Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple in 586 BC. Sadly, for nearly 150 years the ruins of the city remained as a testimony of God’s judgment. Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed the Temple be rebuilt in 538 BC, yet nearly 100 years passed before Nehemiah set his heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 446 BC.
With king Artaxerxes’ blessing and authority, Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, and found the walls of the city in ruins, “and the gates…consumed with fire” (2:12-13). Declaring God’s blessings upon him, and the king’s authority, Nehemiah challenged the people, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18), and they enthusiastically joined him in the work (2:18b). Rebuilding the walls and gates would not be without its enemies, for some men mocked the Jews, and accused them of rebelling against the king (2:19). Undeterred, Nehemiah declared, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us” (2:20a).
Demonstrating the skills of an administrator, Nehemiah assigned sections of the wall to men and families. Others were tasked with rebuilding the gates of the city. It is noteworthy that Nehemiah made a point of recording the names of men, families, and villages that rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, Nehemiah 3:5 reminds us God takes notice of those who labor, and those who refuse to work. We read concerning the citizens of Tekoa (a village 11 miles south of Jerusalem), “the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (3:5).
Ten gates were named by Nehemiah, and each served a particular purpose. The prominence of the Sheep Gate is especially significant for it served as both the first and last gate that was named (3:1, 32). The sheep that would be sacrificed on the Temple altar passed through the sheep gate. The sheep gate serves as a reminder that, like the sacrificial lamb which passed through the gate, Jesus Christ was not only the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), but the Gate (Door) through which all sinners must pass if they will come to the Father (John 10).
In addition to the Sheep Gate, the most important gate was the East Gate (3:29), for it is historically and prophetically important. The East Gate led to the Temple, and in Hebrew was the Mercy Gate. The East Gate was described as the “Beautiful Gate” in Acts 3 (Acts 3:1-10). You may remember how Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD leave the Temple, and pass out of the city through the East Gate in Ezekiel 10:18-22 and 11:22-25. Ezekiel also foretold the “glory of the God of Israel,” would one day come “from the way of the east” (Ezekiel 43:1-3). He prophesied the LORD will enter the East Gate and His glory fill the Temple (Ezekiel 44:1-4) in His Millennial Kingdom.
Rebuilding the walls and restoring the gates of Jerusalem was a work pleasing to God, but it was not without its opposition. As the work began, the enemies of God’s people were provoked to anger, and began mocking the laborers and ridiculing their work on the walls (4:1-6). The enemies of the Jews “conspired all of them together” (4:8), and surrounded the city on all sides (4:7-8).
Once again, we find Nehemiah was a man of prayer. When the enemy derided the work, saying, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (4:3), Nehemiah prayed (4:4-5). When the enemy threatened “to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (4:8), Nehemiah writes, “we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night” (4:9). When the strength of the people failed, and the enemy threatened to slay them (4:10), Nehemiah challenged, “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight” (4:14).
Closing thoughts (4:15-23) – When Nehemiah faced opposition, he prayed. When the enemy threatened to attack the city, Nehemiah challenged every man to gird a sword to his side, and continue to build (4:17-18). They worked on the walls during the day, and at night they stayed by the walls. Nehemiah wrote, “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” (4:23).
Believer, serving the LORD is not predicated upon convenience, but conviction. We who serve the LORD, must prepare for opposition. The enemy of God’s people will employ ridicule, mocking, and scorn. With a prayer on your lips, and the sword of the LORD in your heart, take courage and never quit!
For Nehemiah, quitting was not an option!
Copyright – 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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