Learned men once said that 20% of the people typically do 80% of the work in any given organization. As I look around me, I can only confirm that this principle seems to be true. Many churches will readily confirm that most of the work is done by a relatively limited group of people. When I come to the book of Nehemiah, however, it strikes me that this book tells an entirely different story.
After the people of Judah had been in exile for 70 years, God stirred the spirit of Persian king Cyrus to let the Israelites go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. While that work was accomplished under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, we find in Nehemiah 1 that the walls of Jerusalem are left broken down. When Nehemiah, the king’s cup-bearer, hears about this, he is deeply moved:
3 They said to me, “The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down.” 4 When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Once again, we see a godly man responding to bad news and calamity by seeking the face of God. Nehemiah was broken when he heard of the situation in Jerusalem. With the history of Israel in mind and considering all the great things God had done through people like Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah, I can only imagine how distraught Nehemiah must have felt. The disgrace of Jerusalem was as such that he took it upon himself to rebuild the walls and gates of the city of David. With king Darius’ approval, he left for Jerusalem with that one mission in mind.
What I find particularly fascinating is that Nehemiah took this mission upon himself without knowing whether anybody would support his endeavour. He didn’t make a politically correct decision or do what was the popular thing to do. His heart was inclined toward the Lord and so He considered the disgrace of the city of His God and His people to be His disgrace. And he wasn’t going to stay within the comfort of Persia without doing something about it. Instead, he traveled to Jerusalem to undertake something that most people probably considered to be too dangerous, impossible, or just plainly crazy.
With the favour of God on his side, Nehemiah found the people willing to join him in rebuilding the wall. Apparently, nobody there had had the strength, resources, authority and courage to rebuild the wall earlier. Nehemiah’s determination, vision, and authority, however, gave the people of Judah the courage to begin to work together as one to wipe out the disgrace that was still upon them.
In Nehemiah 3, we find all kinds of people from all over Judah joining together to rebuild the wall. Take a look at a few of the names:
6 Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate. They built it with beams and installed its doors, bolts, and bars. 7 Next to them the repairs were done by Melatiah the Gibeonite, Jadon the Meronothite, and the men of Gibeon and Mizpah, who were under the authority of the governor of the region west of the Euphrates River. 8 After him Uzziel son of Harhaiah, the goldsmith, made repairs, and next to him Hananiah son of the perfumer made repairs. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler over half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. 10 After them Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs across from his house. Next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah made repairs.
None of these men have prominent places in the history of Israel. They were all instrumental, however, in accomplishing the work Nehemiah had set out to accomplish. Without them, Nehemiah could have had the resources, the vision, the favour, and all the courage necessary to fulfill his divine mission without ever actually seeing it come to pass. Joiada, Jadon, Uzziel, and all those other men were regular men who understood that something needed to be done, that the walls needed to be rebuilt, that the people of the earth needed to understand that there was still a God in Israel. With the vision of Nehemiah set before them, they started rebuilding and repairing
Seeing all these men catch the vision of Nehemiah and work together to accomplish the work of God makes me question those learned men that invented the 80/20 principle. Yes, the natural reality may be that 20% of the people do most of the work; that many just sit back and watch others sacrifice themselves and their time, money, and comfort for the sake of God’s Kingdom. At the same time, Nehemiah reminds me that everybody is called to work together to rebuild the Kingdom of God and see the glory of God reestablished in this day and age. If the people of God are to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, they need to catch the vision and work together to accomplish this. If the Church is going to bring God the glory and be a reflection of His love, His holiness, and His greatness, she needs every man, woman, boy, and girl to step in, carry their load, and rebuild the city.
In an age where faith in God seems to be eroding and our culture is becoming increasingly anti-Christian, we cannot afford to sit back and complain about the state the city is in; it does us no good to weep as we recall the former glory of Jerusalem in the time of David and Solomon. We must stop bickering amongst ourselves, stop worrying about our own little world, and instead join hands with our brothers and sisters and begin to rebuild and repair. Only if that happens will Nehemiah’s vision be accomplished in our day and will we once again see a glorious Church that reflects the glory, beauty, grace, and greatness of our God. I pray we become like Joiada and Melatiah, catch the vision, and begin to get our hands dirty. Let’s do it.