Rebuilding from Tragedy

Nehemiah 1-4

Sunday Morning Bible Study

September 23, 2001


Nehemiah was a man who lived in the capital city of Persia, Shushan. He was an influential man who held the position as “cupbearer” to king Artaxerxes of Persia. The cupbearer was the servant who tasted the food and drink for the king to make sure it wasn’t poisoned, but the cupbearer was also a trusted friend and counselor for a king, a man of influence.

Nehemiah lived in the time at the end of the Babylonian captivity. God had warned the nation of Israel through Moses in 1400 BC that if the nation rebelled against God, there might be a day when they would be scattered throughout the nations of the world. The day where God’s patience finally ran out was in 586 BC, and the nation was taken captive to Babylon, and the city of Jerusalem was leveled. Nehemiah lived at the end of this captivity, after the nation of Israel had been away from their land for seventy years.

I think that God has some pretty important things to say to us from the book of Nehemiah, both as Americans, as well as individuals.

Chapter 1

:1-4 Nehemiah mourns

Some of us have had a hard time not getting emotional and caught up in the things that have happened to our nation. That’s the way it ought to be. We ought to be sad.

But Nehemiah is going to let his sadness motivate him to take action.


God can use sorrow

When Paul was aware of some problems in the church at Corinth, he wrote a letter and said some pretty tough things. His letter caused great sorrow in the church. After finding out what his letter had accomplished, he wrote to the Corinthians a second time –
(2 Cor 7:8-11 NLT) I am no longer sorry that I sent that letter to you, though I was sorry for a time, for I know that it was painful to you for a little while. {9} Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to have remorse and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. {10} For God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation. We will never regret that kind of sorrow. But sorrow without repentance is the kind that results in death. {11} Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish the wrongdoer. You showed that you have done everything you could to make things right.

Sadness and sorrow can be good if they motivate us to action. But sorrow without action helps no one.

:5-11 Nehemiah’s confession of sin


Healing starts with confession

Nehemiah recognized that the predicament of his nation was due to the spiritual mess that Israel was in.
For years our nation has been on a slippery slope of immorality. I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a sense that God had in some way for a few hours last week lifted His hand of protection from us to wake us up. That isn’t a very pleasant or politically correct thing to think, but I think we owe it to our nation to consider it.
As Americans, we all own some of the responsibility of the moral mess our nation is in right now.
Nehemiah doesn’t say, “You wicked people, look at the mess you created!”

Our nation doesn’t need wild-eyed finger pointers, it needs men and women on their knees weeping over our condition.

Nehemiah says,

(Neh 1:6 KJV) … we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.

The Bible says,

(2 Chr 7:14 KJV) If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

As an individual, if you choose to ignore the problems in your life, you’ll stay stuck right where you are.
For us as individuals, God says,

(1 John 1:9 KJV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Jesus Christ came two thousand years ago with one thing in mind, to die on a cross and pay for our sins. Because He died in my place and paid for my sins, I can receive God’s forgiveness. But in order to taste God’s forgiveness, I have to admit that I have sinned and that I need God’s help.

Chapter 2

:1-8 Nehemiah decides to go (read vs. 1-6)


God may want to use you

Some of you may go to New York and work. Some may join the military. For some, the greatest work that needs to be done is right here.
In your own individual life, there may be a time when God wants you to step out and do something about your situation. Some of us tend to just let everything happen to us and we don’t take the initiative to be responsible and take action.
Does God want to use you? I think He does.

:9-20 Nehemiah inspects the city (read vs.11-18)


See what needs to be done

Take time to understand what needs to be done before you jump in. So often we jump into things too quickly without really getting a grasp of what ought to be done.
Sometimes I want to go off to the far reaches of the world, when the place I’m needed most is right at home.


Encourage others

Nehemiah’s heart is for building up, not tearing down.
Even though their enemies laughed, Nehemiah’s words encouraged the people of Jerusalem and they responded by joining him to build.

Chapter 3

:1-32 The wall builders  (summarize)

We won’t read it, but Nehemiah lists here which family and which group built which part of the wall. As you look at the chapter carefully, you find that for the most part, everyone built near their own house.

Everyone does their part, everyone builds a part of the wall by their house


Find your place

Find your place to build. Find your place in the church. We’re having our “Elders’ Potlucks” tonight. This would be a great chance to get to know some other people in the church. This would be a great time to take a step towards finding your place on the wall.

Chapter 4

:1-11 The enemy responds (read vs. 7-11)

When the Jews’ main enemies found out that they were determined to put up the wall and create a safe city, they began to plot, threaten, mock, and terrorize the people.


There may be more terror

I hope we haven’t allowed ourselves the false sense of security in thinking that there will be no more attacks. When the tragedy is all the way on the East Coast, and it has been over a week and a half, after awhile it seems so distant, so far away. We hear of all the increased security and we can get this wishful thought that it will never happen again.
I’m afraid that our world has changed. There will be more “Sanballats”, “Tobiahs”, and “Osama bin Ladens”. And they will do their best to strike fear and terror in our hearts and cause us to stop.
In our own personal lives, beyond the terrorists, Satan will try to keep you subdued by fear.

How does Nehemiah handle the terrorism?

He prays

(Neh 4:4 KJV) Hear, O our God; for we are despised …
(Neh 4:9 KJV) Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.


Handle fear with prayer

If you haven’t noticed yet, Nehemiah is a man of prayer. All through the book you read how Nehemiah handles each situation by first praying, then acting.
David wrote,
(Psa 34:4 KJV) I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Pray as Nehemiah prayed – tell God about the problems, ask God to work specifically in the things that make you afraid, pray with others.
DO IT AGAIN, LORD by Max Lucado © September 15, 2001
(Sent to me by our friend in Peru, John Bonner)
Dear Lord,
We’re still hoping we’ll wake up. We’re still hoping we’ll open a sleepy eye and think, “What a horrible dream.” But we won’t, will we, Father? What we saw was not a dream. Planes did gouge towers. Flames did consume our fortress. People did perish. It was no dream and, dear Father, we are sad. There is a ballet dancer who will no longer dance and a doctor who will no longer heal. A church has lost her priest, a classroom is minus a teacher. Cora ran a food pantry. Paige was a counselor and Dana, dearest Father, Dana was only three years old. (Who held her in those final moments?) We are sad, Father. For as the innocent are buried, our innocence is buried as well. We thought we were safe. Perhaps we should have known better. But we didn’t. And so we come to you. We don’t ask you for help; we beg you for it. We don’t request it; we implore it. We know what you can do. We’ve read the accounts. We’ve pondered the stories and now we plead, “Do it again,Lord. Do it again.” Remember Joseph? You rescued him from the pit. You can do the same for us. Do it again, Lord. Remember the Hebrews in Egypt? You protected their children from the angel of death. We have children too, Lord. Do it again. And Sarah? Remember her prayers? You heard them. Joshua? Remember his fears? You inspired him. The women at the tomb? You resurrected their hope. The doubts of Thomas? You took them away. Do it again, Lord. Do it again. You changed Daniel from a captive into a king’s counselor. You took Peter the fisherman and made him Peter an apostle. Because of you, David went from leading sheep to leading armies. Do it again, Lord, for we need counselors today, Lord. We need apostles. We need leaders. Do it again, dear Lord. Most of all, do again what you did at Calvary. What we saw here last Tuesday, you saw there that Friday. Innocence slaughtered. Goodness murdered. Mothers weeping. Evil dancing. Just as the smoke eclipsed our morning, so the darkness fell on your Son. Just as our towers were shattered, the very Tower of Eternity was pierced. And by dusk, heaven’s sweetest song was silent, buried behind a rock. But you did not waver, O Lord. You did not waver. After three days in a dark hole, you rolled the rock and rumbled the earth and turned the darkest Friday into the brightest Sunday. Do it again, Lord. Grant us a September Easter. We thank you, dear Father, for these hours of unity. Christians are praying with Jews. Republicans are standing with Democrats. Skin colors have been covered by the ash of burning buildings. We thank you for these hours of unity. And we thank you for these hours of prayer. The Enemy sought to bring us to our knees and succeeded. He had no idea, however, that we would kneel before you. And he has no idea what you can do. Let your mercy be upon our President, Vice President, and their families. Grant to those who lead us wisdom beyond their years and experience. Have mercy upon the souls who have departed and the wounded who remain. Give us grace that we might forgive and faith that we might believe. And look kindly upon your church. For two thousand years you’ve used her to heal a hurting world. Do it again,Lord.Do it again. Through Christ, Amen.

:12-23 The work continues (read vs. 15-18)


Keep working, sword in hand

(Neh 4:15 KJV) …we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.
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.
I think for us as Christians, we need to have the tools for our work in one hand, and OUR SWORD in the other, the Word of God.
It’s in God’s Word that we will find strength and comfort.
(Psa 119:28 KJV) My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.
(Psa 119:50 KJV) This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.
(Psa 119:92 KJV) Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.


Work together

Nehemiah wasn’t alone in the work. The entire city worked together to rebuild.
The following is from a letter by a professional businesswoman and her return flight to D.C. on United Airlines after the terrorist attack of 9/11/01 -
"I just wanted to drop you all a note and let you know that I arrived safe and sound into Dulles Airport tonight [9/15] at about 6:00. It was an interesting flight.
The airport in Denver was almost spooky, it was so empty and quiet. No one was in line for the security check point when I got there so that went fairly quickly, just x-ray of my bags and then a chemical test to be sure nothing explosive was on them. Then I waited 2 1/2 hours to board the plane. What happened after we boarded was interesting and thought I would share it with you.
The pilot/captain came on the loudspeaker after the doors were closed. His speech went like this:
"First I want to thank you for being brave enough to fly today. The doors are now closed and we have no help from the outside for any problems that might occur inside this plane. As you could tell when you checked in, the government has made some changes to increase security in the airports. They have not, however, made any rules about what happens after those doors close. Until they do that, we have made our own rules and I want to share them with you.
Once those doors close, we only have each other. The security has taken care of a threat like guns with all of the increased scanning, etc. Then we have the supposed bomb. If you have a bomb, there is no need to tell me about it, or anyone else on this plane; you are already in control. So, for this flight, there are no bombs that exist on this plane.
Now, the threats that are left are things like plastics, wood, knives, and other weapons that can be made or things like that which can be used as weapons.
Here is our plan and our rules. If someone or several people stand up and say they are hijacking this plane, I want you all to stand up together. Then take whatever you have available to you and throw it at them. Throw it at their faces and heads so they will have to raise their hands to protect themselves.
The very best protection you have against knives are the pillows and blankets. Whoever is close to these people should then try to get a blanket over their head -- then they won't be able to see. Once that is done, get them down and keep them there. Do not let them up. I will then land the plane at the closest place and we WILL take care of them. After all, there are usually only a few of them and we are 200+ strong! We will not allow them to take over this plane.
I find it interesting that the US Constitution begins with the words "We, the people" -- that's who we are, THE people and we will not be defeated."
With that, the passengers on the plane all began to applaud, people had tears in their eyes, and we began the trip toward the runway.
The flight attendant then began the safety speech. One of the things she said is that we are all so busy and live our lives at such a fast pace. She asked that everyone turn to their neighbors on either side and introduce themselves, tell each other something about your families and children, show pictures, whatever. She said "for today, we consider you family. We will treat you as such and ask that you do the same with us."
Throughout the flight we learned that for the crew, this was their first flight since Tuesday's tragedies. It was a day that everyone leaned on each other and together everyone was stronger than any one person alone. It was quite an experience.
You can imagine the feeling when that plane touched down at Dulles and we heard "welcome to Washington Dulles Airport, where the local time is 5:40". Again, the cabin was filled with applause.

- This is apparently a true account, confirmed at

As a church, we need to work together. We also need to be healthy members of our society, to be a part of the healing that God wants for our nation. We need to work with others, we need to work together.

Did Nehemiah ever make it? Did he ever finish the wall?

Chapter 6

(Neh 6:15-16 KJV) So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. {16} And 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 wrought of our God.


Don’t stop until you’re done

We need to be a part of encouraging our nation to keep at the efforts ahead of us until we finish the job. As the President has reminded us, things are not going to be fixed overnight.
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