Read the Passage: Nehemiah 3-4
Labor and Repair (3:1–32)
Just three days after his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah revealed that the reason for his arrival in the Promised Land was to rebuild of the wall of Jerusalem. While Neh. 2:10, 19–20 foreshadows the opposition the Jews would soon face, Neh. 3:1–32 indicates that the rebuilding project itself commenced almost immediately. Observe that Nehemiah is rightfully known in biblical history as the one who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, yet his earlier request of King Artaxerxes was to rebuild the entire city, not just its walls (cf. Neh. 2:5). Indeed, Nehemiah 3 reports the beginning of the restoration of the wall, including its gates and towers, as well as the repair of “the residence of the governor” (Neh. 3:7). Moreover, given that Nehemiah’s first term as governor lasted for more than a decade, it is reasonable to assume that the entire city was rebuilt under his watchful eye and care.
Many of the details about the rebuilding of the city wall are recorded in Nehemiah 3. Indeed, this chapter mentions more than fifty people by name, noting that this diverse group included priests (cf. Neh. 3:1, 22, 28), Levites (cf. Neh. 3:17), nobles (cf. Neh. 3:5), servants (cf. Neh. 3:26), district leaders (cf. Neh. 3:9, 12, 14–19), gatekeepers (cf. Neh. 3:29), perfumers (cf. Neh. 3:8), and goldsmiths (cf. Neh. 3:8, 31–32), among many, many others. Surely the majority of these laborers were not skilled stone masons, but they still helped in the rebuilding project. Additionally, this chapter names ten gates of Jerusalem, which are: the sheep gate (cf. Neh. 3:1), the fish gate (cf. Neh. 3:3), the old gate (cf. Neh. 3:6), the valley gate (cf. Neh. 3:13), the refuse gate (cf. Neh. 3:13), the fountain gate (cf. Neh. 3:15), the water gate (cf. Neh. 3:26), the horse gate (cf. Neh. 3:28), the east gate (cf. Neh. 3:29), and the muster gate (cf. Neh. 3:31).
Opposition and Prayer (4:1–14)
Sanballat the Horonite, who is first mentioned in Neh. 2:10, was likely a local Samaritan official who had been appointed by the Persian authorities. He, along with Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arab, are repeatedly mentioned in this book as being opposed to the rebuilding project. Note that this unholy trinity of naysayers were likely the officials behind the letter of opposition previously reported in Ezra 4:7–23. Here in Neh. 4:1–3 Sanballat was said to be “furious and very indignant” at the Jews’ progress in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Earlier Ezra wrote that Sanballat was “deeply disturbed” (Neh. 2:10) at Nehemiah’s arrival, and that he “laughed at . . . and despised [Nehemiah]” (Neh. 2:19). Observe that Sanballat’s tactics of discouragement included accusing Nehemiah of rebellion (cf. Neh. 2:19), threatening attack (cf. Neh. 4:2), and public scorn (cf. Neh. 4:2–3).
Neh. 4:4–5 narrates Nehemiah’s prayer in light of the larger Samaritan opposition to the building project. This prayer is striking, for concerning his enemies, Nehemiah prays that God would: (1) reproach them, (2) plunder them, (3) not pardon them, and (4) visit His wrath upon them. While prayers of vengeance are not always acceptable, clearly, sometimes they are correct (cf. Ps. 58:1–8; 109:6–20). Given the unexpected, quick progress in the rebuilding project (cf. Neh. 4:6), the Samaritan leaders were “very angry” (Neh. 4:7), therefore they “conspired together to . . . attack Jerusalem” (Neh. 4:8). Quite understandably, this threat troubled those who were restoring the wall (cf. Neh. 4:10, 12). In consequence, Nehemiah’s response was two-fold. First, he put some of the people in defensive of positions on the wall. Second, he exhorted the Jews to “remember the Lord [who is] great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).
Vigilance and Security (4:15–23)
Although the Jews’ knowledge of the Samaritans’ plan seemed to thwart the intended attack (cf. Neh. 4:15), an ongoing plan of defense was still needed. Neh. 4:15–23 gives details about Nehemiah’s strategy to defend Jerusalem against the Samaritan agitators. First, in accord with the practice initially described in Neh. 4:13, the workforce remained divided between defenders and builders (cf. Neh. 4:16, 21). Presumably there was a regular rotation between these two groups. Second, Nehemiah decreed that even the builders would remain armed as they worked on the wall (cf. Neh. 4:17–18. 22–23). Indeed, everyone was equipped with both a sword and a trowel. Third, a messaging system was devised involving a trumpet to rally the people to any given point of attack (cf. Neh. 4:19–20). This communication system was necessary in light of the vast scope of the building project.
- Why were the non-Jewish residents of Palestine so opposed to the rebuilding the of wall of Jerusalem?
- Is your vision and plan for serving God appropriate in scope and size? Why was Nehemiah’s plan adopted so readily by the people?
- What does it mean that some of the nobles “did not put their shoulder to the work of their Lord” (cf. Neh. 3:5)?
- In the past, how have you resisted the attempts of others to discourage your works for the Lord?
- When (if ever) is it acceptable to ask God for judgment, retribution, and vengeance in our prayers?