God builds the lives of his people both corporately and individually. Jesus’ earthly occupation was in carpentry. Many miss the significance of this truth. In 1977, Joshua McDowell wrote an excellent apologetic book entitled More than a Carpenter. Despite the otherwise greatness of the book, the title blatantly overlooks the significance of the fact that Jesus was a carpenter. Building and refurbishing are central parts to God’s character revealed symbolically through that occupation. From the creation recorded in Genesis to the re-creation anticipated in Revelation, God’s character demands that he is always involved in a work of carpentry—building beautiful things and refurbishing what is worn in the lives of his people. As a general pattern, God uses emptiness and brokenness as the starting point from which he accomplishes his masterpieces.
The book of Nehemiah records historical building that is both physical and spiritual. The carpentry is accomplished as God’s people partner with him. God does not build the wall of Jerusalem alone; he does it with the partnership of dedicated, passionate, and diligent people. The first chapter of Nehemiah explains the damaged state of Jerusalem that requires a carpenter.
The wall of Jerusalem is broken, requiring earthly building. Much of the book of Nehemiah accounts for that building process, and Nehemiah’s strong leadership is a trademark of the book. Significant as that is, the first chapter clearly shows that there is also a spiritual act of carpentry occurring at this time in history. God recognizes the agony and humiliation that his people have experienced and he announces himself as ready to intervene. Partnership, however, is a high priority for God in how he works. Because he is all-powerful and love, he could have stopped the trouble at any time, but he chooses to work through his people. Therefore, Nehemiah’s crushed spirit served as a catalyst for the intervention to begin. Nehemiah surrendered to God with a determination to act upon the grief he experienced over learning that Israel was in such a state of ruin. His prayer includes recognition that at least some of the difficulty could have been avoided with obedience to God. As such, he repents on behalf of the whole nation and accepts the call of God to join with him, rebuilding what was broken, both physically and spiritually. He is determined to lead the people of Israel into repentance and wholeness, thereby representing God’s character to all he would lead.