This study has been timely because modern Israel has been in the news. I’ve been concerned, as I am sure many of you have been, about the disturbing events in the middle east. On October 7th, terrorists from the group Hamas, crossed the border from Gaza to Israel and committed horrifying acts against Israeli civilians. It’s been reported that over 1300 Israeli’s were killed in this attack, many more injured. These deaths included women, children, and the elderly. The actions were graphic: some women were violated and then dragged naked through the streets; infants were not just killed, but beaded; hostages were taken, including a Holocaust survivor. There are no words for these atrocities only stomach churning nausea. Some people have argued that the events of October 7th, 2023 was Israel’s 9/11.
All of this causes tension; it causes discomfort. I think the crisis we are witnessing points to a tension in our own hearts: what do I do when conflict, when danger, knocks down my door? The outline of Nehemiah 3, in particular, offers two images when it comes to conflict: DOORS and WALLS. Nehemiah 3 is all about building the walls of Jerusalem. There is an incredible team effort that happens. However, I want you to notice that in the midst of the wall there are many DOORS. Here is a repetitious statement in chapter 3:
The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars (Nehemiah 3:3, ESV).
“They laid it’s beams and set its DOORS, its bolts, and its bars …” This is repeated over and over. There are 12 DOORS around the wall. What do doors have the ability to do? They have the ability to OPEN and let someone in. Now, the million-dollar question is this: How do you know when to open the door? That requires discernment.
Clarity of Mission
Conflict causes us to consider the door. Clarity of our mission will help us with discernment when it comes to opening and closing doors. I have watched people give up when the conflict heats up because they did not have clarity of mission. If you are building God’s kingdom and making a difference—Satan wants to stop you. But God has given you a job. And you can only finish the job if you know the mission. Do you know your specific calling? Have you faced opposition? Work can be hard, home life can be hard, marriage and parenting can be hard but if you know you are called to that job and to your family—that clarity carries you through the challenges. Nehemiah and his people had the vision to rebuild the city. In Nehemiah 3, before the conflict heats up, we finally, finally start to see the construction of the wall and it is impressive.
It was a team effort. Over and over in Nehemiah 3 we see that each person took a section and built the wall. Why did they do this? Why did Nehemiah rebuild the walls? I mean, we have a whole book of the Bible where, basically, the purpose is to put these walls back up. It must be important, right? Can you tell me why the wall was important?
I would highlight two major reasons for the wall: (1) PROTECTION—Israel had enemies. Like today. There was danger on all sides, as we will see in chapter 4. The wall showed renewed protection for the people of Israel. Now why is that important? (2) The second reason for the wall was PROMISE. Protection and promise. What do I mean by that? Well, you might remember that a major part of the OT is a promise that God gives to Abraham in Genesis. He tells him that he will make him in a mighty nation who will bless the world. How will they bless world? From the line of Abraham will come Messiah, the Savior King of the world, Jesus Christ. Nehemiah and his people had clarity of mission.
Courage Under Fire
The real test of a leader is how they handle conflict and opposition. In the next two chapters, Nehemiah faces two threats: (1) An EXTERNAL Threat. (2) An INTERNAL Threat. The external threat comes in the form of enemies surrounding Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s people were afraid. Then we read this encouragement in Nehemiah 4:14,
“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 homes (Nehemiah 4:14, ESV).”
Can I ask: who or what is bringing intimidation in your life right now? It might be a person. It might be a circumstance. God is bigger than any conflict coming your way. When you reject fear and trust the Lord then you can fight for your family. What is he calling spiritual leaders to do? “Fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” What does it look like to fight for your family? Are you loving them well?
That verse brings us to the big takeaway from chapter 4: Courage requires prayer and preparation. Nehemiah and his people had clarity for the mission, which gave them courage under fire. Where are you under fire today? Where do you need courage? Many of us are out there doing ministry in the marketplace—facing intimidation for our faith and beliefs. We are trying to build the kingdom—but the opposition is real. We pray—but we also engage in spiritual warfare. My encouragement to you today is rally with other believers and trust that God will fight for you. In the end, the victory is his!
Compassion During Crisis
Sometimes we can become so focused on the mission that we run over people. We need COMPASSION during crisis. Nehemiah faced an EXTERNAL conflict that required courage. However, in chapter 5, he faces an INTERNAL conflict that required compassion. The story picks up in 5:1,
Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers (Nehemiah 5:1 ESV).
Okay, what is going on? That word, “outcry,” is the same word that is used in Exodus 3:9 where the Israelites were complaining about the Egyptian oppression. This is a signal—something bad is going on. What is it? It is the collateral damage of the mission—it is the price of building the wall. There was an economic crisis because the people gave everything for the mission of building the wall. That meant they couldn’t do other work. Specifically, they couldn’t grow grain to feed the people, so there was a food shortage. If you read the chapter there are three major groups impacted. (1) The first group were the RENTERS, or families who owned no land. While working on the wall, they received no income because they could not grow grain to harvest. (2) The second group were the LAND LORDS. They owned land with a mortgage on it. Since the renters could not pay their rent the land lords could not pay their mortgage. Again, grain was a form of payment in that day. So, basically, they were defaulting on their loans. (3) The third group were WEALTHIER LANDLORDS who had no mortgage. However, they still had to pay property taxes to the King! Now, they had to take out debt just to pay their taxes! Can you imagine?! What a mess. And this was all due to the downstream effects of building the wall.
Now, the mission was important and perhaps these were necessary costs. But the point is this: we must have compassion for this crisis. It was even worse—people had to sell their children into slavery just to be able to cover their debts! Do you see how terrible this was? No wonder there was an outcry. The biggest tragedy was that the creditors who offered these loans were fellow Jews. Does no one see this as a problem? In effect, the Jews were oppressing their own people. Nehemiah hears this and it breaks his heart.
I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words (Nehemiah 5:6, ESV).
Nehemiah’s heart is not just broken, but he is ANGRY at how the poor, the women and children, and even the middle class are being treated. This is by his own people! They built this wall but nobody could eat. They had CLARITY of mission—even to the point of sacrifice. They had COURAGE despite the opposition. Where was the COMPASSION for those hurting?
Nehemiah steps in and models healthy confrontation and generosity. In chapter 5, Nehemiah is a picture of God’s grace and generosity. Nehemiah opened the door and had compassion on his people. Our great God does the same with us. All of us were once sinners, rebels against the living God. We owed a debt we could never repay. We would be slaves to sin forever BUT GOD. Oh church, BUT GOD in his grace, offered us what we don’t deserve through Jesus Christ. Now, he calls us to model generosity to others.