Difficulty with the text: on its face, this is a dull text. There is conflict before and after Nehemiah 3, but this chapter presents little conflict (there is a mention of some kind of conflict involving the nobles of Tekoa —Neh. 3:5b— but that is not explained).
One might be tempted to spiritualize the text by making some arcane symbols of the gates and the order: but that is not warranted from the text. It is a simple list of the work which was completed. The NIV Study Bible note even suggests the that list was essentially Nehemiah’s project list.
Therefore, we can begin with the question of “Why is this project list even in the Bible?”
It shows that the people were faithful to the call.
It shows that the work of God often entails planning and dull work.
It also shows that the extraordinary work of God is often ordinary.
The Extraordinary Ordinary Work of God
A. This work, on its face, is hardly “spiritual”: they built a wall.
1. When we think of “spiritual” or “religious” work or effort
a. This leads us to split our lives in parts, generally (there is my “religious” life and my regular life).
b. It causes us to undervalue or misperceive the life of the gathered people of God. 1 Cor. 12 — and thus lose out on the blessings of God, because we may fail to see the greatest of the gifts given. 1 Cor. 13.
2. All of our live is to be “spiritual”. 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:23
B. We know this work was extraordinary from the context
1. This is recorded in the Bible, so we have the grandest of contexts.
2. We know the story of Nehemiah in particular.
3. The opposition from the wicked is another indicator of God’s presence. The Devil cannot be in the presence of God’s work and keep quiet. Mark 1:23; 5:2.
4. The actors saw this as spiritual work: Neh. 3:1. The text begins with the high priest who arose to do the work. The priests consecrated the gate & walls.
C. The work of God cannot always be seen for what it is
1. Sometimes God’s work is invisible.
a. To unbelievers Mark 4:12
b. To believers Mark 6:51-52
2. Sometimes the work of God provokes
a. Mark 3:1-6
b. Neh. 2:10 & 19; 4:1, et seq.
What is miraculous here?
1. Relevant dates:
538: Return from exile
It’s been 90 years since the return from exile
It’s been 70 years since the time was built.
2. The people have shown no natural heart for the work.
3. These people were prone to all sorts of trouble: Ezra 9:1, Hag. 1:9
4. The work was subject to outside troubles: Ez. 4:17, etc.
5. Just consider what people who had fallen into lifetimes of workless habit would be like. That they would change at all would be indicative of supernatural action (Hag. 1:14; cf, Acts 17:6 vs. Mark 14:50).
1. The miraculous work of God is often ordinary in how it looks: The miracle may even be largely invisible: like building a wall, the most mundane sort of thing.
2. The ordinary work of the church is supernatural
a. The preaching of the gospel. 1 Peter 1:12
b. Sanctification. Gal. 5:16 & 22-26
c. It is also seen in the acts of (i) Sending a man from one place to another (Eph. 6:21); (ii) a greeting (Rom. 16:22, 1 Cor. 16:20); (iii) establishing churches (Tit. 1:5); (iv) strengthening a church (1 Tim. 1:3). [These are things commanded or commended by an apostle. They were things which the Spirit deemed worthy of recording. None would have taken place without the Spirit’s work).