Nehemiah 7 Redeeming Authority

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Questions: What does it take to rebuild a community? Whom do we trust to lead? Are we building walls, or lives? How should walls be used? How do we establish just dominion? “Read More” to pursue answers in Nehemiah.

Father God, make me an instrument of your authority.
Where there are divisions, let me bring your unity.
Where there are grievances, let me bring justice.
Where there is confusion, let me bring truth.
Where there is surrender, let me bring victory.
Where there is shame, let me bring identity.
Where there is loss, let me bring abundance.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be served as to serve
To be honored as to honor
To be valued as to value

For it is emptying that we are filled
In suffering that we are healed
And in losing that we win.
Amen.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Nehemiah 7:1-73

Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors

Yow! I’m amazed that Nehemiah only mentions this in passing. This is amazing. He has done the impossible, against all odds and determined opposition. It is finally over. Or is it?

and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed,

Interesting. I suddenly realized that Nehemiah wasn’t merely concerned about the wall, so that once he’d finished he was happy to declare victory and depart. The wall was just the outward manifestation of the intrinsic transformation he wanted to take place in the city (that is, people) of Jerusalem. His major structural task was completed, but now he wants to cement his achievements:

That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he [was] a faithful man, and feared God above many.

I’d be concerned about nepotism except for the fact that Hanani was the one who invited Nehemiah in the first place, so clearly he has a heart for Jerusalem. Then again, perhaps Nehemiah paired him with Hananiah to address that very concern.

Implicit in all this, of course, is the fact that Nehemiah himself will be leaving. Though not without some parting advice about how to use the walls he’s built:

And I said unto them, Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar [them]: and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one [to be] over against his house.

It’s not enough to have walls: we need to guard the gates, and keep watch over our own houses. In fact, this latter seems to be a concern of Nehemiahs:

Now the city [was] large and great: but the people [were] few therein, and the houses [were] not builded.

They’ve claimed a territory, but are not yet numerous enough to really hold it. Like any good leader, Nehemiah worries about building sustainable systems. Apparently he asks God about, since he’s given an answer:

And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy.

Huh? Does this verse follow from the previous one, or is it a non-sequitor*

Well, let’s try to break it down. Nehemiah’s goals are:

1. Restore dignity and security to Jerusalem, by
2. Building a wall, that
3. Is sustained by individual households, which means
4. Having enough families in Jerusalem

So far, so good, but how does that connect with a genealogy? Well, partly by providing accurate statistics about who all’s available (jumping way to the end of the chapter):

The whole congregation together [was] forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore.

Partly by ensuring everyone was where they were supposed to be:

So the priests, and the Levites, and the porters, and the singers, and [some] of the people, and the Nethinims, and all Israel, dwelt in their cities; and when the seventh month came, the children of Israel [were] in their cities.

Also, I wonder if part of the reason it was difficult to resettle the cities was due to unclear ownership. If so, then this is a way for Nehemiah to establish legitimate dominion over all the various properties, so that people can make effective decisions without worrying that someone might come along and challenge their claim:

And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein, These [are] the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city;

I admit it’s a bit of a reach, but it makes a certain amount of sense. First, Nehemiah comes and establishes himself as a credible authority, both by his empathy and by successfully building a wall. Now, he delegates that authority — not just to the formal leaders, but also by legitimizing the claims of every family to their land and cities.

That does seem a common theme in scripture. Primary authority comes either from creating or redeeming a community, whereas secondary authority is delegated by another authority. It is interesting that God’s covenants and commandments always follow immediately after He brings us out of something: dust, floods, bondage, deserts, etc.

I wonder how different our world — heck, our churches — would be if we also purchased authority at that price.

Prayer

Father God, make me an instrument of your authority.
Where there are divisions, let me bring your unity.
Where there are grievances, let me bring justice.
Where there is confusion, let me bring truth.
Where there is surrender, let me bring victory.
Where there is shame, let me bring identity.
Where there is loss, let me bring abundance.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be served as to serve
To be honored as to honor
To be valued as to value

For it is emptying that we are filled
In suffering that we are healed
And in losing that we win.
Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title implies both “authority that redeems” and “redeeming the concept of authority”, and even alludes to the authorized redemption in Chapter 5.

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