Nehemiah: Separating life into distinct categories of “sacred” and “secular” damages, sometimes irreparably, any attempt to live a whole and satisfying life, a coherent life with meaning and purpose, a life lived to the glory of God. Nevertheless, the practice is widespread. But where did all these people come up with the habit of separating themselves and the world around them into these two camps? It surely wasn’t from the Bible. The Holy Scriptures, from beginning to end, strenuously resist such a separation.
The damage to life is most obvious when the separation is applied to daily work. It is common for us to refer to the work of pastors, priests, and missionaries as “sacred,” and that of lawyers, farmers, and engineers as “secular.” It is also wrong. Work, by its very nature, is holy. The biblical story is dominated by people who have jobs in gardening, shepherding, the military, politics, carpentry, tent making, homemaking, fishing, and more.
Nehemiah is one of these. He started out as a government worker in the employ of a foreign king. Then he became ─ and this is the work he tells us of in these memoirs ─ a building contractor, called in to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. His co-worker Ezra was a scholar and teacher, working with the Scriptures. Nehemiah worked with stones and mortar. The stories of the two men are interwoven in a seamless fabric of vocational holiness. Neither job was more or less important or holy than the other. Nehemiah needed Ezra; Ezra needed Nehemiah. God’s people needed the work of both of them. We still do.