Where You Gonna Wall, Gate Builders? (Nehemiah 3:1-32)

What city in the world matches your personality?

Yes, there’s an on-line quiz to tell you. Yes, I took it – even though the last quiz I took, What Piece of IKEA Furniture Are You?, said that I was “the trusty Lack side table.” It sells for $8.99.

I was pleasantly surprised this time: Capri, Italy, described as “a place of admiration and refuge since the time of the Emperors of Rome.”

Whether or not it matches your personality, you may have a favorite city. It may be your hometown; or a vacation or a retirement destination.

God has a favorite city. There is only one city in the world that is “called by His Name” (Daniel 9:19). The Bible includes nearly 800 references to Jerusalem – “the City of our God” (Psalm 48:1,8).

Psalm 132:13-14 For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”

Psalm 87:1-3 “His foundation is in the holy mountains. The LORD loves the gates of Zion More than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!”

The Bible sometimes says that you are like a city:

Proverbs 25:28  Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.

Jeremiah 1:18  For behold, I have made you this day A fortified city and an iron pillar, And bronze walls against the whole land…

The wall surrounding the city God loves was in ruin, exposing His people to danger. He sent Nehemiah to fortify the wall.

Without discounting the importance of fortifying the physical wall, because God sometimes likens His people to a city, we have a biblical freedom to make application of it to ourselves.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify Your Hope In The Lord, and #2 The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify The Household Of The Lord.

#1 – The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify Your Hope In The Lord

I thought we were talking about the wall, not its gates?

Chapter three describes the fortifying of the wall by going from gate-to-gate, for a total of ten gates. It names the gates and, for the most part, from their names it is easy to agree upon their meaning for the fortifying of our spiritual lives.

Nehemiah uses a Hebrew word, chazaq, translated in the NKJV, “made repairs.” The word is used thirty-five times in thirty-two verses. That should get our attention.

The word is variously translated in different versions of the Bible. If you look it up in Strong’s Concordance, you’ll find that there are literally dozens of ways to translate it.

I like the word “fortify.” It is as good as any, and I like it for two reasons:

First, it sounds more intense than “made repairs.” You can repair something without improving it, or making it stronger. “Fortify” conveys the idea that it would be stronger than before.

Second, “fortify” better communicates that the wall would need constant care, and unlike repairs, it couldn’t wait.

As I said, the fortifications are described going from gate-to-gate in a counter-clockwise direction. In this first point of our study, we will concentrate on the ten gates.

Neh 3:1  Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel.
Neh 3:2  Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.

You’ve seen signs on the gates of factories that say, “Deliveries Only,” or “Trucks Use Other Gate.” Certain gates are designated for certain purposes. Same was true of Jerusalem.

The Sheep Gate was the gate through which animals were brought into the city, notably the lambs for Temple sacrifices.

Nehemiah could have started with any of the ten gates; but he didn’t. Starting at the Sheep Gate reminds us that the only way to God is through sacrifice. This gate reminds us of Jesus Christ, Whom John the Baptist identified as, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In the Revelation, Jesus is, “the Lamb Who was slain” (5:12). In all, He is referred to as the Lamb about thirty times in the Revelation.

This is the spiritual gate through which every sinner must enter. “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

We fortify our hope in the Lord, first of all, by getting saved. I’m using “hope” in the biblical sense of a certainty.

By His death on the Cross, Jesus is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.

Believers fortify their hope in the Lord at the Sheep Gate by reflecting upon their salvation by grace, through faith. If you did nothing to obtain salvation, you can do nothing to maintain it. It is the gift of God.

Not saved? Get saved. Saved? Be fortified in the hope of eternal life.

Neh 3:3  Also the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.
Neh 3:4  And next to them Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, made repairs. Next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs. Next to them Zadok the son of Baana made repairs.
Neh 3:5  Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.
No mystery as to the Fish Gate. Merchants used this gate when they brought fish from the Mediterranean Sea. There may have been a fish market near the gate.

At least seven of the original twelve disciples of Jesus were fishermen. Jesus famously said to them, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mathew 4:19).

We are saved to serve. All of us are to do the work of an evangelist. Each of us has gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit. We fortify our hope at the Fish Gate by serving Him.

Neh 3:6  Moreover Jehoiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors, with its bolts and bars.
Neh 3:7  And next to them Melatiah the Gibeonite, Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and Mizpah, repaired the residence of the governor of the region beyond the River.
Neh 3:8  Next to him Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Also next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they fortified Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.
Neh 3:9  And next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, leader of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs.
Neh 3:10  Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs in front of his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabniah made repairs.
Neh 3:11  Malchijah the son of Harim and Hashub the son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section, as well as the Tower of the Ovens.
Neh 3:12  And next to him was Shallum the son of Hallohesh, leader of half the district of Jerusalem; he and his daughters made repairs.

Nehemiah is the only book in the Bible where it is called the Old Gate. Things that are old remind us of who and what came before us.

In the case of fortifying our hope in the Lord, it’s important to remember that He alone is the Ancient of Days. Jesus is the Creator of all things. Christianity isn’t a religion that was founded in the first century by Jesus or His followers. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to our first parents dating from the Garden of Eden.

Christianity isn’t one of many ways to salvation. Jesus Christ is the only way, truth, and life – from eternity to eternity.

Here is another approach: No other belief system can give anyone hope. That’s partly because they all demand you earn salvation; and that is something it is impossible to do. You can’t work your way to Heaven; you can’t get there by deeds. It is a gift – God’s indescribable gift.

Neh 3:13  Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Refuse Gate.

The Valley Gate was where Nehemiah had set out on his night survey of the wall.

It’s almost impossible to not associate valleys with trials and suffering. We’re told we will “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). The hope you fortify at the Valley Gate is that the Lord can not and will not leave you or forsake you.

Neh 3:14  Malchijah the son of Rechab, leader of the district of Beth Haccerem, repaired the Refuse Gate; he built it and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.

Yes, this was the gate through which the city’s refuse was taken to be dumped. Not very glamorous. Sort of like Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue in Monopoly.

Our fortification at this gate is for Jesus to cleanse us and make us more like Him:

“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

In Second Corinthians 7:1 we read, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

You are being transformed, changed from glory-to-glory. He will complete the work; you will awake in eternity in His likeness.

Neh 3:15  Shallun the son of Col-Hozeh, leader of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate; he built it, covered it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired the wall of the Pool of Shelah by the King’s Garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the City of David.
Neh 3:16  After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, leader of half the district of Beth Zur, made repairs as far as the place in front of the tombs of David, to the man-made pool, and as far as the House of the Mighty.
Neh 3:17  After him the Levites, under Rehum the son of Bani, made repairs. Next to him Hashabiah, leader of half the district of Keilah, made repairs for his district.
Neh 3:18  After him their brethren, under Bavai the son of Henadad, leader of the other half of the district of Keilah, made repairs.
Neh 3:19  And next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, the leader of Mizpah, repaired another section in front of the Ascent to the Armory at the buttress.
Neh 3:20  After him Baruch the son of Zabbai carefully repaired the other section, from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest.
Neh 3:21  After him Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, repaired another section, from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib.
Neh 3:22  And after him the priests, the men of the plain, made repairs.
Neh 3:23  After him Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs by his house.
Neh 3:24  After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress, even as far as the corner.
Neh 3:25  Palal the son of Uzai made repairs opposite the buttress, and on the tower which projects from the king’s upper house that was by the court of the prison. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh made repairs.

The Fountain Gate is located near the pool of Siloam and was often used by the people for ceremonial cleaning before proceeding on to the Temple.

This speaks to us of the living waters of the Holy Spirit that empower us. Jesus said: ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38).

The hope that the indwelling Holy Spirit brings is a topic that could occupy us for a long time. For example, we’re told in the New Testament He is the guarantee of our completion in Christ. Not a guarantee like limited power train warranties; but an absolute guarantee.

Hope is fortified at the Fountain Gate realizing that He dwells within us, our Comforter.

Neh 3:26  Moreover the Nethinim who dwelt in Ophel made repairs as far as the place in front of the Water Gate toward the east, and on the projecting tower.
Neh 3:27  After them the Tekoites repaired another section, next to the great projecting tower, and as far as the wall of Ophel.

No jokes about the Water Gate. This one led down to the Gihon Spring which was located adjacent to the Kidron Valley.

The Water Gate is intended to remind us of the Word of God. We already quoted from Ephesians how Jesus washes us by the Word (Ephesians 5:26).

It was at the Water Gate that Ezra and the priests conducted a great Bible conference and explained the Scriptures to the people.

Hope in the Lord is fortified as we encounter Him on the pages of Scripture.

Neh 3:28  Beyond the Horse Gate the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house.

The Horse Gate was close to the King’s stables and the men of Jerusalem would ride their horses out of this gate to war.

Spiritual warfare is inevitable. Good thing we have the whole armor of God to fortify our hope in Him (Ephesians 6:10-12).

2Ti 2:3  You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2Ti 2:4  No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

The warfare itself fortifies our hope in the Lord in the sense that, if I’m at the Horse Gate, it’s a proof I’ve been enlisted by my Lord.

Neh 3:29  After them Zadok the son of Immer made repairs in front of his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shechaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, made repairs.
Neh 3:30  After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah made repairs in front of his dwelling.
The East Gate led directly to the Temple and is probably what we know today as the Golden Gate. Tradition says that Jesus entered the Temple on Palm Sunday through this gate.

Jewish and Christian tradition both connect the Golden Gate with the coming of the Messiah to Jerusalem.

For us, that means His prophesied Second Coming. Are you not fortified by the hope of His Second Coming?

Neh 3:31  After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the Nethinim and of the merchants, in front of the Miphkad Gate, and as far as the upper room at the corner.

The Hebrew word has a military connotation and refers to the mustering of the troops for numbering and inspection.

Since we just were thinking of the Lord’s coming, this gate certainly reminds us that at His Second Coming He will judge between believers and nonbelievers – the sheep and the goats – and establish the Millennial Kingdom on the earth.

O how our hope is fortified knowing the Prince of Peace is coming to right wrongs and to rule with righteousness.

Neh 3:32  And between the upper room at the corner, as far as the Sheep Gate, the goldsmiths and the merchants made repairs.

Back to where we started. Between these ten gates the wall itself was being fortified, connecting all around the city.

My grand-boys were over the other night playing LEGO Batman on Nintendo. In certain levels, all that Batman or Robin have to do is walk through a door or gate to receive power in the game.

The ten gates… Walk through each of them and you’ll be fortified in the Lord.

For example: Are you at a Valley Gate in your life? Don’t stand arguing at the Valley Gate, wishing instead to be walking through one of the others. Don’t let it halt you; go through it, with the certainty Jesus is with you every step of the way, and that all must work together for good.

#2 – The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify The Household Of The Lord

We missed some important things by concentrating on the gates. Two things in particular should have struck you:

First – Did you catch the varied occupations of the construction crew? Nehemiah was a cupbearer. There were priests, goldsmiths, perfumers, merchants, and folks that worked for the government. Also mentioned were the Nethinim – a group of Temple servants. In one instance, a man’s daughters were mentioned.

Second – There was another highly repeated word. Sixteen times Nehemiah noted that the people worked “next” to one another.

I’ve pointed out before, talking mostly about Nehemiah, how incredible that such an immense project was entrusted to people with no skill to accomplish it. God supernaturally empowered perfumers and such to build His wall.

We should mention the nobles who thought themselves too good for such work.
What a bunch of losers. Rank and status outside the church mean nothing in the church. The greatest of all is servant of all.

While we are on the subject, Nehemiah is often put forth as a great leader. He was – but only because he was a submitted follower of Jehovah. Don’t think God scoured the earth looking for the most qualified leader. He picked Nehemiah – an unlikely candidate – and molded him.

Back to where I was going with these observations.

Here we’ve seen a group of God’s people, from all walks of life, working side-by-side right next to each other to build something on the earth for the Lord.

If your Bible wasn’t open to Nehemiah, you might think I just described the church on earth.

We often say that the church is not a building – meaning it is not the brick and mortar where we meet that matters, but the believers in the meeting.

But the church is a building in this sense: We are each compared to living stones.

1 Peter 2:5  you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said He would build His church. He does it, on earth, by taking the stones He has made alive and placing them next to one another as He wills in what we recognize as a local congregation of His people – the church.
It is this “next” to that so many who profess Jesus are actively disobeying by remaining independent, aloof from church.

It is not superior; it is insubordinate. I can’t tell a person how often to attend their church; or how involved to be. But I can tell believers who disdain the church that they are sinning. We are each called upon to fortify the household of faith by being next to one another, building up one another to go and fulfill the Great Commission.

The city that matches my personality isn’t Capri, Italy. It is a city I’ve only seen glimpses of on the pages of the Bible.

It’s the New Jerusalem, the city whose builder and maker is God. It’s going to be coming down from Heaven.

We read in the Revelation, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

While we wait – It’s good to be next to you for this hour, and for these several decades, in this household of faith.

Gate Expectations (Nehemiah 2:9-20)

You might remember Florida senator Marco Rubio joking about the small size of Donald Trump’s hands at a campaign rally in Roanoke, Virginia. He later offered a public apology.

Trump’s on-line detractors use hashtags like #tinytrump or #tinyhands

There are claims that his camp digitally alters the length of his fingers in the media they release.
The tiny hands debate goes back to an article written more than thirty years ago. At last the issue can be resolved.

There is a website that allows you to print-out an actual-size outline of Donald Trump’s left hand. It was created based on a bronzed handprint hanging in the New York branch of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

Are Trump’s hands really #tiny? Not exactly. At 7.25” long, they’re only slightly smaller than average.

Nehemiah twice in chapter two refers to the “hand” of God – in verses eight and eighteen. The hand of God was and would be upon him as he journeyed to Jerusalem, and as he rallied the Jews to rebuild its walls.

It’s a good backdrop for us to discuss the hand of God in our lives… And to recall with exceeding joy that we who are in Christ are God’s handiwork.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Shown By You, and #2 It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Upon You.

#1 – It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Shown By You (v9-10 & 19-20)

I am art-ignorant. By that I mean I do not recognize most paintings or sculptures. I can probably pick-out the Mona Lisa from a line-up, but that’s about it.

Artists have a certain style that makes them recognizable to the discerning eye. In the 1960’s, Andy Warhol pioneered Pop Art – showcasing a collection of paintings that focused on mass-produced commercial goods. When you see his art, you say, “That’s an Andy Warhol.”

The same is true in other media, e.g., film. The live action Dumbo was recently released. People say it is, “from the imagination of Tim Burton.”

Do you ever think of God as an Artist? In Psalm 19:1 we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:10, said of believers, “we are God’s handiwork” (NIV). The word translated “handiwork” is the Greek word, poiēma, so we think poem. The word can mean most any kind of artistic, creative work.

Creation is the “handiwork” of God. So are you as His new creation in Jesus.

What is God making you? Or, better yet, who is God making you?

You are “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). It doesn’t mean that a person is predestined, before they are born, to either Heaven or Hell. It means that after you are born again, it is your destiny to become like Jesus.

Since Christians are God’s handiwork, then even before we are completed, others ought to see God’s style through our lives. They should by looking at us, or by listening to us, be able to say, “I’m pretty sure that’s a Jesus.”

Nehemiah gets ridiculed by opponents of God’s work. He lets them know they are seeing the Master at work in and through him, and that God’s work will prosper.

Neh 2:9  Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.

When Ezra journeyed, he refused an armed escort. He thought it would detract from the testimony of God’s ability to provide for, and to protect, the caravan.

Did Nehemiah therefore lack faith? I’d rather think that he was led differently.

Bible characters were led by God in all kinds of ways. Some seem logical; others seem odd, to say the least. All of them were designed by God for maximum spiritual effect.

Joseph provides a great example. Sold by his brothers into slavery… Wrongfully imprisoned, then forgotten there… He was suddenly raised to second only to Pharaoh. In the end, he saw God’s unusual leading, declaring, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

We are all being conformed to the image of Jesus… But our paths will be very different, because we each are unique.

The certainty of God’s handiwork in my life can assure me that I am on the path that will best accomplish His work in me. God either sets me on the path, or He permits me to walk it, and as with Joseph, He works everything together for the good.

Neh 2:10  When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.

These guys will dog Nehemiah the whole time. Their plots will be pretty sinister.

Are people plotting against you? Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. But seriously, sometimes it feels like certain individuals oppose you every opportunity they get.

Expect it rather than be shocked by it. Hopefully they oppose you for seeing a “Jesus,” which offends their conscience. Pray for them; minister to them. They need Who you have.

The most exciting line in verse ten is, “a man had come.” God sent a man through whom He might work, and thereby show others His handiwork.

God has chosen to work through men and women and children who have received Jesus. He has better, more powerful, more faithful servants in the angels. But it’s us He sends with the Gospel.

I like, but am simultaneously terrified, by something the apostle Paul said: “Follow me as I follow Christ” (First Corinthians 11:1). The gist of that is not that we be like Paul, but that we be like Jesus Whom Paul follows. We should show Him in our actions and in our reactions; in our words; in our walk.

If you want a slightly different art analogy, in another New Testament passage we read, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (Second Corinthians 3:2). We are literature; God’s poem; to be read by others.

Let’s drop down to verse nineteen and keep with Sanballat and Tobiah.

Neh 2:19  But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”

They are joined by a third opponent, Geshem.

Ridicule. False accusations. If you haven’t experienced these, just wait; you will. Sticks and stones can break your bones. Words can break your spirit. The only words that matter, in the long run, are Jesus’ promises to you, found in Scripture. Let His Word overcome the words of men.

Feeling lonely? Unloved? Jesus said He’d never leave you, never forsake you; He loves you with a pure, everlasting love. Because you can’t physically touch Him, do you think it isn’t enough?

I don’t want to sound insensitive, but, really – Our relationship with Jesus ought to fill our hearts.

Neh 2:20  So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah had a godly confidence that the walls would be rebuilt. He spoke boldly about Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem’s true spiritual condition.

When we present the Gospel, it is only good news if folks hear the bad news, too. They are sinners, spiritually dead, condemned to Hell. At the Cross Jesus took their place. He exchanges His righteousness for their sin so that God can declare the believing sinner justified. He rose from the dead, offering them His empowering by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Jesus isn’t offering you a better life, or your best life. He is promising you eternal life in Heaven rather than in Hell.

Everyone would see God’s work in that the wall would be rebuilt; and it would be rebuilt in only 52 days. They would look upon the wall and acknowledge, “That’s a God.”

It must have been the Six Day War in 1967. After Israel’s decisive victory, my dad (not a believer) said, “Those are God’s people.”

You, individually, are the temple of God on the earth. We, collectively, are the temple of God on the earth. The age we live in, between the ascension of Jesus to Heaven and His return to resurrect the dead in Christ and rapture those alive at His coming – it’s the story of us, as we have been entrusted with the treasure of the Gospel in these earthen vessels.

Let’s put it in question form, for each of us to answer: When people look at me, or at us, do they see a Jesus?

#2 – It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Shown By You (v11-18)

God’s handprints would be all over the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was careful to keep the focus on the Lord.

Still, God wasn’t going to rebuild the walls Himself. He would do it through a man leading other men.

Whether it was Noah, or Abraham, or Moses or Joshua; or Peter or Paul or John; or Wesley or Whitfield or Graham or Smith; God works through men, women, and children whom He saves and empowers.

We need reminding that His greatest work isn’t what He does through us, using us. We are His greatest work.

Allow me to suggest a line of reasoning that substantiates what I just said. As glorious as creation is, we read in the Bible that, “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (Second Peter 3:10). In place of the current creation will follow “a new heaven, and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

What survives the old creation to inhabit the re-creation is us – believers, God’s new creation. Paul exclaimed, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). It’s all about Jesus completing His work in us.

Read these remaining verses not so much about the walls, but about God’s handiwork upon Nehemiah.

Neh 2:11  So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.

I’m not sure if this is meant to be read as a delay, or if it’s saying it only took him three days to recover from the 4month trip.

Some works for God require urgency; others, waiting. In your life you will experience both, and they are designed to reveal different things about where you are in your walk with Jesus.

Neh 2:12  Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode.

Nehemiah led a secret-survey group under cover of darkness. In an effort to be stealthy, the only animal was the one he rode, while the “few men” proceeded on foot. Even more super-spylike, it seems no one, not even these few men, knew what he had returned for.

It was a practical strategy. Nehemiah knew what God wanted. He didn’t need to consult with the locals. This wasn’t going to be a discussion; they weren’t going to take a vote.

Why take anyone along, then? I don’t know – except that even though there would be no discussion, support would be needed, and Nehemiah seemed to be discipling these guys to that end.

Most of us pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

We can think of it in terms of a secret-survey accompanied by God the Holy Spirit.

These honest appraisals are one of the key ways God molds and shapes you as handiwork. Just remember to be honest.

Neh 2:13  And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.

I wasn’t able to find much data on the original walls of Jerusalem, or after Nehemiah’s rebuild. I did run across a description of the walls when they were rebuilt in the 16th century by the Ottomans:

The length of the walls is 2.4966 miles, their average height is 39.37 feet, and the average thickness is 8.2 feet. The walls contain 34 watchtowers and seven main gates.

It seemed an insurmountable task, as evidenced by the fact no one was working on them.

You might be thinking, “Nobody looks at me and sees a Jesus.” Maybe; maybe not. You might feel like you’re that project in your garage under blankets with boxes piled on top that was started years ago only to be abandoned.

But He Who began the work of conforming you to His image has promised to complete it. Let that refresh you, and get back to cooperating with Jesus. If it seems Jesus is not doing anything, He is; you just don’t see it, and you are impatient. Great art takes time.

I mentioned the Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci worked on it for about 15 years.

Neh 2:14  Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.

The ruin and rubble was extensive in some areas. It did not dissuade Nehemiah.

God’s handiwork is interrupted by apathy; by sin; by backsliding. The ruin can be extensive.

It will not dissuade Jesus, Who offers forgiveness upon your repentance, and restoration.

Neh 2:15  So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.

Nehemiah could only go so far before he was forced to turn back. He seems to be presenting the situation as way more difficult than he had thought. A couple of thoughts on that:

First, you might get to a point in your life where the things you committed to get a lot more difficult than you thought. Marriage is the easy example. Are you going to follow through on your vows, or head back to Babylon?

Second, the difficulty of the situation isn’t really the point if God is involved. In fact, the more difficult it seems, the more God can be glorified.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that it is in the furnace, in the press, in the storm, where God’s handiwork is refined.

Neh 2:16  And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work.

Nehemiah’s arrival had been a pretty big event. Here was the servant of the Persian king, with letters from the king, escorted by an elite military force. Nehemiah let anticipation grow until he’d make a big reveal.

When is the last time you thought about God’s big reveal of us? In Second Thessalonians 1:10 we read, “When He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” At His Second Coming, we return with Jesus, and He is glorified through the lives of believers whom He has transformed by making us saints out of sinners. He reveals us in our completed state to those on the earth to show His ultimate handiwork.

Neh 2:17  Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”

Nehemiah may have said more than this. I rather think this was all he said. It was certainly all that he needed to say.

People need to be motivated by truth; by the Word of God. Submitted to God’s Word, you accept its explanations and judgments, and you apply its corrections and rebukes.

Neh 2:18  And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.

The King of kings and the king were both in support – with greater emphasis on God.

The people “set their hands” to the work. But, again, it was in the context of “the hand of God” being upon Nehemiah, and, by extension, upon them.

In the work – you are the work, God’s handiwork.

The Master poet… The Master potter… The Master builder… The Master metalsmith… The Master goldsmith and silversmith… The Master gardener… Jesus is the true Master of the Arts.

You are His masterpiece.

I See A Sad Mood Rising (Nehemiah 2:1-8)

Starlord claimed to have a plan for defeating Ronin in order to obtain the infinity stone. When pressed, he admitted that he only had 12% of a plan. Groot kindly commented, “I am Groot,” translated, “It’s better than 11% of a plan.”

Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, leader of The A-Team, was fond of saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The movie inspired by the TV show had the tag line, “There is no plan B.”

Nehemiah was definitely a man with Plan-A.

At the end of chapter one, we read, “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (v11).

Emphasis on “this day.” After months of praying, the day arrived on which Nehemiah planned to take action.

His asks in chapter two definitely reveal careful planning:

Verse 7 – “Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah…” Nehemiah had planned-out his travel.

Verse 8 – “And [give me] a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” He had planned ahead as to how he would rebuild the walls, and what materials it would require.

In chapter one, Nehemiah was introduced as a pray-er. In chapter two he is introduced as a planner.

We’ll look at Nehemiah’s planning with an eye towards God’s plan for each of us. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Plan Should Be To Discover God’s Plan, and #2 Your Plan Should Be To Implement God’s Plan.

#1 – Your Plan Should Be To Discover God’s Plan (v1-4)

I know; it sounds like double-talk. But it’s true. If you are in Christ, God has a plan for you. It involves His working in you, then through you.

The apostle Paul revealed this precious truth when he said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

God is working in you: You are His “workmanship,” a beautiful new creation who is predestined to be conformed into the image of Jesus.

God is working through you: He has “good works” “prepared” for you to “walk” in. It’s subtle, but notice, Paul doesn’t say you have works to perform. He says you have works to discover, preplanned by God. Your part is to “walk” in them – meaning you are to walk by faith in the Spirit in every situation.

It’s not double-talk. It is keeping our dependence upon the Lord to finish what He has started in us by working through us; not by our works, but as we walk by faith in the works that He has prepared in advance for us to discover.

Nehemiah discovered God’s plan, and began to walk in it. Let’s start in the last verse of chapter one.

Neh 1:11  “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.

Comparing the dates in chapter one with those in chapter two, we learn that Nehemiah had been praying and intermittently fasting about the sad conditions in Jerusalem for a period of four months. In those four months, he discovered God’s plan for him was to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild its broken down walls.

We don’t know a lot about Nehemiah before we meet him as the king’s cupbearer, but I think it’s safe to speculate that God’s plan was way beyond his training and talent.

To put it another way, if you were looking for someone to build an addition to your house, you wouldn’t search Angie’s List for wine tasters.

The work God has prepared in advance for you, by which He will be glorified, can seem foolish to you, and to others. One of the first things we need, then, is an openness to whatever God wants to do through us. The less our serving Him has to do with our abilities, the better.

Nehemiah mentioned other servants who were praying. This could refer to Jews in general, who might also be burdened for the welfare of Jerusalem. But it reads more like a prayer-group Nehemiah had gotten together.

You’re only going to discover God’s plan for you while in fellowship with other believers. For example: In the New Testament, we read a lot about the gifts of God the Holy Spirit. Except for the gift of tongues as a personal prayer language, aren’t all the other listed gifts for the purpose of serving others?

The Contemporay English Version (CEV) puts it this way: “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others” (First Corinthians 12:7).

If you’re not in regular, personal fellowship in a local church, you’re not going to discover God’s plan.

Nehemiah wanted mercy from God in the sight of the king “this day.” It was time to act.

Neh 2:1  And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.

How are we to understand his “sad” countenance? I think it was the plan to get the king to engage in conversation.

I submit two observations in support:

The first observation is that Nehemiah indicated he was going to act “this day.” The only action we read about is his sadness.

The second observation is that he specifically mentioned his need for “mercy in the sight” of the king.

You could say that the future of Jerusalem depended on one man’s ability to make a sad face. Not too sad; just sad enough.

I wonder how that plan was revealed. Did God suggest it to Nehemiah? Or to one of the other guys in his prayer cell? It’s just funny – admit it. And it worked.

Neh 2:2  Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid,

Lots to fear. King Artaxerxes wasn’t someone you wanted to mis-serve. These Persian kings might kill you for less.

Neh 2:3  and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”

Pretty bold, I’d say. He was respectful, but brutally honest. Any plan of God’s is going to be without deceit. It won’t be manipulative or tricky. It’s not a sales pitch.

Neh 2:4  Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.

Nehemiah prayed under his breath before answering. I do that all the time – not because I’m so spiritual, but because I’m not.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is what Mary Poppins wants you to say when you don’t know what to say. Doesn’t work in discipleship or counseling. Pray under you breath or silently.

I know we can’t be certain, but it doesn’t seem like Nehemiah the cupbearer’s first thought upon hearing about the walls of Jerusalem was, “I’m the man to go and rebuild them.” And if that was his first thought, he most certainly had little or no training or talent to accomplish the task.

He discovered it was God’s plan to send him. Through prayer and fasting, the details came to him.

You and I probably don’t need to be sent somewhere. We’re most likely right where God has brought us. His plan is to make us more like Jesus day-by-day.

We discover the particulars as we yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit, acting and reacting as a believer can and should.

Walk this way and you will discover God’s plan, and your works in particular, that contribute to making you like your Lord over your lifetime.

#2 – Your Plan Should Be To Implement God’s Plan (v5-8)

Before we get too much further, I want to clarify something about the phrase, “God’s plan.” I don’t want us to get the idea that there is always a three-point or five-point, step-by-step, blueprint-style plan to implement.

An example might be better than an explanation.

Abram, who would later have his name changed by God to Abraham, discovered and implemented God’s plan for his life. But listen to the plan:

Gen 12:1  Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you…
Gen 12:4  So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him…

“Abram, take off; I’ll show you where to later.” Could you call that a plan? It sounds like 12% of a plan to me. But it was enough for Abram to begin walking. He would discover more as he obeyed.

Some of God’s plans are Abram-like; some are Nehemiah-like. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to walking with Jesus.

Nehemiah had a three-point, bullet point, PowerPoint presentation. Point #1 – Send Me to Judah.

Neh 2:5  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”

Twice he mentioned his “father’s tombs” to the king. As cupbearer, Nehemiah did more than serve wine. The position gave him close, even intimate, contact with both the king and his queen. They would confide in him. He would converse with them, probably counsel them. So perhaps Nehemiah knew something about the king and queen we don’t – that they would be moved by his connection to his fathers.

He had a clear starting point. And it wasn’t just “Let me go to Judah”; it was “Send me to Judah.” He wanted support, not just permission. For this task, in that political climate, implementing God’s plan would require support.

Here is how I’d apply that to us. A believer may think they’ve discovered God’s plan, and want to implement it. But you should seek the spiritual support of the fellowship of believers. Not everything I think is a plan from God is something from Heaven. It may be my will, not God’s; so confirmation is a good thing.

Neh 2:6  Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.

There’s no reason to think this “queen” was Esther. It would be fun; but it wasn’t her.

It reads like they were having a quiet dinner, with Nehemiah pouring the beverages as usual.

It doesn’t say, but it is strongly implied, that Nehemiah answered the king’s questions. He’d thus given a great deal of thought to implementing this plan – enough that he could give a reasonable guesstimate as to how much leave from his position he would need. He could break it down to round-trip travel, as well as time in Jerusalem rebuilding. Maybe he had charts??

Sometimes meticulous planning is called for. For example: I’m aware of several fellowships that purchased land expecting that, as soon as they did, their numbers and their income would swell. Didn’t happen, and now they are strapped. Unless God specifically told them to do so, that’s not a good plan.

Here’s another example: The organization Youth With a Mission (YWAM) has (or had) a training facility in Hawaii. If you applied to go to school there, they would not accept you unless you had all the funds necessary to get there and back.
We came into contact with a pastor from Burma on his way to YWAM. He had enough money to get from Burma to Hanford. When I contacted YWAM, they told me he was now our problem.

Point #2 – Authority.

Neh 2:7  Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah,

There had been significant opposition to the resettlement of Jews to Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the walls especially. Nehemiah wanted the authority of the king to travel and to build.

How does this speak to implementing God’s plan or plans?
Well, it is important to remember and to respect that we who are in Christ have been granted great authority – great spiritual authority.

For example: You have the authority on earth to tell a sinner that, at the Cross, their sins can be forgiven, along with the guilt and shame associated with them. You can confidently promise them they will be new creations in Jesus – born again recipients of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And you guarantee them eternal life in Heaven in a sinless glorified body.

Just to compare… Buddhism says that when we die the mind that has been developed and conditioned for this life re-establishes itself in a new being. The new individual will then grow a new personality that is conditioned by those life circumstances. This process of dying and re-establishing itself continue until one reaches Nirvana – a state of enlightenment that does not desire or crave but simply lives in peace and with love.
In other words, after you die, you’ll be reincarnated. According to Buddhism, there are several different realms one can be transported to. Some may be reborn as animals, while others humans. Rebirth occurs over and over again. Lame.

Back to our thoughts about implementing God’s plan with authority. BE CAREFUL. Try to not mis-speak. Don’t, for example, put burdens on people that are unbiblical and legalistic. Don’t misrepresent God’s grace.

On the other side of that, know something about the author whose book you are about to read; or the doctrine of the Bible teachers you listen to; or the perspectives of the biblical counselors you seek out. They might do more damage than good – depending on their core beliefs.

Implement God’s plan with His authority, being careful to apply grace with compassion.

Point #3 – Materials List.

Neh 2:8  and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.

This guy was thorough. He had thought it through right down to his own need for housing while on site. He knew how he wanted to build, and with what materials – taking into account what was readily available to him.

We would say that he counted the cost. Always a good idea. While we must take ventures of faith when called upon, we should not presume upon the Lord in foolishly tempting Him.

We could also talk about the materials with which we are to build for God. The apostle Paul illustrated it by saying, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw…” (First Corinthians 3:12).

These all were possible building materials that were used in temples being constructed in the first century. Think of the projects around your house. There are always choices in materials. Some will do the job but wonʼt last as long. You might choose them when youʼre putting your house on the market! Other materials have a much higher quality. You choose them if you plan on living in your house for a long time.

You can choose either costly or common materials which are either more or less permanent. In practical terms, it boils down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to implement God’s plan through the works you discover He has for you.

I’ve told you about the couch that was donated to our old office on 11th Avenue. One of the cushions was eaten out by a German Shepherd. You could hide that by flipping the cushion over… But if you sat on that side, there was no support, and you’d sink.

The time and the talent and the treasure you are applying in your walk – Is it like that couch?

God is a planner. He has big plans for you. One day, you will awake in the likeness of your Savior, Jesus. Mean time… Walk by faith in every situation, yielded to the Holy Spirit, and you will discover and implement His pre-planned works for you.

A.W. Tozer reminds us, “God wants worshipers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned [to] worship.”

The Gate Awakening (Nehemiah 1:1-11)

Super heroes:

Marvel calls them “enhanced.”

DC labels them “meta-humans.”

They have amazing abilities and, as earth’s mightiest heroes, they “fight the battles that we never could.”

Christians can fall into a super hero mindset.

We assume that someone else, another believer, someone with greater spiritual abilities, will step up and serve the Lord.

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “God isn’t looking for our ability, just our availability.”

I understand the point it’s making, but I think I’d change it to this: “God doesn’t require our ability, but our availability in our inability.”

Bible hero after Bible hero claimed inability but God called them anyway.

Moses provides the textbook example. While he was at work one day, God tapped him to be Israel’s deliverer. Moses argued that his inability to speak well should disqualify him. He ultimately impolitely asked God to find someone else.

Nehemiah was a normal guy, going about his daily life in Persia, working for the government. One day almost out of nowhere he was called upon to become both a warrior and a building contractor – things he had no ability to perform.

That kind of thing can… It should… Happen to us. As we go about our daily routine, despite our inabilities, God taps us to be used by Him.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Eyes Can Be Suddenly Opened To See The Need, and #2 Your Heart Can Be Seriously Burdened To Meet The Need.

#1 – Your Eyes Can Be Suddenly Opened To See The Need (v1-4)

In the church, are there “enhanced” elect? Are there “meta-human” ministers?

We’re not “supers,” as Mr. Incredible calls them.

At the same time, if you are in Christ, you are enhanced, are you not, by the presence of God the Holy Spirit living in you?

You are meta-human in that you are empowered to do all things through Christ Who strengthens you.

You can’t see it, but you are clothed with the robe of righteousness, and you walk in the power of the resurrection of Jesus.

You are, therefore, always available for any need God brings to your attention. If you are in Christ, Jesus assumes your availability, and ignores your inability.

Neh 1:1  The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,

We’ve read ahead, so we know that Nehemiah held an important position in the service of the king of Persia.

It’s too bad, really, because Nehemiah went out of his way to keep his position a secret until the very last words of chapter one.

He presented himself as an average, everyday believer. He was a regular Jew who happened to be in the service of King Artaxerxes.

God has His ways of positioning you; of stationing you. In the New Testament, Philip was told to go hang-out along the side of the road. Along came an Ethiopian government official. Philip shared the Lord with him, baptized him, and the man brought the Gospel to Africa.

The particular task God had for Nehemiah required his close contact with Artaxerxes.

The particular task God has for you requires you to be right where you are.

Unless you are actively running from God, trust that He has brought you where He wants you. You should have the anticipation that, at any moment, God can use you.

Neh 1:2  that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.

Hanani may have been a brother, or a close relative, or (as they say in Riverdale) a brother-from-another-mother in the sense of his being Jewish.

Having just returned from a visit to Jerusalem, Nehemiah would, naturally, ask him how things were going there.

It’s interesting Nehemiah referred to the Jews who had returned with Zerubbabel and, later, Ezra, as “escaped” and having “survived the captivity.” It sounds romanticized – as if life in Jerusalem was all rainbows and unicorns after the captivity.

Hardly…

Neh 1:3  And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”

Some 75 years earlier Zerubbabel had taken the first group of 50,000 released captives back and amid much opposition rebuilt the temple. Some years later, just a few years before Nehemiah’s time, Ezra had taken a second group of 5,000 back to restore the worship.

There was nothing to romanticize. Things were bad; terrible, even:

Hanani and his companions refer to the returnees as “survivors,” a much bleaker description than Nehemiah’s.
They were in “distress,” the subjects of “reproach.”

We don’t know what Nehemiah knew or didn’t know prior to this report. He may not have known of the conditions in Judah and Jerusalem. Or he may have known, but they had not really come into spiritual focus.

One of the things we learn from Nehemiah is that there is always timing to God’s plans. I mentioned Moses earlier as God’s deliverer of Israel from Egypt. When God heard the cries of His people suffering, He raised-up Moses… But that was after 400 years.

Then there followed more waiting:

Moses went to work in Egypt one day – just as he had each day for the previous forty-years. One day God opened his eyes to the plight of the Jews. But Moses killed an Egyptian and was forced to flee.

He spent the next forty-years tending sheep before God revealed Himself in the burning bush.

Moses then embarked on the exodus that would occupy the last forty years of his life.

Nehemiah met with family and friends one day; nothing out of the ordinary. Except that was the day God opened his eyes to the need that he was going to meet.

You’ve probably gone to work one day; or to meet with someone; or something else; only to find yourself being used by God. It was exciting, right?

I wonder, too, if I’ve missed more than one of those appointments with God. Not maliciously; just out of dullness or busyness.

No matter how many days or weeks or months might go by where things are mostly normal, be ready to be used by God.

Neh 1:4  So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

He “wept,” “mourned,” fasted and prayed. As we will see, it wasn’t just an emotional response that then faded away. It was a deep, spiritual response that set him on a path.

I don’t want to give the impression that we are to sit around waiting for some spiritual lightning bolt to strike. As disciples in Christ, we should be pursuing Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We should be looking for things to do, and people to share with. Prayer, even fasting, should be normal for us.

But there are also going to be special moments when your eyes are opened to see a need, and when you are being called meet it as a servant.

It may be something that lasts a short time or for a season.
Or it may be something that puts you on a path for the rest of your life.

You should ignore your thoughts of inability; or you should rejoice in your inability; knowing that you are just the kind of regular believer God can, and does, use.

#2 – Your Heart Can Be Seriously Burdened To Meet The Need (v5-11)

We’re going to read Nehemiah’s prayer. Before we do, there’s something we need to know. If we compare the dates in this chapter with those in chapter two, we realize that Nehemiah prayed for about four months.

He didn’t pray this same prayer over-and-over. It represents the way he prayed for over 100 days straight, while intermittently fasting.

Neh 1:5  And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments,

I find analyzing prayers a little like dissecting a flower. When you’re done, you can see all its parts, but the continuity and the beauty is forever destroyed. I want less to dissect it and more to discover it.

Nehemiah lifted his thoughts to Heaven. Prayer must elevate our mind and affections upward, to the throne room of God. The things of earth must grow strangely dim in the light of God’s glory and grace.

Nehemiah was thankful God is the promise keeper. He keeps His “covenant” at all times, encouraging “love” and obedience on our part. When we fail, we can count on His “mercy.”

Neh 1:6  please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.

There’s never a time when God is deaf or blind. The words Nehemiah used are a way of expressing urgency, calling upon God to act immediately.

“Night and day” Nehemiah prayed. He had some definite, set prayer times. He probably prayed the way Daniel did – three times a day, towards Jerusalem, coinciding with the times of the scheduled daily sacrifices.

Nehemiah also fasted. That meant he spent the time he would normally be preparing food or eating praying.

But beyond this, mentioning his praying and fasting was a way of saying that his heart was burdened by the situation. He thought about it all the time. Jerusalem, its condition, became his passion.

I’m not sure what Nehemiah liked to do on his off time. We all have hobbies and pursuits. I like coffee. More specifically, I like different methods of brewing coffee.

Maybe Nehemiah was a coffee guy… He for sure knew his wine. Or maybe he raced camels… Or maybe he had a man-cave he hung out in.

Persia was big on perfume; maybe he dabbled in apothecary. Music was huge; maybe he was in a garage band, playing cymbals or tympani.

At this point in his life, Jerusalem occupied his heart so much that prayer and fasting took priority over everything else.

Christians describe that as being burdened. We do so remembering that Jesus said His “burden was light,” since He carries it with us. Being burdened isn’t a drag; it isn’t a heavy, crushing weight. It’s more like your heart being so full that it can’t fit other, less significant, pursuits.

One thing that always accompanies burdens is a new awareness of the ugliness of sin – both yours and that of others. Thus Nehemiah’s confessions.

Neh 1:7  We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

With these words Nehemiah was recalling the reason Israel had been taken captive and exiled to Babylon. God’s covenant with Israel was both unconditional and conditional:

Things like His promise that He would make of them a great nation from whom the Savior of the world would be born, were unconditional.
Whether or not the Jews would be physically blessed in their land was conditional on their obedience.

Neh 1:8  Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations;
Neh 1:9  but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’

Nehemiah understood the times in which he was living. God was keeping His promises to regather His special people to their land. The Temple had been rebuilt, but there was still work to be done, and the remnant needed God’s help.

I wonder when, in the over 100 days that he prayed, Nehemiah understood that he would be the answer to his own prayers?

Often a believer will be burdened for some mission or missionary, and will marvel that others are not so burdened. It probably means God is tapping you do do something.

Neh 1:10  Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.

I can’t help but think of modern Israel. Scattered all over the world since Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed in the first century, God has once again by His great power and by His strong hand brought His nation back to their land.

The existence of Israel is the fulfillment of many prophecies, and it is nothing if not miraculous.

Israel and the church are two separate entities. We, too, are beloved of God; but our destiny is different:

Jesus is coming in the clouds to resurrect the dead in Christ of the Church Age, and to rapture believers who are alive at His coming.

At some point after the rapture, the Jews in Israel will sign a seven year peace accord with the man who will turn out to be the antichrist. In the last half of the Great Tribulation, Israel will be persecuted, but preserved. They will receive their Messiah at His return with His Church from Heaven to establish a one thousand year kingdom, to be ruled from (where else?) Jerusalem.

Neh 1:11  O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name…”

Nehemiah wanted God to burden others in the same way He had burdened him.

He left it to the Lord. He didn’t embark on his own plan or path. The need was indeed great; but meeting it must wait for the Lord.

This is one reason why we don’t put burdens on you; why we don’t guilt you into giving, or into serving. We’ve never had a Sunday where we tell you we have a special message from Jesus, just for you, about… Tithing. We want God to speak to you, through His Word and by His Spirit.

Nehemiah would have a four month wait. Some Bible characters have little or no wait; others wait for decades. God knows how much preparation you need. Don McClure calls it “Wait Training.”

Wait on the Lord – realizing your wait could be only minutes long, or years ahead.

Neh 1:11  … and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.
Nehemiah realized he was in a unique position to meet the spiritual need. He was “the king’s cupbearer.”

According to one source,

Originally, the function of a cupbearer was to taste (either for quality or for poison or for both), carry, and serve wine to his master. In a case like that of Nehemiah, a cupbearer for royalty was not just a personal servant but also a trusted confidant and advisor. Thus, it was an office of great responsibility, power, and honor in the Persian Empire.

He knew that he was in the right place; he waited for the right time – trusting in God’s timing.

If you are in Christ, you are in the right place. In many cases, it is already the right time to serve.
We ought to see the needs, and meet the needs, in our homes and churches and communities.

In other cases, special cases, God will seriously burden you. He ignores your complaints of inability. He picks you because of it, so that in your weakness He is glorified.

Remember – if you are in Christ, Jesus assumes your availability.

The next super hero film will be in theaters soon. A young boy, Billy Batson, transforms into a full grown super hero by saying, Shazam.

You are being transformed daily into the image of your Savior, Jesus.

Be Ready to say, “Here am I, Lord; send me.”

100 To 1 (The Prayer Of Nehemiah)

TITLE: 100 TO 1
TEXT: NEHEMIAH 1.1-4 & 2.1-5

Nehemiah was able to accomplish in  only fifty-two days what others had failed to accomplish in over one hundred years – the repairing and rebuilding of the wall surrounding Jerusalem.

It was sparked by a passion and it was fueled by prayer.

The Jewish people had been taken into captivity in Babylon for seventy years.  In the year 530BC the power of the Babylonian Empire was overthrown by the Persians.  The king of Persia encouraged Jews to return to the city of Jerusalem and rebuild it’s Temple and it’s walls.

Immediately about fifty-thousand of them did return.  Discouraged by the immensity of the task, and by local opposition, they abandoned the work after only laying the foundation for their Temple.

About sixteen years later God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, who challenged the people to get back to work.  The Jews completed their Temple, some twenty years after their first arrival.

Sixty more years passed by and another group of Jews returned led by Ezra.  He set about reestablishing the spiritual life of the returnees.  He, too, faced opposition.  Although Ezra had great spiritual success among the people, the rebuilding of the city was still halted.

Ninety years after the first Jews returned from Babylon and fourteen years after Ezra’s return the Lord raised-up Nehemiah and sent him to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls.  He would accomplish in only fifty-two days what had not been done for nearly one hundred years!

It was sparked by a passion.

Nehemiah 1:1  The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,
Nehemiah 1:2  that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 1:3  And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”
Nehemiah 1:4  So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

When you compare the date given in verse one with the date given at the beginning of chapter two, you find that Nehemiah prayed like this for about one hundred days straight!

He was deeply affected.  His life was now all about praying for Jerusalem.  On-and-off, for one hundred days, he wept… he mourned… and he fasted.  He went to work; but he continued to weep, mourn, and fast.  Jerusalem was what he thought about; it consumed him.  It even affected the way he looked to others.

We tend to call this sort of experience a “burden.”  You’ve heard Christians talk like that, saying they have a “burden” for missions, or for the homeless, or for some other ministry.

The problem is that we think of the word “burden” as something that hinders or halts our progress.  It has a decidedly negative connotation.

In the Bible a “burden” is something that initiates activity.  It gets you going.  Some of the Old Testament prophets call their messages “the burden of the Lord,” to indicate it is something that consumes their heart and mind.

We might use the word passion instead.  If I described someone as being passionate about something, you’d get the idea they were focused on it, excited about it.

When a spiritual passion is sparked, it needs to be fueled by prayer.  Nehemiah began to pray.  He adopted an attitude of prayer that lasted one hundred days.

Notice what God did along the way.  It’s what He always does.

Nehemiah 2:1  And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.
Nehemiah 2:2  Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid,
Nehemiah 2:3  and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”
Nehemiah 2:4  Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.

Not a good idea to be sad on the job if you served the king of Persia!

Nehemiah prayed for one hundred days.  Now he prayed for just a few brief seconds.

Nehemiah 2:5  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”

Wow!  Where did that come from?  It seems unexpected.

Nehemiah served in the court of the king.  He was the king’s cupbearer.  The king’s cupbearer was an important royal position.  The cupbearer poured the wine for the king, making sure it was safe to drink and not poisoned.  When the king was not dining, the cupbearer’s duties included deciding who could see the king.  He was a trusted person with remarkable access to the throne.

It was a high and respected office.  It had perks.  He was wealthy.  He was comfortable.  He lived in ease and luxury and had great influence.  He had never even been to Jerusalem.

If I were giving this message a title it might be “100 to 1.”  100 days of praying prepared 1 man for the job.

When it was during those hundred days he first began to sense that he might be part of the answer to his prayers we’re not told.  But somewhere along the line he began to understand that God works through men and that God could and would work through him.
E. M. Bounds has written several small classic books on prayer.  In almost every paragraph you’ll find a sentence worth quoting.  One of my favorites is, “Man is looking for better methods.  God is looking for better men.  Men are God’s methods.”

You see this over and over again in your study of the Bible.

When Israel cried out to God for deliverance from the cruel slavery of Egypt, God heard their cry.  He saw to it that a baby was born.  Forty years later that baby, now a grown man, a prince of Egypt, still wasn’t ready.  He required forty more years of training in the wilderness.
Later in their history Israel wanted a king so they could be like the other nations.  That was man’s method.  The king they got, Saul, turned out to be an awful choice.  Mean time God was looking down upon the house of Jesse and thinking about its youngest son, David, who would grow to be a shepherd.  When the time came God had Samuel anoint the boy king.  It would be at least ten years before David would become king over the southern tribes, seven additional years until he united the kingdom.

Nehemiah makes that list.  I wonder if in his wildest imagination on day one he thought that in a mere one hundred days he’d play the one returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the wall?

Do you realize if not for his praying and then the change it wrought in his heart we never would have heard of Nehemiah?  He would have lived a successful life, retired well, died in the lap of luxury.

Sounds like the American dream!  Is that anything to get excited about?  To be passionate about?  Not if there’s something to build for God.

Nehemiah prayed for one hundred days.  God would answer Nehemiah by sending him to Jerusalem.  As he prayed, Nehemiah realized that he was the answer to his own prayers!

Not always, but I think more often than you realize – You are the answer to what you are praying for.

One obstacle to seeing ourselves as the answer to prayer is that we think ourselves unqualified.

How qualified was a cupbearer to lead a massive construction project?

He was as qualified as you are!  God wants to use you, to send you, to accomplish His purposes.  He has a plan for your life, to use you to help others according to the principles, precepts, and promises revealed in the Word of God.

Part of my prayer this week is that all of us return to or recognize a spiritual passion and position ourselves to be a part of fulfilling it as unto the Lord.