Scripture reading – Nehemiah 2; Nehemiah 3

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Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple in 586 BC. For nearly 150 years, the city lay in ruins as a reminder of God’s judgment. Finally, in 538 BC, Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed the Temple be rebuilt.

In 446 BC, Nehemiah received a report of the deplorable conditions in Jerusalem and that the city walls had yet to be rebuilt. After hearing the sad state of his countrymen (Nehemiah 1:2-3), Nehemiah did the one thing he could do…He “fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).

Because he was “the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11), Nehemiah was providentially in a position to be used by God. So, Nehemiah prayed, “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” (Nehemiah 1:11).

Nehemiah 2

The King’s Inquiry (2:1-3)

For the next four months, Nehemiah secretly prayed and fasted. One day, however, Nehemiah’s physical appearance betrayed his sorrow. The king asked, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (Nehemiah 2:2). Understanding the absolute authority of ancient oriental kings and the power of life and death that rested in their hands, Nehemiah confessed, “I was very sore afraid” (Nehemiah 2:2b).

Realizing his countenance had betrayed his sorrow, Nehemiah confessed, “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?” (Nehemiah 2:3) Nehemiah’s answer stirred the king’s heart, and Artaxerxes asked his him, “For what dost thou make request?” (Nehemiah 2:4a).

Nehemiah’s Appeal (Nehemiah 2:4-10)

With a silent prayer for God’s favor (Nehemiah 2:4b), Nehemiah petitioned the king to send him to Judah to rebuild the city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:5). The king then enquired how long he would be away. Though Nehemiah’s answer was not recorded, Nehemiah 5:14 states that he was away from the king’s court for 12 years.

Observing that the queen was sitting beside King Artaxerxes (perhaps indicating her influence, Nehemiah 2:6a), Nehemiah requested letters that gave him safe passage to Judah and authority to acquire materials needed to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:7-8). Then, with the LORD’s favor, Nehemiah departed for Jerusalem with “the king’s letters” and a military escort (Nehemiah 2:9).

Nehemiah’s Investigation

Nehemiah’s Adversaries (2:10)

Imagine the stir among Jerusalem’s citizens when the king’s cupbearer arrived accompanied by the “captains of the army and horsemen” (Nehemiah 2:9b). Nevertheless, there were two men, “Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite” (Nehemiah 2:10) who were distressed by the news that a man was come “to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (Nehemiah 2:10).

Nehemiah’s Investigation (Nehemiah 2:11-16)

Nehemiah rested for three days after he arrived in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:11). Then, under cover of darkness and accompanied by only a few men (for he had not disclosed to anyone the purpose of his journey), Nehemiah surveyed the condition of the city.

Incredibly, though nearly a century and a half had passed since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, Nehemiah found the city walls still in ruins and the gates consumed by fire (Nehemiah 2:13; 2 Kings 25). The debris was so thick that Nehemiah could find “no place for the beast that was under [him] to pass” (Nehemiah 2:14). He returned to his dwelling after he surveyed the city and did not disclose where he had gone, or why he was come to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:15-16).

Nehemiah’s Identification (Nehemiah 2:17-18)

Evidencing an essential trait of a great leader, Nehemiah identified with the suffering of the people and said, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (Nehemiah 2:17).

Nehemiah then said he enjoyed God’s favor and that the king had given him authority and means to rebuild Jerusalem. The people enthusiastically responded, saying, “Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work” (Nehemiah 2:18).


The Reproach of Nehemiah’s Enemies (Nehemiah 2:19-20)

Rebuilding Jerusalem was not without its challenges or enemies. “Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian” became a constant source of discouragement (Nehemiah 2:19). When they heard the plan to rebuild the city, those men taunted and scorned Nehemiah and the Jews, and accused them of rebelling “against the king” (Nehemiah 2:19). 

Looking to the LORD as his shield and strength, Nehemiah answered his enemies and said, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us” (Nehemiah 2:20).

Rebuilding the Walls and Setting the Gates

Nehemiah 3 – The Record of Those Rebuilding the Walls and Setting the Gates 

Demonstrating the skills of an administrator, Nehemiah began restoring the walls of Jerusalem and assigned sections of the wall to men and families. Other households were tasked with rebuilding the gates of the city.

It is noteworthy that Nehemiah recorded the names of men, families, and villages that rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, Nehemiah 3:5 reminds us that God takes notice of those who labor and those who refuse to work. We read, “The Tekoites repaired (a village 11 miles south of Jerusalem); but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (Nehemiah 3:5).  

Nehemiah named ten gates, 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 (Nehemiah 3:1, 32). The sheep to be sacrificed on the Temple altar passed through the sheep gate. The sheep gate also serves as a reminder that, like the sacrificial lamb that 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 East Gate was historically and prophetically the most important (Nehemiah 3:29). 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). Also, you might recall that Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD leave the Temple and pass out of the city through the East Gate (Ezekiel 10:18-22; 11:22-25). Ezekiel also foretold the return of the “glory of the God of Israel,” coming “from the way of the east” (Ezekiel 43:1-3).

Finally, the prophet Ezekiel foretold that the LORD would enter the East Gate in His Millennial Kingdom, and His glory would fill the Temple (Ezekiel 44:1-4).

To be continued…

Copyright © 2024 – Travis D. Smith 

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