They are supposed to get this thing back on track, and there are no houses. There are not very many people. They live in all these different towns.
And so, Nehemiah has this idea and he calls a meeting. He gets all the leaders together, and all the people, and then notice verse 6: “These are the people of the province who came from the captivity of the exiles with Nebuchadnezzar.” Ezra 2 has the same story. And he has the genealogies, and he finds this scroll of all the people who came back from Babylon to resettle.
To us, this is meaningless. But look at the structure of it. Notice the genealogies.
He starts with the men of Israel. Skip down, verse 26: the men of Bethlehem. Skip down, now he talks about the priests, in verse 39. Verse 43 – there are the Levites. Verse 44 – there are singers. Verse 45 – there are gatekeepers. Verse 46 – the Temple servants. Skip down to verse 57 – there are servants of Solomon.
And then, notice, he shifts. He actually gave us eighteen different family clans, or units, and we’ll talk about why he’s doing this. And then, he shifts, and begins to talk about where people came from. And he’s going to identify about twenty different villages. He says, “The following came from the towns of Tel Melah,” and then he lists all these towns.
And then, skip down to verse 64. And as people are going through the records, and he’s – See, what he’s trying to figure out, “Who is going to live here? How do we get this started? How do we fund getting this temple going? How do we get the Jewish state aligned? What are we going to do?”
And so, he finds this genealogical record, and he says, “Well, who actually came back?” And then, he evaluates all the roles, all the people, from what towns.
And then, notice, they hit a little snag: “They searched for their family records” – verse 64 – “but they couldn’t find them and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the meat sacrificed.” So, he’s beginning to find out who is there: “What’s their role? What are we going to do?”
And then, skip down to verse 66, “The whole company numbered 42,360.” And then, besides that, there are another 7,000 or so men, servants, and maidservants. And then, there are 245 men and women who were singers. And then, he literally is getting very specific. Notice, there are 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and close to 7,000 donkeys.
Then, notice he goes on, in verse 70, and he’s – I’m giving you the overview. He says, “Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. And the governor gave to the treasury” – he talks about a thousand drachmas of gold. He’s the governor. And then, it talks about, then the heads of the families give, and then the rest of the people give, and a number of things occur.
Now, here’s what I want you to get: What is his difficult circumstance? If we were just taking what happened…
Number one, he has security issues. Tobiah, Sanballat, the enemies – they’re on the outside. And so, he’s got security issues, and the people aren’t safe. And people don’t function well when they feel very threatened. And we’ll find out what he does.
Not only does he have security issues – it’s not safe – but he’s got people issues. He doesn’t have enough people. Anybody ever been in a place where you don’t have enough staff, don’t have enough resources, not enough people?
Not only that, he’s got housing issues. Can we identify with this, or what? He’s got major housing issues. His problem is not interest rates. His problem is, they don’t have houses. At all!
He’s got financial issues. So he’s got an assignment, but doesn’t have the funds. Anybody here have any of those issues?
Or, finally, he’s got momentum issues. I mean, after a hundred years – stop, start, stop, start, stop, start. It’s really hard to get a group going.
Now, all I want to ask you is, which one of those do you most identify with, in your world right now? Lack of resources? People issues? Financial issues? Housing issues? Momentum? Have you ever tried to break an addiction, or tried to get your family moving in a positive direction, and for three days you do pretty well, and then – phssh?
And then, you stop, start, stop, start, fail. And then, there are times where you just feel like, Why try this one more time? It “never works.” You know that’s not true, but that’s the way it feels.
All I wanted to do is paint a picture for you in this very unusual chapter, that it is very difficult, and he has circumstances that he didn’t ask for. He just took a step of faith. He’s just doing what God wants him to do. But he has people, finances, momentum, housing, and multiple issues that he’s gotta solve.
So, let’s see what he does. How did Nehemiah respond to his circumstances?
Number one, he improvised. You say, “Well, where do you get that?” Well, did you notice, in verse 1, that there were these singers, and Levites, and priests, and guards, and what their job was, was to either do ministry at the Temple, or guard the Temple.
Where does he put them? He puts them to guard outside the wall. He improvises!
See, when you get a circumstance in your life, and it feels overwhelming, and, “This happened with our house,” or, “This happened with my job,” or, “I was supposed to get in this school, and then… ‘What do you mean, that school went under?’” Or, “I was supposed to relocate. Now they don’t have the money to do it.”
You get something. You get a report from a doctor, and your whole world changes because of circumstances you can’t control. The first thing you need to do is realize, you may not keep doing life the same way you used to do it.
So, he improvises: “Look, they were guards over here. We’re going to take them from the Temple, and what we need to do is, we need safety more than anything else.” And so, he puts them on the outside.
He improvised what their role was, and then, notice, he improvised on the timing. Normally, “Well, we have to open at dawn, and we have to close at dusk, because that’s how cities work.” He said, “Not this city; not right now. We open all day – we can’t guard that long. We’re going to wait until the sun gets hot, and we’re going to close it down before the guards go off.”
In your life, you gotta start thinking outside the box. God will actually use difficult circumstances to have you do things, start things, and think in ways that you would never do on your own.
You know that old phrase that, “Necessity is the mother of invention”? It’s true. Most of us don’t think outside the box, think about a different alternative, a different role, improvise unless – what? Unless you have to.
The second thing he does is, he delegates. Look at verses 2 and 3. He realized that his role was to come rally the people. He’s a business guy; he’s got a leadership gift. He gets the people together. The walls are built; the gates are done, and he realizes, “My role needs to change, and I need to give my focus to something else now.”
And so, he says to his brother Hanani, “I’ll tell you what, you be in charge of administration of Jerusalem. And then, Hananiah, you know what? You fear God more than most. I’ve been watching you, as we’ve rebuilt this wall, and you fear God, and you’re a man of integrity. You take the citadel. So, you take the administrative task; you take the military task. And by the way, tell the people: Stand guards. Here are their roles: in front of their house, or these places.”
You need to ask this question in difficult circumstances: Who might God have all around me that He’s prepared them to help me in what I’m going through? When life gets hard, what do you and I tend to do? How am I going to do this? All the weight is on me. Everything changed. I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too overwhelming. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough resources.
What did Nehemiah do? He stopped and said, “There’s Hanani; there’s Hananiah. There are the people. These people had this role, and we had this time.” And he stepped back and said, “It’s a new game plan.”
Some of you, God brought you today, and I believe – and I prayed earlier – that even as I talk, and the Spirit of God works, He’s going to take your specific, negative, difficult, painful circumstance, and bring an idea to your mind that you didn’t have before you walked in here.
Just say, You know what? I’ve been thinking I gotta do it this way, gotta do it this way, gotta do it this way. I’ve been thinking my role has to be this. I’ve been thinking the timing always has to be like this.
And what Nehemiah wants you to learn, and what God wants you to learn, is, mm-mmm. When circumstances happen like this, you just have to say, Wait a second. We gotta improvise. I have to delegate.
And third, notice, he listened. I love that line in verse 4, at the end, and then in 5. He says – what? He says, “Then God put in my heart...”
Now, the premise is, you’re walking with God. The premise is, you’re saying, “This is difficult. This is painful. I don’t know what to do. God, will You show me?” This is sort of the, “If any man lacks wisdom… If any woman lacks wisdom…” If you don’t know what to do, here’s a great prayer, “O God! I don’t know what to do! Will You show me?”
And so, he listens. And he’s just – think what it was like. He goes to his little room… And sometimes we make these biblical stories, so out there. He’s just a regular guy, and there are times he’s sitting there, and he’s going, “I don’t know what to do, and I can’t act like I don’t know what I’m doing. Everyone is looking to me, and I don’t know what to do. We don’t have any people, don’t have any money, don’t have any houses… And all the bad guys are on the outside; they want to kill us. Other than that, things are going great. Why did I ever leave my good job in Persia?” Right? Any of you feel like that today?
And then, all of a sudden, he said, “God put this thing on my heart. Hmmm…the genealogical records. What’s happened is, you know what? The people don’t get it. They’re afraid, and all they’re thinking about is their security, and their stuff. If I could get the records out, then I’ll show all the people where we came from, where we’ve been.”
And so, God gives him this idea. And this idea becomes the platform God uses to change how people think, and, later, how they behave.
Notice, then, he asks the right questions. You’ve got this big, open space, and he basically says to the people – He has a big meeting, right? He pulls them together, and he says, “Who are we? We’re not a ragtag group of people that are in this empty city without a purpose. We are – what? We’re the people of God! Where did we come from? Well, we came from a lineage from all the way back to Adam. We’re in David’s line. We’re in Solomon’s line. God has a purpose. He made all these promises to this nation. God always keeps His promises. He made these promises to David. He made these promises about the land to Abraham. And, by the way, look at the miracles! The miracles when Zerubbabel went, the miracles when Ezra went, the miracles when I went. We’ve got these foreign kings paying our way!”
And then, by the way, he says, “Well, who do we have?” Notice his focus. He doesn’t focus on what he doesn’t have. He focuses on what he does have.
And so, he said, “Wow, I wonder what we ought to do. We got men of Israel; we got men of Bethlehem. Hmmm. Let’s see, we got priests – what do they do? Oh, that’s right, they do stuff in the Temple. Levites – what do they do? They help with the Temple. Singers – what do they do? They sing in the Temple. Temple servants – that’s pretty obvious. Servants of Solomon.”
And all of a sudden, he helps the people understand, “Your lineage, your heritage, the promises of God, the miracle-working God… There have been all these dots, not for hundreds, but thousands of years, that have led you to this point. And your circumstances may be this empty city, but the God of the universe has a plan for you, His people, and His program, and you are the next dot. And He’s going to provide what you need.”
And some of us, that’s what we need to say. Who are you? Are you some lonely, difficult person, whose business is upside down, or whose investments are upside down, or…?
Was the goal of God that you would be comfortable, and financially secure, and everything would go great? Or does God have a purpose for His people, in this time in history, and that’s where you’re at? Why are you here? What do you have, not, what do you lack?
See how those questions – he asks those right questions, and he begins to answer those questions. And then, he asks the big one: “So, what are we called to do? What’s the game plan?”
See, at times like this, you can get so off focus about not only what matters, but what you’re called to do. Because all you can see is the minuses. All you can see is the financial numbers. All you can see is the fallout. All you can see is the report that came back from the doctor. All you can see is the disappointment.
It takes great discipline. And you can either get under the rock of your circumstances and live there, and moan, and whine, and complain… And there are no lack of people that will do it with you. And you can just decide whether to watch CNN, or Fox – depending on who you want to moan or complain – right? Don’t we do that? We just – we all have our bias.
But I will you tell you, what if you got outside of all that and said, “I don’t understand what’s going on in the world, but I know God is in control, but I know I have a purpose. I know God calls me to live by faith. I know God wants me to make a difference”?
There are people in your network today, there are people in your neighborhoods, and people where you live, and people that you’re related to that are scared to death. We’ve always had this unconscious, Well, we’re America. We’ll come out of this, right? Maybe.
Well, what if God is actually allowing things to be so unsettled, so people that have never though seriously about spiritual things, about eternal life, about forgiveness are more open now than ever before? And what if, instead of living under our circumstances, we said, “We’re the people of God. This is what we do have. This is our calling; this is what we’re going to do”? And you look back in history, that’s how God has often done it.
Notice, then, he does something very counterintuitive. Look at verse 70. There are not resources, and so he models something crazy. It says, “The heads of the families began to give,” but it says, “The governor gave 1000 drachmas of gold.” One thousand drachmas.
And you know what happened? It says, then the heads of the families… Then the rest of the people...
Long before Matthew 6:33 was written, Nehemiah practiced it. And when difficult circumstances come, we tend to withdraw, look for security, and figure out how to hedge our bets. But Matthew 6:33 says this, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” – “His agenda” is the idea – “and all these things will be added unto you.”
And so, Nehemiah looks at the shortage and doesn’t say, “Well, you know what? It could get a lot worse, and I don’t have a place either. I better hoard my stuff. I better really take care of me and mine.”
Instead, what’s he do? He models generosity. And he takes a step of faith. And here’s what we know: God honors faith. In fact, without it, it’s impossible to please Him. “He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a” – what? – “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
But sometimes we hear God’s Word – like, it’s always about the big issue with your business, your house, your wife, your singleness, your health. Circumstances, every single day, small and large, come in, where the Spirit of God wants to say to you, “Are you willing to improvise? Are you willing to delegate? Are you willing to listen right now, instead of plow it through, and be in control, and be frustrated? Are you willing to ask the right questions? And then, if I would show you, would you be willing to model a very counterintuitive step of alignment and commitment with Me, often evidenced by generosity in your time, your attitude, or your money?”
And I will tell you what, that’s how God gives wisdom. That’s how you can consider it all joy. And I’m praying that God is going to give you guys some ideas, and a different perspective.
Well, what can we learn from Nehemiah? There are two things I want you to learn about Bible study.
Number one is that sometimes the structure of a passage teaches us as much as the content. The content, basically, was the first five or six verses, and a few verses on the back, right? But when you outline the book, chapters 1 through 6 are about rebuilding the wall; chapters 8 through 13 are about rebuilding the people, right?
So what we have is this pivot, or this hinge, and it’s in there for a reason. It’s the genealogy. And so, the rebuilding of the wall had to do with walls, and work, and physical and external things. The whole rest of the book is going to be about spiritual, internal, rebuilding the people.
And so, you look at the structure, and you say, “God, why is chapter 7 in here?” And then, when you look at that structure, and you see what he did, then, often, what we need to do is realize that there’s probably not a lot of application directly for us, but there are principles.
So, when you study, one is, you want to look at structure as well as content. Secondly, what are some timeless principles?
I did some careful research. There are forty-nine thousand people, and roughly seven thousand donkeys. What I realized, there was one donkey for every seven people. But I don’t think the application is, “Church, here’s what I want you to hear. Do you have a difficult circumstance in your life? Is it hard? Is it difficult? We’re buying some donkeys. We’re going to have to share, because I have learned from Nehemiah that you get one donkey for every seven people. It stinks a little bit, but we’re going to make progress.”
It’s obvious that is not the application, correct? But it’s obvious from that – what’s the principle? He itemized what he did have, and got his mind and his heart off of what he didn’t have.
And so, with that, there are three principles that emerged for me. Principle number one is the principle of perspective. Like Nehemiah, we must not confuse our means, activities, and projects with our goal’s desired end results. Nehemiah’s initial job was to rebuild a wall. The end result was to rebuild people.
And so, here’s the question I want you to write underneath that: Why am I doing what I’m doing?
See, at some point in time – Nehemiah – the walls are done. He could have said, “Hey! I’ll see you guys. I’m going to take one of those donkeys – you’re down to six thousand one hundred and ninety-nine, whatever it is – and I’m going to go back to Persia.”
But he understood, “I got here, job one was the walls. I didn’t come here for walls.” But he had to stop and say, in the circumstance, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”
Why are you doing what you’re doing? So often, the means, over time, become the end. It’s true of us, right?
Quick example: We work for what? We want to provide for ourselves and our families, to be able to do what God wants us to do. And then, pretty soon, you go to work, and you get good at work, and you make some money at work, and you get some promotions in work, and pretty soon, you leave early, and you come home late, and work is your life. The means become the end.
Or I’ve seen people, and been in a couple houses where people are really – they really want – What’s a home for? A home is to create an atmosphere – isn’t it? – where love and relationships can thrive. But then you say, “Well, we want it to thrive, so we remodeled this, then we remodel that, then we get this piece of furniture, then we’re going to do that, we’re going to get this, we can get that.”
I’ve been in homes where they have spent so much time creating this atmosphere, you say, “Oh, don’t touch that!” I’ve been with my kids, “Hands to your sides. Hands with me. If you touch anything in this lady’s home, I will kill you.” Right?
Well, what happened? That means that – it started well.
Or you go to school. And you go to school to – what? Learn, and grow, and actualize what God gave you in your mind, in your heart. And so, you go to school, and you’re excited, and you’re learning.
And then, you get an eighty-nine on your first test. And you look over, and someone has an eighty-four, and you feel pretty good. And then, someone has a ninety-seven – you feel not so good. And then, pretty soon, you realize when you get ninety-sevens, people look at your paper.
And then, pretty soon, all you do – it’s grades, grades, grades, grades, grades. And you know what? You don’t learn anything. And the grade, the degrees, the numbers of letters, instead of learning. You follow me?
Or even spiritually… what’s the goal? It’s to know God; it’s to love God. It’s to love other people. Well, do I need to read the Bible? Well, yeah. Do I need to spend time talking with Him? Do I need to be in a small group, and have community? And do I need to take some steps of faith, whether it’s with my finances, or a missions trip? Of course.
But have you not – My personal confession: I got to where the means were so important, I went for, like, three or four years – I never missed a day of praying, and I prayed through the whole list. And I would memorize at least three to five verses every week, for five or six years. The only thing was, I didn’t love God, I didn’t love people, and I was the biggest jerk that most people knew! Because the means became the end.
Question, in your circumstance… God may have brought it. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you doing that job? Why are you doing that hobby? Why are you doing what you’re doing with your family? Why are your kids in the school that they are in? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Stop! Difficult circumstances can give you the gift of perspective.
It was Drucker who said, “There’s a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness.” Efficiency has to do with doing things well. Effectiveness is doing the right things.
It’s his classic illustration that he said, when the railroads were going through a difficult time. He just asked the question, “Are you in the train business, or the transportation business?”
Some thought, The train business. They stayed with trains, and they went out of business. Others said, “Transportation.” They began to diversify and said, “It’s trains. It’s trucks. It’s…”
What business are you in? Are you in the “make myself happy” business? “I gotta be in control; everything’s gotta work out.” Or are you in the “following Christ” business?
Second is the issue and principle of priority. Like Nehemiah, we must make people our passion. People were really important to Nehemiah. You say, “How do you know?” Because look how many he listed of them! He lists them.
To me this is a very boring chapter in the Bible. But if one of these people was my father or grandfather, it would be exciting. “Look at this, hey, do you understand this? See this guy’s name that you can’t pronounce? It’s my granddad. You know Zerubbabel? He hung out with him. This is like spiritual NFL. There’s the MVP. That’s my dad, right here.”
There was a sense of identity, and heritage, and pride. People mattered. Not laws, not houses, not interest rates, not jobs, not money, not 401(k)s, not your success, not your career ladder, not what job or school your kids get in, or don’t get in.
All of that can be a means, and with the right heart, you can make great decisions. But I will tell you what: You can get your total priorities messed up. “The world is terrible, because our house used to be this big, and now it’s this big. The world is terrible, because I had this role; now, I have this role. The world is terrible, because I signed up for this, and now the market has changed.”
Is the world really terrible? So, people don’t love you anymore? There aren’t relationships? There aren’t friendships? You don’t have purpose? You don’t have life? Is the world terrible, or is just your world, and your expectations? Maybe the greatest gift God gives you is to reorient.
And the question to ask here is, what really matters? What’s really important? We all have the right answer: “It’s people.” I say this a lot, but I’ve buried a lot of people. And when you bury them, no one talks about anything, other than the relationship.
At the end of the day, no one says, “You know what? This guy looks good dead. You should have seen his house. He had eleven classic cars.” “I’m telling you what, this woman was so hot. She doesn’t look that hot now, but believe me, she was, years ago. She had eleven surgeries. When she was seventy, she was hot. She had the best jewelry in all of Northern California.”
People don’t say stuff like that. “She was there for me when I needed a friend.” “He was generous. He listened to me, when no one else cared. He was my dad. Everyone else thought he was a big shot, but he always took time for me.” Make people your passion.
And then, the principle of evaluation: Like Nehemiah, we must make faithfulness to our calling the measure of our success. And ask the question, “How am I measuring success?” Sometimes God uses difficult circumstances to wean us of our unconscious sense of privilege, with regard to success, material prosperity, or status.
Why am I doing what I’m doing? What really matters? And how will I measure success?