We often think that “big tasks” require “big heroes.” But Nehemiah’s story of rebuilding the wall reminds us that everybody has a part to play!
Nehemiah, chapters 3-4; Luke, chapter 23
Nehemiah 3:1-8 (NLT):
Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set up its doors, building the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and the Tower of Hananel. People from the town of Jericho worked next to them, and beyond them was Zaccur son of Imri.
The Fish Gate was built by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid the beams, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. Meremoth son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz repaired the next section of wall. Beside him were Meshullam son of Berekiah and grandson of Meshezabel, and then Zadok son of Baana. Next were the people from Tekoa, though their leaders refused to work with the construction supervisors.
The Old City Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid the beams, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. Next to them were Melatiah from Gibeon, Jadon from Meronoth, people from Gibeon, and people from Mizpah, the headquarters of the governor of the province west of the Euphrates River. Next was Uzziel son of Harhaiah, a goldsmith by trade, who also worked on the wall. Beyond him was Hananiah, a manufacturer of perfumes. They left out a section of Jerusalem as they built the Broad Wall.
Everybody Has a Part to Play
When we read passages like this, we tend to skip over the names of people and places that are unfamiliar to us. We know Nehemiah, of course, so we focus on his part in the story. So we look at a passage like this and think, “Okay, they’re rebuilding the wall. Next!” But we need to recognize the importance of details in stories like this. Remember: all Scripture is inspired by God, and useful for teaching, encouragement, or correction (2 Timothy 3:16).
So what can we learn from this passage? First, everybody has a part to play. The names might be unfamiliar to us, but these are real people. They’re not all priests or Levites; they’re “regular folks.” People from the town of Jericho worked next to priests. Leaders labored alongside servants. Everybody had a part to play, and everyone did their part.
Second, everyone was focused on the task at hand. In verse 8, we read that Uzziel son of Harhaiah[was] a goldsmith by trade. Next to Uzziel was Hananaiah, a manufacturer of perfumes. Neither goldsmiths nor perfumers would have been construction workers by trade – but they helped out. A time would come when they could focus on their trades, but the task at hand was to rebuild the wall.
Dealing with Differences
The other thing that stands out comes in verse 5: Next were the people from Tekoa, though their leaders refused to work with the construction supervisors. We’d like to think that in the “big moments,” everyone would come together and set aside their differences. Hold hands, sing “Kum-bay-yah,” and everything will be lovely!
Unfortunately, it often doesn’t happen that way. But here’s what’s important: everyone recognized the importance of the task, and they worked around the issues. The leaders of the people from Tekoa refused to work with the construction supervisors. Okay, then let the supervisors work somewhere else, and let the people from Tekoa do their work. Not every conflict rises to the level of a crisis!
You can be certain that this was not the only issue that Nehemiah dealt with in the rebuilding of the wall. Attacks came from outside; dissension and discouragement bubbled up within. But Nehemiah kept everyone focused on the task at hand, dealt with the issues, and everyone did their part. And in fifty-two days, the wall was finished (see Nehemiah 6:15).
Application: Everybody Has a Part to Play
I’ve been privileged to go on a number of mission trips. I’m not skilled at any construction-related tasks. My primary role has been “unskilled labor.” I carry things, run errands, and support those who are skilled. My experience proves the point of my reflection: everybody has a part to play.
But my experience also has shown that the leaders from Tekoa weren’t the only ones who had “issues” on projects. I’ve seen several instances where the volunteers struggle with taking direction from local leaders on-site. We often take our ideas and ways of doing things to other countries, where they do things differently. And even though we’re all following Jesus, we don’t always see eye to eye!
But there is always a way to work around these differences. Skilled leaders find ways to minimize the friction and maximize the efforts of the team. If we need to move person A to a different part of the project so they don’t have to interact with person B, we do it. That doesn’t mean that we let everyone “set the agenda” for the project; it simply means that we find ways to focus everyone on the task at hand. Everybody has a part to play – and we need to encourage them to do it!
Father, thank you for reminding us that everybody has a part to play in your kingdom. Help us to focus on the work that you put in front of us, and to serve faithfully and obediently. There may be times that we do things we’re not particularly qualified for, but you will help us to do the job you call us to do!
We also recognize that there may be times when personalities lead to friction within the body. That doesn’t mean that we give up, nor do we “give in.” Help us to have the mindset or attitude of Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11) – humble obedience and submission to you. Show us that most disagreements don’t rise to the level of dissociation. Lead us on paths that allow us to be one, just as Jesus prayed (John 17:21). Amen.