One of the great highlights amongst young peopleʼs circles is the Youth Conference which occurs every two years and attracts young people from all over Australia and New Zealand. This year the conference was held in Adelaide on the subject of the book of Nehemiah to the theme “Remember me, O my God, for good”.

To commemorate this study, our feature articles this issue deal with the first five chapters of the book of Nehemiah and take a quick glance at this remarkable time of turmoil and restoration.

The times of Nehemiah form the final phase of open vision in the Old Testament. Beyond this period lies approximately 400 years of prophetic silence. Daniel had been told earlier that the building of the wall of Jerusalem, even though it was an essential link in the appearance of Messiah some 430 years later, would occur in troublous times (Dan 9:24,25). And it was Nehemiah who took on this challenge voluntarily, knowing the difficulties that lay before him.

Building is always difficult work and can only successfully be achieved when it is undertaken in Godʼs strength. Planning, scheduling, arranging, encouraging are all important factors in progressing the work of God in ecclesial life today. But they are only part of the consideration. They must be directed with a high degree of brotherliness and spirituality. When Biblical principles are left out of the equation, the labour is undertaken in vain.

Nehemiah seems to have this wonderful ability to be able to merge godliness with leadership. He is a man of prayer (2:4), a man of indefatigable energy (4:23), a man of generosity 5:16,17) and a man of no nonsense (4:9) all rolled into one. He is able to discern the enemy within as well as the foe without and deal with both effectively. He is angry when he sees his poorer brethren oppressed by wealthy brethren. He is able to ʻfrog-marchʼ Eliashib out of the Temple chambers, yet he defers to Ezraʼs presence in leading the nation in exposition and renewal. When he relieves the oppressed, the people respond by praising God (5:13)—a clear indication that he is able to subsume his personal characteristics in favour of portraying Godʼs.

There was something about this man that inspired confidence. He arrived with little fanfare and secretly inspected the walls. To paraphrase the prophet, he did not “cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street” (Isa 42:2). In Nehemiah 2:17 he described in very few words the plight of the city, encouraged them to build the walls and then spoke of the providence of Godʼs hand upon him. The effect was electrifying. They responded, “Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for good” (v18).

The Divine narrative is unadorned and ingenuous. Nehemiahʼs appeal must have been stirring, reaching deep into their hearts and overturning years of inactivity in a few moments. His powers of persuasion must have been extraordinary. By appealing to the powerful example of personal providence he turned Godʼs people around in a moment.

And note, too, that the record didnʼt say, “he strengthened their hands”; it said, “they strengthened their hands”. He was able to inspire them with such vigour that they continued to engender amongst themselves a self-generating zeal that carried them to the wall with renewed enthusiasm.

If only we could be stirred to consider the hand of God personally moving in our own lives and generate that same kind of zeal and eagerness.

Those walls and gates were more than just bricks and mortar. They represented something far more important. In Isaiah 26:1–4 walls are a symbol of salvation and those who enter these gates are those who seek after God and find peace and security by being able to trust in His power. As the people laboured to build the walls and gates, they were typical of all those who labour to enter into rest through the door of faith (Heb 4:11, Acts 14:27).

Viewing the work of the people in this light expands the perspective of the book considerably. In Nehemiah 3 we constantly read these two phrases : “next unto him repaired …” and “after him repaired …”. The word for “repair” is hazaq which means “to strengthen”. It was achieved in two ways: by fellowship and co-operation with the group next to them and by following the example of others after them. What a wonderful source of encouragement in the midst of so many problems. Our enthusiasm can radiate in so many different ways if we allow our personal example to shine forth in commitment and fervour for the things of God.

The work was temporary because they were most likely aware of Danielʼs predictions of the overthrow of the city under the little horn of the goat. Nevertheless Nehemiah had classified their labour as a work of God (3:5). Some might have seen it as a day of small things, but to Nehemiah it was a significant part of labouring for God. We have to make sure that we understand the true significance of our labours in ecclesial life. It is not a vain thing that we are involved in—it is the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:58, 16:10) and as such we ought to take such activity seriously.

May God remember us for good when He sends His Son again “to render to every man according to his deeds”. Let us “by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality” (Rom 2:6,7), “being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:6).