I received this title “NEHEMIAH – A MAN OF THE MOMENT” as I was in worship on Sunday morning while getting ready to deliver the message from the book of Nehemiah, and that changed direction of my delivery. I did not have time to look up the meaning “Man of the Moment”, I cannot even remember ever using the term or heard anyone use it. But thank God for the Holy Spirit, He is so precise. When I checked the dictionary later and it means “A man (woman) who is popular or famous now because he(she) has done something interesting or important” and found that it was so appropriate, I just thanked the Father, the Son(Jesus) and the Holy Spirit.
What an apt description of Nehemiah, this book found itself into the canonized Bible because an ordinary man (not a king, or not priest not even from those lineages) yet Nehemiah performed extraordinary feat by restoring the pride and dignity of Israel at a time when it was the object of mockery by other nations and by enemies within Jerusalem and Judah. Briefly, the following are the reasons why Nehemiah qualified as the man of the moment as the Old Testament drew to a close.
1. PROPHECIES TO RESTORE AND REBUILD JERUSALEM
Amos (765-755 BC) a native of Kingdom of Judah but prophesied to the Northern Kingdom- Israel, making the Book of Amos the first biblical prophetic book written said, “In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter– I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins– and will rebuild it as it used to be (Amos 9:11) and “I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them”(Amos 9:14). The Northern Kingdom, Israel went into captivity in 722 BC, while the Judah fell to Babylon in 586 BC with Jerusalem destroyed and the Temple burnt.
Isaiah (740-690 BC), years later also prophesied about the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity through a yet to be born King Cyrus of Persian Empire said “Who says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited,’ to the cities of Judah, ‘You shall be built,’ And I will raise up her waste places;27 Who says to the deep, ‘Be dry! And I will dry up your rivers’; 28 Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built, ”And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”(Isaiah 44:26-28). Other references in Isaiah concerning the restoration and rebuilding are:
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”(Isaiah 58:12), “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with lapis lazuli”(Isaiah 54:11);This is what the LORD says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances (Isaiah 49:8).”They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”(Isaiah 61:4).
Jeremiah (626-560BC) who witnessed the destruction of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) also spoke about the rebuilding and restoration. Jeremiah said 23”Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Once again they will speak this word in the land of Judah and in its cities when I restore their fortunes, ‘The LORD bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!’ 24“Judah and all its cities will dwell together in it, the farmer and they who go about with flocks.…28 I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD.(Jeremiah 31:23-24;28).
“Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the LORD.”(Jeremiah 32:44).
The theme of rebuilding and restoration was consistent even when Judah was yet to go into captivity in Babylon.
Ezekiel (593-563), a captive prophet in Babylon said “And I will cause many people to live on you–yes, all of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt”(Ezekiel 36:10). “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. “Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so will the waste cities be filled with flocks of men. Then they will know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 36:33,38).
Daniel (606-536), a high ranking Jewish officer in Babylon also prophesied “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times”. (Daniel 9:25).
Zechariah (520-480BC), a prophet in Judah contemporary of Haggai during time Governor Zerubabel whom King Cyrus sent along with fifty thousand returnees from Babylon in 538BC, said, 16“‘Therefore, this is what the LORD says: I have returned to show mercy to Jerusalem. My Temple will be rebuilt, says the LORD of Hosts , and measurements will be taken for the reconstruction of Jerusalem.’ 17“Again, proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “My cities will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 1:16-17NLT)
It is remarkable that at this point in history, with the arrival of the second group of returnees led by Ezra, the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were not yet done. So, by the time of Nehemiah’s arrival in 444BC, less than 50 years to the close of the Old Testament, there was an urgent need for the man of the moment. The state of Jerusalem as recorded by Nehemiah was: “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). His request to King Artaxerxes was to be “sent to Judah to rebuild the city because it lies in waste”. Upon arrival and inspection, nothing had changed and he recorded that: “..Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” (Nehemiah 2:17).
Chronologically, Nehemiah (444 -430BC) is the book before Malachi (435-410), the last book of the Old Testament). Both Nehemiah and Malachi were contemporaries. Chapters 1-12 of Nehemiah covered a one year period while chapter 13, covered the time he returned from King Artaxerxes (432-431BC), God’s prophecies about the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem which was not done almost 100 years after the first returnees came, were accomplished through the work of Nehemiah and Ezra. There were unwarranted delays in completing the Temple and restoration of Jerusalem which was needed before the Messiah arrived, but at the end the perfect will of God was done through Nehemiah, a man of the moment. A careful reading of Malachi, the last book contained no reference whatsoever to rebuilding or restoration. The book focused on the corrupt practices of the people and priests in reverence to their religious activities and the coming of the Messiah and His forerunner.
2. NEHEMIAH’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS
A) RESTORATION: Slavery abolished, reunion with families and Properties restored.
Nehemiah started in earnest to rebuild the walls and completed it in 52 days. But he accomplished much more than the walls. In Chapter 5, Nehemiah heard about the systems of enslavement that the rich and leaders have instituted. He wrote: “About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. 2 They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.”3 Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.”4 And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. 5 We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.” (Nehemiah 5:1-5)
After, some thought on the matter, Nehemiah being a cautious leader, pointed the errors of the leaders and the rich and firmly got them to restore the slaves to their families, to restore the lands, the houses, and fields without causing dissension among them. They agreed as follows: 11 You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.” 12 They replied, “We will give back everything and demand nothing more from the people. We will do as you say.” Then I called the priests and made the nobles and officials swear to do what they had promised.13 I shook out the folds of my robe and said, “If you fail to keep your promise, may God shake you like this from your homes and from your property!” The whole assembly responded, “Amen,” and they praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. (Nehemiah 5:11-13). Since this restoration happened within the first year of Nehemiah’s arrival, the people began the work of rebuilding their lives, homes, land and farms.
B) RESETTLEMENT- Jerusalem was repopulated with needs met
Another problem, Nehemiah tackled was that of repopulating the cities including Jerusalem. Because of lack of security, people were not willing to leave in Jerusalem. It was also important to have all the cadre of people necessary to live there so that Temple worship and security can be assured. He put the problem succinctly: 1 After the wall was finished and I had set up the doors in the gates, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed. 2 I gave the responsibility of governing Jerusalem to my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah, the commander of the fortress, for he was a faithful man who feared God more than most. 3 I said to them, “Do not leave the gates open during the hottest part of the day. And even while the gatekeepers are on duty, have them shut and bar the doors. Appoint the residents of Jerusalem to act as guards, everyone on a regular watch. Some will serve at sentry posts and some in front of their own homes.”4 At that time the city was large and spacious, but the population was small, and none of the houses had been rebuilt. 5 So my God gave me the idea to call together all the nobles and leaders of the city, along with the ordinary citizens, for registration. I had found the genealogical record of those who had first returned to Judah. (Nehemiah 7:1-5).
After ascertaining the needs of Jerusalem, Nehemiah called an assembly where people were chosen to repopulate Jerusalem: 1The leaders of the people were living in Jerusalem, the holy city. A tenth of the people from the other towns of Judah and Benjamin were chosen by sacred lots to live there, too, while the rest stayed where they were. 2 And the people commended everyone who volunteered to resettle in Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 11:1-2).
C) RELIGIOUS REFORMATION
Having done the resettlement and having made appointments for all the offices, the dedication of the wall was a clear example the proper worship has been instituted through the reforms of both Nehemiah and Ezra. 27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the musicians had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall. (Nehemiah 12:27-30). 44 At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron. (Nehemiah 12:44-47).
D) MORAL REFORMATION
Nehemiah had to return to King Artaxerxes in 432BC (verse 6) and upon his return found out that the Jews had intermarry with Ammonites and the Moabites and on discovering these illegal union (Deut. 23:4), he took steps to correct them. He wrote: “On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people, and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God, 2 because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 so it was, when they had heard the Law, that they separated the entire mixed multitude from Israel” (Nehemiah 13:1-3).
E) CLEASED THE TEMPLE
Furthermore, during his return, Nehemiah found illegal occupancy in the Temple. He ejected Tobiah, an Ammonite leader, relative of the High Priest Eliashib: “Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. 8 I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. 9 I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense” (Nehemiah 13:7-9).
People stopped tithing to the Levites, so Nehemiah rebuked the rulers and restored tithing as encouraged by Prophet Malachi. Nehemiah wrote “12 All Judah brought the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil into the storerooms. 13 I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms and made Hanan son of Zakkur, the son of Mattaniah, their assistant, because they were considered trustworthy. They were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their fellow Levites (Nehemiah 13:12-13).
Also, Nehemiah discovered that the Sabbath was no longer observed as there were merchants selling and people buying on that day. He took the following steps: “19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy (Nehemiah 13:19-22)
The success of Nehemiah can be attributed to the following observable leadership qualities: Nehemiah was cautious (2:16, 5:7); conscientious and committed (2:18), courageous (6:9, 11) and acted without compromise (4:3, 8; 6:2). Nehemiah had a workable plan (Chapter 3) to rebuild the wall and to stop physical construction (4:18). They worked hard, starting early and closing late in the day (4:21). He was a participatory leader and coordinated effectively with the older Ezra.
Nehemiah was prayerful. Four months passed prayerfully (1:4-11) before the King knew something was wrong; even muted prayers in the King’s presence (2:4). There were altogether twelve such prayers: 4:4, 9; 5:19; 6:9, 14; 9:5-38 13:14, 22, 29, and 31). The portions of the first prayer started “ 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments ..”.The last prayer in the book is “Remember me, O my God, for good!” (Nehemiah 13:31).
Note: Dates used is from “The Red Thread” by Barry James Buzza and Emily Lim.