Introduction: With God’s protection, the Jews miraculously rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls in only 52 days. Yet, it is the people that make a city important, not its walls. Jewish pilgrims returned to Jerusalem more than a hundred years earlier. But Jerusalem remained just a fraction of its former size. With the walls rebuilt, God would next restore the population. In this chapter, Nehemiah partially repeats a census recorded in the book of Ezra to record how God would faithfully rebuild the Jewish nation. Although the two census counts contain similarities, they served different purposes. The first returning census count focused on what God faithfully did for His people to keep His promises. The second census count focuses on the people’s response to God’s faithfulness. Just as the building of the walls was a joint endeavor between God and His people, the rebuilding of Jerusalem also required the participation of God’s people. Today, every believer in Jesus Christ is called upon to be a co-builder of His Church: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). From Nehemiah’s census count, Jesus reveals seven lessons for being a co-builder of His Church. These include: (1) service; (2) submission, (3) accountability, (4) sacrifice, (5) faith, (6) trust, and (7) gratitude.
First, after the Jews completed the walls, Nehemiah appointed persons for different roles for restoring Jerusalem. Today, everyone also has an appointed role to serve as a co-builder in Jesus’ Church. Second, God raised up 12 leaders to administer the returning exiles. The first wave of returning Jews succeeded because they submitted to God’s appointed leaders. To succeed in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Jews would again need to submit to their appointed leaders. Third, God carefully numbered those with the faith to return to the Promised Land. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He cares for all His sheep, and He calls on the Church to keep track of His sheep. Fourth, the priests who were willing to return were few because they had no right to a land inheritance in the Promised Land. Those who returned had to be willing to sacrifice. The first pilgrims also included former servants who freely returned to serve in menial tasks in the Temple. Jesus humbled Himself for you as a servant and at the cross. In return, He desires your humility and sacrifice for Him. Fifth, the pilgrims included some who had lost their family ancestry. God’s rules of purity limited them from serving as priests in the Temple. But they were still welcomed into the community through their faith. Through faith in Jesus, you can also become an adopted child of God. Without faith, none of your service as a co-builder in Jesus’ Church would be pleasing to Him. Sixth, the small remnant of pilgrims who first returned were the seeds of faith that God would use to restore the Jewish nation. They trusted God to supply their needs. When you labor as a co-builder in Jesus’ Church, Jesus also wants you to trust Him to supply all your needs. Finally, the Jews gave generously at the chance to help rebuild Jerusalem. Out of gratitude, you should also be generous as a co-builder of Jesus’ Church.
Nehemiah appoints people to specific rolls to restore Jerusalem. With the walls completed, Nehemiah appointed faithful people for different roles to rebuild Jerusalem: “1 Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had installed the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites were appointed, 2 then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the citadel, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. 3 Then I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, the gatekeepers are to keep the doors shut and bolted. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house.’” (Neh. 7:1-3). Although Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to help rebuild the walls, he understood that this was merely the first step in restoring Jerusalem. The rebuilding of the walls required the willingness of faithful people to serve. The rebuilding of the city also required the willingness of faithful people to serve in roles ranging from protection, to worship, to leadership. Nehemiah acted without delay to appoint people for these important roles. The quick appointment of singers might seem like a misplaced priority for a modern civil planner. But Jerusalem was a city that existed to worship and praise God. As a man of faith, Nehemiah made certain that the people praised God and gave Him the credit for their victory. He also knew how quickly the enemy would seize upon any opportunity to attack. Thus, he immediately appointed the Temple guards to stand watch over the city. They could only open the gates when there was sufficient light and every visitor could be identified (Neh. 7:3). He further appointed his brother Hanani, a God-fearing man who first alerted Nehemiah to the Jews’ plight (Neh. 1:2), to administer Jerusalem (Neh. 7:2).
Be obedient in God’s call to serve Him. Nehemiah’s leadership could only succeed if the people responded to his calling to service. God also calls every believer by name to do good works for Him: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10). “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21). God has not called you to be a spectator. If you don’t know your calling, you should pray for Him to reveal it (Jam. 1:5). Are you being obedient in God’s calling in your life?
Use your talents for His glory. Nehemiah assigned people to serve based upon their faithfulness and unique gifts. Jesus has also given you talents for you to use to serve Him (Matt. 25:14-30). If you are faithful with the small things that He gives you, He will entrust you with greater things: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. ” (1 Pet. 4:10). “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Ro. 12:6-8). “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Eph. 4:11-12). “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. . . . .4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:1-7). Are you using your gifts for Jesus?
Every laborer is needed. Just as Nehemiah knew that everyone was needed to build the walls, everyone was needed to rebuild Jerusalem into the center of worship for God’s people. Jesus also wants you to be His laborer (Col. 3:23). Everyone’s gifts are needed because no one has them all (1 Cor. 12:13-27). Are you laboring for Jesus’ glory?
Everyone was required to submit to God’s appointed leadership. Nehemiah clearly identified the next problem for the Jews. Jerusalem was still largely uninhabited. To rebuild, he would submit to God’s appointed plan for leadership to guide Jerusalem: “4 Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. 5 Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials, and the other people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first, in which I found the following record: 6 These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had taken into exile, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city, 7 who came with  Zerubbabel,  Jeshua,  Nehemiah,  Azariah,  Raamiah,  Nahamani,  Mordecai,  Bilshan,  Mispereth,  Bigvai,  Nehum, and  Baanah.” (Neh. 7:4-7a; Ezra 2:1-2a). Although these were 12 men who returned more than 100 years earlier, they represented God’s plan to govern His peoples.
The 12 leaders represented all of the 12 tribes. In the Bible, the number 12 symbolized God’s perfect government. Not counting the Levities, there were 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus later had 12 apostles. These 12 leaders also sacrificed “12 bulls for all Israel, . . .” (Ezra 8:35). Thus, even though these leaders were likely from only the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, they represented all of God’s people as His appointed government. The first pilgrims succeeded because they submitted to God’s appointed leaders. To succeed in the rebuilding, the Jews would again need to submit to their appointed leaders.
The leaders served in humility. These leaders who stepped forward to serve were not famous. Some, like Mordecai (Ezra 2:2), may have shared the same name as other famous people (Esther 4:13-14). The “Nehemiah” who came with this group (Neh. 7:6) in 536 B.C. also was not the Nehemiah who arrived in 445 B.C. to rebuild the walls. These pilgrims did not expect to become rich or famous while serving. They were returning to a poor land that had been stripped of its talent and resources.
Zerubbabel represented a confirmation of the Davidic covenant. The Jews’ first returning leader Zerubbabel (Neh. 7:7) confirmed God’s covenant with David. His name meant “offspring of Babylon,” reflecting the place of his birth. Nebuchadnezzar II took the Jewish King Jehoiachin captive after he rebelled against Babylonian rule (2 Kgs. 24:10-12) Yet, after 36 years of captivity, God influenced King Evil-merodach of Babylon (562-560 B.C.) to release Jehoiachin from prison (2 Kgs. 25:27-30). Zerubbabel was Jehoiachin’s grandson (1 Chr. 3:17; Matt. 1:12). As part of God’s curse upon Judah, Jehoiachin’s children could not assume the throne of Judah (Jer. 22:24, 30). Thus, it was not God’s will for Zerubbabel to administer an independent Jewish country. Yet, he still represented the promise to David that God would one day fulfill His promise through Jesus of an eternal dynasty (1 Chr. 17:11-12; 22:10; 2 Sam. 7:13). The New Testament also lists Zerubbabel as part of the Davidic lineage leading to Jesus (Matt. 1:12-13; Lk. 3:27). Thus, Zerubbabel demonstrated Jesus’ faithfulness to keep His promises.
Jeshua represented a continuation of God’s covenant with Aaron’s descendants. Jeshua, the first returning High Priest (Neh. 7:7), also represented God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. Jeshua was the son of the High Priest Jehozadak (Hag. 1:1) and the grandson of Seraiah, the last High Priest of Judah before the exile (2 Kgs. 25:18; 1 Chr. 6:15). His name meant “Jehovah saves.” He fulfilled God’s promise to Aaron’s grandson Phinehas of a “covenant of a perpetual priesthood” (Nu. 25:11, 13). The Greek translation of his name was Jesus. Jeshua also represented Jesus’ faithfulness to fulfill His promises.
God is faithful even when we are not. The Jews had done nothing to deserve God’s blessings while in captivity. Indeed, only a small percentage of the Jews had the faith to return. Yet, God was still faithful to keep His promises to restore Israel and rebuild His people: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). Have you given thanks that God will never break His promises to you.
Submit to God’s appointed leadership. Why would Nehemiah repeat the list of leaders who first returned to Jerusalem more than 100 years earlier? Because they recorded God’s faithfulness to appoint leaders to govern the people. Because the evidence was clear from the list that God had appointed these leaders, the people needed to trust and submit to God’s appointed leaders to rebuild Jerusalem. “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Ro. 13:1-2). Are you submitted to God’s appointed leaders and praying for them when they sin? Or, are you gossiping and complaining about them?
The census of Jewish families who first returned to Jerusalem. When the Jews first returned, God directed His leaders to carefully document and watch over every pilgrim: “7b The number of men of the people of Israel: 8 the sons of Parosh, 2,172; 9 the sons of Shephatiah, 372; 10 the sons of Arah, 652; 11 the sons of Pahath-moab of the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,818; 12 the sons of Elam, 1,254; 13 the sons of Zattu, 845; 14 the sons of Zaccai, 760; 15 the sons of Binnui, 648; 16 the sons of Bebai, 628; 17 the sons of Azgad, 2,322; 18 the sons of Adonikam, 667; 19 the sons of Bigvai, 2,067; 20 the sons of Adin, 655; 21 the sons of Ater, of Hezekiah, 98; 22 the sons of Hashum, 328; 23 the sons of Bezai, 324; 24 the sons of Hariph, 112; 25 the sons of Gibeon, 95; 26 the men of Bethlehem and Netophah, 188; 27 the men of Anathoth, 128; 28 the men of Beth-azmaveth, 42; 29 the men of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743; 30 the men of Ramah and Geba, 621; 31 the men of Michmas, 122; 32 the men of Bethel and Ai, 123; 33 the men of the other Nebo, 52; 34 the sons of the other Elam, 1,254; 35 the sons of Harim, 320; 36 the men of Jericho, 345; 37 the sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 721; 38 the sons of Senaah, 3,930.” (Neh. 7:7b- 38; Ezra 2:2b-35). This list does not purport to list every family member by name. It instead lists the heads of families. Every person was accounted and protected.
Jesus does not have any lost sheep. To some, reading this census count is one of the most boring sections of the Bible. Most commentators also have little to say about it. Yet, like any data about a population, this census count is filled with interesting facts once you know what to look for. The first census took place near the end of the building of the Tabernacle (Ex. 30:11-12). The second census took place after the Jews were ready to invade the Promised Land. Yet, that count was limited to the men of fighting age (20 years or older) from the twelve tribes who would fight, which excluded the Levites (Nu. 1:2-4). After 38 years of wondering in the wilderness, God commanded that the third census again count every man of fighting age who would fight the battle for the Promised Land (Nu. 26:2). Starting first with the big picture, the famous Jewish commentator Rashi observed that the census counts show that God loves His people and keeps careful track of them the way a good shepherd keeps track of his sheep. Jesus knows every hair on your head (Matt 10:29; Lk. 12:17). He not only knows about you. He cares about you as well. There is no problem that God either doesn’t know about or can’t deal with.
Jesus will remember His faithful sheep. In addition to keeping careful track of His sheep, Jesus will also remember and record the acts of faith, love, and charity: “Whatever the list’s purpose, these individuals were honored as being the first to return (Nah. 7:5), showing their faith in the promises of God and especially the value they place on the land God had promised to Abraham. . . Finding one’s name on a list is frequently satisfying and encouraging; it gives assurance that arrangements have been made – that one is expected, valued, and privileged. Such was surely the case with these numbered here among the people God welcomed back to the land of promise, a land that represented God’s commitment to redeem the earth from sin and judgment and to establish a divine and eternal kingdom of righteousness.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 75, 77). Your sins will be forgotten in heaven (Heb. 8:12). Jesus will forget your sins when you get to heaven (Heb. 8:12). But He will record and celebrate your acts of faith, love, and charity in heaven. What are you doing for Jesus that He can record and celebrate?
A church must be accountable and keep track of Jesus’ sheep. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (Jo. 10:11). Yet, He has appointed many deputy shepherds to watch over His sheep until He returns. God calls the believers in Christ His royal priesthood (2 Pet. 2:5, 9). As His priests, we have a collective responsibility to carefully count and keep track of His sheep (Ex. 30:11-12). Yet, it is fashionable today for large churches not to keep member lists or to count who comes and goes to church. To be seeker friendly, no one should feel pressure to join, be monitored, or counted. People have the freedom to float in and out with no accountability. Yet, this does not follow the example God set for us with the census counts. We cannot care for God’s sheep if we don’t keep track of them. When you see that a member of your church is gone, do you follow up to check on them?
The returning priests, Levites, and Temple servants. A small number of priests and Levites returned to the Promised Land. The exiles with the faith to return to the Promised Land also included Temple servants who humbly performed menial tasks: “39 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah of the house of Jeshua, 973; 40 the sons of Immer, 1,052; 41 the sons of Pashhur, 1,247; 42 the sons of Harim, 1,017. 43 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua, of Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodevah, 74. 44 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 148. 45 The gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, 138. 46 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 47 the sons of Keros, the sons of Sia, the sons of Padon, 48 the sons of Lebana, the sons of Hagaba, the sons of Shalmai, 49 the sons of Hanan, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, 50 the sons of Reaiah, the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, 51 the sons of Gazzam, the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, 52 the sons of Besai, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephushesim, 53 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 54 the sons of Bazlith, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 55 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 56 the sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha. 57 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Sophereth, the sons of Perida, 58 the sons of Jaala, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 59 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Amon. 60 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants totaled 392.” (Neh. 7:39-60; Ezra 2:36-58). Not counting women and children, there were 4,289 Levite men from four clans. These included Asaph descendants, who would lead in worship (1 Chr. 15:19; 16:5). Most of these Temple servants were not Jewish at all. They were the descendants of the Gibeonites. The servants of Solomon are believed to be other foreign converts. All of these pilgrims desired to return and serve God.
The limited number of priests and Levities willing to return and sacrifice for God. The list of returning families of priests were limited to the families of Jedaiah, Immer, Pashhur, and Harim. This represented only four of the 24 family divisions of the priesthood that David created (1 Chron. 24:8). This means that the vast majority of the priests were unwilling to leave their old lives behind and return to the Promised Land. The total number of returning Levites were further only 10 percent of the priesthood. In fact, the priests should have represented only a small percentage of the returning Levites. These families were free to own land during their Babylonian captivity. Yet, they could not own land if they returned to the Promised Land. Unlike the other tribes, the tribe of Levi did not receive an inheritance in the land because they would live amongst the other tribes and devote themselves to serving God and the other people (Dt. 18:1; Josh. 13:14). They had an even better blessing. Instead, God was their “portion” and their “inheritance.” “They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.” (Dt. 18:2; Nu. 18:20). Thus, only a small number of Levites were willing to sacrifice for the opportunity to serve God.
Store up your treasures in heaven and let Jesus be your inheritance. Any person seeking to be a servant of God must be willing to make sacrifices. In the case of the Levites, in addition to sacrificing the right to own or inherit land, they were not meant to be self-reliant. Their food was limited to what the people gave them as part of their tithes (Dt. 18:1-2; 10:9; 12:12; Nu. 18:20; Josh. 13:33; 18:7). Jesus is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14). To fulfill the Law, He lived without owning land while He lived as man on Earth (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58). Like the Levites, you are today part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Like the Levities, He calls upon every believer to store up all forms of wealth (not just land) in heaven (Matt. 6:19-20; Lk. 12:33). Yet, He did not prohibit people from owning land. Having wealth is not in and of itself sinful. If it were, God would not have rewarded Job or Solomon with riches (Job 42:10; 2 Chr. 1:11). Instead, Jesus asks you to give up wealth if it causes you to covet. He commanded a young man to give up his wealth because He knew that the man’s wealth had caused him to hoard wealth: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matt. 9:21; Lk. 18:22). If Jesus were to call upon you to sell your property to help the poor, would your heart be filled with sadness?
Let Jesus be your inheritance. As part of God’s holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), your sacrifice is not without a reward. Like the Levites, you have the right to count Jesus as your inheritance: “And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel-- I am their possession.” (Ezek. 44:28; Ps. 119:57). “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot.” (Ps. 16:5). “But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Is. 61:6-7). Yet, unlike the Levities, you do not need to wait to receive your inheritance. First, Jesus offers any believer the Holy Spirit as a down payment on His inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22). Second, when you act in one accord with your fellow believers for Christ, Jesus further gives part of His glory to you (Jo. 17:22). Third, you have an inheritance in heaven that is so great that it cannot be adequately described (1 Cor. 2:9). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Ro. 8:18). Are you storing up treasures in heaven by denying yourself on Earth?
Like the Levites, you are privileged to sacrifice for God. The Levities learned that their privilege to serve was not without sacrifice. As your High Priest, Christ also sacrificed for His church by paying the ultimate price for your sins (Mk. 3:28-29). Like the Levities and like Christ, your privilege in serving as a priest means that you will also sometimes suffer for Him. Yet, you must always remember that this is a privilege. Peter advised those who suffer for the cause of Christ to rejoice (1 Pet. 4:13). Your suffering, trials, and humiliation make you a better witness for Him (Ro. 5:3; Jam. 1:2-4). Through your trials, you can tell others that Jesus offers the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). Yet, if you have never had to cling to God in a rough storm, how much will someone in a storm trust your advice? How good can you be at fulfilling your duty in comforting others (2 Cor. 1:4) if you have never needed comfort yourself?
Accept Jesus’ calling to be part His priesthood. Jesus also calls you to be part of His holy priesthood: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9, 5). “[A]nd He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:6). As a holy priesthood, you are a co-builder in building God’s Church on Earth (1 Cor. 3:9). Are you willing to serve in faith?
The servitude imposed upon the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites also helped rebuild the walls and Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership (Neh. 3:7; 7:25). The Gibeonites initially deceived the Jews by pretending to be immigrants to the Promised Land so that the Jews would not kill them (Josh. 9:1-21). Because of their deceit, Joshua cursed them with menial labor (Josh. 9:27). Although they were under God’s protection, Saul later killed many of the Gibeonite servants (2 Sam. 21:1). They were then deported into exile with the Jews. Even with their new freedom, many gladly returned to serve in the Temple.
God blessed the Gibeonites after they used their second chance to serve Him. The Gibeonites became faithful servants of God. Gibeon was a priestly city, and the ark was kept there for a period of time (1 Chr. 16:39-40; 21:29). God also spoke to Solomon at Gibeon (1 Kin. 3:4). One of David’s trusted men was also a Gibeonite (1 Chr. 12:4). In Ezra, they were referred to as the “Nethinims” (Ezra 2:43; 8:20). They replaced the Levities in the temple services. Their new name symbolized that they were a new creation. Even when the Jews embraced idolatry, they remained faithful. Even though they obtained their freedom and could have lived anywhere in the Persian empire, they valued more the chance to serve in God’s Temple: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Ps. 84:10). Like the Gibeonites, you also have been given a second chance from your life of sin (2 Cor. 5:17). Have you used your second chance to humbly serve God?
Serve Jesus in humility, and He will exalt you. Jesus humbled Himself as a servant and then to die an agonizing death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Like the Gibeonites, He calls upon you to respond by serving Him in humility (Prov. 8:13; Ps. 75:5; 94:4). If you serve in humility like the Gibeonites, Jesus will exalt you in heaven by celebrating your service: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14). “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,” (1 Pet. 5:6). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Ja. 4:10). “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (Ja. 2:5). Do you boast in your accomplishments? Or, do you give the glory to God and serve Him?
Those with uncertain genealogies and the removed priests. With the returning exiles were Jews who wanted to serve as priests but had no record of their family heritage: “61 These were the ones who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer; but they could not provide evidence for their fathers’ households or their descendants, whether they were of Israel: 62 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. 63 And of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai, the Gileadite, and was named after them. 64 These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and disqualified from the priesthood. 65 And the governor said to them that they were not to eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim.” (Neh. 7:61-65; Ezra 2:59-63). The list included the descendants of Barzillai (Neh. 7:63). Barzillai gave all that he had to protect and feed David’s fleeing troops when the rest of Israel embraced David’s son in a coup d'état (2 Sam. 17:27; 19:32). These people symbolized God’s grace. Because of their faith, each was grafted into the blessed line of Abraham’s descendants.
God’s law limiting who could enter the holy areas of the Temple. Although converts were welcome to serve as assistants in the Temple, God’s law limited the Temple priests to members of the tribe of Levi (Nu. 16:40). God punished King Uzziah with leprosy for failing to respect His law (2 Chr. 16:18). Thus, people risked defiling God’s law if they entered the holy areas without being proven Levites. These volunteers also could not eat from the priests’ food until a priest could recover Urim and Thummim to discern God’s will (Ex. 28:30; 1 Sam. 23:9-12). God’s willingness to accept these lost tribal members symbolized His grace. God cared more about the faith of the returning pilgrims than their pedigree. God also cares more about your faith than your background and social status.
God’s blessings were based upon faith, not pedigree. It was necessary for the Jews to ensure their purity to purge the pagan ways that they had adopted. Although their identity in their tribal heritage helped to restore their Jewish identity, it was never meant to become a source of pride. Pride is one of the six things that God “hates.” (Prov. 6:16). Thus, you should never draw pride from your works or your heritage. Instead, be grateful that you have been adopted by faith as a child of God (Eph. 1:5; Ro. 8:14). If you are grateful at the chance to become an adopted son of God, how are you thanking Him? Are you helping others who are doubting in the faith to put their trust in Jesus?
Without faith, your work as a co-builder will never please Jesus. You can do great things for Jesus. Yet, without faith, your labors for Him will be for yourself and therefore not pleasing to Him: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). When you serve Jesus, are you boasting of your accomplishments?
The remnant of the returning believers. Only 42,360 individuals had the faith to initially return to Jerusalem: “66 The whole assembly together totaled 42,360, 67 besides their male slaves and their female slaves, of whom there were 7,337; and they had 245 male and female singers. 68 Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; 69 their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720.” (Neh. 7:66-68; Ezra 2:64-67). More Jews returned with later waves of returning exiles. But the numbers were still only a remnant of the Jewish population in exile. They had the faith to be God’s seeds to restore the Jewish population in the Promised Land. God would use the seeds of their faithfulness to restore what they lost to sin. With faith, Jesus can also restore you from the damages caused by your sins.
The Jews’ stagnation due to sin. In the book of Genesis, the Jews first left Israel as a clan of only 70 people (Gen. 46:27). They then spent approximately 400 years in captivity (Gen. 15:13- “400”; Ex. 12:40-“430”). After spending two years in the wilderness, God told Moses to assemble and count the men of fighting age who would invade the Promised Land (Nu. 1:1). At that time, the men of fighting age totaled 603,550 (Nu. 1:46). Including women, older men and the young, the first exodus included more than 1.5 million people. The Assyrians first deported the 10 northern tribes. The Babylonians then took the Jews of Judah in three waves. Just one wave included at least 10,000 people (2 Kgs. 24:14). Approximately 70 years after the Babylonian captivity began, only 42,360 returned in the second exodus (Ezra 2:64). The collapse of the Jewish population also fulfilled a prophesy that Moses had given the Jews (Dt. 28:62-63). This was the reverse of God’s prior fertility blessing that allowed the Jews to become a vast multitude of people and a great nation (Dt. 7:12-13). But God rebuilt from this remnant.
Trust God to supply all that you need when you labor out of love for His Church. The pilgrims did not have great wealth of their own. They further returned on foot through the deserts on a journey that was approximately 1,000 miles. But God provided for their needs. This included 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels and 6,720 donkeys (Neh. 7:68). These animals would have been used to carry materials to rebuild the Temple. When you serve God, He promises to provide for all that you need: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;” (2 Cor. 9:8). “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19). If you feel you lack what you need to serve, trust Jesus to provide for you.
Trust Jesus by leaving your old life behind to serve Him. Only a remnant of Jews came because many Jews were unwilling to sacrifice what they had for God. They had developed wealth in Babylon. And the Persian king only offered the Jews a small area of land around Jerusalem to occupy. Josephus wrote, “many remained in Babylon, being unwilling to leave their possessions” (Antiquities XI, 8). Will you leave your old life behind and put your trust in Jesus to be a co-builder of His Church?
The offerings of gratitude. After leaving their old lives behind, the faithful pilgrims gave gladly from what they had to thank God: “70 Some of the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury a thousand gold drachmas, fifty basins, and 530 priests’ garments. 71 And some of the heads of fathers’ households gave to the treasury for the work twenty thousand gold drachmas and 2,200 silver minas. 72 What the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand gold drachmas, two thousand silver minas, and sixty-seven priests’ garments. 73 Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities.” (Neh. 7:70-73; Ezra 2:68-70). The people showed their faith and gratitude by giving willingly from their ability. The people also seized their spiritual inheritance by settling the Promised Land. They then worshiped God in gratitude for His many blessings.
Out of gratitude, give from what God has given you to be a co-builder of His Kingdom During the first exodus, the Jews gave freely to help build the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:2-9; 35:21-29). During this second exodus, the Jews again gave freely to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. Today, you are called upon to be a grateful and generous a co-builder of Jesus’ Church (1 Cor. 3:9). Every good and perfect thing in your life comes from above (Jam. 1:17). God commands each believer to give back from the things that He has given. He in turn promises to bless you as a steward with more gifts (Mal. 3:8-10). Yet, He only wants you to give out of gratitude, not obligation (Ex. 36:2-7; 2 Cor. 9:6, 8-14). Are you giving to Jesus the best of your time, talent, and treasure to serve Him?