Nehemiah: Baruch The Zealous Builder

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!

I personally believe that Baruch’s inner strength and zeal may have been cultivated from having a very powerful and direct identity.

In the Hebrew culture, names were not just words, but were believed to have prophetic, character-shaping qualities. Do you know what Baruch’s name means? It means “Blessed”. Think about this…If your name was “Blessed”, you might have a tendency to look for reasons as to why that is your given identity. As a Hebrew, you believe in your name, and you would probably be keen and be on the lookout for things that substantiate your identity. You would look for all the reasons why you are “Blessed”!

This word “Blessed” has a two-fold meaning. You either receive blessings and/or you give blessings. If you are a Hebrew that really believes your name has power; if you’re a Hebrew that truly believes your name helps to mold God’s will in your life; if you’re a Hebrew that honestly believes that your name is a key to finding your purpose in life; then imagine what it is like to be named “Baruch”.

You wake up everyday believing that you will either receive a blessing, or that you will be a blessing to someone. What an incredible way to anticipate and live your life! You are named Baruch. You’re convinced that your purpose in life is to flow with blessings coming in and going out. When you go through periods of drudgery and menial tasks, you press hard and push ahead because you know that somehow this daily grind and travail will turn to good because your destiny in God is to bless and to be blessed. You really are named Baruch. When everything is looking down, you manage to find an upside because you know that your God-given identity will somehow prevail. When you can’t see anything good, you still believe and hold on to the identity that was given when you were circumcised and dedicated to God. You are convinced that your name is Baruch. You push, you press, you keep driving, you exert through the hard tasks. You flow, you bask, you glow, you pour with ease in the good times because you endured the bad times.You are definitely Baruch.

When you are surrounded by threatening enemies and your family and friends are fighting for their very existence, you hold a sword with one hand with the angry look of a ready-to-battle warrior because you know that you are blessed. Then you take your other hand and pick up the burnt rubble and search diligently for something useful. You search for a blessed stone, and you don’t get weary because you were made to look for blessings, you were made to find the good among the rubble. You find a good stone and you start going to work, making sure it fits and seals. You believe that this wall will be blessed because you’re working on it. You believe that God will bless Jerusalem, and that you were created to bless the people of Jerusalem. This wall is your mission, and it fits your God-given purpose. This is your moment to be a blessing for the generations that will follow. You’ve got to rise up and fulfill your destiny, and so you work with focused fury. Nehemiah comes around and says to himself, “Everyone is working with all their hearts. Yet, this man Baruch is absolutely ON FIRE, and there is not another man on this wall that is like him. I won’t forget what he did and how he earnestly did it”. And so Nehemiah being blunt and straight to the point writes these very extraordinary, complimentary words…Baruch son of Zabbai ZEALOUSLY repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.

The Lord wants us to be like Baruch.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.–Romans 12:11

Therefore, God wants us each to know our unique identity so that we can fulfill the purpuse of who were created to be. Extraordinary deeds do not usually come from those who are plagued with wavering uncertainty about their purpose or who they are. In the book of James it tells us that a double-minded man is unstable and should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. I believe that Baruch knew precisely who he was in God, and the extraordinary evidence is there for us to read.

This is a great lesson for believers today. We desperately need to know who God believes we are in this hour. The church has become like old Jerusalem with walls that are broken down, standards have been washed away with the culture. We have become the church of compromise, and the gates of truth have been burned with strange fire. We must seek God afresh to find and be branded each one with our unique identity in God’s Kingdom. Like Baruch, we need to be permeated with our identity until it shows up in what we do.

When you really know who you are in Christ, people will begin to take notice. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify God. I think that Baruch knew he was “blessed”, and Nehemiah took note that there was something extraordinary about Baruch, and he saw it in his work. And now you know this man Baruch and the power of believing who you are in God’s sight. If you have read this, or if you share it with someone, then Baruch’s life will continue to be a blessing. I encourage you to share the Blessing of Baruch.

The scripture has a lot to say about who we are in Christ. Instead of naming off all these things and claiming them all, why don’t you pause right now and begin to ask the Father to pinpoint who you really are in His eyes. Don’t just ask Him to show you..Ask Him to brand it into you and make you live and work as purposefully as Baruch. Maybe He will “shine a light” on one of the many verses, and you’ll be able to live with even greater focus. You’ll wake up everyday, knowing more precisely who you are meant to be. When that happens, God can take a bricklayer like Baruch and turn his job into something special.

Stay tuned, I believe I have more to say about Baruch.

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