The Nethinim | Servants of the Lord

The following was written by Tim Rankin and appearing in the June 2016 edition of the Wintonbury Connection. 

I was sitting in the bleachers anxiously waiting for the concert to begin. When he walked on stage, his long flowing blonde hair reminded me of “Cousin It” from the Adams Family sitcom. He was controversial back then, but his songs were engaging and his lyrics powerful. 

In my day, we didn’t have a collection of CD’s, but I did have a few cassette tapes I enjoyed listening to – and Larry Norman’s, In Another Land was one of my favorites. His song I Am a Servant always spoke to me; it’s about surrendering your whole being to God. The last stanza goes like this: 

I am a servant getting ready for my part
There's been a change, a rearrangement in my heart

At last I'm learning, there's no returning once I start
To live's a privilege, to love is such an art
But I need your help to start

O please purify my heart
I am your servant

It was in my reading of the book of Nehemiah that I encountered a group of men that I’d never really thought about before: the Nethinim. Who were these guys, and why do they matter? When the Israelites were returning from captivity in Babylon, 392 Nethinim and sons of Solomon accompanied Zerubbabel back to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 7:60 and Ezra 2:58). During the second wave of returnees, 220 Nethinim journeyed back to Jerusalem under Ezra’s leadership (Ezra 8:20). There were a lot of Nethinim! 

Their name literally means “the given ones,” and they were a gift to the Levites to help with the duties of managing the temple in Jerusalem. In brief, they were temple servants, who performed the more ordinary tasks, so as to free up the Levites to tend to the “higher duties” of leading the people spiritually. They began as “woodcutters and water carriers,” and even though they were given the more laborious tasks of temple service, over time they came to be regarded as important. They were assigned a special place to live near the Temple, and were exempt from taxes, tributes, and customs. 

The Nethinim have long passed into history, but perhaps we have some modern day Nethinim among us. Servers and workers are a gift to the body of Christ today, and our church wouldn’t function properly without their help. From painting rooms and repairing parking lots to cooking meals and preparing communion… there are countless tasks of service we perform. They aren’t small tasks if they’re done for the Lord. They are high and lifted up and are the cogs in the gears that help the church flourish. 

The disciples once argued over who would be the greatest in the Kingdom, and Jesus had to remind them – it’s the one who serves!