Have you noticed that combinations can sometimes produce surprises? Two people who you would not expect to work together manage to produce great results. Two companies or organisations discover they can grow if they cooperate.
Combinations can be created at a skill or knowledge level. An engineer and a surgeon may discover a way of producing prosthetics or an artist and a scientist release the learning from an autistic child.
Part of Nehemiah’s genius was his ability to combine. We have seen him combine secret spirituality with cupbearing to obtain a commission. We have seen him combine stealth and research with public speaking to inspire a crowd. Then we have seen him combine the skills of thousands of people with each other to build a wall. He harnessed anger and prayer. He teamed weapons with tools, governorship with modesty and wealth with generosity.
Then he partnered his brother with a commander to oversee a city. To register the people he combined ancient records with current regulations. In this whole project he even managed to combine his own financial naivety with holistic fundraising.
Now Nehemiah the Governor teams up with Ezra the Priest to attend to the inner architecture of the people. It’s a complex and profound process and a truckload of words have been written about the analysis of the content. Our focus remains on Nehemiah’s mind and thought processes. We are in the eighth chapter of his journey.
The bulk of the chapter describes two days in September. I want to invite you to explore three mental combinations which Nehemiah is making as he moves his dream to reality.
First, Nehemiah combines individual and corporate personalities. He describes the people assembling as “one man”. You have already seen that there are at least fifty thousand people on this project (from the registration process). Yet Nehemiah describes them as one.
If this was the only example of his thinking on the matter then you could just take it as a figure of speech. Nehemiah, however, sees connections at a profound level. When you first meet him he is confessing the sins of his forefathers. He sees himself as one with his ancestors. He clearly sees himself as one with his peers by the way he handles the Governor’s table. Now he is seeing the importance of corporate connections to God. His mind is almost cross shaped. Stretching down into the past, sideways to his peers and upwards to his God, Nehemiah’s thinking includes the vital combination of the personal and the corporate.
Why think like this? I suggest to you that so much within you wants to think “them and us”. We want to be part of the righteous, the pure, the selected ones. Yet a mind infinitely more powerful than Nehemiah’s was coming to show us that we are all connected. We are all loved, we are all fallen, we are all rescuable.
Consider, for a moment, how you would see people differently if you saw yourself as just human. No better, no worse, no more deserving of forgiveness, all in the same human boat. Not black, white, brown or yellow, just human.
The implications would be huge. You would find yourself realising that when one hurts, all hurt, when one is hungry all are hungry, when one is violent all are violated. You would be challenged to love, not hate, your enemies. You would be careful not to judge because you would be judging yourself. Nehemiah glimpsed the combinations of individuals and realised that there is such a thing as a corporate personality. There will be much more for every Jew to learn. Even though God was calling them to serve as bearers of His revelation this did not entitle them to be superior or elitist. It was just that; a call to servanthood.
Now narrow this down to your people. Can you see how teams have a personality? Schools, churches, businesses have corporate identities. Families have personalities. In fact any group will develop an “inside and outside” definition of membership.
I am suggesting that a deep understanding of this truth lies at the heart of life itself. You cannot stand separate from your ancestors, your peers or your God and claim any superiority. As one we all come to the foot of the cross for mercy and as one we cannot look down on any part of humanity with a rejecting spirit.
Apply it to your work situation. It will mean a deeper respect for all. It will involve acceptance, not bullying, care, not indifference, empathy, not superiority. Nehemiah had only the faintest hint of this in his mind but it was there and thousands of years later it echoes in your mind although amplified infinitely by the carpenter, who was the Christ and has a body of millions on this planet. Can you see it? Can you feel it?
It shows up in ideas of collective conscience, national pride and team spirit. It shows up at its highest when it becomes conscious that every single human ever to have lived stands or falls on the same ground before God. Everyone carries His image. Everyone carries damage and everyone is on a pilgrimage. You could get crucified for such thinking.
Nehemiah’s second mental combination is also transformatory. He wants to see a connection between the people and the book. It starts with a six hour reading marathon. The book is not simply a physical object. It is the story of the people. For the oneness to become empowering the people need to know where they have come from, how they can find life and how they can meet God.
Take it to work with you. Everyone you meet needs to know where they came from, how they can find life and how they can meet God. Life only makes sense when the people connect with the book.
You know this in every sphere of work. Wherever you work there are agreements, covenants to define the way we live. We call them contracts, curricula, handbooks, text books, guides, procedures and, in some circles, they even get labelled “the bible”!
Nehemiah’s mind had realised that without an engagement with the covenants there would be chaos. Have you realised this? Hidden in your Bible are words of life. They are not just words of church life, family life or sexual morality. They are words for work, stress, balance, meaning and purpose. Life stories will make no sense if we don’t read the storyteller’s words.
Which leads to the third combination. The people have been weeping as they heard the words. They had not seen that the sacred, the holy, the profound is also the place of joy, power and strength. Listen to the words of the Governor, the Priest and the helpers: “The day is sacred to the Lord your God”. Then the surprise. Nine instructions. Do not mourn; do not weep; go; enjoy choice food and sweet drink; send to those who have nothing (note the hungry again); do not grieve, the joy of the Lord is your strength; be calm; do not grieve.
What’s going on? Well, ask yourself these questions. Do your co-workers consider religion to be enjoyable or boring? Do they equate church with pleasure? Do they connect Christianity with laughter? Do they not equate religion with sadness, seriousness and a sombre disapproval of pleasure?
Nehemiah’s mind combined his God with absolute pleasure, enjoyment, celebration and festivities. The surprise for you and your co-workers is that it is these combinations that make life full not empty.
Here’s what you have the Nehemiah did not. Several hundred years later a figure stepped into his city who combined the human and the divine. Immortality and death combined to release the power of the Spirit of God. It is this same Spirit who will blow into the souls of any who open a heart and combine the individual with the corporate, the people with the book and the covenant with exquisite joy.
Nehemiah’s mindset was open but his book was not complete. Nehemiah’s city was built but its’ First Citizen had not arrived. Nehemiah’s table was full of food and drink but the Living Bread, New Wine and eternal Water were not yet served.
These are not just ancient truths they are present realities. How do we know? Because you are connected to Nehemiah and all the fifty thousand. You are human and you are invited.
Think on these things and then take them to work as Nehemiah did.
all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear[a] and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
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