Nehemiah chapter 2:17&18-“Then I said to them, “you see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace”- I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding”. So, they began this good work.” Three statements in these two-verses captured my attention. 1. The challenge of Nehemiah: “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem.” 2. The response of the people: “Let us rise up and build.” 3. The determination: Then they set their hands to this good work.” I am sure we all are familiar with the story of Nehemiah. The book of Nehemiah records the restoration of Jerusalem and its wall. Nehemiah was a layman. He was not a priest or of royal birth. But he made a great part in God’s history as the one who rebuilt Jerusalem. Let us see how could Nehemiah recover Jerusalem and God’s people? The main events of the book took place in the year 445 BC. During this period Nehemiah made the journey from Susa, near Persian Gulf to the city of Jerusalem in order to restore the city’s ruined defences. As we go through the book of Nehemiah, one thing we know is to be able to serve the Lord effectively, it is important to understand the spiritual principles set out in this book.
When we first meet Nehemiah, he is serving as a cup bearer in Susa, the principal palace and winter residence of the Persian king. Nehemiah was to choose and taste king’s wine to make sure that it was not poisoned. Nehemiah was a Jew, probably of the tribe of Judah, but as a cupbearer to the king he held a position of great eminence. As Nehemiah begins his story he tells of about the visit his brother Hanani and other men from Judah made, who reported that the gates and walls of Jerusalem were broken down. This was a life-changing conversation. Nehemiah inquired about the condition of the city and the people. They responded, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (1:3). Nehemiah’s strong reaction to this news showed where his real concerns laid: not in maintaining a good position in the Persian Empire but in achieving God’s purpose for His holy city. He is revealing his true identity that he is a servant of God. The report of the disgrace of the unrepaired walls and burned gates of Jerusalem lead him to prayer. He wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed for days, pleading God to do something about this disgraceful condition. God responded by doing something—through Nehemiah! The person God uses has a burden for His people, a vision for His purpose, and a commitment to His purpose. First, Nehemiah saw the great need, which burdened his heart. He also saw what God wanted to accomplish. Then, he committed himself to see it through in spite of the many difficulties.
1. The person God uses has a burden for His people.
When God wants to use us in some capacity, the first thing He does is to burden our heart with the situation. When we compare the dates of events, we discover that Nehemiah did not immediately rush in before the king with his request to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. Rather, he waited upon God in prayer for four months before the opportunity arose to talk with the king. As we look in to the details of this story we understand three things about Nehemiah’s burden:
A. Nehemiah’s burden rushed from feeling the people’s great need.
Other Jews in Babylon also had probably heard about the conditions in Jerusalem. But they were not burdened by the need of God’s people in the land. But the man that God used to do something about it not only heard about the need. He felt their need. He wept, mourned, fasted and prayed for days about what he had heard. God used that burden as the basis for his action. Maybe we are also wondering, “The needs around us are so many and so great! We can’t possibly respond to them all. How do we discern which particular need God wants us to get involved with?” Two things to take note of:
First, don’t let the immensity of the needs paralyze you so that you don’t do anything. Sometimes we hear about the overwhelming needs around the world and because there is no way to respond to them all we end up engrossed in our own pursuit of pleasure and ignore the needs of others. Second, don’t commit yourself hastily to something just because the need is there. The needs are simply endless. You don’t have to respond to all of the world’s needs. Nobody could do that. Rather, wait on God in prayer until He burdens your heart with a particular need that you can do something about it.
B. Nehemiah’s burden was focused by seeing the people’s great sin.
Nehemiah was realistic in assessing the problem. He quickly realized that at the heart of things was not a lack of organization, although they desperately needed someone to organize things, which Nehemiah subsequently did. The root problem was not lack of resources, although the project required resources. The root problem was sin. So he prayed, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (1:6b-7).
The Bible is clear that the root of all our global and personal problems is sin. Why there are wars and terrorist attacks? Why are governments, businesses and people riddled with greed and corruption? Why is the mission task of the church not fulfilled? On the personal level, why do people argue and have problems communicating? Why do children from Christian homes rebel against God and their parents? Whatever the problem is, we can trace its roots back to sin, either to the original sin of Adam and Eve, or directly to the sins of the people with the problems. But it’s not just the sins of others that we need to be aware of. We also need to be aware of and confess our own sins. Nehemiah included himself with the sins of the people. Staying aware of our own sins keep us humbled before God and others so that we don’t sit in judgment on them.
So, let us not get distracted from the root problem. If we start thinking that the real need is better organization or more funds or better methods, we’ll start at the wrong place. The root need is for repentance of God’s people, who have forgotten their God given purpose and are living for their own purpose. Nehemiah’s burden came from feeling the people’s great need. It was focused by seeing the people’s and his own great sin.
C. Nehemiah’s burden was lightened by seeing the people’s great God.
He begins his prayer addressing God: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (1:5). Toward the conclusion he reminds God and himself of God’s promise to gather His people from the most remote parts where He has scattered them for their disobedience. Then he prays (1:10), “They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.” Five times in that verse he repeats “you” and “your” as if to say, “These aren’t my people God; they are Your people.” God wants us to feel the burden for others, but then He wants us to roll that burden back on Him, remembering that it is not our power, but His power, that redeems them.
We need to go before God and get our priorities in line with His priorities. He did not save us so that we can live happily pursuing the personal dream. He saved us so that He can use us to fulfil His purpose. That leads to the second quality of the person God uses:
2. The person God uses has a vision and commitment for His purpose.
If Nehemiah had lacked a vision of God’s purpose, when he heard about the conditions in Jerusalem he would have said, “Why be bothered about Jerusalem? We live in Babylon and have lived here for over 100 years. What’s the big deal about Jerusalem anyway? Why not just settle down and worship God here?” But Nehemiah knew something about what God wanted to do with His people (1:9): “I … will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.”
If we want God to use us, ask Him to give us a burden for His people and a vision for His purpose.
When Nehemiah heard about the sad conditions in Jerusalem He didn’t say, “That’s too bad! I hope that somebody does something about it.” Rather, he was willing to commit himself to the task and to stick with it in spite of numerous difficulties. Note two things about Nehemiah’s commitment:
A. He was willing to count the world as loss for the sake of God’s purpose.
Nehemiah knows that he was a cupbearer to the king (1:11). The cupbearer was a high position in the court. He would have been a handsome man, well-trained in court etiquette. Since he enjoyed closest access to the king, he was a highly trusted man. But now when he hears about the distress of God’s people and the dishonour to God’s name, he could not be happy in this great job and the luxurious surroundings. He was willing to give it all up, make the difficult journey to Jerusalem, and to set about the stressful job of mobilizing the people to rebuild the walls so that God’s name would be honoured among His people. It was a costly sacrifice. Yes, he had to give up all of the comforts that he enjoyed and endure a lot of hardship.
B. He was willing to overcome the obstacles for the sake of God’s purpose.
There were problems within the ranks that could have stopped the work. When Sanballat, the governor of Samaria and Tobiah his associate knew that Nehemiah was on his way to Jerusalem they were extremely displeased. They were men of influence and power who opposed and tried to outsmart Nehemiah in everything that he did. But a great result is seen in Nehemiah 6:15-16. Nehemiah persisted and the wall was completed in 52 days! If you and I try to do anything in service for the Lord, we will face obstacles and opposition. Some of it will come from the world, but the most difficult opposition often comes from within. We have to realize upfront that we will encounter problems and need to commit ourselves to God and His purpose to endure.
I wonder what would be our reaction when we observe some of the modern “walls” which God has inspired and instructed His people to build, now is in the state of despair? How do we react when we see God’s principles disregarded? His “walls” being broken down? Do our personal concerns take priority over God’s concerns? Nehemiah put first things first. So, must we. I want to challenge all of us, especially those who are going to graduate: Don’t throw away your life to achieve the personal dream of financial security and comforts of life. Spend your life for the only purpose that lasts: to see the nations glorify God for His great mercy in Christ (Rom. 15:9-12)! Ask God to give you a burden for His people, a vision for His purpose, and a commitment to His purpose.