As Nehemiah was making his 900-mile trek to Jerusalem, scripture says officers of the army and horsemen accompanied him. It sounds as if the king suspected there could be trouble for his servant. One thing I think we can safely assume is that he would have been praying along the way, even as he had when he first heard the news about some of the surviving exiles living in Jerusalem without walls or gates. He would likely pray for safety on the trip, but also for discernment and wisdom for the task ahead. It would not be easy under the best of circumstances.
During that period of history, city walls were of extreme importance. Without such walls, residents of the city were at the mercy of any and all marauders who might be in or come through the area. There would be no way for the city to be in control of their affairs. The people of Israel were still surrounded by ‘heathen’ cultures that did not believe in the God of Israel. Beyond gaining plunder, their belief system alone could trigger attacks against them.
At the outset of this series, I noted that hearing of the news led to action. For Nehemiah the first action was prayer and fasting. Now as he finally arrived at his destination, he presents his letters of approval for the task to the governors of that province and the response he gets is not at all positive. So, after three days, he chooses to get up during the night alone except for his mount and inspect the walls and gates to determine what would need to be done. He is so skilled that no one knows he has gone or what he is doing. As yet he had not even revealed who was going to do the work or the extent of his mission.
(Does the Lord call us to survey the condition we find ourselves in, what has broken down our relationship with Him or others? Doing so is a process best done alone with Him, for He alone can give us the accurate assessment of our condition.)
Now that he has completed his reconnaissance he tells exiles, priests, and nobles what he has come to do. He also makes clear how God had given him favor with the king and then puts it out there for them: “Let us rise up and build.” Once again, we see that this godly leader acts, but this time the action will be beyond prayer and fasting.
(How do we act on what the Lord shows us? Do we move or ignore His guidance?)
When the governors heard the news, they were none too happy and accused Nehemiah of rebelling against the king. Nehemiah, however, knows the mission God has sent him on and makes clear to them that the Lord is going to make this a successful mission and that they have no rightful portion or place in Jerusalem. That sounds gutsy to me on a human level, but it also sounds like this is a man who is sure of God’s call and provision and so he stands.
As I read this, I am challenged to consider how much I pursue the Lord’s leading, how certain I am about His calling, and if I am willing to be so certain that I will and do stand in the midst of opposition to that call and leading. What about you?
Nehemiah has collected all the facts. The city is no longer as large as it was before the exile. Historians suggest the circumference of the city was possibly a mile and a half and encompassed 80 or 90 acres. That sounds small, but please keep in mind there was rubble everywhere and no backhoes or other equipment we could commonly employ today to get this task done.
One other quality of Nehemiah becomes evident as they prepare to rebuild is how well thought out his plan is. He lets everyone know he has divided up the work between various groups with attention to where the groups lived so they could work nearest to where their own homes were located. That certainly was effective to get ‘buy-in’ for the task at hand and scripture catches us up with a picture of how zealously the people began to work. Clearly, he had communicated his mission and now had an organized team setting about the task.
Consider this. This was a small city and likely there were not a lot of people living there. Certainly, it would have been to their benefit to start this project long before now to assure their security, but nothing happened until Nehemiah arrived on the scene.
What a perfect example of why we need a godly leader whose prayers and faith have equipped him or her for the up building of the Kingdom through whatever ministry or place each of us has been called. He or she is needed to protect God’s people.
Make no mistake about it. A godly leader acts.
Next time I want to look at what happens when a godly leader faces opposition. I hope you will join me as we spend a little more time in the book of Nehemiah.