To the Romans, Paul wrote, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Although the Old Testament is no longer our law, it remains our teacher. Sadly, it has been a while since many of us attended class. Many today, including many preachers, do not know the “Old Bible” as well as they should. As a result of our neglect, we are missing the patience (longsuffering), peace (comfort) and promise (hope) that come from such a study. Hopefully, studies like this one will spark interest in other Old Testament books.
Let’s take a journey back to the time of Nehemiah. Were Nehemiah alive today, I believe that he could relate to what we are going through. After all, he found the beloved city of Jerusalem in ruins, he found leaders serving themselves, and he found brethren harboring the enemy. Although others in Nehemiah’s time might have been indifferent, he could not be (Lamentations 1:13). He could not let the reproach remain. He had to remove it. As we study the book that bears his name, we will see four things that parallel our situation today. It might be good to study Ezra and Esther at the same time during your daily reading.
The book of Nehemiah opens much as the news does each evening - with doom and gloom. Hanani, one of Nehemiah’s brethren, reported that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates had been burned with fire (Nehemiah 1:2-3; 2:3, 13, 17). Furthermore, the people that were there were in great affliction and were suffering great reproach. The report broke Nehemiah’s heart and almost cost him his head (Nehemiah 2:1-5). When he heard the report, he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).
No doubt, when Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and surveyed the damages for himself, the reports that he had heard must have seemed like nothing. Like the Queen of Sheba when she surveyed Solomon’s wisdom and wealth, Nehemiah must have felt as if the half had not been told. In some places the destruction was so bad that Nehemiah had to get down off of the beast upon which he was riding and proceed on foot (Nehemiah 2:14).
Today, reports come in all the time about the sad condition of spiritual Jerusalem, the church. Yet, reports cannot do it justice. If you have seen it firsthand, then you know how bad it is. Many congregations of the Lord’s people are in ruins today. The walls are broken down and the gates have been burned with fire. Liberalism, legalism, anti-ism, materialism, worldliness, and years of indifference have left their mark on us. Hopefully, the condition of present Jerusalem (the church) touches our hearts as much as it touched Nehemiah’s (Lamentations 1:12). Many of you may have wept and prayed over it.
It was reproachful for Jerusalem to be in ruins. After all, this was the holy city. This was where God’s people lived. The ruins were a constant reminder of the people’s sins. Someone has defined sin as “self-inflicted nonsense.” I believe that this is a pretty accurate definition, don’t you? As you know, if the people had obeyed God, He would have prevented the enemy from ever shooting an arrow there as He did in the days of Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:33). However, because of their sins, God allowed them to be carried away into captivity (Nehemiah 1:6).
Because of the condition of the city, the people were a constant reproach (Nehemiah 1:3). In fact, the word “reproach” appears five times in the first six chapters of the book. Nehemiah learned firsthand when he arrived just how shameful the present situation was. In fact, when he announced his plans to the people, the enemy laughed him to scorn (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:1-3). In like manner, the present condition of many congregations is reproachful. Again, sin (self-inflicted nonsense) is to blame.
The bottom line is that we must answer the call of God. We need to read his word. We need to pray in his will. We need to fellowship with his people. And we need to work. The challenge of Nehemiah is to rise up and build! Are you ready to rise up? Are you ready to build? Let’s get to work.