Profiles of Faith: Nehemiah - Portrait Of a Leader

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Nehemiah - Portrait Of a Leader

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It may come as a surprise that the Scriptures-the Holy Bible-contain a course in leadership, given by one of the most remarkable, although little-known, leaders in the Bible: Nehemiah. His life and the principles he espoused serve as a guide to tackling life's most difficult problems. It is a classic study on successfully leading as God would have us lead: by setting an example of faith in God.

In the book of the Bible bearing his name, Nehemiah records his memoirs. He tells how, against tremendous odds, he accomplished an unimaginably difficult undertaking.

Chronologically, the book of Nehemiah should come at the end of the Old Testament. Jerusalem was in ruins and surrounded by powerful enemies. Any attempt to rebuild the desolate city was met with an immediate mobilizing of forces against the Jews and was prohibited by the mighty Persian Empire, which ruled the region.

In the midst of these obstacles, Nehemiah accepted the challenge of rebuilding Jerusalem, which meant fortifying its walls, repopulating the city and setting up for Judah a solid and God-fearing government.

The book of Nehemiah begins ca. 444 B.C., some 90 years after the first group of Jews returned to Jerusalem under a leader named Zerubbabel. The temple was rebuilt, but Jerusalem as a whole was still in ruins. A second group arrived later, led by Ezra the scribe, but the walls that should have protected the inhabitants still lay in ruin.

In those days, a city without walls could offer its inhabitants no protection and was subject to frequent raids. Few people would venture to live in such a vulnerable place. As a result, Jerusalem at that time was more of a shrine than a city. Most of the people lived outside of the gates.

Against the backdrop of this desperate situation, the book of Nehemiah begins.

Survivors in distress

Why did Nehemiah decide to go to Jerusalem? In his own words: "Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah . . . And they said to me, 'The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire'" (Nehemiah 1:1-3 Nehemiah 1:1-3 [1] The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, [2] That Hanani, one of my brothers, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. [3] And they said to me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
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Nehemiah lived in Shushan, or Susa, one of the three royal cities of the Persian Empire. The Persians had governed that part of the world for nearly a century. In chapter 2, Nehemiah tells us he was a cupbearer for the king of Persia. 

Nehemiah doesn't boast about his position; he just informs us what he was doing and where he was when the news of Jerusalem's disastrous plight came to him. He had many reasons to be content where he was. He lived in comfort and even splendor, and his king was pleased with him. Nevertheless, he was a Jew and deeply devoted to God. Soon he would give up his privileged life to face enormous problems and dangers out of love for God and his countrymen.

When the news came to Nehemiah about the pitiful condition of his people in Jerusalem, he was shocked and grieved.

He knew that 15 years earlier, Ezra the scribe had departed with numerous Jews to rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah had thought the rebuilding was well on its way. Now he heard the work had stopped and was unlikely to start up again soon.

Powerful enemies were hindering the construction. A real possibility existed that Jerusalem might never be rebuilt. With hostile neighbors poised to destroy what remained of the city, including the temple, it could eventually cease from existence altogether. Nehemiah wondered, Would God permit Jerusalem to cease from existence?

What did he do next? "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" (Nehemiah 1:4 Nehemiah 1:4And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
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In an emotional entreaty, he reminded God of His promise not to let Jerusalem perish and asked for help so his plan to go to Jerusalem with the king's permission would succeed. His humble, heartfelt plea would be heard, and God would come to his aid.

Nehemiah's prayer contains several important principles we can apply in our prayers. First, he presented himself respectfully before God. He did not begin by asking anything for himself. He came humbly before God and praised Him.

Next he confessed his negligence and imperfections and those of his people. Then he reminded God of His mercy and favor toward those who repent and obey Him.

Finally, he offered a petition that was according to the will of God. He asked for favor in the eyes of the head of state so he could go to Jerusalem and help rebuild the walls and the government.

Months of prayer and preparation

Some four months later, Nehemiah writes: "And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king" (Nehemiah 2:1 Nehemiah 2:1And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it to the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.
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). The king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad.

Although Nehemiah recognized the possibility of risk to his life, he was confident. Four months of prayer and preparation had led to this moment, and he had a few seconds to speak and find favor with his majesty. He said, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burdened with fire?" (Nehemiah 2:3 Nehemiah 2:3And said to the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchers, lies waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?
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Relieved to know Nehemiah's sad demeanor was not because of a plot against his life or a personal insult, the king permitted Nehemiah to speak. "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it." The king asked Nehemiah how long the task would take and when he would return, then gave Nehemiah permission to go (Nehemiah 2:5-6 Nehemiah 2:5-6 [5] And I said to the king, If it please the king, and if your servant have found favor in your sight, that you would send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' sepulchers, that I may build it. [6] And the king said to me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall your journey be? and when will you return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
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Nehemiah had cleared the first hurdle with the help of prayer and diligent preparation to do God's work. Notice this principle of faith. When he petitioned the king, he had prepared beforehand all the details to help him accomplish the task.

He knew he had only one chance to present the whole case before this busy ruler. He realized that, to carry out the job, he would need a travel permit, an escort of armed men, the king's written permission to rebuild and the authority as governor to make use of wood from the royal forest near Jerusalem. He was so diligent in his preparation that he had learned even the name of the person in charge of the forest (Nehemiah 2:7-8 Nehemiah 2:7-8 [7] Moreover I said to the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; [8] And a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God on me.
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So Nehemiah, out of love for God and His people, willingly left the comfortable court life behind and as the new governor headed with a select few toward his troubled land 1,000 miles away. More than two months later he arrived at the devastation that was once Jerusalem and assumed duties as its governor.

Developing a strategy

The Jews must have looked curiously at this Persian official of Jewish background who arrived with an armed escort. They probably thought he would exploit them, as had others in their long line of governors. As a diplomat and a man accustomed to court intrigues, Nehemiah said as little as possible of his plans to rebuild, since he knew enemies and spies were sure to hear him.

As part of his strategy, he "went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire" (Nehemiah 2:13 Nehemiah 2:13And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.
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Nehemiah was disheartened to see the destruction. At that moment Jerusalem looked to be the most insignificant and pathetic place in the Persian Empire. After Nehemiah sized up the situation, God inspired him to devise an ambitious plan to rebuild.

The next day he gathered the Jewish officials and said: "'You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.' And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me. So they said, 'Let us rise up and build.' Then they set their hands to this good work" (Nehemiah 2:17-18 Nehemiah 2:17-18 [17] Then said I to them, You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. [18] Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good on me; as also the king's words that he had spoken to me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.
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The opposition did not sit idly by. "But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Gershem the Arab heard of it, they laughed us to scorn and despised us, and said, 'What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?' So I answered them, and said to them, 'The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem'" (Nehemiah 2:19-20 Nehemiah 2:19-20 [19] But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that you do? will you rebel against the king? [20] Then answered I them, and said to them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but you have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.
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). Nehemiah's bold response so shocked them that they kept a low profile for a while.

Nehemiah divided up the work to be done, assigning portions of the project to various families. Nehemiah assigned the wall and the gate near the temple to the family of the high priest, Eliashib. In this way, Nehemiah gave the high priest and his kinsmen the honor of building the section with the sheep gate, which led to the temple. How proud they must have felt to build part of the wall of God's city that would become a lasting monument to their household.

Chapter 3 of the book of Nehemiah deals with the assignments he gave to the families of the various parts of the wall. For thousands of years their names have appeared in the Bible as a tribute to their labor.

Combating old and new enemies

Keep in mind that Nehemiah led by example; he also had a section to build. Imagine the governor carrying heavy beams and pieces of stonework. "So we labored in the work . . . So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing" (Nehemiah 4:21-23 Nehemiah 4:21-23 [21] So we labored in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. [22] Likewise at the same time said I to the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labor on the day. [23] So neither I, nor my brothers, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.
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). How encouraging it must have been for the people to see this high-ranking official lugging stones and helping defend the city!

Work began enthusiastically, but old and new adversaries, including Sanballat, began to ridicule the Jews' efforts. Before his brethren and the army of Samaria, Sanballat mockingly said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish-stones that are burned?" (Nehemiah 4:2 Nehemiah 4:2And he spoke before his brothers and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?
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How did Nehemiah respond? Again he prayed and acted. "Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! . . . For they have provoked You to anger before the builders" (Nehemiah 4:4-5 Nehemiah 4:4-5 [4] Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach on their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: [5] And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before you: for they have provoked you to anger before the builders.
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For some time afterward they made such progress that their enemies "conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion" (Nehemiah 4:8 Nehemiah 4:8And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.
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). What did Nehemiah do? He prayed and acted. "Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night" (Nehemiah 4:9 Nehemiah 4:9Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.
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). Nehemiah knew that praying and then hoping for a miracle wouldn't be enough.

Nehemiah gathered the leaders and inspired them to courage and faith: "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses" (Nehemiah 4:14 Nehemiah 4:14And I looked, and rose up, and said to the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not you afraid of them: remember the LORD, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brothers, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.
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). They continued building, with half the men working on the wall and half standing guard, armed with spears to keep their enemies at bay (Nehemiah 4:16 Nehemiah 4:16And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants worked in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah.
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Confronting oppressors

You would think that now everything would go more smoothly. However, successive crises continued to befall the people. A famine had ravished the land, and many had gone in debt to feed their families. Now they cried out when they couldn't borrow any more. Their fields and homes were being confiscated, and their children were being sold as slaves (Nehemiah 5:4-5 Nehemiah 5:4-5 [4] There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king's tribute, and that on our lands and vineyards. [5] Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children as their children: and, see, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought to bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.
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The situation had become explosive. If Nehemiah mishandled the problem, the poorer people could likely revolt against the more wealthy and thus destroy their national unity and the rebuilding project. Nehemiah could have sided with the rich and influential and simply beat the people down by force of arms. But, since he truly feared God, he would not act this way.

Instead, here is what he did: "And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them. 'Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.' So I called a great assembly against them'" (Nehemiah 5:6-7 Nehemiah 5:6-7 [6] And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. [7] Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said to them, You exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them.
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"Then I said, 'What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury!'" (Nehemiah 5:9-10 Nehemiah 5:9-10 [9] Also I said, It is not good that you do: ought you not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? [10] I likewise, and my brothers, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury.
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). "So they said, 'We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say' . . . Then the people did according to this promise" (Nehemiah 5:12-13 Nehemiah 5:12-13 [12] Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as you say. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. [13] Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labor, that performes not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise.
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Again, Nehemiah led by his example. He was willing to freely lend to the poor, and he refused the taxes and foodstuffs that should have gone to him as governor. He even took it on himself to feed 150 of his countrymen (Nehemiah 5:17 Nehemiah 5:17Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came to us from among the heathen that are about us.
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). In other words, Nehemiah was in effect paying a great portion of these expenses out of his own pocket. No wonder he had the respect and inspired the cooperation of his charges. Meanwhile, work continued on the wall.

Nehemiah faces dirty-tricks campaign

Since a direct attack against Jerusalem was now virtually impossible, Nehemiah's adversaries decided to try to assassinate him. They invited him to peace talks on the border between Judah and Samaria. Nehemiah adroitly excused himself from attendance and wrote them: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?" (Nehemiah 6:3 Nehemiah 6:3And I sent messengers to them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?
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Foiled again, the enemy now tried to incriminate him in the eyes of the Persians, imputing rebellious motives for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 6:6-7 Nehemiah 6:6-7 [6] Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu said it, that you and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause you build the wall, that you may be their king, according to these words. [7] And you have also appointed prophets to preach of you at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.
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How did Nehemiah deal with this misinformation? Did he cringe in fear at the idea his king would demote him and would come to destroy Jerusalem? Did he try to work out a secret agreement with the enemy?

No. He simply prayed and acted. He denied the charges and trusted God to protect him. "Then I sent to [Sanballat] saying, 'No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.' For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, 'Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.' Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands" (Nehemiah 6:8-9 Nehemiah 6:8-9 [8] Then I sent to him, saying, There are no such things done as you say, but you feign them out of your own heart. [9] For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.
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Nehemiah's enemies were persistent. Since Nehemiah would not come to them, they decided to come to him. They now conspired to ruin his reputation. They apparently intended to trick him into committing a sacrilege through enticing him to enter the very temple of God.

But Nehemiah was on his toes. His intelligence agents had warned him of an informer in the Jews' midst. The double agent, Shemaiah, came to Nehemiah claiming that God had revealed to him an assassination attempt against Nehemiah and urged him to hide in the temple. Flight to the temple appeared to be a reasonable suggestion; the temple was the safest place in Jerusalem.

But Nehemiah, remembering the intelligence report and realizing Shemaiah was trying to set a trap, said, "Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!" (Nehemiah 6:11 Nehemiah 6:11And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.
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By showing fear in the face of danger, Nehemiah could have disheartened those who had been inspired by his valor. By entering the temple, Nehemiah would also have been disobeying God, because only the Levites were permitted by God's law to enter the temple.

Again Nehemiah prayed for protection from his enemies. "My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid" (Nehemiah 6:14 Nehemiah 6:14My God, think you on Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.
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A city reborn from devastation

Thanks to Nehemiah's courage, the work on the walls continued without delay. Incredibly, in less than two months the wall was repaired. "And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God" (Nehemiah 6:16 Nehemiah 6:16And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was worked of our God.
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Notice the humility and modesty of Nehemiah. He knew that God was in charge. God had enabled Nehemiah to complete this work, so he gave God all the glory. As a man of faith, he had done everything possible on his part and then had relied on God to do the rest.

Finally, after nearly 150 years, Jerusalem was a city again, well fortified and respected by surrounding nations. But Nehemiah's problems were not over. He had to deal with additional threatening letters from his enemies. Now, however, they could do little with the city so well protected.

Spiritual restoration and rejuvenation

Nehemiah also turned his attention to rebuilding the spiritual foundation of the city. "Then my God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the rulers, and the people, that they might be registered by genealogy . . . Altogether the whole congregation was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty . . . Some of the heads of the fathers' houses gave to the treasury of the work . . ." (Nehemiah 7:5 Nehemiah 7:5And my God put into my heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein,
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Nehemiah 7:66 Nehemiah 7:66The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and three score,
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; Nehemiah 7:71 Nehemiah 7:71And some of the chief of the fathers gave to the treasure of the work twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand and two hundred pound of silver.
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In this manner, Nehemiah set up the priests, gatekeepers, singers and other people inside Jerusalem, and he reestablished the tithe, which had been neglected, to sustain the priesthood.

With these people in place, the Jews celebrated the feasts of God under the spiritual guidance of Nehemiah and Ezra the scribe. Not only was the physical part of Jerusalem restored, but now came a spiritual restoration of the people, thanks largely to the example of Nehemiah and Ezra, who feared God and obeyed His laws.

Now there was respect again for God's laws and feasts. "So the whole congregation of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths [for the Feast of Tabernacles]; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was great gladness" (Nehemiah 8:17 Nehemiah 8:17And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
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As the Jews grew spiritually in God's sight by keeping His Feasts, they also grew in understanding of God's will. They saw more clearly their sins and neglect. They solemnly vowed to once again keep the Sabbath holy and not indulge in marriages with their pagan neighbors. They resolved to tithe faithfully.

They even signed an agreement "to walk in God's Law . . . and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes." They further promised to structure their society on the foundation of God's laws (Nehemiah 10:28-39 Nehemiah 10:28-39 [28] And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding; [29] They joined to their brothers, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes; [30] And that we would not give our daughters to the people of the land, not take their daughters for our sons: [31] And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt. [32] Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; [33] For the show bread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. [34] And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law: [35] And to bring the first fruits of our ground, and the first fruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the LORD: [36] Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, to the priests that minister in the house of our God: [37] And that we should bring the first fruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground to the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. [38] And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house. [39] For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, to the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.
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A leader who set the standard

Who was the first person to sign this pact before God? It was Nehemiah. He knew he should set the example and not be the last one in line (Nehemiah 10:1 Nehemiah 10:1Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah,
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This was such an important pact in the history of God's people that it inspired a lasting spiritual revolution. From that time, many of God's people would faithfully keep the Sabbath and the feasts, tithe and refrain from mingling with pagan nations.

That is why, nearly 400 years later, when Christ set up His Church, there existed Jews who were still keeping God's laws-even though the Jews had backslid many times in those four centuries.

The physical work of rebuilding the walls and restructuring their society was complete, but then came another formidable task: repopulating the city.

Nehemiah first named competent administrators to serve the city, then by lot chose some to move back into Jerusalem. One out of every 10 households gave up its comfortable home outside the city and came to live in Jerusalem. "And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem" (Nehemiah 11:2 Nehemiah 11:2And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.
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As the city was again filled with multitudes and additional building projects were well on their way, Nehemiah realized it was time for him to leave. Now he could go back to the king's side as his trusted cupbearer. Yet, as a good example and man of faith, he did not forget his people. He kept in touch.

The mice will play

As soon as he had left Jerusalem, however, a power struggle took place. As he learned later, the high priest, Eliashib, allowed one of Nehemiah's worst enemies and an ally of the Samaritans, Tobiah, to take up a privileged office in the temple precincts. Soon God's people were again neglecting His laws (Nehemiah 13:4 Nehemiah 13:4And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied to Tobiah:
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With this influence, the Jews began socializing again with the Samaritans. They quit tithing; they ignored the Sabbath. So Nehemiah made the difficult and frustrating journey back to Jerusalem.

"Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king, and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room.

"Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense. I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field. So I contended with the rulers, and said, 'Why is the house of God forsaken?' . . . Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse" (Nehemiah 13:6-12 Nehemiah 13:6-12 [6] But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I to the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: [7] And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. [8] And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber. [9] Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. [10] And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. [11] Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. [12] Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil to the treasuries.
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Why did Nehemiah so fervently and diligently serve God? Did he plan his actions so he could be seen of men? No. As Nehemiah explained in his prayer: "Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services!" (Nehemiah 13:14 Nehemiah 13:14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.
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When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he saw the people working on the Sabbath. "In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens . . . And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions" (Nehemiah 13:15 Nehemiah 13:15In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.
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Again he prayed and acted. He assigned guards to the wall to ensure that no one would work or do business on the Sabbath. He prayed, "Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy!" (Nehemiah 13:22 Nehemiah 13:22And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of your mercy.
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). Nehemiah well understood the principle, later expressed by James, that faith without accompanying works is useless: "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? . . . You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:22-24 James 2:22-24 [22] See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? [23] And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. [24] You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
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Solving one final problem

Nehemiah ends his incredible account by tackling one last problem, that of marriages between Jews and pagans, of the people of God socializing and marrying into families that worshiped false gods. His zeal as a right example of obedience to God never faltered. "So I contended with them . . ., saying, 'You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves . . . Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan . . .'" (Nehemiah 13:25 Nehemiah 13:25And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons, or for yourselves.
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; Nehemiah 13:30 Nehemiah 13:30Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;
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After a bountiful life filled with faith, Nehemiah ends his remarkable life story by asking God to do what all of us would surely ask for: "Remember me, O my God, for good."