Nehemiah Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem
There is a small book in the Bible called Nehemiah. It is only 13 Chapters long and recounts the story of a man named Nehemiah who spent 12 years rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. It is preceded by the book of Ezra and the two men were contemporaries who worked together to restore Jerusalem. In the original Jewish canon, the two books were one but were separated hundreds of years after they were written. Ezra focused on rebuilding the temple while Nehemiah focused primarily on rebuilding the wall which had once surrounded Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was being restored in preparation for the return of the Israelites to their land. Under the rule of the Persian King, Cyrus, the Jews who were scattered throughout the Babylonian empire were allowed to return to their homeland. Everything had been destroyed by the Babylonians who then fell to the Persians. Ezra enters into the picture first, then Nehemiah. Together, these men helped to build a new society. While we don’t speak of them much, their historical position in relationship to the Jewish nation is crucial.
Ezra and Nehemiah
The temple is rebuilt by 515 B.C. Ezra then returns to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. to restore God’s law as the foundation of the growing community. In 445 B.C., Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and remains there for 12 years. Rebuilding the wall only took 52 days but Nehemiah remained there to manage foreign affairs and oversee the revitalization of Jerusalem.
This is a memoir written by Nehemiah himself. Apparently, he had some degree of wealth as he served the current King of Persia, Artaxerxes, as his cupbearer. Artaxerxes saw that Nehemiah’s heart was broken by the condition of his homeland and his people and gave Nehemiah permission to go along with the documents he needed to pass through various regions under the approval of the King.
When he arrived, the situation was dire. He set about to restore the nation starting with the city. At that time, the leaders and rulers were heavily taxing their own people who lived there, creating great hardship for them. Rather than tax the people, Nehemiah used his own money to provide food for the people and himself. Neither he nor anyone in his family took a salary for 12 years. In addition, Nehemiah himself paid to feed over 150 diplomats and never demanded to be paid the food tax which was owed to him. He also stopped the Jewish Nobles and Officials from taking taxes in the form of food and money from their own people by being a definite reformer who set the example. Nehemiah was a compassionate, unselfish person whose true concern was for his people and showed that by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
Sanballat and Tobiah
Nehemiah had enemies whose leaders were Sanballat and Tobiah, regional governors also serving Persia. They became particularly angry about the rebuilding of Jerusalem and sought to stop Nehemiah and the people. They failed miserably but their threats and tactics are interesting. The attitude, words, and desire to destroy the good someone else is doing is a timeless issue. They tried 5 times to lure Nehemiah out to a private meeting with them in order to harm him. They also issued false reports about him trying to discredit him and brought in a false prophet to scare the people and Nehemiah. Nehemiah stood strong throughout and led his people into victory. Intimidation, lies and false prophecies could not stop him. He knew what God had instructed him to do and he would not be deterred.
Those same things are at work today – lies and threats. We too must remember to keep our eyes on the task God has set before us and not be lured away or discouraged.
Why Did Nehemiah Rebuild the Walls Around Jerusalem?
In Nehemiah’s time, walls were very important. In fact, Nehemiah referred to the lack of walls being a “reproach.” They were meant to provide protection from invading enemies for the people and the precious temple. They signified a line of ownership and power using a fortified boundary. The walls had 12 gates allowing people, animals, and goods to travel freely in and out of the city and all of them had to be rebuilt. That might not sound like a big deal until you consider that the wall itself was 2.5 miles long, 39′ tall, and 8′ thick! Some of the gates were almost as tall as the wall. In addition, the main wall was double doors. Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem was a monumental task and could have been overwhelming.
How did Nehemiah Get the People to Help Him in Rebuilding?
Three days after Nehemiah had arrived in Jerusalem, he and a few other men snuck out one night to inspect the wall and the gates. After he returned, he then spoke to the priests, nobles and officials, “Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” 18 I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me.” Nehemiah 2:17-18 NASB. Their response was, “Let us arise and build.” And so they did.
He just asked. But, his request came out of a broken heart and strong faith. It also came from a person who worked alongside. Nehemiah did not just give orders. He got in the dirt and worked, spent his own money and time, and stayed far longer than he had to. Leading by example, he was a servant leader. Because of that, the people followed Nehemiah in Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem.
Restoring Your Relationship With God
In only 52 days, the people of Jerusalem completely reconstructed the wall and the gates all the way around the city of Jerusalem. In spite of threats, taunts, and lies, they prevailed. When their enemies saw that the wall was finished, they became afraid and left them alone. The temple and the wall were complete. Ezra and Nehemiah continued their work by appealing to the people to also return to their God and serve Him as they knew they should. They gathered the people and declared a day of holiness as they dedicated themselves again as a nation.
After the physical restoration, there was a need for a spiritual one as well. Ezra and Nehemiah assembled everyone to the square in front of the Water Gate. Ezra began to read the law to all who were assembled there. He read for over 6 hours. There were times of worship and praise. Ezra read, the Levites explained and the people listened. At last, the people began to weep as they understood the Law. Then Ezra called out saying, “Go back to your homes, and prepare a feast. Bring out the best food and drink you have, and welcome all to your table, especially those who have nothing. This day is special. It is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve over your past mistakes. Let the Eternal’s own joy be your protection!” Nehemiah 8:10 The Voice
Being Thankful to God
The Word, worship, praise, understanding, rejoicing, and giving thanks were combined with a great feast. The natural rebuilding and renewal was followed by a spiritual rebuilding and renewal. For seven days, Ezra continued to read from the Book of the Law and the people ate, rejoiced and gave thanks. Whenever we experience any type of renewal, we are usually thankful and filled with joy. God is a God of joy and rejoicing.
There are times in our lives where an area may need to rebuild the walls of our own lives. Praying, reading the Word, listening to the Holy Spirit – we must continually keep those areas of our lives from falling down or being destroyed by business, apathy, or emotional distress. Sometimes we just get lazy! When that happens, we may weep when we hear something that pricks our heart.
When that happens, we can follow the example set here. Rather than crying over the past, get up, rebuild and rejoice. Feast on the Word. Remember that prayer is simply conversation with your best Friend. Stop to listen. God talks to us all the time – we just need to take a moment to listen.
Yesterday I went for a walk. I live in the country where it is quiet and peaceful and I walk on a road next to a large canal and I often take my camera because of all the wildlife. I was praying and a large hawk was soared above me for quite a while. The Holy Spirit whispered – stop and just be still. I stopped and as I did, the bird began to glide about a foot off the ground. I continued to watch as it landed and put on a beautiful display for me. The picture is just as it took flight again. It was so graceful and magnificent. Blue skies with puffy, white clouds, the quietness, and this graceful creature. If I hadn’t stopped, I would have missed it. We all do that. We are so busy that we miss little moments of beauty we could share with the One who created all things.
Sometimes it is the simplest things which bring the greatest renewal to our hearts and souls. Not the flashy things – just the burnt stones The ones we so easily walk past and ignore. This bird was not an eagle – it was Turkey Hawk. Not a beautiful bird by comparison but beautiful, graceful, powerful and made by God! That bird filled my heart with delight.