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).
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).
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.