The Brother Behind the Brother

Nehemiah got the kudos but his brother started it:

One of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:2-3 NRSV).

What could he do about it–he, a slave in this palace far from his homeland? Cut to the quick, Nehemiah “sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4 NRSV).

As God would have it, Nehemiah’s job required him to spend up-close-and-personal time with the king. Four months after his brother’s heartbreaking news, Nehemiah could no longer put on a happy face in the king’s presence. Reacting to that no-no, King Artaxerxes asked, “‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart”’ (Nehemiah 2:2 NRSV).

After Nehemiah divulged his ancestral city’s plight, the king asked what he wanted. Nehemiah answered but not before first winging a silent prayer to heaven. “Then I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it’” (Nehemiah 2:5 NRSV). The king gave his leave, tacking on the caveat that Nehemiah would come back.

So Nehemiah gets the credit for rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and gates. For lifting his countrymen out of ruin and despair. For making the Holy City a safe place to live and worship. His memoirs became a book in the Bible.

But what about his lesser-known brother, who had started the ball rolling when he carried the devastating news hundreds of miles to Nehemiah? “I gave my brother Hanani charge over Jerusalem, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel—for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many” (Nehemiah 7:2 NRSV).

Was Hanani’s ego bruised because he wasn’t noticed as much as his brother? Or did he believe and accept what Paul, the missionary apostle, later analogized:  “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each” (1 Corinthians 3:7-8 NRSV)?


6 thoughts on “The Brother Behind the Brother

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