9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?”
20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
(Nehemiah 2:9-20 NIV)
Nehemiah is devastated by his brother’s report that after 140 years, Jerusalem is still unsecured and its Jewish residents are in distress. Most of all, Nehemiah is concerned that God’s renown and power are no longer displayed among the nations.
Nehemiah takes his broken heart to the Lord in prayer and fasting. He knows that this is far beyond his ability to fix or even influence. This is a God-sized task. Nehemiah kept praying and waiting for the Lord to provide an opening to discuss the matter with the king. When the king noticed Nehemiah’s sadness, Nehemiah knew that this was of God’s prompting and he shared his heart. The king granted Nehemiah’s request. The wheels of Nehemiah’s request were granted and in motion. God was at work.
In today’s passage, we see Nehemiah’s journey as a passing comment compared to Ezra’s journey (Ezra chapter 8). Also, as a government official, the king sent Nehemiah with an army escort, while Ezra was offered a military escort but refused the king’s offer. Ezra chose to depend on the Lord (Ezra 8:21-22). Did Nehemiah have less faith than Ezra? No – they were going for two different reasons and the king likely demanded that Nehemiah have the army escort.
Nehemiah’s story in chapter 2 is largely a story of the contrasts between good and evil:
- the king asks why Nehemiah’s face is evil (sad) (v. 2)
- the status of Jerusalem is evil (v. 3)
- the king’s favor was good (v. 6)
- the local governors thought that looking after the affairs of the Jews in Jerusalem was evil (v. 10)
- Nehemiah inspected the walls and gates of the city with an intent to do good (v. 12)
- when Nehemiah presented his plan to the Jews in Jerusalem, he contrasted the evil of their current situation with all the good they could do (v. 17)
- the other governors accused Nehemiah of evil (v. 19)
- Nehemiah points out the goodness of God and tells the other governors that they have no benefits from God’s goodness toward Jerusalem (v. 20)
Nehemiah was an excellent diplomat and strategist. He made his inspection ride in the middle of the night to avoid arousing any speculations and suspicions as to why he was there. As far as anyone knew, Nehemiah was in Jerusalem as governor for the city and the Judean region.
When the three governors accused Nehemiah of rebelling against the king, they were actually the ones who were in rebellion. Nehemiah had the blessing and resources of the king at hand, not the other governors.
Nehemiah reshaped the city wall and its boundaries to protect the city. If we were to go to Jerusalem today, we would not be able to retrace either the original city walls nor Nehemiah’s new city wall in their entirety. Subsequent rulers (including the Romans) demolished the city and built over the top of much of the former walls and buildings.
As Nehemiah pointed out in verse 20, this was a spiritual battle, not a physical one (“The God of heaven will give us success.”).
Likewise, our battle is not physical, but spiritual (Ephesians 6:12).
And what is our response? What do we do? The Apostle Paul tells us to “suit up” for spiritual battle with the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-20) and to pray.