The first thing we see in today’s reading is that the high priest and the other priests are leading by example. It was very important for the returned exiles to see their leaders working along side of them. You will notice there were eight working groups, the majority of them working on the wall near what was most important to them. So the high priest and the other priests were working on the northern wall around the temple. The sheep gate was where people brought in their sheep on their way to offer sacrifices at the temple. It is also the gate the priests would use to bring in the sheep for the daily morning and evening sacrifices. This gate was close to the temple.
The tower of the hundred may have referred to its height, 100 cubits. One cubit was eighteen inches. It could also refer to the number of steps there where to reach the top, or a reference to a military unit. Both this tower and the tower of Hananel were major military towers along the northern wall. They helped with the protection of the vulnerable north wall of the city. The fish gate was so named because this where the fish market was. People sold fish here from both the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. Tekoa was and is located about ten miles south of Jerusalem. Verses 6-8 describe work done on the walls and gates on the western side of Jerusalem. Even people who had wealth and people who had less physical jobs helped out with the wall rebuild. There was plenty for everyone to do. The old city gate was the entrance to the oldest part of Jerusalem. It sat on an eastern hill that ran north to the Temple Mount. Gibeon and Mizpah were about six miles north of Jerusalem. The broad wall was located in the newer, western section of the city.
Nehemiah wisely assigned people to work near their homes both to motivate them to do a good job and to reduce travel time. The tower of the ovens might have been used to bake bread or it may have been used to burnish pots, like a kiln. Verses 14-15 focus on the reconstruction of the southern tip of Jerusalem where the Kidron Valley and the Valley of Hinnom meet. And, the king’s garden was a lush area just east of the pool of Siloam. Some believe the pool of Siloam was another name for the kings pool. The rest of the verses in chapter three, 16-32, detail the rebuilding of the new eastern wall. The House of the Heros may well have been the housing unit for David’s mighty men, later serving as a barracks or armory. The tower that projects up from the king’s upper house and court of the guard might refer to a royal complex on the hill of Ophel, just south of the temple area. And the water gate led to the Gihon Spring, the main source of water for the city. It must have opened up into a large area because the reading of the law took place there.
The Persians had stationed Samaritan army officers in Jerusalem to keep peace. Now that the Jews were rebuilding Sanballat, the governor of Samaria was enraged. He mocked the Jews, calling them poor, feeble, and weak. His mockery has a bit of an element of truth. They returning Jews were for the most part not rich, powerful, or many in number. But what everyone forgot was that with the Lord God on their side, they would be invincible. Not only did Sanballat mock the Jews, he mocked their worship of the Lord. There may have been an increase of sacrifices because the Jews were rebuilding and with each section done they gave thanks to God. When the Babylonians set Jerusalem on fire, the fire burned the stones used in the city walls, most likely limestone. The heat from the fire had not only charred the stones but they may have begun to crumble and crack. People were using these stones to rebuild the wall. The reasons Sanballat and Tobiah opposed Nehemiah were not so much religious. They were political. The authority of the governor of Samaria was now threatened by the arrival of Nehemiah, the new governor of Judah. The Arabs, led by Geshem, were no doubt worried what Judah’s strengthening under Nehemiah would do to their lucrative trade enterprise. Nehemiah prayed intently for God to stop those who opposed God’s will. His practice was to cry out to God in times of need. The people worked hard and God enabled them to build rapidly. Finally they built the walls to half their height, probably 10-12 feet tall. Scholars estimate the original walls were 20-24 feet tall. Israel’s enemies were enraged by the speed at which the Jews were rebuilding. And what a daunting task this was. Israel’s enemies attacks were relentless, not so much physical but psychological. Eventually it began to affect morale. Their enemies were; Sanballat and the Assyrians from the north, Arabs from the south, Ammonites from the east and Ashdodites from the west. The workers were tired. There were enormous piles of rubble to move before they could even begin to build and they didn’t feel like there was enough help to do the work. They worked and lived in fear of enemy attack. It was no doubt exhausting. Nehemiah countered by positioning armed guard near the most vulnerable places in the wall. He also made sure that their opponents outside the wall could see the forces ready to defend the city. Their strongest motivation for hope came from Israel’s great and glorious God who had delivered His people from mighty nations before. They were also motivated to protect their own families and properties.
Nehemiah continued to give God the credit for keeping the people safe. God had frustrated their enemies through the prayers of the people, the 24 hour patrol, the open display of force, and the confidence in God’s protection. Through the trumpeter Nehemiah could sound the alarm to direct workers to any place more help was needed. And Nehemiah continued to remind the people that victory was certain if they trusted it the Lord.
As the Jews began to rebuild Nehemiah faced both internal and external opposition to all God was directing him to do. External opposition came from Israel’s enemies. They fiercely opposed the rebuilding of the wall and mocked Nehemiah’s leadership. To meet this opposition Nehemiah posted guards, prayed for God’s help, developed an early warning system, and kept working. Israel’s frustrated enemies made several attempts to disgrace or kill Nehemiah but he had the wisdom to avoid or frustrate their plots while also focusing on the tasks God had given him. Nehemiah also faced internal challenges. We will see that wealthy Jews were mistreating the poor by charging high interest. There were Jews who had married foreigners who worshiped other gods. Many were not tithing or keeping the Sabbath holy. Confronting these problems required a firm commitment to the principles explained in Scripture, boldness in insisting that people follow these divine instructions, and compassion in restoring people to fellowship after the confrontation. And he had to oppose the high priest who had allowed Tobiah to use one of the temple storerooms.
In each of these cases Nehemiah courageously followed the example of earlier leaders such as Moses who opposed the worship of the golden calf; Nathan who opposed king David’s sins; and Jehoshaphat who trusted God to defeat a much stronger enemy. Like these earlier men of God, Nehemiah took a stand for what was right instead of letting those for whom he was responsible go their own ways. He refused to be discouraged or intimidated by internal difficulties or external threats against him. Nehemiah consistently depended on God for wisdom and for blessing on his work. The struggles are not over for God’s people or their leaders. And that continues on even to today.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W