Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to help the people who lived in the city with the rebuilding of the wall. Nehemiah decided to leave the comfort of the palace where he served as the cupbearer to Artaxerxes, the king of Persia (Nehemiah 1:11) and help the people of Jerusalem. Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to work on a project that would honor God and would have a lasting significance for the people of God.
As Nehemiah was serving wine to the king (Nehemiah 2:1), he asked permission of the king to return to Jerusalem and help his people. The king granted Nehemiah’s request and provided him with supplies to rebuild the wall and with soldiers to protect him on his journey back home. It is possible that Artaxerxes provided Nehemiah with what he requested because he desired to promote Persian interests in the province of Yehud.
But Nehemiah could not rebuild the wall of Jerusalem by himself. Building the wall would require a team effort. Nehemiah recruited a group of people who would finance and help rebuild sections of the wall. The construction of the wall was assigned to a group of people who worked diligently to finish the work.
The Need for Team Work
Chapter 3 of the book of Nehemiah reveals how the people united themselves to rebuild the wall and how the people worked together to finish the task assigned to them. The book of Nehemiah implies that the repairing of the wall was a divinely sanctioned plan to remove the “shame” of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3) and restore the honor of the city (Nehemiah 2:17). As Birch et al said (2005: 319), the rebuilding of the wall “was not so much one of defense against potential enemies but involved the need to address the matter of honor for God and God’s people, secured through these highly symbolic walls.”
The chapter includes the names of several people who volunteered their labor to build the wall. The writer of the book lists the names of the workers to show that God’s work cannot be done without people. The God of the Bible is a God who cares for people, a God who notices what people do, and a God who delights when people work together. Nehemiah knew that to accomplish the task of rebuilding the wall the people had to work together as a team. When people work together many good things happen. Chapter 3 of Nehemiah teaches five benefits of team work.
The Benefits of Team Work: Inclusion
The work of repairing the walls included all kinds of people, both men and women. Shallum one of the rulers of half the district of Jerusalem, worked with his daughters to repair a section of the wall (3:12). The rebuilding of the wall was done by rich and poor people, by men and women, by priests and lay people, by professionals and unskilled workers.
Uzziel the son of Harhaiah was a goldsmith. Hananiah was a perfumer (Nehemiah 3:8). Eliashib was the high priest and he worked with his fellow priests (Nehemiah 3:1). Among the workers were the Levites (Nehemiah 3:17), the temple servants (Nehemiah 3:26), the merchants (Nehemiah 3:32), and five rulers of the Persian administrative centers: the ruler of Jerusalem (3:9), the ruler of Beth-haccherem (3:14), the ruler of Mizpah (3:15), the ruler of Beth-zur (3:16), and the ruler of Keilah (3:17).
This list of workers shows that a large number of people came to work side by side to do a work that would benefit the community and bring honor to God. The whole community was committed to participate in the common task before them because they believed they were doing the “work of their Lord” (3:5). God calls people to work together. God wants to include everyone in his work.
The Benefits of Team Work: Significance
Each person working in rebuilding the wall did so according to their capabilities. The work began when “Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests” to built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated their work and dedicated it to God (3:1). Joiada and Meshullam were only able to repair the Old Gate; they repaired only a small section of the wall (3:6). On the other hand, Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired a large section of the wall; they repaired 1,500 feet of the wall (3:13).
The significance of these different approaches to the work was that the aim of the workers was to finish the wall. Large or small, every contribution matters in God’s work. Every contribution is essential to achieve the final goal. The benefit of team work is that people work together to accomplish the work that must be done. If the work is to be completed, then the contribution of every person is important. In doing God’s work, every person matters and every contribution plays a part in accomplishing the desired goal.
The Benefits of Team Work: Camaraderie
The expression “Next to him” (3:8) and “Next to them” (3:10) occurs several times in Chapter 3. People who spend a lot of time together develop mutual trust and friendship. Camaraderie is the spirit of friendship and loyalty that is developed among members of a group when they interact with one another.
The people building the wall were working shoulder to shoulder. They may not have known each other before, but now they spent hours and days working together repairing the wall. When people work together they develop a bond of friendship that remains for a lifetime.
Camaraderie comes by serving together. The builders of the wall needed to bond in order to complete the work. It was this high level of camaraderie that motivated the workers to remain together and see the work to completion.
The Benefits of Team Work: Unity
The workers were motivated to repair the walls of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word hzq, translated “repair” and “repaired,” appears 34 times in Chapter 3. The repetition of the word hzq serves to emphasize the solidarity of the community in their determination to work together and rebuild the wall. The solidarity of the community is also seen among those workers who came from far away to work on this project. Among the workers were men from Jericho (3:2), men from Tekoa (3:5), men from Gibeon, men of Mizpah (3:7), and the inhabitants of Zanoah (3:13).
These workers lived outside of Jerusalem, but they wanted to help the community because they believed that their work was for God. These workers shared the same faith and they believed in the same God. As Mark Throntveit (1992: 78) wrote, “Nehemiah was convinced of the necessity of participation by those living in the outlying areas to cement their political ties with the Holy City. In rebuilding the city walls, then, Nehemiah was doing much more than providing for the defense of the community. He was also restoring its essential unity.”
The Benefits of Team Work: Effectiveness
The large number of workers allowed Nehemiah to accomplish more than he would be able to accomplish with fewer people. The work of repairing the wall began at the Sheep Gate (3:1) and finished at the Sheep Gate (3:32). The workers repaired the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel (3:1) and ten different gates: the Sheep Gate (3:1), the Fish Gate (3:3), the Old Gate (3: 6), the Valley Gate (3:13), the Dung Gate (3:13), the Fountain Gate (3:15), the Water Gate (3:26), the Horse Gate (3:28), the East Gate (3:29), and the Muster Gate (3:32). Through the work of many much was accomplished. When many people work together, many things can be accomplished that one person working alone could not accomplish.
According to the book of Nehemiah most people made repairs on the portion of the wall that was closer to their own houses (3:29). By repairing the wall near their homes, the workers made the work of rebuilding the wall a family affair. Nehemiah’s assignment of workers helped the people cooperate with one another, feel ownership of the project, and realize the importance of the work they were doing.
The video below is the sermon Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached on November 3, 2019. The title of his sermon was “Nehemiah: Cooperation.” The text for the sermon was Nehemiah 3:1-32. The above post is based on Jeff’s sermon.
Jeff concluded his sermon by showing what happens when people work together. He illustrated the value of working together by telling the story of a man in Australia whose leg was trapped between a railroad car and a platform. The man became stuck after he slipped and one leg became wedged in the gap, as he attempted to board the train.
As you watch the video below you will see people power: how a group of passengers was able to free the man trapped by the train.
Hundreds of commuters teamed up to help free the man. They helped him by working together alongside the railroad car and pushing the train. The commuters were able to move the railroad car and set the man’s leg free. Jeff emphasized that one person would never be able to move the railroad car, but hundreds of people were able to do so. He concluded by saying that church work is the work of a team. Christians must unite to carry on the work of Christ in the world.
Sermon: “Nehemiah: Cooperation” by Jeff Griffin
Studies on Nehemiah
Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Birch, Bruce C., Walter Brueggemann, Terence E. Fretheim, David L. Petersen. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. Second Edition. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.
Throntveit, Mark A. Ezra-Nehemiah. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992.