Nehemiah 2:11-20-The Actions of the Servant of God
Last Sunday morning we looked at what likely led to Nehemiah’s trip to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding effort on the walls of Jerusalem. It was the complacency of the Jews that had returned. They had been back in the land for 93 years, had rebuilt the Temple of God, built and established their own homes, yet the city was in many ways in shambles and their lives, families and homes were under constant threat by their surrounding enemies because the walls had yet to be rebuilt. To use a common phrase from today’s vernacular, their philosophy seemed to be; “It is what it is”. But just because “It is what it is” doesn’t mean it should remain that way. Unfortunately they had become accustomed to the deplorable conditions they were living in and in some ways hardly noticed.
All this in spite of the fact that God had proven Himself worthy of their trust over and over again. Somehow they had forgotten that God literally named Cyrus, King of Persia, over 150 years before he was even born, and not just named him, stated that he would be a king and allow the Nation of Judah to return to their home land. They had forgotten how God had sustained them when they returned 93 years earlier, had protected them in that return as well as the return under Ezra around 80 years later, had provided them with everything they needed to rebuild the Temple of God, provided them with the utensils for the Temple....the list goes on and on of the many things God had accomplished for them over the years. It was clear that the “Good Hand of their God was upon them”, yet they failed to carry through on the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
We learned last week that:
Complacency Leads To Broken Walls & Burned Down Gates, and the truth is these broken walls and burned down gates are not limited to physical walls and gates. Complacency also leads to broken marriages, to the destruction of families, to damaged relationships, crumbling churches and, if we are not careful, the demise of this Nation.
The Walls of Jerusalem should have been built decades earlier, long before Artaxerxes was on the scene, long before Nehemiah’s return. But the Nation of Judah seemed content to live lives of complacency satisfied with the status quo.
Lastly, last week we were reminded of the fact that Nehemiah, like the individuals mentioned in Hebrews 11 were not superhuman’s. They were ordinary sinners just like us. Most had major flaws, but all had reached a point in time where they fully surrendered to the God of the Universe and yielded themselves to Him, and as a result of that surrender they all went on to be used of God to accomplish incredible things as God worked through them.
Since God was the one doing the work and these individuals were nothing more than tools in His Mighty Hands, we don’t have to wait for Nehemiah’s to come onto the scene before we attempt to do great things for God.
We closed out our time last week by being challenged to get on our knees before God in full surrender, asking God to direct us to accomplish huge things for His kingdom. I trust we all took that challenge seriously and have spent some time this week continuing in that prayer and writing down the specific things as God directs us to record.
If you haven’t already, turn in your copies of God’s Word to the Book of Nehemiah 2:11-20. It is on page 504 in the Pew Bibles.
As you are turning, let me just set the stage for where we are in the Book of Nehemiah. At the beginning of Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s brother had returned from the City of Jerusalem. Nehemiah anxiously asked his brother for an update on the condition of the city. Most likely his expectation was to receive a good report. Unfortunately he received the opposite, the walls had been torn down, the gates burned with fire and those living there were “in great trouble and shame”. Immediately, a broken Nehemiah sat on the ground and “wept and mourned for days”. Nehemiah was a man of God who’s heart was broken for his nation and his people. He began to pray and seek the face of God for what to do next and before long God made it clear that Nehemiah was to do more than just pray, he was to be a part of the solution. At this point Nehemiah may have been a bit confused as to what he might do. He was 800 miles from Jerusalem, a white collar worker who probably didn’t know a single person in Jerusalem. On top of that, as the cup bearer to the king, one of the kings most trusted advisors and closest friends, it was highly unlikely, if not impossible by human standards, for him to expect that the king would ever allow him to take an extended leave to go to Jerusalem. Within a few days God gave Nehemiah a peace in his heart that he would be returning and that his job now was to wait on the Lord while continuing in his service to the king. God would move the heart of the king and Nehemiah would clearly see God move the kings heart. 4 months later, 4 months of faithful service, 4 months of continual prayer, God moved the heart of the king in a miraculous way and soon Nehemiah was on his way back to Jerusalem, with the kings blessing, with letters from the king, with access to the kings forest for supply and a small army to accompany him on his journey. With these things in mind, let’s read the passage. Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
One of the first things I notice in verse 11 is “So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days.” What an interesting statement,“So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days.” You have to wonder, what exactly did he do those 3 days. In my impulsiveness I think I would have hit the ground running. At this point in time it had been around 6 months since he received the bad report from his brother. We learned earlier in chapter 2 that he had already penciled out a plan and now that he is in Jerusalem, why wait any longer. Had I been in his sandals I’d have already been hunting down some brick layers, some carpenters and other workers to get this show on the road. Not Nehemiah, he waits for 3 days before doing a thing. What is he waiting for, I mean seriously, let’s go already. But Nehemiah waits. The question is, why is he waiting, or perhaps the better question is, What is he waiting for? I believe the answer lies in what we have already seen established in the life of Nehemiah as well as many other servants of God throughout the pages of Scripture and the history of the church. So, what is that? Next Slides
The Servant of God is Quick to Pray and Slow to Act. Vs. 11 & 12
Nehemiah 1:4; 2:4 & 2:11&12.
As I mentioned a moment ago, Nehemiah had already patterned for us that his first course of action was to seek the face of God. Look at 1:4 where we read “and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” and a chapter later in verse 4 “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” Nehemiah was quick to pray, he took his marching orders from the God of the universe and he didn’t move until God gave him specific marching orders.
Now perhaps you are looking at this passage and thinking, wait, where do we see Nehemiah praying? That is a good question because it isn’t clearly laid out before us, but I think it is hinted at in the middle of verse 12 where we read “And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem.” This phrase and what we have already seen patterned in the life of Nehemiah so far leads me to believe that these first 3 days Nehemiah spent the majority of his time on his knees seeking the face of God and it was during those 3 days that God began to put some specific things on the heart of Nehemiah to do in Jerusalem. And while he waited and sought the face of God, God began to direct Nehemiah with some specific directions on what to do next. Which brings us to the next important point:Next Slide
After Praying, the Servant of God Counts the Cost Before Moving Into Action.
We see God’s direction to Nehemiah laid out first in verse 12 where we read “Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me” He goes on to record in 13-16 Next Slide
13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.
Double check slide of Jerusalem map to make sure it fits on the PowerPoint.
I don’t know about you, but I find it somewhat curious that he would inspect the wall by night. I mean you would think this would make the job a lot more difficult, but again, he is receiving his direction from God not me.
There are likely a couple things at play here as to why Nehemiah did this inspection at night.
I don’t think he wanted to raise any suspicions, at least not yet. Those would come soon enough, but for now he sought the cover of darkness. But I think there is another reason he was doing this at night.
Nehemiah sought the silent solitude of the night. By performing this inspection in the quiet stillness of the night, Nehemiah was most likely praying as he went about the inspection. Nehemiah was already practicing what the Apostle Paul would write about 500 years later in his letter the the Thessalonians: Next Slide
1 Thessalonians 5:17
17 pray without ceasing,
So, Nehemiah begins by “inspecting the walls that had been broken down and the gates that had been destroyed by fire”. In both verse 13 and again in verse 15 Nehemiah points out that he “inspected” the walls and gates. He choses a very specific word for “inspected”. The Hebrew word for inspect means "to look into something very carefully." It's a medical word for probing a wound to see the extent of the damage.
In this instance Nehemiah was probing a very deep wound that didn’t just affect him, it also affected the people he loved, but most importantly, it affected the name of his God. Nehemiah’s goal from the very start was that the name of God would be lifted high. This is another valuable lesson we need to learn from the life of Nehemiah. Next Slide
We need to live our lives in such a way that the name of God is lifted high.
So far we have watched as Nehemiah has prayed, we have watched him very carefully count the cost, and now he is ready to take the next step: Next Slides
After the Servant of God has Prayed and Counted the Cost, He Shares the Opportunity to be God’s Instrument with Others. Vs. 16 & 17
After making his way to Jerusalem, and having spent his first 3 days praying, seeking the Face of God for what he should do next, and having received God’s marching orders for how too proceed, Nehemiah now shares what God had placed on his heart.
By the way, please be sure you don’t miss the order in which Nehemiah proceeded. For those of you who sincerely sought God’s leading and direction at the end of last week’s message, you would do well to follow Nehemiah’s lead here. You have already spent some time in prayer, hopefully it wasn’t limited to last Sunday morning! Perhaps some of you may have already sensed God leading you in a specific direction. Following the lead of Nehemiah, which as we have seen includes continued time in prayer, the next thing you do is count the cost and put to together a plan of action. That is where we are in the story of Nehemiah.
Often times this is where we get off track. All to often we sense God leading us in a specific direction, which usually includes a God given passion to meet a specific need. As we share this passion with others, we assume that they will immediately grab hold of our passion and jump on board. When they don’t it is easy to get offended and hurt, but just because God gives me a passion for something doesn’t mean everyone else will have the same passion, in fact it would be tragic if they did!
God places different calls on different individuals and because of that He has placed willing and available servants all over this planet in thousands of different ministries and mission organizations reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So as you pray and as God leads and as you count the cost and share what God has laid on your heart to do, don’t be offended if others don’t share your same passion. Perhaps God has laid a completely different passion on their heart.
Back to the story of Nehemiah, he moved from counting the cost and putting together a plan of action, and now in verse 16 & 17 we see him share his ministry with others.
16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work. 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.”
In verse 17 Nehemiah gives others an opportunity to come alongside him in rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem.
There are a couple of other things I don’t want you to miss in these 2 verses. At this point if you don’t have a problem with writing or making notes in your Bible, I’d like you to take out a pen, or highlighter and highlight or underline 3 personal pronouns that would be easy to miss in verse 17. The personal pronouns are “we” “us” and “we”.
The first thing I want you to notice here is that Nehemiah Identified Himself with the Problem.
That is what the servant of God does; Next Slides
The Servant of God Identifies With the Problem. Vs. 17
Unfortunately, all to often the Christian moves into a tragic situation like what Nehemiah was faced with in Jerusalem and immediately begins to point fingers.
“Look at this mess here! I can’t believe what you have allowed to take place here. You people should have started rebuilding these walls the moment you finished rebuilding the Temple of God! You’ve put the city at risk, you’ve put your families at risk and you’ve brought shame to the Name of God. Well good news, God has brought me here to crack the whip on you people and get this wall built! Now let’s get to work so we can finish this and I can get back to my life in the palace!”
But that is not what Nehemiah did. He identified with the problem.
“You see the trouble WE are in?”
“Come let US build the wall of Jerusalem”
“that WE may no longer suffer derision.”
Nehemiah identified himself with the problem, but it didn’t stop there, he went on to Include himself in the Solution.
That is the next thing the servant of God does; Next Slides
The Servant of God Includes Himself/Herself in the Solution. Vs. 17
That was the 2nd personal pronoun we just looked at;
“Come let US build the wall of Jerusalem”
Nehemiah didn’t share the need then start to bark out orders and let the workers know; “Hey, I will be in my office down the street working on other important matters. I will check up on you from time to time to make sure you are staying on task, but you are the ones who allowed this city to get this way and it is your job to do the repairs.”
Nehemiah shared what God had laid on his heart with the people and then said; “Now hand me a trough and let’s get to work!” Then he proceeded to work alongside the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
Now this is all well and good, but I imagine that initially his message fell on sceptical ears. I mean these people lived with opposition every day, and to be honest with you, there is a good chance that many of them had been a part of the rebuilding effort that Artaxerxes had already halted a fews years earlier. We looked at that a couple weeks ago when we did a quick review of Ezra 4. And here Nehemiah marches in with his royal escort and tells them it is time to start rebuilding again, I mean who does he think he is!
That what makes what Nehemiah does next so important. Nehemiah shared with the people what God had already done.
This is an important thing for us to remember, you see; Next Slides
The Servant of God Is Quick to Share What God Has Done. Vs. 18
Look at what he writes in verse 18;
“18 And I told them of the Hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me.”
Now I have to be honest with you here, I am pretty sure that what Nehemiah records here undersells what actually took place. What I picture in my mind taking place is Nehemiah gathering all those who were going to be coming alongside him in rebuilding the walls and having them take a seat near him. Then perhaps he pulled up a stool and begin to share with them all that God had done.
How his brother Hanani had returned from Jerusalem with his devastating report.
How Nehemiah wept, fasted and prayed for several days.
How he continued to pray for the next 4 months for God to move the heart of King Artaxerxes, the very king that had halted the last efforts to rebuild the walls.
How God moved the king to not only allow him to return, but bankrolled the trip, sent a small army with him.
At this point I wonder if he didn’t take them to the nearby storehouse where he showed them all of the supplies the king authorized Nehemiah to bring with him.
Maybe it was at this point where he brought out the letters from the king, you know the ones I’m talking about, the letters where the king makes it known that Nehemiah is operating under the command and approval of the king!
By the way, you know what Nehemiah is doing here?
First off let me tell you what he isn’t doing here. In fact write this down in your notes;
Nehemiah is not asking them to join him in the work.
He is asking them to join God in the work.
Now maybe you’re wondering why the distinction, I mean in some ways the 2 are the same.
Nehemiah knew that they would have constant opposition and if this was nothing more that the people joining Nehemiah in his dream to rebuild the walls, they would stop the moment the opposition came onto the scene. this had already happened.
But if the people realized that the “Good Hand of God” was on the rebuilding effort, they would be more apt to press on. Maybe he shared with them the stories from Scripture.
The story of Elijah facing the prophets of Baal.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace.
The story of Daniel and the lions den.
Perhaps he challenged them with this thought, I always thought this originated with Dr. David Jeremiah, but maybe Nehemiah coined this phrase!
The man of God, in the middle of the will of God, doing the work of God, is indestructible until God’s plan for him is completed.
Whatever he shared with them did the trick because vs. 18 goes on to say;
“And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.”
It was a good thing he made it clear that God’s Hand was on all this because opposition immediately raised it’s ugly head, it always does and it always will.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
This brings us to the next thing Nehemiah does in the face of opposition.
Now I gotta tell you, I am blown away by what Nehemiah does next. I mean had I been Nehemiah I would have immediately pulled out the letters from King Artaxerxes. But when it came to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah may have been there with the blessing of the king, but he wasn’t doing this for King Artaxerxes. Not hardly, he was doing this for the King of all kings, He was doing this for the God Who moved the heart of King Artaxerxes (the very king who had halted earlier efforts to rebuild the walls), he was doing this for the God of the Universe.
Nehemiah didn’t remind the opposition of the letters from the king, he told them of the power of his God!
20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
You know what this is? This is a mic drop moment. Had Nehemiah been doing this today, perhaps he would have ended his message to the opposition like this;
Mic drop followed by BOOM.
So what is the application for us this morning? There are 5 important truths we need to take with us from today’s message, these 5 truths may very well take that prayer you prayed last week and put the power of God behind what God has laid on your heart. They are:
The Servant of God is Quick to Pray and Slow to Act.
The Servant of God Counts the Cost and Seeks God Direction on a Plan Before Moving Into Action.
The Servant of God Shares the Opportunity to be God’s Instrument with Others.
The Servant of God Identifies With the Problem.
The Servant of God Includes Himself/Herself in the Solution.
The Servant of God Is Quick to Share What God Has Done.
Let’s close in prayer.