Chronologically speaking, this is the last historical book in the Old Testament, narrating the events that occurred more than four-hundred years prior to Jesus’s birth. Like Zerubbabel and Ezra before him, Nehemiah starts off with good intentions but later starts acting on his own accord. That can be said for pretty much all the characters in the Bible. Saul, David and Solomon all started with noble intentions but ended their reigns on a different note.
Just over a decade after Ezra’s so called reforms in Judah, all was not well in the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah inquired of his returning brother on the condition of the Holy city and its inhabitants, and did not get the answer he was hoping for.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. ”Nehemiah 1:3
Nehemiah learned from his brother about the state of the people but the state of the city of Jerusalem was what moved him. People attach more emotional value to the structural integrity of a church, rather than the spiritual health of its members.
Paul in his letters to different church leaders, never asked about the leaky church roof or the unkempt lawns of the house of God but always wanted to know about the spiritual health of the early church members. Jesus wanted to build his church on Peter, not a physical place of gathering but one comprising of the people who have seen the light, who represented the body of Christ.
Nehemiah got down on his knees and fervently fasted and prayed to God. He did not particularly look for guidance from God but wanted God to clear the roadblocks for the plan that he had formed in his head. He wanted God to grant him favor in his master’s eyes, so that Artaxerxes will allow him to go on this reconnaissance to Jerusalem.
How often does our prayer resemble Nehemiah’s petition? We have already formulated a plan in our heads and just seek for God’s approval rather than actually listening to God. To be fair, it seems Nehemiah procrastinated almost four months before he approached the King with his request.
Whether that time was spent seeking God’s answer or worrying about the King’s reaction, we cannot ascertain but in our lives we know that when it is God leading us in our way, we will not be afraid to take that path.
Nehemiah Travels To Jerusalem
Nehemiah finally mustered the courage to ask the King for his permission, to take a leave of absence from his royal duties and go back to his ancestral homeland, to survey the damage to the walls.
Then I prayed to the God of heavenNehemiah 2:4
He was terrified even before he spoke and prayed to God to calm his nerves and laid his petition before Artaxerxes.
And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.Nehemiah 2:8
So Nehemiah gathered all the documents that would ensure his acceptance among the governors of the Trans-Euphrates and would also provide him with the materials from the royal stockpile to fortify the city. The King also sent his armed forces, so that Nehemiah could safely reach his destination. That much trust the King placed on his cup-bearer and Nehemiah knew this was due to God’s gracious hand on him.
Nehemiah Inspects the Structural Integrity of Jerusalem
After staying three days in Jerusalem, Nehemiah started surveying the walls along with his closes confidants. He did not tell anyone the reason for his visit, as perhaps he did not want to cause a stir among the non-Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem. The Persian Governors would have been aware of his plans as he was being allocated timber from the King’s parks.
By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire.Nehemiah 2:13
The secret way in which Nehemiah conducted his reconnaissance and his initial fear of King Artaxerxes, does not exude confidence a man has when his paths are led by God. Still he chose to keep the matter a secret till he had finished his survey. After a complete inspection and assessing the damage and the repairs that would be required, Nehemiah disclosed his plans to the people of Jerusalem.
“You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace. ”Nehemiah 2:17
Nehemiah was more worried about the outside appearance of the hill city of David rather than the state of its people. Time and again we see different leaders before him also trying to change the ways of the people but to no avail. Perhaps, he thought if the city was fortified, that would restrict the entry of the foreigners who had supposedly corrupted its inhabitants.
Good walls don’t make good neighbors, rather good neighbors make good neighbors. Israel kept blaming everyone else but themselves for their problems. They blamed the gentiles living amongst them, the rebel tribes, their enemies and even God for their miseries, but were never aware of their own flaws.
Do we have the self-awareness and desire to ask God to help us with our flaws or do we like Nehemiah go through our lives solving problems that do not need solving?
After the group had started rebuilding the wall, like clockwork, they faced opposition, this time from the Governors of Persia. They tried mocking their efforts and even accused them of sedition against the King. Their response…
…you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.Nehemiah 2:20
Israel always had a special status as the chosen race but now that God had given them numerous prophesies regrading a new worldwide kingdom, they did not want to lose their special status. Their reluctance to even fathom the idea of new folks joining the fold, carried on even four centuries later during Jesus’s time.
The pharisees were not able to see the Messiah standing right in-front of them but rather charged Jesus on grounds of sedition for planning to destroy their precious temple, the same temple that Nehemiah was rebuilding.
Nehemiah’s attitude reminds me of the elder son in the parable of the prodigal sons that Jesus told His disciples. Even after staying close to the father all along, the elder son was not clear on what his father wanted from him.
Nehemiah got off to a rocky start and as he will learn the lesson the hard way, that his efforts of securing the city had no effect on the hearts of the people, as they had already fortified their hearts to keep God out.