The remnant of Israel had returned home after spending seventy years in exile and captivity. Jerusalem lay in ruins. About twelve years elapsed between the beginning of reformation under Ezra and the coming of Nehemiah to Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah, which is a natural sequel to the book Ezra, consists of two main parts. The first part deals with the reconstruction of the walls of the city for protection (chapters 1-6). The second part deals with the re-instructing of the people in the ways of the Lord (chapters 7-13).
The Reconstruction Of The Wall (Nehemiah 1-6).
Far away, serving on a foreign king's court, Nehemiah heard that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates were burned with fire. The Bible says that he wept and mourned for many days (Nehemiah 1:3-4). He prayed to God about his nation. We read Nehemiah's prayer in the first chapter of the book that bears his name (Nehemiah 1:5-11).
In this prayer, we see a recognition of the need to love and obey the Lord (1:5). This is accompanied by a confession of sin (1:6). This is followed by a request for aid in handling the immediate situation; the city is in ruins and unprotected (1:11).
King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah permission to return to the city of his fathers to rebuild it . (Nehemiah 2:2-4; 2:5-6). When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he found a destroyed city (2:11,17). The first thing he began to do was to encourage and organize the people (2:17-20).
The Bible says that the people set their hands to do the good work of rebuilding the wall (2:18). However, enemies of Nehemiah and his people despised the work. They now lived in the area and did not like to see these Israelites returning home. Nehemiah and the people were laughed to scorn and despised (2:19).
But Nehemiah had confidence that God would bless them, so they would continue the work. (2:20).
It was not easy. One of the enemies, Sanballat, mocked the Jews (4:1).But the work continued because the people had made up their minds (Nehemiah 4:6). Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites were very angry upon hearing that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored. They conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion (Nehemiah 4:7-8). Again, prayer was made to God (4:9).
The Jews with one hand worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon for protection against the raiding parties of the enemies (4:17). And there were also internal difficulties to deal with. As if the opposition from without was not enough, even some among their own were greedy and taking advantage of the situation. The rich were using the difficult times to enrich themselves at the expense of the common good (Nehemiah 5:1). Nehemiah rebuked the nobles and rulers for exacting usury from their brothers. (5:7,9). Finally, the wall was completed (6:15-19).
One thing we learn from these events is that God answers prayer. Nehemiah's prayer before the king was short, took just a moment, and addressed a present need. Many prayers are just like that one… not long elaborate affairs, no particular posture must be assumed. Nehemiah prayed both kinds of prayer, and so should we; longer, pouring out of our hearts as well the shorter “emergency” type prayers that are responses to opportunities and challenges of the moment (Philippians 4:6).
Also, we see how that God protects and keeps those who love Him and observe His commandments. Loving God and obeying God are inseparable. (1 John 2:3-5; 5:2,3; John 14:23,24).
We also note that even as Nehemiah pled unto God for mercy because of past sins, that all men have sinned. We all need God's mercy. We need to be as serious about it as Nehemiah was. (Romans 3:23)
We see that God rules over the nations. He is in ultimate control and His purposes will be carried out in His own way and time (example: Jesus' death Acts 4:24-28). The enemies of God's people could not thwart God's purpose, which included the re-establishment of the nation through whom one day the Savior of the world would come.
We also learn how God's children will persevere, even when laughed to scorn and despised. They do not give up or yield their confidence in the lord nor cease trying to obey Him (Nehemiah 4:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:27). We must have confidence in the Lord (2:20; 2 Timothy 1:12).
Regardless of the circumstances, we must have a mind to work (Ephesians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 12:9,10). We must not grow weary of doing good.
Trust in God, adherence to His Word, and brotherly love are necessary if we are going to settle
internal conflicts in the church. (Philippians 4:2; 2:3-5). United in purpose and trusting in God, the work of God will be done. Like in Nehemiah's day, our work and responsibilities are just too important to allow internal strife to sidetrack us from following the Lord.
The Re-instructing Of The People (ch. 7-13)
The people were registered (ch. 7). Then, gathered together, the people heard Ezra read to them from the Book of the Law. Having been in foreign captivity, it was the first time they had ever heard the Scriptures read (Nehemiah 8:1-3).
Ezra and others helped the people to understand the Law (8:7, 8). The people wept when they heard the words read to them (8:9). They read of the Feast of the Tabernacles and since it was time, they observed it for the first time in generations 8:14-18).
Then there was a consecration of the people (ch. 9-10). This involved a general confession of sins (ch. 9) as well as a sealing of the covenant (ch. 10). There was a promise to keep God's Law (10:29) which included refraining from intermarriage with unbelievers (10:30).
Finally, there was a dedication of the rebuilt and completed wall (12:27). They, against all odds, had been successful.
Today, as then, it is also important for us to revere the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). And, even as Ezra the priest, we, as members of the new priesthood in Christ, should assist people in understanding God's Word (Acts 8:30-34). We should be moved, sometimes to tears and sometimes to joy, when reading God's Word (Philippians 4:4; James 4:8-10). We must observe and do all the commandments of the Lord (Hebrews 5:9). And, we need to recognize that God requires His children be separate from worldliness and sin (2 Corinthians 617-7:1).
Disciples of Christ today are much like that remnant that lived in Jerusalem during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Our God is for us. Some people are against us, and some of them are powerful and influential. Our faith and endeavors are sometimes mocked. But if we “rise and put our hands to the good work” we can be sure that our God will bless us. This time it is a spiritual temple of living stones that is being built for our God. Hear His words, and rise up and build!
Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 21.6; June 2014