What does it say?
Now that Jerusalem is a functioning city, some of the Jews that had remained after Jerusalem’s fall want to move in from surrounding rural areas (Neh 11). Nehemiah 13:3-19 probably lists those already living in Jerusalem. Nehemiah sets up a lottery system allowing one family in ten the opportunity to move to the city. Chapter 12 adds names of priests and Levites that had returned. From verse 27, chapter 12 describes the joyful dedication of the rebuilt city walls. Two processions walk along the top of the walls, each coming from different directions to meet in the middle. Musicians, singers and others lead the people in worship and thanksgiving.
Out of chronological order, chapter 13 describes Nehemiah’s return from a visit to Persia. He is appalled to find that the high priest has given his old nemesis Tobiah living quarters attached to the temple! People are not faithful in their taxes, tithes and offerings; flagrantly violate the Sabbath and once again are marrying outside the faith. Nehemiah institutes strong measures to confront all these situations, acting with the authority of a Persian governor. We don’t know how long Nehemiah remains in Jerusalem before returning to his post in Persia.
Though uncertain, many believe that Psalm 126 dates from the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Read it and imagine what you would have felt to be part of a company of Jews returning to the land after all these many years.
What does it mean?
The Jewish people’s follow-through with vows and promises is obviously no better than ours today. God chose Israel for a missional purpose, not because they were better or that he loved them more. Through Israel, blessed with the covenants, law and prophets, God demonstrates that people are people, all flawed by sin and in need of redemption and restoration.
Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple; Ezra rebuilt the people; Nehemiah rebuilt the walls. Each of these leaders played a significant role in God’s mission. Ezra was an eminently educated and qualified priest. Nehemiah was what we would call today a layman, a high-ranking Persian official, but he was no less critical to the mission. All believers have a place in the mission, and we desperately need more people like Nehemiah, willing to serve and sacrifice THROUGH their position and not by leaving it to become a pastor, missionary or evangelist.
How will I respond?
Am I unfaithful to what I have promised God or to what he expects of me? If so, what step can I take to address that flaw? How can my life have specific, missional purpose in my current job, vocation or profession?