I. Nehemiah 2:9-3:32 The Work Begins
II. V9-10 Nehemiah actually goes
A. V9, “Then I went” It is one thing to have concerns for others, pray about, talk about doing something, even get a plan ready to go… then its another thing to actually get up and go. Many people will do all the first things, then stop short of actually going.
1. It is 800 miles from Persia to Jerusalem (4 months?). This is a long hard journey, but we are not told about it… only that he went.
2. Nehemiah’s foresight pays off, he uses the official letters he was sent with to gain access to the land. But the king went above and beyond what Nehemiah asked and gave him an armed escort. Nehemiah is much more of a practical man then Ezra had been (Ezra had refused an armed escort showing faith in God).
a) There are two views in how God provides, Ezra shows us one perspective and Nehemiah shows us the other perspective. Ezra decided God Himself would protect him, Nehemiah felt the same I am sure but probably saw the armed guard as God’s protection. One is more of a purely spiritual perspective, the other is a very practically spiritual perspective. I tend to relate to God as Nehemiah did.
b) The book of Nehemiah is all about being spiritual in very practical ways. Yes we should trust God for all things, but Nehemiah shows us that we still have human responsibility. Just because you accept an armed guard does not mean you don’t trust God, it just might mean you trusted God and he provided an armed guard.
c) Since Nehemiah was an official in the Persian Government he may not have had a choice but to accept the armed guard. He could not risk offending the king by rejecting a guard after the king had done so much to help Nehemiah. It seems like the King went above and beyond Nehemiah’s request for resources and even makes him the governor of Jerusalem, which may have also been why he had a guard.
B. V10, Opposition Surfaces Immediately
1. Notice that the opposition to the work of God came once Nehemiah actually set out to go and do something. This is often how Satan works. He will let you talk and pray about something, but you try to step out and do something for God… that’s when he is going to oppose you.
a) If there is an absence of opposition in your life you may want to ask yourself if you are really even a threat to the enemy. If all things are smooth in your life and it seems like everything goes the way you want it to, that’s not always a good sign.
b) Equally, if you are experience opposition and it correlates to you stepping out to follow God then be encouraged, its conformation that you are doing the right thing.
2. We meet the first two antagonists here in this verse, and they will be with us through the rest of the book. Sanballat and Tobiah.
a) “Sanballat is a Babylonian name meaning “Sin (the moon god) has given life” and probably suggests that his ancestors were among those foreign people who settled “in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites” who had been taken to Assyria in the eighth century. These deportees brought their own gods and intermarried with northern Israelites, with the effect that, in time, “while these people were worshipping the LORD, they were serving their idols”. It was the spiritual apostasy which troubled Nehemiah, as it had Ezra. We will meet the issue of pluralism later in the book. At this stage it is enough to note that it accounted for Nehemiah’s resistance to any idea that these Samaritan people might share in the rebuilding project.” The Message of Nehemiah, Raymond Brown
(1) Sanballat could have been part Jew and part foreigner, forming what later became the Samarian people we meet in Jesus’ day. He was the governor of Samaria, and it is possible that before Jeremiah his political power included sway over Jerusalem.
b) Tobiah means “Yahweh is good”. He too probably had mixed blood, being that he was the Ammonite official (a foreign people) yet had a Hebrew name. “The prospect of a strong Jewish community in newly fortified Jerusalem would have seemed threatening to the Ammonite power.” –NKJV Study Bible Notes
3. What disturbs me is that these two government officials, who should have been overjoyed that someone came to help the people, were disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.
a) What disturbs you? Because it is a good indicator of what the inside of your heart looks like. These men were wicked, and you can see it by how they were disturbed by a man who came to help others.
III. V11-16 Rest and Exploration
A. V11, “was there three days”. For three days Nehemiah did nothing, after all that time of waiting and praying, of being burdened to help the people. I think he waited for two reasons.
1. He rested. It was just simply a long ways from Susa to Jerusalem, and he needed to rest before he did anything. For those of us who serve the Lord we can feel like resting is very unspiritual, but it is necessary that we get enough rest so that way we can be effective servants for the Lord. No one is any good at anything when you are tired. Make sure you get enough rest.
2. He wasn’t going to let his emotions control him. It would have been easy to unload all that was on his heart to do the moment he got there, but then he could have released sensitive information in a land full of traitors and backstabbers. He had to be careful and move slowly and calculatedly. This shows us that Nehemiah was a man who had great self-control, since your mouth is the hardest thing to control.
a) Proverbs 25:28 “Whoever [has] no rule over his own spirit [Is like] a city broken down, without walls.” Nehemiah had to have spiritual walls in his own heart before he could help repair the walls of Jerusalem. We should look into our hearts and ask God if there is areas that the walls are broken down that He may need to repair before we can try to help others.
b) Proverbs 16:32 “[He who is] slow to anger [is] better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” The greatest strength is to rule over your own emotions.
B. V12-16, Nehemiah spies out the city, he needed to see for himself the damage.
1. V12, “Arose at night… I told no one” Nehemiah somehow seems to understand the danger that he is already in. He wanted to get an honest view of the city without anyone knowing why he was doing so, to do this he had to do it in secret.
2. V13-15, When you want to fix something you need to get the facts for yourself, even if they are hard to look at. Nehemiah had been told the walls were broken down and the gates were burned with fire by Hanani but Nehemiah wanted to see for himself. As a leader before you try to fix something and before you tell people the Lord has laid it on your heart to fix it, make sure you have your facts straight. Go and see for yourself.
3. V16, As a leader you need to know when to speak and when not to. It is not wise to tell others your plans right away. They still didn’t know why this man from Persia had arrived, other than to seek the well-being of Israel. He wanted to see the situation so that when he went to the people he could have actual working knowledge of what needed to be done, which gates were the worst and would need the most men, etc. He had to do this in secret because there were enemies, even in his midst, that could derail the whole project. The more time he had to plan without people knowing what he was planning for the less time his enemies would have for planning counterattacks.
IV. V17-18 Let Us Build
A. V17, “You see the distress that we are in” This was not merely good usage of words, it truly was Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem who were in distress. Nehemiah had left all the security of Susa, and moved to Jerusalem. He was now in just as much danger and distress as the people whom he cared so much for. A good leader doesn’t lead from behind in safety, he leads from the front and puts himself in the same danger as the rest of the unit.
1. “That we may no longer be a reproach” This would not only affect those who lived in Jerusalem, it would affect every Jew world wide. It would remove much of the shame of the people of Israel once their home city, their capitol was strong again. Jews could once again take pride in their heritage. This was bigger than just them, it was going to help the entire nation.
B. V18, Nehemiah shares his calling with them. That the hand of the Lord had been with him, and that the hand of the Lord had given him favor in the sight of the king of Persia. He encouraged the people that they had the support and permission of the King of Persia (which was important since he had ordered the work to cease previously), but more than that they had the support of the King of Heaven.
1. “Let us rise up and build” The people responded, with more than just emotions, since they actually set their hands to the work. When people see that the hand of the Lord is with you, those who want to work for the Lord will work with you. This is why it is so important for people to know the calling and vision of their leaders, they need to know that the Lord is with them and then they can unite behind that.
V. V19-20, How Nehemiah reacts to scorn
A. V19, There were two enemies at first, now there are three. The more we follow God and the more work we actually set our hands to, often times the more enemies will come against us. They use two weapons, and these are often the first two weapons Satan often uses against us.
1. They start with mockery and scorn, laughing at the Jews. They made fun of them for trying to do what no one could do in over a hundred years. This is often the first thing we face as Christians when we decide to follow Jesus, people will make fun of us and laugh at us. When we want to do something for God the first thing people say is “you can’t do that” then laugh, sometimes even other Christians even do this. It can be very discouraging.
2. The second thing they did was start throwing accusations and lies. This was the very same lie and accusation that they had used before, claiming that rebuilding the walls was an act of rebellion against the King of Persia. The last time they used this lie it worked.
3. This time Sanballat and Tobiah show up with the muscle. Geshem was a leader of a confederation of Arabian tribes, and he maintained a troop of Arabian fighters. His presence was meant to intimidate, they were saying without saying we have more than just words to back up our desire for you guys to stop building the wall.
B. V20, “So I answered them” Nehemiah could have answered them by showing them the papers the King had sent, he could have told them he was formerly the personal cupbearer for the king knew the king had great trust in him, that these accusations would never work. He could have pointed to his armed Persian escort or the supply of foreign wood as evidence of the King’s favor but he didn’t.
1. Proverbs 9:7-8 “(7)He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, And he who rebukes a wicked [man only] harms himself. (8) Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise [man], and he will love you.” You can’t try to correct a scoffer, they will only hate you more for it which will just bring you more shame in the end. You can’t have a rational conversation with a fool. Nehemiah doesn’t try to prove these guys right, since they are wrong. He just points to the Lord and says we are still going to build, and you have nothing to do with that. Then leaves it at that.
2. Nehemiah’s trust is in the Lord, not in all his government support. He knew the Lord was behind all the support and it would be the Lord that would finish the work that He started. We can learn from Nehemiah that when people mock us for stepping out to work for the Lord, don’t try to convince them that your right. Just point to the Lord to finish the work and then don’t let those mockers have anything to do with the work you are doing.
a) Nehemiah was bold, he told them the truth. The land was not theirs to begin with. Jerusalem was not their city, and they could no longer oppress it. Nehemiah was the leader that Jerusalem had needed, finally someone was willing to stand up against its oppressors.
C. May we be bold enough to trust the Lord in the midst of scorn. May we be bold enough to do the work and to stand up against those who would oppress it. This is the type of Spiritual Leaders that Christianity needs.
VI. Chapter 3:1-32, The Historical Record of the work.
A. Read through chapter three. Here we have the historical record of the work. We must remember that the Bible is also a history book and at times it reads like one. Here is a list of all who did the work, their names and their families and what they did. The list of repairs makes a complete circle around the city of the wall, starting at the Sheep Gate and ending at the Sheep Gate. For them this was a big sacrifice, since it meant they couldn’t work their livelihoods until the wall was finished. God did not forget their sacrifice and included their names in His eternal Word. Likewise, those who sacrifice to serve the Lord are not forgotten in heaven, their names are written in the book of life and the Lord will reward his faithful servants on the other side of eternity for the loyal service rendered here on earth.
1. “The work is described in reference to the gates of the wall. The gates were the critical entry and exit points to the city, and the places most likely to see an enemy attack. Therefore the work started at each gate and worked out from there.” –David Guzik
a) Nehemiah organized the building of the wall. Everyone had a part and a job to do and were able to work together simultaneously. Never misunderstand God, He is a God of order and His works are to be well ordered as well. Christians should be known for their practical wisdom, instead we are often known as fools who leave things to chance and hope (what they mistakenly call faith). There is a place for chance and hope and flexibility, but it comes after faithful and diligent planning.
2. 3:1, I like that even the priests were willing to get their hands dirty and join in on the hard work. It is a good example on their part. Even Eliashib the high priest was willing to work, and didn’t consider it an insult to his office to get his hands dirty. I think we have the most respect for spiritual leaders who will also do hard physical labor when the time calls for it. The sheep gate was the gate that the sheep would have been led through to go to the temple to be sacrificed, they were not going to leave what was their responsibility to others. They consecrate it, dedicating it to the Lord. No walls or gates would protect Jerusalem (they hadn’t before) unless God was going to be in the protecting of the walls and gates, so they ask the Lords blessing on the city. They specifically dedicated and sanctified this gate, which was separate from the dedication of the entire wall.
a) Maybe this is because they, being priests, wanted everything they worked on to be dedicated to the Lord (the right attitude to have). Or simply it was the dedicating of the first fruits to the Lord. Or maybe it was representative of the entire work, asking the Lord ahead of time to bless the rest of the work. Or, they sanctified it so that it would be holy, set apart, for the use of bringing in the sacrificial lambs.
b) Sadly Eliashib ends up being corrupt. Although he here set a good example, he later uses the storeroom in the temple to house Tobiah. Even good leaders can fall. Sometimes though, even if they appear to be a good leader and are a good example in many ways… they can still end up being corrupt.
3. 3:2, “Next to: The idea here is that the people worked together- not just in the same place, but in cooperation.” NKJV Nelson’s Study Bible Notes
a) “That the undertakers were very many, who each took his share, some more and some less, in this work, according as their ability was. Note, What is to be done for the public good every one should assist in, and further, to the utmost of his place and power. United force will conquer that which no individual dares venture on. Many hands will make light work” –Matthew Henry
4. 3:2 “The men of Jericho built” I find it amazing that people from Jericho are helping to build the walls of Jerusalem. Everyone joined in on the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, even if your family wasn’t from Jerusalem originally.
a) “The villages where the restorers resided being mostly mentioned, it will be seen that this circumstance affords a general indication of the part of the wall upon which they labored, such places being on that side of the city nearest their place of abode; the only apparent exception being, perhaps, where they repaired more than their piece. Having completed their first undertaking (if they worked any more), there being no more work to be done on the side next their residence, or having arrived after the repairs on that part of the city nearest them under operation were completed, they would go wherever their services would be required” [BARCLAY, City of the Great King].
(1) People started with areas that were really their responsibility first, and then some of the builders who finished early helped build other parts of the walls. We should start working in areas that are our responsibilities first, then once all of our responsibilities are taken care of we can help others.
5. “The word for repairs is the Hebrew word chazaq, used 35 times in this chapter alone. It has the idea of strengthening, encouraging, of making something strong (Kidner). These are principles that have application to far more than material gates and walls.
a) The Bible says that we must be built up and repaired. In Ephesians 4:12, God says the purpose of the church is for the equipping of the saints, and idea behind equipping is to prepare, strengthen, and make something able to be used. We come together as Christians to strengthen one another, to make us strong and able to live for Jesus and serve Him outside the gatherings of the church.” –David Guzik. This is why we should go to church, to keep our spiritual walls strong.
b) “Perhaps your home, instead of being an instrument of blessing, has become an idol. You live for its amenities, its gifts, and its equipment. You live for its furniture, for its carpets; these things fill your mind. And the wall of prayer, the wall of protection, the wall of purity, the wall of passionate devotion to Jesus is broken. Is that true?
God looks down upon His family and He sees homes where the wall of prayer is in ruins, or the wall of protection gone and the home disintegrating; or the wall of purity broken; or the wall of passionate devotion to Himself neglected.
“I’m too small,” you say. “It doesn’t matter about me; I don’t count.” Oh yes, you do! The wall is continuous, and if there is a gap in it anywhere, the enemy will break through. If there are gaps in the ranks the whole testimony of the church is affected. You cannot expect the blessing of God upon your home if you criticize your neighbor and gossip concerning the preacher and pull to pieces the church and the people who worship in it. Oh the wall of integrity that needs to be rebuilt between church and home and family in so many places!” Alan Redpath