The Plan


When Nehemiah was given permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem he did not procrastinate or overlook anything. He diligently worked piecing together all the necessary steps to finish his task. There really are two parts to his epic rebuild – the plan that organized the work and then the persistence that brought about the finished product.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?

Luke 14:28-30 

Once Nehemiah determined to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem he was diligent in seeking an opportunity to go. For months he prayed and waited, hoping to find the proper opportunity. One day before the king, the first step of his plan came to fruition. As he was serving Artaxerxes, the king noticed that Nehemiah was emotionally somewhere else. His actions were acceptable but his thoughts were anywhere but there. He asked what was wrong and Nehemiah responded:

Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?

Nehemiah 2:3 

It’s obvious that Nehemiah wasn’t often sad in the presence of the king. He hadn’t been walking around indignant or overwhelmed. He had served the king as was expected, but on that day, his true emotions came to the surface. His response, in the form of a question, showed the proper amount of respect to both his king and his feelings. This question, instead of making Artaxerxes defensive, actually won him to Nehemiah’s side. The king understood that Nehemiah had cause to be sad and wanted to help.¹ Following some more conversation, Nehemiah got around to the point he had been dreaming about for some time – he asked the king’s permission to leave his post and rebuild his ancestral home. He said to the man he had served quite often:

I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it. 

Nehemiah 2:5

Nehemiah teaches us a valuable lesson at this moment. Often times, people are too afraid to ask for help when confronted by impossible circumstances. He couldn’t simply quit his job and move to Jerusalem, he needed the king’s permission for everything he did.² In this remarkable moment, we see that Nehemiah wasn’t afraid to ask. He had already pleaded with God and now it was time to plead with Artaxerxes. He didn’t beg though. He was honest and upfront with his wishes. 

His request also goes on to show us that we shouldn’t hesitate to be thorough in our petitions as well. After the king granted him permission to go, Nehemiah asked for more help that only Artaxerxes could provide:

If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy…and the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.

Nehemiah 2:7,8 

How often are we unwilling to ask for the help we really need? Nehemiah has shown in just a few short verses that asking for help is not always a sign of weakness, at times it’s a sign of determination. Unfortunately, we often stigmatize those who ask as needy, dependent, or even lazy. While those assessments may be true in some instances, to categorize them as proverbial would be careless. Nehemiah, unable to fix the problem in Jerusalem by himself, turned to those in greater positions with the appropriate amount of humility and found his requests granted. Without the official authority to govern, an official guard for the journey, and the right to use material from the king’s forest, the entire project was doomed from the start.³ Nehemiah understood that, so he took the steps before a single foot marched towards Jerusalem to ask for what he needed.

We can also learn from Nehemiah how to get things done today. Start by praying for the opportunity and persevere by asking anyone who can help until you’re able to solve your problems. Do not forget that not one single brick was laid or gate hung before Nehemiah was given permission and the necessary provisions were arranged and collected. Unfortunately, when we’re quick to run into a problem with our guns blazing and opinions blaring, we often overlook asking for the help we actually need to fix our dilemmas.

As Nehemiah begins his journey to Jerusalem we come to the realization that his physical journey is just now beginning. We’ve been with him through some rough times but now his life’s work is ready to begin. At this moment, it’s obvious he knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God was sending him to Jerusalem, and that God would be with him in the hazards and uncertainties.4 At last his prayer was answered and the opportunity he wanted to rebuild Jerusalem was just beginning.

It sure seems that for every circumstance in life that benefits an individual or a group, there will always be some opposing force that stands to gain from the failure of those circumstances. That same principle was true for Nehemiah. His people stood to regain the things they had lost if he was successful, but others felt this restoration project was unsettling at best and troubling at worst. 

Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.

Nehemiah 2:9,10 

Why is it that Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite were disturbed that the great walls of Jerusalem were to soon be returned to their former glory? It might have something to do with the history of their people. Roughly thirteen years beforehand those who stood to lose influence in the region surrounding Jerusalem, like Sanballat and Tobiah wrote a letter to Artaxerxes encouraging him to put an end to the reconstruction of Jerusalem. The king listened and as a result, put an end to the work of Zerubbabel and Jeshua {the letter can be found in Ezra chapter 4}. It should not be surprising to us that they would be as interested in their own welfare as their forefathers had been earlier. Let’s be honest, the devil and his servants are always looking for opportunities to stunt or stop the work of God’s children, no matter the time or place. Nehemiah would have known that those men (or others like them) would stand in his way. The letters he requested are proof that even though we can’t see everything that stands in our way, we can be prepared for them.  

After the end of any journey, there is often an exhale of relief. We look forward to resting and enjoying our journey’s end. That seems to be exactly what Nehemiah did. Instead of riding in on his white horse and proclaiming that salvation had arrived, he rested and recharged. I believe he rested for those three days to prepare himself for the work ahead. While Scripture remains silent, it makes sense to believe that Nehemiah was like us, at times overwhelmed, exhausted, and just plain weary. Those three days may have been a necessary end to ensure his work began properly.

So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode.

Nehemiah 2:11,12

Too often we see people parade in on their high expectations only to fail. Nehemiah didn’t have the luxury of failing. There wasn’t someone coming after him to finish the job. He was going to succeed or the people of Israel were going to be left to their own devices once again. His confidence in God was tempered with a stunning amount of humility not often found in worldly leaders. When someone exhibits both confidence and humility it is a powerful combination, one that inspires those around them and gets things done. It’s a shame that far too often we see confidence mingled with arrogance instead. Nehemiah gives us a great example of how to lead with confidence and not arrogance.

Exploring the broken walls at night might not make sense to many of us today, but think about it from Nehemiah’s perspective. Before he had even arrived in Jerusalem, there were some who were against him and his plans. How could he know if there weren’t some within the walls on the side of Sanballat and Tobiah? An open inspection of the walls during the day may have brought ridicule and opposition to the forefront of the public eye. It could have put a target on his back that he wasn’t ready to deal with. Whatever the reason, it’s obvious to us that Nehemiah had already invested too much to take a wrong step now. It makes sense to believe that the few men who accompanied him must have been privy to his plans, so perhaps they were members of his household who resided in Jerusalem who could act as guides or those who had accompanied him from Babylon. They were undoubtedly those he trusted.5

After his thorough inspection, Nehemiah appeared before the leaders of the people and challenged them.

Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.

Nehemiah 2:17,18

When he called the state of the city a “reproach” upon the people (2:17) he wasn’t pulling any punches. He was brutally honest in his assessment of their predicament. His choice of the word “reproach” is heavy with overtones alluding to the punishment of the exile. Behind that punishment lied the ill repute brought upon God’s name among the nations surrounding them who should have been His servants.6 His rally seemed to work not just because of their sad state, but also because of his confidence. He boldly professed that God was with him in this work and that the king had blessed his journey. Those two factors seemed to provide something that was lacking from their previous efforts – confidence in the job at hand. Notice that he does not simply announce what he intends to do, nor force his will upon his audience. Rather, he invites them to participate in the fulfillment of God’s Will.7 

It should also not go unnoticed that Nehemiah is no longer mourning over Jerusalem. There is no mention of grief, weeping, fasting, or despair here or in the rest of the memoir. What we do see is the beginning of his decisive action to remedy the situation.8 

Maybe all the people of Jerusalem really needed was someone to challenge them and perhaps that’s all people really need today. How do things get so bad in our lives? How does life spiral out of control? How do we find ourselves waking up in a mess when it seems like life was perfect just a few days before? One word comes to mind – neglect. The walls of Jerusalem were neglected by the people who lived there. Sure, they had faced opposition from the surrounding leaders and Babylon, but inherently the problem came from those in the town itself. The real danger was that apathy had led to despair, and the people had become accustomed to the most miserable conditions.9 For far too long, the residents of Jerusalem stared at broken-down walls and burned-out gates. Now was the time to put an end to the neglect their city had endured. Now was the time to rally not just to Nehemiah, but to God Himself.  

Our churches, families, and communities face the very same problem today. We often neglect what God has given us to our own detriment. It isn’t those on the outside who often bring down what we love the most, it’s our own disinterest. It’s to the credit of the Jewish nobles that they accepted the challenge immediately and said, “Let us rise up and build!” (2:18) They were not so accustomed to their situation that they took it for granted and decided at that moment that nothing could be changed.10 They knew Jerusalem could return to its past glory with God’s help and Nehemiah’s encouragement. They were ready to build because someone pushed them. 

We must never forget that Nehemiah also sent a stern warning to those of us in leadership roles today. Neglect what God has given you at your own peril. It may mean you have to sacrifice a great deal, but remember you won’t be the first or the last to realize serving God is worth whatever effort is needed. Nehemiah left behind the ease of a palace and took up the toil of encouraging a beaten people and finishing an impossible task.11 What will you leave behind today? What impossible task will you inspire people to accomplish? God is waiting for leaders like Nehemiah, willing to plan according to His Will and accomplish the impossible. 

Ahead of us lies a great challenge, God’s people need builders, motivators, teachers, and leaders, so get to work. Do us all a favor though, before you roll up your sleeves and pick up the hammer, put your head to work and plan out a course of action that brings glory to God and strength to the Church. Nehemiah made a plan before he ever laid a brick, that my friends, is what true leadership is all about. 


¹ James Montgomery Boice, Nehemiah, An Expositional Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 26.

² Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Determined, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1992), 26.

³ Wiersbe, Be Determined, 26.

4 J. I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1995), 66.

5 H.G.M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary, (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985), 188.

6 Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, 191.

7 Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, 193.

8 Mark A. Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989), 72.

9 Walter F. Adeney, Expositor’s Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, (LaVergne, TN: 2016), 81.

10 Warren W. Wiersbe, Joshua-Esther, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003), 641.

11 Wiersbe, Be Determined, 28.

Scripture taken from New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Originally published on October 17, 2016, by Neal Mathis and Matthew Higginbotham.