Then: 446-434 BC Nehemiah had some specific messages to the remnant of the Jewish captivity in Jerusalem, but only one driving force – the guidance and power of God. He encouraged them to do the following: rebuild the walls of Jerusalem for God’s glory and their protection (Neh. 1-6); prove their genealogy (7); return to the Lord God and His Law by repenting, confessing and making a covenant to obey Him (8-10); come into and enjoy their inheritance (11-12); separate from wrong relationships and influences (13). The results of these directives were magnificent, as recorded in his book. Of course, everything was accomplished because Nehemiah was a dedicated servant (1:6) with a complete dependence on his Lord (1:11; 2:18; 7:5). The historical and spiritual significance of his achievements are important lessons. Now: 2011 AD What do Nehemiah, the man, and his message exemplify to us today? The apostle Paul reminds us that the Old Testament was written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). While Nehemiah’s words may not have been directed to us specifically as he recorded his biographical account (1:1), his character and actions continue to shine down through history. In fact, it would appear that this man and his messages cannot be separated because he was the embodiment and example of them.
Message 1: COMMUNION
“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant.” Nehemiah 1:11
Nehemiah was a man of prayer (1:4-11; 2:4; 4:4) and activity (2:9). His actions were directed through his communion with the Lord, his God (2:4,20; 4:4,9; 7:5). In this, he is a part of the cloud of witnesses that all Christians should emulate (Heb. 12:1). The importance of a close and constant communion with our Savior and Lord cannot be overemphasized. Praying to ascertain His will, aided by the consistent reading of His Word, allows God to provide purpose and direction for our lives.
Message 2: CONFESSION
“I confess the sins we … have committed against You.” Nehemiah 1:6
Nehemiah confessed the sins of the Jews as his own. He claimed to be part of the problem that caused the Babylonian captivity and present sad condition (1:6-10). He also identified himself with the faithful ones who desired to fear God’s name (1:11). What a sobering lesson! All Christians, as part of the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5), should recognize that they are responsible for the failure of the Christian testimony today. The poor state of the Church as a whole is because of our individual and collective failure.
We have become attracted, or otherwise distracted, by things that divert our attention away from the Lord Jesus. This is often caused by not really knowing, loving or obeying the Lord and His Word. Christians should personally recognize, identify with and confess the Church’s past and present failure, and our part in it. Only then will we become like Nehemiah, a part of a dedicated minority who seek to follow the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tim. 2:22).
Message 3: ASSESSING THE SITUATION
“By night I went out … examining the walls of Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:13
The king observed the mood of his servant, and asked why he was so sad. In those days it was generally understood that the expression of any ill mood in the presence of the king could be the grounds for a death sentence. But Nehemiah considered this present problem as being a potential opportunity. Realizing his danger (2:2) but trusting his God, he gave an honest testimony of the facts to his king (2:3).
King Artaxerxes favored the man and his report (2:6), and asked him how long it would take to complete the rebuilding project. Nehemiah had already assessed the situation and was able to provide specific answers for the king. He could also ask for protection on the journey to Judah, and lumber for the building projects (2:6-8) because he had ascertained these needs prior to the king’s question. The king said yes to all his requests. Arriving at Jerusalem, Nehemiah used the quiet hours of the night to spy out the situation by examining the ruins of the city walls (2:12-15). How could he approach the people with such a formidable building project from the mess of rubble he had observed? Because he had judged that the hand of his God was upon him (2:8,18).
Here’s another wonderful message exemplified by this man. Like Nehemiah, we need an attitude of total dependence on God while assessing a difficult situation or seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Then we may expect and experience the direction and care of the Lord.
Message 4: BUILDING UP
“You see the trouble we are in … Come let us rebuild the walls.” Nehemiah 2:17
The work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem might provide at least two more lessons. The message was to build. And Nehemiah was the builder. We do not know if he actually moved stones himself, but he certainly identified with the workers and encouraged them: “I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding’” (2:20). Although the people had been in great affliction and reproach for so long (1:3), his direction and example encouraged them to complete the work in only 52 days (6:15).
It may be remembered too, that the building material had once been the great walls and gates built by Solomon (1 Ki. 3:1). Nehemiah found it totally broken down (Neh. 2:13) and of such rubbish (4:10) that reconstruction would be extremely difficult. But it was from this broken-down material that the Jews rebuilt the wall, resulting in great joy (12:43) at its dedication.
First, no matter how great the ruins, things can be re-established by God. The overall Christian testimony is in shambles today, especially in the western world. We should recognize the destruction caused by the philosophies of the world (Col. 2:8) and the reproach of being a splintered Church. As in the time of this biblical account, the unsaved still want to destroy anything reminiscent of God and His witness. Therefore mature believers are needed to reconstruct the wall to protect us and separate us from the world. The same material must be used – the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ as taught by the Apostles. The wall can be re-built, with its doors and bars, as the Lord produces revival through dedicated servants. Generally, the wall speaks of protection and separation from the world, while the doors and bars allow souls to come in and evangelists to go out.
Second, are there any Christian “living stones” (1 Pet. 2:5), who have recognized the ruined condition of their own lives and testimony? God wishes to rebuild their walls and restore them, using mature Christians in the process (Jas. 5:19-20). This will cause great joy as they are rededicated to the service of our Lord Jesus Christ (Lk. 15:6).
Message 5: SELFLESS DIRECTION AND GIVING
“I devoted myself to the work on this wall.” Nehemiah 5:16
Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer (1:11). This position required organized service. He probably supervised a body of servants to ensure protection for the king while providing for his needs. This leadership, first carried out in the court of Artaxerxes, was continued in his position as governor in Jerusalem. While organizing his servants to work with the inhabitants of the city (5:16), he fed more than one hundred and fifty people at his own table (5:17). Again, the man and his message were one! In addressing the greedy and wealthy nobles and rulers of the city (5:7), he showed by his example how they should behave. This is a timeless lesson: practice what you preach, and be a good example in all things.
No doubt, there are more lessons to be learned from Nehemiah’s character and his actions. Read the book that bears his name, and then re-read it, hunting for other gems the Lord has buried there just for you. Dig them out and incorporate them into your life through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. This will help you follow the example of this man and his messages.
By Hank Blok
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org