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.
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.
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.