Life Lessons from Nehemiah, Pt. 3
Study Guide, February 2, 2020
Pastor Clay Olsen
Some of you that have visited Jerusalem were no doubt impressed by the massive gates around the Old City; gates like the Damascus Gate, Zion’s Gate, and the Golden Gate. The remarkable thing about the Golden Gate is that it is sealed over. It has been sealed since 1541 when an Ottoman Sultan named ‘Suleiman the Magnificent’ had it sealed up. History records that he sealed up this Golden Gate, or Eastern Gate, not only as protection from those who might invade the city from that direction, but even more because of the prophecy of the end times from Ezek 43:4- “And the glory of the Lord came into the Temple through the east gateway.” NLT This Muslim Sultan thought that sealing up the gate would keep this Jewish Messiah from fulfilling that prophecy. What he and so many others failed then and fail now to realize is that the Messiah is not only fully human, but He is also fully divine…He is God. And no sealed gate is going to keep the Messiah from entering that gate or fulfilling all prophecy!
But another interesting thing about this Eastern Gate is that it faces the Mount of Olives, where there is a massive Jewish Cemetery. And the tombstones there all face the city, as Jewish tradition says that when the Messiah returns those buried there will be resurrected and will enter the city with the Messiah. Well, if they received the Biblical Messiah, Jesus Christ, as their God and Savior, then yes. But as John 1:11-13 states it, some received Him, but others didn’t. “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” NASU
But the gates have always had great significance. And in the time of Nehemiah, there were ten gates as part of the wall that the people worked together on to rebuild. So let’s return to this amazing work and see what things we can take away from it.
Chapter three gives us a record of some of the work, along with some of the names of the workers. Here are some selected examples of this: Neh 3:1-2 -“Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set up its doors, building the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and the Tower of Hananel. 2 People from the town of Jericho worked next to them, and beyond them was Zaccur son of Imri.” 10- “Next Jedaiah son of Harumaph repaired the wall across from his own house…3:12- “Shallum son of Hallohesh and his daughters repaired the next section. He was the leader of the other half of the district of Jerusalem.” NLT
What we see from this sampling is the remarkable example of service and fellowship among and between the people of God. You have priests in Jerusalem, who usually served in the temple, to those who lived outside of Jerusalem, as in Jericho here, to Shallum and his daughters, all serving together to build for the glory of God. What a picture of how God has always wanted His family to serve together. And not just in their own areas of interest, but in serving wherever there was a need for service; and serving with a humble attitude, like the priests getting dirty and sweating alongside the others. Remember, Jesus taught that those who are considered great in His kingdom are those who are the servants of all. A humble attitude about yourself and a willingness to serve others is more important than any title that you carry or is given to you.
Plus, what a great early picture of what the Apostle Paul would later point out as what characterizes the people of God today, the church today, as a body of parts all working and serving together to build up God’s kingdom and one another as well. Eph 4:16- “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Rom 12:4-5- “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” 1 Cor 12:25-27- “This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” NLT
So not only is every member of Christ’s body significant to God, but every member is to give some significant effort to working on God’s works of building up His Kingdom, building up His church, building up whatever the body of Christ is in need of, along with their own family’s works and concerns. And we at the Chapel here are blessed because this ‘Body’ gets that, and does just that…humbly serves the Lord and one another in whatever service is needed.
We also notice that God is a recorder. Not only does God record the work going on, He also gives us a record of names of those who did the work. And just like their names in Nehemiah’s time were recorded, along with the work they did, so God has a record of your name and all the works that you have done to honor Him and to bless others. That’s something that God wants you to know; that our God is a recorder. Every good thing, every good prayer, every good effort that you have done for the glory of God and the blessing of others is recorded by God. And He wants us to know this not only to motivate us to get on with doing whatever we can do to honor Him and bless others, but to encourage us by realizing that no good work goes unnoticed by God, but rather each one counts and will be rewarded far more than we can even imagine.
Another interesting thing is that in many places it points out that oftentimes the work they were doing on the wall was right across from their houses where they lived. That was a pretty wise plan, don’t you think? If you are working on the wall that is just across from your house, you’re probably going to do a pretty good job in making sure that the wall is really strong in that section, right? The word ‘repair’ is used thirty-five times in this chapter. And the intention of these ‘repairs’ was to make them even better than before.
And what a key attitude that is in serving God. Often there are things in our lives that get attacked, or even just worn down. And like those damaged walls around Jerusalem, although we can’t do anything to change what happened, we can always put our hands to the plow to repair and to seek to make things around us even better than before, whether it is in repairing wood and stone in church buildings or repairing words and service in church relationships. As the Apostle Paul pointed out to us, Rom 12:17-18- “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” NASU Now, the trouble may not be from you, but as far as the peace, that can be from you. And in none of any of even the most modern translations can you find, “Blessed are the trouble-makers”…no, it’s always “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
So not only was the work they were doing together to build up the wall important to God, but also ‘how’ they were working together was important to God. Friends, in whatever we are doing we always have to factor in how God is looking at what we are doing…is He pleased with our attitude toward both the work and toward the workers as we work on whatever work it is that we are working on? Don’t let your attitude cancel out the reward of the work you’ve done. That is just not wise at all.
But now, whenever you do try to build something good to honor God and bless others, you can count on opposition. Take a look at this: Neh 4:1-3- “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building — if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” NASU
We have to realize is that although this may not sound like much to us, to the Jewish people these statements really were very serious charges and these adversaries were harshly mocking the people. When they called them ‘feeble Jews’ that was a direct attack on their faith and on the strength that came from their faith. Feeble means weak and withering. How often have the mockers of Christianity said that our faith was a crutch, like something only needed by weak people who can’t make it on their own? That’s what they were saying to these people. And yet, what a foolish claim. Plus, people who say things like that, who claim that Christians can’t make it on their own, why, they don’t even know what they mean by that. What does that mean…to ‘Make it on their own? Make what on their own?’ Make a self-centered life that’s lived for your own glory instead of Gods? ‘Make it on your own’, like in living as though you are the master of your own life, when in reality you are either a repentant servant of God’s or you are an unrepentant servant who is under judgment from God? And then when your life is over you will have wasted your whole life, and you will have lost your own soul for eternity? That’s what ‘making it on your own means!’ How utterly foolish is that?! Jesus called a person like that, one who tried to live life like they were in charge of their own life ‘A fool!’…one who gains the whole world, but loses his or her own soul.
But what the mockers of God’s people and of God’s work fail to realize is that they are simply being used as pawns of the devil to do his will. Like ridicule: ridicule is the language of the devil. The devil used Goliath to ridicule David by asking if he was only a dog that they were sending out to come and hit him with a stick. Well, he was hit with something all right, but it wasn’t a stick…David hit him with a stone. And that’s all it took to bring Goliath down. And many others, too, in the Old and New Testaments were ridiculed and mocked for their faith and their works. But one thing we need to remember in connection with this is that when the enemy mocks what God’s people are doing, it is usually a sign that God is doing a significant work through them and is going to bless His people in a wonderful way. When you are mocked or scorned by others because of your faith, you should know that you are really being a blessing to God and others. You can tell that by how riled up the enemy is.
Even during the greatest offering of all time, the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, some of the calloused soldiers and rabble in the crowd were ridiculing Him. But also remember, the Psalmist had something to say about that as well in Ps 2:10-12- “Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal Son, or He will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—for His anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in Him!” NLT
So remember the warning of this Psalm whenever you encounter the mockers and scoffers and doubters and those who ridicule God’s work or God’s Word or God’s people. They have been warned. People either choose discipleship or they choose destruction: those are the only two options in life. You either become born again and then only die once – or you remain unrepentant toward God and thus die twice; physically and spiritually. God will not be mocked. What a man sows, that he will reap.
But before we wrap this part up, one other tactic we should point out that the devil uses against God’s people is ‘discouragement’. Like we see in Neh 4:10- “Thus in Judah it was said, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to rebuild the wall.” NASU Discouragement is one of the devil’s most powerful weapons. Know that and be on the alert for that. And one reason discouragement is so effective for the devil is because there are so many different things humans get discouraged about…and he knows what they are. And one of them is what the people said. Look at it again: Neh 4:10- “And so at that time the people of Judah said, “The workers are becoming tired. There is too much dirt and trash in the way. We cannot continue to build the wall.” ERV This very literal version reveals that when we are weary, when we’re right in the middle of a project or a work, when all around us is the dirt from it, the trash because of it….or just so much rubbish…that is the time to watch out! Because that is exactly what the devil wants you to be focused on…to be focused on the rubbish instead of on what you are building…to be focused on the problems in your world and not focused on the promises in God’s Word. Problems can either produce discouragement or diligence. It all depends on your focus. It’s like one of my favorite sayings of Dr. Warren Wiersbe: “If you look to yourself, you’ll be discouraged; if you look to others, you’ll be distracted; but if you look to Christ, you’ll be delighted.”
Remember something very important: There’s a lot of rubbish even in the best works. That’s why we have to keep focused on what we’re building and even rebuilding for the glory of God, and even our own gain because of God’s grace.