Nehemiah, the old testament prophet, was weeping. He was filled with grief over the news he had just received concerning his homeland. We read about what happened in Nehemiah 1:2-4, as Nehemiah tells us in his own words,
“Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 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.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
Broken walls, burned gates, breached borders, his beloved homeland defenseless and destroyed. No wonder Nehemiah wept for the people of his homeland and their current sad state of affairs. It broke his heart to think of the once beautiful Jerusalem now in ruins, his fellow countrymen, once prosperous people now destitute. I confess – I understand why Nehemiah was weeping. I, too, know that pain. I weep as well.
When Nehemiah received this sad news, he was living in the citadel of Susa, away from his beloved homeland. He had no way of knowing what was happening back at home, until Hanani along with some others, made the trip on foot to where Nehemiah was, so they could give him their report face to face. Keep in mind, there were no other options at the time. They couldn’t pick up the phone and call Nehemiah, they couldn’t send him an email or a text or face time with him or post something for him to see on Facebook about what was happening in his homeland. There wasn’t even the possibility of a telegram or of pony express. Nehemiah couldn’t read about it in a newspaper nor could he turn on a TV or a radio and learn the news. Hanani could have written a letter, I guess, which would then have to be delivered by a messenger who would travel just as Hanani and his men did in order to deliver it, but then Hanani would have to trust the messenger. What if the messenger doesn’t discharge his duties honestly and Nehemiah never knows the true plight of Jerusalem?
It is hard for me to imagine not being able to know what is going on in other places around the world. Of course, it is not first hand knowledge, it is filtered and reported through the lens of someone that was there. Or maybe they weren’t actually there, but someone told them about it. Nevertheless, in Nehemiah’s day what you knew was primarily what you experienced personally and secondarily what someone might relate to you, having traveled from somewhere else.
So when Nehemiah received this news about Jerusalem, he was deeply affected. His response was tears. It was also to grieve, to fast and to pray. We don’t know how long this went on, he only says “for some days.” Nehemiah’s prayer to God reminds me of God’s command to us in 2 Chronicles 7:14,
“if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Nehemiah cried out to God,
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer Your servant is praying before You day and night for Your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against You. . . . We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws You gave Your servant Moses. . . . They are Your servants and Your people, whom You redeemed by Your great strength and Your mighty hand. O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of this Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who delight in revering Your name.” (Nehemiah 1:5-11)
Confession. Repentance. Turning back to the God who called them to come out and be separate from other nations. Turning back to the God who made them a people, who made them a nation. God had prospered Israel, but they ceased following His ways of righteous living and instead they pursued their own sinful ways of living. They abandoned God’s law for laws of their own making, which resulted in lawlessness. They profaned that which was holy and exalted that which was baseless and degrading. Because of this, God allowed neighboring nations to invade and conquer Israel, and many were carried off into exile in Babylon at that time.
Perhaps they didn’t see it coming, this destruction of their country and their way of life. But they should have. God’s word was always pretty clear. God said in Deuteronomy 5:6-9,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods besides Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;”
But they did. The Israelites turned away from the Living God, who had brought them into the land He had promised to Abraham years ago, and made them into a nation. They had become a great nation, a secure nation, a prosperous nation. But their behavior toward God changed. Romans 1:21-25 describes what happened to the people of Israel,
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – ”
That’s why Nehemiah spent time in confession and repentance before God. He knew that must come first before anything he might do to help in the restoration of his beloved Jerusalem. Next, Nehemiah secured the king’s (his boss) permission to journey to Judah and help to restore Jerusalem. The king not only granted Nehemiah’s request for time off from his job, but sent supplies, army officers, cavalry, and letters of protection and a request for timber from the king’s forest, to be used to make beams for the gates and for the city wall and to make a place for Nehemiah to live. (he was going to be in Jerusalem awhile, rebuilding after such destruction takes time)
Nehemiah set about the work God had given him to do and enlisted others to join him in this endeavor. He said to the people, ” ‘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.’ . . . They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18)
So Nehemiah began the work of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. However, he faced opposition from enemies who opposed his desire to see his homeland restored. These enemies used the predictable and the proven methods employed by all successful bullies, those being threats, intimidation, blackmail and fear. Oh, and of course the ever popular bully tactic of ridicule. We read in Nehemiah 2:19,
“But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. ‘What is this you are doing?’ they asked. ‘Are you rebelling against the king?’ I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.’ ”
Still the bullies persisted,
“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? . . . Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?’ ” (Nehemiah 4:1-2)
But Nehemiah and those that labored with him, persevered in their work of rebuilding the wall.
“So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
Still, the threats of Nehemiah’s enemies continued, causing the people to become discouraged and filled with fear, saying there was too much rubble for them to ever rebuild the wall and their enemies would surely kill them before they could finish the work. But Nehemiah tells us what happens next in this story,
“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’ When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.” (Nehemiah 4:14-15)
So Nehemiah’s work on the wall continued. His enemies’ threats of violence against them did not succeed in getting him to stop the work of rebuilding, fear and intimidation failed. But the bullies had one more weapon to try – blackmail or extortion. Sanballat sent his messenger to Nehemiah with an unsealed letter that was to be sent to King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah’s boss) claiming that Nehemiah was planning a revolt and was going to make himself king. Nehemiah’s response to Sanballat the bully?
“I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening, you are just making it up out of your head.’ They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’ ” (Nehemiah 6:8-9)
Nehemiah was praying his way through each and every assault of his enemies. And there came yet another one. This time they tried to entice Nehemiah to a secret meeting. Nehemiah’s response?
“I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.” (Nehemiah 6:12-13)
Then we read,
“So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:15-16) (when things are done in God’s power and timing, He gets the glory!)
Nehemiah wept, he prayed, he obeyed and he worked. He worked as unto the Lord and consequently, he was not deterred nor intimidated by the bullies who were his enemies. He met each challenge with prayer and then returned to the task God had given him to do, which at this time was rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. He and the Israelites were again experiencing the truth of Psalm 33:12,
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.”
The Israelites had also experienced in the preceding years, what life is like apart from God, when they turned their backs on Him and lived by their own rules instead of following God’s life-giving laws. As it says in Romans 1:25, “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie,”.
history certainly does seem to repeat itself, no matter how much we claim we learn from it –
sometimes (unlike Cinderella) if the shoe fits it can be fatal
sincerely, Grace Day