Based on: Nehemiah 4:1-3; 6:15-16
What do you think about history? Did you like history as a subject in school? I would guess that many of you would say that history was not your favorite subject. That seems to be a fairly common sentiment. But what about family history? Do you find that a little more interesting? I think that when the history is a little closer to home we tend to be a little more interested. As we look at the Jews and their good times and bad times, we should realize that they are our spiritual ancestors. They were God’s church in their time, and we are not very different from them. What we see happening to physical Israel then, we also find happening to spiritual Israel now.
Throughout history – especially as we look at Old Testament history – we see God at work. We see God at work through individuals, as he gives them work to do in his church. Today we install a new principal in our grade school, and I am reminded of how God, in his grace, allows us to do the work of the church. He doesn’t need us to do this work. No, it is out of love that he gathers people together to do his work, and by that he gives their lives purpose and meaning.
As we look at Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, keep those two things in mind. We experience many of the things our spiritual ancestors experienced, and we see God use the people he has changed through those experiences to carry out the work of the church.
Last week we talked about those Jews who had been taken captive and sent into exile. They were forced to move away from their home. They were forced to live in a place where everything was strange to them. In spite of all the reasons not to have hope, God gave them hope, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”
God promised to bring them back, but it wasn’t right away. It was in 70 years. Isn’t God also patient with you as he works to shape you and to help you grow? It often takes more time than we want to admit. God often has to take us to where we don’t want to be in order to bring us to where we should be.
The Jews were ready to come back, and on a couple of occasions the Lord moved the hearts of rulers to allow them to come back. Of course the number who came back was less than the number who went into exile – many people decided to stay where they were in Babylon. I think the Lord used the exile to filter out those who were causing problems 70 years earlier, so that the faithful who were willing to make the journey were the ones who returned.
Now they were back in Judah. They were back home, and even though they still had some rough edges, they were ready to listen to the Lord and do the work of rebuilding. Through their difficult times the Lord changed them just as he changes us. He prepares us to not just hear, but to really listen and take to heart what he has to say, and he prepares us for work in his kingdom.
The Jews who came back to Judah had already finished rebuilding the temple when Nehemiah came. Now it was time to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.
This was not an easy task – they were rebuilding a stone wall that had been largely torn down around the entire city. And there were enemies who didn’t want to see the wall rebuilt. Wherever God’s people are working hard at the task the Lord has given them, you can be sure that Satan is also there to work hard against them. As so often the enemies of God do, they used intimidation and humiliation to discourage the Lord’s work. Sanballat said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
In spite of the difficult task and the opposition to it, the people finished in 52 days. Certainly they were motivated and worked hard together as a group. They had a great desire to do what they were doing. They are an example for us, who don’t always have the desire or don’t always work together as we should. What Nehemiah wrote between the beginning of the project and the end tells us about the people who worked on it – that this family worked on this part of the wall; this family worked next to him; and this person worked next to him, and so on. The people worked with their swords strapped to their sides in case the enemy attacked. There were always some people working and others standing guard and then after a time they would switch and those who stood guard would work and those who worked would stand guard.
More than just working hard together, the Lord was with them. The people of Judah were no where near the strength they had been before, and yet this small group of God’s people accomplished a great task because the Lord was with them. And that made their enemies lose heart. It was obvious that the Lord was on their side.
All of this work was part of God’s plan to bring the Jews back to Judah and to prepare Jerusalem and the people of Judah for the coming of the Savior about 450 years later. The temple was rebuilt. The gate Jesus would pass through on Palm Sunday was there. And the wall was rebuilt, outside of which Jesus would be crucified for you and for me. He was already uniquely qualified and perfectly suited for the task God had given him. He is the cornerstone and with his own blood he has purchased you and me to be living stones built into his church to carry out the work he has given his church – the work of bringing more living stones into the church.
We have been made holy by Christ’s blood and made a part of his church. He has changed us. Now God has given us purpose and meaning in the work he assigns his church. It is a great task and there is always opposition to it, but the Lord is on our side. On the last day it will be obvious that the Lord was with us.