Week 10 – Nehemiah
The events of Nehemiah happened after Israel had been exiled to Babylon and Persia for over a century. Waves of resettlers had returned to Jerusalem prior to Nehemiah’s expedition, rebuilding the temple and moving into the city, but these resetllers were met with some difficulties and opposition, from guys like Sanballat and Tobiah (Nehemiah 4). One of the primary difficulties, which we hear about in Nehemiah 1, was their failure to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
Now, we live in a day when we don’t have to fortify our cities any more, but not having a wall was a really big deal in Nehemiah’s day. It meant that Jerusalem was easy to overthrow, hard to secure, and overall a pretty dangerous place to live. It was also a marker of an official city, so without a wall it was like they were just pretending. So Jerusalem, which was meant to be a light to the nations and the location of God’s habitation among mankind, was more like a scary back alleyway. No wonder this broke Nehemiah’s heart in 1:4.
But here’s an interesting thing: Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem. He wasn’t born there, and aside from his Jewish identity he had no ties there. But he was still heartbroken. Why? We see in Nehemiah a supple heart, easily moved by the tragedy that had befallen God’s people. He could’ve shaken it off, thinking it was someone else’s problem. But instead he risked his job, his standing with the king, and even his life in a dangerous city, all to help lead the effort to rebuild a city he’d never even seen.
The taking on of other people’s problems is a core concept of Christianity, both in Jesus’ teachings and in his death on the cross. This isn’t motivated out of our piety, just like Nehemiah wasn’t motivated out of his piety. Look at he prayer in 1:5-11, he confesses how utterly faithless he and his people have been. Nehemiah was motivated by God’s nature as a “great and awesome God who keeps covenant.” Similarly, our taking on of other people’s problems, in which we’re just following after Jesus, is motivated by the very nature of God, who made our problems his own.
The Bible Project: Ezra-Nehemiah
Ezra and Nehemiah used to be one unified book, so this video addresses both. Start at 4:55 to learn more about Nehemiah specifically.
Questions for Discussion
• Let’s look at Nehemiah 1:1-11.
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• What can we learn from Nehemiah’s prayer?
• Why do you think Nehemiah was willing to make Jerusalem’s problem his own problem?
• What do you think rebuilding an ancient city has to do with us today?
• What could this story be calling us to believe about God?