When we finished last week we saw Nehemiah inspecting the walls of Jerusalem carefully. The Hebrew word speaks to one who is not just looking at the damage, but also what needs to be done in the way of repairs. Reading about how methodically Nehemiah went about the wall with a thorough examination begs the question, “Do we examine our own lives?” Do we look at the broken down walls around our heart in which we fail to obey Proverbs 4:23? – “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
As Nehemiah is examining the walls and the gates in verses 13-15 a book that I have on my shelf from John Bunyan came to mind. It is called, “The Holy War”. It was his second best-selling allegory behind Pilgrim’s Progress. It is about a city called Mansoul, which is impregnable and cannot be overrun unless someone from the inside lets the enemy (Diabolos) in through one of its five gates. There is the Ear Gate, Eye Gate, Nose Gate, Mouth Gate and the Feel Gate. As you can tell each gate represents a sense in which Satan tempts in order to have one gate open. As a believer in Christ the only way the enemy will get in is if we open one of the gates from the inside. In the book, the gatekeeper over the Ear Gate was tantalized by Diabolos persuasive rhetoric and opened the gate so that the enemy could come and rule. What gates do you easily open to temptation? What will you do to ensure that you don’t allow the enemy in? I’ll be honest, there were shows that I had to stop watching because I was opening up my Eye Gate and Ear Gate to things that were not honoring to God. In Nehemiah’s case, he would rebuild these walls and gates, putting trustworthy men in charge of them.
In verse 16 I applaud Nehemiah as he withheld telling anyone, including the Jews of his plans until he was ready. In verse 12, we see God speaking to the heart of Nehemiah and giving him direction as to what he should do. He waited until God was finished giving him direction before he went to take the next step. It shows wisdom when you wait for God to give you direction and instruction. In His perfect timing He will bring about the right time for Nehemiah to share the reason he was in Jerusalem.
“Then I said to them, ‘You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.’ I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work.” Nehemiah 2:17-18
The Jews had been in despair from all the evil that was being carried out against them by the other nations. These people probably felt abandoned by God and lived in discouragement, but Nehemiah was an encourager sent by the Most High Himself. Have you ever had someone come in a time of suffering and despair and give you an aptly spoken word from the Lord that gave you instant strength? The Greek word for encouragement is “paraklesis”. It is where we get our word “paraclete” or advocate/helper. The Holy Spirit is referred to in scripture as a Paraclete. It derives from “Parakaleo”. It is from a combination of “Para” meaning, “beside” and “Kaleo” meaning “to call”. It means, “to call to one’s side” or “to call to one’s aid.” Nehemiah was coming to the aid of his people and his words gave them hope. Not worldly hope which delves into uncertainty (i.e. I hope you get the job, or I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow), but a hope that is certain. Such is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the precious word of God given to us to be a reminder of His goodness and faithfulness in the darkest of hours.
The Jews would now have courage knowing that King Artaxerxes was behind them, but even more important, God, the Lord of all creation was behind them.
“But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Nehemiah 2:19
This was a time when Nehemiah could answer a fool according to his folly. The Hebrew word for “mocked” means “to speak maliciously” or “to deride”. The context of its use is joking or laughing in a cruel way. Imagine for yourselves a group of teenage bullies picking on a smaller weaker teen. They make fun of his clothes and call him names all the while bursting out into laughter with each insult. The purpose of this mockery is solely to intimidate and to discourage. Nehemiah understood this, which prompted his direct response, not retaliation.
“So I answered them and said to them, ‘The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:20
Their sole intent was to crush the fragile courage of the Jews, and as a leader, Nehemiah had to put them in their place. He told them that God will give them success. In Nehemiah 6:16 we see that they realized Nehemiah’s words had come true when they completed the wall, “When all of our enemies heard of it (the rebuilding of the wall), and the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” Nehemiah’s words were remembered by those who hated the Jews, and God was glorified by the very people that opposed Him. What a paradox! The very people that oppose and hate God will give glory to His name. What I find interesting is that after witnessing this miraculous feat by God, none of the nations repented and turned to Him. Such is the totally depraved nature of man who wants nothing to do with God. There is one more point I would like to make within the context of Nehemiah 2:19-20: If you are serving the Lord, you will be opposed. The opposition will be constant and at times unrelenting. Expect it, prepare for it, and persevere through it. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. You have a Paraclete in the Holy Spirit who is able to guide and strengthen you.
Attaching this to Nehemiah 3, I would like to just hit some key points:
The first part of the wall that the Jewish people started on was the Sheep Gate. The Sheep Gate was where the lambs were brought into Jerusalem and taken to the temple for Passover to be slaughtered. How apropos that the High Priest and the other priests started here first. This very gate would be the gate that the Lamb of God (Lord Jesus Christ) would walk through as a lamb headed to the slaughter for the sins of mankind.
Another interesting point is that the High Priest’s name is “Eliashib”. His name means, “God restores.” Isn’t that beautiful? God is restoring the walls and the people of Jerusalem.
I was taken back by these priests who have no experience in masonry or carpentry being willing to help. These priests had not done their job very well as you will see in the proceeding chapters of Nehemiah, but here they were faithful. The same cannot be said today with the litany of televangelists that call themselves “Christians”. These people peddle a false gospel for the purpose of wealth. They are not Pastors, for they are lovers of money and are marked out for destruction. Ten years ago the false teacher T.D. Jakes was paid $100,000 for a 50 minute “sermon” for a parachurch ministry in New York. Amongst his demands to preach were: Staying in the Presidential Suite of the Ritz Carlton at $2,200 a night, rare chocolates, rare flowers, rare desserts, rare pastries, imported various gifts from around the globe for Jakes and his family. This also included chartering a Learjet for $22,000, i-Tunes gift cards, ipods and various other expensive goods. They created a Green room for him at the venue and rented luxurious furniture and decorations at an enormous cost. Do you think T.D. Jakes would have assisted Nehemiah in the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem? Do you think he would ever get his hands dirty or do something for God that would sacrifice his love for money, merchandise, and status? I think not. It is false teachers like these who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, looking to devour the wealth of both the believer and the unbeliever. This ministry that brought him in almost went bankrupt as a result. Beware of men and women such as these. They take God’s word and twist it to mean something that it does not.
In verse 5, we see that “the nobles did not work”. If you read Nehemiah 6:17-19 you will see that it was because their allegiance was with Tobiah through marriage. In verse 8, “Gold smiths and perfumers” rebuilt the temple. This shows the trades that they learned while in Babylon as they went from an agrarian nation to one of merchants. Perfumers would actually be modern day pharmacists. In verses 9 and 12 we see that 2 of Jerusalem’s ruling officials made repairs, including one official’s daughters. In verse 14 we see that one of the rulers of half the city was rebuilding the dung gate. He was doing the lowest of the low jobs. Can you imagine the stench that came up from the valley while they rebuilt the wall?
In verse 17, we see that the Levites were even making repairs. If I had to make a judgment purely from what I see from the Jewish people, I believe that the condition of their hearts were beginning to change. They were all in God’s refining fire and He was about to turn up the heat in Chapter 4. We’ll see how next week.