Nehemiah leaves the King with his approval and sets on a journey towards Jerusalem. It is estimated that this trip took many months and there were many dangers on the way. His next steps included: reporting to the governors, rallying the Jewish officials, and rebuilding the walls.
Reporting to the Governors (2:9-16)
On his way to Jerusalem, Nehemiah “went to the governors of the region west of the Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters” (2:9). The king’s letters allowed Nehemiah to pass through the region in peace on the way to Jerusalem. After some initial displeasure from some (more on that next week), he arrived at Jerusalem and inspected the walls for himself. Nehemiah wanted to make sure that Hanani’s report was as bad as he said.
Rallying the Officials (2:17-20)
After surveying the walls with his own eyes, Nehemiah said to the officials in Jerusalem “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace” (2:17). He then added, “I told them how the gracious hand of my God had been on me, and what the king had said to me” (2:18). The officials “were encouraged to do this good work” (2:18) and replied, “Let’s start rebuilding” (2:18). While the officials were encouraged, others discouraged the work.
Rebuilding the Walls (3:1-32)
Nehemiah knows that “The God of heaven is the One who will grant us success. We, His servants, will start building” (2:20). The work was monumental. In some instances the workers were building new sections of the wall. Sometimes they were only repaired. The walls were built in sections between 10 gates that are mentioned. They are the:
- Sheep Gate was used for bringing in sacrifices for the temple.
- Fish Gate was used for the fish from the Sea of Galilee or the Mediterranean.
- Old Gate was where the elders of the city would meet to discuss community matters and settle disputes (Joshua 20:4, Ruth 4:11, Proverbs 31:23)
- Valley Gate is probably named that because it overlooked the Hinnom Valley, one of the several valleys surrounding Jerusalem.
- Dung Gate also called “Refuse/Rubbish” Gate where the garbage and ash from the temple was removed from the city to the Valley of Hinnom, where they were burned.
- Fountain Gate was the primary access to the fountain, the Siloam Pool, from which the city of Jerusalem received its supply of fresh, clean water.
- Water Gate, like the Fountain Gate, was close to the source of the city’s water supply (maybe the Gibeon spring).
- Horse Gate was close to the King’s stables.
- East Gate located in the East looking towards the Mount of Olives.
- Inspection Gate led into the Temple courtyard, where people come to worship God.
Rebuild for God’s Glory. Jerusalem was to be rebuilt for God’s glory. As we learned in chapter 1, Nehemiah began with prayer. Nehemiah remembered the Covenant God made with Israel. Jerusalem is in ruins because the Jewish people have rebelled against God and not kept His commands. Just as the Lord promised, Jerusalem was captured and the people were sent into exile as punishment for their sins. Also, just as the Lord promised, “But if you return to Me and carefully observe My commands…I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I chose to have My name dwell” (1:9). The Lord chose Jerusalem as His place. Psalm 48:1-2 says, “The Lord is great and is highly praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, rising splendidly, is the joy of the whole earth. Mount Zion on the slopes of the north is the city of the great King.” Jerusalem is in ruins and is to be repaired and rebuilt for God’s glory.
Rebuild for the Good of One Another. Jerusalem was to be rebuilt for the good of the Jewish people. Walls and gates provide security. With the walls and gates broken and burned down, the Jewish people are “in great trouble and disgrace” (1:3, 2:17) “despised” (4:4) “a reproach” (5:9). Jerusalem, then and now, is surrounded by enemies who desire their annihilation.
Rebuild Together. Jerusalem was to be rebuilt in unison by the people. The rebuilding effort was nothing short of remarkable. We learn later that the wall was rebuilt in 52 days (6:15). As Nehemiah makes clear: “this task had been accomplished by our God” (6:16). How did God choose to complete this work? He used Nehemiah and the people and brought them unity to rebuild together. Warren Wiersbe notes: “Thirty-eight individual workers are named in this chapter, and forty-two different groups are identified. There were also many workers whom Nehemiah did not name whose labors were important; and each worker–named and anonymous–was assigned a place and a task.” Tom Bradford adds: “What we find in Nehemiah is that the wall rebuilding project was divided into about 40 sections, and a family or a group adopted one or two of those sections according to their reasonable ability to do the task. The tremendous community cooperation and the willingness of the vast majority of the Jewish society around Jerusalem to participate are on display in Chapter 3.” A lot of workers rebuilt a particular section of the wall and/or gate. There were some who refused to work (3:5), some who did a lot (3:13), and some who worked in multiple areas (3:4&21).
United we Build
In Nehemiah, we see God do amazing things through Nehemiah and the people. When God moves among His people, we see unity and purpose. We see unity among God’s people even in spite of opposition from others. We see good accomplished for the glory of God and the good of others. God works powerfully through His people giving them “the mind to work” (4:6). D.L. Moody once said, “A great many people have got a false idea about the church. They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in…to get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy, is all they want. The idea of work for them–actual work in the church–never enters their minds.” The church of Laodicea was not in danger of bankruptcy (Rev 3:17) but they were in danger of being vomited out of Jesus’ mouth (Rev 3:16). We need a burden and we need to work. Our obedience needs to be borne out of love for Christ.
God is always calling His children to the next step of faith. Will we be obedient to God’s call? We could choose to ignore God’s call and try to remain comfortable. If so, as we desire comfort we will grow cold. We could choose to heed God’s call and obey His commands. If so, as we desire obedience we will grow in love for God and one another. Let us not choose the path of the nobles of Tekoites who refused to work. Let us not choose the path of Sanballat and criticize the work. Let us grab our tools and start rebuilding!