As soon as I was old enough to care about such things, I wanted to buy a house. When I was in college, I was too busy charging up my credit cards to believe this would be a reality anytime soon, but I still planned. When I graduated with my Master’s in 2002—and settling down in Philly, I got serious. I picked up extra shifts waiting tables and saved enough to buy a house in 2003, just as Center City real estate was about to get hot. Thankfully, the house I bought had recently been renovated, which I figured would curtail the amount of money I would have to spend fixing issues here and there. Still, I braced, for things were bound to happen.
And I have been fortunate. Although when something came up—like a leak in my basement—I forked out cash from my savings, knowing this was how home-ownership worked but wishing—for once—I could get ahead, that once I fixed a problem that would be that. I wish I were the kind of person who would print this out and keep in my workspace to remind me when things arose. So, last year, when I learned I had to replace my chimney liner, I could have borne the hit my savings took yet again, and perhaps I would have been less surprised when the work crew left that Saturday that when I went to use the garbage disposal, I smelled smoke from the motor. I took a deep breath.
One of things that has been interesting for me while reading the Bible is learning how few story lines end with characters riding off into the sunset or living happily ever after. These type of neat and tidy endings have always driven me crazy (and not just because I have perhaps become more cynical as I have aged). Because I have seen so few examples of such a thing in my own life (or of those around me), I didn’t trust the message in these stories. Real life works differently.
In the book of Nehemiah, the title character understands this idea all too well.
He is the official in king Artaxerxes’s court who asks the king to help Jerusalem get their city together. He has a good plan. Clearly a virgo, once he is granted permission to return to Jerusalem, he wastes no time in delegating and getting the wall around the city repaired and reinforced. He gets it done in 52 days. Given how long it takes to get a pothole fixed in today’s society, this is no small feat.
Not only does he inspire teamwork, but what is even more interesting is who pitches in—daughters. Working alongside men, these young women roll up their sleeves and provide a necessary component to the work force. They’re not around to merely pass out water or mop sweaty brows (3:12). Women are also permitted at the general assembly where Ezra reads the Law of Moses to them (8:3), providing the basis for their code of conduct. Had this been an earlier book of the Old testament, the women would have been excluded.
This book reflects real life in an another interesting way. Just as Nehemiah rights the ship in Jerusalem (the wall is built, duties assigned, laws established, the agreement of the people secured (they promise to honor the Sabbath, etc.), priests appointed) , new problems surface.
For official reasons Nehemiah had returned to Babylon. He returned after a while—perhaps hoping that everything had run smoothly in his absence—only to learn that Eliashib, the priest who had been placed in charge of the storerooms of the house of God, was corrupt (13:4-5). In addition, people (even though they promised not to) have continued to intermarry (13:23-24).
Although he was able to resolve these and other issues, his story (which here is told from a refreshing first person account—unlike previous versions of the Old Testament) shows that life is not about getting all of your problems solved. No, his realistic story shows that there is no such thing as reaching this point in life when everything is perfect and will stay that way. Perhaps especially when other people are involved. Rather, to be successful, you need to cultivate a plan to handle the issues that come your way. So, in the end, he shows what it takes to be a good manager, and having enough patience in emotional reserve to handle problems that arise.
Next up: Book of Esther – Is this the woman who inspired Madonna’s Kabbalah’s name?