Nehemiah chapter two takes us to about the year 444 B.C. It has been nearly a hundred years since the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile and seventy years since the temple had been completed. And yet, the city of Jerusalem itself remained a burned hulk of its former self.
Why was it important to rebuild the city, especially the city wall? And why had it not been done?
The return to Jerusalem had been a religious one, ostensibly simply to rebuild the temple and re-establish the national religion. There was, of course, opposition to this from surrounding nations because Israel was a theocracy. If she established her religion, she would re-establish her national identity. To mitigate this result, the nations, forbidden to oppose the temple building, kept the city from being rebuilt. A nation without a capital would never be much of a threat.
Failure to rebuild the city however meant that the Jews would be absorbed into the surrounding nations, and the national identity of God’s chosen would be lost. In fact, with the intermarriage with the people of the land (a subject which crops up again in Nehemiah), Israel was well on its way out of existence.
Fortunately, God had raised up the right man to change all this: Nehemiah. Like Joseph of old, and despite the deep seated antisemitism of the time, he had risen to a place of power and trusted prominence in the Persian empire. Now, trusting only in the Lord, he made a bold request: a twelve year sabbatical, full salary, and funding to rebuild the capital of a nation that had once been an enemy of the empire.
His request was granted.
An old saying goes: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always the same.” But Nehemiah had confidence. He knew it was the right thing to do. He knew it needed to be done. He knew it was the Lord’s will. He just didn’t know if he was the right guy to pull it off. So he prayed, and tried, and God blessed him. What blessings the Lord will give to those who step out of their comfort zone to do His will! If we only have faith.