Nehemiah 03+04


I’ve said often that the whole of the Bible from beginning to end is God’s revelation to us of what God has done to deliver his people by his Son from their sin and misery in this present, evil age in order to bring them into his glorious presence in the world to come. The whole of the Bible reveals this to us. And so, the Old Testament anticipates what God was going to do for his people by his Son. And the New Testament records what God did for his people by his Son; and what he will yet do for his people in the future when Christ comes again.

Our church’s Confession of Faith puts it this way: referring to Old Testament times, it says that he was revealed through promises and types and sacrifices to be the seed of the woman who would crush the Devil and the Lamb of God slain for our salvation. So, before he came into the world, God foretold his coming and foretold what he would do for God’s people. And he foretold these things and revealed them by means of promises and types and sacrifices. And, as I tried to make clear last time, Nehemiah is a type of Christ. He’s an Old Testament picture or pattern of Christ and his work.

Just as Nehemiah left the court of the king to come to Jerusalem in order to rescue God’s people from their great trouble and disgrace, so God’s Son left the heavenly court of the great King to come to earth in order to rescue God’s people from our great trouble and disgrace. We’re in trouble and disgrace, because all of us have sinned; and we’ve fallen short of God’s glory; and we’re liable to God’s wrath and curse for our sins and disobedience.

And whenever Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he summoned the people together and called on them to build the wall of the city. And whenever the Lord began his public ministry, he summoned the disciples to help him with his work.

And the work he came to do was to build his church here on earth, a work which he is bound to complete, because in the last chapters of the Bible, John the Apostle reported how he saw into the future; and in his vision of the future, he saw the new Jerusalem, which is the church which Jesus Christ built, but made perfect and made glorious in the world to come.

Nehemiah and the work he did to rebuild Jerusalem points the believer to Christ who is building his church and his kingdom on the earth. And the way to enter Christ’s church and kingdom and to receive forgiveness from God for our sins and the free gift of eternal life is by turning from your sin in repentance and turning with faith to Christ, the only Saviour of the world. Believe in him and you will have the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life in the glory to come. Those who don’t belong to Christ will be shut out of Christ’s perfect and glorious church; and they will suffer eternal punishment for their sins; but those who belong to Christ and believe in him will live with him forever and ever in glory.

So, this book is God’s revelation to us of what God has done to save his people by his Son. And since that’s the case, that’s what we need to look for as we study this book together. So, what do we learn from today’s reading about Christ and about our salvation?

Chapter 3

In chapter 3, we have a kind of official record of all the different teams of people who worked on the wall of Jerusalem. There’s not a great deal for us to say about it, because the names are not familiar to us; and even the different gates along the walls of Jerusalem which are mentioned here are now hard to locate. It’s believed that verses 1 to 15 concern the work that was done on the western side of the city, moving north to south along it. And then, verses 16 to 32 concern the work that was done on the eastern side of the city, moving south to north. The verb ‘to build’ is used in verses 1 to 3, but the verb ‘to rebuild’ is used in the verses which follow, which suggests that some of the wall was so completely destroyed that it had to be built again, whereas in other places, the wall was damaged and only needed to be repaired.

You’ll notice too that the work was done by all kinds of people. According to verse 1, the high priest and his fellow priests got involved. Levites are mentioned in verses 17 to 19. Temple servants are mentioned in verse 26. Daughters are mentioned in verse 12. The rest of the workers — which according to verse 8 including goldsmiths and perfumers — were presumably lay people, all unknown to us now. But all of them worked together in response to Nehemiah’s appeal in verse 17 of chapter 2 to come and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that they would no longer be in disgrace. And at that time, the people answered Nehemiah’s appeal and said:

Let us start rebuilding.

And so, they began the work and this is the record of who was involved and where they worked.

Verses 1 to 6

But what happened next won’t surprise you, because we’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? We’ve seen it all before, because back in Ezra 4, as soon as the people began to rebuild the temple, their enemies tried to stop them. And the opposition went on for years and years. And now, after the returning exiles began to rebuild the city wall, their enemies tried to stop them. That’s what Nehemiah 4 is about. And it’s just another example of the opposition which originated in the Garden of Eden when the Lord announced that there would always be this enmity between the offspring of the woman who belong to the Lord and who believe; and the offspring of the serpent who belong to the Devil and who do not believe. The Lord announced there would always be this enmity between the church of Jesus Christ and an unbelieving world.

And we see this opposition right through the Bible. Do you remember? We see it when Cain killed righteous Abel. We see it when Ishmael laughed at Isaac, the child of promise. We see it when Esau hated his brother Jacob, who was loved by the Lord. We see it when the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites and killed their sons. We see it in the days of the Judges and the Kings, when God’s people were attacked again and again by the Philistines and other nations. We saw it when their enemies tried to stop the returning exiles from rebuilding the temple. And we see it here in Nehemiah 4 when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod opposed the work to repair the wall of the city.

Look at verse 1 of chapter 4 where it tells us that when Sanballat heard that they were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He was greatly enraged at them. And so, what did he do? Well, at first he ridiculed them. He mocked them. ‘What are these feeble Jews doing?’ he asked. Do you see? He’s scornful of them; and by calling them feeble, he’s implying they’re pathetic and they don’t have the strength or resources to complete the work. ‘Will they restore their wall?’ he asked. He seems to be implying that by themselves they won’t be able to finish the job. Will they, by themselves, restore their wall? Not likely. ‘Will they offer sacrifices?’ he asked. Perhaps in this question he’s mocking the Lord their God. Perhaps he’s implying that the God they worship isn’t able to help them. ‘Will they finish in a day?’ he asked. He’s saying that because they’re so feeble and pathetic, they’ll only give up if it takes longer than a day. ‘Can they bring the stones back to life from these heaps of rubble — burned as they are?’ He’s saying their task is a hopeless one, because the stones they’re using have been badly damaged by fire. The stones are — in a sense — dead and buried; and they’ll need to resurrect them if the Jews are to use them again.

And so, Sanballat mocked and ridiculed them, pouring scorn on them and on their plans. And along comes Tobiah and he adds one further insult by suggesting that if a fox walked over the wall, it would collapse. Foxes were known for living among ruins; and so, he’s saying their wall is still a ruin. And a fox is not large or heavy; and so, he’s saying their wall, like them, is feeble and likely to fall.

Ridicule. Mockery. These were the weapons Sanballat used at first. And how did Nehemiah respond? Well, according to verses 4 and 5 Nehemiah responded by turning to the Lord in prayer. Do you see that? He called to the Lord to hear them, because they were despised. An unbelieving world despised them and was mocking them and was trying to undermine their confidence, so that they would give up the work. So, ‘Hear us, Lord.’ ‘Turn their insults back on their own heads.’ ‘Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.’ ‘Don’t cover up or blot out their sins from your sight.’ In other words, Nehemiah was appealing to the Lord to rise up and to act against them. Just as the Lord had once sent the Israelites away into captivity because of their sinful rebellion, do the same to our enemies, because they have thrown insults at us.

And so, Nehemiah prayed. And according to verse 6, they continued with the work. They didn’t let the words of Sanballat stop them. And they continued to repair the wall until they reached half its height. So, they prayed and they persevered. And that’s important, because Sanballat and the others with him were about to ramp up the opposition against them. Since words were not enough to get them to put down their tools, Sanballat and the others with him decided to take more extreme action. Look with me now at verse 7.

Verses 7 to 13

According to verse 7, when Sanballat and the others heard that the repairs had gone ahead and that the gaps in the wall were closing, they were very angry. And so, they plotted together to come and to fight against Jerusalem and to stir up trouble against it. They’re not relying on words now; now they’re going to fight them. And look at verse 11, where it tells us how serious they were, because in verse 11 they spoke about killing the builders in order to put an end to their work. This had become a life and death situation for the returning exiles who were rebuilding the wall.

How did Nehemiah and his men respond this time? Well, according to verse 9 they once again prayed to the Lord. So, in the face of such opposition, they appealed once more to the Lord. Remember in the book of Acts, when the authorities commanded Peter and John never to preach about the Lord Jesus again? Do you remember how the believers got together and prayed to the Lord for help. They called on him to hear the threats they faced and to enable them to continue to preach with great boldness. They responded to threats by praying for the Lord’s help. And that’s what Nehemiah and his men did. They prayed to the Lord. And they also posted a guard day and night to meet the threat against them. Their enemies were prepared to attack them; and so, they set a guard in place to watch out and to be alert for any attacks.

And verses 10 and 11 and 12 make clear that things were not easy for the builders and they were discouraged. So, according to verse 10, the strength of the labourers was giving out and it seemed to them there was too much rubble for them to succeed. They were discouraged because of the enormity of the task ahead of them. According to verse 11, their enemies threatened to kill them. And according to verse 12, the Jews who lived nearby, in towns around Jerusalem, kept coming again and again — ten times over — to remind them of the threat they faced. Instead of coming with a word of encouragement, to keep their spirits up, they only discouraged them.

Verses 14 to 23

They faced a threat from their enemies; and there was also a threat from within, because the builders were discouraged. But in verses 14 to 23, we see how Nehemiah took action to thwart the threats they faced. First of all, he posted armed guards at the lowest or weakest parts of the wall. But secondly, he armed them with something even more important. He armed them with the word of the Lord. Look at verse 14. He said to them:

Don’t be afraid.

How many times do we read that in the Bible? The Lord appeared to his people, or he sent an angel to his people; and the first words are:

Don’t be afraid.

In the days of Moses, whenever the Israelites faced the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian soldiers behind them, Moses commanded them not to be afraid, because the Lord would fight for them. And as the psalmist says, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t need to be afraid, because the Lord is with us.

And Nehemiah went on to say to his men:

Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.

In the days of Moses, just before the people entered the Promised Land, Moses said to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7:

Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.

In those days, the great and awesome God helped the Israelites overcome their enemies so they were able to take possession of the Promised Land. And the Lord does not change; he’s forever the same; he was great and awesome in the days of Moses; and he was still great and awesome in the days of Nehemiah. And so, he was able to help them against their enemies.

So, Nehemiah responded to the threats by arming the people with weapons to defend themselves; and by arming them with the word of God to remind them that just as God had helped them in the past, so they can trust in him to help them in the present.

And look at verse 15: whenever the enemies heard that the builders had been warned about them and that God has frustrated their plot, the builders returned to the wall. It seems their enemies gave up; and the builders were able to continue with their work. Nevertheless, Nehemiah wisely maintained watchful, so that while half of the men worked on the wall, the other half served as armed guards. And even the ones who did the work carried weapons with them just in case they needed to defend themselves from attack. A man with a trumpet stood ready to sound the alarm and to call for backup.

And according to the final verses of the chapter, the work continued every day from first light until it was too dark to see. Instead of letting the men return to their homes at the end of the day, Nehemiah had them stay in the city so they could guard it at night. And neither Nehemiah or his men took off their clothes when they lay down to sleep, because they always wanted to be ready in case their enemies attacked them in the night. Each person carried his weapon, even when he went for water.

And according to verse 20, Nehemiah continued to encourage the people to trust in the Lord. ‘The Lord will fight for us!’, he said. And, of course, he’s once again quoting the Bible, because in the days of Moses when the Israelites were stuck between the Red Sea on one side and the Egyptian soldiers on the other, Moses encouraged the people by saying to them:

The Lord will fight for you.

And so, Nehemiah prayed and the builders armed themselves for the fight. And they persevered with the work.

The Lord Jesus

When the Lord Jesus came into the world to build his church and his kingdom, he too faced opposition from an unbelieving world. As soon as he was born, Herod wanted to kill him and his parents had to take him and flee. During his public ministry, the scribes and Pharisees came to question him and to try to trap him in his words. And when they did not succeed, they ramped up their opposition and plotted together how to kill him. And so, they arrested him, and they made all kinds of false allegations against him; and they convinced Pilate to sentence him to death. And he was taken away and beaten and crucified. And while he hung, dying on the cross, his enemies mocked and ridiculed him.

And so, he died and was buried. An unbelieving world hated him and despised him and opposed him and killed him. And, of course, that unbelieving world and all the opposition he faced, was stirred up by Satan, who wanted to prevent the Lord from building his church and his kingdom by setting sinners free from Satan’s tyranny over us.

And though it seemed that the Devil had won, the Lord Jesus overcame all the opposition against him when he raised from the dead and when he was exalted to the highest place. Though it once seemed that the Devil had succeeded and the Lord’s efforts to build his church and his kingdom had failed, nevertheless he was raised triumphant over the grave and over sin and over Satan. And from his throne in heaven, he is calling sinners and drawing them from out of Satan’s tyranny into his own kingdom of grace and into his church which he is building throughout the world.

The Church

But his people still face opposition today, don’t we? Although the Devil has been defeated by Christ’s victory over sin and death, the Devil is still doing everything he can to oppose the Lord and to oppose the church he’s building. He’s still stirring up an unbelieving world to hate and to despise and to oppose the Lord’s people. And so, you young people in school and in college will face ridicule for what you believe; and people will despise you and insult you and pour scorn on you for being a Christian. Christians in the workplace will be mocked and insulted too. And very often we’re made to feel like outsiders and we don’t belong, because the things we believe are so very different now from the things an unbelieving world believes. Whoever remains faithful to the Lord and stands firm on what he has taught us will be despised by an unbelieving world. And just as the builders in Nehemiah’s day were sometimes discouraged, so believers today will sometimes be discouraged; and it will seem that the opposition is too much for us and that we’re unable to endure it. As we read in verse 10, our strength gives out because the task of remaining faithful is too much. As we read in verse 11, the enemy is ready to attack us. As we read in verse 12, there are always other people who will come at us again and again and again with a discouraging message.

How should we respond? In the same way Nehemiah did. We should respond with prayer, calling on the Lord, again and again, appealing to the Lord, again and again, for the help we need to stand firm. The Lord is ready to bestow on us all we need to stand firm and to serve him every day. He’s ready to bestow these things on us, if only we ask him for them. But instead of asking for his help, we try to manage on our own, don’t we? Instead of confessing our weakness and our need, and appealing to him for his help to stand firm and to serve him in the world, we try to make do on our own. Instead we should follow Nehemiah’s example whose first reaction was to pray to the Lord for help.

And we should respond by arming ourselves with the word of the Lord and by reminding ourselves of what the Bible tells us about Christ’s victory over the Devil and how he rules and reigns in heaven above over all things. Nothing is too hard for him, because he is a great and awesome God who has triumphed over Satan and over sin and over death and who is able to give us the victory.

And just as the builders were watchful and alert and were ready to defend themselves against attack, we need to be watchful and alert and ready to stand firm in the day of temptation. All of God’s people are involved in a spiritual battle, because the Devil continually stirs up an unbelieving world against Christ and his church. And so, we need to be ready to stand firm. But we stand firm in the strength of the Lord, who gives us his word and who gives us the Lord’s Supper to strengthen our faith so that we’re able to withstand all opposition and persevere in the faith. So, stand firm in the Lord; and trust in the Lord to build his kingdom and his church and to keep you in it forever.