Nehemiah was no slouch. He was sharp, efficient, and focused to a fault. And when, as a veteran statesman, he turned his focus to the rebuilding of old Jerusalem and the exacting of religious reforms, nothing and no one was allowed to stand in his way.
Born in exile, Nehemiah eventually rose to the position of cup-bearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I. Combining the roles of “prime minister” with master of ceremonies, the position of cup-bearer was a key role, providing confidential access to the king. Nehemiah, a devout Jew, must have possessed profound gifts and a winning personality to ascend to such heights in Persian government.
On the day Nehemiah’s brother returned to Persia from a visit to Jerusalem, he drew a sad and ugly picture of a holy city, now with toppled walls and listless inhabitants. Heartbroken, Nehemiah began to weep. He spent several days fasting and praying for the city.
At Nehemiah’s request King Artaxerxes graciously granted him a leave of absence to go rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and gates. When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, we went alone one night to survey first-hand the damage to the city. Then he immediately rallied the people and began organizing work teams for the task. He was a man who would not begin until he counted the cost and would not stop until a task was completed.
Every trade, business, or large family was assigned a portion of the city wall to repair. But before long opposition rose to the surface. Certain nobles refused to stoop to manual labor on the walls. Leaders of the peoples surrounding Jerusalem began threatening Nehemiah and the people and attacking them while they worked. Nehemiah had to arm half the workers and assign them guard duty while the other half labored.
Three foreign leaders, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem tried to distract Nehemiah and plotted to murder him. They jeered that the flimsy wall Nehemiah was building would tumble the first time a fox set foot on it. Then they threatened to send letters to King Artaxerxes accusing Nehemiah of fomenting a rebellion against the Persian Empire. But finally, after fifty-two harrowing days, the walls and gates were fully repaired. Considering the obstacles, it was a remarkable piece of work done in record time.
Nehemiah also carried out vital reforms. Wealthy Jews were profiteering at the expense of poorer families. Nehemiah called for a public trial and the wealthy finally agreed to drop the ridiculous interest rates they had levied against their countrymen. He also helped re-institute temple worship, stopped the profaning of the Sabbath, and stood against Jewish intermarriage with surrounding pagan peoples.
What can we learn from Nehemiah?
Nehemiah was the spiritual leader and able administrator that the disheartened exiles desperately needed after their return to a broken down Jerusalem. He was there to fill the gap when no one else seemed willing. We, too, should be willing to fill a gap when God calls. He will empower us for what is required.
Bible Verses about Nehemiah
Ezra 2:2; Nehemiah chaps. 1-13;
What questions does this help to answer?
- Who was Nehemiah in the Bible?
- What was the relationship between Nehemiah and Ezra?
- What did Nehemiah do?
- How did God use Nehemiah?
Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes. Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education. Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally. He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.Steve Fortosis