of the Ministry
King Nebuchadnezzar first marched into Jerusalem in the year 606 BC (cf. 2 Chr
36:5–7; Dan 1:1). Many of the Jews were sent into exile, including King
Jehoiakim. Twenty years later, in 586 BC, because of the persistent wickedness
of the Jews and the rebellion of king Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar’s army marched
into Jerusalem and razed it. The temple and palaces, as well as the wall of
Jerusalem, were torn down (2 Chr 36:19).
Fifty years later, or seventy years after the first exile in 606 BC, the
prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 25:11–12) was fulfilled, and the Jews were allowed to
return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The people were eventually able to
complete rebuilding the temple after the LORD sent the prophets Haggai and
Zechariah to preach to them. The wall of Jerusalem however remained in ruin
and, as long as it remained in ruin, Israel could not defend herself and so to
function as a proper nation again.
There were some attempts to rebuild the wall during the reign of king Ahasuerus
(of Queen Esther) and the initial years of king Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:6–7), but
their efforts were brought to a stand-still and whichever parts of the wall
were built were destroyed by the enemies of the Jews by the sanction of
Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:12, 23).
It was only in the year 446 BC, more than 90 years after the Jews first
returned from exile, that Nehemiah, who was still serving in the Persian court
as the cup bearer, heard about the situation in Jerusalem, and after much
prayer, as recorded in Nehemiah 1, he asked permission from the king to return
to help the people rebuild the wall. The king granted him leave, and so in
Nehemiah 2, we see Nehemiah arriving in Jerusalem, and conducting an inspection
of the wall. Three days later, he announced to the people, that they should
rebuild the wall. The people unanimously agreed, and so begun the rebuilding
Nehemiah 3 records for us how the work was carried out. This chapter is a very
important chapter for the archaeologists and historians because it contains a
detailed description of the topography of ancient Jerusalem. We are, however,
not so concern with that. Our concern is the lessons we may draw from the
description of the people involved in the rebuilding work.
The building of the wall, after all, provides a very beautiful analogy for the
work of the church. As the work of rebuilding the wall required much effort, it
being “great and large” (Neh 4:19), so the building of the church is no mean
task. As the rebuilding of the wall required teamwork and contribution from
every member of the returnees and their families, so the ministry of the church
cannot possibly be shouldered by the officers of the church alone. But while
the rebuilding of the wall involves the piecing together of rocks and boulders,
the work of the church involves the building-up of “lively stones” (1 Pet 2:5).
With this in mind, let us consider some of the participants in the rebuilding
of the wall that we may learn some lessons pertaining to our individual
contribution in the work of the church.
The High Priest and the
The list of workers begins with Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests
(v. 1). I believe that it is no coincidence that these priests should be listed
first. Israel was properly a theocracy and secondarily a monarchy and, in the
absence of the monarch, the high priest would naturally be esteemed as the most
important person amongst the exiled. With this in mind, the hands-on
contribution of the high priest is instructive.
In the first place, it demonstrated his humility. He could have excused himself
by saying that the nature of his work is religious, and so he should leave the
work for others to do. He did not do so and so provides an excellent lesson for
the officers of the church. Sometimes, it may be prudent for the officers of
the church to step back and allow the members of the church opportunities to
contribute to the work. For example, in PCC, I think it is a good idea that we
leave our Psalters on the chairs after the service and the officers of the
church do not attempt to collect them. Why? So that the children will be given
opportunities to contribute to the work, by collecting them! Nevertheless, the
officers of the church must be willing to do the most menial and unrewarding
tasks when necessity arises.
Remember how our LORD washed the feet of His disciples and said:
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye
say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet;
ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that
ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant
is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent
him (Jn 13:13–15).
If Jesus, the LORD of Lords, the King of kings, was willing to stoop down and
do such a menial and humble task as washing His disciples’ feet, then surely,
those who are called to be His servants in the church, must be very willing to
do the same. Christian leaders, we must remember, must never be lords over the
Lord’s heritage, but be examples and servants to the flock (cf. 1 Pet 5:3; Mk
9:35). All officers of the church must be willing to pour out their lives for
the members of the church sacrificially. They must constantly be thinking of
what examples they are setting for the members of the church.
Consider the priests. Consider how they Led by example.
But what if the leaders of the church do not set good examples? What if you are
a member of the church and you notice the poor example of one or two of the
leaders? Well, the temptation to judge, murmur, and to think lowly of these
leaders, will no doubt be very strong. But I would urge that we should refrain
from doing so. What the Scripture teaches us concerning not judging others (Mt
7:1–4) and esteeming others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) must also be
applied in our relationship with the leaders of the church too. Moreover, the
Scripture also teaches us to be respectful to such as are older than us even
when they err (1 Tim 5:1). The same principle may be applied to the officers of
the church. An officer of the church who persists in bad example, without valid
reasons despite entreaty from members and fellow officers of the church, may
eventually have to face the discipline of the church.
In the meantime, what should you as a member do? I believe you should pray. But
beyond that you should learn from example of the Tekoites.
Notice that in verse 5, the Tekoites were repairing a section of the wall, but
their nobles would not lend a hand. The Tekoites were, however, not
discouraged. In fact, to the shame of their leaders, the Tekoites not only
diligently worked on the portion they were assigned, but repaired an additional
section of the wall as well (v. 27).
This surely is an excellent lesson for us. If your leaders are not setting good
examples in any aspect of Christian life, you must still do what is pleasing to
the Lord. You must work doubly hard that peradventure the Lord may grant
repentance to your leaders when they see your good example.
Consider the Tekoites. Consider how they Laboured the harder.
The Men of Jericho
Jericho is situated more than 20 kilometres northeast of Jerusalem. Of all
those who participated in the rebuilding of the wall, the men of Jericho (v. 2)
dwelt furthest from Jerusalem. In that sense, it would appear that having a
wall in Jerusalem would benefit the men of Jericho least. If there was going to
be an impending invasion, for example, it would not be easy for them to flee to
Jerusalem to benefit from the protection there.
But the men of Jericho came. They could have excused themselves from coming, by
appealing both to inconvenience and the fact that they would not reap any
immediate benefits from the wall. But they came anyway. In doing so, they
exemplified the teachings of Paul: “Look not every man on his own things, but
every man also on the things of others” (Phil 2:4).
In these days of consumerism and selfish individualism, many will be tempted to
do only such things as will benefit them directly in tangible ways. Sadly, this
attitude has also crept into the church. Many of us today will join a local
church as members only when we perceive we can benefit from being members in
the church. And many of us attend worship to receive rather than to ascribe
worth and glory to God. One tell-tale sign of this attitude is that evening
worship services for which “interesting topics and speakers” have been
scheduled will generally be better attended than those with “routine” Gospel
messages and regular preachers. In the same way, many of us will be willing to
serve in the church in visible capacities rather than in the background. So
many a modern Christian will be keen to be a Sunday School teacher, but
reluctant to come early on the Lord’s day to get things in order for the
But we should rather learn to give without thinking of receiving. The Lord
Himself teaches us: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Consider the men of Jericho. Consider how they Look beyond their own
The Goldsmiths and
The goldsmiths, and apothecaries or perfume-makers, were involved in rebuilding
the wall too (vv. 8, 32). These could simply have excused themselves by saying:
“We are highly skilled professionals, and the things we do are so refined, how
could we be involved in burdensome work of construction?” But no, they came
too. The job may be too menial and mundane for their skills. But it did not
matter they could contribute to it nevertheless. They might not know how to
build, but they were willing to learn.
This is how a church must function. Many of us have special skills, but these
skills are not always needed, or there might be too many persons with the same
skills, in which case we must be willing to serve in another area. “If the
whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing,
where were the smelling?” (1 Cor 12:17). If there is a number of persons
skilled in desktop publishing, but only one is needed, then the rest must learn
to contribute in other areas. Then again, there are some areas of service in
the church which may require much effort and commitment, but little skills,
such as logistic arrangements. Are we willing to contribute in these areas too
though we may have professional secular callings? The Apostle Paul teaches us:
“In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil
Consider the goldsmiths and apothecaries. Consider how they Lowered themselves.
The Daughters of Shallum
Here, a surprising group of builders: women (v. 12). At least it must have been
somewhat surprising for Nehemiah, for he made special mention of them. Shallum
the son of Halohesh was building on a part of the wall. Whether he had sons or
not, we do not know, but one thing is certain, he was building the wall with
Now, we must realise that the work of building the wall is no delicate matter.
The wall was probably made up of massive rocks hewn from the surrounding hills.
Some of these rocks must have been so huge that they require several men to
lift. To make matter worst, Jerusalem sits at the top of a hillock, and when
the wall was broken down, some of the blocks would have fallen down the slopes,
and many of them would be buried under much soil and debris. The builders had
to dig these up, haul them up the hill (they did not have modern machines), and
put them back in place and cement them down with limestone mortar. It was a
very tedious and, in some sense, dirty job.
The women could easily have excused themselves for their lack of strength, but
they did not. They came, and they contributed to the work. Now, we can apply
the example of the women’s contribution generally to encourage those of us who
feel feeble or inhibited to serve because of various limitations, such as very
taxing workloads in the office. But let’s think for a moment of how women can
contribute in the church. Is it true as someone said: “women in a Reformed
church are to be babysitters and cooks only?” I think not. Though, because of
the inability of men in these areas, the sisters’ contributions are much
appreciated here, the sisters can help out in many other areas too. Who says
that only the men can work in the PA team? Who says the women cannot help
arrange chairs? Who says women cannot in private conversation help to “expound…
the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26)? Who says women cannot contribute
much to the prayer life of the church? Though they should not pray publicly,
their agreement in public prayer and their private prayers are invaluable for
the work of the church. And who says, being a godly mother is not serving in
the church in an important role? And besides, is it not true that many a
minister of the Gospel has his hands strengthened because of the motherly
counsels and encouragement of older women in the congregations (cf. 1 Tim 5:2).
The fact is that every hand and every willing heart in the congregation can
contribute significantly to the work through various legitimate ways.
So let us consider the daughters of Shallum. Consider how they Lend a hand.
The final group of builders we should consider here is the merchants (v. 32).
Merchants are essentially businessmen. Most businessmen are opportunists by
instinct and training. This time of great activity as the wall was rebuilt
would certainly be an excellent time for businessmen to make some profit. They
could, for example, profit by selling trowels and drinks. But they set aside
their pecuniary interest, and decided to join in the work. By their laying aside
their selfish ambitions, they exemplified Paul’s instruction to “Let nothing be
done through strife or vainglory” (Phil 2:3a).
Such an attitude in every member is important for the successful building of a
local church. Where the members of the church are pursuing their personal
interests, opinions, and preferences, the church will be bound to be disunited.
How could she be united when her members are pursuing their individual agendas,
which can be very different? This is why the Lord appoints officers in the
church to lead the church. The officers, particularly the elders in the church,
are responsible to set the direction of the church according to the dictates of
the Word of God and the state of the flock (Prov 27:23; Jn 21:15–16). Sometimes
they may not represent the majority of the members, and sometimes they may even
set directions for the church, which may not be agreeable to certain members of
the church. Now, unless the members are convinced by Scripture that the leaders
are wrong, they ought to submit to the leadership (cf. Heb 13:17). In other
words, members should learn to set aside their personal opinions and prejudices
in order to work in concert with the other members in the church according to
the direction and pace set by the appointed officers. This, I believe, is how a
church should function and grow.
Consider the merchants. Consider how they Laid aside their
When we look at the varied backgrounds, gifts and stations in life, of the
participants in the building of the wall, we are reminded of the very important
principle of participation in the church. The church is like a body, for as the
Apostle Paul says: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the
members of that one body being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Cor
Every one of us whom God has placed in the church has an important part to
contribute in the work of the church. Let us consider the builders of the wall,
and think for a moment how we too can have a role in the body of Christ