Nehemiah was extremely troubled. Although the temple had been rebuilt years earlier by the returning Jews, the walls of Jerusalem still lay in ruins. In ancient times, having a strong wall with strong gates was crucial. The purpose of the wall was to protect the inhabitants from the attack and infilitration of their enemies. Without walls, the city was vulnerable. Anyone could easily enter it making it much more difficult to defend.
In all fairness, there had been a previous attempt to rebuild the walls. However, enemies in the surrounding area had advised Artaxerxes I, King of Persia that the city would rise up in rebellion against him if the walls were rebuilt. Under Artaxerxes' orders, construction came to a grinding halt for a number of years.
Nehemiah, cupbearer of King Artaxerxes, wept, fasted and prayed as he pondered the state of Jerusalem. Although he had never lived in Jerusalem, he knew his people who had returned home were at the mercy of their enemies. The situation had to change!
As Nehemiah went about his duties, Artaxerxes noticed something was wrong. (Nehemiah 2:1-2) Remember, Artaxerxes was the one who had stopped the building of the wall in the first place. Nehemiah had good reason to be afraid. He wanted to ask the king to reverse his decision and allow Nehemiah to rebuild it. Suggesting that a Persian king reverse his decision was not generally a good idea! Nehemiah took courage. He knew that God could change Artaxerxes heart. (Nehemiah 2:3-5)
Artaxerxes inquired as to how long Nehemiah would be gone and then granted him permission to do what he proposed. I love this part. The king who had stopped the walls from being built in the first place now sends his most trusted servant (the cupbearer was responsible for the safety of the king) to finish the job. He issues letters of permission to Nehemiah and orders the enemies of the Jews to provide safe-conduct. They must have been "thrilled" about that! He issues letters granting Nehemiah permission to obtain the materials needed to complete the job. By sending Nehemiah, his own cupbearer, the King was endorsing this project 100%. If malicious reports came to Artaxerxes from the enemies of Jews, Artaxerxes would simply ask Nehemiah if they were true. Due to Nehemiah's position with the king, Nehemiah was trusted above anyone else.
After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah inspects the wall. Then he met with the leaders of the city. (Nehemiah 2:17-18) The people all had a mind to work. Everyone got busy. The walls had been in ruins long enough. It was time to build!
At first, their enemies tried to demoralize them with ridicule and insults. (Nehemiah 4:1-3) Nehemiah does not respond to his enemies. He does not stop the work on the wall to go and fight with them. Rather, Nehemiah takes the situation to God and lets him deal with it. (Nehemiah 4:4-5)
When the wall had reached half its height, the enemies became more intense in their attack. (Nehemiah 4:7-8)Once again, Nehemiah does what we should always do. He prayed to God and posted a guard day and night. He did not cease building.
Their enemies now became even more aggressive. (Nehemiah 4:11-15) Sometimes we seem to think trusting in God means we can merrily skip through life completely ignoring the following warning:
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)
Nehemiah knew better. He knew that God expected him to be prepared! (Nehemiah 4:16-21) The opposition continued. Nehemiah's enemies first invite him to a meeting. They do this four times. Nehemiah refuses to leave the work God had instructed him to do. Next, they accuse Nehemiah of planning to set himself up as king and revolt against Artaxerxes. Nehemiah's response is (Nehemiah 6:8) and the work continues. They even hire Shemaiah, presumably a priest who was supposed to be a servant of God to try to intice Nehemiah to break God's law. Nehemiah could take refuge in the temple area at the altar of asylum but ino in the house of God which was the temple building itself. As a layman, Nehemiah could not enter the sanctuary. This is a sober reminder that we must not allow those who claim they are of God to turn us from the work God has called us to do.
The wall was completed in 52 days. I don't know much about how long it takes to build things however, I know that it will take over a year to complete the bridge which collapsed in my hometown of Minneapolis. The construction of that bridge is involving constant work and working conditions have been extremely brutal this winter. That construction has also been done with modern equipment so I'm guessing the completion of this wall in 52 days was a pretty impressive feat. This walls weren't tiny, flimsy things. (Nehemiah 6:16)
We can learn a lot from Nehemiah. We need to go to God with our problems. We need to stay focused on what God has called us to do. We need to be aware of what the enemy is trying to do and protect ourselves against his attacks. Finally, we need to remember that our help comes from the Lord and we need to give all the glory to Him!
Scripture taken from New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.