by Kenneth Way
Recent news reports are claiming that the references to camels in the patriarchal narratives (Gen 12:16; etc.) of Genesis are “anachronistic,” or historically out of place, because there is allegedly no evidence for camel domestication before the tenth century BC. This claim is actually not new, since it was made by W. F. Albright over seventy years ago, but is it true?
First of all, a methodological comment is in order. Claims about the Bible’s (a)historicity based on the absence of evidence are notoriously impossible to substantiate. It is apt to cite here the old adage, oft credited to Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen, that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” (for further discussion see http://www.talbot.edu/sundoulos/fall-2008/lead-article/).
Second, we need to clarify that the original journal publication does not exactly make the sweeping claims that are made in the recent news reports. The brief article by Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef in Tel Aviv (“The Introduction of Domestic Camels to the Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley,” vol. 40  277-285) looks only at the extant zoological evidence in the southern Levant (Aravah Valley and Negev). That is, their focus is regionally limited; it is not a study of camels in the biblical world broadly which would include Mesopotamia, Egypt, and beyond. They also abstain from discussing the significant body of textual evidence for camels from the Bronze Age in the ancient Near East.
Third, the Tel Aviv study only names the dromedary (one-hump camel) and says nothing about the Bactrian (two-hump) camel. While I might agree that the extant faunal evidence for the dromedary in patriarchal times is meager or non-existent, this says nothing about evidence for the Bactrian camel, and it says nothing about textual or iconographic evidence for camels in the ancient Near East. There is actually substantial evidence currently available for the domestication of the Bactrian (two-hump) camel in the middle of the third millennium BC (ca. 2500 BC), which allows a comfortable historical context for the setting of the references in Genesis.
The leading expert these days on camels in the biblical world is Martin Heide. Rumor has it that he is working on a book-length treatment on camels to be published by Eisenbrauns in the same series as my Donkeys book (called History, Archaeology, and Culture of the Levant). Heide’s recent article on the topic, which is quite extensive (53 pages), presents all the support for the claim I made above (see K. M. Heide, “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological and Inscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel and Arabia, and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible” in Ugarit-Forschungen 42 : 331-384). Here is a snippet from Heide's tentative conclusion:
“The archaeological evidence points to the fact that the Bactrian camel was domesticated before the dromedary and was put into use by the middle of the 3rd millennium or earlier…. [The Hebrew word for camel] in the patriarchal narratives may refer, at least in some places, to the Bactrian camel…. The archaeological and inscriptional evidence allows at least the domesticated Bactrian camel to have existed at Abraham’s time….” (pp. 367-368).
Essentially this means that Kenneth A. Kitchen’s remark on this perennial issue still holds true. He says: “The camel was for long a marginal beast in most of the historic ancient Near East (including Egypt), but it was not wholly unknown or anachronistic before or during 2000–1100. And there the matter should, on the tangible evidence, rest” (On the Reliability of the Old Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003; p. 339; italics his).
Nehemiah is one of the most heralded examples of leadership found in the scriptures. We have been focusing on his heart, and saw in Part One how he (1) cared enough to accurately assess the circumstances confronting his people; (2) was sensitive to the brokenness of his people; and (3) was focused continually on redeeming the lives of his people.
As we again engage in the narrative (Neh. 2:11-20), it is obvious that cooperation by all the residents is crucial. This challenge brings out yet another quality of Nehemiah’s heart:
He wisely recruited other leaders in his quest to rebuild the walls for his people.
In verse 12 we read that he took “a few men” with him to inspect the walls. This group most likely consisted of his brother and some very trusted companions Nehemiah may have had in his traveling party.
In verse 17 we see that at the right time, after his careful and quiet inspection of the situation, he briefed the officials, Jews, priests and nobles mentioned in verse 16. The result of the wisdom he demonstrated in how he investigated and when he brought in the city leaders is highlighted when these leaders respond in verse 18, “Let us arise and build!”
Recruiting workers is one of the most challenging aspects of church leadership. I belong to a congregation of 5000 that is seeking to mobilize the laity to provide ministry in many areas that paid pastors used to oversee. It will be interesting to see how well this works.
Nehemiah’s leadership demonstrates that wisdom is a key to realizing full cooperation and success in important ministry work. As he was careful in his research and planning, sensitive to the brokenness of his people, and embraced the goal of redemption, not self-promotion, is it any wonder he gained the trust of the leadership and the people?
Now the task before all of them was enormous. Over 140 years of neglect would not be easy to correct. If my wife and I neglect our garden for too long, we pay a heavy price in pulling weeds and untangling branches! So we come to the final feature of Nehemiah’s heart as he, the leaders and the people begin the wall restoration project–a quality of character that would be tested from start to finish.
He persevered in his goal of providing hope and security for his people.
In pastoral ministry, it is exciting to start new projects and embark on necessary changes that bring new life to our congregations. And it is joyous to celebrate the successful conclusion of such endeavors. Yet many churches and their leaders fail to finish well.
Persevering when the job is hard, the resistance fierce, and the resources slim is a quality of heart found in faithful leaders; leaders like Nehemiah.
In verses 19-20 we are introduced to some of the pressure the builders will face. Nehemiah will receive pressure from Sanballat in the North, Tobiah in the East, as well as Geshem in the South. But his leader’s heart is not swayed or intimidated. He is a man who perseveres, stays the course of his call and convictions. His goal is to lift the reproach upon the people by restoring the place God has chosen to reside–Jerusalem–the Holy City. Nothing short of bringing back God’s glory before the nations is his goal, and his leader’s heart will see the work through to the end.
When I was a young man growing up on our farm in Iowa, one of my summer tasks was to cultivate the vast fields of corn. Climbing aboard the tractor at first light was always exciting. The roar of the engine, the smell of fuel and dirt, and the rush of a brisk morning breeze greeted me. Several hours later, however, after riding back and forth across the field countless times, the thrill was gone. It became a challenge to drive the machinery skillfully. Carelessness was a constant enemy, because it could lead to a damaged crop, personal injury or even death.
I began to learn all those years ago that life requires perseverance. Those long hours on the tractor helped me begin to understand how difficult it is to stay the course, but also how blessed it is to finish the journey well. A joyful harvest was our reward. Nehemiah knew this truth long ago, and his steadfast heart led God’s people to a blessed future.
The wall Nehemiah rebuilt is now in ruins, but the benefit his leader’s heart brought to his people remains to this day. As those who have been grafted into the family of God, people from all nations stand as fruit of his labor in the preservation of the nation and faith of Israel.
It is my prayer that we all possess a leader’s heart. May we handle the challenges of our ministries with care, sensitive to the brokenness of our world and the people God has given us. May we have hearts of grace that continually seek redemption and restoration, only available through the cross of Jesus and empowered by his Spirit. Might our leadership reveal wisdom in developing and energizing leaders in our congregations.
And lastly, let us persevere in our labor, whatever that may encompass, as the apostle Paul encouraged all the saints to do when he wrote to those in Corinth, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Pastors have many roles. They are teachers, evangelists, caregivers, guardians, and leaders. Much is written about these areas of endeavor, but perhaps none as much as leadership. Recently the Society of Human Resource Managers released figures from a global survey of corporations that revealed 57% of all of the organizations surveyed employ outside vendors to provide leadership training. Companies know the great importance of good leadership.
When listing great leaders, we think of Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem during the time of the great Persian Empire. Many books have been written about his skillful handling of a desperate situation. But I’d like us to look at his heart as he expertly leads. When looking for a new king, the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
As we follow Nehemiah upon his arrival at Jerusalem, a broken city, verses 11 through 20 of Nehemiah chapter 2 reveal several key features of his leader’s heart. Having sought permission and been given support for his venture, he arrives in Jerusalem after a long and arduous journey.
Many would arrive at such a scene and immediately decide what needs to be done, give orders, and push for a quick solution. Not Nehemiah. While he was a man of action, he was also a man of careful observation:
He cared enough to accurately assess the circumstances confronting his people.
It seems he took three days to re-gain strength after his nearly 1000 mile trek. And after resting up, he took a few men and quietly toured the walls so as to not alert the many enemies of God’s people, those who did not want Jerusalem to regain its position as a place of worship and influence.
He also very carefully inspected the walls, making sure to note the exact circumstances facing the people. Being careful with such details would assure a wise approach to the project and success in bringing protection to God’s people and honor to His name.
One of my hobbies is working with wood, building furniture and other items of household use. Woodworkers have a saying: “Measure twice, cut once.” It is better to make sure your measurement is correct than to try and stretch a board you have cut too short!
We demonstrate a leader’s heart when we take care to know our people, their circumstances, and the challenges they face in their lives. Such leaders do not force solutions on others, but listen to the hearts of their people and create ministries that meet their needs. Careful sermon preparation, program planning, organization, and counseling reflect the heart of a leader who honors God.
Having done his careful inspection, Nehemiah speaks to the leaders and says: “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire” (v. 17). Here we see a second feature of Nehemiah’s heart:
He was sensitive to the brokenness of his people.
The walls he examined had been compromised for over 140 years. The city had lived in this desperate state for so long, the people most likely did not even notice the brokenness.
My wife and I own a house near our university. Occasionally we repaint the walls. When we take down pictures and other ornaments, stand back and look at the wall, we are always amazed at how dirty the walls really are. We did not see this until we cleared away the wall hangings.
Nehemiah, as one not living in the rubble, but in the courts of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, was sensitive to the damage, the hopelessness, and the reproach these people had been to their neighbors and most importantly, to the Lord their God. A leader’s heart remembers what once was true, and what could be true again. He or she is sensitive to the broken spirit, the lamenting soul. Faithful ministers see the heartaches of their people, and they take to heart the neediness of those they are called to love in Christ Jesus.
He was focused continually on redeeming the lives of his people.
When Nehemiah first heard of the plight of his brethren in Jerusalem, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days... fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). In this, he reflected the heart of Jesus, who viewing the city centuries later would weep over it, desirous that his own people recognize the salvation that was at hand (Luke 19:41).
It is so important to notice that in responding to the mess in Jerusalem, Nehemiah does not berate the people for allowing this to continue, but instead includes himself in the pain when he says, “You see the bad situation we are in.” And again, “Come, let us rebuild the wall... that we may no longer be a reproach” (v. 17).
From the day he arrived on the scene, Nehemiah’s heart was bent on restoring the beauty of the eternal city. He did not come with an accusative heart. He came with a desire to redeem, restore, and bring grace to his people to the glory of God. Yes, the people are later called to repentance and restoration of their spiritual obligations as God’s chosen. But even in this, he and all the leaders include themselves in confession and renewal.
We, too, as shepherds of God’s people, must keep the eyes of our heart on redemption, restoration, helping our people know the freedom of forgiveness, the beauty of God’s grace, the hope of the gospel. We do not criticize, blame, or become bitter at the brokenness of lives and the struggles of the church. Instead, we call upon the Lord our God to deliver, to show mercy and grace to all as we worship and serve him.
Now, the project ahead was going to take everyone’s cooperation and effort. In light of this, we will see, in our next installment, the approach Nehemiah’s heart takes in meeting this great challenge.
In this audio recording, Dr. Cardoza uses 1 Thessalonians 2 to discuss eight biblical characteristics of disciplers.
“Discipling people is one of the most fundamentally important things we can do as Christians. The great commission tells us to make disciples; the New Testament is replete - especially in the gospels and acts - with examples of discipling....”
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