“Then all my servile works were done, a righteousness to raise
Now freely chosen in the Son, I freely choose His ways.”
Why do we work? In this culture and this economy, it almost seems selfish to complain about work because so many people don’t have jobs. At times, work can feel like we are part of an ant colony trying to scurry around and fix the anthill before it inevitably gets knocked over again. Like Sisyphus, at times we feel no sense of accomplishment or success at our work. I wish I had a profound answer for this conundrum, but I struggle to find energy in my job like many of you. Nehemiah worked because he knew a King was coming and the prospect of Jesus motivated him and the rest of the Israelites. Despite exhaustion and lack of resources, Nehemiah and the Israelites worked for a larger purpose than just rebuilding a wall and they worked with a strength that was not their own.
So why did they weep after they finished their work? I know when I finish a task, I am relieved and enjoy the rest between projects, but that sense of accomplishment only goes so far. As Ezra read the law to the people of Israel, they mourned the sinfulness of their forefathers and their neglect of God as a people. Even though they had accomplished their goal in their work, the Israelites carried with them a history of disobedience that they couldn’t make amends for by the completion of any task. It is perplexing and comforting that a group of people who just experienced a major success can be so aware of their brokenness and fragility. In America, success is followed by a sense of invincibility and conceited pride, but the Israelites have a completely opposite reaction. They acknowledge how vulnerable they are to repeat the history of their ancestors and they mourn their shortcomings as a people.
But God does not leave His people in mourning. Their awareness of their broken history allows them to celebrate differently than the rest of the world. Their strength did not come from their skill or effort, but from the joy of the Lord. This seems like a downer to take the wind out of the sails of their accomplishment of rebuilding the wall, but after hearing Israel’s lack of faithfulness, the joy of the Lord is the only strength they have. God uses unskilled laborers, outcasts, and weaklings to accomplish His work. Jesus displays the ultimate success in weakness at the cross. He embraces our brokenness and defeats sin and death by dying.