The book of Nehemiah is a wonderful story that not only informs us of key developments in the history of Israel (namely the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem) but also contains many valuable insights for building up the church of Jesus Christ. While more could be said, we will look briefly at three of these insights.
1. Prayer and the ministry of the Word play a central role in the book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah is a man of prayer who leads the people of Israel into prayer. When Nehemiah learns that the city of Jerusalem is in a state of great “trouble and shame,” he immediately responds with an extended season of fervent prayer and fasting (Neh. 1:3). His prayer in chapter 1 is marked by praise to God, confession of sin, and petition for God’s help. As the book progresses, we see that Nehemiah’s initial prayer is not a one-time event, but a way of life. When Nehemiah faces hard questions, he prays (Neh. 2:4). When he faces opposition to the work of rebuilding the wall, he prays and calls the people to join him in prayer (Neh. 4:9). When the wall is completed, Nehemiah leads the people in worship and corporate prayer, with another extended prayer of praise, confession, and petition recorded in chapter 9.
Along with this emphasis on prayer, the book also emphasizes the ministry of the Word. Nehemiah establishes a public ministry of the Word, where the people stand for hours while the Word is read, and teachers go among the people to “give the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). This reading and preaching of the Word leads to renewal in worship, corporate prayer and confession, and the renewal of covenant vows to serve the Lord (Neh. 8–10). The book is as much about spiritually building up the people of God through Word and prayer as the physical rebuilding of the wall.
2. In the book of Nehemiah, the people of God come together as a unified body in the face of many pressures that threaten to tear them apart.
Chapter 3 provides a wonderful account of the various individuals and family groups that worked to rebuild the wall. The list includes Levites, priests, and lay people, rulers of regions and common families. It includes men and women. It includes people who labored and built near their own homes as well as people who came from other regions. People took on needed tasks, everyone worked together, and everyone worked hard. This is a beautiful picture of how the body of Christ should function, with each part making their sacrificial contribution to the good of the whole.
This unity took place in the midst of manifold challenges. There were blatant threats of violence from outsiders who did not want Jerusalem to flourish. There was governmental bureaucracy that had to be overcome. There was internal dissention that resulted from the people of God mistreating and taking advantage of one another. And there were various plots targeting Nehemiah himself. The book of Nehemiah is a great reminder of the kinds of internal trials and external persecutions that the church faces as we give ourselves to the work of God, but it is also a compelling picture of how the people of God can come together and serve alongside one another in unity, with each part contributing to the whole for the glory of God.
3. Nehemiah points us to Jesus Christ and our need for His saving work.
Nehemiah points us to Christ in two ways. First, the positive elements of Nehemiah’s leadership instruct us in the kind of leader we all need. Throughout the book, Nehemiah demonstrates dependence on God and dedication to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Nehemiah is wise, humble, hardworking, generous, and committed to the holiness of the people of God. In all these ways he is a “type” of Christ, showing us the kind of leader we all need and ultimately find in Jesus Christ.
In his failures, Nehemiah also points us to Christ. Nehemiah’s failures are not specific examples of personal sin, but rather involve his inability to bring about true and lasting reform in the lives of God’s people. The book concludes with a strange and rather anticlimactic ending: despite all of Nehemiah’s best efforts, the people return to old sin patterns and violate their covenant vows. Nehemiah makes final efforts at reform and appeals for God to remember him. It seems like the people of God are prone to forget and fall back into sin. In all of this, we are reminded that as great as Nehemiah was as a leader and governor of the people, we need someone who is even greater. We need a leader, savior, and ruler who can not only bring about external rebuilding and reform, but who can also give us new hearts.
This book leaves us longing for such a One. And that One is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Through His life, death, resurrection, and the gift of His Spirit, Jesus regenerates and renews the whole person. The good work that He has begun, He will surely see through to completion (see Phil. 1:6). The book of Nehemiah ultimately shows us our need for this Jesus and wisely instructs us how to live as followers of Christ.
This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.