Have you ever read a story where the main character seemed so real that you feel like you know them personally even though they’ve been dead for a couple thousand years? That’s the way it was with me when I started reading the book of Nehemiah in the Bible. I love this guy. I can’t wait to meet him in person. Until then, here’s 10 things I love about Nehemiah:
- Nehemiah is a man of prayer. Half of the book of Nehemiah is written in a first person narrative style. I felt like I was getting a peek into Nehemiah’s personal journal. I noticed right away that his story is punctuated with prayer. Nehemiah not only tells what is going on but just stops the narrative to pray. Prayer is a vital part of his story, like breathing is a natural part of being alive. And Nehemiah practices two kinds of prayer: long-term prayer ( he prayed for four months before speaking to the king) and short-term prayer (he breathes a prayer before he opens his mouth to speak to the king.)
- Nehemiah has a tender heart – “When I heard these words (that Jerusalem was in a shambles), I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4). I like a man that’s not afraid to cry and this man is crying over the right things; things that grieve the heart of God.
- Nehemiah is a believer in a secular job. He works in the upper echelon of society. His job as cupbearer to the king is a dangerous one, where every test sip could be his last. To me this shows he is a man of incredible faith and his faith shows in the way he lives. Even unbelievers like the king and the queen see God in him, and love him. When he asks permission to go and help his people rebuild the wall, the only question they have for him is when will he return.
- Nehemiah not only has the favor of men, he has God’s favor, too. My oldest daughter felt called to be Salt and Light in the film industry in LA. After getting over my initial terror, I began praying Daniel 1:9 for her: that God would cause her to have favor with the officials. It was reassuring to see other men in the Bible like Ezra and Nehemiah were also blessed with God’s favor, the favor of the people in charge and as a result were allowed to accomplish great things.
- Nehemiah is an organizer, a planner, a thinker, a list-maker – a man after my own heart. When the king asks him what he needs, he has a plan of action (Chapter 1). When it comes to rebuilding the wall, he has a plan of action (Chapter 3). When the work is threatened, he has a plan of action – “we prayed and set up a guard.” When the work is done, he has, guess what? A plan of action. He prays, yes, but then he acts. And it’s not his plan – he is working on God’s plan – what God is putting in his mind to do(2:12, 4;6, 6:8) and what God has put in his heart to do. (2;2, 7:5). He’s thinking with both sides of his brain.
- Nehemiah is a leader. He calls the people to action and they respond. Over 42,000 people are listed as being present in Israel at the time and NO ONE stood up to rebuild the wall. Here comes Nehemiah and he changes everything. Nehemiah shows the power of one. One person following hard after God and joining in what God is already doing on planet earth can make a difference!
- Nehemiah is a gifted public speaker. His first rousing speech, “Come, let’s rebuild!” (2:18) motivates a nation and his NO FEAR speech reminds me of Aragon in The Return of the King:
Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails When we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship But it is not this day An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Man comes crashing down But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth I bid you stand, Men of the West!
Nehemiah delivers such rousing speeches because he believes! He believes God will give them success (2:20) and he believes that God will fight for them (4:20).
- Nehemiah is a man of discernment. He hears from God and acts on what God gives him to do but there are no visions, no dreams in this narrative: just Nehemiah praying and knowing what God wants him to do. How I long to be like him in that way – to hear from God and know it’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit guiding and directing. Phrases from the book like “God put it into my heart” and “what God was putting into my mind to do” and “Then I perceived..” and “I consulted with myself” fascinate me.
- Nehemiah was not afraid. He believes God and continues the work God called him to in spite of mocking, plans of secret attack, lies and other threats from inside and out. When tempted to “become frightened and act accordingly and sin,” he rejects the notion soundly always telling people to remember God and what He’s done. He’s not afraid to call people out on their sin either. The funny thing is, he’s so polite about it saying, “Please leave off this usury (the practice of lending money at an exorbitant rate of interest, in excess of the legal rate).” He corrects with gentleness and respect
- Finally, Nehemiah is a very woman friendly book. People often complain that the Bible is a male-centered book. Some versions have even come out with generic pronouns instead of the he’s and him’s. Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with this but for those of you who are bothered by this: Nehemiah mentions women. He mentions the queen as well as the king. He mentions the women who work on the wall – Shallum AND his daughters. He mentions the people AND their wives, their sons AND their daughters. When the people gather to listen to the reading of God’s Word, he mentions that “men, women and all who could listen with understanding.” – to me this means that he put women on equal ground when it came to learning and understanding God’s Word. After all, they were the ones who would be carrying out the preparation for the feasts and they would be the ones to impress God’s Laws on their children, to talk about them when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, when they lie down and when they get up. Nehemiah knows that the Jewish men should not be marrying foreign, idol-worshiping women because then they will lose a whole generation of children who will not be raised in a God-fearing home. He even mentions a woman when he lists the people undermining the work of building up the wall: Noadiah, the prophetess.
This is going to have to be 10 Things I Love About Nehemiah Part 1 because there’s a lot more to the book of Nehemiah and I’ve only gotten half way through. Once Nehemiah restores the wall he begins restoring the people. Stay tuned for 10 More Things I Love About Nehemiah.