“You see the trouble we are in,” Nehemiah said to a deflated people, “how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall” (Neh 2:17). By the time he was done telling them of the hand of God that had been upon him for good and the words of the king who had sent him, the people were ready with an enthusiastic response: “Let us rise up and build” (2:18).
It’s easy to get lost in Nehemiah 3 as you begin to read name after name after hard-to-pronounce name. And yet, the chapter serves an important purpose as it documents not just the work, but the names of the workers involved, section by section.
Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate… And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them… (3:1-2)
In fact, fourteen times in this one chapter we read that phrase: “and next to… and next to… and next to…” Priests, goldsmiths, a perfumer, the ruler of half the district of Jerusalem and his daughters, temple servants, merchants … “and next to… and next to… and next to… ”
That’s how those ordinary, recently discouraged people strengthened their hands for the good work (2:18). That’s how the monumental task got done in fifty-two days (6:15). And that’s how God’s people continue to build. “Next to… and next to… and next to… ” Men next to women. Sisters next to brothers. Young next to old. Different members, varying talents, diverse backgrounds, unique opportunities, each one an indispensable part of the body. New disciples. Veteran kingdom soldiers. Song leaders. Deacons. Scripture readers. Shepherds. Teachers. Preachers. Businessmen and women. Retirees. Factory workers. Stay-at-home moms. Farmers. College students. Widows. High schoolers. Empty-nesters. “Next to… and next to… and next to…”
Thank God for the opportunity to be “next to” each other today at the foot of the cross. May our time together strengthen our hands and fill our hearts with zeal for kingdom work. “Let us rise up and build.”