The moment Nehemiah became more than lists.

Q: What captivated you about the book of Nehemiah?

The more I slowed down and looked at the text to see what was going on, the more excited I got about everything I had missed by skimming. Probably the first really exciting moment, the one that showed me that other people could get excited about Nehemiah, was in teaching about chapter 3.

It’s a list of names. Like many other lists of names in the Bible. This one was a list of people working on the wall around Jerusalem. When friend filled in for me the first time I taught this book in 2012, he focused on the linguistic roots of the names. It was a great study, kind of a cultural analysis. The next time I taught it that year, I was looking at that list of names and I noticed it started and ended talking about the Sheep Gate. And suddenly I realized that this was a description of a circle, the geography of the walls of Jerusalem.


So I went into the conference room and adjusted the tables so that there were gaps everywhere there was a gate in Nehemiah 3. I made up little tentcards for people to write the names of the people who worked on the gates or who worked on the section of wall. When everyone showed up for class, I assigned a friend to get the wall built. He had people start writing the names on the cards that corresponded to where they were sitting.

It took some time. It felt a little like third-grade Sunday school for this group of adult men. But we suddenly realized that we could look around the room and see the walls of Jerusalem, and see ordinary guys like the ordinary people who did the work.

We spend a whole hour talking about this list that I had always skimmed. And I heard later that people were talking about it over lunch.

And I knew that I wanted to understand this book of Nehemiah better.

A Great Work (paperback)
A Great Work (Kindle)
A Great Work (A-Great-Work-sample)

4 thoughts on “The moment Nehemiah became more than lists.

  1. susanpieters

    Very cool, when the story jumps out at you and becomes 3D. Or 4D. Or 5D?
    Just wondering if you are able to get Amazon Canada to sell your in-print books? They only sell e copies on and Canadian customers don’t get free shipping from the U.S. site. And Canadians can be just as cheap as Americans…:)


  2. Cheryl Smith

    Very cool! Wish I could see you enact that part in person.

    I seem to remember part of the story about daughters, too? Yes! There it is in verse 12. I want to know more about that, about THEM! Scandalous, in some ways, during that time, no?


    1. Jon Swanson

      Oh yes, they helped. I’m not sure how scandalous it was at that point. But not usually recorded. This list of names is remarkable for the range of people mentioned. I find that compelling, too.


Comments are closed