The Old Testament man of God called Nehemiah was a king’s cupbearer turned leader of Israel.
He is well-known and honored for his obedience to leave a very comfortable position serving king Artaxerxes to return to his people, the Israelites, to rebuild the walls and gates around Jerusalem. It was a daunting task, but Nehemiah continually spoke faith-filled words like, “The God of heaven will give us success.” The assignments were handed out and the walls were being rebuilt even through opposition.
But were the walls his most meaningful feat? I actually think there were others that were just as important – perhaps more important.
First, Nehemiah saw something amazing happen in Israel as they went to work on the walls together. In chapter nine we are told the Israelites, under Nehemiah’s lead, gathered together to fast and pray. The result? Repentance. They confessed their sin and the wickedness of their forefathers. Then in chapter ten, we are told what followed confession was a new-found desire to once again obey God’s commands. They took an oath to follow the Law of God, given to them by Moses.
Following this, the Israelites started tithing again, including a tithe of their crops and a tithe of the tithe to the treasury. They would stop neglecting the house of their God!
Finally, Nehemiah reestablished the Sabbath. With repentance, with obeying God’s commands through His Law and with tithing, Israel would also find rest in God’s Sabbath principles.
Nehemiah’s Initial response challenges me, “When I heard these things, I sat down and I wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4). Am I hearing God’s commands for me in the midst of my day? Am I willing to step out and obey? Am I willing to do something that others see as radical?
But perhaps most important for each of us, this story causes me to think that Nehemiah’s obedience and passion require a profound question: what breaks my heart; what am I weeping over?