Chapter 6

Nehemiah—A Man of Zeal

From the booklet Ezra and Nehemiah—Building God’s Temple

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written as one book. Read together, these books reveal essential information on building God’s temple today—spiritually! The name Nehemiah means “the Lord has comforted.” The temple reconstruction was being thwarted by Gentile guerrilla attacks on the people. God comforted His people by calling Nehemiah to restore the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was violently opposed by the Gentile nations surrounding Jerusalem. He was successful in enlisting the help of the entire population to rebuild the broken fortresses. Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt in 52 days. Studying into Nehemiah’s life is very inspiring. No one today may be able to match Nehemiah’s zeal. He worked very hard and extremely fast.

Nehemiah was a very emotional man. He had deep feelings for the reconstruction work going on in Jerusalem. “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:1-4). Learning of the serious difficulty that was happening in Jerusalem made Nehemiah greatly upset. He was deeply moved by the afflictions of his people. He wept for the remnant in Jerusalem. He mourned, fasted and prayed to God for them.

Nehemiah—a Man of Repentance

Like Ezra, Nehemiah was a deeply repentant man. Study Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 5 through 11. It is very similar to Ezra’s prayer which is recorded for us in Ezra 9. In order to gain God’s attention, Nehemiah prayed for God to forgive the sins of the entire nation (verse 6). In his deeply moving prayer, he recounted Israel’s corrupt past (verse 7). He reminded God of His great commandments, promises and redemption (verses 8-9). Nehemiah remembered God’s law. He recognized that the nation had been scattered because of the people’s law breaking. That is our same warning to the Laodicean brethren (Malachi 4:4). All of God’s people must remember the law given through Moses or we will be scattered through the nations.

Nehemiah also prayed that God would use him to help with the efforts in Jerusalem. “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11). Nehemiah greatly feared God’s name. He prayed for all the servants of God that desired to fear His name. The people who desired to fear God’s name were suffering great opposition. Nehemiah knew that only God could prosper them.

To be able to go and assist in Jerusalem, Nehemiah was going to need the blessing of King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah held a very responsible position within the king’s court. He was the king’s cupbearer. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary shows that the cupbearer was an officer in the king’s court. His main job was to protect the king from assassination. Nehemiah held a position of considerable rank and importance. He would have had frequent access to the king’s presence.

Nehemiah earnestly prayed that God would give him favor with this very powerful man. He prayed for favor so he could do the work. What an example! Nehemiah’s heartfelt prayer was not for himself, but for the work of God.

Importance of Prayer

God quickly responded to this kind of prayer. “And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence. Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:1-4). God worked it out so that Artaxerxes noticed Nehemiah’s deep sadness over the troubles in Jerusalem. The king spoke to Nehemiah about his very visible sorrow. Nehemiah became afraid when the king took notice of his melancholy. A cupbearer had to remain alert and keep a sharp focus in order to protect the king’s life. Artaxerxes was an extremely powerful man and could have had him executed for even small mistakes.

But the king was only concerned for Nehemiah. Artaxerxes wanted to know if he could help Nehemiah in any way. What was Nehemiah’s response? Before asking favor of the king, He prayed again—immediately—on the spot!

Nehemiah’s request to return to Jerusalem could have meant life or death for him. He instantly took the situation to God. This shows us the extreme importance of prayer. How often do we pray? How detailed are our prayers? Do we pray immediately when the need arises? When we face major trials and tests in our lives, do we take them to God before we act? Or do we act and then take the consequences to God? The Apostle Paul admonished the Romans to be “instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Instant, faithful prayers get immediate results!

The Good Hand of God

Nehemiah courageously asked to be relieved of his cupbearer duties, temporarily, to be able to help in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:5). What was the answer? “And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time” (Nehemiah 2:6). The king and queen responded favorably to his request. Nehemiah also asked for letters of recommendation from the king to the governors of the territories that he would pass through on the way to Jerusalem. Nehemiah needed not only Artaxerxes’ favor, he also needed the support of the governors submissive to the king.

Nehemiah also requested a special letter written to the “keeper of the king’s forest.” He intended to secure Jerusalem by building an impenetrable wall. “And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me” (verse 8). The walls around Jerusalem needed to be very strong. Only top-quality timbers would do the job.

The king (and queen) granted all of Nehemiah’s requests. Why did they do so? Nehemiah recognized that it was God who had given him great favor. Even though the king and queen physically supported him, their support was directly inspired by God. Nehemiah stated, “the good hand of my God [was] upon me.” Again and again God greatly blessed His work at that time through this carnal king. It is truly miraculous how often God used this king to help both Ezra and Nehemiah. We must always look to God for the help we need today. God will always come to our aid—even through people outside of God’s Church. We see a lot of this kind of help today with regard to our television program. There are many talented people, not part of this Church, who are giving the pcg very loyal support. This is from the good hand of God! As we persist in looking to God, the miracles will continue to come for this little flock.

Facing Bitter Enemies

“When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (verse 10). Nehemiah had to face opposition as soon as he arrived in Jerusalem. But he handled the situation with the stealth of a great warrior. Verses 11-16 show that he assessed the condition of the walls clandestinely. He wisely hid his true purpose for coming to Jerusalem from everyone, Jew and Gentile alike (verses 12, 16).

In order to protect God’s work, we must always be on guard for enemies. Jesus Christ warned us, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Nehemiah was wise as a serpent. So must we be. God’s ministry must also be on guard for the sheep. We are in a serious spiritual war. We must work as men at war.

Nehemiah found that the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls was extensive. He couldn’t even pass through the fountain gate (Nehemiah 2:14). Much work had to be done. Repairing the walls of Jerusalem was vital to the continued efforts of the work in Judah. Nehemiah realized that he was going to need the help of all the people to reconstruct the walls. He made a very impassioned petition to the people (verse 17). He showed them that they could help alleviate the great distress in Jerusalem if they would rebuild the walls.

The people responded to Nehemiah with full support. “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work” (verse 18). Nehemiah won their support by telling them how God had already blessed him. He encouraged the people that God would bless their efforts as well. Nehemiah always gave the credit to God!

Working Among Scoffers

Moved to act, the people began the reconstruction of the walls. The surrounding Gentile governors despised their work. They laughed them to scorn (verse 19). Sanballat, one of the chief Gentile leaders, even accused the Jews of rebellion. But Nehemiah answered these men fearlessly. “Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem” (verse 20). He very bluntly told these Gentile men that since God was behind the Jews, nothing would stop them. Nehemiah let these men know that they had no part in what God was doing in Jerusalem. Their laughing and scoffing would never stop the work of Almighty God.

People today have also despised the work of the pcg. Many top Laodicean leaders have laughed us to scorn. That has not affected or stopped this work! We know God’s hand is with us. And we say to those who despise us, “Laugh on!” Because God is behind us, we are going to accomplish God’s work—marvelously!

Chapter 3 gives the history of the repairs made to the gates and walls of the city. The people made great progress quickly. Please study this chapter on your own.

Sanballat and his henchmen became incensed that the job was getting done and getting done quickly. “But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (Nehemiah 4:1-3). They mocked the Jews even more. Tobiah was very critical of the Jews. He vainly stated that even a little fox could destroy what had been built. But the Jews could not be stopped.

The Mind to Work

When the mocking became great, all of the people prayed to God. “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders. So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” (verses 4-6). The people asked God to give the Gentiles a taste of their own mockery. The Jews recognized that Sanballat, Tobiah and the others were mocking God and not them. They were deserving of punishment.

Notice that the Jews kept on working. They had “a mind to work.” They could not be moved from their purpose to rebuild the walls. God was on their side. They did not need to fear any man. The lesson for the pcg is the same. We are getting the job done because it is God’s work. Jealous people are going to criticize us. They are going to say all kinds of horrible lies about the ministry. People are always going to slander our reputations. We must recognize that when members of the pcg or the ministry are mocked, it is actually God who is being mocked. Though we may be made a laughing stock, we should never stop working. Whom should we fear? Not any man. We must develop a mind to work no matter what men say about us (Romans 8:31).

Realizing that poking fun at the Jews did nothing to stop them, Sanballat organized a full-scale battle against them (Nehemiah 4:7-8). Doing the work of God was going to break out into a war. Nehemiah records in verse 9 that the people knew about the coming conflict so they prayed about it and just continued working. Nehemiah set a watch day and night to protect the people. These people had great courage.

Spades and Swords

But the pressure to quickly build the walls and face a war became oppressive for some of the people. “And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall” (verse 10). Rebuilding the walls was extremely hard work. The people were beginning to lose their strength. The Hebrew word for “decayed” literally means stumbled. The picture painted by this word is of a person tottering while carrying a heavy burden. Who has truly stumbled under God’s work in this end time? God’s Laodicean ministry (Malachi 2:8).

At times, the work of God can be very difficult. Sometimes we could feel like we are tottering under the weight of the job God has given us. We must avoid grumbling and complaining. God has given the pcg—both ministers and members—an awesome task. In Nehemiah’s time, some of the people began to feel that there were just too few people to clear the heavy rubbish and also fight a war. The task of reconstruction now seemed too overwhelming. Even though our work may be difficult, we must see it through to the end. When the work seems impossible, faith must take over for human weakness. Each pcg member must walk by faith.

Nehemiah was violently opposed by many enemies, but he was a fast worker. He finished the wall in 52 days. Think on his example, and you realize that you may not work as hard as you think you do. Nehemiah was somewhat of a workaholic.

Nehemiah 4 talks about how the people had a mind to work and about the enemies they faced. Here is what these enemies did: “And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease” (Nehemiah 4:11). There are always adversaries who want to destroy the work. Here it says they will sneak into the midst of us. It should not shock us that Satan would try to sneak inside this Church.

We don’t want to be foolish about this. Expect attacks. Expect me to be attacked in every way. Expect this Church to be attacked with all kinds of lies—mixed with truth—including slander and everything you can imagine. The accuser of the brethren is cast down, and he is going to accuse us as long and as vigorously as he can.

The Jews’ enemies planned to destroy them while they worked. They wanted to enter among them secretly, then pounce on them. The enemies also planned to kill them even if they tried to escape. They were planning to come after the Jews from every direction. Their plans were thwarted. The Jews living near these Gentiles uncovered their secret and informed Nehemiah (verse 12). He took swift action against the enemies’ war plan.

He went to the nobles, the rulers and “the rest of the people.” He made a very stirring speech. “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (verse 14). He warned the people not to fear the enemy. He reminded them that the “great and terrible” God would fight this battle for them!

Nehemiah organized all of the people in and around Jerusalem to help fight off the enemy. Nehemiah divided the people into two groups. Half of the people continued to do the work. The other half focused on protecting the workers. But even those who did the work carried their weapons in hand while they worked! It was a time for spades and swords! (verse 17).

Work and Fight by Faith

Our work is nearing completion, yet there is much left to do. Satan will devise any plan to destroy the only work of God on the Earth at this time.

Nehemiah’s speech should greatly move us to fight for the Family of God. One of Satan’s most evil plans is to place enemies among us, just as he did in Nehemiah’s time. Do we have a desire to protect God’s little flock?

Some people do come among us with the sole purpose of destroying the brethren. These kinds of enemies are easy to detect. But other brethren may let down spiritually or become bitter. Bitter people often become one of Satan’s most effective weapons of destruction within the Church. As time draws closer to the end, we must understand that the full force of Satan’s wrath will come against us as a Church and as individuals. Satan wants to destroy you! We all must stay spiritually strong. We must fight off bitterness. Paul warned the Hebrews, “[Look] diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness [spring] up [and] trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). Paul said many true Christians become defiled with bitterness. Spiritual bitterness is like heroin. Once you get hooked, it is a hard habit to break. Satan will destroy individuals with bitterness.

The pcg is entering into fearful times. As we succeed in the work of God, our angry enemies from outside the Church are going to wage all-out war against us. Our adversaries will come after us from every direction. We are going to have to work and fight at the same time! Our time is the time for spades and swords.

We must look to God, do the work and hold our spiritual swords high. Even with all of this, we must realize that only God can win our battles for us.

We must work and fight by faith. Some people could ask the question, Is this work too much for us? That is the wrong question. Here is the right question: Is this work too much for God? The answer is a resounding no! A thousand times no!

Nehemiah—a Man of Faith

Nehemiah was an exceptional leader. He anticipated attacks and opposition. He was an effective organizer of the people. He assessed the weakness of the Jews’ situation and made it their strength. “And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another. In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:19-20). Nehemiah was able to inspire the people to work as a team. He led a small group of people to accomplish a very large task.

Nehemiah knew how to work hard. He inspired the people to do the same. “So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day. So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing” (verses 21-23). Nehemiah and the people worked from dawn until dark. He inspired the people to heroic dedication.

Nehemiah wasn’t naive about his enemies. Verse 23 is not properly translated in the King James Version. The Bible margin gives the correct rendering for the last part of this verse. It should read, “every one went with his weapon for water.” Nehemiah had the people take their swords with them, even when they went for water! Protecting God’s people and God’s work was all-important to him.

But Nehemiah should be remembered most as a man of faith. He repeatedly drew the people’s attention to God. When a difficult task had to be done—when the enemy was upon them—he showed the people that only God could get them through. He made sure the people knew God was their comfort. We must be as Nehemiah—men and women of faith. God has given us His work to do. We are going to face difficulties, tests and bitter enemies. God is our comfort. He will get the job done. God will protect us as we work. Let’s all work—both hard and fast!

Continue Reading: Chapter 7: Good Soldiers