Arise and Rebuild Series
The Book of Nehemiah
“Rebuilding Requires Prayerful Persistence”
So far in our series in the book of Nehemiah we have seen Nehemiah serving as the
cupbearer to the king of Persia. A cupbearer was a very prestigious position, but Nehemiah
had an even higher calling to led God’s people in rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem that had
been in ruin for over a hundred and forty years. After receiving permission and blessing
from the king Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem accompanied by military escort, with letters
of approval from the king, and fresh cut lumber from the king’s forest.
For the first three days in Jerusalem Nehemiah attempted to keep a low profile and didn’t
tell anyone what the Lord had called him to do. On the third night under the cloud of
darkest Nehemiah took his horse and a few men to investigate the extent of damage to the
wall, the gates, and the scope of work required to rebuild. This was the first time Nehemiah
saw the job that God had called him to do. With this information Nehemiah called the
priests, nobles, officials, and the residents of Jerusalem to arise and rebuild. The people
accepted Nehemiah’s challenge and put their hands to do the work of rebuilding.
This morning we come to chapters three and four where we find the people coming
together to build the wall and gates, where they experienced slanderous attacks from their
own countrymen and neighbors, and where they prayerfully seek the Lord for persistence
as they continue the work of rebuilding.
The City of Jerusalem
The city of Jerusalem was originally surrounded by thick walls, designed to protect it
against the assault of its enemies.
This was the norm at this time, as most major cities were protected in this way. With walls
surrounding the city, it was important that there be gates to allow for movement into and
out of the city at different points.
During the invasion of the Babylonians king Nebuchadnezzar ordered for the walls of
Jerusalem to be destroyed and the gates burned with fire. The stones that once formed the
wall and the charred remains of the city gates laid in ruins on the ground.
The Wall and City Gates
Chapter three describes the work done by the people who rebuilt the wall and the city
gates. The people were assigned to rebuild ten of the city gates along with the walls and
towers in between the gates. (Ephraim Gate, Gate of the Guard, and the East Gate are not
mentioned) The description of the work starts at the Sheep Gate and then follows
counterclockwise back to the Sheep Gate.
The Sheep Gate (3.1) led to the sheep market where lambs were sold for Temple sacrifice.
This was also the gate Jesus went through as He carried His cross to Golgotha to be
crucified. The Fish Gate (3:3) was where the fish merchants brought fish to market often
from other cities and territories. The Old Gate (3:6) is where the elders of the city would
discuss and issue judgment on disputes. The Valley Gate (3:13) was the gate that Nehemiah
went out for his midnight inspection of the wall recorded in chapter two. (2.13) The Dung
(or Refuse) Gate (3:14) was the path where garbage was removed from the city. The
Fountain Gate (3:15-19) was the gate with the most damage. During his midnight
inspection Nehemiah mentions that the destruction of the Fountain Gate was so severe that
there was nowhere for his horse to pass. (2.14) The Water Gate (3:26) opened to Solomon’s
Temple. This is where the people gathered to hear the Word of God read to them by Ezra.
The Horse Gate (3:28) is the gate where the king’s chariot would pass through on its way
into the city. The Inspection Gate (3:31) is where the people would gather to be registered
for the Temple tax.
Chapters like chapter three in the Bible are often overlooked. The entire chapter is devoted
to listing the names of those who put their hands to do the good work. (2.18) So-and-so
built this gate, and these people built the wall to this point, and next to them, these people
built the wall further, and so on and so on and so on. Many people consider chapters like
these to be boring and nonrelevant for Christians and the church today. But a closer look
will reveal principles that are very relevant for living for Christ and being a member in
The People Came Together
The high priest Eliashib and with other priests are the first builders mentioned in chapter
three. Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep
Gate. (3.1a) Eliashib the high priest acted as a godly leader should. He was out in front
leading by example. He did not act as if he was too “spiritual” for the hard work of
rebuilding the wall. He was willing to get his hands dirty for God. Eliashib and the other
priests might have excused themselves from the heavy work, pleading that it was not their
calling, as many believers do in today’s church, but it is to their credit these priests did not.
The rest of the chapter is filled with names of forgotten remnant that had returned to
Jerusalem to fulfill the purposes of God. As I mentioned in previous sermons the returning
remnant was only two percent of the nearly three million Jews that had the opportunity to
return from exile. This faithful remnant must had felt that their sacrifice would never be
remembered but here we see their name memorialized by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
on the pages of Holy Scripture to be remembered by every generation of God’s people until
the return of Christ. My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the
work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (ICor.15.58) Brothers and
sisters, let us not become weary in well doing knowing that in due time we will reap a
Chapter three contains more than fifty people plus the names of their family members and
groups of people like the men of Jericho (3.2), Levites (3.17), the priests (3.22), men of the
valley (3.22), temple servants (3.26), goldsmiths (3.31) and merchants (3.31) that came
together to rebuild the wall and the city gates. The faithful remnant came together as one
man to accomplish one goal. Allow me to highlight a few of these workers. Jericho was a
good distance away from Jerusalem and the reconstruction of Jerusalem had little use to
the men of Jericho and residents of other cities to put their hands to the hard work of
reconstructing the city wall and gates. God’s people come together in time of need!
Goldsmiths were skilled craftsmen who might have complained that the work of
construction might damage their delicate hands, but we see them mentioned three times in
the chapter. Women were not expected to do construction work, but we see the daughters
of Shallum helped in the rebuilding effort. (3.12) Of all the names listed in chapter three
there is one glaring omission, Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s name is not listed because Nehemiah
wanted to give credit to others and to the glory of God. (6.16)
What is interesting is that there are no expert builders or master carpenters named in
chapter three. These were ordinary people with a passion to do the Lord’s work. Brothers
and sisters, the most important ability in the work of the LORD is availability. Have you
made yourself available for the Lord’s work? We are all members of one body. The eye
cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need
of you.” (ICor.12.21) Chapter three highlights the importance of working together to
accomplish God’s purposes.
Verse one continues telling us that “they consecrated it and hung its doors. They
consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel.” (3.1b) The idea
behind consecration is to recognize something as uniquely set apart for God’s glory and
service. This describes the attitude of the people as they rebuilt the walls and the city gates.
They weren’t just throwing things together in a clumsy sort of way. Their work was set
apart to glorify God. They were working as to the Lord, and not to men (Eph.6.7) and this
describes the attitude we should have in everything we do. And whatever you do in word or
deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Unity of Purpose
After Eliashib and his follow priest verse two reads, Next to him the men of Jericho. (3.2) As
a matter of fact the phrase “next to him” is used thirty-two times in chapter three. Next to
him was . . . next to him was . . . next to him was . . . and so on and so on and so on. This
describes the unity of purpose the people shared. They worked together as one. They were
connected in the work of building the wall just like the stones in the wall were connected.
This is the exact opposite of the “everyman for himself” mentality that we see so much in
today’s world. In today’s church. But the people building the wall and the gates were
working together as one.
It is interesting to see how the Holy Spirit uses the building of a stone wall as a metaphor of
a building the church, the body of Christ. The Apostle Peter wrote, “You also, as living stones
are being built up as a spiritual house.” (IPt.2.5) And the Apostle Paul describes the church
as being built upon the foundation of the apostle and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the
corner stone in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple
in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
(Eph.2.20-22) Brothers and sisters, we are living stones being fitted together and built
together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. One stone doesn’t make a wall and you by
yourself doesn’t make the church. Stones thrown together in a haphazard way and
disconnect from one another only makes a pile of rubble. As Christ’s church we are called to
be fitted together and built together into a dwelling of God.
Another phrase that is used throughout chapter three is “made repairs.” This phrase “made
repairs” is used thirty-five times and has the idea of strengthening or to make something
strong. The Bible tells us that we to encourage one another and build up another.
(IThes.5.11) The purpose for Paul’s second missionary journey was to strengthen the
churches. Often a church will go through times when it needs to be strengthened or
repaired in a particular area. As I said last week, a lot of people can point out a problem or
an area of weakness, but often those people don’t do anything to fix the problem or
strengthen that area of ministry. They will point out that we don’t have this ministry or that
ministry, but they will not volunteer to help build that area of ministry.
This type of people also existed in Nehemiah’s day too. Look at verse five, “Moreover, next
to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters.”
Most of the people were active in rebuilding the wall making repairs and strengthening
areas of weakest, but the Tekoite nobles would not get involved. So sad. Brothers and
sisters, each of us should support the work of the church by investing ourselves into areas
that are weak and need strengthening.
Each in Front of His House
We also see that Nehemiah stationed the workers each in front of their own house. Notice
the phrases in chapter three “in front of his house” and “beside his house” (3.23), “each in
front of his house” (3.28), “opposite his house” (3.29), and “opposite his living quarters”
(3.30). By stationing the workers to work on the portion of the wall in front of their own
house helps to eliminate the problem of shoddy construction. This eliminated the
possibility of anyone saying, “Can’t see it from my house.” Stationing each group of workers
to rebuild the wall in front of their house gave them a sense of pride of craftsmanship that
would be passed down to generations. A father would say to his sons and daughters, “You
see that wall? Your great grandfather helped build that wall. Look how strong it is. Look at
the craftsmanship. That wall represents who we are as a family.”
Principles from Chapter Three
Hopefully you can see that the principles we learn from chapter three are very relevant for
the church today. Coming together as one man for the glory of God with unity of purpose,
strengthening areas of weakness so to pass the church to the next generation seems to me
to be what the church of Jesus Christ is all about.
Sanballat and Tobiah
But not everyone was happy about the progress the people were making in rebuilding the
walls and city gates. Chapter four begins, “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard
that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.
We were introduced to Sanballat and Tobiah last week in chapter two when we were told
that they were very displeased that someone would come to seek the welfare of the sons of
Israel. (2.10) We don’t know why they were so displeased but what we do know is that
these two guys were Jews with a priestly pedigree. You would think that these guys would
have supported Nehemiah’s work, but they did not. Opposition is always difficult; but it’s
always worst when comes from fellow brothers.
Remember Nehemiah had the king’s authorization to rebuild the wall and Sanballat and
Tobiah knew that they had no authority to stop the work. So, they used mocking in
sarcastic tones to intimidate the workers and hoping that they would become discouraged
and stop the construction of the wall. Sanballat and Tobiah gathered an audience and began
mocking the efforts of the people saying, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going
to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive
the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” (4.2) They also mocked the quality
of their work saying, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would
break their stone wall down!” (4.3)
Opposition by Ridicule
Each of Sanballat’s five questions and Tobaih’s taunt had some legitimacy. The people were
feeble and weak. The people who originally built the wall and it gates were more numerous
and stronger than this remnant. They truly needed the Lord to work wonders. They needed
a miracle. It was a huge task. The stones had been lying in ruin and disarray for decades.
The remnant was a group of unskilled workers putting their hands to do the work of
engineers and skilled craftsman. But Nehemiah and the people did not become defensive.
They embraced their weakness. They embrace their need. They responded to this ridicule
by crying out to God.
Sanballat and Tobiah might had gathered a large audience to spew their slander, but
Nehemiah had an audience of One and that’s all he needed. Hear, O our God, how we are
despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of
captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they
have demoralized the builders. (4.4-5) Basically, Nehemiah was asking God to treat these
guys like the sinners they were. These men were opposed to the purposes of God being
fulfilled and God should judge them accordingly.
Nehemiah’s prayer encouraged the people so much that they built the wall and the whole
wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. (4.6) But the
people’s success made Sanballat and Tobiah even more angry, so they conspired together
to plan attacks upon the city and to kill the people to stop the work. The people responded
to this threat by praying to God for wisdom, and by setting up guards to watch day and
night. (4.9) I love their balanced approach. On one hand they are praying and trusting in
God. And on the other hand, they are setting up the neighbor watch. They trusted God but
they still did their duty.
But the consent threat of attacked caused some to become weary and to doubt if they had
the strength to finish. (4.10) But when Nehemiah saw their fear, he rose and spoke to the
nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord
who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives
and your houses.” (4.14) Again you see the balanced approach. Nehemiah calls them to trust
God, but he also calls them to fight for their families. And God honored their persistence
and frustrated the enemy’s plan when they heard the that the men of Jerusalem were ready
to fight for their city, ready to fight for their families, and the enemy eventually retreated.
The people returned to their work on the wall but now things were different. From that day
on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the
bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. (4.16)
Both the one carrying the stones for the wall and the masons setting the stones in the wall
were doing their work with one hand while holding a weapon with the other. (4.17) The
builders wore swords girded at their side and a trumpeter always stood near Nehemiah so
to sound the alarm for the people to gather for battle in case there was an attack. The wall
was built with shovels and swords.
When I look at chapters three and four of the book of Nehemiah, I see a unified group of
God’s people working together to accomplish God’s purposes. I see a people who
encountered opposition but trusted in the Lord and dug in even deeper to do the work God
had called them to do. They trusted God and would not be distracted from their duty.
Brothers and sisters, prayerful persistence is required for us to advance the purposes of
God in our lives and in this church.
We live in a broken world and all of us come here today with brokenness in our lives. The
rumble of destructive behaviors surrounds us and the charred ruins of our past lay before
us. In this reality it is easy to think that God doesn’t remember our name and the Lord has
forgotten you. But the Lord has not forgotten you. He has tattooed your name on His hands.
(Is.49.16) The Lord wants to restore you by the grace of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and
rebuild your life. We are weak. We are feeble. We lack the resources. We need the Lord to
work wonders. All of this is true. But if we cry out to the Lord and seek the Lord with
prayerful persistence, I am confident that He who began a good work in you will perfect it
until the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil.1.6) Brothers and sisters, the Lord knows your name, He
has called to Himself, He has surrounded you with faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, so
to grow us into a holy temple in the Lord being fitted and built together for the glory of God.