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Who Was Nehemiah & Why Is He Important in the Bible?

  • Karen Whiting Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Who Was Nehemiah & Why Is He Important in the Bible?

The name Nehemiah means Yahweh has comforted. Before we even begin reading the book of Nehemiah, the name reveals that the words will bring comfort. Nehemiah offers hope and much more. This book guides us on how to overcome troubles and trust in God while showing Nehemiah’s prayer life, leadership, and faithfulness.

The book opens with news of the dire condition of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, the city of God. Nehemiah is far from Jerusalem. He’s a slave for a foreign king in Persia in 444 BC. He prays fervently and continually. He’s not a spiritual leader or prophet. His fasting and praying triggers changes. He ends up the governor of Jerusalem and supervises the repairs. Through the process of restoring and dedicating the wall we glean many lessons from Nehemiah on prayer, leadership, overcoming enemies, restoring hearts, integrity, and holiness.

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1. Man who Understood the Importance of the Call

1. Man who Understood the Importance of the Call

The repair of the wall and recommitment of the people is the last recorded history in the Old Testament. A remnant of the Israelites had returned 70 years earlier and rebuilt the temple, but without walls, the city remained vulnerable to attack. People living in a city without a solid wall remained defenseless and humiliated. Rebuilding the walls signaled God once again blessed His people. A good wall also gave the people a sense of security and community.

Nehemiah wept when he heard the news of the broken wall and burned gates. He knew that the lack of repairing the wall showed people feared men and not God. Receiving the bad news became a call for Nehemiah, a challenge to bring change that would glorify God. Consider how God is calling you to make a difference and be willing to accept the challenge.

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2. Man of prayer

2. Man of prayer

Nehemiah showed us how to pray to God and listen for his answers. In chapter one he spent a long time in prayer from the heart with fasting. He glorified God with listing the Lord’s attributes. He confessed sins of the people. He trusted God’s promises to Moses to restore the people. He asked for success before King Artaxerxes. Once the king asked Nehemiah what made him look sad, Nehemiah said a quick prayer before responding.

In chapter two, God put a plan in Nehemiah’s mind (v12), and he told the people that God’s hand had been favorable to him (v18). This brought results as the people began working and completed the work in 52 days. His prayers continued through the book and reflected his obedience and heart relationship with God. Like Nehemiah, we can open our heart in prayer, observe blessings that show God’s favor on us, and listen with both our mind and heart.

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3. Patient and Hopeful

3. Patient and Hopeful

Nehemiah exhibited patience. He prayed for four months before God answered his first prayer  (1:1,2:1). He took his time once he arrived in Jerusalem before disclosing his plan to the people. He patiently kept reminding the people to trust God and that God would fight for them and help them. He exemplifies Isaiah 40:31 that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.

Nehemiah believed God would use him to get the wall rebuilt. He never tried to attack his enemies, but trusted God would deal with them (6:14). In our fast paced, instant delivery world, we should slow down and wait on God’s timing.

He recognized God’s blessings and favor (2:8, 18) and shared the news with the people to give them hope. We bring hope when we share how God has worked in our lives.

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4. Prepared Planner

4. Prepared Planner

Nehemiah acted with wisdom. When the king asked how he could help, Nehemiah shared that he wanted to go to Jerusalem and listed letters he needed along the journey to obtain supplies. He took the letters signed by the king and picked up the supplies along the journey. He arrived in Jerusalem equipped for the work. God put a plan in Nehemiah’s mind (2:12).

Once in Jerusalem Nehemiah waited three days without announcing his presence or reason for coming. He then secretly inspected the damage at night. The plan included teamwork, persistence, and cooperation, plus trust in God. We should take time to make careful plans and listen to God’s guidance.

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5. Great Leader Who Inspired Workers

5. Great Leader Who Inspired Workers

Nehemiah spoke to all the people and inspired them to work. He shared the favor the king gave and how God’s hand had been with him and that motivated the people. They responded by going to work immediately. Nehemiah broke them into teams of families to work on the various sections of the wall. He was also prayerfully prepared when outside opposition began.

Nehemiah had worked for King Artaxerxes long enough to gain wisdom about leadership. He set a goal to rebuild and he succeeded. He organized workers, delegated the work, administered, and rose up to any challenge. He also fed 150 Jews and officials daily without using his allowance as governor.

A great leader is also a servant and understands the people he leads. Leaders provide encouragement as Nehemiah did continually when he stated they were doing a great work.

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6. No Obstacles Stopped His Work

6. No Obstacles Stopped His Work

Each time enemies bullied them, Nehemiah prayed. He stated that God would fight for them. The main enemies lived around the city and didn’t want the wall rebuilt.

Enemies tried various tactics, but Nehemiah stood firm. They ridiculed and bullied (4:1-6), but Nehemiah prayed, ignored them, and the work continued.

Enemies threatened to attack, so the people prayed and set up guards (4:8-15). Nehemiah reminded the people to trust God and paired the workers so one worked while the other stood by, armed to fight. Nehemiah also set up a signal of a trumpet call, so they could rally together and trust God to fight for them (4:16-23).

Enemies tried to make Nehemiah compromise by drawing him outside the city where they could harm him, and then they tried to lure him to meet in the temple to compromise his faith. Nehemiah saw through their ploys and refused the meetings. He stated that he was doing a great work (6:2-4).

 Next, the enemies tried to slander and shame Nehemiah with a report they would send to the king. Nehemiah replied that they had invented things and then he prayed to God for strength. He refused to meet in the temple because he was not worthy to go there. He was not a priest (6:5-12).

Nehemiah overcame all the opposition and the people rebuilt the wall that laid in ruins for 70 years, in 52 days. We should look at obstacles as challenges to press on and trust God.

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7. Man of Integrity

7. Man of Integrity

Nehemiah remained a man of integrity. He quietly worked for King Artaxerxes as drink bearer. That meant tasting each drink to be sure it contained no poison. Nehemiah was prepared to die for the king and yet recognized God as sovereign. He showed respect for the earthly king when he politely stated his requests.

He never caved in to fear. He always obeyed God. He humbly remained the secular leader and had the priests read the Word. He stood with the priests and scribes and people to listen to the reading of the law and then the prayer of confession of the people.

His name was on the sealed document of the Covenant (10:1). He directed the leaders and choir to go on top of the wall. He joined with the leaders, choir, and people to parade on the wall. He stood at the House of God for the dedication of the wall and celebration (12:27-43).

Nehemiah kept his promise to return to King Artaxerxes and then returned to Jerusalem (13:6). When he discovered that some leaders had let an evil enemy have a room in the courts of the Lord, Nehemiah threw them out and restored the workers in the house of God. He also stopped people from working on the Sabbath, and commended the Levites to purify themselves and perform their duties (13:8-22, 30). He purified the people according to God’s laws. He paid attention to his actions and focused on pleasing God.

We too should live a life of integrity and that happens when we stay connected to God.

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8. Desired Restored Hearts and Relationships

8. Desired Restored Hearts and Relationships

Nehemiah assembled the people when he heard of fighting within (5:1-13). He scolded the people for not walking in the fear of God (5:9) and taking advantage of their own people. He set new rules and settled the issues. The people responded and praised God (5:13).

Nehemiah’s concern for the people’s hearts shows in the opening prayer of chapter one, when he stated that we, the people, acted corruptly and disobeyed God’s laws (1:7). In that prayer he asked for restoration of the nation of Israel and for God to keep the promise to bring the Israelites back to Jerusalem, if they would return to God.

After completing the wall, Nehemiah worked with Ezra, the priest to reconnect the people with God. Our prayers should include our desire to stay close to God and to help build healthy relationships.

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9. Led People to Make a New Commitment to God

9. Led People to Make a New Commitment to God

Nehemiah stated that God put a plan in his heart to assemble the people by families and that led to Ezra, the priest reading the Law of Moses aloud (7:5). The people wept when they listened, but Nehemiah told them to rejoice and reminded them that God is their strength (8:9).

As a leader, Nehemiah looked to the welfare of their people and not just the condition of the city. Gathering people by family groups reminds us that families are the backbone of a nation. Nehemiah had families work on the wall together and then assemble together to hear the reading of the God’s Word.

God is always happy to have us turn back to him and recommit our lives. We should share our faith and encourage our family members to be faithful to God.

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10. Wholly Focused on God

10. Wholly Focused on God

Throughout the book we see a man wholly focused on God. His example shines through the ages to inspire us to follow God closely. He never took credit for himself but gave the glory to God. Nehemiah’s prayer life reflected a believer who trusted God. When they completed the wall he stated that the surrounding nations recognized that God had helped them (6:15-16). Several times Nehemiah asked God to remember him for good. He desired to please God and willingly wanted God to observe him and be with him.

Nehemiah understood the consequences of both holiness and turning away from God. When he rebuked the people for profaning the Sabbath he also reminded them that their troubles came from not being holy (13:17-18).

The plea to be remembered for good is reflected in the words of Jesus regarding servants who wisely used talents given them (Matthew 25) that state “Well done good and faithful servant.” Let’s follow Nehemiah’s example and live a life worthy of God’s praise.

Karen Whiting (www.karenwhiting.com) has been a lifelong student of the Bible. She is an author of twenty-five books, a writing coach, international speaker, and former television host. Check out her book The 365 Most Important Bible Passages for more insights into the Bible and its relevance today.

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