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The Message of the
Book of Nehemiah

The Bible Teaching Commentary

Paul J. Bucknell


Nehemiah Theme | Nehemiah Outline and Index| Nehemiah Historical Background

The Message of The Book of Nehemiah: Rebuilding Our Faith provides a solid understanding of the message andperson of Nehemiah. He went through a personal crisis, trying his faith and yet proving in the end to be a great example of how God mightily works through one humble and willing prayerful godly man.

The Message of the Book of Nehemiah

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

The book of Nehemiah is a gift dropped from heaven so that we could gain a glimpse of how God graciously worked among His people in the post-exilic era. The situation was desperate. The former nation of Israel was shattered into shambles ready to join a host of other nations in the archives of ancient history.

Since the time of Nehemiah, decades had passed since their capital was captured, burnt down and people deported. The Promised Land was resettled with the poorest Israelites and a mix of immigrants. Hope for the nation only remained in the copy of the old ancient scriptures.

The Book of Nehemiah speaks about one solitary spark through which the Lord relit a flame of hope for the future of Israel which otherwise would have been snuffed out. One has to understand when we talk about Nehemiah’s rebuilding a wall, that the wall was least critical in the rebuilding of a nation dedicated to God’s purposes.

Importance of the Walls

The wall is important only because what was at the same time restored behind the wall. The more special the watch case, the more expensive the watch. The more guards about a home, the more valuable the goods and people within are esteemed. So the wall was rebuilt to protect and maintain a work within the people of God.

The wall as well as the temple were not insignificant architectural feats in a time without great machines. Archaeologists have, for example, discovered five enormous building stones from the temple’s foundation (Herod’s temple during Jesus’ time). The largest is 55 feet long, 11 feet high and 14 feet wide weighing and incredible 570 tons.

What made the walls of Jerusalem so valuable is not the walls themselves, but what the walls would protect: the heart of the nation of Israel. Or later as we discover, the heart of God’s people the Jews.

The Despair of the People

So you can imagine what desperate despair sacked the people after their grand capital city was torn into ruins and the people literally killed or dragged as far away as modern day Iran and Iraq. Hope became a fancy; faith was tossed about as an old man’s dream.

Comparing the Exodus with the Rebuilding of the Wall

It is not the Israelite people that made Israel a nation, but what God did in time and place in the lives of these men. “His Story” literally became history. If one has doubts about the historicity of crossing of the Red Sea, then all one needs to do is to turn to these post-exilic books written 1000 years later for testimony about the glory of the God who miraculously restores the same stubborn people. For what happens in the Book of Nehemiah is a true parallel to the book of Exodus.

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Each historic story bare’s a flame pointing to the coming torch of Christ in which God would “love the world.” Let us compare God’s people in Moses’ time with the time they were in Persia (during Nehemiah’s time).

In Egypt the people of God were merely a displaced people, but the Israelites in far away Susa, Persia were cast under the wrath of God for their idolatry.

The Israelites in Egypt were a small homogenous group living in the land of Goshen of the Egyptian world empire, but in Nehemiah’s time they were scattered about as slaves in far flung districts of the great Persian empire.

The Jews in Egypt focused on a hope from a promise to their forefather Abraham, but the memories of the Israelites in the post-exilic times were stained by the massacres of their people, the destruction of the temple and the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon.

The restoration of Israel from Persia required a much greater measure of grace than it did to call them from Egypt.

The question before us is whether it is easier to start from scratch or to rebuild.

If we were talking about mere buildings, perhaps we could think it would be a close runoff as to which would be easier. But when it comes to what the walls would protect, the heart of the nation, only a pure miracle could rebuild the Israelite nation. The remaining Jews were spread apart largely as slaves in a huge area under the rule of pagan families. These Jews did not have much faith. Some aged fathers might cry out from past memories, but their young just cared about getting on with life. Their faith had to be rebuilt just like the faith for our lives in a society in which we live.

Introduction of the Book of Nehemiah

Although the physical rebuilding of the walls is the theme through the first half of the book, we will discover and be more clearly aided by focusing on another thread which is interweaved throughout the book. This theme centers around seven “Remember” prayers.

At first, these prayers stand distant from each other without any obvious significance, but later on they come standing on the shoulders of the prior one. The difference can be seen between calm days where waves casually arrive at the shore with stormy days where the winds send their pounding waves one after another with their strong force.

God has His purpose from the beginning of the book, but it can be easily missed. The building process can absorb one’s attention away from the purpose of the construction. This careful arrangement of Nehemiah’s prayers helps point us to the more important rebuilding of their faith rather than a mere reestablishment of a political or administrative organization such as many sociologists consider Christianity today. They consider the organization to be the key to the religious movements. They believe that as a man has no soul that a city or a nation neither has a soul, nor does Christianity. They could not be more mistaken.

When God is alive in His people’s hearts, then it is no longer mere man that animates a city or organization. The Mighty Creator brings His force of grace, hope and love through the lives of His people.

Indeed there was a wall that needed to be rebuilt. We should not be ignorant of physical needs. Our families need homes; our church needs things to function well. The city needed a wall. But we need to know the whole story of Nehemiah less we get distracted with its physical and material presentation in the first chapters.

Applicative Truths from the Book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah’s conviction and powerful prayer life provide a wonderful challenge for us all through the Book of Nehemiah.

Deeper commitment. We are reminded that the rebuilding of walls go far deeper than what it looks like on the surface. Our spiritual lives, the development of local churches, all stand to be challenged as to the depth of our spiritual core. Do we really worship God or ourselves?

Spiritual frankness. Unless we open up our lives before God to be rebuilt, then we are just playing games. The old must come down. We must refuse to simply redecorate our old lives. Sure we can add some ‘spiritual’ habits but we will never get beyond Nehemiah 6 and live in a smug but lost world of religiosity.

New life, new commitment. God calls us to live as pilgrims and strangers on earth, not as residents. Because we belong to a different kingdom, we live by its rules even when the society puts lots of stress on us.

Life commitment. Our destiny is not here. Because we have life from above, we are quite willing to let this body go for we have stored up treasures in heaven just like Nehemiah.

A prayerful life - Remember me . “Remember what I have done.” Even though Nehemiah built this city up from its crumbling stones, we see a man stilled before the presence of God. His life was not for himself but for what God had prepared. He prayerfully brought the impossible into reality.

Purpose of life. What are we living for? What do you value the most in life? Would you, for example, have been one of the exiles that came back to Jerusalem to work hard and labor? Risking all for your faith? Some of us have grown up in Christian homes and are just like these exiles. God is putting before you a choice to join or not join the community of God’s people. Many of you are more interested in going to movies then prayer meetings. You are more concerned with doing what your friends do than what God’s Word says. If you live this way, one day God will show you the bankruptcy of your heart and tear down the walls so that you cannot fool anyone.

Breakthrough the stereotypes. If you are going to be a Christian, let it not be done because you want to do what everyone else will do. No. Your belief in Christ will lead you to weep for your city, for broken-up couple, etc. Christ’s genuine compassion will fill you.

Make a spiritual investment while you can. Put your hopes on the eternal kingdom of God. Store up things for this eternal kingdom now. The walls of this corruptible state will be torn down. God will give us a new body one day to gloriously portray His inner glory.

Develop a mission statement. Nehemiah is on a mission. He does not realize all of the implications of what he is to do but he has an overall purpose on what he is doing. This is forced upon him as he asks for leave of absence to accomplish what he wants. As he goes along, he becomes more and more aware of how his whole life fits into what God has for him. At any point, however, he is further asked “What is he doing?” Difficulties shake and shape one’s mission statement down for people or organizations. Nehemiah had plenty of those challenges.

What we see here is not only the rebuilding of a wall but a rebuilding of the community of God’s people. Isn’t there a computer game where you can construct a city. It is far over-simplistic in that it concentrates on buildings, roads and buildings rather than the interplay of leaders. The cleaning of streets is much easier than the cleansing of the people’s heart and bringing their common devotion to their chief cause of worshiping God.

An Overview of Nehemiah

The book of Nehemiah is also similar to the book of Revelation where the people of God are getting ready for their heavenly worship.

God’s people are being called from every nation to gather before Him. They are to put off their old ways along with their old patterns of living. God’s ways will now dictate how they are to live. For God’s people to be pure, they need to regularly live according to this heavenly pattern now while they are on earth.

Whenever we treat Christianity as a religion or man-made organization with its man-made charter, then it defies its purpose. Whenever we as believers, stand back and live our lives by merely adapting Christianity to our own cultures, we have totally denied what the Christian faith means and stands for. Jesus brought about a cause great enough to demand a radical change of life and expectations.

Here are a few challenging thoughts in light of the mission Nehemiah found himself in. His situation does not differ much from ours when we think of our calling and mission.

A Christian cannot live a comfortable life on earth because of his heavenly call.

A Christian cannot live an independent life on earth because he is called to function in the community of believers.

A Christian cannot live an undiscerning life because he is repeatedly going to be attacked by enemies.

A Christian cannot live by what he feels because there are principles that he is committed to live by.

Nehemiah, the person

Nehemiah stands like an apostle, a man who was commissioned to establish God’s kingdom. He was a man who lived by God’s Word. A man who prayed without ceasing. Although in such a high and honored position as the Persian king’s wine cupbearer, he never seemed to flinch before man.

Nehemiah was also the man on his knees. He regularly poured out his desperate needs before his Sovereign God. As a model of faithfulness, he bravely lived according to God’s Word and ever dependent on God’s great mercy. He summarized his life with the word “remember.” For he was as an intercessor calling to God’s mind what He the Lord should do here on earth. He reminded God of His promises, as well as his own expectancies of what should be done. In a large way we saw God answer those prayers.

Personal Applications in the Book of Nehemiah

The challenges we face as we go through this book are numerous.


  1. Will you make Him your truest treasure?

  2. Will you prize what He prizes?

  3. Does your faith need rebuilding?

Make sure you rebuild it firmly and squarely on the teachings of God’s precious Word. For the just will live by faith, not by sight.

The key to the book is the place prayer took in the steps of restoration. Prayer is honest talk with God depicting the prophet's dependence upon God. Sometimes it was for wisdom, sometimes for deliverance. But it was always God that Nehemiah, God's faithful servant, turned toward. Each time God provided the strength Nehemiah needed.

It is inadequate to be satisfied with a city that has tall skyscrapers but does not have law and order. Our society now is coming to grips with what it is like to have a form but disorder in the lives of people. This society will quickly deteriorate.

Nehemiah, a prophet of old, was calling the people to reassemble before God. Each chapter was a special emphasis on a new kind of restoration. The enemies were not located just on the outside of the walls but also on the inside. It was this 'inside' culprit that before had foiled Israel.

It is naive to think that restoration of the physical walls of a city is the same as true restoration.

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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