The God Of Heaven Will Give Us Success
Key verse 20:
“I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.’”
Verses 1-2. “I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.” When the prophesied period of 70 years of captivity and exile was over, for a couple of decades many had returned to Jerusalem to settle down in the city of their forefathers. Nehemiah spent the first three days getting acquainted with the city and the officials in charge of city affairs. After setting down himself in one of the abandoned houses in Jerusalem, he began meeting with the officials appointed to administer the affairs of the people who had returned from the land of exile. They had made Jerusalem their new home, since none of the returned exiles had ever seen Jerusalem before. Nehemiah had to meet with them as the envoy of the king who sent him in order to make their acquaintance. He must have also visited the rebuilt temple, restored from the ash and ruin of destruction. For three days after his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah also poured himself out in prayer. Prayer was a prominent mark in his life. God had heard his prayer. He had impressed a special mission on his heart. God had given him a vision to see Jerusalem’s walls rebuilt and dignity restored to God’s people— to those who love God and who serve his purpose in their lives. And now he had come to Jerusalem to fulfill the mission God had put on his heart. Three days after his arrival in Jerusalem, what did Nehemiah do?
Read verse 12: “I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.” It was during the night that Nehemiah went out to survey the walls of Jerusalem. He wanted to assess the damage done to the wall of Jerusalem, perhaps to determine where the strengths and weaknesses of the broken walls may gave been. As far as we know, Nehemiah was not schooled in the architectural nor structural sciences. Rather he was cup-bearer to the king Artaxerxes . We wonder then, why was he entrusted with such a building project, if not for his proficiency as an expert builder remodeler? Perhaps it was simply because he was God’s servant ready to fulfill any responsibility God put on his heart. Often God does not choose men or women according to their qualities or qualifications, but according to his grace. Often God’s projects are difficult to do if not impossible, and only God can fulfill them. What he needs then is a willing heart and the faith to trust him. Considering how unwilling people usually are to serve God’s purpose, a willing heart is most precious to God. And considering how vague the faith of many is, the faith to trust God is also most precious to God. When God chooses men and women to serve his purpose, it does not matter whether they are skilled workers, what’s important is whether they are willing to serve God and his purpose, and whether they have the kind of faith to trust God in fulfilling that purpose. When God chose the man Abraham to begin a history of faith, he did not choose Abraham because he was an able man, nor because he was highly educated. He chose him by grace, and for the fact that Abraham was willing to follow God and to do all that God would tell him. In everything Abraham had a willing heart and the faith to trust God. Eventually when God asked him to make the ultimate sacrifice of his son, Abraham was willing and had the faith to trust God even in this most difficult and impossible mission to fulfill. Surely Nehemiah had a willing heart— willing to give up even the highest position of cup-bearer in order to serve God’s purpose. He also had the faith to trust God to fulfill that purpose in and through him.
But there’s a question here: Why did Nehemiah go out to inspect the walls of Jerusalem at night, and why did he keep quiet about what God had put on his heart to do? It suggests that the work would not be trouble free, and that there would be dangers in fulfilling God’s mission. And there are things to call attention to in the actions of this man.
First, there was wisdom in the way Nehemiah set about to fulfill God’s purpose for him. He would take only a few men. He would tell no one about the nature of his mission. He alone would ride a donkey while the other few men walked with him. In other words, Nehemiah did not want to draw attention to what he was doing. Why? It was because he wanted nothing to hinder the will of God in fulfilling this mission. Of course, in due time he would have to share his purpose with others, since the rebuilding project was not a one man’s responsibility but the responsibility of man. But for now, he didn’t want anything to interfere with the will of God, and consequently the work of God. Abraham was once called by God to sacrifice his son on the altar. It was the most painful thing that he would ever face in his life. He kept it a secret. He told no one. And he was wise in doing so. For some, when they know what they need to do for God, and what God requires of them seems difficult and painful, will talk about it openly in the hopes that someone, anyone might hinder them, even stop them from doing the painful task God requires them to do. Nehemiah knew that the task God put on his heart to do was not only exhausting but also outrageous. How easy it would have been to hear a hundred reasons why the project was impossible to carry out. But he told no one. It was God’s wisdom to keep the mission secret until God’s time. He would pray first and quietly survey the enormous mission God laid on his heart.
Second, there was caution in the way Nehemiah would begin fulfilling the task God had given him to do. The plan Nehemiah was assigned to do was too ambitious. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem would restore security to a city that has once ruled the whole region. It would restore political status to a city and a nation that was at the time no more than an object of contempt to its enemies. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem would reestablish a political and economic rivalry to the enemy peoples of the region. But as much as there were enemies without, there were also many enemies within as well. People who would see Jerusalem remain the rubble city that it was rather than rise again to power. Other inner enemies would be those harbored in the people’s hearts themselves— the fears and doubts that were sure to rise within and make them powerless. It was prudent of Nehemiah to be cautious about God’s plans for rebuilding the city. Nehemiah’s project was enormous and hopeful. But he would not be rash. He would not be impatient. Rather he would be cautious. It was a result of his prayer life. Prayer made him vigilant in the mission God would have him fulfill.
Third there was humility in Nehemiah’s heart in carrying out the task God would have him do. With a grand project or mission of this magnitude, most people would not want to hide the prestige and honor of being called by God to serve this purpose. It would take a humble man who knows the grace of God to have no desire for personal glory and honor, but rather to give God all the glory and honor which is due him. John the Baptist, as Jesus tells us, was the greatest man who had ever lived, by virtue that he was the harbinger of the Messiah, the one who would herald and announce the Savior and his work. John was so powerful that the whole nation would rally to him if he only spoke the words. But he was a humble man. His great mission did not make him proud. He did not draw attention to himself. Rather he was known to persistently draw attention to Jesus and to no one else. When they asked him who he was, he literally told them that he was a nobody, yet he was the greatest. When his disciples struggled for glory and honor, John told them these timeless words: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) It is this humility and this attitude towards God that all God’s people must have. Nehemiah was a great man as well— a man called to fulfill a great mission. it did not make him proud. Rather it made him humble. In humility of heart, he sat on a donkey, took a few men with him, and went out in the dead of night to survey the walls of Jerusalem. In doing the work of God, we must learn for whose glory and honor we are working. If we are working for the glory and honor of our Lord, then it is best to remain humble in heart. The greatest work of God is usually done by the nameless, insignificant many whom God calls throughout history to serve his great purpose.
Read verses 13-16. “By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.” During the night Nehemiah and a small team of men went around surveying the walls of the city. Jerusalem had many gates, point of entry to the city. And Nehemiah went from gate to gate, circling once around the city. The officials of the city did not know where he had gone out and for what reason he did so. Neither did he tell the priests nor the nobles nor the officials or any others. It is interesting in verse 16 that Nehemiah says: “any others who would be doing the work.” Nehemiah knew that he could not do this work by himself. He knew that the entire population of Jerusalem at the time would have to get involved in the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He knew that they would all have to work together. But it was premature to tell them of the work they would be doing. He did not want to discourage them. he did not want them to fear those who would oppose them. he didn’t want them to fall into despair at the sight or thought of the tremendous work that would been needed to restore the walls.
Is this deception? Or is withholding the truth a form of a lie to the people. Was he deceiving them? Not really. Nehemiah understood human nature well. We are easily overwhelmed with what we know we must do for the glory of God. if we think of all that God has placed in our hands to do, it is easy to despair and to give up, thus abandoning the mission God has given us to do. Jesus spent two full years with his disciples before he began teaching them the Gospel of his death and resurrection. He spent two whole years with them before he taught them that he would suffer, and die. That they too would have to suffer for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. He was careful in what he taught them at what time. Jesus wanted his disciples to first trust his words, and to trust God, and to learn to depend on God, before he introduced them to the real Gospel of his death and resurrection. God is wise in withholding many things from his children and servants for the proper time— the time when we could understand something painful or difficult much more than we would when we are young and immature spiritually. Nehemiah understood the human nature. He also understood God’s time. he understood that when he does things in his own time, they are likely to fail. He also understood that if did things in God’s time, even the weak and fickle human nature can be strengthened to accomplish the difficult work of God. Nehemiah patiently surveyed the walls that night, saying nothing to anybody. He was still praying about it. He was waiting on God’s time. he was bearing the burden alone.
Bearing the burden alone is truly the mark of a good shepherd. It is hard to hear the burdens God would lay on our hearts alone. But there are times when we must bear the burden of the work alone until God himself works to draw others into sharing the burdens with us. Nehemiah’s task was a tremendous burden to bear. Who could fulfill the mission God had given him to do? No one, not even himself unless God helps him bear the burden. But he did not share this burden with the others, until it was the right time. Then in time, graciously all people shared the burden of building the walls together. God has given us the mission of bringing the Gospel of life to the world. It is not an easy burden to bear. It is much better if we share this burden equally so that the weight of his blessed burden might lighten. We cannot push this burden on others prematurely. We cannot force others to understand that this kind of burden cannot be carried by one man, or one woman alone. But when God gives us a burden we must carry it at times all alone until God himself gives it to someone else to share it with us. We must learn this, so that we can be good shepherds for the flock of God, so that in giving it to them, it might not crush them but be a joyful burden to carry together. Sometimes we feel all alone in what we are given to do. But in reality Nehemiah was never alone. God was with him. God unburdened his heart and slowly led him step by step until the burden was eventually not only carried together with others, but fulfilled. Until then he needed to bring his burden to God alone.
Read verse 17-18. “Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.” In God’s time and in the wisdom that God had given him, Nehemiah shared his burden with the others. The walls were broken. The city is in ruins. We as a people of God are in disgrace, and this is shameful for a people who should be setting the example for others. And there is a need to rebuild the broken walls. So come let us do so together. Nehemiah’s strategy amazes us. He was the king’s official, higher than anyone in the region. God himself had given him this task to fulfill at a time when God’s voice was rare. He could have commanded them to do it. He could have used his own authority to bring about the work to be done. But he didn’t, because it was not God’s way. Rather Nehemiah appealed to their pride as God’s people who should not be in disgrace but be the light of the world to all others. he appealed to their love for the city of Jerusalem, the city God himself had established. Nehemiah spoke to them not as an official of the king, nor as one with a higher rank than them. he spoke to them as he would speak to an equal. He spoke to them believing that they need not be forced to serve God’s purpose, but that if he could stir their hearts, they would respond. He was truly a shepherd. God sent a shepherd to a broken people living with broken walls to help rebuild them. May God raise shepherds like Nehemiah who can stir people’s heart to share in the Gospel work and the work of rebuilding hearts and lives.
Nehemiah also told them that the project was not his own idea nor his own ambition, but that it was on God’s heart to do so. God would certainly help fulfill it even amidst opposition and persecution. When opposition arose from the godless nations around them, Nehemiah was not intimidated. Rather this is what he said— look at verse 20. “I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” He was not discouraged. He did not seek to appease them. He did not step back. Rather he held fast in his faith. He believed that this was God’s work, and God would fulfill his work himself. He believed that success does not come from man’s hard work, but that success comes from God and according to his will. He believed that they were no ordinary people, but that they were, especially himself, God’s servant following the will of God. Nehemiah was a man of prayer. But he was also a shepherd. As a shepherd, he inspired the people to serve God’s purpose, and as a shepherd he also stood up against God’s enemies armed with faith and assurance that the mission God had given him to do would be fulfilled because God himself gives success and fulfills it. We should learn his faith , and how to be a good shepherd like him. Amen.