“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.” (Nehemiah 1:1-10)
Nehemiah is one of the great characters of the Old Testament, but perhaps not as well-known as some others. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther all come out of the same general period of Israel’s history.
They appear in our Bible in reverse order of the chronological order in which they took place. In other words, Esther actually happened when God first began to move in the midst of Israel’s captivity to return this nation to the land.
God raised Esther, a young Jewish maiden, to the throne of Persia as queen. It was her husband, King Ahasuerus of Persia, who is the Artaxerxes of the opening chapters of Nehemiah. This heathen king gave the command for Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to build up the walls of the city.
“And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.” (Nehemiah 2:6)
That queen, in Nehemiah2:6, according Biblical academics, was Queen Esther, the Jewish maiden who had been raised to this prominent position by the grace of God.
Esther – as an instrument of God’s grace – was sent to the throne of Persia and so moved the heart of her husband, the king that he allowed Nehemiah, his cupbearer, to return to Jerusalem. Nehemiah began the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.
The book of Ezra begins with the building of the temple. The restoration of the house of God is always the first thing in the way back to God. Then comes the building of the walls as we will see in the book of Nehemiah.
Now what does a wall symbolize? What does it mean, then, to rebuild the walls of your life?
It means re-establishing the strength of that life.
This is the picture of the way the walls of any life, of any local church, of any community, of any nation, can be rebuilt into strength and power and purpose again.
It begins with a concern about the ruins.
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4)
We will never build the walls of our life until we have first become greatly concerned about the ruins.
Have you ever stopped long enough to assess what you could be under God, and compared that with what you are?
Like Nehemiah, we have received word, in some form or other, of the desolation and ruin there. We will never rebuild the walls of our life until we first weep over the ruins.
This is followed by confession.
In chapter 1 is Nehemiah’s wonderful prayer as he confesses that the nation has forsaken God, and acknowledges the justice of God’s dealing with them.
That is followed immediately by commitment.
“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. Now I was cupbearer to the king.” (Nehemiah 1:11)
Nehemiah has a plan forming in his mind, even while he has been in prayer, of how to go about rebuilding the walls.
So here is a man who, out of his concern, and after the confession of his heart, commits himself to a project.
Nehemiah is well aware of this — God must move in the areas where Nehemiah cannot.
When he appears before the king, the king notes the sadness of Nehemiah’s face and asks what he wants.
The next necessary step in the program of reconstruction is courage.
“Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.” (Nehemiah 2:9-10)
This satanic agency within humankind inevitably resists the work and the will and the ways of God.
Immediately courage is needed.
Whenever a man like Nehemiah says, “I will arise and build,” Satan always says, “Then I will arise and oppose.” Satan makes things difficult when we start turning back to God.
We see, also, the need for caution.
When Nehemiah comes back to Jerusalem and rides about the city at night he doesn’t just start putting bricks on top of one another. ‘The first thing he does is arise at night when no one else knows, ride around the walls of the city, and survey the ruins.’
In chapter 3 we learn how he went about this task of reconstruction.
• The people were willing to work
• That they became involved
• Immediately started doing something
As you read through this chapter, you will find the names of these gates; the Hebrew names have great significance. I would like to quickly describe these for your own edification, and we can draw the lesson from each at the same time.
1. Sheep Gate
The Sheep Gate, of course, signifies the Lamb of God, whose blood was shed on the cross for us, and, therefore, it reveals the principle of the cross.
2. Fish Gate
“And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)
This suggests the witness of a Christian. If you can never say a word for Christ, if there is never any witness in your life, then this wall is broken and the Fish Gate needs to be built again.
3. Old Gate
Well, I suggest that it represents truth. In many Christians’ lives this gate is broken down — they are no longer resting upon truth. Truth is always old, and it is upon old things that everything new must rest.
4. Dung Gate
This is the place through which all the refuse of the city was carried; all the garbage, all the filth was carried. It was taken out through the Dung Gate. And my friend, if you do not have a dung gate in your life, you’re in bad shape because all the refuse in your life is accumulated and it will make you smell in the sight of God and man.
5. Valley Gate
This suggests the place of humility. It is the place of lowliness of mind and humbleness of heart. God has said in every page of Scripture that he is against the pride of men.
6. Fountain Gate
“And he had to pass through Samaria.” (John 4:4)
It speaks of the Holy Spirit, which is the river of life in us — the flowing of the Spirit of God in our lives, to enable us to obey his will and his word.
7. Water Gate
Water is always a symbol of the word of God. The interesting thing about this Water Gate is that it did not need to be repaired. Evidently it was the only part of the wall that was still standing.
8. East Gate
The East Gate faced the rising sun, and is the gate of hope.
It is the gate of anticipation of what is yet to come when all the trials of life and all the struggles of earth will end and the glorious new sun will rise on the new day of God.
9. Horse Gate
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
The horse in scripture is a symbol of warfare or, in this case, the need to do battle against the forces of darkness.
10. Master Gate or, literally, the “examination gate.”
We need to sit and take a look at ourselves every now and then — to stop and re-evaluate what we are doing. That brings us around again in the last part of the chapter to the Sheep Gate, the gate of the cross. The cross must be at the beginning and the end of every life.
Now, in this beautiful way, the book of Nehemiah is teaching us what needs to be done to strengthen the walls in our lives.
The next chapters, four through six, cover the persecution that arose from building the city walls.
The persecution revealed here can be summarized in three words:
The enemies tried to mock or heap contempt on what God was doing. When they failed, they attempted a conspiracy. They tried to involve the Israelites in a plot that would overthrow this work.
When that failed, they tried to call Nehemiah away from his work by a very cunning scheme.
“So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.” (Nehemiah 6:15)
In the latter part of the book, chapters 7 through 13, is the story of re-instruction.
“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. […] They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,[a] and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:5-6, 8)
The word of God is imperative if we want to maintain strength in our lives.
In chapter 9 you have Ezra’s tremendous prayer, when he recounted what God had done in the life of this people. It is always good to stop and remember what God has taught you in the past.
In the eleventh chapter we have the recognition of gifts among the people.
Similarly, in the New Testament we are told to discover the gifts that the Spirit has given us and to put them to work.
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Timothy 1:6)
In chapter 12, in the dedication of the walls, the people gathered and marched around them with instruments, singing and shouting, playing and rejoicing, and crying out with great joy. Nothing will add more to our strength in the Lord than to express the joy of the Lord in our life.
The book closes with the matter of resistance to evil.
Your strength will be maintained if you will take the attitude that Nehemiah took for God.
“and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.” (Nehemiah 13:7-8)
“As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day.
But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath.
And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.
And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me.” (Nehemiah 13:19, 13:21, 13:25, 13:28)
Now these are the ways by which strength is maintained in our lives also.
As we come to the close of this book we see that the walls of Jerusalem stand once again and God’s testimony is re-established in this city.
This sermon was preached by Pastor Elio Marrocco at New Life Christian Church on October 4, 2015.