Nehemiah 3

Sunday Morning Bible Study

March 23, 2003

Building the walls

For a city to grow and thrive in the ancient world there was a need for protection.

Whether it was from thieves or an invading army, the chief method of protection was by building walls around your city.

King Cyrus made a decree in 538 BC for the Jews to return to their homeland, and by 535 BC a group of 50,000 Jews had returned.  They began by starting to rebuild the Temple, which would be complete in 515 BC.  Yet by 445 BC, Jerusalem was still not quite a safe place to live.  There were some buildings, but there was no wall around the city. 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]

It would be up to a man named Nehemiah (“Yahweh comforts”) to organize the people and in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, make the city a safe place to live. When we get to Nehemiah 3, we have a list of all the people who helped Nehemiah build the walls.

There’s a series of commercials on television by Wachovia Securities called “Uncommon Wisdom”.  In the ad, they show something like a person riding a bicycle and then ask, “What can we learn from handlebars …?”  Then the narrator goes on to apply some principles about riding a bike to living your life.

I’d like to ask the question, “What can we learn from building walls?”

:1 Then Eliashib the high priest …builded the sheep gate

the sheep gate – (gate #1). This was on the northern wall of the city, close to the Temple. It is thought that this was where the sacrificial animals were taken on their way to the Temple. See wall map

We’re going to get a description of how the wall will be built by starting at the north end of the wall and going counter-clockwise around the city.

There will be ten gates:

Sheep (vs. 1); Fish (vs. 3); Old (vs. 6); Valley (vs. 13); Dung (vs. 14); Fountain (vs. 15); Water (vs. 26); Horse (vs. 28); East (vs. 29); Miphkad (vs. 31)

:2 And next unto him builded the men of Jericho

Jericho[email protected] – “its moon” See map. There will be people from the various cities participating in the wall building project. It’s not just the people of Jerusalem that are building. Considering the fact that Jericho is best known for walls that fall down, it’s an amazing thing that Nehemiah lets them build!   J

:3 But the fish gate did the sons of Hassenaah build

the fish gate – (gate #2) located on the northern part of the wall, to the west of the Sheep Gate. This may have been where the people from Tyre brought their fish to sell (Neh. 13:6). See wall map

:5 Tekoites …

Tekoites[email protected]‘iy – “trumpet blast”. An inhabitant of the city of Tekoa. These people will build a couple of the sections of the wall. See map

:6 Moreover the old gate

the old gate – (gate #3) located on the northwest corner of the city. See wall map ; oldyashan – old, store, storage.  The gate was also called the “Jeshana Gate”

:7 Gibeon … Mizpah …

GibeonGib‘own – “hill city”. See map

MizpahMitspah – “watchtower”. See map

:8 …the goldsmiths…the apothecaries, and they fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall.

Some of the tradesmen helped build:

goldsmithstsaraph – to smelt, refine, test; smelter, refiner, goldsmith (participle)

apothecariesraqqach – ointment-maker, perfumer

broad wall – the western wall. This was the longest section of wall. See wall map

:10 Jedaiah …even over against his house

This guy built the part of the wall that was next to his house.

:11 the tower of the furnaces.

furnacestannuwr – furnace, oven, fire-pot, (portable) stove. Could be called the “tower of the ovens”, probably located near “baker’s street” (Jer. 37:21)

:12 he and his daughters.

A “father-daughter” kind of thing

:13 The valley gate repaired Hanun, and the inhabitants of Zanoah

the valley gate – Did the people who built this gate, like, come from a cool place, for sure! (gate #4) See wall map

ZanoahZanowach – “cast off” See map

:14 But the dung gate repaired Malchiah the son of Rechab, the ruler of part of Bethhaccerem

the dung gate – (gate #5) This was in the southern part of the wall. Trash and refuse were taken through this gate into the Valley of Hinnom where it was burnt. See wall map

RechabRekab – “rider”

BethhacceremBeyth hak-Kerem – “house of the vineyard”. See map

:15 But the gate of the fountain

the gate of the fountain – (gate #6) near the Pool of Siloam See wall map

:16 Bethzur…unto the house of the mighty.

BethzurBeyth Tsuwr – “house of the rock”. See map

of the mightygibbowr – strong, mighty.  This is the same word used to describe David’s “mighty men”. (NLT) the House of the Warriors.

:17 Hashabiah, the ruler of the half part of Keilah, in his part.

Keilah[email protected]‘iylah – “fortress”. See map

:26 unto the place over against the water gate

the water gate – (gate #7) Somehow this makes me think of Richard Nixon getting impeached.  See wall map

:28 From above the horse gate repaired the priests…

the horse gate – (gate #8) This was where a horse broke into the Democratic National headquarters … oops, wrong “gate”.  See wall map

:29 …the keeper of the east gate.

the east gate – (gate #9) See wall map

:31 …unto the place of the Nethinims…against the gate Miphkad

the place of the Nethinims – if the sheep gate (vs. 3:1, 32) is next to the Temple, then these guys lived near the Temple.  They were temple “servants”.

the gate MiphkadMiphqad – “command”; (gate #10) See wall map

It is thought that Jesus came either through this gate or the eastern gate on His triumphal entry (Mat. 21:10)

Building Lessons

Lesson #1

Walls of self-control

As we look at these lessons on “walls”, I think one way of putting these lessons into our lives is to think of the walls as being a picture of “self-control”
(Prov 25:28 KJV)  He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
(Prov 25:28 NLT)  A person without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls.
Charles H. Spurgeon said, “Learn to say no; it will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.”
In his book “Spiritual Leadership” (pg. 52), J. Oswald Sanders writes, “Before we can conquer the world, we must first conquer the self.”
Another wise person wrote, “Strength is the ability to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands--and then eat just one of the pieces.”
I find it fascinating that “self-control” is one of the “fruits” of the Holy Spirit, one of the things that the Holy Spirit produces in our lives. I find it fascinating that Nehemiah’s name just happens to mean “Yahweh Comforts”, and that the Holy Spirit is called the “Comforter” (John 14:16).

Lesson #2

Even if you don’t think you need walls, you do.

There will be another Jerusalem one day, the “New Jerusalem”.
It too will have walls that are high:

(Rev 21:12 KJV)  And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

Its walls also have foundations (Much attention was paid to digging and laying a strong foundation for the walls so that the enemy couldn’t tunnel under them):

(Rev 21:14 KJV)  And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Its walls also have gates (but it will have twelve instead of ten; (see also Is. 54:11-12)

(Rev 21:21 KJV) And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.

But why does the New Jerusalem need walls?  I’m not sure I have an answer to that question.  After all, everything that is evil and threatening will be in the Lake of Fire.  Why have walls?
Here’s my point:  None of us are as perfect as the New Jerusalem will be.  If the New Jerusalem needs walls, how much more do we need “walls”?
If you think you’ve gotten to the point in your life where you think that you are not tempted by much, I imagine you might be more vulnerable than you think.

Lesson #3

Building works better with humility

It appears that these “noble” men from Tekoa thought they were too good to be doing manual labor (vs. 5).  They appear to have been singled out because they did not help.
Yet the high priest helped. Nehemiah helped. You saw lots of groups of “rulers” building as well.
Maybe these guys were just too lazy.
Building for others requires humility because it requires that we take our eyes off of our own problems and reach out to help someone else. It requires humility to let others help you.

Lesson #4

Build walls to protect your home

Jedaiah (vs. 10) built “even over against his house”.  Azariah (vs. 23) built by his house.  The priests did the same (vs. 28)
Quite a few of the people were building the part of the wall next to their own house. I would imagine that this would have resulted in some pretty heavy-duty walls near where these people lived.
Parents – be sure you are doing what you should to protect your family from the enemy.  You can’t protect them from everything, but there are some things you can say “no” to.
One of the greatest things we can do for our kids is to help them learn self-discipline, learning to say “no” to their own selves. (Pro. 25:28)
(Prov 25:28 NLT)  A person without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls.

Lesson #5

Building requires help from your neighbors

Did you notice all the other cities that took part in rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls? (There were seven:  Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, Bethhaccerem, Bethzur, and Keilah)
The people of Jerusalem had a need that was bigger than they could handle alone.
The people that came from these cities had to leave the comforts of home for awhile in order to help out the people of Jerusalem.
The people of Jerusalem needed the help that others could give.
I think that sometimes self-control can be cultivated when I have people who will hold me accountable, people who will help.

Lesson #6

Take out the trash

Sometimes I wish there was a magic box that I could put all my junk into and it would instantly turn into treasures. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could put all your trash into a box and it would turn into pure gold?
An Amish boy and his father were visiting a mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his father, “What is this, Father?” The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don’t know what it is!” While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, as an old lady in a wheel chair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched small circles of lights with numbers above the walls light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful 24-year-old woman stepped out. The father said to his son, “Go get your mother!
There are no magic “gates” or “walls” when it comes to self-discipline.
Instead, there is a “dung gate” (vs. 14).  The dung gate was where you took the trash out. 
The dung gate was built by a very special man, Malchiah the son of Rechab.  The Rechabites were an amazing people who were known for their obedience to their fathers and the Lord (Jer. 35).  They had been promised to never lack descendants.  Malchiah’s presence shows us that God keeps His promises.
I don’t think God wants us holding on to trash.  I think He would prefer that we take it outside the city.
We need to turn from our sin. We need to confess our sin and ask for Jesus’ cleansing. We need to learn to take the “trash” out of our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Lesson #7

Victory in walls

Though there had been a “house of warriors” (vs. 16), the people had come to find they still had a great need for walls.
They say that the best defense is a good offense. But it’s not a matter of either/or in the Christian life. We need defenses AND offenses.
I’ve seen guys who get excited about following the Lord. They learn a few Bible verses and off they go witnessing out in the streets.
But I’ve seen some of these same guys who are strong “offensively” be very weak defensively. And without “walls” around their lives, they are attacked by the enemy.
(1 Cor 9:24-27 KJV) Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. {25} And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. {26} I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: {27} But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
(1 Cor 9:24-27 NLT) Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. {25} All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. {26} So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. {27} I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
castawayadokimos – not standing the test, that which does not prove itself such as it ought; unfit for, unproved
What does it mean to be a “castaway”?
I don’t think that Paul is talking about losing his salvation.
I think he’s talking about losing his usefulness before the Lord. Usefulness grows as I learn to cultivate “self-control”, strong walls.

Lesson #8


The High Priest’s example.
Eliashib‘Elyashiyb – “God restores”
Even though most of the priests built near their own houses, Eliashib let someone else build near his house.  He built somewhere else.
Where did Eliashib build?
He built the “sheep gate” (Neh. 3:1)

It reminds us of sacrifice

The “sheep gate” was where the sheep were brought in to be sacrificed in the Temple.

It reminds us of people.

God’s people are often called “sheep”. The high priest built the gate for the “sheep” to get to the Temple.

It reminds us of Jesus.

(John 10:7-10 KJV) Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. {8} All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. {9} I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. {10} The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Jesus is our Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14).  He made the way for us to go into heaven and God’s presence by being a sacrificial lamb and dying in our place.

Map of walls:


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