How Nehemiah Stood Up for God’s Will in the Face of Adversity

At every turn through the remainder of this book, Nehemiah rebukes those who oppose the Lord and then prays earnestly to his God. He works hard and does his very best to mobilize, lead, provide for, and protect his fellow Israelites.

David Sanford
Man looking over a starscape

Claims to fame: Nehemiah has a high view of God and His Word. Cupbearer and confidant of King Artaxerxes. A great man of prayer (11 recorded prayers in 13 chapters). Appointed governor of the land of Judah.

He is a courageous man of action who’s zealous for the protection of God’s people, which includes both reforming holiness and rebuilding the wall around their capital city, Jerusalem.

In every way, Nehemiah is a model servant-leader (compare Matthew 20:26-28). This includes giving generously to the work (Nehemiah 7:70), working right alongside everyone else (Nehemiah 5:16), and trusting God in times of trouble while encouraging everyone else around him to do the same (Nehemiah 4:40).

Nehemiah’s Book in the Bible

Nehemiah finishes the story of rebuilding started by his good friend, Ezra the scribe. Seventy years after the Jewish people finish rebuilding the temple, the city of Jerusalem still hasn’t been rebuilt.

The people have been protected by earlier kings. Now they face grave dangers on every side. After hearing this... Nehemiah, one of the most powerful men in King Artaxerxes’s court, mourns deeply for his people.

He then puts himself at great risk by bringing a personal petition to the attention of Artaxerxes. Thankfully, the king grants his requests (1:1–2:8).

Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah urges the Jewish leaders to take up the task of rebuilding the wall (2:9-18). He formulates a plan and divides up the work among various Jewish family groups.

When the work begins, the enemies of the Jews fly into a rage, so Nehemiah establishes extra security measures (2:19–4:23). In the midst of all this, Nehemiah learns that some of the people have been oppressing their fellow Jews.

He immediately calls a public meeting to deal with the problem (5:1-19). In less than two months, the wall is finished.

A few days later, Ezra teaches from the law of the Lord and urges the people to once again celebrate the festival of shelters (6:1–8:18).

A couple of weeks later, all the Jews return to Jerusalem for another extended time of Bible teaching, prayer, and repentance. They vow to obey the Lord’s commands and support the temple. Many agree to move to Jerusalem as well (9:1–12:26).

Afterward, the priests and Levites dedicate themselves, the people, the gates, and the wall of Jerusalem.

Two large choirs walk around the wall and then proceed to the temple, praising the Lord. At long last, the worship of the Lord is fully restored (12:27–13:3).

The book ends with an appendix about Nehemiah’s other reforms (13:4-31). Like Nehemiah, we can seek God’s very best despite the obstacles in our way.

Nehemiah’s Relevance

The first pioneers to travel across the United States to settle the Oregon Territory faced immense obstacles.

They left the comforts of home to endure dangerous river crossings, watch out for deadly prairie fires, traverse the rugged Rocky Mountains, and struggle through largely uncharted forests.

Why? All for hopes of a better life in the fertile Willamette Valley of the Pacific Northwest.

Many centuries earlier, Nehemiah contemplates making an equally rugged journey to the land of his forefathers. For months after hearing of the dire situation in Jerusalem, Nehemiah pours out his heart before the Lord in prayer.

The idea of leaving the comforts of the palace of King Artaxerxes must have been hard, but nothing compared to the thought of asking the king’s permission to leave his service!

Still, Nehemiah persists in prayer and asks the Lord for a miracle when it comes time to make his case before the king.

Nehemiah risks the king’s displeasure and the threat of a swift and almost sure death sentence. Why? In order to seek the welfare of the capital of the reestablished Kingdom of Judah.

Once he has the king’s ear, Nehemiah then has to ask for financial support and for protection from pagan regional officials who might oppose his efforts to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Artaxerxes grants these requests “because the gracious hand of God was on me” (Nehemiah 2:8).

Despite letters from the king, Nehemiah still faces fierce opposition from Israel’s enemies — and from traitors.

At every turn through the remainder of this book, Nehemiah rebukes those who oppose the Lord and then prays earnestly to his God.

He works hard and does his very best to mobilize, lead, provide for, and protect his fellow Israelites.

Even more importantly, Nehemiah works closely with Ezra and others to revive the nation’s wholehearted worship of the Lord. He refuses to tolerate anyone threatening the nation’s spiritual and political survival.

Like Nehemiah, you and I face many obstacles that seek to dissuade us from wholeheartedly serving the Lord. By prayer and hard work, we too can persevere and build a lasting legacy.

Reading the Book of Nehemiah

If you’re going to read only two Bible chapters, take five minutes to read its dramatic opening stories in Nehemiah 1-2. Or take a minute to read the celebratory story in Nehemiah 12:27-43.

Two Critical Questions Answered

1. In Nehemiah 13:15-22, why did Nehemiah threaten to use force to protect the Sabbath against non-Jewish traders camped outside Jerusalem’s wall?

The actions of these particular foreigners amounted to an aggressive moral attack on the Israelites, opening them up to not only temptation but (in all likelihood) to sin and judgment. No wonder Nehemiah threatened them to desist immediately or face military expulsion, given the fact they already had ignored two previous warnings.

Today we don’t face such situations. Then again, today the more persistent tempters are, the more persistent our countermeasures must be, zealous for the holiness of God, by His power and for His glory. This applies not just to buying and selling, but to all areas of life.

Jesus said, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [what to eat, drink, and wear] will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

2. In Nehemiah 13:23-29, why did Nehemiah physically accost and shame various Jewish leaders over the matter of intermarriage with non-Jewish women?

In verse 25, Nehemiah’s great outburst is against older men for taking such wives for themselves and for their sons and giving their daughters in marriage to non-Jewish men. In verse 28, Nehemiah especially rails against a potential high priest for contaminating the priestly line of Aaron by (most likely) wanting his father to arrange for him to marry a daughter of one of Israel’s archenemies. No wonder Nehemiah was so upset! Israel was due for severe judgment again because of their great wickedness and contempt for the holiness of God Most High.

Today the situation is similar when a Christian wants to marry a non-Christian. Paul said a single or widowed Christian is free to marry anyone they wish as long as their intended groom or bride is a fellow Christian who truly belongs to the Lord.

For further reading:

What Does it Mean That Good Works Are the Result of Salvation?

Why Is Faith Without Works Dead?

Leadership as Stewardship

What Can We Learn from Samson and Delilah’s Relationship?

What Is the Biblical Definition of Marriage?

Laying Down the Sword

How Do We Know What Truth Is?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Artem Peretiatko

headshot of David Sanford new 2020 David Sanford’s book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His newest book is Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s new book, Life Map Devotional for Women.

Originally published April 23, 2021.