In Nehemiah 3, we see how God’s people experienced his providence by moving from what they believed God wanted them to do to acting on how that goal was going to be accomplished.
Nehemiah 3: “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired. And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.
Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Gate of Yeshanah. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, the seat of the governor of the province Beyond the River. Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of[d] Jerusalem, repaired. Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.
Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits[e] of the wall, as far as the Dung Gate.
Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
And Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it and covered it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David. After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the mighty men. After him the Levites repaired: Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, repaired for his district. After him their brothers repaired: Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah. Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress. After him Baruch the son of Zabbai repaired another section from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. After him Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired another section from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib. After him the priests, the men of the surrounding area, repaired. After them Benjamin and Hasshub repaired opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, son of Ananiah repaired beside his own house. After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress and to the corner. Palal the son of Uzai repaired opposite the buttress and the tower projecting from the upper house of the king at the court of the guard. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh and the temple servants living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower. After him the Tekoites repaired another section opposite the great projecting tower as far as the wall of Ophel.
Above the Horse Gate the priests repaired, each one opposite his own house. After them Zadok the son of Immer repaired opposite his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, repaired. After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah repaired opposite his chamber. After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, opposite the Muster Gate, and to the upper chamber of the corner. And between the upper chamber of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants repaired.” (ESV)
Have you ever felt that a task before you is just too big and you need a miracle? I am not just talking about life and death situations. I am also talking about situations where the magnitude of a task weighs on you so heavily that you feel you need a miracle and as time passes and nothing happens you begin to wonder if God even cares.
Growing up in Pakistan looking at Christians being persecuted for their faith, I often felt that burden and wondered if God even cares. I think all believers at some point in their faith journey wonder whether or not God cares about what they need. To do so is to wonder about God’s providence. “Providence” has the word provide in it. So, God’s providence is the divine provision that shows He cares so He provides for our lives. Do you believe that God provides for you?
God’s providence is not the problem because God’s providence is the governance by which God accomplishes His perfect will in us to fulfill His purposes. We are the problem who fail to experience God’s providence when we do not allow Him to fulfill His purposes in and through us.
God’s people in Nehemiah’s time were not on board with what God wanted to accomplish in and through them to fulfill His purposes. They were complaining and wondering if God cares. Therefore, they were not experiencing God’s providence.
In Nehemiah 3, we see how the people experienced God’s providence by moving from what they believed God wanted them to do to acting on how that goal was going to be accomplished.
If we wait in prayer to prepare, we should act in faith and not fear. We experience God’s providence when we move from what we believe God wants us to do to acting on how that goal can be accomplished. Are there goals in your lives that you set, but which you are afraid to act on? If fear is holding you back, faith should let you act.
Nehemiah 3 outlines three principles for experiencing God’s providence: by preferring God’s plan, pursuing God’s purpose, and participating in God’s provision.
Preferring God’s Plan
Nehemiah 3 is mainly a long list of names. What is the purpose of these names? The Bible teaches in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
I believe the teaching is that when God’s people prefer God’s plan over any human plan and pursue God’s purpose, they experience God’s providence personally and communally for three reasons:
The first reason is that every person matters to God. Notice in verse 1 it says, “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them[a] Zaccur the son of Imri built. The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired.”
In verses 6-12 another gate was repaired, and several sections of the wall were rebuilt. In verses 13-15 each another gate was rebuilt, and the chapter continues to mention the names of individuals, families, and groups of people until the 10 gates and some 35 sections of the wall were built.
The long list of these difficult names may mean nothing to you and me but to God, they mean so much that they are here in the Word of God. The person sitting next to you may not know your name, but God does. He knows you by your name because you matter to God. Now, if people sitting next to you matter to God, then they should matter to you too.
The second reason is that every profession matters to God. Notice that Nehemiah’s name is not here though we know he is there. Most likely he was working behind the scenes to make the plan work. He was not a priest or politician, but he was a government servant. Coordinating the work of building 10 gates and some 35 sections was not a small thing. Imagine managing internal and foreign threats and keeping track of material and labor, on top of handling personality differences and human emotions.
Other than the priests mentioned in verse 1 and the Levites in verse 17, no one was in ministry, but all served God. In verse 8 we see goldsmiths and perfumers, in verses 14-19 we see a list of government officials, in verse 32, we see goldsmiths/merchants, and we even see “gatekeepers” that would be similar to our military and police. To God, it did not matter what their profession was.
Sometimes we think God is more interested in our sacred life than our secular. God did not create the sacred-secular divide. We did. In Colossians 3:23-24, the Bible teaches whatever you do, do it as if you are doing it for the Lord. So, if you are a teacher, mechanic, construction worker, medical staff, an artist, cook or baker, in the IT or bank industry, or doing a civil or government job, any profession as long as it is not something evil is sacred before God’s eyes because it is God’s provision to give you the opportunity to do it for the Lord. The eternal life the gospel offers for the future should have an impact even in the present life to make this broken world better for God’s glory.
The third reason is every act of obedience matters to God. This text is evidence that when we confess and repent, God forgets our sins but He never forgets our acts of obedience. All those who acted in obedience to build the wall are listed here but also God never forgets the disobedient people. Notice in verse 5 it says, “And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.”
Perhaps they did not help out of pride or fear of opposition, but the text does not say. God does not care about the reasons and excuses. All He cares about is that they did not act in obedience. Now contrast the nobles in verse 5 with another group of people with power and prestige in verse 14. It says, “Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate.” That’s for real. They chose to work in a place where all the waste of the city was dumped.
What is the application for us? First, every person matters to God and therefore should matter to us. Second, no profession is small or big. In God’s providence, He uses all for His purposes. There is no small job. When we act in obedience and serve God, we say yes to God’s plans for us and the world.
Pursuing God’s Purpose
The second principle we learn about the providence of God is that we experience God’s providence when we pursue God’s purpose. God’s purpose is always first and foremost for His own honor and glory and through God’s providence, God moves all things good or bad towards His divinely predetermined ends to fulfill His purposes. They didn’t know it at the time, but we see now that God wanted to unite His people for His purpose. For Nehemiah and his people pursuing God’s purpose was threefold: to pursue a unified goal, a unique plan, and pursue God’s purpose as a unified people.
Let’s look at each of these:
First, a unified goal: They had a common goal to build the wall to protect themselves, which accomplished God’s purpose to preserve His people and fulfill His promises to Israel. When they collaborated with each other for a common goal, setting aside their individual goals, others came from outside Jerusalem to participate in the unified goal. We see that in 3:2, 5, 7, 13, 14, 16, and 17.
Second, a unique plan: What was their plan? First, they worked next to their own homes. We see that in 3:10, 23, and 28-30. They were personally invested in the plan to secure their borders. Next, everyone worked without excuse regardless of whether they had a skill set or not. Finally, they worked with their family units. We read about sons throughout the text but also daughters are mentioned. Verse 12 says, “Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.”
During a car wash my church hosted, my whole family was here. Once I gave my boys jobs, they were pretty good, and the girls tried to help too. Serving together is one of the best ways to instill values in our children and also to spend quality time together.
Third, a unified people: They were a diverse team of people working together as one. God was teaching them they were one nation under God who had lost their way. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? As united people, they were a mighty force to be reckoned with. In God’s providence, God allowed all of it to bring them together as a nation to worship together, connect together to grow, and serve together. They needed each other because they couldn’t do it alone.
Here is the application: God has given us all gifts and talents. Put those gifts and talents to work in church, at home, in your community, and workplace. 1 Corinthians 12:12-20 says we are many members of the same body, and we have different functions to help the body.
Participating in God’s Provision
The third and final principle we learn about the providence of God is that we experience God’s providence when we participate in God’s provision. Imagine waiting for generations for God to act but God’s response was not sending a miracle worker like Moses with a magic stick in his hand. Instead, he sent an ordinary man with an extraordinary vision to lead people into working together to fulfill God’s plans.
I want you to turn back to Chapter 2 for a moment. Nehemiah 2:17 says, “Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” In verse 18, when He testified to the providence of God that God aligned everything for him including favor with the king, it ignited a new spirit in them. Then in the second half of verse 18 it says, “And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So, they strengthened their hands for the good work.”
In God’s providence, Nehemiah showed up and basically laid out the problem before them and then proposed a plan to solve it. Though God’s providence was there, they wanted God to act, therefore they literally sat on the ruins of Jerusalem idly, whining about their circumstances, doing nothing to change their situation. Instead, God wanted to move them to act in faith to experience God’s providence which involved His provision. They were the answer to their own needs and prayers, but they did not know it until they took action.
When we wanted to build a center in Pakistan to help at-risk women, for years the project sat idly until Sarah, my wife, and I put our own money into the project. Nehemiah’s people looked for provision but when they worked together using the rubble that they sat on they discovered they were the provision.
Here is the application: Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary work when they work together in unity to participate in God’s work toward God’s plan and purpose.
Too often believers pursuing their own personal goals try to change the vision God has already given a church. When we do not prefer God’s plan, pursue God’s purpose, and participate in God’s provision for a church or a family, we give the devil the opportunity to divide us and create confusion to prevent the accomplishment of his purpose. However, when we are united and unified around a common goal and plan, we grow together and experience God’s providence.
Here is an action step: Move from what you believe God wants you to do to act on how that goal can be accomplished. God’s purpose for us is to become more like His Son Jesus, and His plan for us is to do it together as one to make disciples of all nations.
Let me close with this appeal to you. Whatever you do, do not be like the nobles in verse 5 who would not stoop to serve the Lord whether out of pride or fear of opposition. God does not care about the reasons and excuses. All He cares about is that we act in obedience.
The great commission of making disciples of all nations seems impossible, but not if we do it together. For Nehemiah’s people, what seemed impossible for generations was accomplished by a team of unqualified, unlikely heroes of the faith because together they acted. They became the answer to their own prayers.
In God’s providence, none of us need to fix the whole wall. We just need to fix what is in front of us with the rubble that we are sitting on. If we wait in prayer to prepare, we should act in faith and not fear. In the body of Christ, there are many parts but there are no spare parts. There are only diverse people with diverse skills to meet diverse needs. Together let’s put those skills to work to reintroduce Jesus to our society to rebuild our homes, cities, and this nation.