Nehemiah—Arm to Arm
We have seen Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem and his secret investigation of the condition of the city, especially its walls and gates. He calls the people to the challenge of rebuilding the walls and gates. In doing so Sanballat and Tobiah, joined by Geshem the Arab oppose their work by scoffing and ridiculing them; the same tactic that had been effective against Zerubbabel (Ezra 4:4). Nehemiah answers by asserting that the true authority for his actions comes from God - “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it” (Neh 2:20).
Previously I have mentioned the importance of fasting and prayers and confession and tears and faith and patience. While all these expressions of Christianity are significant, at some point faith must become a work… I am reminded of James 2:14 - “What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds.” I love how the Message by Eugene Peterson states this passage (James 2:14-17) - Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? In other words, our doctrine and great learning must be put into experience.
Nehemiah does not just talk the talk but puts his faith into action. In addition his leadership qualities enable him to rally the troops. Nehemiah does not do all the work himself but engages the community living in and around Jerusalem. In fact, Nehemiah gave all the credit to the people when he wrote, “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart” (Neh 4:6).
Wall to Wall Workers…
In Nehemiah 3 we now see the rebuilding of the walls and gates. This was definitely a team effort. The Bible tells us other stories of team effort, two stories stick out to me. The Tower of Babel is an incredible lesson on unity - “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them… (Gen 11:6). The birth of the church began after a time of united and purposeful prayer - Acts 1:14 -
“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Both of these examples highlight unity and working together, both of which we see in Nehemiah.
The rebuilding of the wall begins at the Sheep Gate which was on the northeast corner of the city and then moves counterclockwise around the city; the north wall (Neh 3;1–5); west wall (Neh 3:6–13); south wall (Neh 3:14–15); and the east wall (Neh 3:16–31). In Neh 3 the word rebuild occurs 7 times while the word repairs occurs 34 times; in some places, the wall needed to be built from the ground up; in other places, repairs needed to be made to the existing wall.
Nehemiah describes 10 gates that allowed entrance into the city as needing to be rebuilt or repaired; the Sheep Gate, Fish Gate, Old Gate, Valley Gate, Dung Gate, Fountain Gate, Water Gate, Horse Gate, East Gate, and the Muster Gate. Depending on the extent of Nehemiah’s wall, anywhere from 90 to 220 acres would be protected. There are several points to highlight describing the rebuilding process.
- Firstly Nehemiah was concerned about the reputation of God being maligned. The rebuilding process was not for personal gain of Nehemiah or anyone else. It was for the glory of God. We are told in the Scriptures that “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God… (1 Cor 10:31). This was the desire of Nehemiah’s heart, that the mocking and ridicule of God would stop. He wanted to see the glory of God’s temple restored and protected from their enemies.
- Secondly, Nehemiah engaged the people. There are 38 people mentioned in Neh 3, who in some form or fashion helped with the work. As we look at this chapter we see all sorts of people at work; rulers and priests, men and women, professional craftsmen, and even people that did not live in Jerusalem.
- Some rebuilt or repaired areas of the city that was personal to them, like Eliashib the High Priest, which means “God restores”, who begins rebuilding the Sheep Gate which was near the Temple; this was the only gate which was dedicated to the Lord (Neh 3:1). It is sad to note that Eliashib did not remain true to the cause but later joined with the enemies of Nehemiah.
- Neh 3:2 tells us of the men from Jericho. They came from some distance away to help with this divine work.
- Some people refused to help with this God ordained work. In Neh 3:5 tells us the nobles from Tekoa did not put their shoulders into the work. the Scripture tells us they could not work under supervision, in other words, they were un-submitted.
- In any building project there comes a time when you put the tools down and call it a day, even though there is more work to do. However in our study we see individuals who repaired or rebuilt "another section" - Neh 3:11, 19, 21, 24, 27, 30. These groups of men and women gave themselves fully to the work.
- We also see people who repaired or rebuilt the walls and gates nearest to their homes. They had invested interest in that area of Jerusalem (Neh 3:10, 23, and 28-30). The lesson is simple, it is great to serve and to show responsibility close to home.
- The next point to mention is Nehemiah describing the various gates or places of work. Nehemiah begins at the Sheep gate and then moves counter-clockwise around the city. He mentions ten gates and several towers that were rebuilt or repaired. Each gate had significance to the city and has spiritual insights to encourage us in our own personal lives and ministry.
- The Sheep Gate was used for temple sacrifices and reminds us of Jesus the Lamb of God.
- The Fish Gate was used to bring food to the city. God provides just like the multiplication of five loaves and two fish.
- The Old Gate allowed people to enter into the "new quarter" reminding us that the old and the new are to be complimentary of each other.
- The Valley Gate needed to be repaired along with a sizeable stretch of the wall. This reminds me of the times in life when we go through tough times, like the valley of the shadow of death. It is during these times of humility that God strengthens our lives.
- The Dung Gate. This speaks for itself. The city of Jerusalem, like our our lives, needed to remove its daily garbage. Even though the Dung Gate would be a stinky mess, it was essential to the health of the city.
- The Fountain Gate was located near the Pool of Siloam and was fed by the Spring of Gihon. Water was and is a source of life for the city of Jerusalem. The same can be said of living water from the Holy Spirit.
- The Water Gate was also a source of water for the city. It is interesting to note that several sources of water were needed to fully supply the city. In other words, we can never have enough of the Living Water of Life.
- The Horse Gate was an entrance for the army and its horses, reminding us that our Christian life is one of spiritual warfare.
- The East Gate led directly to the Temple. Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord depart from this gate in his vision and the glory return through the same gate.
- The Inspection Gate was where the army gathered in times of war. We all need to be "watching and praying" for the enemy of our souls prowls around like a lion seeking to devour the unsuspecting.
The walls were repaired between each of these gates by the faithful servants of God, but the walls to only half their original height - “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart” (Neh 4:6). The work was ongoing and in the weeks ahead we will discover in greater detail some of the challenges Nehemiah faced.
The main purpose of life and ministry is to see the glory of God manifest on earth as it is in heaven. In the Nehemiah’s case he sought to glorify God along with the workers as they rebuilt and repaired the gates and walls. Everyone was given the opportunity to join in the rebuilding process of Jerusalem; no one was overlooked. The exception was directed to those opposed the work. Nehemiah made it sure that they were not included in the rebuilding and or the historical recording of the event. So again we see those who worked hard and those who hardly worked. Some received special mention because of their zealousness while others started by working hard only to later oppose the work.
This reminds me of the church. Everyone is a gift to the Body of Christ and brings their spiritual gifts and talents to ministry. In 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Paul compared individual Christians to members of the human body. The body is made up of unique members and each has a special function to perform. It is important to understand that the Body of Christ, with all its members - male and female - has various levels of spiritual maturity, some hard workers and some who are along for the ride. Some people are very gifted but lack godly character. Some disciples for Jesus start well only to end poorly. The church is an unique expression of people who are hungry for God in the midst of a pagan world. The Body of Christ is meant to be the repairer of the breach, so to speak, bringing health and righteousness to all those who are bound in sin, the religious, the oppressed, the hungry, the poor and the naked - “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isa 58:12).
The people in Nehemiah’s day finished the difficult work of rebuilding and repairing the walls, because they obeyed the same leader, kept their eyes on the same goal, and worked together for the glory of God. They forgot the former shame of captivity and worked with all their hearts towards the restoration of Jerusalem.
Today we need to apply this Scripture together, ARM to ARM as we work to fulfill God’s Dreams personally and corporately in Courts of Praise. I pray that we can all work together and work hard so that God’s Glory may be revealed. I pray that we can discover and develop those spiritual gifts that are present here in our church.
I want to end today’s sermon with this Scripture. During the Justice Glory and Harvest Conference I believe the Lord gave me this passage of Scripture for us as a church in Saskatoon, but also for us personally.
Psalm 20:2-5 -
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings. Selah
4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.