Arise and Rebuild Series
The Book of Nehemiah
“Rebuilding Begins with Divine Purpose”
This morning we begin a new series in the book of Nehemiah entitled “Arise and Rebuild.”
Nehemiah was called by God to led God’s people to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem that
had been in ruin for over a hundred and forty years. I was attracted to the book of
Nehemiah after considering how many areas of our lives need rebuilding after the years of
COVID. We need to rebuild our lives and this church for the glory of God.
But where do we begin? One of my favorites shows on HGTY is “Home Town.” I love how
Erin and Ben Naiper take an old home and rebuilt it into a beautiful and functional home
for today. Many times, the owners of these homes don’t have a clue as to where to start on
this major renovation project. But Erin and Ben do! So where do we begin our spiritual
renovation project? I believe that rebuilding begins with divine purpose. And that is where
we will see Nehemiah begin.
Before we get to today’s text allow me to set the context of the book of Nehemiah. A person
must understand the historical context if they are ever going to glean from the book of
Nehemiah. Please remember the all history is “His-Story.” God sovereignly controls the
calendar and the execution of events.
Even though the people of Israel enjoyed great peace and prosperity during the reign of
King David, the kingdom became divided at the end of the reign of David’s son, Solomon
(975 BC). Due to their persistent disobedience to God’s Word, the northern kingdom, Israel,
was evaded by the Assyrians and taken into captivity (733 BC) and several years later the
southern kingdom, Judah, was evaded by the Babylonians (587 BC).
The Babylonians burned the city of Jerusalem to the ground destroying the city walls, the
Temple, and taking the Jewish residents into captivity. The book of Daniel records this
period of captivity. The Persians would eventually conquer the Babylonians (538 BC) and
the Persian king Cyrus ended the exile of the Jewish people by granting them permission to
return to their land and rebuild the Temple. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah trace the
story of the return of the exiled Jewish people to the land after the seventy-year exile in
The Returning Remnant
Out of the two or three million Jews taken as exiles from the land, only fifty thousand
decided to return to the Promised Land. That’s only like two percent!
But a faithful remnant did return, and during the days of Ezra, they rebuilt the temple. They
attempted to rebuild the city walls but after some Samaritans and other pagan residents
complained, king Artaxerxes issued a decree to stop the project. (Ezra 4.7-23) Yes, this is
the same king Artaxerxes we see Nehemiah serving as a cupbearer.
The temple had been rebuilt for about seventy years when Nehemiah heard the report
from his brother and some other men from Judah about the condition of the returning
remnant and the deplorable condition of the city walls. They said to me, “The remnant there
in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of
Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat
down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of
The Purposes of God
At this point you might be asking what is Nehemiah crying about? His brother’s report
couldn’t have been a surprise. The city walls had been lying in ruin for a hundred and forty
years. You all know I’m a crier. I’m such a softy that some television commercials make me
cry. But Nehemiah wasn’t weeping because he was a softy. Nehemiah was crying because
the purposes of God had not been fulfilled. The land of Judah, the Temple, and the city of
Jerusalem were all chosen by God to fulfill His redemptive purposes.
The faithful remnant had returned to the land, the Temple had been rebuilt, but the city
walls were still broken down and the city gates laid charred and crumbled on the ground.
Without the city walls and gates everything was exposed to attacks from the enemies of
God’s people and those opposed to the purposes of God.
Nehemiah understood that the land of Judah, the Temple, and the city of Jerusalem were all
chosen by God to fulfill His redemptive purposes. We see Nehemiah understood this
theological truth when he quotes the words of the Lord saying, “If you are unfaithful I will
scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do
them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the
heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to
cause My name to dwell.” (Neh.1.8b-9)
Notice the Lord promised Moses that He would gather the faithful remnant “and bring
them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.” God had chosen the land
of Judah, the Temple, and the city of Jerusalem to be the place His name would dwell. The
land, the Temple, and the city were eternally locked to the purposes of God.
God had chosen the land to fulfill His eternal purposes through Christ. The Lord told
Abraham, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, . . . And in you all the
families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen.12.1-3) God had chosen the Temple to fulfill His
eternal purposes through Christ. The Temple and everything in it symbolize what Christ
would fulfill. Every sacrifice, every offering, every piece of furniture were symbols of God’s
wonderful redemption fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God had chosen the city of Jerusalem to
fulfill His eternal purposes through Christ. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but Jerusalem was
where God would fulfill His redemptive purposes. The city of the great King would be
where Christ would preach the good news of the kingdom of God, be arrested, put on trial,
and condemned to death on Calvary. The city of Jerusalem would be where Christ would
rise from the death and where the church would be born. God’s purposes involved His
name, His glory, being made known in Jerusalem. The Lord declared through the Prophet
Isaiah, “It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’ And of the cities of Judah, ‘They
shall be built.’ And I will raise up her ruins again.” (Is.44.26b)
The land, the Temple, and the city of Jerusalem were means that God had chosen to bring
forth the Christ therefore, the land, the Temple, and the city had to be restored and rebuilt.
Nehemiah understood this theological truth and therefore he would stand up for the
purposes of God and dedicate the rest of his life to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. For some
reason Nehemiah did not return with the first wave of returning exiles. Maybe his position
as the cupbearer prohibited him from returning but regardless his heart was still focused
on the purposes of God. Nehemiah had the heart of Psalms 137, If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of
my mouth; if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy. (Ps.137.5-6) If Jerusalem was
special to God, then Jerusalem would be special to Nehemiah.
The People of God
Nehemiah also had a deep concern for the people of God who had returned. He prays to the
Lord, “They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and
by Your strong hand.” (Neh.1.10) Notice that five times in verse ten Nehemiah says “Your”
or “You.” These were God’s faithful remnant. Fifty-thousand out of three million. God’s
faithful few. These were God’s people, but Nehemiah knew that his concern was not greater
than God’s concern. It seems that Nehemiah was hoping to hear a report from his brother
that the faithful remnant had been able to complete the task of securing the city walls and
that all was well. But when he heard his brother’s report he sat down and wept and
mourned for days; and he was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Neh.1.4)
The Prayer to God
Once again, we are confronted with Godly lament. He sat down. He wept. He mourned. He
fasted. He prayed. We could do a series just on verse four but let’s continue by highlighting
Nehemiah’s pattern of prayer. Nehemiah’s prayer follows the normal pattern for prayer
found in Scripture. Adoration, followed by confession, followed by passionate petition.
It begins with adoration, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome
God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His
commandments.” (Neh.1.5) If you are anything like me your prayers usually jump right into
the deep-in of need. Now, there are times when that is appropriate, you know, the “Jesus
take the wheel” sort of prayers. But biblical prayer begins with adoration to God for who He
Adoration is followed by honest confession. Nehemiah continues by “confessing the sins of
the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We
have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes,
nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant, Moses.” (Neh.1.6-7) Notice the
Nehemiah confesses his sins, the sins of his father’s house, and the sins of the sons of Israel.
All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom.3.23) If we say that we have no
sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. (IJn.1.8) The root problem wasn’t a
lack of people to build the wall. The root problem wasn’t the lack of resources to get the job
done. The root problem was sin. Confessing our sin with a heart of repentance is the
avenue for righteous reconciliation. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to
forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (IJn.1.9)
Honest confession is followed by passionate petition. “O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear
be attentive to the prayer of Your servant . . . and make Your servant successful today and
grant him mercy before this man.” (Neh.1-8-10, 11) I have always loved the shorter
catechism’s answer to the question “What is prayer?” “Prayer is the offering up of our
desires to God, for things agreeable to His will.” (WSC#98a) God knows our petitions even
before we ask them so we shouldn’t hesitate to ask. But as we ask, we should be open to the
Spirit’s leading us towards the things agreeable to His will.
Nehemiah was asking God to change Artaxerxes’ heart. Years before the king Artaxerxes
had given orders for the people to stop the rebuilding of the wall. (Ezra 4.7-23) And now
Nehemiah needed permission from that same king to rebuild the wall. Nehemiah would
have to resign from his honorable position as the cupbearer to lead the rebuilding of the
wall. There was the possibility that the king would look at Nehemiah’s request as a passive
act of insurrection or as being ungrateful for the honorable position the king had allowed
him to hold in his empire. Nehemiah knew he had a problem and needed the Lord to
How did Nehemiah handle this possible conflict? He mourned, prayed, and fasted for four
months. He practiced godly lament, for four months as he waited for the Lord to open the
door of opportunity to present his request to the earthly king, Artaxerxes. When was the
last time you or I prayed and fasted for four months! We all want “drive thru prayers”
answered in less than a minute. That’s what our culture has conditioned us to expect. But
sometimes we must commit ourselves to persistent prayerfulness.
Brothers and sisters, when have we ever committed ourselves to prayer and fasting for
four months? Not telling anyone. Not putting on a glooming face to be notice but strictly
praying and fasting between ourselves and the Lord. Praying that we would seek first the
kingdom of God! Praying that we would live out God’s commandments, His statutes, and
His ordinances! Praying for God’s purposes to be fulfilled. Praying for God’s people. Praying
for your life, your family, your church. Waiting with patient prayerfulness.
It is obvious that Nehemiah recognized that the walls needed to be rebuilt but he also knew
that the recognition of the need must be followed by earnest, persistent waiting upon the
Lord. Listen to these promises. Those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
(Ps.37.9) Those who wait for You will not be ashamed. (Ps.69.6a) Those who wait for
the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and
not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Is.40.31) So, Nehemiah waited for the
Lord to open the door of opportunity.
Now I Was the Cupbearer to the King
Chapter one ends, “Now I was the cupbearer for the king.” The cupbearer was a high
position in the kingly court. He would choose the wine and meals for the king and taste
everything before it was served to the king to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. He would have
been well trained in court etiquette and needed to have a friendly disposition. He enjoyed
closest access to the king and he a highly trusted man willing to lend an ear and give advice.
Historical documents reveal that the cupbearer could be the keeper of the royal signet,
oversee administration of accounts, and even serve as second to the king.
Chapter one opened by telling us that all of this happened in the month of December, in the
twentieth year of Artaxerxes reign, as Nehemiah and the king enjoy the winter palace in the
capital city of Susa. Excavations have discovered that the palace was built with cedar, gold,
silver, and ivory. The walls were decorated with glazed bricks and relief designs of winged
bulls. Nehemiah would have eaten the finest food, wore the finest of clothing, and lived in
very comfortable accommodations. But now he hears about the distress of God’s people
and their lack of fulfilling of God’s purposes, and he was willing to give it all up so that
God’s name would be honored, and God’s purposes fulfilled. My purpose will be established,
declares the Lord, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure! (Is.46.10)
The rebuilding began that December day in the winter palace when Nehemiah could no
longer serve king Artaxerxes but had to put himself in complete service to the King of kings
and Lord of lords. The rebuilding began that December day when Nehemiah could no
longer fulfill the purposes of the Persian empire and had to start putting himself to the task
of fulfilling the purposes of God. You see, rebuilding begins in the heart as we embrace
God’s divine purposes. The land, the Temple, and Jerusalem were all shadows and types
that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Now, the purposes of God are fulfilled in Jesus
building His church. Seeing men and women, boys and girls growing in the knowledge of
Christ through His Word and Spirit. Like Nehemiah we must put aside the worldly
obligations and put ourselves to living and serving the King of kings and Him alone. Like
the Apostle Paul, we need to consider everything else in our lives as rubbish so that we may
gain Christ. (Phil.3.8) We need to have a passion for Christ, for His church, and for His
people that is superior to everything else. That rebuilding can start this twelfth day of June
In the words of the old Christian Hymn:
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
to serve the King of kings.
Rise up, O men of God!
The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
and end the night of wrong.
Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
her strength unequal to her task;
rise up, and make her great!
Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
rise up, O men of God!
Rebuilding begins with divine purpose!