Nehemiah 2:11—20

Nehemiah is one of Longfellow’s “great men”:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints, that perhaps another—
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main
A forlorn and ship-wrecked brother—
Seeing, shall take heart again.

His footprints have been left behind, distinctive footprints, on the sands of the history that serve well to inspire with fresh courage many discouraged hearts in service to the Lord. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re discouraged in your work for God. Perhaps you feel like you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall for so long and that your prayers haven’t been getting past the ceiling. If that’s how you feel, look at what Nehemiah did. He is a fine example for you.

His trip from Persia to Jerusalem took three months. So far, as we have learned, God had answered all of his prayers, and now Nehemiah has put his faith where his mouth is. He was now on his way to work. Let’s take a look at how Nehemiah did that. Notice that he—

1. Took time time to reflect

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days… (verse 11)

There must have been a lot to see and think about in Jerusalem because Ezra, when he first went to Jerusalem, did the same thing!

So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days. (Ezra 8:32)

Both men were literally on fire to get Jerusalem rebuilt, we wonder why they simply waited around town for three whole days. Why not get started right away? Knowing Nehemiah as well as we do by now, we can be assured that he didn’t just “wait around.” We imagine that he spent the three days in prayer and thoughtful consideration. This is a good lesson for us to take away: we should never be in a reckless rush to work for the Lord.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

To wait upon the Lord means to trust in the Lord; it means to have His thoughts on a thing; it means to be sure things are done His way. It’s not sitting around thinking about Him. Waiting on the Lord is not a passive activity you engage in when you don’t know what else to do. Nehemiah, for done, knew exactly what needed to be done, yet he took three days before he did anything, making sure he was walking in lock-step with His God. David did the same thing, by the way. When he was confronted with a crisis, here is what he did—

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD… (1 Chronicles 17:16a)

Things happen to a believer when they spend time alone with God. If you are living a feckless Christian life, maybe it’s because you don’t spend enough time in His presence.

2. Made an honest assessment

I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. (verses 12, 13)

Three days after his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah decided to make secret tour of the city walls, taking just a handful of close friends with him. Perhaps he didn’t want to cause undue alarm or speculation, so he did this survey at night.

While he did not make a complete circuit of the walls, he did carefully examine the most vulnerable areas to the north. Just like a wise doctor who begins treatment of a patient by making a thorough diagnosis of the case, Nehemiah made a thorough investigation of the walls. What he found was far worse than he could have imagined. There was so much debris that Nehemiah had to dismount and walk carefully among the rubble. Everywhere he looked was the evidence of the complete and utter destruction the city suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the great Babylonian army generations earlier.

A lot of Christians today are living in a fool’s paradise because they stubbornly refuse to believe things are as bad as they really are. How many Christians pray for Christian persecution in China and around the world? Do we even believe Christians are being persecuted? Have believers bothered to noticed how many of their freedoms have been taken away in this country? We wonder where some believers have their heads stuck when it comes time to ask for prayer requests and they can’t think of anything!

It is definitely true we live in a sinful world and it is equally true that things are destined to get worse and worse as the Lord tarries, but that doesn’t mean we don’t pray for the country in which we live and the world in which we work. More Christians need to be like Nehemiah was and do what he did: look at their world and make an honest assessment so we know how to pray and, like Nehemiah, know what to do.

3. Asked for helpers

Then I said to them, “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.” (verse 17)

Nehemiah called a meeting of the leaders in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, and at the meeting, the matter was clearly laid before them. The cupbearer told them his story, of how God had called him to undertake the work of rebuilding the walls and of how God had moved on the heart of King Artaxerxes. And these people needed that kind of encouragement. The walls and gates of Jerusalem had lain in ruins for close to 140 years in spite of attempts to rebuild them. They had become so discouraged and so frustrated in doing the work of the Lord, they had pretty much reconciled themselves to the fact that the walls and gates would never be rebuilt.

How many believers are in exactly the same position today: discouraged and frustrated with their faith, their Church, and maybe, if things are bad enough, with God Himself? Believers like that need to be encouraged by those of us who have experienced the goodness of God firsthand.

There was a lot of work to be done, and one of the best ways to begin a work for God is get others working. Notice the carefully chosen words Nehemiah used. He did not say, “Go and build,” rather, he said, “Come, let us rebuild.”

Nehemiah couldn’t do it all himself. Jerusalem could not be restored to its former glory by the hard work of one man any more than the work of building the Church of Jesus Christ can be accomplished by the pastor alone. Every member of the church needs to be involved in building it. Unity of faith ought to be manifested in unity of effort. As a ruined Jerusalem was an embarrassment to every Jew, so a weak and powerless Church is an embarrassment to every member.

4. Was inspiring

I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. (verse 18a)

Discouraged Christians need encouragement, and there is no more encouraging word than a testimony about what God has done for you. Naturally, in order to be an encouraging Christian you yourself have to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. You have be praying prayers that get results. You have to be the recipient of God’s blessings.

Nehemiah had all of that going for him and he wasn’t afraid to tell his story to those who needed to hear it. He took the time to tell them of how God had called him to undertake the matter of rebuilding Jerusalem and how God had moved on the heart of the king.

These people were discouraged. They were down hearted, and what they needed was precisely what Nehemiah could provide: a vision and decisive leadership. God’s people need leadership today just as much as they needed it Nehemiah’s day. We may think that things “have never been this bad before,” as we look at the state of the Church of Jesus Christ. But the fact is, God’s people have forever been targets:

The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. (Zechariah 10:2)

Sounds like the typical, hapless Christian and church member today, doesn’t it? And it also sounds like too many Bible teachers and preachers, who think nothing of spewing false teaching, leading astray those who follow them. No wonder the Church is trouble today. Judah of yesterday was in trouble, and at the right time, God sent them Nehemiah, the man with vision and leadership.

The earnest appeal was received by the people, who were ready to get to work.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (verse 18b)

All it took was one man with a vision of something bigger than himself. They began the “good work.” The stage was set for a most remarkable feat to be accomplished. In our wildest dreams, we could never imagine the enormity of the task at hand for the disorganized, largely unskilled and scattered remnants of Israelites in Judah.

5. Faced opposition

But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” (verse 19)

That’s par for course, isn’t it? The more Christ-like you become, the more bitter others become. Remember; the people hated Jesus without cause, and the disciple is no greater than His Lord.

So, it became obvious at the very beginning the rebuilding, the job was going to be a little harder than they thought! Sanballat and his henchmen were relentless in their mocking of God’s people. Sanballat means “strength and courage,” and sometimes the world seems that way to believers. We feel overwhelmed when we are confronted with the world and its ideas and philosophies. Tobiah means, strangely enough, “the Lord is good,” and is very typical of one who claims to be a believer, one who may be a believer in name only. The Church is chock full of people just like Tobiah: people with a good name but a bad heart. These are people that will side with the world if given the choice. These two laughed and mocked the people of God. They saw what they were doing and misinterpreted it; they thought they were rebelling against the king,not knowing the rebuilding efforts had the blessing of the king!

It’s sad but true that sometimes the greatest opposition to the work of God comes not from without but from within. Sometimes the work genuine believers do will be laughed at and mocked and misunderstood by other “believers” just like Sanballat and Tobiah.

6. Declared the whole truth

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.” (verse 20)

Nehemiah faced the scoffers—the “practical atheists” of his day—head on with a simple, brief, fearless, and determined statement. He declared to them the whole truth about God. Look at the faith of that statement! Here was a man who knew what he had to do. Here was no wishy washy, middle-of-the-road, open-minded, milquetoast Christian that we are so familiar with today. Nehemiah didn’t need to hear “all sides of the story” or take seriously the objection of people who didn’t matter. No opinion matters, no philosophy matters, if they are contrary to God’s revealed Word! It’s past time that Christians started to take seriously the words of God to Isaiah:

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. (Isaiah 8:13)

The work of Nehemiah and his partners was God’s work, not theirs. All they had to be was faithful in the work. God was for them. He was in the work. When we are working for God, it’s the same thing. We cannot fail when God is in our work.

And Nehemiah pulled NO punches: these naysayers would have NO part in the rebuilt Jerusalem. They would have no part it in its blessings. They would forever be on the outside looking in because they were never part of God’s work

These  losers, Sanballat and Tobiah, remind us of Simon the Sorcerer. He followed Peter around because he saw the power of God in Peter and he wanted that power for himself. Of Simon the Sorcerer, Peter declared:

You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. (Acts 8:21)

It’s frightening to think of how many “Simon the Sorcerers” fill our pews today, wanting the good things of God but doing absolutely nothing of value for the Kingdom of Heaven.

When the walls of the New Jerusalem are finally built, will you be on the inside looking out, or on the outside looking in?

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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