Remembered as “The Wall Builder,” Nehemiah was in Babylon serving as King Artaxerxes I’s cup-bearer, a position of high honor, when his brother Hanani returned from Jerusalem to tell him the city’s walls were broken down and all its gates had been burned.
The Revs. Tim King and Timothy Hayter say Nehemiah received that news with great distress and he immediately asked Artaxerxes for permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild it.
The ministers say the king held Nehemiah in such high esteem in 445 B.C. that he not only gave permission but also appointed him governor of Persian Judea and authorized the use of a large amount of lumber for the project.
The Rev. King said Nehemiah rallied many of the citizens of Jerusalem to help him and they withstood taunts and threats to finish the work in only 52 days.
“People threatened to kill them, but they were committed to the cause,” said King, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Crane. “Nehemiah and Ezra the priest brought the heart of the people back and they had an amazing revival.”
King said Nehemiah’s men “worked with their tools in one hand and a sword in the other, which is a great example of perseverance for the Christians of today because we sometimes crumble to any opposition.
“It’s a great story of goals and resolve,” he said. “He knew Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt, so he took that endeavor on himself and the king was willing to finance it. Sometimes when God’s people won’t finance the work, God finds someone else to do it.
“Nehemiah never backed down because he was faithful to the Lord. He was very disciplined. There are a lot of great qualities about Nehemiah.”
The Rev. Hayter said the first thing Nehemiah did after traveling to Jerusalem with men from Babylon was seek out Ezra and enlist his support. “Nehemiah was a man of action while Ezra was instrumental in keeping the Jewish people together and making it possible for Judaism to maintain its identity,” said Hayter, parochial vicar of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Midland.
Noting the project was opposed by Horonites, Ammonites, Samaritans, Philistines and Arabs “because they thought he was trying to take over things and wanted to be king,” Hayter said Nehemiah always resorted to prayer for reassurance and guidance.
“With his care for his community and heritage, it’s a great example to lay people of protecting the faith,” he said. “One of Nehemiah’s greatest traits was honesty. He recognized his faults and the faults of his people, which allowed him to address the problems.
“He doesn’t give up. He is persistent. He sees God in the midst of these shortcomings and allows God to help them address that. His selfless commitment to God and the Israelites puts him in a position to be killed, but that doesn’t bother him. He continues to do what he thinks they need to do.
“It shows us today that it’s not just the religious leaders who maintain the faith. It’s also the religious community, the lay people, who play an important role in that.”
THE GATES OF JERUSALEM
Artaxerxes Nehemiah served.
Cupbearer to the king, he was concerned
That the walls of Jerusalem were broken down
And all; the city’s portals had been burned.
With Artaxerxes’ blessing and his letter
Telling the forest keeper to yield the wood,
Nehemiah rode from Susa ready
To start the work the Spirit said he should.
The Valley Gate, the Serpent Well, the Refuse
Gate and walls, the Fountain Gate, Jeshanah
Gate, the King’s Pool and the towers fell to
The brethren’s hands. Sanballat and Tobiah
Despised the cause, laughed at “the feeble Jews”
And tried to stop the work; but Judah came
Together as one man, saying, “We will
Restore it as you say.” The Arab Geshem
Joined the Horonites and Ammonites
And accused Nehemiah of suborning
A rebellion. But the leader refused to run
And finished on the fifty-second morning.
Whaling their way toward the House of Heroes,
The goldsmiths Uzziel and Malchijah
With Zadok the son of Baana and Jehrico’s men
Joined the perfumer Hananiah
At the Broad Wall, East Gate, Water Gate, Horse Gate, Fish
Gate, Sheep Gate, Inspection Gate and the Wall of Ophel,
Fixing the parts at the Ascent to the Armory
And resurrecting the Towel of Hananel.
The Law was read by Ezra the priest in the square
By the Water Gate. A feast was held and then
A meeting where the Levites prayed, recounting blessings
And asking God’s forgiveness for the sins
Of the people — their stiff necks and stopped-up ears.
“You gave them kingdoms and nations,” they said, “but they
Grew fat and disobeyed, cast down your Law,
Killed your prophets and sinned against Your Way.
We’ll make a sure covenant and sign it. Our leaders and priests
Will seal it.” So they did. But Nehemiah
Returned, rebuked Eliashib and ejected
From the courts of the House of the Lord Tobiah.
Humbly asking God to be remembered
For good, the builder made his history.
Preaching the Word after the Crucifixion,
Peter and John explained the mystery
Of salvation for everyone. They went to the Gate
Called Beautiful at the Temple at three p.m.
And said, “All those who repent and are baptized
In the name of Jesus Christ will live through Him.”
A crippled beggar asked for alms, but Peter
Commanded, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, arise!”
On his feet and praising God, the man
Leaped through the Beautiful Gate. Caiaphas’ spies
Tried to turn the crowd and called the priest;
But the forty-year-old man held onto them
Who had summoned the power of God to end his woes
And skipped through the loveliest gate in Jerusalem.
Solomon’s Colonnade was where
They took this pivotal affair
In the story of Christianity,
Peter and John, the apostlery,
To tell the throng the Son of God,
Rejected, flogged and crucified,
Afforded all the promise of
Salvation and Jehovah’s love.
Elders, teachers of the law
And rulers called them forth and saw
They were uneducated men
Who’d walked with Him who had no sin.
Filled with the Spirit, Peter said
The One arisen from the dead,
The holy, righteous Lamb of God,
Now holds Heaven’s staff and rod.
“If we be struck by the chastening hand
For a good deed done to a helpless man,
Know it was through the sacrifice
And power of the Name of Jesus Christ
That he was healed,” he said. Let go,
They returned to the colonnade and lo,
Five thousand in their absence had
Believed and the church was being added
To each day — the bride of Him
Who had come to the gate in Jerusalem.