Nehemiah’s Legacy by Larry W. Peebles September 23, 2016 16.36
Our tour bus driver pointed out the left window and said “they are digging up Nehemiah’s wall.” My wife and I toured Jerusalem, one of the world’s oldest cities, in the early 1990’s. We were told a contractor uncovered part of what was suspected to be Nehemiah’s wall while digging a utility line. We could see where they were digging in the middle of this busy city. Construction on the utility line had been halted for many years, as excavation was conducted to research the wall. We were not certain if what we saw that day was the wall, but by 2007 scholars and archeologists agreed and announced that Nehemiah’s wall had been discovered in the ancient city.
One would think the 2500 year old wall would not be that hard to find, but considering the number of times Jerusalem had been seized, attacked, changed hands and razed to the ground, the location of the wall had been lost. Researchers had been looking in the wrong place under the wrong set of assumptions. I read that there are now over 25,000 archeological discoveries that corroborate the Bible. This would be another similar finding, evidence of the validity of the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. Was Nehemiah’s legacy the wall, or is it something greater? Let’s examine the story.
The setting for the book of Nehemiah occurred after Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem, carried off the treasures of the city, and had taken the people into exile. This exile would last seventy years, as prophesied by Jeremiah. During the ensuing reign of King Cyrus, Ezra was given permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls, but this effort was sabotaged by the local inhabitants of the city. Less than twenty years later, under the reign of Artaxerxes, whom Nehemiah served as cup-bearer, men came to Nehemiah who had been to Judah and Jerusalem. They reported “Those who survived exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3). Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed.
His sadness was noticed by the King, who asked him what he wanted. Nehemiah quickly prayed, described the plight of his homeland, and asked permission to return to Jerusalem “where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (2:5)
Rather than focus on the logistics of rebuilding the wall, which he obviously accomplished as evidenced by the ruins being discovered only recently, let us focus on the opposition he faced. In looking at the opposition he overcame, we may find Nehemiah’s true legacy, as the obstacles and principles apply in our modern world.
Realize it or not, God gives us jobs to do–the unique reason and purpose for which each of us was created. This purpose is our “wall to build”, so to speak. It might be a job that will eventually lead an entire nation back to their homeland (with God). The calling might be to lead some other great effort, or to build a great organization, a great family, or raise great kids. It might be something less far-reaching, but no less important, such as leading an exemplary life by loving God and those with whom we come in contact, in accordance with the commands of God. No matter the wall we are given to build, when we undertake something great, the opposition will likely be similar to that faced by Nehemiah. These are the ancient tools of the naysayer:
- Doubt–Immediately after Nehemiah surveyed the situation and spoke to the people about rebuilding, the critics showed up. The criticism started with “Who said you could do this? This is way out of your league. You cannot do this.” (2:19)
- Discouragement–After Nehemiah organized the workers and assigned sections of the wall for each to repair, the critics said they would not be able to build a wall from the burned heaps of rubble they had to work with. (4:2). He was told he did not have the materials-the required tools and resources.
- Ridicule–The critics said that even if the workers could build a wall from the rubble, it would not stand-if a fox ran across the top, it would fall. The work would not last. His efforts would be wasted. (4:3)
- Worry/Suspicion–Nehemiah was told as the opposition grows, they will become more aggressive—they will attack. The opponents will infiltrate the work effort, and undermine it from within. (4:12).
- Distraction–As the work progressed, the opponents tried to distract Nehemiah away from his work. They called him to come away to pointless meetings, when their real plan was to harm him. He would not be distracted from his original mandate, and he would not give in to fear of personal harm. (6:2, 3).
- Accusation–Opponents accused Nehemiah of doing this for his own glory. They said he was trying to build his own kingdom, and make himself the king. (6:5-7).
- Fear/Intimidation–Opponents said his life was in danger. The best thing he could do for himself was run into the temple and hide for his own safety. If he continued with his work, he would die. Nehemiah reasoned that the God who created and called him to do this work did not need to hide him in the temple to protect him. (6:10).
Scholars and archeologists estimate the wall Nehemiah and his workers rebuilt was over two miles in length, encompassing some 32 acres. It was 16’ wide in places, and estimated to be 8-10’ tall. The wall was re-built in 52 days, including the gates. With the walls secure, Nehemiah settled more new residents to occupy the city. This would secure/ensure the lasting success of the effort. (11:1).
The work was finished; Jerusalem was saved. What were the God-inspired keys to this success in overcoming the opposition?
- Nehemiah was sure of his purpose. He had fasted and prayed, seeking God’s will in the matter. After he knew what he was to do, he did not look left or right again.
- He was confident that whatever materials and help God provided would be sufficient.
- He was sure that whatever skills were required among the help would be present on the wall because God had provided the help.
- He ignored the criticism and the skeptics.
- He would not be distracted from what he knew God told him to do.
- He did not see the need to excessively defend himself from accusations or rumors.
- He did not fear, even for his own life. He knew God had given him life, and God had given him this purpose. The God who had called him into this purpose would not allow his defeat. What good was his life if he left his God-given purpose unfulfilled?
Later in the book of Nehemiah we see he gave all the glory to God for what he had done. More than the wall construction, Nehemiah’s legacy is the godly character he displayed in doing what he did. Remains of Nehemiah’s wall tell us 2500 years later of a man who followed God with heart and determination, and prevailed against seemingly over-whelming opposition.