Chapter 3 is a list. Your first impulse is probably to skip it, or maybe skim it and see if you recognize any names.
Biblical lists tend to be orderly and hierarchical, full of names that don’t mean a whole lot to most people.
This list is different. The list was about the wall and it followed the wall’s path, all the way around Jerusalem from Sheep Gate to Sheep Gate.
It was recorded by a guy from out of town who just showed up one fall and organized (or perhaps just inspired) a rather miraculous rebuilding project. This guy’s name was Nehemiah and his father was Hacaliah. Apparently nobody had heard of him, but he had a little entourage and he had a plan. This plan involved a rather haphazard communal action, of the sort that supposedly never works.
As in most cities, some neighborhoods are more interesting than others. Something is going on in such neighborhoods.
Let’s visit a few of them.
THE OLD CITY GATE (v.5)
Did this rather anarchic approach work? Apparently, but perhaps there were rough patches. The approach of letting each neighborhood attack the project pell-mell seems to have left some holes.
Fortunately, Jerusalem had friends like the Tekoans: Although their leaders declined, this community came to help, here and near the wall of Ophel (v.27).
Further support came form Jericho (v.2), Gibeon and Mizpah (the regional headquarters of empire!)(v.7), Zanoah (v.13) and Keilah (vv.17-18), as well as a team of “priests from the surrounding region.” (v.22)
It seems that there was enough interest in the project that people were eager to help, regardless of whether they would directly benefit. On the other hand, everyone would benefit from a restored city.
THE TOWER OF THE OVENS (vv.9-12)
Only a few of the towers are named in this account of who fixed which parts of the wall. We might expect wealthy and important people to gravitate to those spots, perhaps hoping to cement a legacy through some naming rights, along the lines of modern sports stadiums or high rises.
The Tower of the Ovens was repaired by a couple of guys – Malkijah and Hasshub – who don’t seem to be anyone in particular. Their neighbors, on the other hand, included the leaders of both halves of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was divided into two districts, and yet both were toiling on nondescript sections of the wall, in the same corner of town right next to a remarkable tower. Perhaps they both lived in that neighborhood. Perhaps that was the rich part of town. I’m not sure what was the reason for the division of the city, but this suggests that it wasn’t only geographical. Otherwise, presumably, the leader of each half would be spending time in his own district.
The sorry state of affairs was likely a source of great division, perhaps similar to the division facing us today. There are geographical elements, but it is likely the primary division was ideological. No doubt, there was great controversy over the great question of “Now what?” before Nehemiah showed up with a great unifying plan and everyone set aside their differences and picked up their shovels.
This also shows us that the leaders of government were workers like everyone else.
They were not sitting in their offices They were not managing. They were working alongside their fellow citizens. More on this in a moment.
THE HOUSE OF WARRIORS (v.17)
In fact, there is little evidence of supervisory roles. The exception proves the rule: Near the House of Warriors, we find supervised work mentioned among two groups – some Levites were working under the leadership of Pehum, and Hashabiah oversaw workers from his district.
Compare that to one half-mayor, who was “next to” the others working on the wall (v.6), and the other, who worked with his daughters (v.12). Without getting too deep into the culture of that time and place, it’s safe to say this was not exactly the most exalted coworkers.
Meanwhile, right next door, “the people from Zanoah, led by Hanun, rebuilt the Valley Gate,” as well as another 1,500 feet of wall.
The civic leaders were clearly not running the show here.
THE HORSE GATE (v.28)
While the priests did start the rebuilding at the Sheep Gate (v.1) that was not all. We also find that they each rebuilt a section of wall immediately opposite their own house
This was a common approach on this side of town (vv.22-30), where it seems that most people just took the nearest section and went to it. There is not much to suggest organization beyond the household level.
This is a far cry from the highly-organized crew from Zanoah, which took care of more than a quarter-mile of wall.
Rather than a top-down effort, in which there would presumably be some sort of uniformity, this was a grassroots effort. There was no time for planning. All hands were on deck.
SHEEP GATE CORNER (v.32)
So where was Nehemiah in all this?
Well, he wasn’t near the Sheep Gate much. In this spot, we know only that “other goldsmiths and merchants” rebuilt the section immediately next to the high priest and his cohort.
We might take this as a sign that he was in a typical managerial role. But if so, frankly, he did a rather poor job of it. And we can’t blame him, because after all he was a waiter. He would have had no training in urban renewal project management.
The Jews were no strangers to regimented work or keeping track of things. As mentioned above, the Bible is full of lists, often in excruciating detail. And yet here was a key section of wall in which Nehemiah seems to shrug and say “I dunno who did it, but it got built.” That was what mattered. They were too busy working to make a proper list.