Nehemiah expresses the practical, everyday side of our faith in God. Ezra had led a spiritual renewal, while Nehemiah was the James of the Old Testament, challenging the people to show their faith by their works.
As the story begins, Nehemiah was talking with fellow Jews who reported that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were in disrepair. This was disturbing news, and rebuilding those walls became Nehemiah’s burden. At the appropriate time, Nehemiah asked King Artaxerxes for permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild its fallen walls. The king approved.
Armed with royal letters, Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem. He organized the people into groups and assigned them to specific sections of the wall (chapter 3). The construction project was not without opposition, however. Sanballat, Tobiah, and others tried to halt the work with insults, ridicule, threats, and sabotage. Some of the workers became fearful; others became weary. In each case, Nehemiah employed a strategy to frustrate the enemies—prayer, encouragement, guard duty, consolidation (chapter 4). But a different problem arose—an internal one.
Rich Jews were profiteering off the plight of their working countrymen. Hearing of their oppression and greed, Nehemiah confronted the extortioners face to face (chapter 5). Then, with the walls almost complete, Sanballat, Tobiah, and company tried one last time to stop Nehemiah. But Nehemiah stood firm, and the wall was finished in just 52 days. What a tremendous monument to God’s love and faithfulness. Enemies and friends alike knew that God had helped (chapter 6).
After building the walls, Nehemiah continued to organize the people, taking a registration and appointing gatekeepers, Levites, and other officials (chapter 7). Ezra led the city in worship and Bible instruction (chapters 8–9). This led to a reaffirmation of faith and religious revival as the people promised to serve God faithfully (chapters 10–11).
Nehemiah closes with the listing of the clans and their leaders, the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, and the purging of sin from the land (chapters 12–13). As you read this book, watch Nehemiah in action—and determine to be a person on whom God can depend to act for him in the world.
Nehemiah saw a problem and was distressed. Instead of complaining or wallowing in self-pity and grief, he took action. Nehemiah knew that God wanted him to motivate the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, so he left a responsible position in the Persian government to do what God wanted. Nehemiah knew God could use his talents to get the job done.
From the moment he arrived in Jerusalem, everyone knew who was in charge. He organized, managed, supervised, encouraged, met opposition, confronted injustice, and kept going until the walls were built. Nehemiah was a man of action.
Nehemiah’s prayer and fasting, qualities of leadership, powerful eloquence, inspirational organizational skills, confidence in God’s purpose, and quick, decisive response to problems qualify him as a great leader and man of God. Most importantly, he shows us a self-sacrificing spirit whose only interest is summed up in his repeated prayer, “Remember me, O my God, for good.”
Four lasting principles stand out in Nehemiah. First, compassion is often the springboard of obedience to God’s will. Second, cooperation with others is required to carry out God’s will. Third, confidence results from fervent prayer and the exposition of the Word of God, which reveals God’s will. Fourth, courage will manifest itself as sanctified tenacity in refusing to compromise on the conviction that one is doing God’s will.