Courageous Faith Series
Building for the Future
“Leaving A Legacy you can be Proud of” – Nehemiah
29 March 2020
Let’s remember that we seek to follow the Divine Promiser and His promise which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). It is God’s promise which encourages our hearts and lifts our souls. His promise keeps us going when the going gets tough.
So far in our series on Courageous faith we have discussed Abraham: Getting Started, The Journey of Faith; Jacob: Overcoming the Obstacles, Hanging Tough in the Tough Times; Joseph: When Dreams and Heroes Die, Starting Over When It All Falls Apart; Moses: Becoming A Leader, Overcoming Your Past; Joshua: Success in Battle, Conquering The Opposition; Daniel: Standing Up For What You Believe, Developing Spiritual Determination; Jephthah: Keeping Your Promises, Even When it Costs You!; Samson: Facing Your Weaknesses, Making Them Your Strengths!; Boaz: Reaching Out To Others, Especially Those Who Are Different; David: Realizing Your Goals, Confidence in the Face of Danger; and now the story of Jonathon: Developing Lasting Friendships: The Value of True Loyalty and now the story of Nehemiah.
You know, people building for the future get somewhere in life. They begin with the end in view. Goals enable them to stay focused on where they are going and how they are going to get there.
Developmental psychologists tell us the final stages of life involve productivity and integrity. That is quite an admission from secularists who often tells us to indulge our passions and curiosity. But even they realize that when you get on with life, your life needs to become productive, satisfying, and fulfilling.
Selfish people don’t think about the future. They expend everything in the present. When the future finally arrives, as it always does, they often find themselves in bitterness and despair. Living for today doesn’t prepare us well for tomorrow.
When we get to the end of the line, we need to be on the right track. We ought to be able to look back over our lives with a sense of integrity. We need to feel that we did the best we could; that we made right choices, corrected wrong choices, and left a positive legacy behind for our family and friends.
The idea of legacy building is often discussed in books about older adults. Most of us want to be remembered beyond our own time. We want to make a difference in our lifetime and leave something behind that we can be proud of; a sold marriage, a family estate, and an inheritance for our children. But most of all, we need to leave behind a testimony of God’s grace in our lives.
If we make the wrong decisions when we are young, we tend to set our lives on the wrong course. Once you’re moving in the wrong direction, it is difficult to reverse yourself and turn around. God can intervene and help us, but we are often left with the regrets of wasted years.
Hard Times Ahead
Legacies can be built in many ways. Some are personal, some financial, and some are even national in scope. The nation of Israel is one such legacy. God promised them an everlasting inheritance. And throughout the centuries, God raised up great people to keep His promises to them – and us – alive.
The story of Nehemiah’s successful efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem is a powerful account of legacy building for the future. Some time after Daniel had veen taken captive to Babylon in 605 B.C., the Jews rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonian king destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple in reprisal in 586 B.C.
The “Babylonian Captivity,” as it came to be known, lasted seventy years (605 – 535 B.B.). Babylon eventually fell to the Medes and Persians in 538 B.C. Cyrus the Great, the Persian Emperor, decreed the Jews could return home in 535 B.C. About forty thousand made the difficult journey back to Jerusalem and Judea, which lay in ruins.
A man named Zerubbabel led the Jewish “remnant” to rebuild the temple, which was completed in 515 B.B. It was a time of great renewal and revival among God’s people. They were actually back in their homeland, and a temple again stood on Mount Moriah. The promise again took hope for a better future. The line of the Messiah had been preserved, but not without difficulty.
The Jews were hated by their neighbors and misunderstood in general. Xerxes came to the throne in Persian and eventually married a Jewish girl named Esther. When a madman named Haman tried to get Xerxes to exterminate the Jews, Esther intervened, and her people were spared.
Later, Artaxerxes came to the Persian throne and authorized Ezra the scribe and a small number of Jews to return to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. When they arrived, they found things in great disarray. The temple was still there, but there was great disregard for the Law of God and for things of God in general. What’s worse, the city walls had never been rebuilt. The Jews were utterly defenseless against their enemies. In 445 B.C., Nehemiah was commissioned by Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls.
A Plan of Action
Nehemiah rode out at night to inspect the ruined walls and gates of the city. Upon his return, he gathered the Jewish leaders together and announced his intentions. In Nehemiah 2:17 we read, “Then I said to them, "You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach."
The walls had been in a state of ruin for three generations. It was a bold plan, and it captured their hearts. “Let us start rebuilding,” the leaders agreed.
So the work began, and even the priests got involved. Various people took responsibility for the different sections of the wall: Eliashib and the priests; men of Jericho; sons of Hassenaah; Meremoth son of Uriah; Meshullam son of Berekiah; Zadok son of Baana; men of Tekoa; Joiada son of Paseah; men of Gibeon and Mizpah; Uzziel, on eof the goldsmiths; Hananiah, one of the perfume makes, and many more.
Different people from different places with different gifts and abilities all contributed to the work. They worked as a team and got the job done in record time – fifty-two days as Nehemiah 6:15 says, “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.” Nehemiah had proven to be just the leader they needed. He gave them:
3. A plan of Action
The Power of Vision
Nehemiah had seen a vision of a better future for Jerusalem. He had realized the city had no future without walls. It was commendable that the Jews had rebuilt the temple first. But they had left it standing defenseless without walls around the city. There can be little doubt that they discussed this matter. They probably talked about it constantly. However, no one did anything about the problem.
It has often been observed that most organizations are underled and overmanaged. That was also the case with the Jews at Jerusalem. They remained busy about their daily tasks in the temple taking time to make it secure. Everyone knew the city needed walls, but nobody had the vision to get the job done.
Some have defined vision as foresight with insight based on hindsight. Vision includes these key components:
1. Realistic view of the present.
2. Optimistic view of the future.
3. Honest assessment of one’s resources.
4. Positive attitude about change.
5. Specific plan of action.
Nehemiah’s vision for a secure city kept him focused on his goal. Opposition from local detractors such as Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem did not deter him. With a sword in one hand and a mason’s trowel in the other, Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the stone wall. Listen closely to the disposition of the people rebuilding the wall in Nehemiah 4:6, “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.” Their attitude to complete the task can be seen when they held a weapon in one hand and a tool in the other to work and to defend themselves should someone attack them. Listen to the words of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 4:16-18, “So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. 17 Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. 18 Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.”
Nehemiah’s enemies threatened to tell the Persian king that he was a traitor plotting a revolt. “We’ll tell him people are saying, “There is a king in Judah!” They threatened.
But Nehemiah would not be frightened. After all, he knew the Persian king personally. The king knew that Nehemiah was an honest man. So the work proceeded on schedule. The people volunteered to work, gave offerings, and took collections to get the job done.
One person’s vision stirred an entire nation to action. Jerusalem would once again be a viable city with a hope and a future. And the promise would be kept alive for four hundred more years.
Read the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:12 and you will discover Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel. This is the very one who led the Jews to return and rebuild the temple seventy-five years before Nehemiah arrived to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Ezra 5:2 and Haggai 2:23).
In the person of Zerubbabel, the messianic seed returned to the Promised Land. The stage was set again for the coming of the Messiah to fulfil the promise. And God used a person named Nehemiah to make the city secure for the arrival of its King.
Winning at Work
Nehemiah’s leadership reflects the basic qualities of all great leaders. He saw a need and met it. He saw a problem and solved it. He saw the future and realized it. That is vision.
Success in any enterprise includes the basic elements of leadership:
1. Commitment. Nehemiah risked his position, reputation, and even his life to get the job done. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he spoke with such commitment that the people followed him gladly.
2. Motivation. He was able to motivate others to action. They got the job done because Nehemiah convinced them it was the will of God. Therefore, God would help them do the job.
3. Teamwork. Nehemiah knew he couldn’t do the job alone. So he gathered an entire team of leaders, helpers, and servants. Together, they got the job done in record time. They all took a share of the responsibility for the workload. And they all felt a shared fulfillment in a job well done.
4. Decision. At every turn in the process, Nehemiah expressed decisiveness. He knew what needed to be done, so he made the decisions necessary to get it done. He never hesitated or vacillated. He moved ahead, and the people moved with him.
5. Goals. Nehemiah refused to be deterred from his basic goal. He was determined to get the wall built. So he refused to be distracted by enemies and critics.
6. Accomplishments. Real leaders get a great deal of fulfillment from accomplishing their goals. They love the challenge of the task the process of work, and the rewards of a job well done.
7. Celebration. Great leaders celebrate the success of others. They are not jealous or envious of the success of others. They realize we all share in each other’s success. And that builds a greater team.
When the work was finished, Nehemiah gathered the Israelites in a great national assembly in the square before the Water Gate in Nehemiah 8:1 we read, “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.” He intended it to be a great national celebration for God’s blessings on the people.
He said in Nehemiah 8:10-12, “Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." 11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved." 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”
Nehemiah understood the value of celebrating and commemorating their success. He wanted this time to go down in their history as a time of great blessing. Listen to his announcement in Nehemiah 8:10, “Celebrate with great joy!”
When Ezra brought the Book of the Law and read it at the assembly, the people began to weep and cry in Nehemiah 8:9 we read, “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep." For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.” They were convicted of their sins and repented before the Lord. As Ezra read the Law and praised God, the people shouted, “Amen, Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord in Nehemiah 8:6 we read, “And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”
After seven days of celebration, the people held a solemn assembly on the eight day. The whole process was a celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles which commemorated the exodus and their wilderness journey. Now, thanks to Nehemiah’s leadership they were celebrating a new return to the Promised Land.
On the last day of the feast, the Israelites assembled in sackcloth and separated themselves unto the Lord as Nehemiah 9:1-2 says, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. 2 Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” They corporately confessed their sins as a nation and renewed their covenant with God, sealing the binding agreement with their names. People, priests, Levites, leaders, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants – they all signed it. And the nation of Judah was reborn.
The revival under Ezra and Nehemiah set the stage for the next four hundred years. With Nehemiah’s reforms and Malachi’a final prophecy, the Old Testament canon of Scripture came to a close. Four hundred “silent years” would follow with no new revelation from God. The old Testament closes, leaving us expecting the promise to be fulfilled in the future.
Malachi, the last prophet wrote in Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," Says the LORD of hosts.”
The Promisor would not forget the promise. He would continue to keep it alive in the hearts of His people until it was time. Then, He would come – the Messiah, the One they desired all along. He would come in person and make good all the promises of God.
We are left standing on the temple mount peering into the distance as the old Testament closes. We are looking down the corridor of time through the canyon of eternity. There, on the horizon, we see a young man making his way from Nazareth to Jerusalem. He is going to the temple with His disciples. He is on His way to keep the promise and call us to faith in Him.
Our Spiritual Heritage today is based upon those Hebrew heroes who dared to believe God. Our spiritual journey began with those first steps of faith, which they took down the long road of God’s grace. They have left us a legacy that endures to this day. May we, by God’s grace, leave a legacy to our children that will endure for generations to come.
As we near the end of another study, let’s ask ourselves some questions with what we have learned from the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the wall:
1. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your life’s work?
2. Are you having a positive influence on others?
3. Are you building a legacy for the future?
4. How can you motivate others to do the same?
5. Where do you need to improve as a leader?
6. What steps of action should you take to become a better leader?
7. Take some time and find a vision of the future for your life and family in the Lord.