“Rebuilding the Walls”
HOST: Michael Whitworth
Along with Ezra, the book of Nehemiah deals with the final events of the OT story. The story of Ezra ended with the exiles struggling to truly revive their existence in Palestine, even though they had been successful in rebuilding the Temple. The story of Nehemiah deals with their efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, a challenge that seemed daunting, but under Nehemiah’s leadership was completed in a mere 52 days. (A city’s walls may not seem important to us, but they were a source of physical defense and emotional strength for its citizens, cf. Prov. 25:28).
Much of Nehemiah was written in the first-person, so it is clear that we are effectively reading Nehemiah’s memoirs. Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were one book, so while Nehemiah wrote down his memoirs of the events described, what was preserved for us was likely the product of a compiler/editor who perhaps finished his work around 400 BC.
Date & Audience
The events of the book take place somewhere around 450 BC. As stated above, an editor likely gave Ezra/Nehemiah its final form some fifty years later. Nehemiah was particularly important to God’s people as a reminder that they were capable of great things if they would only turn back to God in faith and obedience. Nehemiah’s memoirs are particularly concerned with even the slightest slip back into idolatry or unfaithfulness to the covenant.
Nehemiah & the NT
Nehemiah’s story is not one that echoes in the NT as much as other OT books, but there are some important themes. Prayer becomes an important part of spirituality in the book of Nehemiah, and it is a trend that continues into the NT. The importance of godly leadership and a godly work ethic are important NT themes as well.
Keys to Reading
The book of Nehemiah teaches us a lot about leadership, including:
- How to pray. In the beginning, when Nehemiah learned of the hopelessness in Jerusalem, he prayed (1:5-11). Before requesting permission to return to Jerusalem, he prayed (2:4). Nehemiah’s example reminds us that in every and all circumstances, we should pray.
- How to act. Too many leaders are indecisive, but Nehemiah was not. It is important to remember that this is not an autobiography, but a memoir, or an account of what he did. After arriving in Jerusalem, he goes on a fact-finding mission (2:11-16). Immediately, he set the people to work rebuilding the gates and walls of the city; all the while, Nehemiah did not have kind words for those who were unwilling to help with the hard labor (e.g. 3:5).
- How to deal with opposition. Though we receive a preview of what is coming in chapter 2, it is not until chapter 4 that opposition begins to boil over against the Jews under Nehemiah’s leadership. Nehemiah’s response was prayer and action (4:9)! Nehemiah was also fearless when attacked personally (6:19); he was only so because his only concern is what God thought of him (13:31), a shadow of the kind of leader Jesus would be (1 Pet. 2:21-24).
- How to lead people back to the Word. After the walls had been rebuilt, the people gathered to hear Ezra read the Law. The occasion was a convicting one, and Nehemiah led the people back to God using the Word. We cannot learn truth on our own; we need God’s Word if we want to become thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
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