Nehemiah—Leader of Wall-builders


(This article is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, and was initially posted on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.  It was also published in the Acton Institute blog, the 4Word Women blog, the Coram Deo blog, and the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University blog.)

In addition to Joseph and the Spirit-filled tabernacle construction workers that I discussed earlier in separate articles on my blog, there is another key narrative in the OT that highlights the deliberate biblical connection between God’s presence and human work, which I call Immanuel labor.  Seeing this theme repeated throughout the Bible helps us to understand the theology of work, how God works through His people as His coworkers to accomplish His purposes.

Stevens reminds us, “Nehemiah was like Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai, worshipers of Yahweh who were placed in extraordinary positions of trust by pagan rulers.”  As a federal government worker, I can relate to the privilege one is granted in a position of trust.

Nehemiah 3–6 describes how the Israelites returned from exile and rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s inspired leadership.  A few things are worth noting here.

First, Nehemiah makes it clear that this project was a unified effort between Yahweh and His people.  We observe that the people worked with all their heart (Neh. 4:6), demonstrating what the apostle Paul would later command to the NT church in Col. 3:23.

If we examine the literary context a little closer, we can see that Yahweh had already worked in their hearts. Nehemiah’s heart was broken when he first heard that the wall was broken down (Neh. 1:3–4).  On his initial secret reconnaissance of the wall, he went out at night with a few others and said that he did not reveal “what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem” (Neh. 2:12).  God had initiated the work in the hearts of His people internally so that they could work with all their hearts externally.  He still works that way with us, doesn’t He?

Second, in Neh. 4:9, we read that they prayed to God and posted guards.  This illustrates the partnership between God and man as they work side-by-side that we see in Ps. 127:1, which says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”  God does build, but He needs builders.  The Lord does watch over the city, but He still needs watchmen.  Both are necessary, and work as a team.

Before they even began, they totally depended on God’s protection.  They believed, as Nehemiah did, that God’s hand was upon them (Neh. 2:8, 18).  The people merely continued the prayer that Nehemiah had offered earlier (Neh. 1:5–11).  Then they went to work, half of them performing guard duty and the other half doing the construction (Neh. 4:16, 21).  God’s presence enabled them to be coworkers with Him, which brought them success in rebuilding the wall despite heavy opposition from the enemy to destroy, distract, and discourage God’s people from the project.

Third, God’s hand of protection and strength that Nehemiah and his team of wall-builders depended on daily enabled them to complete the job in record time despite the spiritual warfare.  Nehemiah had boldly stated to those opposed to the project at the beginning, “The God of heaven will give us success” (Neh. 2:20).  Moreover, Nehemiah encouraged his workers to remember the Lord’s great and awesome power (Neh. 4:14).  Yahweh actively frustrated the plans of the enemy (Neh. 4:15), demonstrating once again that He was working with them as they worked for Him.

Beckett zeroes in on what is probably the main point of this amazing story.  “When the final stone was set in place a remarkable reaction occurred: ‘When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God’ (Nehemiah 6:16).”  God and His faithful coworkers worked together on this wall.  Everyone who was involved on the inside and all those who watched it from the outside knew without a doubt that this was a divine-human effort.

Regarding this narrative, Stevens offers us some personal application as he instructs, “We are providentially placed by God in situations where we can make a difference, whether these differences are small or great.  God enlists each of us in a compelling project from which we must not be diverted. ‘I am carrying on a great project,’ was Nehemiah’s perspective.”  (See Neh. 6:3.)  In his faith-filled heart and scripture-informed mind, Nehemiah was not just called to replace stones in a broken wall.  He was restoring a kingdom for God’s glory!

When we as children of God, do God’s work through the redeeming work of Jesus and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we are doing the same kind of holy work that Nehemiah did.  We are expanding the reign of the King who owns it all.  (See Ps. 24:1.)  Beckett echoes this truth. “If what you and I are doing is God’s will, it qualifies as a ‘great work,’ whether it is cooking dinner for the kids or designing a bridge to span the Amazon River.”

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

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