Tag Archives: Nehemiah 7

Part of the Family

“The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel….”
Nehemiah 7:61 (NIV)

A few years ago, I signed up on a site called WikiTree. It is a free online effort to create one massive family tree. The volunteers at WikiTree are not just trying to find their family, but to connect their family to all other families in the realization that, ultimately, we all came from the same woman.

I’ve dabbled in my family’s history for decades. The reality is that I come from pretty common, everyday people. Carpenters, farmers, and poor immigrants who left for the new world to make a better life for themselves and their descendants. That’s my lineage.

WikiTree, however, has a feature in which you can discover how you are connected to various historical people. It’s not a direct blood relationship, but because it’s one massive global family tree you begin to realize that through marriage connections and sibling connections there aren’t that many degrees of separation between you and royalty. For example, there are only 18 degrees of separation between me and King Henry VIII:

In today’s chapter, Nehemiah goes to great lengths to record the returning exiles. Interestingly, he doesn’t do it by name but by families and genealogical records. In the Hebrew system, your family of record was a huge deal. Your career and your social standing had everything to do with your family tree. You’ll notice that some of the exiles were labeled as descendants of “the servants of King Solomon.” Those who had no genealogical record are found at the bottom of Nehemiah’s list. They were the poor dregs.

One of the paradigms that Jesus came to radically change was this genealogical system. In the system that Jesus established, a person’s standing in this temporal, Level 3 world was of no value at all. In the radically new paradigm, Jesus established “the first will be last and the last will be first.” In the introduction of his Jesus biography, the disciple John writes:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:12

For those in the entrenched Hebrew family system of genealogical records and social status, this turned the systemic realities of their society upside down. And, from a spiritual perspective, it’s absolutely life-changing. Anyone, anyone, anyone, anyone can be a child of God, a member of the family, and a partaker of the divine inheritance through simple faith in Jesus. No more pecking order. In fact, interestingly enough, if you look at the family records of Jesus listed in Matthew and Luke you’ll find both Jews and Gentiles, men and women, kings and prostitutes. It’s like a word picture of the spiritual family Jesus came to introduce us to.

In the quiet this morning, I am mulling over that which WikiTree regularly reminds me: We’re all connected. I think that Jesus, the Author of Creation, understood that more than anyone. I’m also pondering on the spiritual, systemic paradigms that I so easily forget and am so quick to corrupt:

“Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

Jesus

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Then my God put it into my mind to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy.
Nehemiah 7:5 (NRSV)

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Astronaut, athlete, soldier, doctor, teacher, fire fighter, actor, engineer…

I sometimes think that many take for granted what freedom, rugged individualism, and the American experience have meant for those of us who’ve been blessed to grow up here, whose families have been here for generations.

My great-grandfather came by himself from the Netherlands as a teenager. He started as a carpenter, helped found the Co-op in Boyden, Iowa. He then started his own hardware store. My grandfather went to college and became an educator. His sons worked in meat packing and accounting. My dad’s children have worked in restoration and architectural arts, education, ministry and business. My children are finding their way into art and event management along with cosmetic sales.

What do you want to do with your life?

For the ancients in Nehemiah’s day, your family of birth often determined what you would do as an occupation. To quote Fiddler on the Roof, it was tradition. Only descendants of Aaron could be priests. Only descendants of Levi could work in the temple of God. If you were a “son of Korah” you were a musician. The genealogical record that Nehemiah referenced was critical to their society. Your family told who you were, and what you would be when you grew up.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman in 70 A.D. was a momentous event in Jewish history because all of the extensive genealogical records of the Jewish people were destroyed. In the global diaspora of the Jewish people over the centuries the Jewish people lost track of which family and tribe they belonged to. Those orthodox believers in Israel today who wish to see, and are actively working towards, the rebuilding of a temple in Jerusalem face a legal dilemma in the law of Moses. If only sons of Aaron can be priest and only Levites can serve in such a temple according to God’s law, how do we know who the descendants of Aaron and Levites are? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are DNA experts in Israel working on an answer.

Today, I’m thinking about how awful it would be if I was stuck in the original family business of my great-grandfather. I’d be a terrible carpenter, and a very depressed adult. The same goes for being an accountant like my father. Both of those men were good at what they did, but my passion, gifts, and abilities lie elsewhere. I wonder how the ancients did it.

I’m grateful for the unique passions, gifts, talents and abilities God gives to each of us. I’m equally thankful to live in a land of freedom where I can choose to pursue those passions … or not.

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