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Mar 01, 2015

Populating Priorities

Populating Priorities

Passage: Nehemiah 7:1-73

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Rebuilding the City

Keywords: family, leadership, priorities, civic leaders, commuters


This passage deals with the priorities that are needed if a city is to experience success and prosperity. Nehemiah dealt with the spiritual, civil and family leadership in restoring Israel and Jerusalem.


Populating Priorities

Nehemiah 7:1-73

March 1, 2015


Intro:  Sometimes one of the most challenging times in our spiritual lives are immediately after some great spiritual “high” or advance. 

ILL:  I remember what happened the very first year a number of local churches in Spokane decided to make the 40 Days of Lent a period of prayer and fasting for the church of Spokane.  I think there were several dozen churches that decided to make that a special focus that year.  It was really the first time I had celebrated Lent that way. 

            So we came through this spiritually enriching but physically challenging time with great anticipation for what God would do. 

It was shortly thereafter that I began to notice a problem in the church.  There was one particular individual who seemed to have decided to make it her goal to make a series of personal attacks on a number of pastoral staff and lay leaders.  It was having a withering effect on just about every one of them. 

            So I brought it to the attention of the church Elders and we decided on a course of action that we hoped would bring an end to the attacks and restore harmony once again to the body. 

The result was anything but what we wanted.  The situation exploded, it got messy, and more people got hurt.  Worse yet, it completely stopped the growth that we had been experiencing and sidetracked leadership for the next two years. 

            As I’ve thought about that experience from the vantage point of time now, I’ve often wondered what was happening spiritually behind the scenes as that situation exploded on us right after that Lenten season of prayer and fasting.  I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty that a couple of things were going on.

1.)    Satan knew that unless he derailed us in some way, we would be in a new position, a better place, from which God could lead us into new growth.  So I think Satan wanted to derail and undermine the advances that we’d made during those 40 days. 

2.)    I think there was a divine side to it as well.  God doesn’t let things into the lives of His children that cannot be used for our good.  I think that we had probably developed some spiritual muscle during those 40 days of prayer and fasting that we didn’t have before.  So I believe God was allowing us to be tested by a more difficult situation than many of us had been required to deal with before.  I think God meant it to grow and mature us. 

In retrospect, both things happened, some for the good of the church and the growth of each of us, some not.


Spiritual Disciplines & Lent—discuss the hand-out and challenge to engagement.


This morning we’ve come to a hinge-point in the book of Nehemiah, chapter 7.  The wall has been finish in record time, against all odds and all the attempts of its detractors.  The gates have been reconstructed and hung.  Jerusalem is, for the first time in over 100 years, a city that can be protected from the evil designs of evil people. 

            But Nehemiah knows that the strength of a city is not primarily in its physical structures but in its spiritual solidarity. The same is true for the people of God anywhere, anytime.  The strength of the church today is not in its buildings.  It is in the character and spirit of God’s people.  Some of the most beautiful church buildings in this city are spiritually dead on the inside. 

APP:   So as we continue to press forward here at Mosaic in acquiring a facility that enables us to do far more than we are doing right now, let’s remember that our strength and effectiveness will never come from a building. Buildings can help, but it is what goes on in the hearts of us, the people in and around that structure, that determines health and fruitfulness.


ILL:  I had a professor and mentor in college who loved to quote the old German proverb, “The main thing is… is to keep the main thing… the main thing.”   We’ll, in some ways that is exactly what the rest of Nehemiah is all about:  keeping the main thing the main thing.  For the people of God, the main thing is always about our relationship with the Father. 

            So this chapter, while filled with population counts and family statistics, is really a chapter about the PRIORITIES that the people of God need to embrace if we are to leave more than stone-cold structures to the next generation. 

            So let’s jump in.  Nehemiah 7:1-5.

After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the Levites were appointed. 2 I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do. 3 I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.”

4 Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. 5 So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return.


Notice how verse 1 sets the outline for rest of the chapter that is going to number various groups of people it mentions.  But first look at the last verse of the chapter, vs. 73.


Most of the census record that appears in between these beginning and ending verses are the specific family names and groupings that formed the important body of people who would be the strength and soul of the nation. 

            So just what were those critical groupings of the people of God that were going to turn a barren city into a thriving metropolis? 

  • The spiritual leaders:  priests, Levites, worship leaders, temple servants (mentioned first)
  • Civic leaders:  the gatekeepers, nobles, officials, family leaders
  • The people


The strength of a city and community depends primarily on these three sectors of people—spiritual leaders, civic leaders and family leaders.  Attack and destroy any one of those sectors and you will have a weakened city. But populate a city with good and godly leaders in those three areas and there is no limit to what God can do in that city. 


I do not think this is simply a side-bar principle from the book of Nehemiah.  The longer I live and the more I study God’s word, the more convinced I am that God works with cities and the people in them in unique ways.  It’s as if the city is the primary social grouping we are both called to invest into and bring light to.

Old Testament examples:

  • God often spoke judgment against the wickedness that proliferated by cities:  Sodom & Gomorrah, Babylon, Nineveh, Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Jericho, Bethlehem, etc.
  • God wanted His city, Jerusalem, to be a place that blessed the whole world.

o   Isaiah 62:6-7--I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;
    they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the Lord,
    give yourselves no rest,
and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
    and makes her the praise of the earth.

o   Isaiah 65:19 

New Testament examples: 

  • Jesus wept over Jerusalem— Matthew 23:37-- 
  • Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem (Luke 13:22).
  • Jesus judged based on cities:  Matthew 11--20Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
  • Jesus used city metaphors to talk about our presence in this world:  Matthew 5:14—“You are the light of the world.  A town [city] set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
  • CHURCH:  well over 50% of the references to “church” in the N.T. deal with THE church (sing.) in any given city. 
  • God’s last words to his church in Revelation (2-3) are based upon cities—“The church of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Thyatira.
  • Even the structuring of the church, the appointing of elders, was to be done in “every town/city”, not “every church”, according to Titus 1:5.
  • The Revelation of John ends in chapter 21 with “The New Jerusalem”—the city of God that descends from heaven.  It’s a holy city, “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”    


All that to say that God always has and still does want to work with His people by cities.  What Nehemiah had figured out was that THE three most critical groups that determine the success of any city are 1.) the spiritual leaders, 2.) the civic leaders, and 3) the family/residential leaders.  Let’s examine those three priority groups for a moment.


1.)  Spiritual leadership of a city:  In Nehemiah 7, these were variously named as “singers”, “Levites,” “priests”, “temple servants.”  Since the Temple of God was in Jerusalem at the time, it is not surprising to find that this group of leaders was quite extensive.  In fact, in 7:64, you have recorded that unless someone could prove that they were of the priestly or Levitical lineage, they couldn’t actually serve as such or partake in the benefits (holy food) of that group.  THE most important classification of city leaders was spiritual.

            APP:  As we come into the N.T. church age, who are the “priests,” worship leaders and “temple servants” today?

I Pt. 2:9“But YOU are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 

Isn’t this what worship leaders do!  Every one of God’s redeemed children in the church are the spiritual leaders in a city.  Now days it isn’t just the pastors or the elders or some other formal leadership title in the church.  It’s US…YOU! 

APP:  That’s why we take so much time to worship, to pray, to be instructed every week, multiple times a week. 

YOUR worship matters…to Spokane!

YOUR prayer life matters…to our city!

YOUR intercession for others…your sharing of the truth of God’s word and Christ to this city matters!

I dream of the day when most of God’s church in this city comes together for whole nights of worship, prayer and praise for our community. 

I dream of the day when pastors, priests and other spiritual leaders of our community come together by hundreds and fifties and tens to pray, worship, declare the praises of Jesus Christ together month by month. 


It is already happening across our state. 

STORY:  hour of prayer yesterday via conference call with Church Awakening intercessors.  There are city-wide prayer events taking place from Vancouver to Spokane, Pullman to Bellingham, Tri-cities, Olympia, Seattle, all over.  You should have heard the passionate prayers that people all over this state are lifting up to God for city after city after city. 


APP:  Get out your appointment calendars…really!  (Open my Samsung!)

  • March 28—Pre-Easter Prayer and Worship @ Life Center, 6:30-7:45 p.m.
  • April 3—First Friday Prayer & Worship @ 2nd Space
  • May 7th—National Day of Prayer—City-wide Worship & Prayer event @ Whitworth University, Cowle’s Auditorium; focus:  racial and church reconciliation.


Mosaic Family—We ARE the spiritual leaders of our city.  There is no church more passionate to see the heart of God revealed in the heart of our city than Mosaic.  When we worship passionately, with reckless abandon, we bring the presence and power of Christ to our city.  When we don’t, we hide our light under a basket. 


[STOP & PRAY as priests of our city for our city.]


#2.  Civic Leadership

Look at Nehemiah 7:2-5 In vs. 1, Nehemiah talked about the “gatekeepers” and then, in vss. 2-5 he gets a little more specific as to WHO they were and WHAT they were to do. 

“I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do. 3 I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.”

4 Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. 5 So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.”


Nehemiah gives us two necessary character qualities of “gatekeepers”: 

1.)    More integrity…

2.)    More God-fearing

than the majority of the people

This is a principle we have forgotten and neglected terribly and to our peril in our nation.  Our leaders’ private lives and personal character really matter.  Their faithfulness to their word, to their vows, to God is far more important than godless people will ever understand.  Without a deep sense of accountability to God, there will be no clear understanding of what is really right and wrong.  And there will be no zeal for righteousness over evil.  But when there is that reverent, respectful fear of the Lord, then they will lead well in ways that truly benefit people under their care.


ILL:  The account of Matt Shea’s spiritual leadership in Olympia yesterday from someone who was on the prayer call; the debate on the floor of the House regarding Washington’s death penalty and the question that was flung at him:  “How can you be pro-life about children and pro-death about adults?” 

Matt responded with what I think was a God-inspired challenging  He said, “I will change my position on punishing criminals worthy of death if you will change your position on killing the most innocent among us, babies in their mother’s wombs..”  To the surprise and gasp of the chamber, his opponent agreed!  So they met later to discuss just how they could join forces to implement those changes. 


The leaders of any city are always important when it comes to the health and welfare of a city.  In Nehemiah’s day, since he was the king’s official on-site, he got to appoint the best people he could find.  In our political system, you and I and all our neighbors get to do the appointing.  To say that Christians should not be involved in that process of politics is simply and totally shirking your God-given responsibility.  You and I are the Nehemiah’s of our city, called to appoint the ‘gatekeepers’ of our city. 

Notice that Nehemiah gave his gatekeepers some very clear instructions about what was a threat to their city and what would protect their city.  In essence it was a revised curfew—“Don’t open the gates until everyone can clearly see by the light of day who is coming and going, who is a possible threat and who is just going about their business. And be sure to close the gates before the guards go off-duty for the night.” 

            What is more, he appointed or deputized regular residents as “guards” and posted them “near their own houses”.  Nothing like a Neighborhood Crime Watch…with teeth.  When you know it is your family that is going to suffer if you don’t do your job, chances are you’re going to be a lot more vigilant. 


APP:  It may seem self-evident, but if you are going to protect other people, you have to know what the threats are.  In today’s relativistic moral environment, it constantly amazes me how stupid people are about what are and are not threats to the well-being of a city…or neighborhood…or family.  But in this society, right is now wrong, up is now down and moral is now perverse and perverse is now ethical!


APP:  This is why the more residents of downtown Spokane who find Christ and begin to view their building, their block, their floor as their neighborhood to watch out for and win to Christ, the more the core of our city is going to change.  The same is true for every neighborhood you and I may live in outside of the city core too. 


This, I believe, is why more of God’s people MUST step forward to lead in more arenas of our city:  our neighborhoods, our schools, our community organizations, our city council and our county.  And if we are not going to give our time and energy to be the city’s gatekeepers, perhaps we at least should start praying for, befriending, getting acquainted with and speaking to those who are the gate keepers. 

Do we even know who that is? 

  • City Mayor:  David Condon
  • City Council:

o   District 1—Amber Waldref, Mike Fagan

o   District 2—John Snyder, Mike Allen

o   District 3—Candace Mumm, Karen Stratton


[Pray:  that God will raise up godly leaders who understand what is really best for the city and people; guide those in power.]


#3.  The People—US!

Notice what the situation was really like in and around Jerusalem at this time.  There’s a wonderfully reconstructed wall around Jerusalem.  The huge gates are hung and working. There is a reconstructed Temple area inside the city. 

            But the place is like a ghost town!  Vs. 4—“The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.”  That doesn’t mean there were no houses, just that there really hadn’t been any urban renewal yet.  What was there was inadequate for a flourishing, thriving city. 

APP: When I walk and drive the streets of Spokane, I sometimes feel the same way.  It’s not that there aren’t good things happening or places where people can live.  But there are a lot of empty blocks, empty storefronts, dilapidated buildings…unattractive buildings.  Slowly things are changing, but there is much to be done to see our city have a thriving core with vibrant spiritual center. 


So if Jerusalem was short of people, where were all those people listed by the thousands in this chapter?  Vs. 73 tells us:  “So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel, lived in their towns.”  Most people were commuting participants in the urban renewal of Jerusalem. 

APP:  Isn’t that precisely what our church is?  Most of us live “in the burbs” outside of Spokane’s core.  Most of us commute in to worship or work here.  Most of us don’t actually live here.  We make our living “out there” and that enables us to bring the fruits of our labors back downtown to be a blessing to all who need Christ in the core here. 


And there is one more characteristic to notice about this “commuting community” there in Jerusalem.  In vss. 70-72 we have a financial audit of just how generous those residents and commuters where.

  • The Governor and Co. gave the equivalent of over a $1/2 million in gold, garments and tableware.
  • The “heads of families” gave about $6-7 million in money.
  • The “rest of the people” gave about $6-7 million in cash and clothes. 

So all told, a people who were just getting back on their feet as a nation, surrounded by enemies, recovering from a war-destroyed economy contributed cash and items worth $13-14 million for the reconstruction of a city most of them would only visit from time to time to connect with God.


APP:  God is not asking us at Mosaic to do something which He never asked of his people before. What He has put before us is very similar to what he put before his people in the days of Nehemiah.   

  • Most of us don’t live downtown…but we are called to invest in this city so that God’s current “temple”, the church of the Living God, is built up, visible and transformational in this city. 
  • He’s asked us, in the midst of our middle-class financial challenges, to be generous with our money, our energies and our commitments. 

Unlike most of the Israelites in the land at the time, most of the church of Spokane will not join us in this challenge.  We’ve had plenty of people wave off from the vision of Mosaic when they hear what we’re attempting to do. Some of you may even be wondering, “What in heaven’s name are they doing trying to build a ministry center, start multiple businesses, target every residential building for witness, grow a little church into a fighting force with people from very diverse demographics…all in one of THE most difficult and challenging environments of the city?”

I sometimes get to feeling a little like Gideon in Judges 7 whose army God pared down from 32,000 fighting men to 300 torch-bearing, pot-smashing, bugle-blowing, night-riding, faith-filled fanatics…who would have been toast if God didn’t come through. 

The odds in any work of faith are terrible…until you count God in.  Zero + God is always a majority.  It doesn’t matter who the enemy is, how many they number or how small our resources are.  There is not a single servant of God in the Bible who walked by faith and didn’t have to face staggering odds from the human perspective.  And in almost every case, God asked them to undertake things that, unless God showed up, they would be toast too!  It is so much easier to talk about being people of faith than it is to really live as people in faith.

The question is, will you be a man or woman of faith in our generation?  In our city?  In this setting?  We’re not the only people in Spokane stepping out in faith.  But right now, I can assure you, what God is asking most of us to do is one of the biggest steps of faith you and I may be involved in during our entire lifetimes. And if we do this God’s way, none of us will be able to say, “We pulled it off!  We did it!”  The only thing we’ll be able to brag about is the amazing God we serve who let us survive to see some mighty miracles. 


APP:  Just like Nehemiah numbered the people of Israel, there comes a time when we need to be counted.  There comes a time when we say, “I’m in on this faith journey.”  Many of us have said that over the last few months in through Faith Pledges.  Many of us are still saying that as we pray regularly for God to provide what we’ve pledged. 

So as we bring this section of our worship to a close, I’d like us to PRAY again, this time focusing on we the people.  You pray as the Spirit of God leads you.  But let’s pray about our own “populating priorities” as God’s people in our city.  Let’s pray…

  • …for God to bring us brothers and sisters of great faith who will be committed to transforming our city for years to com.
  • …for God to supply the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will be needed to do this.
  • …for God to give us generous hearts and great passion to see this work grow and flourish both in heart of Spokane as well as the “villages” we each live in most of the week.
  • …about our own commitment, our own fears, our own faith in the face of outlandish odds. 













Study Questions for Nehemiah 7


  1. Nehemiah 7:1 gives 3 types of leaders that had been appointed in Jerusalem to advance its progress:  security officers (gatekeepers), worship leaders (singers) and teachers (Levites).  As we seek to “experience the heart of God in the heart of our city,” how are these same three groups of people necessary?  Why?  What group/role/responsibility do you think God is most likely to call you to do?  What is keeping you from doing that role now?
  2. Raising up the next generation of leadership was important to Nehemiah.  According to Nehemiah 7:2-4, what qualities were most important for those leaders?  What are the parallels with church leadership today?  Where are you personally in relation to these qualities?
  3. Much of Nehemiah 7:1-4 has to do with protection issues of the city.  In what ways are we called to protect our city and the people of God in it today?  From whom or what?  In what ways does Christ call us not to guard or protect ourselves when it comes to strengthening our city?
  4. Why was this long list of names and number of people in Nehemiah 7:5-65 important to God and Nehemiah?  What does its presence in Scripture indicate to you about what should matter to us today when it comes to a strong community of God’s people?
  5. Figure out from Nehemiah 7:70-72 how much gold and silver was given for the rebuilding of the city and what its current day value would be.  Why do you think God prompted Nehemiah to include that information in His Word?  Why is generous giving so important throughout the Bible to God, to His people and to God’s work?  
  6. Nehemiah 7:1, 4 & 73 indicate that most of the people who gathered at Jerusalem to worship in the Temple were actually living outside of Jerusalem.  What comparisons exist with this and what Mosaic is called to do in Spokane?  What are the challenges we have as a commuting citizenry in God’s church of Spokane?
  7. Looking at the priorities presented in this chapter (Neh. 7), which ones do you think are our strengths?  Which need more work?  How will you help that process?