Nehemiah 3-5 part 3

 

Nehemiah 3 lets us see how Nehemiahís plan was laid out for rebuilding the walls, gates and towers of Jerusalem. We are not going to read this chapter, but I encourage you to read it on your own so you can see how these different groups were assigned to build these walls. All the men and even some women took part in building on the wall. Some estimate that there were about 25 to 30 thousand Jews all working together to build on the wall and this doesnít include those men who came and helped them different areas. 43 three different groups are named in the chapter. No wonder they were able to rebuild the wall in 52 days.

 

Most of the walls they were building have been discovered by archeology and you can see the general shape of these walls surrounding Jerusalem from the diagram on the screen. It is believed there were 11 gates in total, but only 10 are mentioned in our chapter. The one gate that is not mentioned is the Ephraim Gate. The gates were used for different purposes and symbolized different things. For instance,

 

  • Gates were places for great assemblies of the people and as "clearing houses" for news and announcements (Prov. 1:20-21).
  • Sometimes sacrifices were offered in gates (2 Kings 23:8; Acts 14:13)
  • Criminals were to be punished "outside" the gates (Acts 7:58; Heb. 13:12).
  • Gates stood as symbols of righteousness (Ps. 118:19)
  • They also stood as a symbol of sin, corruption, and death (Ps. 9:13; Matt. 16:18).

 

"There were approximately forty sections of the wall, in variable lengths and proportions; and, as they are listed here, they appear in a succession to the left, that is, counterclockwise, beginning here at the sheep gate and finally ending at this same sheep gate (Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, 476.)."

 

To give you idea of how big a project this was they were building this wall around a 50 acre plot of land. Chapter 3 begins with the High priest and his brethren repairing the sheep gate and the wall to the left of it. It was only fitting that they the priest would work on sheep gate since it was used to bring in the sacrificial lambs and it the only gate that sanctified by the priest.

 

In verse 3, the Fish Gate is repaired. Some think The Fish Gate was called that because the fish sellers of Tyre from the Mediterranean and Jordan and Sea of Galilee did their trade there.

 

Nehemiah 13:16 Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

 

We do have something interesting in verse 5,

 

Nehemiah 3:5 Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.

The reason these nobles were not doing their fair share of the works was because they were loyal to Tobiah who was the enemy of Nehemiah and we can see this connection in,

 

Nehemiah 6:17 Also in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came to them.

 

In verse 8, we can even see the businessmen were building on the wall and in verse 12 a man and his daughter were working on the wall together. The chapter continues listing those who are repairing the gates and the walls all back around to the other side of the sheep gate. Our text never mentions if Nehemiah physically helped build the wall, but we do know that he planned and oversaw all this construction and that would have been job within itself. Based on Nehemiahís character, he probably did help rebuild the wall.

 

Nehemiah 4:1 But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.2 And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish -- stones that are burned?"3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, "Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall."

 

Sanballat was doing his best to intimidate the Jews with his mocking. It worked before, but as we will see it will not work this time. As he spoke before the army he was doing his best make his men seem more powerful than the Jews by making their progress seem insignificant. Tobiah also did this by claiming that if a small fox goes and touches the wall that it will fall over. The reason he may have used a fox as example was because there were foxes around the ruined walls according Lam. 5:18.

 

We can all relate to the strategy because this is the same tactic that coaches use on their players when they know they are going up against a better team. They try to build their team up and make the other team seem worse than they are, because the bigger and better you seem in your own mind the less intimidated you will be. Even though Saballat was talking a big talk, he knew deep down that the Jews were not as weak as he making them out to be.

 

Nehemiah 4:4Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!5 Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders. 6 So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

 

Instead of giving up, the Jews prayed to God to protect them from their enemy and they kept on working. They had managed to build their walls up to half it height because the people had a mind to work. This is great example for us to follow today as well. As we labor for the Lord, we should pray for his protection and his strength and not turn away from our work. As Jesus said,

 

Luke 9:62 No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

 

Nehemiah 4:7 Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry,8 and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.9 Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.

 

There is nothing that makes the enemies of God angrier than when they see Godís people being successful. Their enemies didnít want them to succeed and they knew they had to act fast if they were going to have a chance at stopping the Jews. They hoped that if they caused enough confusion it would make the work stop, but these Jews were relying on God and they prayed to Him for help and strength. So they began to watch and they were ready to fight. They didnít expect God to do everything for them, but they did want his help.

 

When we pray we shouldnít think that God is going to do everything for us. For instance, if we pray for finical help we shouldnít think God is going to drop a load of money on our front porch. Instead, we have to be work toward that end. God will open a door of opportunity for you to make the money you need to help you out, and then you must be prepared to do the work. There was song that was sung during world war II that illustrates this because it said, ďpraise the Lord and pass the ammunition.Ē

 

Nehemiah 4:10 Then Judah said, "The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall."11 And our adversaries said, "They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease."12 So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, "From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us."13 Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.14 And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses."

 

Here we can see that Sanballat was starting to break the Jews faith. They had been working so hard on the wall and the gates, they were starting to get burned out and because they were so tired, they were starting to believe that the enemies were going to attack them any moment. Even their Jewish neighbors were coming to them asking their fellow Jews to leave their work and come back to their homes. Now if they had poor leadership at this time, the enemy would have won, but thankful this was not the case because Nehemiah rose to occasion and refortified the Jews faith. This is what Nehemiah did:

 

  • He prayed to God (Neh. 4:9).
  • He set a watch day and night (Neh. 4:9).
  • He set armed men at "the lowest parts, (Neh. 4:13).
  • He brought in the Jews with their families from the outlying areas, armed them and kept them overnight in the city.
  • He stationed armed men throughout the city near the construction workers.
  • He kept a close eye himself upon the situation.
  • He kept a trumpeter by his side, so that in case of an attack, he could promptly order all hands to repel it (Neh. 4:18).
  • He called the whole assembly together, saying, "Be not afraid of them ...Remember the Lord who is great and terrible" (Neh. 4:14).
  • He commanded the people to be ready to fight (Neh. 4:14).
  • And he ordered the work to go on full speed ahead!(Coffman commentary)

 

This shows how a strong a leader can make a difference in the attitude of the people and keep the focused on the task at hand.

 

Nehemiah 4:15 And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.16 So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah.17 Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.18 Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.19 Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, "The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall.20 "Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us."21 So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared.22 At the same time I also said to the people, "Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day."23 So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.

 

When Sanballat saw that the Jews were ready to defend themselves he changed his mind about his initial attack. Again, we can see Nehemiahís great leadership at work as he had the people ready to work and to defend. These Jews were committed to finishing the work of God. One thing we can learn from this is that its important that we carry out the work of God, but at the same time we must be ready defend the Word of God. Instead, of having a physical sword, we use the spiritual sword, which is the word of God.

 

So, while itís important for us to reach out to lost, live faithful lives and comfort the sick, it also important that we deal with false doctrine by defending Godís truth. We should never put all our eggs in one basket and just do one work because we can both work and defend Godís truth.

 

Nehemiah 5:1 And there was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren.2 For there were those who said, "We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live."3 There were also some who said, "We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine."4 There were also those who said, "We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our lands and vineyards.5 "Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards."

 

The events in this chapter are not limited to the 52 days it took to rebuild the wall. These were some serious problems that needed to be dealt with. Their 3 complaints.

 

1. Because there were so many Jews in one area and there was famine going on and this first group wants to be allowed to get some grain.

2. Some had to sell their homes and vineyards so they could have enough money to buy some grain.

3. Some had to borrow money to pay the kings tax and they were not able to pay back what they borrowed and so they were being forced into offering up their sons and daughters as slaves.

 

Again this would take a good leader to solve this problem and Nehemiah is up for the task.

 

Nehemiah 5:6 And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.7 After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, "Each of you is exacting usury from his brother." So I called a great assembly against them.8 And I said to them, "According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?" Then they were silenced and found nothing to say.9 Then I said, "What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?"10 "I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury!11 "Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them."12 So they said, "We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say." Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.

Please notice the Nehemiah didnít make a rash decision. Instead, he gave it serious thought. Anytime, you begin to deal with a serous problem, you canít just do the first thing that pops into your mind. You must consider the possibilities of your plan. Once you have weighed the pros and the cons and have considered other plans then you can make a wise choice.

 

We also learn in this text that nobles were taking advantage of the poor. They knew they Jews would not be able to pay back what they owed and this would make them become richer because they would own their vineyards and land and they could use their children as slaves. As the saying goes the richer gets richer and poorer gets poorer, but Nehemiah puts a stop to this usury, which was the collection of unlawful interest, and this practice was against the Law of Moses.

 

Deuteronomy 23:19" You shall not charge interest to your brother -- interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest.20 "To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess.

 

It was lawful to charge interest to a Gentile, but not to a fellow Jew. So, these Nobles repented and made an oath that they would give back the interest they charged and give back the property they had taken.

 

Nehemiah 5:13 Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said, "So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied." And all the assembly said, "Amen!" and praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise.

 

We see a lot a visual demonstration throughout the Bible. Nehemiah was illustrating by shaking out the folds of his garments that God will shake them out in the same manner if the do not keep their promise. After seeing and hearing this the whole assembly said Amen, and they praised God and the nobles kept their promise.

 

Nehemiah 5:14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor's provisions.15 But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.16 Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants were gathered there for the work.17 And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us.18 Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor's provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people.19 Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

 

This shows that Nehemiah was governor for 12 years, which was approximately 444 Ė 432 B.C. Being the Govern allowed you to have certain provisions and the governors before him had taken their provision, but Nehemiah did not because he didnít want to put a burden on the people, so he lived by his own means and took care of his servants. He continued to work on the wall. Of course this could be taken two ways. It could indicate that he worked on the wall himself or that continued to oversee the work of the wall. Again, based on his Character he probably did both.

 

Finally, he asked God to remember the good work he had done for his people. He wanted make sure that God knew what good he had done. Now God would know this without him reminding Him, but there was nothing wrong with him expressing this thought to God.

 

These 3 chapters show us once again what can be accomplished when you have strong leadership and people who have a mind to work for God.