Nehemiah 4-5

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

March 26, 2003


The next couple of chapters deal with the continuing work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

Walls were an important aspect of a people’s prosperity.  It’s what kept the inhabitants safe.

As we’ve seen, prior to the walls being built, the people were going through a tough time:

Josephus records:

that the neighboring nations did a great deal of mischief to the Jews, while in the daytime they overran the country and pillaged it, and in the night did them mischief, insomuch that not a few were led away captive out of the country, and out of Jerusalem itself, and that the roads were in the daytime found full of dead men.[1]

The enemy doesn’t want the walls to be built.  If the walls are built, then the bullies can’t pick on the people whenever they want.

Something we considered last Sunday morning as a way of applying this notion of “building walls”:

(Prov 25:28 KJV)  He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

One way of applying the “wall” principles is to think about how self-control works in our lives to protect us from the evils of sin (which leaves our roads lined with “dead men”!)

The next few chapters are all about the things that keep us from building the walls.

Nehemiah 4

:1-6 Initial resistence/ridicule

:1 when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth

SanballatCanballat – “strength”; He is mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri as governor of Samaria

:3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.

TobiahTowbiyah – “Jehovah is good”; He was thought to have been an ex-slave, but now the governor of Ammon.



“You’re not doing something important”
One of the enemy’s lies
One of the ways that Satan will try to discourage us in our efforts to follow the Lord is to tell us that what we’re doing isn’t important.

:4-5 Hear, O our God…


Handle taunts with prayer

It may not be the “nicest” prayer, but Nehemiah is taking the problem and putting it into God’s hands.

:6 So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.

The wall is now half-way up.

:7-15 Threat of attack

:7 …heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth,

breachesparats – to break through or down or over, burst, breach. The “holes” in the walls.

The enemy is upset because once the walls are built, the city will be safe from their attacks.


The enemy doesn’t want you stronger

The enemy has one goal for you as a Christian – to make you stop being useful to the Lord.
He doesn’t want you building the walls of self-control in your life.
He wants you to stop hindering his work.
Body surfing – if you want to learn to body surf, you have to learn how to judge the wave, swim, and catch the wave.  But if you’re out of shape, you can get tired and just get tumbled in the wave.
God wants you riding the waves, not be smashed by them.

:9 Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.


Watch and pray

The disciples had a hard time in Gethsemane staying awake:
(Mat 26:40-41 KJV)  And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? {41} Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Nehemiah and the people are able to stay awake because they were aware of the dangerous situation they were in.

:10 And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed …

The people were discouraged with the possibility of a coming attack.

:11-12 And it came to pass, that when the Jews which dwelt by them came, they said unto us ten times, From all places whence ye shall return unto us they will be upon you.

(Neh 4:11-12 NLT) Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, "Before they know what's happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work." {12} The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, "They will come from all directions and attack us!"

They were afraid of a surprise attack from all directions at once.

:13 Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.

He stationed guards at the parts of the wall that were least built up, the “lower places”.

Homeland Security

:14 Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight


Encourage others

We are living in times that can be quite discouraging.  I’ve been wondering lately if just the constant barrage of news about terrorists and wars and such aren’t taking a toll on people emotionally.
We need to encourage one another.
(Heb 3:12-14 NASB)  Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. {13} But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. {14} For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end;

:16-23 Prepared for battle

:16 the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears…habergeons

habergeonsshiryown – body armour; perhaps a lance, javelin. NLT – “coats of mail”

Half of Nehemiah’s own guards work on the wall while the other half stand guard.

:17 every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.


Keep working, sword in hand

Nehemiah and the people didn’t stop when the threats came. They kept working.
As they worked, they had their weapons with them so they would be ready to defend their city if an attack came.
The people worked with a trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other.
We need to be equipped both for building and for battle.
(Eph 6:13-18 KJV)  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. {14} Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; {15} And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; {16} Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. {17} And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: {18} Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
With the war coverage on TV, some of the news channels have these little pictures they flash up with the latest info on weapons and gear.  I’m afraid that some of it looks like the stuff they do during football games as they analyze each team.  This isn’t a game.
We too have weapons to battle with. We need to make sure we’re equipped for tough days ahead.
The Sword –
It’s important to have a daily relationship with the Word.  It needs to be “in our hand” all the time.  In all the work we do.

:20 In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet…

The trumpet was to sound the alarm.

:22 Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem


We need each other

Nehemiah needed the workers and their servants to stay in town for protection.
We too need each other.  I need you.  We all need each other.
If you don’t feel too close to some of the people at church yet, that needs to change.  It isn’t easy.  Step out and talk.  Hang out at the end of the service.  Go out for coffee or ice-cream.

:23 So neither I, nor my brethren, 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.

I imagine things got pretty stinky.

I saw an interview on TV where they were interviewing a soldier about his chemical protection suit.  They talked about how the soldiers could stay inside the suit for twenty-four hours if need be.  The interviewer asked what the soldier did to go to the bathroom.  The answer:  They’d have to go in their suit.


Don’t stop until you’re done

In our own lives, we need to be careful that we don’t stop short of what God has for us to do.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that “the cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.”  He used the example of a mountain climber facing a climbing task that is very hard to do, but is also the safest thing to do.  If he bypasses it, hours later he will be in far worse danger.  He goes on to say,

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird:  it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.  We are like eggs at present.  And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.”

- Sheila Walsh, Honestly, pg.208

There may be things that God has called us to do in our lives, walls to build, habits to control.
It’s easy to quit trying.  God wants you to keep going until you finish.

Nehemiah 5

:1-5 Problems from within

The people were in poverty. There had been a famine. People had mortgaged their homes, even sold their children as slaves to pay their debts.

:6-13 Fixing the finances

:6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words.

I was very angrycharah – to be hot, furious, burn, become angry, be kindled


Angry leaders

There actually is a place for anger in a person’s life.
Anger should be at injustice and abuse that dishonors God and enslaves the weak.
Jesus was angry with the people who were taking advantage of the worshippers in the Temple by selling them sacrificial animals at high prices and exchanging money at high rates.

(John 2:13-17 KJV) And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, {14} And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: {15} And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; {16} And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. {17} And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.

He made a “scourge”, a whip to drive these people out of the Temple.

Later, we’ll see Nehemiah even plucking people’s hair out!

(Neh 13:25 KJV) And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

Anger can get you into trouble:

Two moose hunters from Texas are flown into a remote lake in Alaska. They have a good hunt, and both manage to get a large moose. When the plane returns to pick them up, the pilot looks at the animals and says, “This little plane won’t lift all of us, the equipment, and both of those animals. You’ll have to leave one. We’d never make it over the trees on the take off.” “That’s baloney”, says one of the hunters. “Yeah,” the other agrees, “you’re just chicken: we came out here last year and got two moose and that pilot had some guts: He wasn’t afraid to take off!” “Yeah”, said the first hunter, “and his plane wasn’t any bigger than yours!” The pilot got angry, and said, “If he did it, then I can do it. I can fly as well as anybody!” They loaded up, taxied at full throttle, and the plane almost made it, but didn’t have the lift to clear the trees at the end of the lake. It clipped the tops, then flipped, then broke up, scattering the baggage, animal carcasses, and passengers all through the brush. Still alive, but hurt and dazed, the pilot sat up, shook his head to clear it, and said, “Where are we?” One of the hunters rolled out from being thrown into a bush, looked around, and said, “I’d say about a hundred yards further than last year.”

Paul wrote,
(Eph 4:26-27 KJV) Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: {27} Neither give place to the devil.

Though it’s possible to be angry for the right reasons and not sin, too often our anger is just wrong.  It becomes a place for the devil to get a foothold in our lives.

Anger is wrong when I’m the cause of the anger.
From J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership (pgs. 69-70), anger becomes a problem when:

1.     To favor a resentment or feud, we imagine an injury done to us

2.     An injury done to us becomes, in our minds, greater than it really is

3.     Without real injury, we feel resentment on account of pain or inconvenience

4.     Indignation rises too high, and overwhelms our ability to restrain

5.     We gratify resentments by causing pain or harm out of revenge

6.     We are so perplexed and angry at sin in our own lives that we readily project anger at the sin we find in others

I’m considering that before someone is allowed into a leadership position over a ministry at the church, they have to pass a test: They have to have been at our church long enough to have become mad at me for something, gotten over it, and have continued in the church!

:7 Ye exact usury, every one of his brother

usurymashsha’ – lending on interest, usury

The Law of Moses says,

(Exo 22:25 KJV)  If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.

(Deu 23:19-20 KJV)  Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: {20} Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

The Jews were not allowed to lend money at interest to other Jews.
It’s not wrong to lend money, just to charge interest to those that are “brothers” and “poor”


Problems within

It’s tough to think that some of our most difficult times as Christians can come from other Christians, not the world.
We need to be encouraging each other to build, not destroy.

:8 We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen

Apparently Nehemiah had purchased some of the Jews who had been sold into slavery to non-Jewish people.

:11 Restore…their lands…also the hundredth part of the money

Nehemiah is asking the lenders to restore the property they foreclosed on, as well as all the interest they had charged.

hundredth – they were only charging 1% interest per month, or, 12% per year.

:13 Also I shook my lap

shook my lap – he shook out the fold in his robe

For Nehemiah, it was a gesture symbolizing complete rejection of any who might violate this agreement.

:14-19 Nehemiah’s innocence

:14 … that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor.

Nehemiah didn’t take a salary for acting as the role of governor.  No salary for 12 years.

[1]Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996, c1987). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Includes index. (Ant XI, v 6). Peabody: Hendrickson.