Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem. And the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem the holy city, while nine out of ten remained in the other towns. (Nehemiah 11:1 ESV)
After a long delay, we plan to open up the scriptures to Nehemiah once again. A lot has happened in our lives since the last exposition in Chapter 10. In short, the people have returned to the land, rebuilt the temple, rebuilt the walls of the city, celebrated their holidays, and signed a covenant to renew themselves to God. In chapter 7 we saw that the city was without people; in chapters 11 and 12, the city and its surrounding towns become populated once again.
What good would the city be without the people, after all? We’ve read of some wild adventures in both Ezra and in Nehemiah to come to this point. But even with a beautifully rebuilt temple and solid walls of protection, the city is of no value if left uninhabited.
Our current crisis has raised questions for many church leaders. Barred from meeting indoors in various states, pastors have had to become creative in order to meet the spiritual needs of the people. We’ve used online platforms and small groups to facilitate worship, preaching, and fellowship. The debate about regulations notwithstanding, one thing has become clear: many ministries relied too heavily on the buildings, losing focus on the people. We often say, “The church is not a building!” But the pandemic has challenged our commitment to that phrase.
Buildings can be good and helpful in a variety of ways, but at the end of the day, church is about the people. Likewise, the temple and the walls and all the trappings of Jewish culture were important, but without the people, they have no significance. God chose a people. He redeemed a people from captivity. He promised to bring a Messiah through a people, by whom he would bless all people.
Chapter 11 of Nehemiah is about people. It’s another list of many hard-to-pronounce names, and it doesn’t tell us much beyond that. But from this list, we gain a vision of a city repopulated, complete with leaders, priests, workers, and singers. The people are getting back to work to do life together and to worship God together. This repopulation points to the church of Christ, where we all function in various roles to do life together; and the church points to the new heavens and new earth, which, while complete with glory and beauty, will be inhabited by people redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation.