Nehemiah Part One Deep Dive
THE GATES | NATHAN ROSS
The Book of Nehemiah is set during a distressing time for the people of God. The events of Nehemiah are largely set off the back of the Fall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 586 B.C, as you can read in 2 Kings 25. This was certainly the lowest point in their history, though it is only uphill from here. In 536 BC, the Persian King Cyrus decreed the end of exile for the Jews and allowed them to return back to their city. The Book of Ezra recounts of the temple being rebuilt in 516 BC and takes us right up until the time of Nehemiah. We’re taken on the journey from about 445 BC, where Nehemiah pleads with King Artaxerxes to be sent to Judah (specifically the city of Jerusalem) to rebuild it (Chapter 2:5).
Jerusalem is still in quite the mess, but this mess is of no comparison to the boldness and courage of Nehemiah. He calls out to the remnant of Jerusalem declaring ‘Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace’. (Chapter 2:17). Where Ezra was about restoring the temple and the worship of the people of God, Nehemiah is about restoring the walls and reinstating the glory and strength to those called out by the almighty Yahweh. This is the story that unfolds before us; a story of hope, perseverance and unity in dire circumstances.
Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is the major chapter of the reconstruction of the wall, and this is where we’ll dig in. Throughout this chapter, the author basically runs through all the reconstructions and all the people involved. The work to be completed by the people included the reconstruction of several towers, many pieces of the wall and the gates. These gates were no easy work – required were beams of timber placed into the wall, flanking the gate, and then the massive gate doors being set into stone sockets that were buried under the ground. The author notes ten of these gates to be constructed along the outer wall.
Shown below is a diagram of the city that depicts the various construction work paired with those involved. As you read through this chapter, assisted by the diagram provided, you’ll begin to grasp the magnitude and scale of such a project. If this task wasn't enough, it was completed in the face of opposition and threats given by their surrounding enemies. But when the people had a vision there was nothing that could stop them. The people of Jerusalem labored during the day with their swords strapped to their sides (Chapter 4:18) and continued to guard at night (Chapter 4:22).
Although the completion of the wall is something to be proud of, this is not where the gold within Nehemiah is found. Nehemiah is a character who forsakes a courtly position as the king’s cupbearer and lowers himself among the discredited and deserted. Within a people that are still feeling the fallout of their expulsion, he brings hope and a purpose. The term ‘next to him’ in the English translation only occurs in the Bible in seven verses. All seven are found in Nehemiah Chapter 3, where the phrase is found nine times – a representation of the brotherly unity and support now found in this city.
So let us never forget the history of our people. When times get tough, when our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing discouragement, disappointment and disaster, let us remember that we are called to faithfully ‘bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Hebrews 6:2). No matter the size of the wall, no matter the strength of our enemy, we will prevail, for we are those called out by Christ.
Figure 1 source: Nehemiah Rebuilds the Holy City’s Walls (Part 3). (2018). [Blog]. Retrieved from: https://tben.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/nehemiah-rebuilds-the-holy-citys-walls-part-3/