Watching home improvement shows is one of my guilty pleasures. There is something addictive about seeing the process of transforming an aging, run-down structure into a beautifully-designed new living space. I’m always intrigued by how tradesmen and women plan, design and build their projects, confronting hurdles and solving problems along the way with creativity and skilled craftsmanship.
The “big reveal” at the end is always my favorite part. The” before” and “after” comparisons of the transformed house is just so gratifying to see, especially the joyful surprise and celebration of the homeowners as they encounter the transformed work. They cry, laugh, scream, hug, jump up and down, or just become speechless, expressing shock and delight at the conversion of their home; it’s always such a great moment.
The book of Nehemiah is all about rebuilding. It describes how Nehemiah the prophet interceded to help the Israelite people rebuild the ruined temple and city wall in Jerusalem, as they returned from exile in Babylon. Nehemiah was worried about how the city had no wall for protection; he was moved to intercede before God on behalf of the people. He prayed fervently and passionately, and God did intervene mightily. Although there were challenges, opposition and sabotage, the project was accomplished in record time and the people became re-committed to serving God.
I love how Nehemiah prayed. He was so moved with passionate concern for the people that he “wept and mourned for days” and “continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). Doesn’t this remind us of Jesus, who pleads with God on our behalf? Hebrews tells us, “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Although Christ’s salvation work was finished at the cross, he is still now interceding on our behalf.
Because God placed a calling upon his heart, Nehemiah intervened with compassionate prayer, but he also offered practical help, leadership and generosity. He exhorted the workers to recommit and make a new covenant with God. He cautioned them to guard themselves in their laboring as they faced opposition and danger: “Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other” (Nehemiah 4:17).
This calls to mind how scripture exhorts us to be prepared for battle: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).
Our spiritual walk parallels the rebuilding of the temple: we are laboring in the important work of building the Kingdom. The work is difficult, costly, full of unexpected challenges which keep us on our toes. We need to be constantly vigilant in prayer, constantly seeking after God’s will and coming to Him for strength and provision, and constantly in the Word.
Nehemiah’s desire was to glorify and honor God and lead the Israelites in obedience and reconciliation. He helped them to respect and understand the scriptures, just as we are exhorted to meditate on God’s word daily, relying on it for spiritual truth. Nehemiah and Ezra led the Israelites to read and understand scripture, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). We learn that the scriptures were read for hours, “from early morning until midday,” and that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Nehemiah 8:3). We get the sense that good comprehension was emphasized by the teachers, and that the Israelites were attentive and sincere in their desire to receive understanding.
As the Israelites heard God’s word, confessed their sins and repented, a great revival took place. As they read and understood the scriptures, they wept, perhaps from confronting the full weight of their sin and disobedience. Perhaps in comprehending God’s law, yielding and humbly confessing the depth of their sin, they became aware of just how unworthy and undeserving they were of God’s mercy and grace.
From MacLaren’s Expositions commentary: “This scene was in the truest sense a ‘revival.’ We may learn the true way of bringing men back to God; namely, the faithful exposition and enforcement of God’s will and word. We may learn, too, what should be the aim of public teachers of religion; namely, first and foremost, the clear setting forth of God’s truth. Their first business is to ‘give the sense, so that they understand the reading’; and that, not for merely intellectual purposes, but that, like the crowd outside the water-gate on that hot noonday, men may be moved to penitence, and then lifted to the joy of the Lord.”
At first the Israelites cried and mourned in despair, conscious of their sin and disobedience. But Nehemiah encouraged them to celebrate, declaring, “For this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). When they comprehended God’s mercy and grace, “all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Nehemiah 8:12).
They had a “big reveal” moment! They realized the prior poor condition of their faith, while recognizing how much God had done to deliver them. They realized where God had brought them vs where they had been. They didn’t just redecorate or move their dwelling places, they fixed and rebuilt a new, firm foundation and were transformed. And they celebrated! As we labor in our work for the Kingdom of God, may we never stop celebrating the joy of the Lord, which is our strength.
For more, you may enjoy listening to our Bible study on the book of Nehemiah. Tune in to your favorite radio station, listen to our podcast on iTunes, or listen through TuneIn or Stitcher online radio. You can also listen on our website where you will find the study guide available for download too.
Alysa DiVirgilio is a blog contributor and board member at Study With Friends Ministries. She is married with three children.