Have you ever gone into a high school and read the plaques on the wall that gave the names of the graduating class of the year 19-so-and-so? Unless you know the people, it can get tedious and mundane to read through the whole list. If something about that list doesn’t grab your attention, you can lose interest real fast.
Reading chapter 3 of the book of Nehemiah can feel like that at first glance. The whole chapter is a who’s who list of named individuals and groups of people that went to work on the Wall of Jerusalem. If you’re not careful, you can miss some small but important details.
One of the names on that list stood out to me…
Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai ZEALOUSLY repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.–Nehemiah 3:20
This guy Baruch stands out because he is the only one in the whole book with the distinction of “zealously” repairing the Wall at Jerusalem. The fact that he stands out in such a peculiar and unmistakable fashion causes me to want to investigate this conspicuous person.
He repaired “zealously”. Does this mean he worked faster and harder? Does it mean he worked better? Does it mean that he “whistled while he worked”? Did he work long hours? What does zealous mean in this setting?
The Hebrew word for zealously in this instance is charah, and it means that “he burned”. Did he forget to wear sunscreen? Nah. This word is used 90 times in the Old Testament, and much to my amazement it is ALWAYS used in relation to ANGER!
I couldn’t believe it! Here are a couple examples of this type of “zeal”.
Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.–God speaking to Moses in Exodus 32:10
But on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry!–Genesis 4:5. This zeal led to the first murder.
So what about the zeal of Baruch? Did he bust his thumb and holler out in anger a lot? Was he cussing out his fellow workers? Did he get mad and throw his tools around like they were golf clubs into the lake? I just don’t think so.
Nehemiah writes about Baruch in such a way as to give him notoriety and honor. In contrast, Nehemiah was not at all hesitant in pointing out negative behavior. Look at what he said about the nobles of Tekoa:
The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors–Neh. 3:5.
Those proud, lazy rascals! Maybe their laziness got Baruch all “fired up”. Nehemiah’s account shows he observed that Baruch’s work ethic was in stark contrast to the nobles of Tekoa. Nehemiah was pointing that out and putting it down on the record. I see nothing negative in what Nehemiah wrote about Baruch.
I’m gonna say that Nehemiah called Baruch “zealous” because he saw how he worked with much energized focus and great vigor. I believe Baruch attacked the work with the fire and energy of someone who looked angry. In other words he pounded, sawed, and laid stones with the fury of a madman. He poured himself into the work, and gave it everything he had.
The John Trapp Bible Commentary theorizes about Baruch’s zeal saying, “A ready heart makes riddance of God’s work. He burst out in a heat (so the Heb.), being angry both at himself and others that had done no more (Neh.3:5); and, in a holy fume, finished quickly, kindling himself from other men’s coldness, and quickening himself from their slothfulness”
Okay, so Nehemiah sees a guy working on this wall and says he’s zealous. So why are we making a big deal out of this? It’s just one verse! What’s the point? Just in case I’m not getting the point across, let’s look at this from one more angle.
We have to step back and take a look at the big picture to understand the magnitude of this assessment. In his day, Nehemiah worked for the most powerful ruler in the world. Nehemiah worked among the best of the best. Nehemiah was at the top of his game as well. There were no slouches in the court of the Emperor. Whether it was entertainers, artists, builders, decorators, architects, horseman, or goldsmiths, Nehemiah witnessed the work of the cream of the crop. Nehemiah knew what the very best looked like. He knew quality, he knew effort, and he knew great craftsmen. As a result, Nehemiah was not a man to go around throwing out frivolous compliments concerning the workmanship or the work ethic of a person. He is not easily impressed. This wasn’t just any wall, this wall was the largest construction project ever accomplished by any biblical author. Nehemiah was no ordinary man. He was a blunt man of excellence who got straight to the point. The fact that Nehemiah gave this exiled man a compliment is truly amazing. But that is only part of the story.
Now, everyone that actually worked on the wall worked very hard:
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
This was a dedicated corps of people. Yet, among this hard-working group of people, Baruch was the ONLY individual to ever receive a compliment from the great Nehemiah for his work on the wall. Now Nehemiah eventually complimented two other men for their character, but Nehemiah never compliments another man for his labor. Baruch stands alone in the eyes of a man who has been among the very best. That is an outstanding achievement.
The question now becomes this: What can we learn from Baruch and apply to our lives? What factors motivated Baruch to have more zeal than others? I do not believe that God is in the habit of giving us a challenge without providing a path of discovery. Let’s investigate! Continue reading