“WHAT this church needs is…!” “I can’t believe our government officials. If I were there I would…!” “Our schools are in a really bad way. Someone ought to do something!”
Gripers, complainers, self-proclaimed prophets, and “armchair critics” abound. It is easy to analyse, scrutinise, and talk about all the problems in the world. But we really need people who will not just discuss a situation, but who will do something about it!
Nehemiah was a problem and was distressed. Instead of complaining or wallowing in self-pity and grief, he took action. Nehemiah knew what that God wanted him to motivate the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, so he left a responsible position in the Persian government to do what God wanted. Nehemiah knew God could use his talents to get the job done. From the moment he arrived in Jerusalem, everyone know who was in charge. He organised, managed, supervised, encouraged, met opposition, confronted injustice, and kept going until the walls were built. Nehemiah was a man of action.
As the story begins, Nehemiah was talking with fellow Jews who reported that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were in disrepair. This was disturbing news, and rebuilding those walls became Nehemiah’s burden. At the appropriate time, Nehemiah asked King Arta that God wanted him to motivate the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, so he left a responsible position in the Persian government to do what God wanted. Nehemiah knew God could use his talents to get the job done. From the moment he arrived in Jerusalem, everyone know who was in charge. He organised, managed, supervised, encouraged, met opposition, confronted injustice, and kept going until the walls were built. Nehemiah was a man of action.
As the story begins, Nehemiah was talking with fellow Jews who reported that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were in disrepair. This was disturbing news, and rebuilding those walls became Nehemiah’s burden. At the appropriate time, Nehemiah asked King Artaxerxes for permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild its fallen walls. The king approved.
Armed with royal letters, Nehemiah travelled to Jerusalem. He organised the people into groups and assigned them to specific sections of the wall (chapter 3). The construction project was not without opposition, however. Sanballat, Tobiah, and others tried to halt the work with insults, ridicule, threats, and sabotage. Some of the workers became fearful; others became weary. In each case, Nehemiah employed a strategy to frustrate the enemies – prayer, encouragement, guard duty, consolidation (chapter 4). But a different problem arose – an internal one. Rich Jews were profiteering off the plight of their working countrymen. Hearing of their oppression and greed, Nehemiah confronted the extortioners face to face (chapter 5). Then, with the walls almost complete, Sanballat, Tobiah, and company tried one last time to stop Nehemiah. But Nehemiah stood firm, and the wall was finished in just 52 days. What a tremendous monument to God’s love and faithfulness. Enemies and friends alike knew that God had helped (chapter 6).
After building the walls, Nehemiah continued to organise the people, taking a registration and appointing gatekeepers, Levites, and other officials (chapter 7). Ezra led the city in worship and Bible instruction (chapters 8, 9). This led to a reaffirmation of faith and religious revival as the people promised to serve God faithfully (chapters 10, 11).
Nehemiah closes with the listing of the clans and their leaders, the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, and the purging of sin from the land (chapters 12, 13). As you read this book, watch Nehemiah in action – and determine to be a person on whom God can depend to act for him in the world.
Purpose: Nehemiah is the last of the Old Testament historical books. It records the history of the third return to Jerusalem after captivity, telling how the walls were rebuilt and the people were renewed in their faith.
Author: Much of the book is written in the first person, suggesting Nehemiah as the author. Nehemiah probably wrote the book with Ezra serving as editor.
Date Written: Approximately 445-432 B.C.
Setting: Zerubbabel led the first return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. In 458, Ezra led the second return. Finally, in 445, Nehemiah returned with the third group of exiles to rebuild the city walls.
Key Verses: “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God” (6:15, 16).
Key People: Nehemiah, Ezra, Sanballat, Tobiah
Key Place: Jerusalem
Special Features: The book shows the fulfilment of the prophecies of Zechariah and Daniel concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
Rebuilding The Wall (1:1 – 7:73) Nehemiah’s life is an example of leadership and organisation. Giving up a comfortable and wealthy position in Persia, he returned to the fractured homeland of his ancestors and rallied the people to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. In the face of opposition, he used wise defence measures to care for the people and to keep the project moving. To accomplish more for the sake of God’s kingdom, we must pray, persevere, and sacrifice, as did Nehemiah.
- Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem
- Nehemiah leads the people
Reforming The People (8:1 – 13:31) After the wall was rebuilt, Ezra read the law to the people, bringing about national repentance. Nehemiah and Ezra were very different people, yet God used them both to lead the nation. Remember, there is a place for you in God’s work even if you’re different from most other people. God uses each person in a unique way to accomplish his purpose.
- Ezra reviews the covenant
- Nehemiah establishes policies
EXPLANATION: Although the Jews completed the temple in 516 B.C., the city walls remained a shambles for the next 70 years. These walls represented power, protection, and beauty to the city of Jerusalem. They were also desperately needed to protect the temple from attack and to ensure the continuity of worship. God put the desire to rebuild the walls in Nehemiah’s heart, giving him a vision for the work.
IMPORTANCE: Does God have a vision for us? Are there “walls” that need to be built today? God still wants his people to be united and trained to do his work. As we recognise deep needs in our world, God can give us the vision and desire to “build”. With that vision, we can mobilise others to pray and put together an action plan.
EXPLANATION: Both Nehemiah and Ezra responded to problems with prayer (flag). When Nehemiah began his work, he recognised the problem, immediately prayed, and then acted on the problem.
IMPORTANCE: Prayer is still God’s mighty force in solving problems today. Prayer and action go hand in hand. Through prayer, God guides our preparation, teamwork, and diligent efforts to carry out his will.
EXPLANATION: Nehemiah demonstrated excellent leadership. He was spiritually ready to heed God’s call. He used careful planning, teamwork, problem solving, and courage to get the work done. Although he had tremendous faith, he never avoided the extra work necessary for good leadership.
IMPORTANCE: Being God’s leader is not just gaining recognition, holding a position, or being the boss. It requires planning, hard work, courage, and perseverance. Positive expectations are never a substitute for doing the difficult work. And in order to lead others, you need to listen for God’s direction in your own life.
EXPLANATION: After the work began, Nehemiah faced scorn, slander, and threats from enemies, as well as fear, conflict, and discouragement from his own workers. Although these problems were difficult, they did not stop Nehemiah from finishing the work.
IMPORTANCE: When difficulties come, there is a tendency for conflict and discouragement to set in. we must recognise that there are no triumphs without troubles. When problems arise, we must face them squarely and press on to complete God’s work.
Repentance / Revival
EXPLANATION: Although God had enabled them to build the wall, the work wasn’t complete until the people rebuilt their lives spiritually. Ezra instructed the people in God’s word. As they listened, they recognised the sin in their lives, admitted it, and took steps to remove it.
IMPORTANCE: Recognising and admitting sin is not enough; revival must result in reform, or it is merely the expression of enthusiasm. God does not want half-hearted measures. We must not only remove sin from our lives, but also ask God to move into the centre of all we do.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.