Let’s be honest for a minute. All the planning in the world is for naught if you can’t get the job done. Architects design beautiful buildings but it takes contractors to build the thing. Nehemiah was a planner and his plan was thorough, well-thought-out, and practical – but he wasn’t gonna get it done by himself. By now, we should have all figured out by now that no amount of effort from one individual will ever beat the combined efforts of a group working together. Nehemiah may have been the one behind their newfound energy and drive, but the people of Jerusalem were the ones who had to rebuild the wall.
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
Do you remember the last time you finished something? What was the emotion like when that last paint stroke finished the masterpiece? What did you feel like when you turned in that last assignment? The feeling of finishing a project (of any size) has been and will continue to be a glorious moment. We can see today that Nehemiah began his journey with the end in mind. He asked Artaxerxes to let him return so he could “rebuild the city of his ancestors” (2:5). He wasn’t traveling there for a vacation. There was no sight-seeing or even relaxation found in his schedule. One thing dominated his trip and the work he began – getting the walls built and the people safe.
So where did he begin? First off, he made sure that everyone was a part of this project.
Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel. Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
As you look throughout the list of workers in chapter three you’ll find that Nehemiah involved the nobles, the priests, and even the ordinary people. No one was left without a job. The variety of builders working side-by-side was striking. Sometimes they are identified by family, other times by profession or even their place of residence. Some were priests or rulers of districts and others were just ordinary residents. The fact that the community was well-represented is obvious.¹
The list goes on throughout chapter three highlighting the different works men and women accomplished throughout the city. Where and when doesn’t matter near as much as who and why at this moment. The people were working together and they were thriving. The people of Jerusalem found purpose and direction at the feet of God’s servant Nehemiah.
Despite some early success, the walls of Jerusalem were threatened by outsiders. Sanballat and Tobiah’s ridicule of Nehemiah had grown to outright disgust at the prospect of a rebuilt Jerusalem. Those men stood to lose the most if Jerusalem was rebuilt, and they did more than just threaten with words, they provoked fear among those rebuilding the wall. Unfortunately for God’s children of all ages, the people of the world have no problem uniting in opposition to the work of the Lord (see Psalm 2:1,2).² Nehemiah understood this opposition to the project as opposition to God Himself and prayed for strength and protection.
Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.
It seems clear to me that this prayer and the provocation from those outside the wall only strengthened the resolve of those inside it to build away. In one of the most underused examples in Scripture of God’s people working together, Nehemiah says of their progress:
So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
After the threats and taunts gained no leverage, Sanballat and Tobiah “conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion” in 4:8. This lead to some concern from the residents of Jerusalem that predicated an answer from Nehemiah. In reality, he must have known it was unlikely that his enemies would attack the city in full force since he had the imposing authority of Artaxerxes behind him. He knew the strength of this threat, but he also knew its limitations. At this moment, we see that above all things, he knew the strength of God, who He was sure was on his side.³
In a stroke of genius and wisdom that we should highlight more often today, Nehemiah found the answer to life’s greatest battle. Fathers, mothers, children, and those God give us are our greatest blessing, and good parents ponder on a daily basis, “how do we keep our young people safe from the world around them?” The answer is the wisdom of Nehemiah. His instructions to the families of Jerusalem is still as prudent today as it was then:
Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
Fathers, worried about the lives of their families, were given direction by Nehemiah to fight for those they loved the most. This moment was a masterstroke of diplomatic language. It got his audience involved emotionally.4 As a father, I can tell you without any hesitation that the defense of my family would bring out in me energy, effort, and a will to protect that doesn’t often find its way into my normal life. Those are my children and you better believe I would defend them and their life with every last breath I have. I guarantee you that I’m not alone in that sentiment either. The fathers of Jerusalem no doubt felt as I do. Their children were worth more than their lives and defending them was their greatest responsibility.
This is a profound lesson for the Church today. We need to stop letting preachers, elders, deacons, or anyone else be the caretakers and defenders of our children. Families need to take the responsibility upon themselves to stand in the wall and fight for the spiritual lives of their children. The world is hoping you’ll be too afraid to put up a fight and merely let it walk right in and influence your family.
The work continued on for a mere fifty-two days until Nehemiah was able to say:
So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. And it happened when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.
Is there something about that phrase that seems unbelievable to you as well? Without the use of any modern machinery or power tools and while constantly under threat within and without the walls, a rag-tag group of workers rebuilt them in a short period of time. Many factors contributed to this astonishing speed: the enthusiasm of the workers, the commitment to Nehemiah’s leadership, and the fact that not all the walls had to be completely rebuilt, just repaired.5 In hindsight, calling their accomplishment a monumental feat of teamwork and planning seems to be an understatement. While we don’t think anyone should sell short their abilities or ingenuity or work ethic, it is remarkable when you consider what they accomplished. Many experts would say their job was impossible, even with today’s advancements, yet here we are, lifting up their work as an example of how to get things done. Perhaps, we spend to much time relying on tools or equipment to get a job done instead of the person right next to us. Perhaps, we’re too busy saying what can’t be done instead of listening to God when He says, “work.”
In the end, I feel that this success must lie at the feet of God. He was the one who orchestrated the pieces and predicted the outcome. God knew Nehemiah would be successful where many others weren’t. He waited patiently for the right man to fulfill His Will in Jerusalem. All credit must go to God for putting the right man in the right place at the right time. He chose Nehemiah wisely. Consider what one author has said about the hero of our story:
His was the faith that moves mountains. His confidence in God gave him the courage to plod on in spite of clouds of opposition that gathered around him. He boldly championed the cause of right and scorned the things that would inspire fear. Nehemiah’s courage helped him attain new heights of achievement. Armed with this fortitude, he turned obstacles into opportunities and outward trials into personal triumphs.6
While this point in Nehemiah’s story ends the reconstruction of the physical wall, his job was really just getting started. He would spend the next few years in Jerusalem working on the people themselves. He diligently served as a righteous example and effective leader, all the while following himself God’s teachings.
It seems appropriate to end this study with a reminder of who he was and where he came from. Nehemiah was a slave turned governor who arrived in Jerusalem with a single-minded objective; to rebuild the massive but ruined wall. He was beset by obstacles, but he pressed on. So great was the task before him and so great its accomplishment that we can hardly appreciate the understatement of 6:15, “so the wall was completed.”7
It’s a testament to God’s patience and Nehemiah’s persistence that the wall was finished and the people given an opportunity to not just return to God but to actually be His children again in the homeland of their ancestors. The fixer-upper God placed before Nehemiah was one of monumental importance. However, it wasn’t only Nehemiah who brought hope. It wasn’t only Nehemiah who inspired the workers. It wasn’t only Nehemiah who orchestrated everything. It was God as well. He was the driving force behind Nehemiah – a man who rebuilt walls and in turn rebuilt disciples.
We feel the need to praise God for this opportunity and we hope that one day God may entrust us with one just as important.
¹ Mark A. Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989), 78.
² Warren W. Wiersbe, Joshua-Esther, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003), 651.
³ James Montgomery Boice, Nehemiah, An Expositional Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 56.
4 F. Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), 187.
5 H.G.M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary, (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985), 260.
6 Cyril J. Barber, Nehemiah and the Dynamics of Effective Leadership, (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1976), 111.
7 James Montgomery Boice, Nehemiah, An Expositional Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 77-78.
Scripture taken from New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Originally published on October 18, 2016, by Neal Mathis and Matthew Higginbotham.