Rebuilding the Wall
As we study the Book of Nehemiah we learn the truth of that old saying, "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform." This was true in the matter of rebuilding the wall. Let us suggest seven steps that lead to the work.
1. Hanani's report. This we considered previously. It was because of the word of Hanani that Nehemiah was so deeply moved concerning the wall, and the state of his brethren in Jerusalem. Thus we see God's first step was the bringing back of some of the brethren whose report created an interest in the heart and mind of a great man.
2. Making Nehemiah's countenance sad. Nehemiah could not cover up the great burden that fell upon him. His prayer to the Lord is recorded in chapter 1, and it displays an earnest soul and a yearning heart. When, therefore, Nehemiah appeared before the king, his countenance bore his grief. This was the first time that he had ever been sad in the presence of the king. Therefore the king said unto him, "Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart."
Just as Hanani was used to touch the heart of Nehemiah, so Nehemiah was used to touch the heart of Artaxerxes, the king.
3. The king's interest. At first Nehemiah was afraid as he stood before the king. Nevertheless, he said, "Let the king live for ever why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?" Then the king said unto Nehemiah, "For what dost thou make request?"
"If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, * * that I may build it."
4. Granting letters to various groups. Here is an important step. The king not only gave Nehemiah permission to go, but he sent a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest to give him timber to make beams for the gates of the palace, and for the walls of the city. Then he sent letters to the governors that they should assist Nehemiah. Step by step we are to see how God led the way.
5. Giving an escort. Besides the letters, Nehemiah was escorted by captains of the army and horsemen. This, of course, added much to the safety of the journey, as well as to the prestige that would be granted God's man.
6. Viewing the city by night. When Nehemiah arrived he did not let the rulers know his objective immediately. He first went out by night and examined the walls which were broken down, and the gates which were burned with fire. Then he returned.
7. Communicating with the rulers. When Nehemiah had everything in hand he said unto the nobles and rulers, "Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach." Afterward Nehemiah told them how God had directed him, and how Artaxerxes, the king, had spoken unto him. Then they said, "Let us rise up and build."
When God stretches forth His hand, who can hold it back? It was God who heard the cry of His people. It was God who was coming to the rescue. All unknown to the people in Jerusalem, God had moved upon the heart of the king, and upon the heart of the king's servant.
I. BUILDING THE WALL (Nehemiah 3:1-2 , etc)
You cannot read all of this chapter, of course. However, you can go over it personally, and see how the building was done. Here are two headings which will give you the gist of the chapter.
1. Doing things systematically. Whatever else you see in this chapter, you will see that Nehemiah in arising to build carried out a system which is above reproach. Every man and his company wrought in a distinct place. Everything was perfectly organized. Nehemiah laid his plans, and each one was set to work at a certain place.
God is always systematic in everything He does. There is nothing hit or miss in all His universe. God blends the colors of His flowers in perfect symmetry, and He creates nature in a harmony of effect that is most marvelous to the eye. Do you remember when the Lord Jesus commanded the five thousand to sit down upon the grass that He put them in groups of fifty? Our Lord is the God of order, and not of confusion. Our own bodies are proof of this a systematic organism operating in many parts, under one head.
2. Doing things cooperatively. In the case of the building of the wall, everyone had his own work systematically assigned, yet everyone wrought in connection with the one next to him, and so on around the wall. Should not this be the spirit which we should observe in the house of God? It is not only a matter of working, but of working harmoniously.
Christ is the head of the Church. We, as believers, are members of His body, yet we are all "fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
II. ENEMIES TO THE WORK (Nehemiah 4:1-6 )
Where is he who ever started any definite work for God who did not have his enemies? Satan is our adversary, and he goeth about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
1. The enemy who sought to hinder and to mock. We read: "When Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews." He said the builders were feeble folk. He ridiculed their fortifying themselves, and of their rebuilding the walls with the stones taken from the rubbish. Tobiah the Ammonite was with Sanballat, and he said, "Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall." Thus they mocked.
Has not God told us that there will come enemies in the latter days who will mock? These enemies ridicule the message which we preach relative to the Lord's Return. They scoff at the inspiration of the Book from which we preach. They belittle the efficacy of the Blood of Christ which is our security and salvation. He, who labors with God, will find a mocking world about him.
2. Meeting mockery with prayer. When Nehemiah heard of their mockery, he prayed, "Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head." Prayer is always a reproach to sinners.
3. Toiling on. The fact that the enemies did not hinder the labor of the Jews we read in Nehemiah 4:6 . "So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work." How refreshing it is, and it is still true, that our enemies cannot hinder, effectively, the work of the Lord. Through prayer and faith we may press our way on to victory.
III. THE DARKNESS DEEPENS (Nehemiah 4:8-11 )
1. Sanballat and Tobiah soon found allies to contend with them against the Jews. The Arabians, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped. They were angry and conspired together to fight against Jerusalem. Perhaps, Satan was getting a lesson from the saints. The Jews stood a united band shoulder to shoulder, and heart to heart. They soon saw that the enemies likewise began to combine in their conspiracy. The devil will leave nothing unturned or unsaid to upset the work of God.
In the garden of Eden Satan was intent upon wrecking the peace and the harmony of man's first estate. He followed this plan in the history of Israel. He brought, later on, every possible antagonism against the Church. The Master said that in the world we would have tribulation. The world hated Him, and it will also hate us.
2. Prayer and worship. Nehemiah 4:9 says, "Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night." In Nehemiah 4:4 Nehemiah prayed; in Nehemiah 4:9 he prayed and watched. Was not this the message of Christ to Peter, James, and John? He told them to watch and pray lest they enter into temptation.
There was a dual strategy, for while the enemies were seeking to combine against the Jews, the devil sought to spoil the morale of God's people. Thus we read, "And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall." This was Judah's statement. On the other hand, the adversaries said, "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease."
IV. HOW TO MEET THE ENEMY (Nehemiah 4:13-15 )
Nehemiah did not become discouraged when Judah began to cry out, and the adversaries began to connive against them. He strengthened the brethren, then he met the difficulties.
1. First, he strengthened the weak places in the wall. Everyone of us should do the same. If we see the enemy coming upon us, we need to study those points in our character which are weak, for those are the places where Satan will assuredly attack us. No part of a wall is stronger than its weakest place.
2. He provided the Jews with swords, spears, and bows. We, too, must go forth panoplied for battle. We must carry upon our heads the helmet of salvation. We must wear the breastplate of righteousness. We must have our loins girded with truth. We must have our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, and with the shield of faith we must stand ready for the conflict.
3. He encouraged the people. Nehemiah "rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses."
It was to Joshua, that the Lord said, "Be strong and of a good courage." The victorious army is a confident army, a believing army, and an expectant army. What have we to fear? "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
4. He disconcerted the enemy. When the enemy heard that their strategy was known to Nehemiah and to the Jews, and that their plans had been brought to nought, they knew not which way to go. So it was that the Jews returned to their work.
V. A NOVEL WAY TO TOIL (Nehemiah 4:16-18 )
When Nehemiah discovered the treachery of his adversaries, from that time on he placed half of the people to build the wall, and the other half to bear the shields, spears, and bows. Some went forth to work; others were ready for war. In fact, those who toiled had swords at their right sides. They would not be caught napping.
Beloved, we wonder how many of us in this enlightened day would be willing to risk so much, and to toil under such difficulties. These Jews, for the glory of God and the good of their people, never gave up.
1. They were ready to rally at the trumpet sound. In Nehemiah 4:18 we read "For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me." Thus it was that Nehemiah said to the nobles, the rulers, and to the rest of the people, "We are separated upon the wall, one far from another." For he said, "In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us."
As they wrought, they listened, that in case the trumpet should sound they might drop their implements of toil and seize their swords. All of this made the enemies afraid to attack them. They wanted to come upon them unawares. They wanted to find the people unarmed, but when they saw them ready for battle, the fear of God fell upon them.
2. They were robed and ready day and night. This is described in Nehemiah 4:21-23 . They watched as they worked, then, when the stars appeared and night came on, everyone lodged within the city walls, and they slept in their garments, ready to leap forth at a moment's notice. None of them took off their clothes save when they put them off for washing. Let us be so prepared in our service for the Lord.
VI. DIFFICULTIES WITHIN (Nehemiah 5:1-3 ; Nehemiah 5:6-7 )
Some one has said that the enemies without the walls may be easily overcome, but when the enemies enter within the walls, then there is danger indeed.
1. Dealing unjustly with their brethren. Nehemiah was about to discover an inside condition which was most deplorable. As the days went on a great cry came from the people. The wives of the common people also cried out. Nehemiah was alarmed when it became known to him that the nobles and the rulers were exacting usury from their brethren. They were demanding liens upon their property, and the Jews were in a terrible plight. They were paying taxes to their enemies, the Gentiles, and they were paying taxes to their own rulers and nobles.
2. Dissensions and ravings. This inside condition caused a great cry. The people felt that they were being sold into bondage. They felt themselves unable to redeem their lands and their vineyards. They cried out against those who had authority over them.
3. Cleaning up on the inside. In Nehemiah 5:6-9 we find how Nehemiah immediately set out to correct the sins of the people who had placed their own brethren under bondage. God gave him the victory, and the rulers said, "We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest."
Is it not often true in our churches that when we seek to stand together against sin and Satan, that then the devil somehow or other will begin to stir up strife inside the ranks of the faithful? May God help us that we may be clean in our conduct one toward another.
VII. SINS REPROACHED (Nehemiah 5:9 )
Nehemiah said unto the Children of Israel, "It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?" Beloved, the eyes of the Lord are upon us, but so also are the eyes of the world.
1. The checkered history of the Jews. Perhaps no chapter in the Bible more clearly sets forth the inside corruption of the Jews than that of Ezekiel 36:1-38 . Had Israel remained true in her own light, God never would have allowed her to be conquered by her enemies. Israel, however, allowed sin to take a deep root within her own portals, so God cast her off.
We read in Ezekiel 36:17, "When the House of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings: their way was before Me as the uncleanness of a removed woman. Wherefore I poured My fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, * * and I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through the countries." What did Israel do? They profaned God's holy Name among the nations.
Let us now look at the Church for a moment.
God called the Church out of the nations. He called us to be a special people unto Himself, a chosen generation, and a holy nation. He wanted us to be a light shining forth in the night.
What do we see? The Church itself is corrupted. In many places it is difficult to distinguish between the Church and the world. Professing Christians live as the world lives. Thus, the Church, whose mission it was to exalt the Name of Christ, has profaned His Name among all the nations.
In the case of Nehemiah and the Jews of his day, they straightened out and cleaned up, and God was with them. This will be true of Israel once more, for God will take out their stony heart, and give them a heart of flesh, and they who have profaned His Name will glorify His Name. May God grant that the Church may shake off the dust from her garments and step forth once more as a people separated unto God walking in righteousness and true holiness.
A SWORD NOT TO BE JUDGED BY THE BELT
Israel's sword was for use, not for display. We remember Mr. Spurgeon's words: "' We do not judge a sword to be good merely because it hangs by a golden belt, or because it is set in a jeweled hilt.' Neither is a doctrine to be valued because a fine orator delivers it in gorgeous speech with glittering words. A lie is none the better for being bespangled with poetic phrases and high-sounding periods. Yet half our people forget this, and glittering oratory fascinates them. Alas, poor simpletons!
The same blunders are made about men, who should ever be esteemed according to their native worth, and not according to their position and office. What mistakes we should make if we considered all the hangers-on of great men to be themselves great, or all the followers of good men to be themselves necessarily good. Alas! the Lord Himself had His Judas, and to this day swords of brittle metal hang at the golden girdle of His Church. A man is not a saint because he occupies a saintly office, or repeats saintly words.
No; the test of a sword's goodness is to be found in battle. Will its edge turn in the fray, or will it cut through a coat of mail? Will our faith bear affliction? Will it stand us in good stead when we are hand to hand with the enemy? Will it avail us in the dying hour? If not, we may suspend it on the glittering belt of great knowledge, and hold it by the jeweled hilt of a high profession; but woe unto us!
Lord, give me the true Jerusalem blade of childlike faith in Thee, and may I never rest content with a mere imitation thereof."
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Nehemiah 2". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany