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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