Nehemiah 7-9: Clear Understanding

Nehemiah 7

Upon the building of the wall, Hanani (God is gracious) and Hananiah (God has given) are appointed to take charge over Jerusalem, “for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many” – an indication that such restoration of the wall is to be maintained in the hands of one who is a Christ-follower.  This is accompanied by the need for the gates of Jerusalem to be open when the sun is hot (c.f. Exodus 17:12; Malachi 4:2; Revelation 1:16), a reminder that the Son is the one who allows the gates to be open for people to enter New Jerusalem (John 14:6; Revelation 3:12).  However, as of now, the city though wide and large – the people within it were few and no houses had been rebuilt (v.4).  A shame that there are not enough labourers sent out into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).

From v.6-73, the genealogy largely matches that which was stated in Ezra 2 – bringing us into the context of Ezra and remembering that Nehemiah’s actions are meaningless without the restoration of the Mosaic law through Ezra.  V.73 is a exact repeat of Ezra 2:70, except the new addition that “when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns” – reminder of Leviticus 23, where the month of Tishri includes the keeping of the the Day of Atonement and Feast of Booths.

Nehemiah 8

The gathering of people “as one man” has been few and far in between, matching the language in Ezra 3:1 here (and the last time this happened was in 2 Samuel 19:14).  Their congregation around the Water Gate supplements the symbology of this gate, that the water of life, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, should be the true food which these gates of Jerusalem are protecting.  This chapter therefore reinstates the importance of Ezra’s reforms as the undergirding element of Nehemiah’s rebuilding – in the presence of men and women and those who could understand (v.3).  This is different from the strict keeping of the great Jerusalem feasts by men alone (Deuteronomy 16:16-17) – instead, now the crowd is to all who could understand.  “And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (v.3).  Ezra opened the Book of the Law in the sight of all the people and blessed the LORD (v.5-6), with several others (including both Levites and non-Levites) helping the people to understand the Law (v.7).  The Law of God was read “clearly”, and they “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading”.  This type of detail is so far removed from what is the norm in the Mosaic books through to Ezra, where the keeping of the law was often not explained to come hand in hand with “clear understanding” – the theme of this chapter.  In many ways, this clear understanding and the inclusion of all who could understand (i.e. including women) is a shadow of the freedom in Christ (Galatians 3:28) only upon the circumcision of the heart, represented through Ezra (the priest and scribe) and Nehemiah’s (the governor) joint reformation of the Ancient Church.  Their spiritual emancipation and release from understanding the Law was transformed from weeping to joy – an eschatological picture of our weeping turning into joy in New Creation (Revelation 21:4).

It is interesting that instead of describing the keeping of Yom Kippur, v.13-14 immediately begins with the keeping of the Feast of Booths, as a restoration of a practice not done since the days of Yeshua the son of Nun (v.17), keeping to what the law had stated in Leviticus 23:34-39 / Deuteronomy 16:13-15.  In fact, this follows naturally from the hearing of the law earlier in this chapter – for the themes have been one of release, one of understanding, one of rejoicing that the LORD has taken away our grievances, as symbolised most starkly in the festival of Feast of Booths.  As Leviticus 23:35 states, “On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.  For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord.”  Deuteronomy 16:14 states, “You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow who are within your towns.”

Nehemiah 9

It is only upon such grateful thanksgiving that they then assemble with fasting and in sackcloth, confessing their sins and iniquities of their fathers (v.1-2), finding confidence first in the Word, then in confession, then in worship (v.3).  It is from v.6 onwards that we see a history of redemption, from Genesis up till now, His promises fulfilled through Abraham’s faithfulness (v.6-8), through the great exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (v.9-15) – and despite the stiffneckedness of the Israelites, He still remained faithful and gracious (v.16-21), sustaining them in the wilderness and instructing them by giving them the Holy Spirit.  Such goodness which came to them was completely by His hand (v.22-25).

Yet, the Israelites continued to be disobedient and ignored His law (v.26-31) – and here, His mercies are repeated (3 times “in your great mercies” repeated in these few verses) throughout the age of the judges and the kings from the time of Moses to the time of Zedekiah, the last king of Israel before the Babylonian exile.  By His prophets, by His saviors, by His warnings, by His Spirit (v.30) – all rejected and blasphemed (c.f. Leviticus 24:16; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10).  Hence, their current state of slavery is one not caused by God – but (notably) it is the Levites who recognise that their kings, their princes, their priests and their fathers have not kept their law or paid attention to His commandments and His warnings.  Because of all this, the Levites (v.38) make a firm covenant in writing, with the names of Israel’s princes, Levites and priests.

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Nehemiah 7-9: Clear Understanding

Nehemiah 4-6: Christ the Builder

Chapter 4

The work of building the walls of Jerusalem is but a shadow of the work of the Spirit protecting us in spiritual warfare, protecting us from the enemy (c.f. Ephesians 6).  It is strange that such an apparently defeated nation as Israel should pose such a threat to the Samarians, Arabians and Ashdodites (Ashdod being one of the cities of the Philistines assigned to Judah (Joshua 15:47) but never subdued), in particular Sanballat and Tobiah, the picture of Moab and Ammon plotting together to fight against Jerusalem and causing confusion (v.8; c.f. 2 Chronicles 20), which is but seen by God as a joint council to break the bond between the Father and the Son (Psalm 2).  Not unlike the fear of the majority of the spies at Jericho (Numbers 14), the men of Judah in the midst of their persecution have need to turn to Nehemiah who reminds them of the “great and awesome” Lord (v.14).  Nehemiah acts as the typological Christ, comforting us in our persecutions whilst pronouncing judgment on those who stand outside of Israel (v.4-5), a picture of judgment on those standing outside of spiritual Israel (Romans 11).

Immediately upon Nehemiah’s encouragement, v.15 emphasises that “God had frustrated their [the enemies’] plan”.  It is important for us to learn from the subsequent verses the life of the church – “half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail.  And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall” (v.16-17).  This continued even untilt he stars came out (v.21), guarding by night and labouring by day (v.22), such persistence of faith (1 Timothy 6:12) fuelled by the “great and awesome” Lord, by His steadfast faithfulness (Nehemiah 1:5) rather than the faithfulness (or lack thereof!) of the men of Judah.  This is again emphasised by the trumpet call – for although each had their own ministries, the call (Revelation 1:10, 4:1, 8:7-12, 9:1-14, 10:7, 11:15) shall bring the scattered Israelites together again – a picture of the global Church fighting their own fights against the enemy in their respective ministries, but the Day when Christ returns is the same Day when we gather but not to fight with our own might.  Rather, God will fight for us (v.20).

Chapter 5

V.1-13 almost track the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector exactly (see especially Luke 19).  The domino effect of the famine and the interest to manage one’s wealth selfishly was despicable in the eyes of Nehemiah – such enslavement to the state not a result of the famine or the king but a result of the Israelites’ decision to subject themselves to such enslavement rather than relish in the freedom from Babylonian captivity and continue to live under such freedom.  The question Nehemiah posed is key – “The thing that you are doing is not good.  Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?”.  We ought to – and we ought even to display a community of shared wealth (c.f. Acts 5:3) just as Christ displayed the greatest Trinitarian community of shared glory (John 17), shaking out those (v.13) who preach a false gospel of Unitarian theology.

Thus, Nehemiah’s life testimony is a witness to the fear of God (v.15) despite the hard times falling on the Israelites – all the while continuing with the work on the wall, a reminder that we should never sway from our set goal of new creation despite worldly circumstances, just as Christ never swayed from his goal of redemption despite the tempting of the enemy (Mark 1).  Yet, the highlight was not the work – but the nourishment of the Jews and the officials (which, I expect, to include the very officials enforcing the food allowance of the governor) as an act of loving his enemies – a precept so clear to Nehemiah taught by God’s faithfulness (v.19).  This is the freedom preached by Nehemiah (Galatians 3-5).

Chapter 6

Yet, the persecution continues in v.1-14.  Though true that there is a king in Judah (v.7), Nehemiah clarifies that no such thing is done (v.8) – for the “rebellion” and “kingship” does not lie in Nehemiah’s leadership – but in the One he worships.  This is identified ever so clearly in his refusal to hide in the temple, the Holy Place (v.11), in order to embrace the precepts which Ezra so painstakingly laid down in the previous book.  Even on appearance, Shemaiah the prophet, Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets could not deceive Nehemiah who “understood and saw” that God had not sent them for they preach fear rather than freedom – such insight and perception only capable with the Holy Spirit (c.f. Luke 5:22).

Finally, the wall is complete on the 25th day of Elul, which means the building began in the month of Av and ended in the month of preparation for the Day of Atonement and Day of Judgment – symbolised quaintly by the blowing of the trumpet to announce the return of Christ.  Even the enemies saw that the walls of Jerusalem, the walls and the Body of the Ancient Church, were completed only with the help of God.  Although Tobiah’s stature placed him in a position to ridicule and humble Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s reliance and comfort has not ceased to be on or from Christ, the true builder of the global Church.

Nehemiah 4-6: Christ the Builder

Nehemiah 1-3: Gates to the Gospel

Chapter 1

In Ezra, we see the heart of man being circumcised as the law is written on the hearts of those who now return from the long exile. Nehemiah builds on this rebirth by looking at Ezra’s work from the outside, the cupbearer who identified with the Church – weeping and mourning for days, fasting and praying before the LORD (v.4), repeating the refrain (c.f. 2 Chronicles 7) that the LORD is the one who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. Nehemiah immediately is the mediator, the intercessor on behalf of the church, understanding the work of the Mediator – the Christ who is also the Comforter, the name which “Nehemiah” matches. He recognises that even in Egypt, it is the LORD who saved first before we became His servants (v.10 – they are your servants and your people, who you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand). So Nehemiah, the Comforting Intercessor and type of Christ the Mediator, stands before the king whilst his heart yearns for the church whom he is very much part of despite the geographical limitations.

Chapter 2

Nehemiah begins immediately with the sickness of his heart – sickness for the rebuilding and the reformation of the Ancient Church. Yet, the LORD’s hand was with him (v.8), that even Artaxerxes should provide materials for the meek to inherit (Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5) and to build the gates of the fortress of the temple and for the wall of the city and for the house that he shall occupy. Such timber is not provided by the Israelites themselves, but through Artaxerxes’ resources by the grace of God. From hearing the news of the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem where the laws are being written on the hearts of tender souls young in their rebirth upon returning from decades of exile, Nehemiah was there three days to rebuild the walls (c.f. symbolism of the third day when Christ resurrected). This is a very different story to Ezra who built the heart mind and soul of the Israelite; whereas Nehemiah built the foundation and the armour protecting the Israelites’ from external onslaught, the spiritual warfare realised on a national level (c.f. Ephesians 6:10-20).

V.11-16 is quite peculiar as it appears that on the evening of the third day, Nehemiah enters Jerusalem in the stillness of the night to:

(i) the Valley Gate, then (ii) to the Dragon Spring, then (iii) to the Dung Gate, then (iv) inspected the walls of Jerusalem (v.13). This is followed by (v) the Fountain Gate and (vi) to the King’s Pool (where there was no room for the animal to pass and (viii) inspected the wall and (ix) turned back and entered by the Valley Gate. These various steps are meaningless to the officials, yet v.17-20 reveals all: Nehemiah intends to remove Jerusalem of its derision and that the LORD will make the Ancient Church prosper (v.20) in face of difficult persecution. Yet, for all who jeer at the work the Lord has tasked us (v.19), they would have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem (v.20). Are you rebelling against the earthly king? Or are you fulfilling the command of the One King, the Lord of Lords, to plead the protection of your heart?

Note however have Nehemiah only visits the southern part of the wall – the furthest part from the Temple. Incidentally the area he visits is where the brook Kidron is, commonly associated to weeping and cleansing throughout Scripture (see 2 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 2:37; 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 23:4-12; 2 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Chronicles 29:16; 2 Chronicles 30:14; Jeremiah 31:40 and finally John 18:1, where Christ was betrayed). It is here that Nehemiah recalls the pain and suffering Israel had undergone as a refinery of the nation’s faith in Christ, that through this brook are our sins cleansed entirely and completely renewed as represented by the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. To this, we turn to chapter 3 where the rebuilding begins and portrays with even more clarity how such cleansing is brought about through Nehemiah’s plan which is but a shadow of God’s plan of global redemption.

Chapter 3

1. Sheep Gate (v.1) – this reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; it is the only gate without “locks or bars”, and the only gate that was specifically sanctified as it was repaired and edified by the High Priest and other priests – the door through which the saved walk (see John 10);

2. Fish Gate (v.3) – fishers of men, who are akin to lost souls (i.e. fish; see Habakkuk 1:14 and Mark 1:17);

3. Gate of Yeshanah (Gate of the old city) (v.6) – old wine replaced by new wine; old wineskin replaced by new wineskin; Jerusalem replaced by New Jerusalem (Luke 5:37-38);

4. Valley Gate (v.13) – for we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the affliction through which we experience our life here and yet have a taste of new creation (Psalm 23:4)

5. Dung Gate (v.14) – where the dung of our lives are cleansed (Jeremiah 9:22);

6. Fountain Gate (v.15) – followed by the filling of the Holy Spirit, the true fountain of life (John 7; 14)

7. Water Gate (v.26) – following on from the Fountain Gate, the water of life the Word of God (Revelation 22:1), the seventh gate indicating the rest found in Christ alone and the only gate that required no repair;

8. Horse Gate (v.28) – reminder of the white rider on the horse in Revelation (Revelation 19:11), the return of Christ;

9. East Gate (v.29) – this return is symbolised by God’s glory returning “from the way of the east” (see Ezekiel 10:16-22, 11:22-25, 43:1-5);

10. Muster Gate (Gate of Judgment; Hammiphkad Gate) (v.31) – the word “miphkad” (קד ְפ ִּמַה) represents “appointment, account, census, mustering”, not so different from the “census” in the book of Revelation on the Day of Judgment (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:10-20; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15);

Then finally returning to the Sheep Gate (v.32) – as the Lamb is the Alpha (the first gate), so also the completion of the Muster Gate returns to the Omega – which is also the Sheep Gate, the Passover Lamb.

Nehemiah 1-3: Gates to the Gospel