[The AMAIC may have cause later to question the actuality of the supposed Greek contemporaries of Nehemiah]
NEHEMIAH BUILDS THE WALL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
…. Nehemiah Builds the Wall. And let us turn now to Nehemiah, chapter 4, and we shall read together the first six verses. Nehemiah—1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, right in the middle of the Old Testament—the Book of Nehemiah, and we are going to read the first six verses. In the eighth chapter of this book, in the fifth verse it says, “When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up,” and that is what we do. All the people stood up in the presence of the Lord and His holy and heavenly Word. Nehemiah, chapter 4; we read out loud the first six verses. Now together:
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and he took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. And he spake before his brethren 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? 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. Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before Thee: for they have provoked Thee to anger before the builders. So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
Now, let’s read that last verse again, verse 6. Let’s read it out loud again, “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.”
Now, we’ll be seated. There are several most interesting things about this Book of Nehemiah and about the man who inspired it. First, he was a layman. He was not a professional religionist. He didn’t make his living by serving in the house of the Lord. He was a layman. He was the cupbearer of the king. We would say in our modern political nomenclature, he was the prime minister of the Persian Empire. He was a layman.
Another thing about him, he lived in an era of the greatest men who have ever existed in this earth. He was the prime minister under Artaxerxes Longimanus. Longimanus means “long hands.” Longimanus was born with a deformed right hand. And as the emperor and king of the Persian Empire, he was known as Longimanus. He reigned over forty years, and under him the Persian Empire reached its highest glory.
He lived in the era of the greatest men of the ancient Greek kingdom. In the days of Nehemiah, Pericles flourished in Athens. Their military leader and ruler and philosopher, Pericles was doubtless the greatest Greek who ever lived.
In the days of Nehemiah, Herodotus, the father of history, began to write. And Thucydides, the incomparable historian and Xenophon, who wrote the March of the Ten Thousand, all of them lived in the days of Nehemiah.
In the days of Nehemiah, Socrates was teaching Plato. In the days of Nehemiah, Aeschylus was writing his incomparable tragedies, and Aristophanes was writing his brilliant comedies. In the days of Nehemiah, Democritus was propounding his atomic theory of the nature of matter, of existence. You’d think he lived in this modern day, Democritus.
In the days of Nehemiah, Ezra the scribe and Malachi the prophet were flourishing. It was a marvelous era in the history of men. Nehemiah himself is one of the most unusual men to whom you could ever be introduced. He was a contrasting personality. He was as sensitive as a woman, and he was as iron in resolution as a prophet of God. When Hanani, his brother, came back from Judah and gave a report to Nehemiah, it says that Nehemiah prayed and wept from Chisleu, when Hanani came to Shushan, the summer palace of the Persian king, from Chisleu—that’s November, December—until Nisan. That’s in April. That’s how long this great man wept and prayed before the Lord [Nehemiah 1].
He did not say: “Don’t tell me of my people and don’t burden my heart with the tragedy of their captivity and servitude.” Rather, he opened his heart to their need and to their cry—the sensitivity of this layman to his people.
On the other hand, he was an iron resolute. He jeopardized his life in making an appeal for his people, but like Esther! “If I die, I die.” And when the king was moved by his request and appeal, he made tremendous preparations for the purpose to which he was dismissed for a while to go to Jerusalem in Judea.
When he arrived, when Nehemiah arrived, he saw the city in ruins. And the wall had lain in rubbish for one hundred and fifty years, as it had been torn down by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. And the people—the little struggling band that had returned from Babylon to Judea, the little struggling band that lived there were subject to raid, and pillage, and violence, and robbery by all of their hostile neighbors.
Nehemiah then dedicated himself to the building of the wall. And he accomplished it miraculously within fifty-two days. His dedication of the wall was, was wonderful. That’s when Ezra read the Bible, read the Book. “And when he opened the Book, when he opened the Book, all the people stood up” [Nehemiah 8:5].
It is wonderful to see people in a deeply reverent attitude toward the Word of God, not taking it flippantly or lightly or indifferently, but reverently and earnestly and prayerfully. “When Ezra opened the Book, all the people stood up.” And the record of their dedication is just simply, incomparably great. “And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out all the Levites in all of the places and brought them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, with thanksgiving, with singing, with cymbals, and psalteries and with harps” [Nehemiah 12:27].
Verse 35: “And the priests’ sons sounded the trumpets.”
Verse 36: “And they played with the musical instruments of David the man of God.”
So they stood there and gave thanks to the Lord, and the singers sang loud. “And they rejoiced for God had made them rejoice with great joy. The wives also and the children rejoiced so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off [Nehemiah 12:43]… For as in the days of David and Asaph of old, they were the singers. And songs of praise and thanksgiving, they offered unto the Lord” [Nehemiah 12:46].
Now, that’s what I like, too. It says here in the Bible: “And they sang loud!” I like that. When you sing, don’t sing apologetically, as though you wish you were hidden in a corner or something. Sing it out, my brother. Make it known. And when the trumpets play, play them. And when the trombones play, outshine the trumpets. Don’t let them give you a complex. And when these flutists flout, when the flutists play the flute—oh, it’s wonderful! I can’t tell you how I rejoice in you. A wonderful music program, that’s God.
Can you imagine what they sounded like? In the days of David, there were over four thousand Levites that sang. Think of it a choir of over four thousand singers and two hundred and ninety-seven instrumentalists, all of them playing to the ability of their souls and lives and love and glory to God. Well that’s the way they dedicated that wall.
The assignment that Nehemiah had, we also have. We have a building to receive from the hands of God and to prepare for the use of our young people. This is a providence and a gracious one of the Lord. On that corner, beyond the Plaza where Federal and Ervay streets come together, God hath given us a building that we are dedicating to our young people. It costs four million, six hundred thousand dollars. It costs one million dollars to remodel it for their use. And it will cost a hundred thousand dollars to furnish it.
Part of that we have already paid. We lack four million dollars, and in the precious providence of God, Mrs. Ruth Ray Hunt has given us two million dollars, half of it, and asked that all the rest of us match the two million dollars, dollar for dollar. For every dollar we give, she gives a dollar. This is our assignment; our building program in this moment and day of our blessedness and remembrance from God.
In the Arabian Nights, the wall rises by magic in one night. You’ll find nothing of that in the Bible. Nothing! When you read of the building of the wall in Nehemiah, it is in prayer and in dedicated labor, in whole-hearted devotion.
In prayer: when I look at the first chapter of Nehemiah, in verse 4: “I prayed before the God of heaven.”
In verse 6: twice it says that he prays.
In verse 11: three times he is described as praying.
In verse 4: “So I prayed to the God of heaven.”
In chapter 4:9 and chapter 11:17: he is bowed before God in prayer.
They did it in praying. First, he prayed; they prayed. Then when I turn to the third chapter of the Book of Nehemiah, they all shared in the labor, all of them. It starts off with the priests, with the pastors. They builded, and next under them builded; then, they and next under them repaired, and next under them repaired. Then next under them; and next under them; and next under them; and next under them; and next under them; and that entire third chapter—and it’s a long chapter with thirty-two verses—everyone of those verses begins with, “And next unto them repaired. And next unto them builded.”
They all shared in it; it was something in which each took a part, and each one builded over against his own house. And I can just hear the shout as they complete this section of the wall and the trumpet sounds and the people sing and rejoice; and then this one—and then that one and that one—until the whole sacred circle is complete. They prayed unto the God of heaven, and they poured their devoted labor into the task.