The story so far: Late in the previous fall, Nehemiah learns that Jerusalem is a wreck. He’s been living a fairly comfortable life in a fort that is part of the empire that conquered his people, many of whom have been living in exile for generations. He was deeply moved by the experience, but apparently did nothing for a number of months.
Then, one spring day, Nehemiah apparently had a rough morning, or night or weekend. Something set him off.
You see, he’d gotten some instructions from God, but had not followed them yet. His homework was overdue, and some morning he woke up and knew that TODAY WAS THE DAY.
Something happened in his life and it freaked him out badly. We don’t know what it was, but I think we all know the feeling of unfinished business coming back to haunt us.
His boss – the king – noticed something was up and asked about it. Nehemiah was on the spot, and frightened. (vv.1-2)
So he went for it (v.3)
The city where his ancestors were buried was in ruins, and its gates had been burned down. He told the king about it.
Against all odds, the king helped out. (vv.4-10)
This was probably regarded as miraculous.
A king had helped out before (Ez. 1:2-4), in a rather spectacular and even ostentatious way.
Yet still the city was in ruins. And this was almost a century later. A new approach was needed but again Nehemiah asked the king for help.
He did what he could with the hand he had been dealt by the Dealer. And – here’s the important part – he only had the barest outline of a plan. As we’ll see in a moment, he was really winging it.
Fortunately, he had a couple of things going for him: His request was relatively cheap and low-risk to the king, with a possibly excellent payback.
And God was there.
So Nehemiah set out with some “officers and horsemen” to help him bring news that someone had arrived with a Plan.
Things were going to change, suddenly. And powerful people felt threatened by this.
Once he got to Jerusalem, Nehemiah laid low for three days. He was in way over his head, but at least he had the presence of mind to feel out the lay of the land.
Having taken some time to assess things, the little entourage “slipped out during the night.” It was dangerous for them and they moved with utmost caution. (vv.12-15)
There could be no mistakes.
Then, Nehemiah basically proposes this so-crazy-it-might-work project in which everyone who still wanted to obey God – everyone – teams up in a decentralized adventure in community reorganization. It’s the closest the histories come to describing a real Jubilee – the commandment to essentially reset the economy every 50 years to prevent intergenerational concentration of wealth.
And what’s more, it started in a remnant, a ruin of a community.
It was a people without a Plan, and when a Plan arrived, they all knew it.
“Good, let’s rebuild the wall,” they said. (v18) Their enemies, Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem didn’t take it seriously at first. They had torn down the wall before (or maybe their grandfathers did), and they would tear it down again if the Jews managed to get it back up. Even so, they still showed up to scoff and discourage.
Nehemiah, however, was not to be discouraged. He was on a Mission from God, along with his fellow servants.