Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
It is a common mistake to think that great ministry has only to do with such activities as preaching, singing, and putting up a great show on stage. People seldom think of those who quietly work behind the scenes, organising events, making lists, preparing itineraries and inventories, and keeping records. This is because such work is considered mundane, so attention is usually given to more visible and audible ministries.
This part of the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:4-73), along with other sections (3:1-32; 10:1-27; 11:1-12:47), contains administrative records. We tend to skip such sections, for they contain information that seems irrelevant to modern readers. Who is interested in census records or inventories (see Numbers 7)? Why are these rather laborious texts included in Scripture? What is God's intention of leaving these details in the Bible?
Among many possible reasons, such lists remind us of the importance given by God to those who work hard (administrators, scribes, secretaries) in keeping records. God himself is mentioned in the Bible as keeping records (Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12). As governor, Nehemiah keeps good and detailed records. He is already thinking of how the population in Jerusalem can be increased and adequate housing can be provided (Nehemiah 7:4). To do this, he has all the families registered, and in the process, finds the list of those who had returned 90 years earlier (v. 5).
Neatly set out in verses 6 to 69, this list is comparable to the one in Ezra 2:1-67. There are some differences, which may be due to updating-late arrivals and corrections-and possible scribal errors. The similarities, however, emphasise that the work begun by Sheshbazzar and the original group of exiles is now coming to completion in Nehemiah's day.
The records provide names and numbers; even the domestic animals are counted and recorded (Nehemiah 7:66-69). There is also a record of contributions to the building project (vv. 70-72). These carefully maintained lists suggest to us that Nehemiah is not only a visionary leader but also a diligent administrator. He has the discipline of a record-keeper not simply because he is obsessively interested in records, but also because it helps him to lead and serve well.
We must remember that the ability to administer well is a spiritual gift (see 1 Corinthians 12:28 ESV). The administrator who sorts out arrangements and takes care of finance and personnel is doing as significant work for the Lord as the preacher at the pulpit. The administrators in our churches and Christian organisations, who often work quietly behind the scenes, need to be encouraged and appreciated. How about sending them an encouraging message or telling them how much you appreciate their important ministry?
How can we know that God is keenly interested in every name on His lists (Psalm 56:8; Luke 12:7)? How does that encourage you? Take time to thank Him for how He cares for you personally.
Try making a few lists, e.g., people you are praying for or how you are spending your time. Such lists remind us of our blessings and responsibilities. What have you discovered from your lists?