not so good) example follows next...
"Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord" (Nehemiah 3:5).
The Tekoites were residents of Tekoa, a town that was located about ten miles (16 km) from Jerusalem. Like Meremoth, these men will later take on additional work to help complete this rebuilding effort. Unfortunately, their leadership took on a much different attitude.
Perhaps these nobles refused to get involved because they felt that this work did not befit their status. Or they may have resented the fact that someone else was leading this project. Perhaps they were concerned with what others might say if they chose to get involved. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that these leaders were not willing to engage in the kind of labor that was necessary to get the job done.
These responses present us with an opportunity to consider some important questions. On one hand, the example of the Tekoites should encourage God's people to consider their current investment of time, money, and talent on His behalf. If such investments are lacking, then the time to prayerfully address those deficiencies is now.
On the other hand, the example of these nobles reminds us that we also have an option to pursue or decline various ministry opportunities today. The problem facing modern-day readers of this passage is that it is not unusual to receive numerous solicitations from churches, ministries, or other organizations that claim to be engaged in similar versions of "God's work." Unfortunately, such requests may sometimes be manipulative or accompanied by a thinly veiled suggestion of guilt for those who decline to participate.
This passage can help us sift through the validity of such requests by focusing on the attitude of the Tekoan leadership. Instead of simply refusing to get their hands dirty, these men should have prayerfully examined this rebuilding effort in order to make a well-reasoned, God-honoring, Biblically rational decision as to whether or not to take part. That approach can also help us decide which ministry opportunities to pursue (and which to decline) today.
(1) Nehemiah 3:21
"Next to them the men from T'koa made repairs; but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord" (Nehemiah 3:5 CJB).
As mentioned previously, Nehemiah 3:5 serves to remind us of the importance of identifying and acting upon those areas of opportunity that God has provided. In this instance, the nobles of Tekoa failed to recognize the work of God because their priorities were skewed towards something other than His agenda for their lives.
So what can we do to help enable us to correctly identify and pursue genuine opportunities to participate in God's work? Well, the New Testament book of Acts provides us with some useful information in this regard.
When an administrative issue began to arise within the early church, the Apostles responded by saying, "...seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (Acts 6:3). In doing so, their example provides us with some important principles that we can use to recognize and act upon a genuine calling of God....
These elements helped enable the Apostles to concentrate upon the work they had been called to do while opening up new avenues of service for others.
Finally, we should note that the men of Tekoa did not allow the lack of support from their leaders to prevent them from moving forward on this project. While it is important to prayerfully consider the counsel of Godly friends, family members, and spiritual leaders when evaluating potential ministry opportunities, a lack of support from others who may not be in a position to recognize a genuine work of God should not necessarily prevent us from moving ahead.
"Next to him Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Also next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they fortified Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall" (Nehemiah 3:8).
While the leaders of Tekoa were not interested in getting involved with the work of rebuilding Jerusalem's wall, there were other people who were more than willing: "Uzziel (son of Harhaiah) was a goldsmith by trade, but he too worked on the wall. Beyond him was Hananiah, a manufacturer of perfumes" (TLB).
These were not the sort of occupations that might be readily identified with the work involved in rebuilding Jerusalem's wall. Yet here was a goldsmith (a profession that might be associated with that of a jeweler today) and a perfumer working side-by-side to help secure Jerusalem's border. These men were not professional masons yet that did not prevent them from getting involved and helping out.
One potential explanation for these efforts might be found in the fact that Nehemiah set the right example for everyone who was engaged in this project. Remember that Nehemiah had previously served as a cupbearer to the king. His primary responsibility involved eating the king’s food and drinking the king’s wine to help ensure that it had not been poisoned.
Much like the goldsmith and perfume manufacturer mentioned earlier, this was hardly the type of profession that qualified someone to oversee the work of rebuilding Jerusalem's wall. Nevertheless, Nehemiah did not hesitate to assume the responsibilities of a project manager and general contractor for this work. Therefore, its possible that these others may have looked to Nehemiah and said, "If he can do it, then we can do it."
We might find a similar illustration in the men that Jesus chose to be His disciples. For instance, listed among Jesus’ disciples were four fishermen, a tax collector, a skeptic, a political extremist, and four nobodies. Yet these were the men who "...turned the world upside down" in the words of Acts 17:6.
These Biblical examples help to remind us that God doesn’t necessarily choose the best qualified personnel to achieve His objectives. Instead, He may choose to commission ordinary individuals and then do extraordinary things in and through them. As one commentator has observed...
"The most important ability in the work of the Lord is availability. The one with few gifts and little talent, who has a passion and a drive to see God’s work done, will accomplish far more than a gifted and talented person who doesn’t have the passion and drive to do the Lord’s work." (1)
(1) Guzik, Dave Nehemiah 3 - The Building of the Walls http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/1603.htm
"Malchijah the son of Harim and Hashub the son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section, as well as the Tower of the Ovens" (Nehemiah 3:11).
Among the thirty-eight individuals mentioned by name here in Nehemiah chapter three, Malchijah is someone who deserves special mention.
You see, Ezra chapter ten provides us with a long list of people who had previously engaged in inappropriate marital relationships and were therefore guilty of a sin against God. Listed among these people was Malchijah according to Ezra 10:25. Yet here in Nehemiah chapter three, we find that Malchijah was an active participant in the rebuilding of Jerusalem's wall.
Malchijah's participation in this rebuilding project strongly implies that he repented (or turned back) from the things he had done wrong and realigned his priorities with God's purposes for his life. His example brings to mind another person who refused to allow the mistakes of his past to affect the future that God had prepared for him- the Apostle Paul...
"Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 1:13-14 NIV).
The New Testament book of Acts provides us with an account of Paul's early life and relates how he "...tried to destroy the church; going from house to house, he dragged out the believers, both men and women, and threw them into jail" (Acts 8:3 GNB). Following his later conversion, Paul could have allowed those past experiences to prevent him from pursuing the future that God had planned for him.
However, God also inspired Paul to record an important spiritual truth in his second letter to the Corinthian church when he said, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This tells us that we do not have to allow the mistakes, poor decisions, or shameful things of the past undermine God's plan for our future, for such things have passed away for those who are in Christ. Furthermore, 1 John 1:9 goes on to tell us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Keeping these Scriptural examples in mind can help prevent us from allowing something in our past from enjoying God's best in the present.
"And next to him was Shallum the son of Hallohesh, leader of half the district of Jerusalem; he and his daughters made repairs" (Nehemiah 3:12).
Although the list of participants involved in the Jerusalem rebuilding project was overwhelmingly male, this was not true of everyone: "Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters" (NIV).
This may not sound particularly significant until we stop to consider the fact that it was highly unusual for a woman to participate in any such form of manual labor in the society of that day. Yet here we find Shallum and his daughters working together to help secure Jerusalem's border.
In fact, this working arrangement was so unusual that Nehemiah apparently found it necessary to make special note of it here in verse twelve. But while we may rightfully applaud the initiative of these women, we should also stop to recognize the equally important contribution of their father Shallum.
You see, a father was the undisputed leader of his family in the patriarchal culture of that time and it would have been unthinkable for a daughter to disobey a direct command from her father. If Shallum had been intent on forbidding his daughters from participating in this project, they would have had no choice but to follow his decree. Yet Shallum was clearly willing to break with the societal trend of that time in order to allow his daughters to participate in this God-ordained effort.
In addition, the use of the term "Shallum's daughters" suggests that these women were not yet married. This probably means that they were young teenagers (or perhaps even pre-teens) during this time. Nevertheless, these young ladies did not seek to avoid the manual labor involved in this project, nor did they view their comparative lack of physical strength as a detriment. Instead, they simply "made repairs," a statement that implies that they each did what they could to contribute to the success of this effort.
So these young women apparently recognized the God-ordained nature of this project and sought to get involved. This tells us that everyone who had a desire to take part in this effort had an opportunity to do so. Those individuals included such unlikely contributors as Shallum's daughters as well as the perfumers and goldsmiths mentioned earlier.
This Biblical account also provides us with one additional reminder: God takes notice of those who choose to work on His behalf (like Shallum's daughters) and those (like the leaders of Tekoa) who don't.
"Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Refuse Gate. Malchijah the son of Rechab, leader of the district of Beth Haccerem, repaired the Refuse Gate; he built it and hung its doors with its bolts and bars." (Nehemiah 3:13-14).
The "Refuse Gate" or "Dung Gate" mentioned here refers to the passageway through which the people of Jerusalem carried their waste to be discarded in the Valley of Hinnom. This nearby valley served as something of a centralized garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem throughout a large portion of the Biblical era.
In general, all the waste and refuse produced by the city during that time eventually found it's way through the Refuse Gate into the Hinnom Valley. This was the place where dead animals and the bodies of executed criminals were disposed of; it also functioned as a kind of municipal cesspool that handled the human waste generated by the city.
We're told that Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah (a town that was located about nine miles [14km] west of Jerusalem) repaired the wall section up to the Refuse Gate while Malchijah handled the construction of the gate itself. In fact, the work performed by the residents of Zanoah was quite significant for we're told that that these men "...repaired a thousand cubits of the wall."
A "cubit" was an ancient unit of measurement that was roughly equal to the distance from a person's elbow to the tip of his or her middle finger. This distance would represent approximately 18 inches (46 cm) in a modern system of measurement. Therefore, one thousand cubits represented about 500 yards, 1500 feet, or approximately 450 meters depending on your preferred standard of measurement.
To get a relative idea of the effort involved in repairing this section of Jerusalem's wall, we should remember that 1500 feet is slightly more than a quarter-mile. This means that these men rebuilt a section of wall that was equivalent to more than four NFL (American Football) fields placed back to back to back to back.
Working on (or adjacent to) the "Dung Gate" was probably not a prestigious assignment for these men. But Jerusalem's security was contingent upon their ability to rebuild the entire perimeter wall- and these volunteers were not too proud to work on the section of the wall where the city's garbage was removed.
Nehemiah 3:15-19 provides us with a list of names and residences of those who worked together with the inhabitants of Jerusalem to help rebuild the city's wall. As we read though the list of individuals who were involved in this rebuilding effort, it becomes clear that Nehemiah recruited a number of volunteers who lived far beyond the city limits.
These volunteers included...
The workers who hailed from these out-of-town locations also worked alongside those from a number of other cities including...
So in the words of one commentary, "...the reconstruction of the wall was a region-wide project, involving workers from throughout Judah." (1) These laborers were likely motivated (at least in part) by the fact that a revitalized and fortified Jerusalem would benefit the cultural, economic, and political interests of their own nearby cities.
You see, a prominent, nearby urban area would offer a number of potential opportunities for these outlying cities and help enhance their own status. This serves to remind us that a God-ordained work often produces an advantageous effect that benefits even those who may have no interest in the things of God.
Given the transportation limitations of the Old Testament era, it was simply not feasible for these workers to commute between Jerusalem and their respective hometowns. This means that Nehemiah also had to arrange temporary housing, meals, and other necessities of daily life through the entirety of this project. This is another aspect of Nehemiah's managerial efforts that may be easy to overlook when reading through this chapter.
(1) Word In Life Study Bible (1996). (electronic ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.XIII
"After him Baruch the son of Zabbai carefully repaired the other section, from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest" (Nehemiah 3:20).
The New International Version of Nehemiah 3:20 renders this passage in the following manner: “…Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.” Other Biblical translations use the words earnestly (ASV), diligently (CJB), or thoroughly (CEB) to describe Baruch's effort in helping to rebuild Jerusalem's perimeter wall.
In light of these descriptions, we can say that Baruch was someone who demonstrated a commitment to excellence in his work. In fact, among the dozens of people who were involved in this rebuilding project, Baruch is the only one who was recognized for the quality of the work he produced.
His effort brings to mind a passage from the New Testament book of Colossians...
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV).
However, this verse doesn't only tell us something important about Baruch; it also reveals also something important about Nehemiah as well. You see, this passage implies that Nehemiah was paying attention to those who served under his leadership. For instance, Nehemiah knew who was working (and who wasn't), as well as each person's specific area of responsibility. Nehemiah not only knew what everyone was doing but he also knew how well everyone was doing it.
So this short passage provides us with two highly applicable insights. First, Baruch's example serves to remind us of our responsibility to honor God in our work. No matter what our work may involve, everyone can seek to be a person of excellence in carrying out his or her responsibilities. Even if those in authority fail to recognize our efforts, we can be secure in the knowledge that the ultimate Authority never fails to do so (see Revelation 22:12).
Next, Nehemiah's example tells us that a good leader still remains accountable and available when delegating various responsibilities. For example, Nehemiah might have chosen to distribute the work assignments for this project and then "disappear." Instead, Nehemiah was involved enough with the efforts of those who served under his leadership to know who was working, who wasn’t working, and who was putting forth an exemplary effort.
In addition to the quality work turned in by Baruch, Nehemiah 3:27 records a similar effort that was put forth by another group of individuals...
"After them the Tekoites repaired another section, next to the great projecting tower, and as far as the wall of Ophel."
If the "Tekoites" sound familiar, then it may be due to the fact that they were involved in a separate effort to rebuild another portion of Jerusalem's wall (see Nehemiah 3:5). So it appears that these men completed their initial assignment and then moved on to assume responsibility for another area of work.
In taking on this additional responsibility, the inhabitants of Tekoa went above and beyond their original scope of work and helped make up for the fact that their leaders were not willing to get involved. Their example reminds us that it may sometimes be necessary to do what needs to be done even if others are unwilling to assist.
We should also notice that the Tekoites avoided a subtle, but damaging mindset. You see, these men were not diverted by the fact that they were working while their leaders were not. If the men of Tekoa had chosen to focus on what others weren't doing, they certainly would not have accomplished as much.
That type of attitude was once illustrated in an incident from Jesus' life...
"Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me'" (Luke 10:38-40).
If the Tekoites had carried a similar attitude regarding their leaders (a group of individuals who weren’t working), then they probably would have been much less productive and successful.
This is not to say that things like laziness, negligence, or irresponsibility are acceptable character traits. However, it's usually better to focus on our own responsibilities instead of paying attention to what others may (or may not) be doing. A person who is concentrating on the amount of work performed by someone else is someone who may be distracted from the work that God has called him or her to do.
In such instances we would be best served by attending to our own responsibilities and allowing God to concern Himself with any others who may not be putting forth the right kind of effort.XV
"And between the upper room at the corner, as far as the Sheep Gate, the goldsmiths and the merchants made repairs" (Nehemiah 3:32)
This passage closes Nehemiah chapter three by drawing our attention to the
backgrounds of those who were involved in the Jerusalem rebuilding project.
In this instance, the work in one particular area was carried out by a group of jewelers and sales representatives. This is addition to the other professions found among the members of this workforce including priests (Nehemiah 3:1), perfumers (Nehemiah 3:8), and municipal leaders (Nehemiah 3:17-18). These diverse occupational backgrounds provide us with an opportunity to examine the difference between a vocation and an avocation.
You see, God may elect to provide us with an occupation that supplies us with a monetary income. This vocation (or profession) may then be used to provide for our material needs and the needs of others. (1) However, an avocation represents something that is taken up in addition to someone's regular line of work. For example, these goldsmiths and merchants each held professional vocations while their work in helping to rebuild Jerusalem's wall represented an avocation.
While any outside interest may form an avocation, a spiritual avocation is usually associated with the term "ministry." In this sense, a "ministry" represents God's call to utilize those gifts that He has provided in a specific area of service. For some, this call results in a vocational ministry. (2) For others, it may result in an income-producing vocation accompanied by a non-income-producing ministry.
To illustrate this idea, we need look no further than the example of the Apostle Paul. Although Paul is primarily known as a teacher and evangelist, Acts 18:1-3 tells us that he was a tentmaker by trade. During his travels, Paul employed his professional skills to provide for his material needs while pursuing God's call to teach and evangelize. (3) In this respect, Paul was a tentmaker by vocation but a minister of God's Word by avocation.
So how can we determine our own spiritual avocation? Well, we might start by prayerfully addressing these questions...
Like the goldsmiths and merchants who saw the need to assist in rebuilding
Jerusalem's wall, we should also seek to inventory the needs that we observe today.
Perhaps God may be calling us to a ministerial avocation to meet those needs
just as he called the members of this diverse workforce here in the book of
(1) A non-monetary vocation like that of a full-time mother is no less valid and is considerably more valuable in many respects. However, an income-producing vocation is more useful for illustration purposes.
(2) See 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 9:14
(3) See Acts 20:33-35, 1 Corinthians 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, and 2 Thessalonians 3:8 for references to Paul's outside employment. However, we also should note that Paul established the absolute validity of vocational ministry in 1 Corinthians 9. In addition, Philippians 4:15-18 indicates that Paul was supported entirely through his ministerial efforts at various times. We should also understand that Paul did not view himself as a tentmaker who taught and preached "on the side" so to speak. Paul's life work was found in his call to an apostolic ministry (1 Corinthians 9:16). He resorted to outside employment simply as a means of carrying out that ministry in a more effective manner (1 Corinthians 9:11-12, 18).
"Beside them the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not lift a finger to help their supervisors" (Nehemiah 3.5 HCSB).
"...Baruch worked very hard and repaired the section of wall from the corner to the entrance to the house of Eliashib the high priest" (Nehemiah 3:20 ERV).
Some time ago, an author published a memoir that chronicled his final season as a long time executive in a professional sports league. This author's book provided a number of amusing anecdotes and "inside stories" regarding players, coaches, and other executives that any follower of his sport would immediately recognize.
However, one unusual feature of this book was that it "named names." For instance, there were very few instances where an account was attributed to an unnamed player or coach, thus leaving it to the reader to determine who might have been involved. That helped provide the reader with the impression that he or she was reading about these events as they actually occurred.
Our individual lives might also be compared to this author's memoir in a sense. One day the story of our individual lives will be read as well. That story will talk about our choices and motivations. It will examine our impact upon those lives that have intersected with our own. It will "name names" and narrate the events of our lives as they actually occurred.
Consider this passage from Revelation 20:12-13....
"And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works."
We are each writing the story of our lives through the choices and decisions we make today. The question is, will the story of our lives read more like the one authored by the nobles of Tekoa or more like the story authored by Baruch here in Nehemiah chapter three?
The lives of these Biblical characters serve as object lessons and warnings for those who are willing to listen. Their accounts were recorded and passed on to us so that we might benefit from their experience, for as we're told in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, “...these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11 ).