The Story of Nehemiah
Lessons from the life of a stalwart man of God
Part 2. Building the Wall
When Nehemiah reached God's ancient and holy city, he immediately commenced to prepare for the practical restoration of the worship of God. In the state in which he found it, the city with its walls in ruins was the laughing stock of the neighbouring peoples. So he set out by night to examine the walls and discover personally how great the task was that lay before him. Afterwards he spoke frankly to his fellow Jews and invited their co‑operation. The walls of Jerusalem could never have been built in fifty‑two days without comradeship and determination. It needed undaunted courage and willingness to serve the Lord shoulder to shoulder.
The men whom he approached to help him were equally sensible in their reply to Nehemiah. They might have been jealous of this outsider who had so recently arrived from an alien country. He had come under the protection and with the authority of the monarch who oppressed Israel. They could have felt insulted by his suggestion to restore the city walls, which was a work which they should have already done. They might have doubted the integrity of Nehemiah's intentions and believed his motives to be false. Instead they recognised that the good hand of God was upon this new governor of Jerusalem and they rose up willingly to support him. They realised that their national destiny was at stake, and if the glories of Israel's former days were to be restored, here at last was the opportunity for which they had been looking. They accepted Nehemiah on trust, submitted to his plan for rebuilding the walls and followed him as their leader.
These memoirs of a great statesman give to us some very useful lessons for the Christian life. We too must face the fact that spiritual Zion is not all that it should be. During the past one hundred years or more, materialism, social revolution, the increase of natural pleasure and material advantages for everyone, have tended to make life easier for the Christian Church. We become apathetic in days of comparative peace and security. We must make a genuine examination of that part of the wall of the New Jerusalem that has been entrusted to our care to see if there is not a great deal of repair work needed to strengthen the bulwarks of our faith. Have we over the past years been doing all we can in the Lord's service? Are we content with the progress we have made? Much of the walls of the Holy City are like they were when Nehemiah first arrived from Shushan...in utter ruins.
The sense of oneness exhibited by the Jews in our story sets Christians a lesson worthy of imitation. It is essential to our service for the Lord that we should willingly co‑operate with our fellows in the Christian way. Firstly there are those in our own fellowship. Our natural differences and fleshly impediments are likely to hinder our unity in serving the Lord. The Devil is quick to notice this and to magnify it out of all proportion.
There is opportunity for all true servants of God in this work, just as there was in Nehemiah's day, the elder, the scribe, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the ruler and the artisan. They all found a place along the walls, doing their share of the work, faithfully endeavouring to do that which had been put into their hands by the Lord. This does not mean that the baker, the perfumer, the ruler of the city all suddenly became professional bricklayers. Nor did they all build the same piece of wall, in fact many of them built that portion which was just outside their own house.
So it is with Christians today. All, whatever their religious affiliation, in whatever church or group God has pleased to call them, if accepting Jesus as their Saviour may share the great work of building Zion. It is up to us all to extend the willing and loving hand of fellowship and comradeship, for all are one in Christ Jesus. This will not cause every child of God to flock into the same church or other place of worship. But there is a common union in Christ which will give us the desire to work together rather than work against other Christian people. May we say with God's people of old... "Let us rise up and build".
But Nehemiah's difficulties and troubles were not over when once the great work had begun. In fact that is just where the problems seem to have commenced. Had he not been possessed of a very wonderful faith and been a man who constantly resorted to prayer, there can be no doubt that this remarkable task would never have been completed. Human strength and ingenuity alone would have been quite inadequate to withstand the opposition of the Adversary of God.
At first their enemies laughed contemptuously and ridiculed the effort which the Jews made to rebuild their city. They received the firm rebuke from the faithful Nehemiah in these words... "The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem". (Nehemiah 2.20.) So the wall was built in spite of the sneers of Sanballat and Tobiah, and in answer to further gibes and sarcasm Nehemiah besought the Lord in prayer and the builders worked so much the harder. The Samaritans and Ammonites were very angry and dismayed by this effect of their unkind remarks and determined to spoil the work by other means.
The first move by the enemies of Israel to frustrate the great work which Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was a subtle infiltration of armed men into the ranks of the Jews. Nehemiah prayed and then encouraged the people to remember the Lord and not to be afraid. They set a watch against spies and enemy soldiers. Plans were made to help each other if an attack was made against one particular section of the new wall.
In the midst of all the troubles from without came internal disorder which also threatened to stop the work of the Lord.
The nobility of Jerusalem had so badly treated their fellow Jews that many of the people lived in poverty and slavery. The equity of Israel's laws, given through Moses, should have prevented just those conditions developing. There was no excuse for the Jewish aristocrats and Nehemiah acted promptly. He told the nobles plainly that they lacked in righteousness before the Lord and that their treatment of fellow Jews was a reproach to their nation. The governor's rebuke was accepted and acted upon, perhaps the more so because of Nehemiah's own upright life. The leaders repented of their oppression and readily promised to deal more justly in future.
Meanwhile, the allied opposition, headed by Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, were consulting together how they might best overthrow Jerusalem. They tried enticing the governor from his stewardship in order to do him "some mischief". They tried to frighten him with false accusations of treason. They threatened his life. But each effort was frustrated in the same manner, for Nehemiah besought the Lord in prayer for strength and guidance. The source of his power and ability lay in his contact with heaven and found comfort and peace in his friendship with God.
What an inspiration to us! Does the Devil meet with such formidable opposition today? Is there such unshakeable trust in the Lord and such unrebukeable zeal in his service? Wherefore all the hindrances to the work in spiritual Zion? When the world laughs and jeers at our efforts to serve our King are we able to stand firm, confident that our labours of love are not in vain? Our unbelieving neighbours are quick to cast doubts upon our faith and to tell us that our hopes will come to nothing, just as the Samaritans did to the Jews. We may be able to refute the scoffers' arguments or to withstand persecution, but to be laughed at is sometimes more difficult to endure and we are likely to become very discouraged. May Nehemiah's example of unflinching courage and constancy in prayer urge us to seek God's help more readily that we may not fear what men may try to do to frustrate the work of God.
As in every age, the Devil will appear in a number of guises. Sometimes his agents are openly the enemies of God and brazenly seek to render ineffective the work of his people. Frequently however the approach is more subtle and the sabotage is done in secret ways. There are many exhortations in the New Testament to watch. Often these are accepted as a reference to our observation of the political drama in the world around us. They would serve their purpose more effectively if the application was made by an internal examination of the heart by each believer upon himself. It was our Master who said "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt.26.41), and years later, writing to the Colossians, Paul admonished "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving." (Col.4.2) Peter exhorted the brethren to "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." (1 Peter 5.8). Each of these texts might have been the words of our Old Testament hero urging his faithful band of workers to greater building efforts. But they are in fact the words of Jesus and of two of the foundation members of the New Jerusalem. God's purposes move on from one era to the next but the great fight between good and evil remains the same in form and principle. By devious means Satan has blinded the eyes of God's people to the great "building project" which our Heavenly Father has in hand. To some he has said that this is a work which embraces all the world and hence their labours have sometimes been dissipated in places where they were not required. To others he has insinuated that the work is completed and so they have ceased from their tasks before they were done. Upon others he has poured his scorn and contempt until they have given up in despair. Let us each one examine our own lives, not daring to pluck the splinter from our brother's eye lest we are blinded by the log in our own. (Luke 6.42)
Just as the work upon the rebuilding of Jerusalem suffered because of internal disquiet, so the Christian Church has been hindered by discord and strife throughout its long and chequered history. Human ambitions and selfishness have frustrated the efforts of those who have toiled for spiritual Zion. Immediately prior to the Lord's death his closest followers were quarrelling about who should be greatest among them. Today, in many quarters the same lesson has still not been properly learned.
Our message for the world is peace and good will whatever aspect of truth we emphasise. Whether we preach repentance and consecration in this life, or Christ's kingdom for all men in the age to come, the underlying spirit is the same—that of reconciliation to God. But the power of our message is lost if there is not genuine brotherly affection among ourselves. Instead, as Nehemiah said of his fellows, we are a reproach to the people of God.
In spite of the troubles from without and troubles within, the New Jerusalem will be finished and it will be God's hand through his servants which will accomplish it. Let us see to it that we work for him and not against him. But the work does not stop there, merely to be an object of beautiful craftsmanship. Cities are not an end in themselves but are built for a purpose.